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

    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 September-October

KING OF THE SOUTH 2019 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER




2019 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER


11/1/2019 No Israeli government involvement in alleged NSO-WhatsApp hack: minister
FILE PHOTO: The WhatsApp messaging application is seen on a phone screen August 3, 2017. REUTERS/Thomas White/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli government on Friday denied any involvement in an alleged cyber- hack by Israeli surveillance firm NSO Group.
    Distancing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government from the alleged attempts to send malware to the mobile devices of a number of Whatsapp users, Israeli security cabinet minister Zeev Elkin said that if anyone had done anything “forbidden” they could expect to find themselves in court.
    “NSO is a private player using capabilities that Israelis have, thousands of people are in the cyber field, but there is no Israeli government involvement here, everyone understands that, this is not about the state of Israel,” Elkin told 102.FM Tel Aviv Radio.
    On Tuesday, WhatsApp sued NSO Group accusing it of helping government spies break into the phones of roughly 1,400 users across four continents in a hacking spree whose targets included diplomats, political dissidents, journalists and senior government officials.
    The Facebook-owned software giant alleges that NSO Group built and sold a hacking platform that exploited a flaw in WhatsApp-owned servers to help clients hack into the cellphones of at least 1,400 users between April 29, 2019, and May 10, 2019.
    On Thursday Reuters reported that senior government officials in many U.S.-allied countries were targeted earlier this year with hacking software that used WhatsApp to take over users’ phones, according to people familiar with the messaging company’s investigation.
    NSO has denied the allegations “in the strongest possible terms,” saying it would fight them “vigorously.”
    WhatsApp is used by 1.5 billion people monthly and has often touted a high level of security, including end-to-end encrypted messages that cannot be deciphered by WhatsApp or other third parties.
    In his radio interview Elkin said “I don’t see any political fallout from this incident.”
    He added: “It is true that when people do things that are forbidden – I have no way of determining whether they did indeed do anything forbidden – then the justice system here and in other countries will throw the book at them."
(Reporting by Dan Williams; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Angus MacSwan)

11/1/2019 Exclusive: U.S. withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon – sources by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators wave Lebanese flags during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon,
October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon, two U.S. officials said on Thursday, two days after the resignation of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
    The State Department told Congress on Thursday that the White House budget office and National Security Council had decided to withhold the foreign military assistance, the two officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The officials did not say why the aid was blocked.    One of the sources said the State Department did not give Congress a reason for the decision.
    The State Department declined to comment.
    The administration had sought approval for the assistance starting in May, arguing that it was crucial for Lebanon, an important U.S. partner in the volatile Middle East, to be able to protect its borders.    The aid included night vision goggles and weapons used in border security.
    But Washington has also repeatedly expressed concern over the growing role in the Beirut government of Hezbollah, the armed Shi’ite group backed by Iran and listed as a terrorist organization by the United States.
    Following Hariri’s resignation on Tuesday amid huge protests against the ruling elite, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Lebanon’s political leaders to help form a new government responsive to the needs of its people and called for an end to endemic corruption.
    One U.S. official told Reuters he believed the security assistance was necessary for Lebanon, as it struggles with instability not just within its own government but in a turbulent region and houses thousands of refugees from war in neighboring Syria.
    The official said it was especially important to strengthen Lebanon’s military, which he deemed one of the most capable institutions in the country now, largely because of support from Washington.
    The official said drawing aid away from Lebanon could pave the way for Russia to move in.    Russia has expanded its influence in Syria since Trump announced he was withdrawing U.S. forces from the northeastern part of the country.
    Lebanon has been arguing with foreign donors over international aid for months. Before he resigned, Hariri failed to convince foreign donors to release $11 billion in assistance pledged at a Paris conference last year.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone; Editing by Mary Milliken and Daniel Wallis)

11/1/2019 Queues but no panic as Lebanese banks re-open after two weeks by Ellen Francis and Eric Knecht
People queue outside a branch of Bank of Beirut in Ain el-Remmaneh, Lebanon November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese banks opened on Friday for the first time in two weeks after protests that prompted the prime minister’s resignation, with queues building and customers encountering new curbs on transfers abroad and withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts.
    An hour after doors opened, dozens people of people were waiting at some banks in Beirut and other cities, Reuters witnesses said. At others, fewer were waiting.
    The Association of Banks in Lebanon praised the public for acting “responsibly.”    The Lebanese pound strengthened against the dollar on a parallel market that has emerged in recent months, three dealers said.
    The central bank had promised not to impose capital controls when banks re-opened, measures that could hamper the currency inflows and investment Lebanon badly needs to weather its worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.
    Though no formal controls were imposed, banks were telling customers they could not transfer funds abroad unless they were for paying loans, education, health, family support or commercial commitments, a customer and banking sources said.
    Customers also encountered new limits on the amount of dollars they could withdraw from U.S. dollar accounts.
    Walid Iskandarani, who was trying to cash a cheque for $4,538 at a branch of Blom Bank in the Hamra area, said he had been told he could only receive $2,500 of the amount immediately.    “The situation is not normal,” he said.
    One customer was told a letter would be needed from an overseas bank for a mortgage payment to be transferred abroad.
    Another said he was charged $5 for withdrawing $1,000 from his dollar account with Blom Bank and was told the weekly withdrawal limit from the account had been capped at $2,500.
    At two other banks, employees said customers seeking to withdraw a couple of thousand dollars would not encounter issues but those seeking to withdraw larger amounts would have to show it was for needs such as tuition or importing goods.
    In the Corniche al-Mazraa of Beirut, Rana Sherif said she had been waiting at a branch of Bank Audi for an hour to withdraw money to pay her 13 employees.    “I’m worried they won’t let me withdraw the full amount,” she said.
    Several customers said they had expected the situation to be worse.
    “There is not a lot of panic.    I thought it was going to be more,” said a customer who was holding a ticket showing he was 17th in line outside a branch of Byblos Bank in Zouk Mosbeh, north of Beirut, where 20 people were waiting at opening time.
POUND STRENGTHENS ON PARALLEL MARKET
    “The public is acting responsibly and in a civilized manner, and the sense of patriotism was clear in people’s desire to protect the national economy,” Salim Sfeir, the chairman of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said in a statement.
    Banks had cited security concerns for staff and customers in their decision to stay closed for the last two weeks.    Bankers and analysts had also cited worries about a rush by savers to withdraw funds or to transfer them abroad once banks re-opened.
    Banking sources said on Thursday that commercial banks would try to restrict transfers abroad.    At another bank, a bank employee was overheard offering higher interest rates to another customer.
    A slowdown in capital inflows to Lebanon has led to financial pressures unseen since the 1975-90 civil war.    A parallel market has emerged for the Lebanese pound, which has been pegged at 1,507.5 to the dollar for two decades.
    The pound strengthened on the parallel market on Friday.    Two dealers said a dollar cost 1,700 pounds on Friday compared with 1,800 on Tuesday, when Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister.    A third dealer said the dollar cost 1,650 pounds.
    Hariri’s resignation met the demands of protesters, who were demonstrating against politicians they accused of rampant corruption.
    On Thursday night, President Michel Aoun signaled support for the formation of a government of technocrats, suggesting room for compromise toward setting up a new administration that could enact badly needed reforms.
(Reporting by Eric Knect, Imad Creidi, Ellen Francis, Samia Nakhoul, Issam Abdallah; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Christian Schmollinger, Larry King)

11/1/2019 Israel puts missile defense systems on alert amid latest Iran threats by OAN Newsroom
    Israeli military officials say they are expecting a possible aerial attack by Iranian forces.    The country put its air defense systems on alert Thursday amid intelligence reports that either Iran or its terror proxies could attempt an attack.
    Israel’s air force chief said the Arrow, Patriot, David’s Sling, and the Iron Dome systems are all on alert for a possible missile attack from Yemen.    This comes after Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard recently said it would destroy the Jewish state and “liberate” Jerusalem.    Israel says these latest statements pose a legitimate threat.
    “The threat posed by Iran and Turkey to security and stability…Iran with its nuclear program, ballistic missiles and support of terror organizations like Hezbollah in Lebanon, Hamas and Jihadi Islamic in Gaza,” warned Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz is pictured. (AP Photo)
    Israeli officials say they are well prepared to repel an attack from Syria or Lebanon, but they warn they may be lacking defense capabilities in the southern part of the country.

11/1/2019 Syrian President al-Assad says President Trump is ‘best American president’ by OAN Newsroom
FILE – Syrian President Bashar Assad gestures during an interview in Damascus, Syria. (SANA via AP, File)
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad recently praised President Trump by saying he is the “best American president.”    In an interview Thursday, Assad said although he considers Donald Trump to be a foe, he appreciates his transparency.
    The Syrian leader went on to admit he disagrees with some of the president’s policies, however, he said “such is politics” and at the end of the day transparency is key.    Assad pointed out the Syrian oil fields as one instance in which he appreciated the president’s honesty.
    “When it comes to (U.S. President Donald) Trump, you may ask me a question and I’ll give you an answer which might seem strange — I tell you he’s the best American president,” he stated.    “Why?    Because he’s the most transparent president — Trump speaks with transparency.”
    The comments come after President Trump announced a number of troops will remain in Syria to protect some of the nation’s oil field.
In this Oct. 25, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Army Reserve, U.S. Airmen check their manifest for military equipment to be
loaded onto a cargo plane at the Kobani Landing Zone (KLZ). (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Hammock via AP)

11/1/2019 Turkey, Russia hold first joint patrol in northeast Syria by Bulent Usta
Turkish military vehicles are seen on the Turkish-Syrian border before a joint Turkish-Russian patrol in northeast Syria,
near the Turkish town of Kiziltepe in Mardin province, Turkey, November 1, 2019. Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    SEVIMLI, Turkey (Reuters) – Turkish and Russian troops in armored vehicles held their first joint ground patrols in northeast Syria on Friday under a deal between the two countries that forced a Kurdish militia away from territory near Turkey’s border.
    Turkey and allied Syrian rebels launched a cross-border offensive on Oct. 9 against the Kurdish YPG militia, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.
    Last week, Ankara and Moscow agreed to remove the militia fighters to a depth of at least 30 km (19 miles) south of the border and Russia has told Turkey that the YPG left the strip.
    Turkish armored vehicles on Friday drove across the border to join their Russian counterparts, according to Reuters television footage filmed from the Turkish side of the border.    Around four hours later, they returned to Turkey.
    Ground and air units were involved in the patrol around the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, the Turkish Defense Ministry said on Twitter, showing photos of soldiers studying a map and of four armored vehicles.
    On Wednesday, President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey had information that the YPG, which Ankara sees as a terrorist group because of its ties to Kurdish militants in southeast Turkey, had not completed its pullout.
    Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and helped it turn the tables in the country’s civil war by retaking much of the country from rebels since 2015.    The Turkish-Russian deal last week allowed Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.
    Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.    The YPG helped the United States smash the Islamic State “caliphate” in Syria.
    Four Russian vehicles and a drone also took part in Friday’s patrol, conducted in an area between 40 km east of Ras al Ain and 30 km west of Qamishli, a Turkish security source said.
    The source said patrols would extend further along the border strip and drones would be used to ensure YPG fighters had left the area.
    The source said there had been no direct clashes with Syrian government forces during the incursion.
    Overnight, the defense ministry said Turkey had handed over to the Russians 18 Syrian government soldiers detained in Syria near the Turkish border this week.
    The 18 men were seized on Tuesday during operations southeast of the Syrian town of Ras al Ain, part of an area where Turkey’s incursion took place, stretching some 120 km (75 miles) along the border to the town of Tel Abyad.
ERDOGAN’S PLANS
    Erdogan said on Thursday that Turkey planned to establish a “refugee town or towns” in a “safe zone” between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, part of a project which state media have said would cost 151 billion lira ($26 billion).
    He met U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday and had said he would ask him to call for a donors’ meeting to help finance Ankara’s plans to resettle Syrian refugees in the region.
    “I will say: ‘You make a call for an international donors’ meeting.    If you don’t, I will make this call’,” Erdogan said on Thursday.
    “If it doesn’t happen, we will establish a refugee town or towns between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain,” he said, addressing a building contractor in the hall and saying he would ask him to play a role in the project.
    Ankara has said it plans to resettle in Syria up to 2 million of the 3.6 million Syrian war refugees that it hosts.
        Erdogan and Guterres discussed Turkey’s plan, U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters in New York on Friday.
    “The Secretary-General stressed the basic principles relating to the voluntary, safe and dignified return of refugees.    He informed the president that UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) will immediately form a team to study the proposal and engage in discussions with Turkish authorities,” Haq said.
    According to plans Erdogan presented at the United Nations General Assembly in September, Turkey would resettle some 405,000 people between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain.
    Erdogan said leaders at the General Assembly had looked positively on the plans but declined to offer money.
    “We have for years hosted millions of refugees in our lands.    The support we have received from the international community has unfortunately just been advice,” he said.
    “The mentality that regards a drop of oil as more valuable than a drop of blood does not see anything but its own interest in Syria and everywhere in the world.”
    Last week Defense Secretary Mark Esper said the United States would beef up its military presence in Syria with “mechanized forces” to prevent Islamic State militants seizing oil fields.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Tom Balmforth in Moscow and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/1/2019 Iraqis pour into streets for biggest protest day since Saddam by Ahmed Aboulenein and Raya Jalabi
Demonstrators rest as they take part in anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Iraqis thronged central Baghdad on Friday demanding the root-and-branch downfall of the political elite in the biggest day of mass anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
    One woman died after she was struck in the head by a tear gas canister, Iraq’s Human Rights Commission said, and at least 155 people were wounded on Friday as security forces used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters camped out in the capital’s Tahrir Square.
    Five people died on Thursday night from similar injuries.
    Protests have accelerated dramatically in recent days, drawing huge crowds from across Iraq’s sectarian and ethnic divides to reject the political parties in power since 2003.
    Friday, the Muslim main day of prayer, drew the biggest crowds yet, with many taking to the streets after worship.
    By the afternoon tens of thousands had packed the square, condemning elites they see as deeply corrupt, beholden to foreign powers and responsible for daily privations.
    Protests have been comparatively peaceful by day, becoming more violent after dark as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to battle self-proclaimed “revolutionary” youths.
    At least 250 people have been killed over the past month.
    Clashes have focused on the ramparts to the Republic Bridge leading across the Tigris to the heavily fortified Green Zone of government buildings, where the protesters say out-of-touch leaders are holed up in a walled-off bastion of privilege.
    “Every time we smell death from your smoke, we yearn more to cross your republic’s bridge,” someone wrote on a nearby wall.
    Amnesty International said on Thursday security forces were using “previously unseen” tear gas canisters modeled on military grenades that are 10 times as heavy as standard ones.
    “We are peaceful yet they fire on us.    What are we, Islamic State militants?    I saw a man die.    I took a tear gas canister to the face,” said Barah, 21, whose face was wrapped in bandages.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday urged all sides to reject violence, adding that Iraq’s official inquiry into the early October violence “lacked sufficient credibility
    “The Iraqi people deserve genuine accountability and justice,” Pompeo said in a statement.    “The Government of Iraq should listen to the legitimate demands made by the Iraqi people.”
‘MINI-STATE’
    In Baghdad, protesters had set up checkpoints in the streets leading into and surrounding Tahrir Square, redirecting traffic.
    Young people swept the streets, many sang about the sit-in. Helmets and gas masks were now a common sight.
    A woman pushed her baby in a stroller draped with an Iraqi flag while representatives from several Iraqi tribes waved banners pledging support for the protesters.
    Mohammed Najm, a jobless engineering graduate, said the square had become a model for the country he and his comrades hope to build: “We are cleaning streets, others bring us water, they bring us electricity, they wired it up."
    “A mini-state. Health for free, tuk-tuks transporting for free,” he said.    “The state has been around for 16 years and what it failed to do we did in seven days in Tahrir.”
    Despite Iraq’s oil wealth, many live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, health care or education.    The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in office for a year, has found no response to the protests.
‘EVIL BUNCH’
    In his weekly sermon, top Shi’ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani warned of “civil conflict, chaos and destruction” if the security forces or paramilitary groups crack down on the protests.    And he gave an apparent nod to protesters who say the government is being manipulated from abroad, above all by Iran.
    “No one person or group or side with an agenda, or any regional or international party, can infringe upon the will of Iraqis or force an opinion upon them,” Sistani’s representative said during a sermon in the holy city of Kerbala.
    Reuters reported this week that a powerful Iran-backed faction had considered abandoning Abdul Mahdi, but decided to keep him in office after a secret meeting attended by a general from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.    An Iranian security official confirmed the general, Qassem Soleimani, had attended Wednesday’s meeting, to “give advice.”
    Many see the political class as subservient to one or another of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
    “Iraqis have suffered at the hands of this evil bunch who came atop American tanks, and from Iran. Qassem Soleimani’s people are now firing on the Iraqi people in cold blood,” said protester Qassam al-Sikeeni.
    President Barham Salih said on Thursday that Abdul Mahdi would resign if parliament’s main blocs agreed on a replacement.
    Protesters say that wouldn’t be enough; they want to undo the entire post-Saddam political system which distributes power among sectarian parties.
    “So what if Adel Abdul Mahdi resigns? What will happen?    They will get someone worse,” said barber Amir, 26.
    There were protests in other provinces, with the unrest having spread across much of the southern Shi’ite heartland.
    In the southern city of Diwaniya, roughly 3,000 people including many families with small children were out.
    Earlier, protesters in oil-rich Basra tried to block the road leading to Majnoon oilfield and pitched a tent but operations were not interrupted, oil sources said.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Raya Jalabi; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Peter Graff and Sonya Hepinstall)

11/1/2019 Algerians stage mass protest on anniversary of independence rising
Demonstrators gesture and carry national flags during a protest against the country's ruling elite, on the anniversary of
the 1954 revolution against French colonial rule, in Algiers, Algeria November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – More than 100,000 Algerians, double the number attending recent weekly protests, marched on Friday to demand a purge of the ruling hierarchy and an end to military involvement in politics.
    The surge in numbers came after opposition calls on social media for a big demonstration to mark the anniversary of the 1954 uprising against French rule, the start of a struggle for independence whose cadres still dominate Algerian politics.
    Algeria, the largest country in Africa, is a major exporter of oil and gas.
    Friday’s protest comes as the leaderless opposition movement readies for a test of strength with the authorities after rejecting a presidential election that has been called for December and is seen by the army as the best way to end the impasse.
    The mass protests erupted in February after veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika said he would stand for president again in a July election and continued weekly even after he stood down in April.
    Since the spring, the number of protesters attending weekly demonstrations has fallen, though tens of thousands have continued to march every Friday through the summer and autumn, saying all members of the old guard should quit power.
    Some of Bouteflika’s closest allies and other once-powerful people in the hierarchy have been detained or jailed on corruption charges, but protesters say they want remaining figures associated with the former president to quit too.
    It has left the army as the most powerful player in Algerian politics under its chief of staff Lieutenant General Ahmed Gaed Salah, who publicly pushed the interim president to call December’s election.
    On Friday, protesters chanted: “Gaed Salah go home!” and “There will be no election this year!
    They also demanded the removal of interim president Abdelkader Bensalah and Prime Minister Nouredine Bedoui.    Some 20 candidates have applied to run in the December election.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall and Giles Elgood)

11/1/2019 Hezbollah: Lebanon’s next government must heed protesters by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis
People queue outside a branch of Bank of Beirut in Ain el-Remmaneh, Lebanon November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The powerful Lebanese Hezbollah group said on Friday a new government must listen to the demands that fueled protests against the country’s rulers and led Saad al-Hariri to quit as prime minister this week.
    The unprecedented, nationwide protests that erupted on Oct. 17 tipped Lebanon into political turmoil as it grapples with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Lebanese banks reopened for the first time in two weeks on Friday, with dozens of people waiting at some branches.
    Customers encountered new curbs on transfers abroad and withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts, though there were no formal capital controls, bankers and customers said.
    The Lebanese pound strengthened against the dollar on a parallel market that has emerged in recent months, three dealers said.
    Hariri, an ally of the West, quit on Tuesday after saying he had failed to resolve the crisis unleashed by the protests against a ruling elite accused of rampant corruption and steering Lebanon to economic collapse.
    The Iranian-backed Hezbollah, a political adversary of Hariri, has opposed his decision, saying it would waste time needed to enact reforms that are urgently needed to plug gaping holes in the state finances.
    “A new government must be formed as soon as possible … and the new government must listen to the demands of the people who took to the streets,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.
    “There must be serious work because time is tight and so is people’s patience,” he said, adding that the government’s goal must be to restore confidence.
    After warning last week against a power vacuum that could lead to chaos and even civil war, Nasrallah said on Friday the “patience and awareness” of the Lebanese had averted such scenarios.
FOREIGN FOES
    Supporters of Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal attacked and destroyed a protest camp in central Beirut on Tuesday, days after Nasrallah had suggested that foreign foes were exploiting the protests.
    President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, has yet to say when he will begin consultations with MPs to pick a new prime minister.    Hariri’s government continues in a caretaker capacity in the meantime.
    A Maronite Christian, Aoun signaled support for a new government of technocrats in a speech on Thursday, which would satisfy another of the protesters’ demands.
    Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative, said Nasrallah’s speech was less accusatory than the last one and indicated a deescalation.
    Taken together with Aoun’s speech, it appeared to suggest a change of course by Hezbollah and its Christian ally.    “There is a direction that says we are going to present ourselves as listening to popular demands,” he said.
    “Are they going to truly support what they are saying – a government that can get to work with credibility on the street?
    Lebanon’s economy has been hit by years of regional turmoil and a slowdown in capital flows to the country that has put its foreign currency reserves under pressure.
    Banks told customers they could only transfer funds abroad in particular circumstances such repaying loans, education, health, family support or commercial commitments.
    An hour after doors opened, dozens people of people were waiting at some banks in Beirut and other cities, Reuters witnesses said. At others, fewer were waiting.
    The central bank had promised not to impose capital controls when banks re-opened, measures that could hamper the currency inflows and investment that Lebanon badly needs.
    Asked about steps being taken by banks, Salim Sfeir, head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, said: “I would not call it restrictions but rather efforts by the banks to accommodate all customers, given the pressure resulting from closing for two weeks.”
    “We stand ready to adjust any measure taken, once the situation in the country is back to normal,” he told Reuters.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Eric Knect, Imad Creidi, Ellen Francis, Samia Nakhoul, Issam Abdallah; writing by Tom Perry; editing by Christian Schmollinger, Larry King and Giles Elgood)

11/1/2019 As protests rock Baghdad and Beirut, Iran digs in
Iraqi demonstrators wave flags during the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    BEIRUT/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – As governments in Iraq and Lebanon stagger and stumble under huge waves of popular protest, powerful factions loyal to Iran are pushing to quash political upheaval which challenges Tehran’s entrenched influence in both countries.
    Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri has resigned and the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has been pushed to the brink of collapse.
    Both governments have enjoyed backing from the West.    But they have also relied on the support of political parties affiliated with powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite armed groups, keeping allies of Tehran in key posts.
    That reflects the relentless rise of Iranian influence among Shi’ite communities across the Middle East, since Tehran formed the militant group Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982 and after Saddam Hussein was toppled in Iraq in 2003.
    Both Iraq and Lebanon have government systems designed to end sectarian conflict by guaranteeing a share of power to parties that represent different communities.    In both countries, leading Shi’ite groups are closely associated with Iran, and have held on to weapons outside the official security forces.
    Protesters are now challenging those power structures, which Iraqis and Lebanese blame for corruption, the dire state of public services and the squandering of national wealth, which Iraq brings in from oil and Lebanon from foreign backing.
WHO IS BEHIND THE PROTESTS?
    Unusually in both countries where sectarian parties have previously dominated politics, most protesters are not linked to organized movements.    In both countries they have called for the kind of sweeping change seen in the 2011 Arab uprisings, which brought down four Arab leaders but bypassed Lebanon and Iraq.
    In Lebanon, demonstrations flared in late September against bad economic conditions as the country grappled with a deepening financial crisis.    Nationwide protests broke out two weeks later against government plans to raise a new tax on calls using popular mobile phone software such as WhatsApp.
    In Iraq, demonstrations began in Baghdad and quickly spread to the southern Shi’ite heartland.
WHAT IS AT STAKE?
    In Iraq, the protests have taken place on a scale unseen since Saddam’s overthrow, with sweeping demands for change.    The authorities have responded with a violent crackdown which left more than 250 people dead, many killed by snipers on rooftops firing into crowds.
    “The fact that you were seeing that level of mobilization makes the protests more dangerous in the perception of the political elite,” said Renad Mansour, Iraq analyst at London-based Chatham House.
    The mainly Iran-backed militias view the popular protests as an existential threat to that political order, Mansour said.
    In Lebanon, the demonstrations come at a time of economic crisis widely seen as the worst since the 1975-1990 civil war.    If Hariri’s resignation prolongs the political paralysis it will jeopardize prospects of rescue funding from Western and Gulf Arab governments.
HOW HAVE IRAN’S ALLIES RESPONDED?
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah initially addressed the Lebanon protesters sympathetically, echoing Hariri’s conciliatory stance, before changing tone and accusing foreign powers of instigating the unrest.    People loyal to Hezbollah and the Shi’ite movement Amal attacked and destroyed a protest camp in Beirut.
    Hariri announced his resignation shortly afterwards despite pressure from Hezbollah, widely seen as the most powerful player in Lebanon, not to concede to the protests.
    In the absence of an obvious replacement for Hariri, Hezbollah, which is under U.S. sanctions, faces a predicament.    Although Hezbollah and its allies have a majority in parliament, they cannot form a government on their own because they would face international isolation, said Nabil Boumonsef, a commentator with Lebanon’s an-Nahar newspaper.
    “It would be the quickest recipe for financial collapse.    The whole world will be closed to them.”
    In Baghdad, Abdul Mahdi’s government was saved for now after apparent Iranian intervention.    Reuters reported this week that Qassem Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, which sponsors Tehran’s allies abroad, flew to Baghdad for a secret meeting at which a powerful Shi’ite party agreed to keep the prime minister in office.
    Iraqi security officials have said that snipers who shot down from rooftops at crowds last month were deployed by Iran-backed militias.
WHAT ARE THE LIMITS OF IRANIAN INFLUENCE?
    While Shi’ite militia forces project unambiguous power, Iran’s political weight is often deployed behind the scenes.
    In Lebanon, a longstanding accord on power-sharing means no single confession can dominate state institutions.    For all its prominence, Hezbollah picked only three ministers in Hariri’s last cabinet.
    “A winner-takes-all mentality just does not work in Lebanon,” said Nadim Houry, executive director of the Arab Reform Initiative, who said Hezbollah may have miscalculated by employing “scare tactics” against the protesters.
    “This goes against the grain of Lebanese politics.    They are going to have to compromise.”
    In Iraq too “Iran has more influence than any other country … but it doesn’t have control over what happens there,” says Crisis Group’s Iran project director Ali Vaez.
WHAT IS THE INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE?
    In Iraq it is too early to say. Tehran’s main rival, the United States, has so far kept mostly quiet on the protests, probably waiting to see the outcome.
    In Lebanon, which urgently needs outside funding to keep its economy afloat, Tehran’s international foes have used their financial clout to challenge its influence more directly.    Before he quit, Hariri failed to convince foreign donors to release $11 billion in aid pledged last year, in part because of Hezbollah’s prominence.
    Wealthy Sunni Gulf Arab states, engaged in a proxy conflict with Iran across the region, had long funded Beirut, but Saudi Arabia cut back support sharply three years ago, saying Hezbollah had “hijacked” the Lebanese state.
    Gulf Arab countries and the United States have coordinated moves against Iranian-linked targets with sanctions on 25 corporations, banks and individuals linked to Iran’s support for militant networks including Hezbollah.
    “Gulf Arab states are bound by sanctions.    Hezbollah are an integral part of the (Lebanese) government,” a Gulf source said.    “Nobody has given up on Lebanon” but “the system is broken… Improvements need to be seen on several fronts, including fiscal discipline.”
    Two U.S. officials said this week that President Donald Trump’s administration is withholding $105 million in security aid for Lebanon.
(Reporting by Reuters correspondents in Baghdad, Beirut and Dubai; writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Peter Graff)

11/2/2019 Iraqi protesters and security forces clash, keep Umm Qasr port closed
Iraqi demonstrators take part in an ongoing anti-government protest, in Baghdad, Iraq November 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Thousands of protesters were blocking all roads leading to Iraq’s main Gulf port Umm Qasr on Saturday, after security forces used live rounds and tear gas on them overnight, security sources said.
    Operations at the port have been at a complete standstill since Wednesday, after protesters first blocked its entrance on Tuesday.
    Umm Qasr receives the vast bulk of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, needed to feed a country heavily dependent on imported food.    Iraq’s oil exports take place mostly from nearby offshore platforms which have not been affected.
    Trucks carrying goods have been prevented from entering or leaving the port.    Some international shipping lines have halted operations because of the port’s closure, port officials said.
    Protesters on Saturday burned tires and set up concrete blocks, angered by the anti-riot forces’ violent attempt to disperse them.    At least 30 people were injured, security and medical sources said.
    The protests are part of a movement that has brought tens of thousands of Iraqis to the streets to demonstrate against corruption and the poor state of public services.
    Friday’s demonstrations in the capital Baghdad were the biggest anti-government protests since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.    About 5,000 people were demonstrating on Friday in Basra, the nearest big city to the port.
    More than 250 people have died in a government crackdown on the unrest since the start of October.    Much of the unrest has focused on southern cities in Iraq’s Shi’ite heartland, which also includes its main oil producing areas.
    Further disruptions to port operations could cause financial damage to the country and impact the inflow of commodities, port officials said earlier this week.    They also said they were holding talks with protesters to allow the port to resume normal operations.
    Separately, protesters blocked roads leading to the Majnoon oilfield on Saturday and prevented employees from getting there.    Operations were not interrupted, oil sources said.
(Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/2/2019 Iran strikes initial deal to rebuild Syrian power grid
FILE PHOTO: Iran's national flags are seen on a square in Tehran February 10, 2012,
a day before the anniversary of the Islamic Revolution. REUTERS/Morteza Nikoubazl
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran signed a preliminary agreement with Syria on Saturday to help rebuild the Arab ally’s electricity grid, Iranian state media reported, as Tehran seeks a deepening economic role after years of the Syrian conflict.
    A memorandum of understanding signed by the two countries’ electricity ministers in Tehran covered the construction of power plants, transmission lines, cutting losses in Syria’s electricity network, and the possibility of connecting the two countries’ grids through Iraq, the state news agency IRNA said.
    The report did not give the value of the deal.    IRNA quoted Syrian Electricity Minister Mohammad Zuhair Kharboutli as saying the country’s grid had suffered damages of 50 percent and that “Iran’s role is important” in the reconstruction.
    Shunned by Western powers, the Syrian government has looked to friendly states such as Iran, Russia and China to play a major role in rebuilding the country, as the war heads toward its ninth year.
    Since at least 2012, Iran has provided critical military support to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government, helping it regain control of swathes of the country. Iran experts have said Tehran is now hoping to reap a financial dividend.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Clelia Oziel)

11/2/2019 Palestinian killed, 2 wounded in Israel-Gaza counter strikes
A wounded Palestinian receives treatment in a hospital following Israeli air strikes,
in the southern Gaza Strip November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militants fired a barrage of rockets at Israel and the Israeli military responded with a wave of pre-dawn air strikes in Gaza killing one man on Saturday, Palestinian and Israeli officials said.
    The Israeli army said it targeted sites belonging to Hamas, the Islamist militant group which rules Gaza, after Palestinians fired 10 rockets into Israel late on Friday.
    Eight of them were intercepted by missile defense systems.    One projectile hit a house in a town near the border, causing damage but not casualties, police said.
    In southern Gaza, medical officials and locals said a small cabin was hit, killing a 27-year-old civilian and wounding two others.
    None of the armed groups in Gaza claimed responsibility for firing the rockets.    The Israeli military said Hamas was ultimately responsible for the attack.
    Israel and Hamas have fought three wars over the past decade and cross-border tensions are high and such flare-ups are not rare.
    Israel pulled its troops and settlers from the narrow coastal strip in 2005 but keeps the enclave under a blockade, citing security concerns. About 2 million Palestinians live in Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Alexandra Hudson)

11/2/2019 Protesters block roads to Iraqi port, demand end to foreign meddling by Ahmed Aboulenein and Raya Jalabi
Iraqi demonstrators take part at ongoing anti-government protests at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Saba Kareem
BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Security forces killed a protester and wounded 91 others in Baghdad on Saturday, security and medical sources said, as tens of thousands of Iraqis gathered in mass anti-government protests in the capital and blocked roads leading to a major port.
    Protesters have been congregating in the capital’s central Tahrir Square for weeks, demanding the fall of the political elite in the biggest wave of mass demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
    Protests have accelerated dramatically in recent days, drawing huge crowds from across sectarian and ethnic divides.
    They have been comparatively peaceful by day, becoming more violent after dark as police use tear gas and rubber bullets to battle self-proclaimed “revolutionary” youths.    More than 250 people were killed in October.
    Clashes have focused on the ramparts to the Republic Bridge leading across the Tigris to the heavily fortified Green Zone of government buildings, where the protesters say out-of-touch leaders are holed up in their walled-off bastion of privilege.
    Security forces on Saturday erected concrete walls on one of Baghdad’s main streets which leads into Tahrir Square in an attempt to reduce the turnout but a spontaneous protest in which crowds surrounded soldiers driving bulldozers forced them to take the structures down.
    “Take it down, take it down,” they chanted.
    The protests, driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption, have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq.
    Despite the country’s oil wealth, many live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, health care or education.    The government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in office for a year, has found no response to the protests.
    Thousands of protesters were blocking all roads leading to Iraq’s main Gulf port Umm Qasr near the oil-rich city of Basra, after security forces used live rounds and tear gas overnight.
    Operations at the port, which receives the vast bulk of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, have been at a complete standstill since Wednesday.
EXCESSIVE FORCE
    On Friday, both the teachers’ and lawyers’ unions said they would extend strikes they declared last week.    Schools had been due to reopen on Sunday after a week of cancelled classes.
    Many see the political class as subservient to one or another of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
    “We don’t want anyone interfering in our affairs, not Saudi Arabia, not Turkey, not Iran, not America.    It’s our country, our demands are clear,” said protester Ahmed Abu Mariam.
    The root cause of grievances is the sectarian power-sharing system of governance introduced in Iraq after 2003.
    “We want an end to sectarian power-sharing, jobs should not be doled out based on whether you are Sunni or Shi’ite.    We want all these parties gone and replaced with a presidential system,” said 22-year-old law student Abdulrahman Saad who has been camped out in Tahrir Square for nine days.
    Iraq’s official rights watchdog, the Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights, said authorities were violating human rights and using excessive force against protesters by firing rubber bullets and tear gas canisters, which have killed scores after striking them directly in the head and chest.
    A government committee investigating violence from Oct. 1-7 itself found that 149 civilians were killed because security forces used excessive force and live fire to quell protests.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/2/2019 Hollow building becomes center of Iraq’s uprising by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein
Iraqi demonstrators are seen inside the high-rise building, which is called by Iraqi the Turkish Restaurant
Building, during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The skeleton of a high-rise building overlooking Baghdad’s central Tahrir Square known as the Turkish Restaurant has become a temporary home and a bustling center for protesters staging demonstrations against Iraq’s ruling elites.
    On the ground floor, a group of young men calling themselves the logistical support committee organized stacks of donated clothes, food, and other supplies such as battery packs, blankets and cigarettes on Saturday to keep the once-empty building’s new occupants well-stocked.
    “We didn’t know each other but here, we became one,” said Abu Al-Baqir, wielding a large wooden stick.    “We are all Iraqis.”
    Dressed in combat trousers and wearing an Iraqi flag as a cape, the 35-year-old is the leader of the group, made up of 20-odd young men who occupy a corner of the building’s base.
    “We need razors up here!,” shouted a young man wearing a gorilla mask from the third floor, lowering a basket.    “And don’t forget the bread, we’re starving!"
    Groups of young men have occupied all 18 floors of the building, with its cramped unlit narrow staircases.    Inside, they dance, smoke shisha, play backgammon and chant for the downfall of the ruling elites.
    The mass squat started after a second wave of mass demonstrations against Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government began on the night of Oct. 24.
    The demonstrators want to end the post-2003 political order, which they see as endemically corrupt and which has failed to deliver basic services.    Abdul Mahdi has promised reforms and a broad cabinet reshuffle but that has so far failed to appease them.
    Once a commercial center, the building was bombed in two wars and subsequently abandoned.    It has been dubbed the Turkish Restaurant because of the restaurant that occupied its top floor in the 1980s.
    Some protesters now call it Mount Uhud, in reference to a mountain in Medina where early Muslims battled those who sought to destroy the nascent religion.    That battle ended in defeat.
MAKESHIFT BASE
    Protesters said they took over the building to stop security forces who used it to shoot at them in the first wave of protests in early October.    More than 250 people have been killed nationwide since the protests started.
    “They tried more than once to enter, they used violence, they used tear gas, some of us died, but we did not leave this building,” said Khalil Ibrahim, a 28-year-old mechanical engineering graduate who introduced himself as the 14th floor spokesman.    He has not been able to find work in three years.
    “We are staying until this corrupt regime and this subservient government fall,” he said.
    On the balcony of the ninth floor, groups of young people draped in Iraqi flags dangled their feet far above the swarms of tuk-tuks and protesters below.
    In the distance is the Jumhuriya – or Republic – Bridge, scene of fierce clashes in recent days.    It leads to the heavily fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and foreign missions.
    They watched their fellow protesters, barricaded against scrap metal and dumpsters, face security forces firing tear gas.
    “I tell them today we are standing here in this building, tomorrow we will be standing in the Green Zone,” said Ahmed Salah, camped out in the building for nine days.
BRINGING LIGHT
    On the lower floors, young people handed out flyers listing their demands.    Medical volunteers came to check up the wounded and distribute saline, inhalers, and masks for those in need.
    “We’re here to help our children – these young people fighting for their country,” said a 44-year-old doctor who gave only her first name, Sahar.    She had brought her son and daughter, also a doctor, to the protests to help distribute the $400 in supplies she brought.
    “If we don’t help, who will?    Neither the Ministry of Health nor our own hospitals will give us supplies to help treat wounded protesters,” she said.
    Nearby, engineer Bashir Ghalib, wearing a white construction hat, was instructing young men setting up an electric grid.
    “We worked with volunteers and donors to install electricity in the Turkish Restaurant in six hours while successive governments have not been able to bring light in 16 years,” he said.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/2/2019 Lebanon president seeks to solve ‘complications’ before new PM consultations
Demonstrators shout during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s president said on Saturday he will soon set a date for formal consultations with lawmakers to pick a new prime minister following Saad al-Hariri’s resignation this week, but is working to resolve some complications first.
    President Michel Aoun is obliged to hold a formal period of consultations with members of parliament and designate the figure with the most support as the new prime minister who will be tasked with forming a government.
    Aoun has not yet set a date for those consultations to begin, but said he had been making the “necessary calls” to lay the ground for them to start.
    “The challenges in front of the future government require a rapid but not hasty approach to the designation process, because rushing in such cases can have harmful consequences,” the presidency media office said in a statement.    The statement said Aoun needed to resolve some complications but did not elaborate.
    Prime Minister Hariri resigned on Tuesday after nationwide anti-government protests.
    The protests have been less intense since he resigned, but demonstrators are still on the streets, and one of their main demands is for the rapid formation of a new government led by technocrats to carry out badly needed economic reforms.
    The nationwide protests that erupted on Oct. 17 tipped Lebanon into political turmoil as it grapples with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    The uprisings caused banks to close for two weeks on security concerns.    Analysts and bankers had cited widespread concern about a rush by depositors to withdraw their savings or transfer them abroad when the banks reopened.
    No formal capital controls were imposed when banks opened their doors on Friday, but customers encountered new curbs on transfers abroad and withdrawals from U.S. dollar accounts, bankers and customers said.
    The head of Lebanon’s banking association said banks did not see “any extraordinary movement” of money on Friday or Saturday.    Central bank Governor Riad Salameh said the reopening of banks “in general … did not cause any disturbance at any bank.”
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/2/2019 Car bomb explosion kills at least 13 people in Syrian border town by OAN Newsroom
People check the destruction after a car bomb exploded in Tal Abyad, Syria, Friday, Nov. 2, 2019. (AP Photo)
    A car bomb exploded in a Syrian border town on Saturday, killing at least 13 people and injuring dozens of others.    Turkey’s Defense Ministry said the explosion occurred in the town of Tel Abyad, killing both soldiers and civilians.
    Turkey accused the Kurdish YPG and the Kurdistan Workers Party of being behind the attack.    The town was captured last month by Turkish forces.
Turkish and Russian patrol is seen near the town of Darbasiyah, Syria, Friday, Nov. 1, 2019. Turkey and Russia
launched joint patrols Friday in northeastern Syria, under a deal that halted a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters
who were forced to withdraw from the border area following Ankara’s incursion.(AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    The town has seen heavy fighting since Turkish forces launched operations last month against the YPG to capture territory in Northern Syria.    This deadly attack comes after President Trump pulled U.S. troops from the region, prompting an offensive by Turkey to seize control.
    No one has claimed responsibility for this attack.

11/2/2019 Turkey plans to send ISIS troops home by OAN Newsroom
Turkish armored vehicles patrol as they conduct a joint ground patrol with American forces in the so-called “safe zone” on the
Syrian side of the border with Turkey, near the town of Tal Abyad, northeastern Syria, Friday, Oct.4, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    Captured ISIS soldiers may be heading back to their home countries soon.    Turkey announced Saturday it will not continue to deal with the ISIS prisoners by itself and announced its intention to send the captured militants back to their countries.
    Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu argued that Europe was taking insufficient action while dealing with the prisoners.    He claimed European countries were refusing to take back citizens who left their home countries to join the terrorist organization.
    “That is not acceptable to us — it’s also irresponsible,” stated Soylu.    “We will send the captured Daesh members to their countries.”
FILE – In this Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019 file photo, Turkish soldiers, right, and Turkey-backed opposition fighters
stand atop a building next to their flags in Ras al Ayn, northeastern Syria. (Ugur Can/DHA via AP, File)
    The House of Representatives voted this week to sanction Turkey in hopes of pressuring the country to act in the best interest of the U.S.
    “We cannot stand idly by while Turkey undermines the fight against ISIS, attacks our Kurdish allies, and puts hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians in harm’s way,” stated Representative Will Hurd.    “These sanctions are an appropriate response that holds Turkey responsible for its actions and provides incentives for President Erdogan to change course.”
    President Trump has not expressed too much concern over the issue.    He recently announced he would lift sanctions on Turkey as long as the country did not do anything questionable.    However, the president also emphasized that the U.S. has the right to reinstate sanctions if Turkey fails to honor its obligations.
    “Should Turkey fail to honor its obligations, including the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, we reserve the right to re-impose crippling sanctions,” stated President Trump.
    European countries have been divided as to how they will address the issue.

11/3/2019 Lebanon’s anti-government protesters return to streets after big pro-Aoun rally
Demonstrators carry national flags as they march during ongoing anti-government
protests in Beirut, Lebanon November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese protesters demanding the overthrow of their country’s elite poured back onto the streets on Sunday in the largest numbers since the government was toppled and hours after opposing supporters of President Michel Aoun staged a big rally.
    Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Tuesday following unprecedented nationwide protests, deepening a political crisis and complicating efforts to enact badly needed economic reforms in Lebanon.
    On Sunday evening anti-government protesters flooded streets in Beirut and north and south of the capital, rejecting Aoun’s attempt to position himself as the guarantor of the protest movement and its anti-corruption drive.
    “All of them means all of them,” protesters chanted in central Beirut, a reference to the wholesale removal of an elite they accuse of pillaging the state and steering it into crisis.
    Earlier in the day, thousands of Aoun supporters had attended a rally just outside Beirut, some waving his Free Patriotic Movement party’s orange flags, engulfing a main road leading to the presidential palace.
    It was the biggest counter punch to the broader wave of demonstrations that have gripped Lebanon since Oct. 17 and which have included Aoun’s removal among a set of sweeping demands.
    In a televised speech, Aoun, who must now hold consultations with members of parliament to designate a new premier, called for protesters to unify behind efforts to stamp out corruption, which he described as having become “nested” in the state.
    He said a three-point plan had been drawn up around tackling corruption, revitalizing the economy and building a civil state.
    George Barbar, who wore a shirt emblazoned with Aoun’s face, said he had driven from northern Lebanon to show support.     “If people don’t join hands with the president, there will be no Lebanon.”
    Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Aoun’s son-in-law and an object of ridicule by anti-government protesters, warned the pro-Aoun rally of “difficult days ahead” and said the country had been “racing against time to prevent a collapse.”
    The anti-government protests had largely subsided after Hariri resigned, with smaller groups remaining on the streets and pushing for core demands like the rapid formation of a government led by technocrats to carry out the badly needed economic reforms.
    “All that we have gotten so far is the government’s resignation. We still have a long way to go,” said Charbel al-Zaani, an engineer.
    “If the new government that is formed isn’t one that the people want, the revolution will return even bigger,” said Zaani.
BANKS REMAIN CALM
    A semblance of normality returned to Lebanon this week, with roads re-opening and banks opening to customers on Friday after being shut for two weeks, though restrictions were reported on foreign currency withdrawals and transfers abroad.
    The head of the country’s banking association said the banks did not see “any extraordinary movement” of money on Friday or Saturday.    Analysts and bankers have feared a rush on deposits.
    The central bank governor said the re-opening did not cause “any disturbance at any bank” and reiterated a pledge that “no formal capital controls are considered
    Lebanon’s import-dependent economy has been hit by years of regional turmoil and a slowdown in capital flows that has put its foreign currency reserves under pressure.
    Aoun has signaled support for a more technocratic government, saying in a speech after Hariri’s resignation that ministers should be chosen “according to their competencies and expertise, not political loyalties.”
    Hariri’s government has continued in a caretaker capacity until a new one is formed.
    Lebanon’s powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, which backs Aoun, has said Hariri’s resignation will waste valuable time in enacting measures needed to tighten state finances and convince foreign donors to release some $11 billion in pledged aid.
    The United Arab Emirates said on Sunday it was studying investment projects that were proposed at an investment forum in Abu Dhabi last month but has not yet said whether it would provide aid.
    Hariri, who has been traditionally backed by the West and Sunni Gulf Arab allies, said before the protests that the UAE had promised investments and financial aid to his deeply indebted country but that work remained to seal the deal.
(Reporting by Alaa Kanaan, Laila Bassam and Issam Abdallah; Writing by Eric Knecht, editing by David Evans and Susan Fenton)

11/3/2019 Saudi Aramco kick-starts what could be world’s biggest IPO, offers scant details by Rania El Gamal, Marwa Rashad, Saeed Azhar and Davide Barbuscia
Amin H. Nasser, president and CEO of Saudi Aramco, and Yasser al-Rumayyan, Aramco's chairman, listen to a journalist's question
during a news conference at the Plaza Conference Center in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia/DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s giant state oil company finally kick-started its initial public offering (IPO) on Sunday, announcing its intention to float on the domestic bourse in what could be the world’s biggest listing as the kingdom seeks to diversify its economy away from oil.
    But in its long-awaited announcement, Aramco, the world’s most profitable company, offered few specifics on the number of shares to be sold, pricing or the date for a launch.
    Bankers have told the Saudi government that investors will likely value the company at around $1.5 trillion, below the $2 trillion valuation touted by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman when he first floated the idea of an IPO nearly four years ago.
    Aramco also did not mention what measures it has taken to beef up security following unprecedented attacks on its oil plants in September.
    Sources have told Reuters the oil company could offer 1%-2% of its shares on the local bourse, raising as much as $20 billion to $40 billion.    A deal over $25 billion would top the record-breaking one of Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba in 2014.
    “Today is the right opportunity for new investors to reap the benefits of Aramco’s ability to achieve value, and boost it on the long-term,” Aramco Chairman Yasir al-Rumayyan told a news conference at the company’s headquarters in the eastern city of Dhahran.
    The company will spend the next 10 days talking to investors and sounding out their interest and the price range will follow, he said.
    The IPO is designed to turbocharge Prince Mohammed’s ambitious economic reform agenda by raising billions to build non-energy industries and diversify revenue streams.
    Rumayyan said a decision on an international listing for Aramco shares will be made in the future, without giving a time frame or possible venue.
    “Selling a small piece of Aramco in a captive market gives the KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) more control to prop the value of Aramco up over its fair value,” said Gary Ross, CEO at Black Gold Investors.
    Confirmation of the sale of shares in the oil giant, whose formal name is Saudi Arabian Oil Co, comes about seven weeks after the crippling attacks on its oil facilities, underlining Saudi Arabia’s determination to push on with the listing regardless.
    Aramco said it does not expect the Sept. 14 attacks, which targeted plants at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry and initially halved its production, would have a material impact on its business, operations and financial condition.
    Aramco accounted for about one in every eight barrels of crude oil produced globally from 2016 to 2018, it said on Sunday.
    Its net income for the third quarter of 2019 amounted to $21.1 billion, according to Reuters calculations, dwarfing the income for the same period of oil giants such as Exxon Mobil Corp, which was just over $3 billion.
    Chief Executive Amin Nasser said at the news conference that Aramco plans to release the prospectus on Nov. 9.
    To help get the deal done, Saudi Arabia is relying on easy credit for retail investors and hefty contributions from rich locals.
    “Whatever this local round achieves, with domestic players being strong armed into investing, international investors are still going to value this well below the expectations of (Crown Prince) Mohammed bin Salman,” said Rory Fyfe, managing director at Mena Advisors.
LURING INVESTORS
    The Saudi stock market fell 2% on Sunday after the announcement.    The benchmark index is down nearly a fifth since May as local institutions sold shares to prepare for the Aramco deal, fund managers and analysts say.
    Salah Shamma, head of investment, MENA, at Franklin Templeton Emerging Markets Equity, said some local investors could be selling other shares in order to shift investments to Aramco, but this could well be a case of “short-term pain for long-term gain.”
    To comfort investors, Aramco said on Sunday the state will forgo its right to receive a portion of cash dividends on shares, giving priority to new shareholders.
    Aramco is also cutting royalties it pays to the state. Effective Jan. 1, 2020, it will adopt a progressive royalty scheme, with a marginal rate set at 15% up to $70 per barrel, 45% between $70 and $100, and 80% if the price rises higher.
    The firm said the Saudi market regulator, which approved the application to list on Sunday, issued an exemption for non-resident institutional foreign investors to subscribe.
    Saudi investors would be eligible to receive bonus shares – a maximum of 100 bonus shares for every 10 allotted shares.
    At a valuation of $1.5 trillion, Aramco would still be worth at least 50% more than the world’s most valuable listed companies, Microsoft Corp and Apple Inc, which each have a market capitalisation of about $1 trillion.
    But a 1% sale would raise “only” around $15 billion for Saudi coffers, ranking Aramco as the 11th biggest IPO of all time, Refinitiv data show.    (For a graphic on the top 10 largest global IPOs, see https://tmsnrt.rs/33gWypM)
    “Some perspective on the Aramco IPO for the overall Saudi diversification story is needed: the likely Aramco IPO proceeds will be less than the Aramco dividends the government received in the first half of 2019 alone,” said Hasnain Malik, head of equity strategy at Tellimer.
(GRAPHIC: Aramco vs. Oil Majors 9-month earnings: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/7184/7166/Pasted%20Image.jpg)
THE ‘RIGHT TIME’
    The promised listing has had Wall Street on tenterhooks since Prince Mohammed flagged it in 2016.
    Aramco mandated 27 banks to work on the deal including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, HSBC, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley.
    “I think this is the right time for us to take Aramco to be a public company … we wanna go IPO and we wanna go now,” Rumayyan told reporters on Sunday when asked about the timing.
    Initial hopes for a blockbuster international listing of about 5% were dashed when the share sale was halted last year amid debate over where to list Aramco overseas.
    Aramco said the IPO timetable was delayed because it began a process to acquire a 70% stake in petrochemicals maker Saudi Basic Industries Corp.
    Prince Mohammed also came under intense international criticism last year for the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul by Saudi operatives, a murder for which the crown prince has said he bears responsibility “because it happened under my watch.”
    The death tarnished the image of the kingdom’s de facto ruler and imperiled his plans to diversify the economy.    Republican and Democratic lawmakers, also citing the civilian toll from a Saudi air campaign in Yemen, have ramped up efforts to block U.S. arms sales to Saudi Arabia.
    IPO preparations were revived this summer after Aramco attracted huge interest in its first international bond sale, seen as a pre-IPO relationship-building exercise with investors.
    But a listing announcement expected on Oct. 20 was delayed after advisers said they needed more time to lock in cornerstone investors, three sources told Reuters.
    A growing movement to fight climate change and embrace new “green” technologies have put some fund managers, particularly in Europe and the United States, off the oil and gas sector.
    The bond sale in April forced the secretive company to reveal its finances for the first time, including net income of $111 billion — more than a third bigger than the combined net income of the five super oil majors.    Those companies have been raising payouts to shareholders to counter rising pressure from climate activism.
    Aramco said on Sunday it intended to declare aggregate ordinary cash dividends of at least $75 billion in 2020.
    At a valuation of $1.5 trillion, this would mean a dividend yield of 5%, below that offered by rival Royal Dutch Shell.    Shell’s dividend yield is over 6%, according to Refinitiv data.
(GRAPHIC – Aramco valuation vs oil majors: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/7185/7167/Pasted%20Image.jpg)
(Reporting by Saeed Azhar, Davide Barbuscia, Rania El Gamal and Marwa Rashad; Additional reporting by Dmitry Zhdannikov and Carmel Crimmins; Editing by Gerry Doyle, Frances Kerry and Lisa Shumaker)

11/3/2019 Iraq’s PM urges protesters to stop, says unrest is hurting the economy
An Iraqi demonstrator pulls a burnt tire as he blocks the road during ongoing
anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi appealed on Sunday to protesters to help restore normal life across the country and said the unrest was costing the economy “billions of dollars
    More than 250 people have been killed since the protests in Baghdad and the south of the country started in early October, driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption.
    In statement published on Sunday evening, Abdul Mahdi said the protests which “shook the political system” have achieved their purpose and must stop effecting the country’s trade and economic activities.
    “Threatening the oil interests and blocking roads leading to Iraq’s ports is causing big losses exceeding billions of dollars,” said Abdul Mahdi, warning that unrest was pushing up prices of goods.
    Operations at Iraq’s main Gulf port, Umm Qasr, near the oil-rich city of Basra, which receives the bulk of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, have been at a complete standstill since Wednesday.
    Thousands of protesters have blocked all roads leading to the port.    Police on Saturday used live fire and tear gas to try and disperse protesters and open the roads leading to the port but they failed to force them to leave.
    The protests have broken nearly two years of relative stability in Iraq.
    Despite the country’s oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Susan Fenton)

11/4/2019 Three killed as Iraqi protesters try to break into Iran consulate in Kerbala
Members of Iraqi security forces are seen in front of the Iranian consulate, as demonstrators gather during ongoing
anti-government protests in Kerbala, Iraq November 3, 2019. Picture taken November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Three protesters were shot dead by Iraqi security forces who opened fire on a crowd trying to storm the Iranian consulate in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala overnight, security and medical sources said on Monday.
    The incident was the latest sign of anti-Iranian anger that has emerged during the biggest wave of demonstrations in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
    Burning tyres and chanting “Iran out, Kerbala remains free,” the crowd assembled in front of the consulate late on Sunday.
    “We came here today to revolt and hold a protest in front of the Iranian consulate.    We came to pull down the Iranian flag and lift the Iraqi flag instead,” said one protester in Kerbala who refused to be identified.
    Hundreds of Iraqis have died in demonstrations since the start of October, protesting against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
    Iraq’s official human rights watchdog confirmed the deaths.    The Iraqi High Commission for Human Rights (IHCHR) said three people were killed due to bullet wounds.    A dozen were injured, including security forces, it said.
    The IHCHR said the crowd tried to break into the consulate.    Security sources said they tried to torch it. Iraq is committed to protecting diplomatic missions, the foreign ministry said.
    “The foreign ministry condemns the attack by some protesters on the Islamic Republic of Iran’s consulate in holy Kerbala.    The security of missions and consulates is a red line that cannot be crossed.    Actions like this will not affect the friendly and neighborly relations tying both countries,” it said.
    Kerbala is located at the site of a 7th century battle that marked the schism between Sunni and Shi’ite Islam.    It hosts the world’s largest annual religious pilgrimages, attended by millions of people from Iran, the main regional Shi’ite power.
    Protesters see Iran as the main power behind the Shi’ite political parties that have wielded power in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion that brought down Saddam.
    The spread of anti-Iranian sentiment deep into Iraq’s Shi’ite heartland signals a broad discontent with Tehran’s interference, and Iraqi Shi’ites’ shifting priorities with sectarian identity taking a back seat to economic concerns.
    “The Iranians and the parties affiliated with Iran harm us.    We will never let any Iranian stay in Kerbala. We will not let any lackeys stay in Kerbala,” the Kerbala protester said.
    “No Iranian will remain in Kerbala or across Iraq.”
    In the capital Baghdad, where the protests have swelled dramatically over the past week, Thousands of anti-government protesters gathered in central Baghdad on Monday, defying a plea by the prime minister to stand down.
ROOT OUT THE ELITE
    Since putting down an insurgency by Islamic State in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
    The protesters blame a political system that shares power among sectarian parties, making corruption entrenched.
    “The youth have lived through economic hardships, explosions, oppression.    We want to root out this political elite completely,” said a protester who had camped overnight in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.    He asked that he not be identified.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi appealed to protesters on Sunday night to suspend their movement, which he said had achieved its goals and was hurting the economy.
    The premier has said he is willing to resign if politicians agree on a replacement, and has promised a number of reforms. But protesters say that is not enough and that the entire political class needs to go.
    Since last Wednesday, protests have halted operations at Iraq’s main Gulf port Umm Qasr, which receives the bulk of the country’s food imports.
    The political class is seen by many as subservient to one or other of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, foes who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
    Reuters reported last week that a powerful political party had contemplated withdrawing support for Abdul Mahdi but decided to keep him in power for now after holding a secret meeting in Baghdad attended by a general from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo; Editing by Jon Boyle, William Maclean and Peter Graff)

11/4/2019 Turkey says it will send back Islamic State prisoners even if citizenships revoked
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/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will send captured Islamic State members back to their countries even if their citizenships have been revoked, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said on Monday, criticizing the approach of European countries on the issue.
    Turkey launched an offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month following a decision by U.S. President Donald Trump to withdraw troops from the region.    The move prompted widespread concern over the fate of Islamic State prisoners in the region.     The YPG is the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), which has been a leading U.S. ally in beating back Islamic State in the region, and has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeastern Syria.    The United States and Turkey’s Western allies have said Ankara’s offensive could hinder the fight against Islamic State and aid its resurgence.
    Turkey, which views the YPG as a terrorist group linked with insurgent Kurdish militants on its own soil, has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat Islamic State with its allies.    It has repeatedly called on European countries to take back their citizens fighting for the jihadists.
    Speaking to reporters, Soylu said Turkey would send back any captured Islamic State fighters to their countries even if their citizenships are revoked.
    “We will send back those in our hands, but the world has come up with a new method now: revoking their citizenships,” Soylu said.    “They are saying they should be tried where they have been caught.    This is a new form of international law, I guess.”
    “It is not possible to accept this.    We will send back Daesh (Islamic State) members in our hands to their own countries whether they revoke their citizenships or not,” he said.
    Soylu had warned at the weekend that Turkey would send back Islamic State members captured by Turkey to their home countries and complained of European inaction on the matter.
    The United States said last month that it had killed Islamic State’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in northwestern Syria, where Turkey and Russia have troops.    While Baghdadi’s death was hailed by world leaders, including Turkey, the group has vowed revenge against the United States.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay, William Maclean)

11/4/2019 In Lebanon’s sweeping protests, hard-hit Tripoli sets the tempo by Eric Knecht and Yara Abi Nader
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators wave Lebanese flags during a protest in Tripoli, Lebanon, November 2, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic/File Photo
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s resignation has failed to quell nationwide protests but nowhere have they proven more determined and more energetic than in the second biggest city, Tripoli, whose residents complain of decades of neglect.
    On Monday, after a period of relative calm, protesters blocked roads in Beirut and elsewhere to press their demands against the ruling elite that have plunged Lebanon into political turmoil at a time of economic crisis.
    But the protesters in Tripoli, a port city some 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long dogged by chronic poverty and unemployment, have stood out for their determination and fury.
    “We’re continuing (the protests) in order to topple the president and the parliament,” declared a defiant banner hoisted in Tripoli’s Nour Square after Hariri’s resignation.
    Despite Hariri’s resignation last week, formal consultations over the formation of a new cabinet have yet to begin.    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, continues in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new government.
    Tripoli’s nightly rallies, which resemble an electronic music festival, have become a ritual for the roughly 500,000 residents of the mainly Sunni Muslim city.
    Images of swaying cell phone torches lighting up the hardscrabble city’s Nour Square as a rotating set of DJs mix nationalistic tunes have become iconic since Lebanon’s protests kicked off on Oct. 17.
    “Tripoli is the area that is hurting the most,” said Ayman Haddad, 33, who said his job selling medical equipment paid too little to afford to get married.    “In Beirut people have money for the month ahead, but in Tripoli we live day to day.”
    Sunni politicians from Tripoli have been a focal point of protest anger, including Najib Mikati, a former prime minister and wealthy businessman.
    Residents point to under-utilized state resources such as a nearby airport used only by the military as emblematic of a government attitude they say has allowed a city dubbed the “capital of the north” to fall deep into disrepair.
    A 2016 United Nations report found that about 50% of people in Tripoli live below a poverty line of $4 a day.
NO ONE BACKING US
    “There is interest in the capital Beirut, and in the south they have groups like Amal and Hezbollah protecting them. But in Tripoli we have no one backing us,” said Bilal al-Dahan, referring to the country’s powerful Shi’ite groups.
    Residents say the lively demonstrations have refashioned the city’s image, long tarnished by sectarian violence between rival Sunni Muslim and Alawite Muslim neighborhoods.
    “A lot of people are telling me they see Tripoli in a different light,” said Mohammed Yaghi, a 36-year-old actor.
    The city’s residents say their ability to draw big, charged crowds without respite has encouraged others across the country to keep up the momentum.
    “When the pressure in the streets in other areas seemed to die down, Tripoli’s stayed very strong. This actually brought people back out in other areas,” said Marwa Otham, 36.
    Tripoli’s resilience has challenged what critics see as a government attempt to co-opt the protest movement by positioning itself as the guarantor of an anti-corruption crusade.
    “We are going by one principle right now: that we have just started,” said Haddad.    “We are continuing until the whole regime is toppled, even the president.”
    Lebanon, one of the world’s most heavily indebted states, is grappling with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
(Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/4/2019 Turkey says delivery of second Russian S-400 batch may be delayed
FILE PHOTO: Russian servicemen sit in the cabins of S-400 missile air defence systems
in central Moscow, Russia April 29, 2019. REUTERS/Tatyana Makeyeva/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Delivery of a second batch of Russian S-400 missile defense systems to Turkey may be delayed beyond a planned 2020 timeline by talks on technology sharing and joint production, the head of Turkey’s Defence Industry Directorate said on Monday.
    NATO allies Turkey and the United States have been at loggerheads over the purchase of the S-400 system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.
    Despite Washington’s warnings and threats of U.S. sanctions, Turkey started taking delivery of the first S-400 batch in July. In response, Washington has removed Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and buyer.
    Washington still hopes to persuade its ally to “walk away” from the Russian systems.
    “We are planning a timeline for next year.    As opposed to the first (batch), there is joint production and technology transfer here.    It is beyond the ‘let’s buy it quickly and install it’ of the first system,” Ismail Demir told broadcaster NTV.
    “The joint production concept may move the timeline.    We have some sensitivities regarding some of the production being here. Technical work continues,” he said.
    Despite the threat of U.S. sanctions over Ankara’s move to buy the Russian systems, Turkey has indicated it could procure Russian fighter jets if the United States refuses to deliver the F-35 jets it has purchased.
    On Monday, Demir said Russia had offered to sell Turkey its Su-35 fighter jets.
    “There is an offer and we are evaluating it.    There cannot be such a thing as ‘we’re buying tomorrow’ in such matters. The offer’s financial and strategic aspects will be examined, there cannot be an immediate decision,” Demir said.
    “It would not be right to say ‘the F-35 era is closed, the Su-35 era is beginning’, but we will evaluate the offer,” he said.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over issues such as Turkey’s offensive into northeastern Syria.    Turkey has also been outraged over a decision by the U.S. House of Representatives to support sanctions on Ankara over its incursion and to recognize the mass killings of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”
    Despite this, Demir said Turkey was still open to offers by the United States to buy U.S. Patriot missile defense systems as long as they met Ankara’s conditions.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Can Sezer; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Giles Elgood)

11/4/2019 Protesters block roads in Beirut, other parts of Lebanon
A demonstrator sits in front of police officers standing guard during ongoing anti-government
protests in Beirut, Lebanon November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Protesters blocked roads in Beirut and other parts of Lebanon on Monday, pressing a wave of demonstrations against the ruling elite that have plunged the country into political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis.
    The nationwide protests, which were ignited on Oct. 17 by a government proposal to tax WhatsApp calls, led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister last week. Formal consultations over the formation of a new cabinet have yet to begin.
    After Hariri quit, protests had ebbed, roadblocks were lifted and banks reopened for the first time in two weeks on Friday.
    But in the early hours of Monday, new roadblocks emerged on in Beirut and around the country, snarling major traffic arteries including the main seaside highway north and south of the capital.    Schools called off plans to reopen and are now in their third week of closure.
    “The slogan is ‘this revolution doesn’t know sleep, form the government today’,” said Hashem Adnan, one of several dozen protesters blocking the Ring Bridge in Beirut, demanding a new cabinet independent of the political elite which protesters accuse of corruption and steering Lebanon into economic crisis.
    “People are continuing because you know you can’t trust this regime, any part of it,” he said.
    In the northern city of Tripoli, demonstrator Rabih al-Zein said protesters had escalated again because they do not trust the ruling elite to meet demands for a new administration that will act against corruption.
    “We want technocrats (in government) and we want judges to fight corruption, recover stolen money and hold the government accountable,” he said.
    Lebanon is grappling with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war. With growth around zero percent, a slowdown in capital inflows has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound.
    Lebanon is one of the world’s most heavily indebted states and is widely seen to be in need of urgent moves that would narrow the government’s gaping deficit and revive confidence.
    Though no formal capital controls were announced, customers encountered new restrictions on withdrawals of U.S. dollars and transfers abroad when the banks opened on Friday.
    Protesters in the southern city of Sidon mobilized outside government-run agencies and commercial banks on Monday, forcing them to close, a witness said.
    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, continues in a caretaker capacity until the formation of a new government.
    The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim under the Lebanese sectarian system of government and President Michel Aoun must designate the politicians with most support among MPs.
    Aoun, a Maronite Christian allied to the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, has yet to begin the formal consultations with MPs to designate the next prime minister.
    On Saturday, the presidency said he was working to resolve “complications” first and would start the consultations soon.
    Supporters of Aoun staged a big rally near the presidential palace on Sunday, followed by large anti-government protests in Beirut and other parts of the country later in the day.
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah, Imad Credi, Tom Perry in Beirut and Ali Hasisho in Sidon; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, William Maclean)

11/4/2019 At least six killed as security forces open fire on Iraq protesters by Ahmed Aboulenein
Members of Iraqi security forces are seen in front of the Iranian consulate, as demonstrators gather during ongoing
anti-government protests in Kerbala, Iraq November 3, 2019. Picture taken November 3, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed at least five people when they opened fire on protesters in Baghdad on Monday, a Reuters witness said, as thousands took part in the largest wave of anti-government protests for decades.
    Demonstrations also took place in several other locations, including the main Gulf port Umm Qasr and southern Shatra, where security forces also killed a protester.
    In Baghdad, a Reuters cameraman saw one man shot dead, his body carried away by fellow protesters, when security forces opened fire with live rounds on demonstrators near the Ahrar Bridge. He also saw at least four others killed.
    Security and medical sources put the toll at four killed and 34 wounded, but could only confirm one death was from live fire.    Two were a result of rubber bullets and tear gas, giving no reason for the fourth death.
    The sources also said two people were killed, including a police officer, when special forces tasked with protecting the heavily fortified Green Zone opened live fire on protesters.    At least 22 people were wounded.
    A spokesman for the prime minister said a group of protesters had crossed the bridge and set fire to a restaurant, and that law enforcement “dealt” with them.    He did not elaborate.
    Separately, at least one protester was killed and 10 wounded after police used live fire and tear gas against them in the town of Shatra, 45 km (28 miles) north of the southern city of Nassiriya, security and medical sources said.
    More than 250 Iraqis have been killed in demonstrations since the start of October against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
    Monday’s deaths were in addition to three protesters killed late on Sunday when security forces opened fire on a crowd trying to storm the Iranian consulate in the Shi’ite Muslim holy city of Kerbala, security and medical sources said.
    Thousands of anti-government protesters had gathered in central Baghdad on Monday, defying a plea by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to stand down.
    Since putting down an insurgency by Islamic State in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
    The protesters blame a political system that shares power among sectarian parties, making corruption entrenched.
    “The youth have lived through economic hardships, explosions, oppression.    We want to root out this political elite completely,” said a protester who had camped overnight in Baghdad’s Tahrir Square. He asked that he not be identified.
ECONOMIC WOES
    Abdul Mahdi appealed to protesters on Sunday night to suspend their movement, which he said had achieved its goals and was hurting the economy.
    He has said he is willing to resign if politicians agree on a replacement, and has promised a number of reforms.    But protesters say that is not enough and the entire political class needs to go.
    The political elite is seen by many as subservient to one or other of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, foes who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
    Since last Wednesday, protests have halted operations at Iraq’s main Gulf port Umm Qasr near the oil city of Basra.
    Security sources said late on Monday that negotiations with protesters had failed over re-opening the port.    A curfew was imposed on the district.
    Elsewhere in the south, about 5,000 protesters gathered in the city of Diwaniya, blocking roads.    Most government offices and schools were closed, police and local officials said.
    Protesters in Nassiriya shut off several local government offices.
ROOT OUT THE ELITE
    The incident in Kerbala was the latest sign of anti-Iranian anger that has emerged during the biggest wave of demonstrations in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein in a U.S.-led invasion.
    Reuters reported last week that a powerful political party had contemplated withdrawing support for Abdul Mahdi but decided to keep him in power for now after holding a secret meeting in Baghdad attended by a general from Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
    Burning tires and chanting “Iran out, Kerbala remains free,” the crowd assembled in front of the consulate late on Sunday.    Iraq’s High Commisson on Human Rights said the crowd tried to break into the consulate, while security sources said they tried to torch it.
    The rights commission confirmed that three people were shot dead.    A dozen more were wounded, including members of the security forces, it said.
    Kerbala hosts the world’s largest annual religious pilgrimages, attended by millions of people from Iran, the main regional Shi’ite power.
    Protesters see Iran as the main power behind the Shi’ite political parties that have wielded power in Iraq since the U.S.-led invasion.
    The spread of anti-Iranian sentiment deep into Iraq’s Shi’ite heartland signals a broad discontent with Tehran’s interference, and Iraqi Shi’ites’ shifting priorities with sectarian identity taking a back seat to economic concerns.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein and Reuters Video News; Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/4/2019 Jordan government resigns ahead of a reshuffle: state media
FILE PHOTO: Jordan's Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz speaks to the media during a
news conference in Amman, Jordan April 9, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s cabinet on Monday resigned ahead of a government reshuffle expected in the next few days, the state news agency said.
    Officials say the reshuffle will solidify Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz’s mandate to accelerate economic reforms, seen as crucial to spur growth in the debt-ridden country.
    Razzaz was quoted by Petra state news agency as saying the move was needed “to face up to the challenges of the coming period.”
    It was not clear how extensive the reshuffle would be but an official said it would not affect key portfolios, but focus on merging some ministries to cut waste and curb expenditure.
    Under an IMF austerity plan, Jordan must rein in spending to cut spiraling debt that stands at around $40 billion, equivalent to around 95 percent of gross domestic product.
    Several government moves in recent months to raise the salaries of teachers and army retirees, while government revenues are falling, has further strained state coffers.
    King Abdullah appointed Razzaz in the summer of 2018 to defuse the biggest protests in years over tax hikes pushed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to reduce Jordan’s large public debt.
    Razzaz has sought to revive confidence in a country where many blame successive governments for failing to deliver on pledges to revive growth, which is stuck at around 2 percent, cut waste and curb corruption.
    Jordan’s economy has also been hit by regional conflict, which has weighed on investor sentiment.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[This is of interest in that Jordan has been a go between to future Israeli-Palestinian talks but how this plays out for that future is unsure in that aspect.].

11/4/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan may call off U.S. trip after Congress votes: officials by Orhan Coskun and Dominic Evans
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives at the Land Forces' Forward Joint Operation Command Center
in Sanliurfa, Turkey, November 3, 2019. Murat Kula/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan may call off a visit to Washington next week in protest at votes in the House of Representatives to recognize mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and to seek sanctions on Turkey, three Turkish officials said.
    Erdogan is due in Washington on Nov. 13 at President Donald Trump’s invitation, but said last week that the votes put a “question mark” over the plans.
    “These steps seriously overshadow ties between the two countries.    Due to these decisions, Erdogan’s visit has been put on hold,” a senior Turkish official said, adding that a final decision had not been taken.
    Turkish sources say Trump and Erdogan have a strong bond despite anger in Congress over Turkey’s Syria offensive and its purchase of Russian air defenses, and despite what Ankara sees as the U.S. president’s own erratic pronouncements.
    Those personal ties could prove crucial, given NATO member Turkey’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system, which under U.S. law should trigger sanctions.
    Turkey has already been suspended from the F-35 fighter jet program in which it was both joint producer and customer, and the offensive it launched against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Oct. 9 set the stage for further U.S. retaliation.
    Although Trump appeared to clear the way for the incursion by withdrawing troops, the White House briefly imposed sanctions before lifting them after a deal to halt the fighting and clear the Kurdish fighters from the border.
    Then, two weeks after that deal, the Congressional votes infuriated Turkey once more.
‘POLITICAL TIMING’
    Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but it contests the figures and denies that the killings were orchestrated or constitute genocide.
    Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Turkey wanted to be sure that the president’s planned Washington visit could achieve “concrete results” on issues including Syria, counter-terrorism, the defense industry and trade.
    Erdogan “will make a final decision (on the trip) soon, maybe in a few days,” he told reporters after a cabinet meeting.
    Trump has expressed sympathy for Turkey over its purchase of Russian defense systems, blaming his predecessor for not selling Ankara U.S. Patriot missiles.    His eagerness to pull U.S. forces out of Syria also aligned with Erdogan’s plan to send troops across the border to drive back the Kurdish YPG.
    However, last month Trump threatened to “obliterate” Turkey’s economy, and Trump sent Erdogan a letter on the day the offensive started warning him he could be responsible for “slaughtering thousands of people
    “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” Trump wrote.
    A Turkish security official cited Trump’s letter, along with the votes in Congress, as damaging: “If the atmosphere doesn’t change, there won’t be any point to this visit
    Erdogan himself said three weeks ago he could no longer keep up with Trump’s blizzard of tweets.
    Still, for Ankara, Trump remains the best hope of salvaging a partnership between two countries which, despite their difficulties, want to quadruple their annual trade to $100 billion.
    “The two leaders have a good relationship,” a source close to the Turkish presidency said.    “President Trump wants to have good relations with Turkey in spite of his own establishment.”
(Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gareth Jones)

11/5/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says Kurdish YPG have not left Syria ‘safe zone’ by Nevzat Devranoglu and Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin
(not pictured) following Russian-Turkish talks in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Kurdish YPG militia had not withdrawn from some Syrian border areas and that U.S. forces were still carrying out joint patrols with the group, contrary to an agreement between them.
    He was speaking as Turkish and Russian soldiers in armored vehicles held their second joint ground patrol in northern Syria near the town of Kobani, under a deal to push the YPG some 30 km (19 miles) away from Turkey’s border.
    Nearly a month ago, Turkey and Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against Kurdish YPG fighters, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.
    Turkey subsequently struck two separate deals with the United States and Russia for the YPG to withdraw from the “safe zone” it plans to form in the region, in return for Ankara stopping its offensive against the group.
    While Washington and Moscow have said the fighters had left the border region, Erdogan said this was not the case.
    “These areas are not cleared of terrorists.    Terrorists have not been taken out of either Tel Rifaat or Manbij,” Erdogan said, referring to two towns in the western border area where he said YPG fighters remained.
    They were also still present east of Ras al Ain, a town Turkey targeted in the incursion, Erdogan said in parliament.
    He said Turkey would abide by the deals as long as Washington and Moscow kept their promises.
    He later told reporters that U.S. forces were still holding joint patrols with the YPG inside the 30-km border strip from which the militia was meant to withdraw.
    “How can we explain America holding patrols with terrorist organizations in this region even though they made the decision to withdraw?    This is not in our agreement,” he said.
    Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group because of its ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984. U.S. support for the YPG, which was a main ally in the fight against Islamic State, has infuriated Turkey.
    A survey by pollster Metropoll on Tuesday showed Turks’ support for Erdogan surged last month, when Ankara launched the incursion.
    Erdogan’s approval rating rose by 3.7 points in October to 48%, the survey showed, its highest since shortly after last year’s elections. His disapproval rating fell 9.3 points to 33.7%, its lowest since a failed 2016 coup.
JOINT PATROL NEAR KOBANI
    The joint Turkish-Russian patrol on Tuesday was launched some seven km (four miles) east of Kobani, a Syrian border town of special significance to the YPG, which fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize it in 2014-15.    The patrol was completed in two hours, a witness said.
    The Turkish Defence Ministry shared photos on Twitter showing Turkish and Russian soldiers meeting at the border and studying maps before the start of the patrol.    It said drones were also taking part.
    Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and since 2015 has helped it retake much of the country from rebels, turning the tide in the civil war.    The Turkish-Russian deal enabled Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.
    Russian military police arrived in Kobani on Oct. 23 under the deal reached by Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
    Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.    The YPG helped the United States smash the Islamic State caliphate in Syria.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Daren Butler)

11/5/2019 Israel’s top court clears way for deportation of Human Rights Watch official by Jeffrey Heller
Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch's Israel and Palestine Director, looks on before his hearing
at Israel's Supreme Court in Jerusalem September 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s Supreme Court upheld a government decision to deport a Human Rights Watch (HRW) official accused of backing an international pro-Palestinian boycott campaign, an edict he said was aimed at stifling criticism of Israel.
    The court ratified an Interior Ministry refusal to renew the work visa of Omar Shakir, a U.S. citizen representing New York-based HRW in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and ordered him to leave within 20 days.
    Israel says he supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement which it has criminalized.
    It has lobbied Western powers to follow suit, and Shakir’s case was a test for its anti-boycott legislation.
    Shakir contested the argument that his past pro-Palestinian statements, before being appointed to the HRW post in 2016, constituted current backing for boycotts of Israel.
    “Israeli Supreme Court upholds my deportation over my rights advocacy,” Shakir tweeted about the unanimous decision by the three-judge court.
    He said that if the Israeli government forces him to leave, it will be joining Iran, North Korea and Egypt in blocking access for HRW officials monitoring rights violations.
    “We won’t stop.    And we won’t be the last,” Shakir wrote.
AIRBNB CONTROVERSY
    Israeli Interior Minister Aryeh Deri said he was happy with the decision.    “Anyone who acts against the country should know we will not allow them to work or live here,” he said.
    Before the ruling, HRW said Israel’s move against Shakir showed it was seeking to suppress rights criticism.
    HRW says it does not support boycotts of Israel.
    It has defended Shakir’s statements since joining, including a tweet backing online rental service Airbnb’s delisting a year ago of homes in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    Airbnb later reversed that decision after intense criticism from Israel and litigation in U.S. and Israeli courts.
    Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said Israel granted hundreds of visas a year to rights activists and invited HRW to appoint a replacement for Shakir.
    Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to Britain and adviser to President Mahmoud Abbas, tweeted that the ruling was a “disgraceful but expected outcome because of international inaction.”
    Ayman Odeh, a senior politician representing Israel’s Arab minority, added on Twitter that deporting Shakir “only proves to us and to the world the extent to which his work is needed.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson and Andrew Cawthorne)

11/5/2019 Turkey, Russia hold second joint north Syria patrol, near Kobani
FILE PHOTO - A Turkish military truck drives on the Turkish-Syrian border, with the Syrian town of Kobani
in the background, in Suruc, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish and Russian troops in armored vehicles on Tuesday began their second joint ground patrol in northern Syria near the town of Kobani, under a deal that has forced a Kurdish militia away from Turkey’s border.
    Nearly a month ago, Turkey and Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against Kurdish YPG fighters, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.
    Under a subsequent deal, Russia and Turkey agreed to push the YPG militia to a depth of at least 30 km (19 miles) south of the border and to hold joint patrols to monitor the agreement.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the YPG had not withdrawn from that planned “safe zone,” despite Turkey’s agreements with both Russia and the United States.
    Tuesday’s patrol was launched some seven km east of Kobani, a Syrian border town of special significance to the YPG, which fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize it in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of the Syrian war.
    Armored vehicles crossed through a gap in the border wall to the Syrian side and headed east, a witness said.    Security sources said the patrol would cover a distance of 72 km at a depth of five km from the border.
    The Turkish Defence Ministry shared photos on Twitter showing Turkish and Russian soldiers meeting at the border and studying maps before the start of the patrol.    It said drones were also taking part.
    Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and since 2015 has helped it retake much of the country from rebels, turning the tide in the civil war.    The Turkish-Russian deal enabled Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.
    Russian military police arrived in Kobani on Oct. 23 under the deal reached by Erdogan and Russian president Vladimir Putin.
    The first patrol, on Friday, was held around the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, east of the region from where Turkish and their Syrian rebel allies forced out the YPG fighters.
    Erdogan said last week that Turkey planned to establish a “refugee town or towns” in that region between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, part of a project which state media have said would cost 151 billion lira ($26 billion).
    Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October. The YPG helped the United States smash the Islamic State caliphate in Syria.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/5/2019 Turks’ support for Erdogan jumps after Syria operation, poll shows
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers from of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the
parliament in Ankara, Turkey, October 30, 2019. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turks’ support for President Tayyip Erdogan surged last month, when Ankara launched a military incursion in northeastern Syria to clear the Kurdish YPG militia from near its border, a survey by Metropoll showed on Tuesday.
    Erdogan’s approval rating rose by 3.7 percentage points in October to 48%, the survey showed, its highest level since shortly after presidential elections in June of 2018, which were held before last year’s currency crisis took hold.
    His disapproval rate fell 9.3 percentage points to 33.7%, its lowest level since a failed coup in July 2016. Some 18% of participants did not respond to the survey question or said they had no idea.
    Since the worst of the crisis, which knocked 30% off the value of the lira last year, Erdogan’s support had eroded as inflation and unemployment surged and the economy dipped into a recession.
    Ankara, as well as most Turks, see the YPG as a terrorist organization and an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) in Turkey.    The PKK has waged a separatist insurgency against the state since 1984 and some 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
    Four of the five political parties in the Turkish parliament have strongly supported Turkey’s operation against the YPG.    The pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) opposed it and said it was aimed at boosting dwindling support for Erdogan and his AK Party.
    Ankara launched its operation on Oct. 9, days after President Donald Trump abruptly decided to pull U.S. troops out of northern Syria following a phone call with Erdogan.    The attacks were met with international condemnation.
    Turkey later reached separate agreements with Washington and Moscow and stopped its operation after YPG militants withdrew from a border strip inside Syria.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

11/5/2019 Trump speaks with Egypt’s Sisi, backs talks on disputed Ethiopia dam
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump greets Egypt's President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during a bilateral meeting on the sidelines
of the annual United Nations General Assembly meeting in New York City, New York, U.S., September 23, 2019. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Monday and voiced support for negotiations between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a giant hydroelectric dam on Ethiopia’s Blue Nile, the White House said.
    Egypt’s foreign minister said last week the Trump administration had invited the three countries to a meeting in Washington on Nov. 6 to try to break the deadlock in the talks.
    Egypt fears the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) could restrict already scarce supplies of water from the Nile, on which it is almost entirely dependent. Ethiopia says the dam is crucial to its economic development.
    “President Trump expressed support for Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan’s ongoing negotiations to reach a collaborative agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in a statement.
    The statement did not mention any meeting in Washington.
    In recent weeks, Egypt has called for an external mediator on the issue, saying three-way talks have been exhausted.
    Ethiopia has previously rejected the idea, and is expected to start filling the reservoir behind the dam next year.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Sandra Maler)

11/5/2019 Yemen government and separatists sign deal to end power struggle in south by Marwa Rashad
Southern Yemeni separatist fighters stand guard outside the headquarters of the
Southern Transitional Council in Aden, Yemen November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and southern separatists signed an agreement on Tuesday to end a power struggle in the south of Yemen that Saudi Arabia’s crown prince hailed as a step toward a wider political solution to end the multifaceted conflict.
    The stand-off had opened a new front in the more than four-year-old war and fractured a Saudi-led coalition battling the Houthi movement that ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from the capital, Sanaa, in the north in late 2014.
    Saudi Arabia’s envoy to Yemen told reporters that the pact, reached after more than a month of indirect talks in the kingdom, would see the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) join a new cabinet along with other southerners and all armed forces would be placed under government control.
    “This agreement will open, God willing, broader talks between Yemeni parties to reach a political solution and end the war,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said in a televised signing ceremony in Riyadh.
    U.S. President Donald Trump praised the agreement on Twitter: “A very good start! Please all work hard to get a final deal.”
    Riyadh has been trying to resolve the stand-off to refocus the coalition on fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on its southern border.
    Separatist forces, supported by Riyadh’s main coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, are part of the Sunni Muslim alliance that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis who hold Sanaa and most big urban centers.
    But the STC, which seeks self-rule in the south and a say in Yemen’s future, turned on Hadi’s government in August, seizing its interim seat in the southern port of Aden and trying to extend its reach in the south.
    The deal, a copy of which was seen by Reuters, calls for the formation of a new cabinet of no more than 24 ministers within 30 days that would have equal representation for northerners and southerners.    STC would join any political talks to end the war.
    Military and security forces from both sides, including tens of thousands of UAE-backed STC forces, would be placed under the defense and interior ministries.
    To pave the way for the deal, Emirati forces last month left Aden for home, handing control of the port city and other southern areas to Saudi Arabia.
    United Nations envoy Martin Griffiths, who is trying to restart talks to end a war that has pushed Yemen to the brink of famine, said the deal was an important step in peace efforts.
    “Listening to southern stakeholders is important to the political efforts to achieve peace in the country,” he said in a tweet.
    The ceremony was attended by the UAE’s de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, along with Hadi and STC leader Aidarous al-Zubaidi.
    The Aden crisis exposed a rift between Saudi Arabia and its main Arab ally the UAE, which started reducing its presence in Yemen in June as Western allies, including some that provide the coalition with arms and intelligence, pressed for an end to a war that has killed tens of thousands.
    April Longley of think-tank International Crisis Group said the agreement could be positive but it was too early to tell.
    “In a best-case scenario, it will put the lid on violence and open the way to more inclusive Yemeni negotiations in which southern separatists, who are an important component on the ground, are also present,” she said.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)

11/5/2019 Iraqi forces shoot dead 13 protesters in renewed crackdown by Ahmed Aboulenein and Raya Jalabi
Mourners carry the coffin of a demonstrator who was killed at anti-government protests,
during a funeral in Najaf, Iraq November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters in the past 24 hours, dispensing with weeks of relative restraint in favor of trying to stamp out demonstrations against political parties that control the government.
    After eight people were killed during the day on Monday, security forces shot dead at least five others overnight or early on Tuesday, including one killed with live fire toward a funeral procession held for another who died hours earlier, security and medical sources told Reuters.
    More than 260 Iraqis have been killed in demonstrations since the start of October against a government they see as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests, above all Iran.
    Most of those deaths occurred during the first week of the demonstrations, when snipers shot into crowds from Baghdad rooftops.    But after the government appeared to have curbed the use of some deadly tactics, the protests swelled rapidly over the past 12 days.
    The new violence flared a day after Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi appealed to protesters to suspend their movement, which he said had achieved its goals and was hurting the economy.
    In a televised address on Tuesday, Abdul Mahdi said the protests were having an economic impact the country could not afford, and asked demonstrators to refrain from further damaging public and private property.
    “There are many ways to express opinions without disrupting public life,” he said.
    Abdul Mahdi has said he is willing to resign if politicians agree on a replacement and has vowed a number of reforms.    But protesters say that is not enough and the entire political class needs to go.
    “After the first wave of protests, we gave the government until Oct. 25 to enact reforms,” a 30-year-old protester, who declined to give his name out of safety concerns, said in Baghdad.    “It has failed to do so, (and) all of its proposed reforms were just routine, the same old stuff.”
    He said the use of deadly force against protesters had radicalized protesters who initially only wanted “constitutional and legal reforms.”    Now they wanted wholesale change.
BLOCKING ROADS
    The protester spoke on Baghdad’s Shuhada – or Martyrs – Bridge, where dozens were building a barricade as part of plans to occupy a third bridge on Tuesday afternoon.    Teenage boys with wooden sticks made up the remainder of the vanguard.
    Security forces in riot gear stood opposite them, behind a barricade made from metal railings, dustbins and barbed wire.
    Protesters said they were blocking the bridge to bring the country to a standstill, civil disobedience now being their only recourse.     They called on fellow Iraqis to go on strike and chastised those still going to work.I ask employees, why are you going to work? … Go on strike! Stay on it for 10 days, we are all suffering together,” said teacher Karrar Mohamed, 25.
STABILITY AFTER DEFEATING ISLAMIC STATE
    Since defeating Islamic State in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
    Protesters blame a corrupt political system that shares power among sectarian parties.    Abdul Mahdi, in power for a year, enjoys the support of powerful Iranian-backed political parties allied to armed militia.
    A government report said nearly 150 people were killed in the first week of the unrest in early October, 70% from bullets to the head.    Since then, security forces have mainly used tear gas, rubber bullets and stun grenades to repel demonstrators.
    Though these tactics also caused fatalities, the protests grew far larger as word got out that they were safer.
    By the end of last week tens of thousands of people were turning out daily for by far the biggest anti-government demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    But Monday’s violence suggested a return to the earlier tactics, including firing live rounds into crowds.
    At least six protesters were killed on Monday in Baghdad as security forces used live rounds.    One protester was also killed in Shatra, a town in the south, on Monday.
    Overnight, security forces killed two more people and wounded 12 in Shatra, security and medical sources said.    Hospital sources said the protesters died from bullet wounds to the head.    The protesters had tried to attack the house of a senior government official, security sources said.
    Separately, at least two protesters were killed and dozens wounded when security forces opened fire on protesters camped out at the entrance to the main Gulf port of Umm Qasr.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

11/5/2019 Crowd pelts with stones Turkish-Russian patrol in Syria: local media
FILE PHOTO - A Turkish military truck drives on the Turkish-Syrian border, with the Syrian town of Kobani
in the background, in Suruc, in Sanliurfa province, Turkey, October 31, 2019. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish and Russian troops on Tuesday began their second joint patrol in northern Syria near Kobani, under a deal that has forced a Kurdish militia away from Turkey’s border, while local media released footage of angry crowds pelting a convoy with stones.
    Nearly a month ago, Turkey and Syrian rebel allies launched a cross-border incursion against Kurdish YPG fighters, seizing control of 120 km (75 miles) of land along the frontier.
    Under a subsequent deal, Russia and Turkey agreed to push the YPG militia to a depth of at least 30 km (19 miles) south of the border and to hold joint patrols to monitor the agreement.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that the YPG had not withdrawn from that planned “safe zone,” despite Turkey’s agreements with both Russia and the United States.
    Ankara considers the YPG – which helped the United States smash the Islamic State caliphate in Syria – a terrorist group because of its ties to militants who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.
    Tuesday’s patrol was launched 7 km (4.4 miles) east of Kobani, a Syrian border town of special significance to the YPG, which fought off Islamic State militants trying to seize it in 2014-15 in one of the fiercest battles of the Syrian war.
    Armored vehicles crossed through a gap in the border wall to the Syrian side and headed east, a witness said.    Security sources said the patrol would cover a distance of 72 km (45 miles) at a depth of 5 km (3 miles) from the border.
    Near Kobani, crowds pelted passing Turkish and Russian armored vehicles of the patrol with stones from a roadside and chanted slogans, footage from local North Press Agency showed.
    Several dozen people managed to stop two Russian armored vehicles and some of them climbed onto one of the cars with Russian military police insignia, a video released by local news outlet Anha showed.
    The Russian Defense Ministry said on Tuesday there were no incidents during the patrol mission.
    The Turkish Defense Ministry shared photos on Twitter showing Turkish and Russian soldiers meeting at the border and studying maps before the start of the patrol.    It said drones were also taking part.
    Russia is the Syrian government’s most powerful ally and since 2015 has helped it retake much of the country from rebels, turning the tide in the civil war.    The Turkish-Russian deal enabled Syrian government forces to move back into border regions from which they had been absent for years.
    Russian military police arrived in Kobani on Oct. 23 under the deal reached by Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    The first patrol, on Friday, was held around the Syrian border town of Darbasiya, east of the region from where Turkish and their Syrian rebel allies forced out the YPG fighters.
    Erdogan said last week that Turkey planned to establish a “refugee town or towns” in that region between Tel Abyad and Ras al Ain, part of a project that state media have said would cost 151 billion lira ($26 billion).
    Ankara launched its offensive against the YPG following President Donald Trump’s abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.
(Reporting by Daren Butler in Istanbul and Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Cooney)

11/6/2019 Tourists stabbed in Jordanian city near Roman ruins: police
FILE PHOTO: People walk along the ruins of the ancient Roman city of Jerash during the Jerash Festival of Culture
and Arts in the ancient city of Jerash, north of Amman, Jordan, July 21, 2016. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Several Spanish-speaking tourists were injured in a stabbing on Wednesday in Jerash, a Jordanian city popular with foreign visitors, along with a local guide and a security guard, police said, adding that a man had been arrested.
    A security source initially told Reuters the victims included three Spanish women, however Spain said its citizens were not involved.    Video of the incident that circulated on Jordanian media appeared to show victims speaking Spanish with Latin American accents.
    Jerash is famed for its Roman ruins.
    Videos posted on social media showed a bleeding woman lying on the floor and another panic-stricken woman in a blood-stained T-shirt.
    A security source said two of the tourists were in a critical condition but did not elaborate.
    Jordan has seen a surge in tourism in the last two years and is considered by tour operators as one of the safest tourist destinations in the Middle East. It has rarely seen attacks on foreign tourists.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Jose Elias Rodriguez and Belen Carreno; Editing by John Stonestreet and Peter Graff)

11/6/2019 World Bank ready to support Lebanon, urges formation of new government
University students light a torch and wave Lebanese flags during anti-government
protest in Beirut, Lebanon, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The World Bank said on Wednesday it stood ready to extend all possible support to a new Lebanese government that was committed to good governance and creating opportunities for its citizens.
    The rapid formation of a government that meets the expectations of all Lebanese people is the most urgent step required in Lebanon, the bank said in a statement after its World Bank regional director Saroj Kumar Jha met with Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Writing by Tom Arnold; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/6/2019 U.N. Palestinian refugee agency replaces boss pending misconduct inquiry
FILE PHOTO: Pierre Krahenbuhl, Commissioner-General of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees
in the Near East (UNRWA), attends a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The head of the U.N. agency that aids Palestinian refugees has stepped aside until the end of an investigation into misconduct allegations, the agency said on Wednesday.
    Commissioner General Pierre Krahenbuhl stepped aside until a review of “management-related matters” at the agency was completed, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) said in a statement.
    It gave no details of the substance of the allegations.
    UNRWA provides education, health, housing and relief services to more than 5 million registered refugees in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, as well as in neighboring countries Jordan, Lebanon and Syria.
    The U.N. Secretary General appointed Christian Saunders as Officer-In-Charge for the interim period. Saunders previously served as the agency’s acting deputy commissioner general.
    “Over the last few months, UNRWA has initiated an internal review of its governance, management and accountability functions, so as to ensure it practices the highest standards of professionalism, transparency and efficiency,” the UNRWA statement said.
    Krahenbuhl was notified in March that an investigation was underway by the U.N. Secretariat in New York “based on allegations received against UNRWA personnel relating to unsatisfactory conduct.”    The substance of the allegations has not been made public in detail.
    UNRWA has faced budgetary difficulties since last year, when the United States, its biggest donor, halted its aid of $360 million per year.    Washington says some UNRWA activities are anti-Israeli.
    Switzerland, the Netherlands and Belgium have separately suspended payments to UNRWA over the management issues that are now under investigation.    The agency’s spokeswoman says it still needs $89 million to keep operating until the end of this year.
(The story is refiled to fix typo in paragraph four)
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Peter Graff)

11/6/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri meets Bassil, all ideas on table-source close to Hariri
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri gestures as he leaves after delivering
his address in Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri, who resigned as prime minister last week, had a positive meeting with leading politician Gebran Bassil on Wednesday and all ideas were discussed for getting the country out of economic crisis, a source close to Hariri said.
    Hariri’s resignation was prompted by an unprecedented wave of protests against the ruling elite that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17, tipping it into political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis.
    Bassil, a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, was foreign minister in the outgoing Hariri cabinet and is a political ally of the powerful and heavily armed Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    “All ideas were put on the table for what would be best for Lebanon to come out of the economic crisis and what would best heed the calls made by protesters in the past three weeks,” the source said of the meeting at Hariri’s Beirut residence.
    It was his second meeting there with Bassil in three days.
    Communication would remain open with Bassil and all other political groups “over the next hours and days, round the clock, to come up with the best possible solution for the economic and financial difficulties,” the source added.
    Aoun has yet to begin the formal consultation process with lawmakers towards nominating a new prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian system.    Aoun must designate the candidate with the greatest support among parliamentarians.
    The protesters, who have no clear leadership, have made an array of demands from replacing the government with a cabinet of technocrats to an early parliamentary election and steps to fight deeply rooted state corruption.
    Other political sources have said Hariri favors a government blending technocrats with political figures but devoid of prominent politicians targeted by protesters, including Bassil.
    Bassil has in turn proposed the entire government, including the prime minister, be made up entirely of technocrats agreed to by politicians.
    A degree of normalcy has returned to Lebanon in recent days as the protests that paralyzed much of the country have ebbed and roads that were blockaded by protesters were reopened.
    On Wednesday, protesters gathered outside government offices and state-run bodies in Beirut and other cities.
    As night fell, hundreds of protesters, some of them holding candles and banging pans gathered in the central Beirut.
    Lebanon’s economy has suffered years of low growth for reasons including turmoil in the Middle East.
    Capital inflows critical to meeting the financing needs of the heavily indebted state have also slowed down, leading recently to a scarcity of hard currency and pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound.
    The World Bank said on Wednesday it stood ready to back a new government, warning the country had no time to waste to tackle an emerging economic crisis worsening by the day.
    Aoun told the delegation from the World Bank the next government would have competent ministers “of good reputation and far from suspicions of corruption,” his office said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/6/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan speaks with Trump, to visit Washington next week
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/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan spoke by phone with U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday and the two leaders reconfirmed they will meet in Washington on Nov. 13 at Trump’s invitation, Turkish officials said.
    Earlier this week, three Turkish officials had said Erdogan might call off the visit in protest of votes in the U.S. House of Representatives to recognize mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and to seek sanctions on Turkey.
    However, officials on Wednesday said the visit would go ahead and that the two leaders had exchanged views on bilateral issues and regional developments during their phone call.
    Turkish sources say Trump and Erdogan have a strong bond despite anger in Congress over Turkey’s Syria offensive and its purchase of Russian air defenses, and despite what Ankara sees as the U.S. president’s own erratic pronouncements.
    Those personal ties could prove crucial, given NATO member Turkey’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system, which under U.S. law should trigger sanctions.
    Turkey has already been suspended from the F-35 fighter jet program in which it was both joint producer and customer, and the offensive it launched against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Oct. 9 set the stage for further U.S. retaliation.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Chris Reese and Leslie Adler)

11/6/2019 Water crisis builds in Egypt as dam talks falter, temperatures rise by Nadeen Ebrahim
Abdel-Shaheed Gerges walks at his farmland near a canal which flows into the River Nile at Comer village in
Esna, south of Luxor, Egypt, October 27, 2019. Picture taken October 27, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    FAYOUM, Egypt (Reuters) – Ahmed Abd-Rabo used to get all the water he needed to feed his crops 50 km (30 miles) from Egypt’s River Nile.     Then supplies in the canal linking his seven acres to the river dwindled as other farmers drew more water, and he had to abandon half the plot.
    His smallholding is one of the victims of a creeping water crisis, exacerbated by Egypt’s growing population and the impacts of climate change.
    Egypt fears things could get even worse as Ethiopia starts filling the reservoir behind a giant dam upriver.
    On Wednesday, the United States was hosting talks between the countries and their fellow Nile-user Sudan to try to restart stalled talks over the hydropower project.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said he met with officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss the issues involved.
    “The meeting went well and discussions will continue during the day!” Trump said in a Twitter post.
    But even if Washington succeeds where years of trilateral negotiations have failed, Egypt will still have broader water problems that have left it struggling to sustain food production.
    “There is very little Nile water,” said Abd-Rabo, standing next to the plot where he grows wheat and fodder in Fayoum, about 100 km (60 miles) south of the capital, Cairo.
    “In winter, sometimes there’s a bit more, but mainly because the land doesn’t need a lot of water in the winter.    But in the summer, we don’t get any.”
    Egyptian officials say they currently have around 570 cubic meters (150,000 gallons) of water per person per year – hydrologists consider a country to be facing water scarcity if supplies drop below 1,000 cubic meters per person annually.
MUD AND SOIL
    Egypt’s figure is expected to drop to 500 cubic meters by 2025.    That is without taking into account the impact of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt says will lower water levels further, though Ethiopia says it has taken the needs of Egypt and Sudan into account.
    The stakes are high. Talk of physical conflict between the countries along the Nile has receded, but Egypt sees the dam as an existential threat that could decimate farming and damage power supplies.
    More than 80% of its water is used for agriculture, but scarcity means Cairo already imports about half its food and is the world’s largest wheat importer.
    The government is urging farmers to use more efficient irrigation and plant seeds with shorter life spans that require less water.    It is also trying to recycle more water.
    But the water management and irrigation schemes have not reached everyone.
    “We are still using old irrigation techniques, which use mud and soil, and waste water,” said Aref Mohamed, a farmer near the southern city of Luxor.
    Fines to stop farmers planting water-intensive rice in the northern Nile Delta are not being as strictly enforced as last year, locals say.    The area under rice cultivation has shot up to 1.75 million acres (0.7 million hectare) from about 800,000 acres over the same period, according to irrigation ministry estimates.
TEMPERATURES
    Climate change presents another risk.    With temperatures rising, Egypt could lose 30% of its food production in southern areas by 2040, according to the U.N. World Food Programme.
    Heatwaves have already reduced crop productivity and in Fayoum, residents say temperatures have been rising for years, forcing farmers to use more water for less land.
    “We have not got any produce from this land over the past three years because of the temperature levels,” said another farmer in Fayoum, asking not to be named.    “Now, if I have two feddans (2.1 acres), I will plant one and leave the other one.”
    The effect of climate change in upstream nations is uncertain.
    “It is unclear whether there will be an increase or decrease of rainfall in countries of (the Nile) source,” said Tahani Mostafa Sileet of Egypt’s water resources and irrigation ministry.    “As such, we don’t know whether to adjust our politics based on an increase or a decrease of resources.”
    But any alteration to Nile flows could make “huge difference,” said Randa Aboul Hosn of the UN development agency UNDP.    Every “2% drop of water affects one million people,” she said.
(Graphic on the competition for water, https://graphics.reuters.com/EGYPT-WATER/0100B2ZM235/NILE.jpg)
(Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Momen Saeed Atallah; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Marguerita Choy)

11/6/2019 Trump says talks with Egypt, Ethiopia, Sudan on dam dispute went well
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at a campaign rally at the
Rupp Arena in Lexington, Kentucky, U.S., November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Wednesday he had held talks with officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan over a disputed new dam Ethiopia is building on the Nile River.
    “The meeting went well and discussions will continue during the day!” Trump wrote in a Twitter post.
    Egypt fears its water crisis could worsen as Ethiopia starts filling the reservoir behind the giant dam upriver.    Nile-user Sudan also has an interest in the hydropower project.
    Officials from Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan were slated to meet with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin later on Wednesday.
    Cameron Hudson, a former U.S. State Department official and senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center, said the Washington meetings came “out of the blue” since the United States had not been actively involved in trying to mediate the Nile water issue.    He said he did not expect any breakthroughs.
    Hudson also said it was surprising that the Washington meeting was being hosted by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, not Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, since the State Department arguably had more expertise in the issues involved.
    The announcement had not been well coordinated within the U.S. government, he added.
    Witney Schneidman, a former deputy assistant secretary of state for African affairs who is now a senior adviser at Covington & Burling, also expressed surprise at Washington’s foray into the water issue since the Trump administration had not been actively involved in African issues.
    But he said resolving the dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which Egypt says will lower water levels further, would help the region enormously.
    “A successful resolution of the tensions regarding the Renaissance Dam is critical to economic progress in the region.    And if the U.S. can play a part in that process, that’s to everyone’s benefit,” he said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Andrea Shalal; Editing by Chris Reese and Jonathan Oatis)

11/6/2019 World Bank ready to support Lebanon, urges quick formation of new cabinet
Women carry candles at a march during ongoing anti-government protests in
Beirut, Lebanon November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The World Bank said on Wednesday it stood ready to back a new Lebanese government, warning the country had no time to waste to tackle an emerging economic crisis worsening by the day.
    The bank called for the rapid formation of a new cabinet and said it expected a recession in 2019 to be even more significant than an earlier projection of a 0.2% contraction in the economy.
    A wave of massive protests across Lebanon against the ruling elite pushed Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign last week, toppling his coalition cabinet.    There has been no sign of progress toward agreeing a new government.
    The turmoil comes as Lebanon grapples with the worst economic and financial strains since the 1975-90 civil war.
    The World Bank is among foreign donors who pledged billions of dollars in badly needed aid last year, as long as Lebanon’s government enacts reforms it has long delayed. But with foreign allies not fully convinced, the money has yet to flow into the economy.
    “Lebanon does not have the luxury of time to waste to redress issues that need immediate attention,” the World Bank said in a statement after its regional director, Saroj Kumar Jha, met Lebanese President Michel Aoun on Wednesday.    “There is an urgent need to stop the emerging economic crisis.”
    “We stand ready to extend all possible support to the new government that commits itself to good governance and creating opportunities for all Lebanese,” it added.
    The proportion of Lebanese living in poverty could rise to 50% if economic conditions worsen, from about a third in 2018, the World Bank said.    Unemployment, which already runs at 37% for the under 35s, could rise sharply.
    “With every passing day, the situation is becoming more acute and this would make recovery extremely challenging,” Jha added.
    Aoun told the World Bank the next government would have competent ministers “of good reputation and far from suspicions of corruption,” the president’s office said after the meeting.
PUBLIC ANGER
    Unrest erupted across Lebanon some three weeks ago amid a build-up of anger at rising costs of living, new tax plans and a ruling elite accused of rampant corruption.
    Demonstrators blame the political class, many of them sectarian civil war leaders, for plunging the country toward collapse after milking the state for decades.
    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, remains in office in a caretaker capacity until political parties agree a new government.
    Aoun, an ally of the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, has yet to begin official talks with MPs to designate a prime minister who would form the next cabinet.
    Crowds protested in front of ministries and state institutions on Wednesday in the capital Beirut, as well as parts of south and north Lebanon.
    “We came to show that we’re in the protest squares no matter what the corrupt (authorities) do,” Rasha Hijazi, a public school teacher, said at a protest in the southern city of Sidon, where teachers and students went on strike.
    “It is not important to lose our hours, our archaic curriculum…This is the real revolution that we are teaching.”
    Lebanon has one of the world’s highest public debt burdens at 150% of GDP. Political disputes in Lebanon and regional conflict have hit economic growth.
    With growth around zero percent, a slowdown in capital inflows has led to a scarcity of dollars and pressure on the pegged Lebanese pound.
    Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Lebanon’s rating to Caa2 on Tuesday, at the lower end of the “junk” grade bracket, citing the increased likelihood of a debt rescheduling it would classify as a default.
    Lebanon’s issuer rating, which was lowered from Caa1, remained under review for downgrade, Moody’s said.    Moody’s classifies Caa ratings as very high credit risk.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by Gareth Jones, Bernadette Baum and Alex Richardson)

11/6/2019 Iraqi security forces break up protests in Battle of the Bridges by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein
Demonstrators react as they take part in one of the ongoing anti-government protests
in Baghdad, Iraq November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces fired tear gas and live rounds into the air to disperse protesters in central Baghdad on Wednesday, killing one person, as the biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in decades spread out across the capital.
    The shootings took place on or near three of Baghdad’s main bridges – Ahrar, Shuhada, and Bab al-Muadham – which have become focal points of the protests.
    Chaotic scenes unfolded as the din of gunshots and stun grenades rocked the streets where groups of anxious young men – some heavily bandaged – ran from security forces, Reuters correspondents said.    Tuk-tuks whizzed by ferrying protesters, some of them wounded.
    Armored police vehicles blocked their path, turning most away.    Policemen dragged a driver out of his tuk-tuk and beat him and a fellow rider with sticks before arresting them.
    The fatality was a doctor, shot dead near Ahrar Bridge, security and medical sources said.    At least 42 people sustained tear gas-related injuries.    At least 18 people were arrested, security sources said.
    More than 260 Iraqis have been killed since the start of October in the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.    Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
    Protesters had begun trying to block bridges earlier this week as part of efforts to bring the country to a standstill, with thousands joining anti-government demonstrations in the capital and southern provinces.    Security forces killed at least five people on Monday during one such attempt.
    On Wednesday, the usually bustling surrounding streets were empty, with most shops shuttered.
    “We are peacefully protesting,” said Abu Zahra, 50.    “We are here to block the bridges.    If we don’t, security forces are going to retake all the bridges and Tahrir Square, and end our protest.    We are defending our brothers in Tahrir.”
    Thousands of people had been gathering for weeks in central Tahrir Square.    Clashes over two other bridges near the square have taken place regularly, bringing the total of blocked bridges to five.
    “Blocking roads and bridges is illegal sabotage.    Security forces have strict orders not to use live ammunition against protests and they are adhering to the rules of engagement but this could change,” the prime minister’s spokesman said.
    In the 24 hours to late Tuesday, security forces shot dead at least 13 protesters.
    Thousands have also demonstrated in Iraq’s impoverished southern Shi’ite heartland.
CIVIL DISOBEDIENCE
    Since defeating Islamic State in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
    The root cause of grievances is the sectarian power-sharing system of governance introduced after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion.
    Many see political elites as subservient to one or another of Baghdad’s main allies, the United States and Iran, who use Iraq as a proxy in a struggle for regional influence.
    Protesters are now escalating their tactics, saying civil disobedience is their only recourse and calling for strikes as the government of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, in office for a year, has found no response to the protests.
    Protesters on Wednesday also blocked the entrance to the southern Nassiriya oil refinery, security and oil sources said.    They stopped tankers that transport fuel to gas stations from entering the refinery, causing fuel shortages.
    Security forces forcibly dispersed a sit-in overnight in oil-producing Basra but no deaths were reported, security sources said.
    Thousands have been blocking all roads leading to Iraq’s main Gulf port Umm Qasr, near Basra.    Operations at the port, which receives most of Iraq’s imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar, have been at a complete standstill for a week.
ECONOMIC DAMAGE
    The Umm Qasr blockade has cost the country more than $6 billion so far, Abdul Mahdi’s spokesman said.
    There were clashes there overnight as the families of protesters killed in previous attempts to disperse the sit-in threw rocks at security forces stationed near Basra port. No deaths occurred, security sources said.
    Dozens have been arrested in Basra and Nassiriya.
    In a televised address on Tuesday, Abdul Mahdi said the protests were having an economic impact the country could not afford, and asked demonstrators to refrain from further damaging public and private property.
    “He accuses us of sabotaging the Iraqi economy?    What Iraqi economy?    All we have is oil, and they’re stealing it all anyway,” said protester Ayman Abdullah, 38, an engineer.
    Oil sales account for over 95% of Iraq’s revenues.
    Internet remained blocked across much of Iraq on Wednesday, having been completely shutdown late on Monday and briefly restored for less than four hours on Tuesday morning.
The U.S Embassy in Baghdad condemned the deadly violence against unarmed demonstrators and urged Iraq’s leaders to engage urgently with the protesters.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein; additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)

11/6/2019 Explainer: Why is Lebanon in an economic and political mess?
FILE PHOTO: A woman holds a Lebanese flag as she stands at a roadblock during ongoing anti-government
protests in Beirut, Lebanon November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Demonstrations have convulsed Beirut and other cities across Lebanon since mid-October, forcing the prime minister to resign and shaking confidence in an economy that was already in crisis.
    Protesters’ anger is focused on the perceived corruption of Lebanese sectarian politicians who have dominated the country since the 1975-90 civil war.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH LEBANON’S ECONOMY?
    Lebanon exports little and imports heavily, while its economy is choked by one of the world’s largest debt burdens as a result of years of inefficiency, waste and corruption.
    Ten years ago, GDP growth was ticking along at 8-9% a year.    But this has fallen sharply for several reasons including the impact of war in Syria, wider regional turmoil and diminished capital flows from abroad.
    Economic growth, which has been stuck between 1-2% for several years, has fallen to zero this year.    Yet, the government continues to borrow.    While GDP stands at $55 billion, the national debt is around 150% of GDP, or $85 billion.
    With few sources of foreign exchange, Lebanon depends on its diaspora to remit cash to the banking system, which is then recycled to finance imports and the state deficit.
    But despite increasingly high interest rates, these inflows have been slowing.    This has led to a scarcity of dollars and pressure on the Lebanese pound which has weakened on a black market that emerged in recent months.    The weaker pound has started to push up prices.
    The bulk of the government’s spending is absorbed by debt servicing and paying a bloated civil service stacked with political appointees.
    Infrastructure is poor.    Lebanese suffer daily power cuts and depend on expensive private generation to fill the gaps.    The state-owned mobile operators are expensive.
    Unemployment among under 35s runs at 37%.
    Despite years of warnings about the need to reform and rein in the deficit, governments have failed to act.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH LEBANON’S POLITICS?
    The protesters accuse the political elite of exploiting state resources for their own benefit through networks of patronage and clientelism that mesh business and politics.
    Unlike many Arab countries, Lebanon is not dominated by one strong ruler but has a number of leaders and parties with sway over the country’s various sectarian groups.
    Positions are apportioned by quotas among 18 officially recognized sects.    Parliament is half Christian and half Muslim. The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, the president a Maronite Christian and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite.
    Critics say the system has kept the ruling caste in power indefinitely and allowed politicians to put their own interests above those of the state.    The protesters’ demands include not only removing the elite, but also overhauling the system.
    “There’s a self-centered political elite that still hasn’t acknowledged the changing realities or how difficult the situation is,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center.    “They want to focus on their own profiteering in the system.”
    Lebanon’s fractured politics is also vulnerable to foreign interference that has long fueled domestic crises.
    Since Syrian troops left in Lebanon in 2005, many of its political conflicts have reflected tensions between Iran, which backs the Shi’ite group Hezbollah, on the one hand, and U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, which have backed Hariri, on the other.
    Hezbollah is heavily armed and designated a terrorist group by the United States.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
    Because the protests have no leader and encapsulate a wide-range of demands, responding to them is not easy.    A first package of measures offered by Hariri was resoundingly rejected — demonstrators demanded far more sweeping changes.
    Political leaders including Hariri have been holding closed-door discussions over a new government.
    One idea is for a new cabinet at least partially made up of technocrats who can win public trust and press on with reform.
    But one week since Hariri quit, there is no sign of a quick breakthrough.    It took nine months of negotiations to form the outgoing coalition government.
    Protesters demanding a complete government overhaul and new elections will be disappointed with any cabinet including old faces.    At least some will seek to press on with demonstrations.
    “If this mood prevails and protests continue at the current pace and scale, the country may be in for a prolonged period of unrest,” International Crisis Group analyst Heiko Wimmen wrote in a recent analysis.    “No alternative political leadership or real opposition to the ruling parties exists.”
    Further economic deterioration, including the risk of a sharp currency devaluation, would exacerbate social tensions.
    “This is a society that had a civil war only 30 years ago,” said Hage Ali, concerned that some of the ingredients that fueled that conflict are stewing again.
    “We’ve been to dark places in this country before, and I don’t see a way to avoid something like that.”
    In a less disastrous scenario, a new cabinet is formed quickly, which unlocks financial support from governments including the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia or Qatar.
    To arrive at such a cabinet, Hariri may need Hezbollah’s help to secure compromise from its allies, notably Christian politician Gebran Bassil, a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, who has been a target of protester ridicule.
(Writing by Luke Baker, Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/6/2019 Factbox: Key facts about Ethiopia’s giant Nile dam
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
    (Reuters) – Ethiopia is building a giant dam on the Blue Nile, close to its border with Sudan.
    Ethiopia says the hydropower project is crucial to its economic development.    Egypt is worried the dam will affect flow of the Nile, its main source of fresh water.
THE DAM
    The $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was announced in early 2011, as Egypt was in political upheaval following a popular uprising that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak.
    The dam is the centerpiece of Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, with a projected capacity of more than 6,000 megawatts.
    Ethiopia has said it will start filling the reservoir behind the dam in 2020, though construction has been hit by delays.
    The first stage of the filling process is expected to take two years and bring the water level in the reservoir to 595 meters out of an eventual 632 meters.
NILE WATERS
    The Nile Basin river system flows through 11 countries.    The Blue Nile and White Nile merge in Sudan before flowing into Egypt and towards the Mediterranean.
    Egypt currently bases its share of the river’s waters on a 1959 deal that gave it 55.5 billion cubic meters water annually, and Sudan 18.5 bcm.
    Other countries were not given allocations at that time.    Ethiopia was not party to the agreement and does not recognize
EGYPT’S POSITION
    Egypt, which has a rapidly growing population nearing 100 million, relies on the Nile for around 90% of its fresh water.
    Even without taking the dam into account, the largely desert country is short of water.    It imports about half its food products and recycles about 25 bcm of water annually.
    Egypt accuses Ethiopia of not factoring in the risk of drought conditions such as those that affected the Nile Basin in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
    While acknowledging such a scenario is unlikely, Egypt says it could lose more than one million jobs and $1.8 billion in economic production annually.
    It therefore wants the first, two-year stage of the filling process to be extendable, and for Ethiopia to guarantee it 40 bcm per year after the first stage is completed.
ETHIOPIA’S POSITION
    Ethiopia, with a population of more than 100 million people, accuses Egypt of trying to maintain a colonial-era grip over the Nile’s waters.
    Addis Ababa says Cairo is trying to hold the project hostage by imposing rules over the filling and operation of the dam.
    It says it is taking the interests of Egypt and Sudan – the other downstream nation – into account, and that Egypt’s requirement of a guaranteed 40 bcm is unrealistic.
    It also says that while it could fill the reservoir in two to three years, it made a concession by proposing a four to seven year process.
    Ethiopia has repeatedly rejected Egypt’s suggestion of a fourth party mediator, saying Cairo is trying to sidestep three-way discussions.
TALKS
    Both sides have accused each other of delaying negotiations, which resumed in Cairo and Khartoum in September and October, before stalling again.
    After Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on the sidelines of a summit in Russia in October, the two sides agreed to restart technical talks.
    Egypt has enthusiastically accepted an invitation from the U.S. to separate talks in Washington.
(Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

11/6/2019 Kurdish Forces: Turkey used prohibited weapons against 30 civilians in Northern Syria by OAN Newsroom
In this photo taken from the outskirts of the village of Mert Ismail near the town of Suruc, southeastern Turkey, Turkish army
vehicles return to Tirley from Syrian after conducting a joint patrol with Russian forces, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)
    The Kurdish forces in Syria have accused Turkey of using prohibited weapons in the war-torn country.    The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Wednesday that Turkey used internationally banned chemical weapons on at least 30 civilians in Syria.
    SDF officials said they are preparing to file complaints — along with evidence of Turkey’s use of the weapons — with several international organizations. Last week, the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons dropped a probe into Turkey’s alleged use of white phosphorous.
    Kurdish officials have insisted there is evidence Turkey used banned weapons multiple times before.
    “We currently have nine samples taken from the people who have been targeted by these weapons,” stated one official.    “Nine samples that can be provided to the respective international committee…with the mission of investigating the usage of these weapons.”
    The Kurdish forces also denounced the joint Russian-Turkish border patrols in Northern Syria, urging Moscow to focus on protecting the civilian population.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party legislators at the
Parliament, in Ankara, Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2019. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
    President Trump is planning to meet with the Turkish president next week to discuss solutions to the ongoing conflict in the region.    In a Wednesday tweet, the president described a recent phone call with President Tayyip Erdogan and announced that they would be meeting on November 13th.

11/7/2019 Erdogan says U.S. not fulfilling Syria deal ahead of Trump talks by Daren Butler
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting at the
Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 5, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday the United States was not fulfilling its pledge to remove a Kurdish militia from a Syrian border region and he will raise the issue when he meets President Donald Trump next week.
    A month ago, Turkey launched a cross-border offensive with Syrian rebels against Kurdish YPG fighters.    After seizing control of a 120-km (75-mile) swathe of territory, it reached a deal with the United States to keep them out of that area.
    Erdogan is set to discuss implementation of the agreement with Trump in Washington on Nov. 13, after confirming that the visit would go ahead following a phone call between the leaders overnight.
    “While we hold these talks, those who promised us that the YPG…would withdraw from here within 120 hours have not achieved this,” he told a news conference, referring to a deadline set in last month’s agreement.
    Turkish officials had previously said Erdogan might call off the U.S. visit in protest at U.S. House of Representatives’ votes to recognize mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide and to seek sanctions on Turkey.
    After the deal with Washington, Ankara also reached an agreement with Moscow under which the YPG was to withdraw to a depth of 30 km along the entirety of the northeastern Syrian border with Turkey.
    But Erdogan said this deal had also not been fulfilled, with YPG fighters still in the border strip, adding that he would hold talks with Putin soon on the issue.
    A senior U.S. State Department official said late on Wednesday there has been fighting in the area southeast of Syria’s border town of Ras al-Ain.    It “is somewhat in dispute” whether the area is covered by the U.S. or Russian deals.
    “The YPG and all armed forces have certainly withdrawn from the vast majority of our area,” the official said.    “Erdogan is never all that specific in his broadside attacks on us or anybody else.”
CLASHES IN SYRIA
    Speaking to reporters before a visit to Hungary, Erdogan said clashes in Syria were continuing, with 11 fighters from the Turkey-backed rebel Syrian National Army (SNA) killed on Thursday.
    “These terrorists are attacking the SNA, and the SNA is retaliating in kind. There are 11 martyrs from the SNA this morning.    Many more were killed on the other side,” he said.
    Under the two bilateral deals, Ankara stopped its offensive in return for the withdrawal of the YPG fighters.    Turkish and Russian soldiers have so far held two joint patrols near the border to monitor implementation of their agreement.
    Ankara considers the YPG a terrorist group because of its ties to militants who have fought an insurgency in southeast Turkey since 1984.    U.S. support for the YPG, which was a main ally in the fight against Islamic State, has infuriated Turkey.
    Ankara began its offensive against the YPG after Trump announced an abrupt withdrawal of 1,000 U.S. troops from northern Syria in early October.    The U.S. president has since said that some troops will continue to operate there.
    Late on Wednesday, the commander of the YPG-led Syrian Democratic Forces said the group was resuming work with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State in Syria.
    “As a result of a series of meetings with Coalition leaders, #SDF is resuming its joint program of work with the Coalition to combat #ISIS and securing the infrastructure of NE #Syria,” Mazloum Kobani wrote on Twitter.
    Turkish sources say Trump and Erdogan have a strong bond despite anger in Congress over Turkey’s Syria offensive and its purchase of Russian air defenses, and despite what Ankara sees as the U.S. president’s own erratic pronouncements.
    Those personal ties could prove crucial, given NATO member Turkey’s purchase of Moscow’s S-400 missile defense system, which under U.S. law should trigger sanctions.
    Turkey has already been suspended from the F-35 fighter jet program in which it was both joint producer and customer, and the offensive it launched against Kurdish forces in northeast Syria on Oct. 9 set the stage for further U.S. retaliation.
    Unal Cevikoz, deputy chair of Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told Reuters that Erdogan will likely ask Trump to disarm the YPG forces and ensure they do not return to the border region.
    “There is not a full harmony between the approaches of the United States and Turkey in the Syrian quagmire,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Jonathan Spicer in Turkey and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans)

11/7/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will let refugees into Europe if EU does not support it
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister
Viktor Orban (not pictured) in Budapest, Hungary November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will have to open the doors to Europe for Syrian refugees unless the European Union provides Ankara with enough support, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday, adding that Turkey could not carry that burden alone.
    Turkey aims to establish a “safe zone” in northeast Syria, where it says up to 2 million Syrian refugees can settle once the region is cleared of the Kurdish YPG militia. Ankara has repeatedly urged the EU to help Turkey in hosting more than 3.5 million refugees.
    “Whether we receive support or not, we will continue to aid the guests we are hosting.    But, if this doesn’t work out, then we will have to open the doors,” Erdogan told a news conference alongside Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Budapest.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

11/7/2019 Lebanon a ‘beautiful idea’ in need of a reboot, say protesters by Luke Baker
Students carry Lebanese flags during ongoing anti-government protests near the Ministry of Education
and Higher Education in Beirut, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – From a narrow angle, Beirut looks a picture of elegance and success, its French boutiques, luxury hotels and imported cars blending into Mediterranean skies.
    Widen the lens, as three weeks of popular anti-government protests have sought to do, and the view that emerges is of a nation struggling against extreme inequality, failing basic services, high unemployment and hardened frustration.
    “Lebanon is a beautiful idea,” said Yara Salem, a 25-year-old cinema student who spends her days at the tented protest camp in Martyrs’ Square, only a few meters from the revolving doors of Le Grey, one of Beirut’s top five-star hotels.
    “But it’s an illusion.    You think you’re in Paris but you go over there and people are dying on the streets,” she said, referring to the poor and destitute rather than the protesters, none of whom have died in the peaceful demonstrations.
    For Salem, the protests – which she calls a revolution and which have drawn hundreds of thousands of Lebanese onto the streets – will have failed unless the ruling elite is entirely swept from power and replaced by a new political leadership.
    Since the country’s 15-year civil war ended in 1990, the names and faces of those who run the country have barely changed, she says.    Any confidence they can deliver a stronger economy or a brighter future has long since withered.
    “It’s been the same people for 30 years,” she said, adding that while her parents’ generation, which lived through the civil war, may have lost faith in politics, the youth still believe that meaningful change is possible.
    “The main point of this revolution is to do something for the poor – jobs, services, education,” she said, while also mentioning the high cost of mobile phone services and that marijuana should be legalized.
MOTHER TO ALL
    On paper, there are many reasons to wonder how Lebanon has managed to hold itself together for so long.     With 18 officially recognized sectarian groups, politics has long been a delicate balancing act.    Shifting allegiances hamstring decision-making, while patronage and clientelism are rife.    Business and politics are shared family enterprises.
    According to the World Inequality Database, Lebanon is one of the most unequal countries, with the wealthiest 1% percent accounting for almost a quarter of the national income and the bottom half just 10%.    By contrast the wealthiest 1% in the United States account for 20% of national income.
    Downtown Beirut is awash with Range Rovers and Hermes stores.    The landmark 1930s clock tower in the center has a Rolex face.    Yet the economy is contracting, debt stands at 150% of GDP and unemployment among under 35s is nearing 40%.
    “There’s no work, there are no services, the schools are not good,” said Jamal Raydan, 28, a Druze protester from Moukhtara, a town in the Chouf mountains where Walid Jumblatt, Lebanon’s leading Druze politician, lives.
    Despite an accountancy qualification, Raydan said he had not worked in four years.    He sought help from Jumblatt’s entourage without success, and concluded that this political class was a failure, with politicians only looking to enrich themselves.
    “It makes me angry,” he said of the gap between the wealth on display in parts of Beirut and the reality on the ground.
    “Lebanon should be like a mother to all its people,” he said.    “Instead they have turned her into a bad woman.”
(Writing by Luke Baker)

11/7/2019 Iraqi forces kill four protesters in Baghdad, southern port blocked
Demonstrators push down concrete walls during the ongoing anti-government protests,
in Baghdad, Iraq November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces shot dead at least four anti-government protesters in central Baghdad on Thursday, police and medical sources said, as weeks of deadly unrest showed no signs of abating.
    Another 35 people were wounded in the clashes near Shuhada Bridge, they said, as mass demonstrations continued for a 13th straight day with thousands thronging central areas of the capital.
    In southern Iraq, dozens of protesters burned tyres and blocked the entrance to the port of Umm Qasr, preventing trucks from transporting vital food imports, just hours after operations had resumed, port officials said.
    The Iraqi government has failed to find a way out of the biggest and most complicated challenge to its rule in years.    The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of the Sunni Muslim extremist Islamic State in 2017.
    A crackdown by authorities against mostly unarmed protesters has killed more than 250 people since unrest broke out on Oct. 1 over lack of jobs and an infrastructure wrecked by decades of conflict, sanctions and corruption.
    Protesters, mostly unemployed youth, blame a political elite that has ruled Iraq since the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in a 2003 U.S.-led invasion, and demand a complete overhaul of the political system.
    The country is beginning to feel the fiscal pinch of weeks of the unrest, which started in Baghdad and quickly spread to southern cities.
    The new stoppage of operations at Umm Qasr port in the south is likely to compound financial losses a day after the government said that a week-long halt of operations there had cost more than $6 billion.
    Meanwhile, ongoing internet outages imposed by the government to try to stem unrest have hit the private sector, a central bank source said.
    The source said private banks in Iraq had recorded losses of some $16 million per day since the internet was first shut down at the beginning of October.
FISCAL PINCH FELT
    Combined losses by the private banks and mobile phone companies, money transfer services, tourism and airline booking offices had averaged more than $40 million per day, the source said – almost $1.5 billion for Iraq in just over a month.
    Umm Qasr briefly resumed operations early on Thursday after most protesters cleared the area.    But several dozen activists, relatives of a demonstrator killed during weeks of violence, then returned to block the main gate, port officials said.
    Umm Qasr receives most of the grain, vegetable oils and sugar that Iraq depends upon.
    Oil and security officials said operations resumed on Thursday at the nearby Nassiriya oil refinery, where protesters had stopped fuel tankers entering or leaving the day before.
    Oil production and exports have not been significantly affected by the unrest, oil ministry officials say.
    But the halting of fuel tankers that transport fuel from the Nassiriya refinery to regional gas stations caused fuel shortages across the southern Iraqi province of Dhi Qar.    The refinery had recently been producing around half its capacity, oil officials said.
    Internet returned briefly in most parts of Iraq on Thursday but went out again after 1:00 p.m. local time (1000 GMT).    Authorities have heavily restricted internet access during the protests.
    The government says it is enacting reforms but has offered nothing that is likely to satisfy most protesters.
    Stipends for the poor, more job opportunities for graduates and pledges to punish a handful of corrupt officials have come too late for those demanding an overhaul of state institutions, a flawed electoral process and system of governance that has fueled endemic corruption, many Iraqis say.
(Reporting by Baghdad bureau, Aref Mohammed in Basra; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)

11/7/2019 Israel’s planned Jerusalem cable car irks Palestinians by Dedi Hayun
The Palestinian neighborhood of Silwan is seen in the background as people walk on a promenade
on the surrounding walls of Jerusalem's Old City November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli plan to run a cable car over Jerusalem to the walls of the Old City has angered Palestinians who say it would erase their heritage in areas they seek for a future state.
    The proposed cable car would shuttle some 3,000 tourists and worshippers per hour from Jerusalem’s western part to the eastern Old City in a four-minute ride.    The plan moved forward this week when a special committee headed by Israel’s finance minister gave it a green light.
    The government says the roughly 220 million shekel ($63 million) scheme will alleviate heavy traffic to the area, which packs out with tourists and residents visiting its many Christian, Muslim and Jewish religious sites.
    “This is a strategic project to promote tourism to Jerusalem’s Old City,” said Israel’s Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Zeev Elkin.    Israeli officials say it will also serve Palestinian residents of the city.
    But Palestinians say its planned route would place cable cars just meters above their homes in East Jerusalem and stir frictions over the future of a city at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a senior official of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO), termed the plan illegal.
    “The Israeli cable car project is an obscene violation of the cultural, historical, spiritual, geographic & demographic character of Jerusalem,” Ashrawi said via Twitter.
POLITICAL PROJECT?
    The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the walled Old City, as capital of a future state.    Israel annexed the area after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war and says the entire city is its eternal and indivisible capital.
    The cable car project, intended to be ready for 2021, must still win final government approval.
    Tourists and guides at the Old City welcomed the project, saying it would reduce travel time and congestion.    “The cable car is a very efficient way to appreciate the beauty of the place,” said Socorro Calixto, a tourist from the Philippines.
    But Palestinians in Silwan, an East Jerusalem neighborhood at the foot of the Old City, said it would encourage tourists to bypass them on the way to holy sites.
    “(It) will give the impression that it is a Jewish city and remove the Palestinian heritage from it,” Silwan resident Khaled Al-Zeer said, adding that “the foundations of the project will be built on our land.”
    Yotanan Mizrachi, an archaeologist who heads the Israeli NGO Emek Shaveh, is part of a coalition that opposes the cable car on grounds that it is a “political project” that will cause “irreversible damage to the historic city.”
    “(It is) going to influence the way we see and understand the archaeology and the antiquity of Jerusalem,” Mizarchi said.
(Reporting by Dedi Hayun; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

11/7/2019 Pentagon: Revenue from U.S. protected oil fields in Syria goes to Kurdish forces by OAN Newsroom
U.S. military convoy drives near the town of Qamishli, north Syria, Saturday, Oct. 26. 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    The Pentagon is rejecting allegations the U.S. is seeking to exploit oilfields in Syria.    The Defense Department said all revenue from U.S. controlled oilfields in Syria goes to the Syrian Democratic Forces — not the United States.
    Military officials said American troops are protecting the oilfields from a takeover by the remnants of ISIS and Iranian-backed paramilitaries. Several nations — including Iran and Russia — have questioned America’s motives to protect the oilfields.
    “We are convinced that it’s up to the Syrian people to manage their natural resources, including oil,” stated Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin.    “Any actions whatsoever that the United States undertake to keep themselves militarily present in Syria are unacceptable and illegal from our point of view.”
    The Pentagon said U.S. forces are also working to prevent crimes against humanity in Syria.
    “There is a great deal of infrastructure that’s in disrepair,” stated Admiral Bill Byrne.    “It’s the SDF and the U.S. forces, shoulder to shoulder, protecting that to ensure that ISIS doesn’t have access.”
    Military officials also reaffirmed the withdrawal of U.S. forces and equipment from Syria remains ongoing.

11/7/2019 Baghdad protesters attempt to gain access to ‘green zone’ by OAN Newsroom
Iraqi riot police fire tear gas to disperse anti-government protesters gathering on the al- Shuhada (Martyrs) bridge in central Baghdad,
Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in Iraq to protest widespread
corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite Iraq’s vast oil reserves. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    Violent unrest in Iraq continues as demonstrators attempt to reach the ‘green zone,’ which houses government offices and foreign embassies.    According to Thursday reports, a part of a wall on Baghdad’s Ahrar Bridge was torn down as security forces attempted to keep protesters out of the area.    This led to law enforcement using deadly force, in turn, killing four and injuring 35 others with live ammo and tear gas.
    Protesters are blaming the political elite, which has ruled Iraq since 2003.    They are demanding an overhaul of the political system after failed promises of improvements to daily life.
    “The politicians have destroyed the country. You have plundered our wealth for 16 years.    Get out, we don’t want you.    The security forces of both the Ministries of Defense and Interior are with you.    These parties should be rooted out.    No party will remain.” — unnamed Iraqi protester
    The demonstration are being led by mainly unemployed young adults, and they have forced the closing of the country’s main port.
An injure protester is rushed to a hospital during clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters in
central Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 7, 2019. Tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets in recent weeks in Iraq to
protest widespread corruption, a lack of job opportunities and poor basic services, despite Iraq’s vast oil reserves. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

11/8/2019 Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric says security forces must keep peace
Demonstrators take part in the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric on Friday urged security forces to avoid using excessive force to quell weeks of anti-government unrest as authorities grapple with the country’s biggest crisis in years.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi’ite-majority Iraq, urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators’ demands.
    “The biggest responsibility is on the security forces,” a representative of Sistani said in a sermon after Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala.
    “They must avoid using excessive force with peaceful protesters.”br>     Protests over lack of jobs and services broke out in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and quickly spread to southern provinces.
    Security forces began using live gunfire to disperse demonstrations almost immediately and have killed more than 260 people, according to police and medics.
    The protesters, mostly unemployed youths, now demand an overhaul of the political system and ruling class which has dominated state institutions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Sistani also warned against the exploitation of the unrest by “internal and external” forces which he said sought to destabilize Iraq for their own goals.    He did not elaborate.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein, Raya Jalabi; editing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Alison Williams and Angus MacSwan)

11/8/2019 Deadly clashes reignite in Iraq despite cleric’s call for calm by John Davison and Ahmed Aboulenein
Demonstrators take part in the ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – – Fresh clashes between Iraqi security forces and anti-government protesters broke out on Friday killing at least three people, despite a call for calm by the country’s top Shi’ite cleric, as authorities grapple with the nation’s biggest crisis in years.
    Security forces fired tear gas and threw stun grenades into crowds of demonstrators wearing helmets and makeshift body armor on a main road in central Baghdad, sending protesters scattering, some wounded, Reuters reporters said.
    One protester was killed by a tear gas canister fired directly into his head, a Reuters witness said.    In the southern city of Basra, two people were killed as security forces dispersed hundreds of demonstrators outside the local government headquarters, police and medics said.
    More than 280 people have been killed since the protests over unemployment, poor services and endemic corruption began in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and quickly spread to southern provinces.
    Police, the military and paramilitary groups have fired live rounds at mostly unarmed protesters.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi’ite-majority Iraq, held security forces accountable for any violent escalation and urged the government to respond as quickly as possible to demonstrators’ demands.
    “The biggest responsibility is on the security forces,” a representative of Sistani said in a sermon after Friday prayers in the holy city of Kerbala.    “They must avoid using excessive force with peaceful protesters.”
    Many of the demonstrators, some of whom view Sistani as part of the political and religious system they say is the cause of many Iraqis’ misery, took little solace from the cleric’s words.
    “He says he’s supporting protests and that we should keep going but he hasn’t helped.    The speech won’t make a difference,” said one woman protesting in Baghdad whose son was killed in recent clashes.
    “I’m the mother of a student.    They took his life,” she said, giving her name as Umm al-Shaheed, Arabic for mother of the martyr.
    The demonstrators, mostly unemployed youths, demand an overhaul of the political system and a corrupt ruling class which has dominated state institutions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    In Basra, four people were killed on Thursday and two on Friday as security forces dispersed protesters.    A third person wounded in clashes at Umm Qasr port two days earlier also died from his injuries, officials said.
SPIRAL OF VIOLENCE FEARED
    The violent response from authorities has fueled public anger.    Snipers from Iran-backed militias that have participated in the crackdown were deployed last month, Reuters reported.
    Live fire is often used against demonstrators and even tear gas canisters, fired directly at protesters instead of being lobbed into crowds, have killed at least 16 people, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday.
    Doctors at hospitals have shown Reuters scans of tear gas canisters embedded in the skulls of dead protesters.
    Sistani warned against the exploitation of the unrest by “internal and external” forces which he said sought to destabilize Iraq for their own goals.    He did not elaborate.
    Officials and analysts fear that militants could exploit unrest to sow more chaos in Iraq, which has suffered decades of conflict, sanctions and corrupt governance.
    Late on Friday the military said 17 rockets had landed near a base hosting U.S. forces in northern Iraq.    It did not say who was believed to be behind the attack.
    The United States blamed Iran-backed militia for rocket attacks on other bases in May this year, but U.S. forces are also involved in a fight against Islamic State militants.
    Government handouts for the poor, promises to prosecute corrupt officials and create more job opportunities for graduates have failed to placate protesters, whose demands include a new electoral system and the removal of all current political leaders.
    The protesters also reject foreign interference in Iraq, which has long been caught between its two main allies and bitter rivals, the United States and Iran.
    Public anger has been directed particularly towards Iran, which supports the parties and paramilitary groups that dominate the Baghdad government and state institutions.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed, Ahmed Aboulenein, Raya Jalabi; Editing by William Maclean and Daniel Wallis)

11/8/2019 Lebanese banks face threats, Hariri said to want neutral government by Tom Arnold and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Students carry national flags during ongoing anti-government protests near the Ministry of Education
and Higher Education in Beirut, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese bank staff are facing abuse from customers angered by restrictions on access to their cash, the employees’ union said on Friday, reflecting intensifying pressures in an economy gripped by its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    With Lebanon paralyzed by political and economic turmoil, its politicians have yet to make progress toward agreeing a new government to replace one that was toppled by an unprecedented wave of protests against the sectarian ruling elite.
    Saad al-Hariri, who quit as prime minister last week, is determined the next government should be devoid of political parties because such a cabinet will not be able to secure Western assistance, a source familiar with his view said.
    He is still seeking to convince the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement of the need for such a technocratic government, the source said.    Hariri’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea warned of great unrest if supplies of basic goods run short and said Lebanon’s financial situation was “very, very delicate
    One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon was already in deep economic trouble before protests erupted on Oct. 17, ignited by a government plan to tax WhatsApp calls.
    Taking aim at rampant state corruption, the nationwide protests have targeted the entire elite.
    Since reopening a week ago, banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls.
    The banks’ moves have led to threats against their staff.
    “Clients with guns have entered banks and security guards have been afraid to speak to them as when people are in a state like this you don’t know how people will act,” said George al Hajj, president of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees.     Bank staff are considering going on strike, he said.
    “Clients are becoming very aggressive; the situation is very critical and our colleagues cannot continue under the current circumstances,” added Hajj, whose union has around 11,000 members, just under half of the total banking staff.
    A senior banker expressed concern that potential industrial action by staff could force the closure of banks from Tuesday onward.    Banks will be closed on Saturday and Monday for a public holiday.
    A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
    A dollar was costing 1,800 pounds or more on Friday compared to 1,740 on Thursday, two market sources said.    The pegged rate is 1,507.5 pounds.
ON ANOTHER PLANET
    Some banks have lowered the cap on maximum withdrawals from dollar accounts this week, according to customers and bank employees.    At least one bank cut credit card limits from $10,000 to $1,000 this week, customers said.
    “Anything that touches the liquidity of the bank is being restricted,” said another banker.    One bank told a customer that a weekly withdrawal cap of $2,500 had been slashed to $1,500.
    Friday also saw the longest queues yet at ATMs, the senior banker said, as customers prepared for the two-day closure.
    In central Beirut, several people tried and failed to withdraw dollars from an ATM belonging to one of the banks that is still dispensing dollars from its cash machines.
    “It’s frustrating as I need money to keep me going for the weekend,” said one customer, a 25-year-old marketing professional.    Another customer was able to withdraw cash in Lebanese pounds from the same ATM.
    Hariri, who resigned on Oct. 29, has been holding closed-door meetings with other politicians.
    “Hariri has made up his mind. He does not want a government with any politicians because this government cannot secure support from the West,” the source familiar with his view said.
    Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, said the only way out of the crisis was the formation of a competent government independent of political parties.
    “Every hour we hear of a crisis at the gates, whether it’s (supply of) petrol, flour, or medicine,” Geagea said in a telephone interview.    “Everything is collapsing and the officials are on another planet, taking their time.”
(The story is refiled to tweak headline)
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Ellen Francis and Nadine Awadallah; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/8/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu appoints far-right Bennett as defense minister
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett arrives to attend the weekly
cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appointed the head of a far-right political party as defense minister of his caretaker government, a spokesman for the premier’s right-wing Likud party said on Friday.
    Naftali Bennett, who heads the New Right party, will take the defense portfolio from Netanyahu, who has simultaneously served as premier and defense minister for nearly a year.
    “The appointment will be brought to the government for approval at an upcoming government meeting,” the Likud     Israeli politics is deadlocked after two inconclusive elections this year.    Former military chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party emerged neck and neck with Netanyahu following a September vote, and both leaders have struggled to put together a ruling coalition.
    Gantz, who was asked by Israel’s president to forge a coalition after Netanyahu failed to do so, has less than two weeks left to form a government.
    If he fails, the country could be headed toward an unprecedented third election although a smaller party might be given a chance before that.
    Netanyahu has led a caretaker government throughout the political turmoil.
    Bennett’s appointment appeared to be an attempt by Netanyahu to stymie Gantz’s coalition negotiations, which include discussions with right-wing parties.
    “Appointing a ‘temporary placeholder’ to the position of Defense Minister is unworthy of the most sensitive establishment in the state,” Blue and White said in a statement.
    Bennett previously served in Netanyahu’s cabinet as education minister.    A former settler leader, he advocates tough action against Palestinian militants in Gaza and unusual tactics toward Israel’s arch-foe Iran and its proxy Hezbollah.
    Netanyahu took over the defense portfolio following the resignation of then-chief Avigdor Lieberman, who in stepping down in November 2018 helped plunge the country toward snap elections in April.
    Netanyahu and Bennett also agreed to form a parliamentary alliance, the Likud spokesman said, adding that Bennett agreed another person would be appointed defense chief if a unity government or narrow right-wing coalition is formed.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/8/2019 Electricity, mobiles and cash: a snapshot of Lebanese grievances by Ellen Francis
Demonstrators shout slogans outside Alfa headquarters, one of Lebanon's two mobile service providers,
during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon, November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese are protesting outside failing state agencies they see as part of a corrupt system in the hands of the ruling elite, as well as at banks they deem part of the problem.
    Protesters accuse sectarian political leaders of exploiting state resources for their own gain through networks of patronage and clientelism that mesh business and politics.
    Where have Lebanese protested and why?
ELECTRICITE DU LIBAN (EDL)
    Lebanon’s electricity sector is at the heart of its financial crisis, bleeding some $2 billion in state funds every year while failing to provide 24-hour power.
    “This is one of the peak symbols of corruption,” said Diyaa Hawshar, an electrician protesting outside state power firm EDL in Beirut.    “We pay two bills, one for the government and another for generators.”
    “It’s about carving up the cake, with deals on power barges and overhauling power plants, shady deals in public and under the table,” he said.    “Every minister who comes makes promises.    They come and go.”
    Power cuts can last several hours every day.
    People and businesses rely on so-called “generator mafias” who often have political ties and charge hefty fees to keep the lights on.
    The average household ends up paying $300 to $400 a month on average for electricity, said Jad Chaaban, economics professor at the American University of Beirut.
    Lebanon’s minimum wage is the equivalent of $450 a month.
    “It is an insult for a lot of people to keep paying for services that are dysfunctional and at the same time funding the parties and travel of corrupt leaders,” he said.
    The government has for years touted plans to overhaul the sector including new power stations, fixing the grid and stopping electricity theft.
    But the Lebanese saw no tangible progress by the time the prime minister resigned last week.
    “People have to beg for their rights…for a few hours of electricity at home,” said Mia Kozah, a university student.    “It should be one of the simplest matters.    Enough humiliation.”
MOBILE OPERATORS
    At the headquarters of a mobile operator, protesters lamented paying some of the region’s most costly phone bills.
    Lebanon has only two service providers, Alfa and Touch, which bring in a huge chunk of state revenues.
    “These two companies make a lot of money, and we have some of the highest mobile rates,” said Rudy al-Haddad, a student.
    “We can’t take it anymore.”
    Workers came down to join the protest, furious at a plan to cut their benefits and salaries.    They accused the ministry of trying to reduce costs at their expense.
    A recent industry report seen by Reuters showed Lebanese spend on average 5% of their household income on mobile services.    In Egypt, the average is 1.4% while in the United States it is 2.3%.
    Chaaban said Lebanon’s government relies on an unsustainable model of taking high tariffs to fund its spending.
    A new plan to raise revenues through a fee on WhatsApp calls was one of the triggers for the unrest three weeks ago.
    A parliamentary committee has recently called for an inquiry into the telecoms duopoly, raising questions about fake tenders and squandering of public funds.    It said operating costs had shot up 29% from 2017 to 2018.
    A public prosecutor has called in the two last telecoms ministers to explain ministry spending.    On the first occasion, they ignored the request.    On the second, which was this week, they could not arrive because of protests.
BANKING SECTOR
    Outside banks, people have protested at policies they say have choked off lending to ordinary Lebanese as interest rates have moved higher and higher.
    “Interest rates are very high and we can’t pay them,” said Fatima Jaber, 22, a student protesting outside the central bank in Beirut.
    Rubbing salt into the wound, extracts of an official report which a local newspaper published last month suggested prominent Lebanese had benefited from a subsidized housing loan scheme.
    A Lebanese official told Reuters that many state officials had benefited from such loans – which are meant to help people who cannot afford to pay for houses but have become hard to secure.
    Jaber cited this as one of the reasons she was in the street.
    Critics of the banks say they have reaped large profits even as economic growth has stagnated.
    Bankers argue their sector is already the biggest source of tax revenue in the private sector.    The Hariri government had planned an exceptional tax on bank profits as part of a set of emergency steps.
    The sector’s defenders regard it as a pillar of stability.    They say rising rates stem from central bank efforts to shore up financial stability which the failing state has jeopardized.
    At a protest outside the central bank in the southern city of Sidon, Mohammed Younes said he was taking a stand “against a financial approach that has made people poorer and hungrier.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Additional reporting by Luke Baker, Laila Bassam and Tom Arnold; Editing by Tom Perry/Mark Heinrich)

11/9/2019 Lebanese banks face threats, Hariri said to want neutral government by Tom Arnold and Tom Perry
People light a flare as they attend a concert at a parking lot in downtown
Beirut, Lebanon November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese bank staff are facing abuse from customers angered by restrictions on access to their cash, the employees’ union said on Friday, reflecting intensifying pressures in an economy gripped by its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    With Lebanon paralyzed by political and economic turmoil, its politicians have yet to make progress toward agreeing a new government to replace one that was toppled by an unprecedented wave of protests against the sectarian ruling elite.
    Saad al-Hariri, who quit as prime minister last week, is determined the next government should be devoid of political parties because such a cabinet will not be able to secure Western assistance, a source familiar with his view said.
    He is still seeking to convince the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement of the need for such a technocratic government, the source said.    Hariri’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Leading Christian politician Samir Geagea warned of great unrest if supplies of basic goods run short and said Lebanon’s financial situation was “very, very delicate.”
    One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon was already in deep economic trouble before protests erupted on Oct. 17, ignited by a government plan to tax WhatsApp calls.
    Taking aim at rampant state corruption, the nationwide protests have targeted the entire elite.
    Since reopening a week ago, banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls.
    The banks’ moves have led to threats against their staff.
    “Clients with guns have entered banks and security guards have been afraid to speak to them as when people are in a state like this you don’t know how people will act,” said George al Hajj, president of the Federation of Syndicates of Banks Employees.
    Bank staff are considering going on strike, he said.
    “Clients are becoming very aggressive; the situation is very critical and our colleagues cannot continue under the current circumstances,” added Hajj, whose union has around 11,000 members, just under half of the total banking staff.
    A senior banker expressed concern that potential industrial action by staff could force the closure of banks from Tuesday onward.    Banks will be closed on Saturday and Monday for a public holiday.
    A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
    A dollar was costing 1,800 pounds or more on Friday compared to 1,740 on Thursday, two market sources said.    The pegged rate is 1,507.5 pounds.
ON ANOTHER PLANET
    Some banks have lowered the cap on maximum withdrawals from dollar accounts this week, according to customers and bank employees.    At least one bank cut credit card limits from $10,000 to $1,000 this week, customers said.
    “Anything that touches the liquidity of the bank is being restricted,” said another banker.    One bank told a customer that a weekly withdrawal cap of $2,500 had been slashed to $1,500.
    Friday also saw the longest queues yet at ATMs, the senior banker said, as customers prepared for the two-day closure.
    In central Beirut, several people tried and failed to withdraw dollars from an ATM belonging to one of the banks that is still dispensing dollars from its cash machines.
    “It’s frustrating as I need money to keep me going for the weekend,” said one customer, a 25-year-old marketing professional.    Another customer was able to withdraw cash in Lebanese pounds from the same ATM.
    Hariri, who resigned on Oct. 29, has been holding closed-door meetings with other politicians.
    “Hariri has made up his mind.    He does not want a government with any politicians because this government cannot secure support from the West,” the source familiar with his view said.
    Geagea, head of the Lebanese Forces Party, said the only way out of the crisis was the formation of a competent government independent of political parties.
    “Every hour we hear of a crisis at the gates, whether it’s (supply of) petrol, flour, or medicine,” Geagea said in a telephone interview.    “Everything is collapsing and the officials are on another planet, taking their time.”
(The story is refiled to tweak headline)
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Ellen Francis and Nadine Awadallah; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/9/2019 Turkish and Russian presidents discuss northeast Syria
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during their
meeting in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia October 22, 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin discussed Turkey’s military offensive in Syria in a phone call on Saturday, Turkey’s presidency said.
    Turkey launched its cross-border offensive one month ago, saying it aimed to drive Kurdish-led forces from the border region and create a “safe zone” to settle Syrian refugees.
    It halted its advance under a deal with the United States which called for the withdrawal from the border of Kurdish YPG fighters – whom Ankara considers to be terrorists because of their links to Kurdish guerrillas waging an insurgency inside Turkey.
    Erdogan later agreed a separate deal with Moscow, which also called for the YPG to withdraw at least 30 km (nearly 20 miles) from the border, but has since said that neither Washington nor Moscow has been able to deliver on the deals.
    The Turkish statement on Saturday said Erdogan and Putin confirmed their commitment to the accord they struck at a meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi which also paved the way for joint Russian-Turkish military patrols inside Syria.
    It said the two men also discussed bilateral trade, but gave no further details.
    The Turkish president is due to hold talks with U.S. President Donald Trump in Washington on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Can Sezer; editing by James Drummond)

11/9/2019 ‘No need to panic’: Lebanon banking body tells depositors as protests continue by Nadine Awadalla
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese army soldiers stand guard outside a branch of Byblos Bank
in the southern city of Sidon, Lebanon November 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese bank deposits are safe and there is no need to panic, the head of the banking association said on Saturday, seeking to calm nerves about restrictions on some withdrawals imposed after nationwide protests.
    Already facing the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, Lebanon has been pitched deeper into turmoil since Oct. 17 by a wave of rallies against the ruling elite that led Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister on Oct. 29.
    Crowds of protestors gathered again in central Beirut on Saturday, growing steadily into the evening, waving flags and playing music through loudspeakers.    Demonstrators also took to the streets in Lebanon’s second city of Tripoli.
    Since reopening a week ago, banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls.
    “We confirm that depositors’ money is safe and what is happening has nothing to do with solvency and therefore, no need to panic,” the head of the Association of Banks in Lebanon, Salim Sfeir, told a press conference.
    Sfeir spoke after meeting President Michel Aoun, the ministers of finance and economy, the central bank governor and other officials over the economic situation.
    In recent days, importers of fuel, wheat and medicine have said they faced difficulty securing the foreign currency needed for their purchases.
    Economy minister Mansour Bteich said the Central Bank Governor Riad Salame reaffirmed that the funds for these strategic goods were secure, Lebanon’s al-Jadeed TV reported.
    “We request the central bank governor, in cooperation with the banks association, to facilitate the necessary needs for depositors, specially small depositors, to preserve their economic and social situation, in addition to the necessary facilities to ensure the sustainability of the productive sectors,” Sfeir said.
    One protestor said that people taking to the streets was a reflection of the bad economic situation, which she said could not get any worse.
    “The economic situation was so bad, people could not continue anymore,” said Nadine Sangari, a public sector employee.
    Caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil said the government would delay a $2 billion Eurobond issue that was planned for the end of the month but is fully committed to paying its maturing debt on time.
    “Lebanon is committed to paying maturing treasury bonds in foreign currency, Eurobonds, at their predetermined dates and this commitment is confirmed,” Khalil told Reuters.
    Lebanon has a $1.5 billion Eurobond maturing this month.    The central bank has said it stands ready to pay off Lebanon’s maturing foreign currency debt.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Nadine Awadalla, Laila Bassam, Reuters TV; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Kirsten Donovan)

11/9/2019 Lebanon’s grand mufti calls for protesters’ demands to be met
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators hold flares and Lebanese flags as they protest outside the house of former
Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora in Beirut, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s grand mufti, the top cleric for Sunni Muslims, called on Saturday for the formation of a new emergency government of technical experts and for those in power to meet protesters’ demands.
    The country is in political and economic turmoil after three weeks of nationwide protests that prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign last week.
    “The time has come to meet the people’s demands and the national free will that transcends sects, political parties, and regions,” Grand     Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian said in a televised address on the occasion of Prophet Mohammed’s birthday.
    “The time has come and is opportune, after this national wake-up call, for the reform process to begin and for those in power to form an emergency government made up of competent people, without delay,” Derian said.
    It is time “to immediately proceed with carrying out the reform package prepared by Prime Minister Hariri to solve the country’s problems,” he added.
    Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, Lebanon’s top Christian religious authority, has also called for a change in government to include qualified technocrats.
    Before he stepped down, Hariri agreed a package of reforms with partners in the coalition government aimed at easing an economic crisis that sparked the unprecedented protests against the sectarian ruling elite.
    The plans included a 50% reduction in the salaries of current and former officials and $3.3 billion in contributions from banks to achieve a “near zero deficit” for the 2020 budget.     But Lebanese politicians have yet to make progress towards agreeing a new government to replace one that was toppled.     The country’s power-sharing system is based on 18 recognized religious sects and dates back to French colonial rule.    It allocates posts for each of the country’s communities, forming forming the basis of its major political parties and creating a delicate balance between Christians, Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims and other groups.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Reuters TV; Editing by Ellen Francis and Frances Kerry)

11/9/2019 Four killed, dozens injured in ongoing Baghdad protests by OAN Newsroom
Anti-government protesters set fire and close streets during ongoing protests in
Baghdad, Iraq, in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    Iraqi security forces opened fire on protesters Saturday, killing at least four people and injuring dozens more.
    Reports said violence erupted again in Baghdad after security forces tried to push protesters back from several major bridges occupied by demonstrators.
    Another five people were killed in the southern city of Basra as mourners held a funeral for a demonstrator killed during the violence.    Reports said more than 280 have been killed and thousands injured since the protests began on October 1st.
    Citizens are demanding a change in the political system, criticizing the politicians that took over after Saddam Hussein was overthrown in 2003.
    “We have lost many martyrs…and we are ready to sacrifice more martyrs,” stated one protester.    “Get out — we don’t want you!
An injured protester is rushed to a hospital during clashes between Iraqi security forces and
anti-government protesters in central Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    Iraq’s prime minister admitted the political parties have “made mistakes,” but promised electoral reforms in a bid to end the protests.

11/9/2019 Iraqi forces push protesters back to main square, kill five by John Davison and Raya Jalabi
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi demonstrators take part in one of the ongoing anti-government
protests in Baghdad, Iraq, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed at least five people on Saturday as they pushed protesters back toward their main camp in central Baghdad using live ammunition, tear gas and sound bombs, police and medics said.
    The clashes wounded scores more people and put security forces back in control of all except one major bridge linking the Iraqi capital’s eastern residential and business districts to government headquarters across the Tigris river.
    The government promised reforms aimed at ending the crisis.    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said on Saturday that political parties had “made mistakes” in their running of the country, recognized the legitimacy of protest to bring about political change and pledged electoral reform.
    Mass protests began at Tahrir Square in Baghdad on Oct. 1 as demonstrators demanded jobs and services, and have swelled in the capital and southern cities with calls for an overhaul of the sectarian political system.
    It is the biggest and most complex challenge in years to the political order set up after a U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Iraq, exhausted by decades of conflict and sanctions, had enjoyed relative calm after Islamic State was defeated in 2017.
    But the government has been unable to find an answer to the current round of unrest which pits the entire political class against mostly unemployed youth who have seen no improvement in their lives even in peacetime.
    Despite government pledges of reform, security forces have used lethal force since the start and killed more than 280 people across the country.
    On Saturday, forces drove protesters back from some of the bridges they had tried to occupy during the week and toward Tahrir Square, the main gathering point for demonstrators.
    The protesters still hold a portion of the adjacent Jumhuriya Bridge where they have erected barricades in a stand-off with police.
    But demonstrators fear the next target will be Tahrir Square and Jumhuriya Bridge.    Fresh clashes erupted after night fall near Tahrir Square, with the sound of tear gas and stun grenades being fired echoing around central Baghdad, as it had nightly for the past week two weeks.
    “Police have re-taken almost the entire area up ahead of us.    They’re advancing and my guess is tonight they’ll try to take Tahrir,” said one protester, who gave his name only as Abdullah.
REFORM PROMISED, CLASHES FLARE
    On Saturday, some demonstrators threw Molotov cocktails toward security forces at another bridge, and young men brought unlit homemade petrol bombs up a tower block nearby, preparing for further clashes.     At a nearby makeshift clinic, volunteer medic Manar Hamad said she had helped treat dozens of wounded on Saturday alone.
    “Many get hit by shrapnel from sound bombs and others choke on tear gas or are hit directly by gas canisters.    People have died that way,” she said as live gunfire rang out and ambulance sirens wailed.
    Police and medics said five people were shot to death and more than 140 wounded in Baghdad on Saturday.    A Reuters cameraman saw one man carried away by medical volunteers after a tear gas canister struck him directly in the head.     As the violence flared, Abdul Mahdi issued a statement which appeared to take a more conciliatory tone and urged a return to normal life after weeks of unrest that have cost the country tens of millions of dollars, although crucial oil exports have not been affected.
    “Political forces and parties are important institutions in any democratic system, and have made great sacrifices, but they’ve also made many mistakes,” he said.
    He said protests were a legitimate engine of political change but urged demonstrators not to interrupt “normal life.”
    Abdul Mahdi promised electoral reform and said authorities would ban possession of weapons by non-state armed groups who have been accused of killing protesters, and that there would be investigations into demonstrator deaths.
    His remarks came a day after Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s powerful senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric, urged politicians to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis and held security forces accountable for avoiding further violence.
    In southern Iraq, operations resumed at Umm Qasr commodities port, a port official said, after it was closed for nearly 10 days while protesters blocked its entrances.
    Umm Qasr receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
    Authorities in downtown Basra, Iraq’s oil-rich second city, erected a security perimeter, preventing protesters from gathering on Saturday, after two people were killed there on Friday in clashes between protesters and security forces.
    The Kuwaiti consulate in Basra said it was withdrawing its staff from the city, amid the deteriorating security situation, a consular official said.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Aboulenein, Raya Jalabi and Reuters Video News; Writing by Raya Jalabi and John Davison; Editing by Frances Kerry and James Drummond)

11/10/2019 Israeli farmers lament the end of Jordan land deal by Elana Ringler
A Jordanian national flag is lifted near a tent at the "Island of Peace" in an area known as Naharayim in Hebrew and Baquora
in Arabic, on the Jordanian side of the border with Israel, as seen from the Israeli side November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    NAHARAYIM (Reuters) – It has been a bitter harvest for some Israeli farmers on the border with Jordan.    On Sunday, a 25-year-old deal between the two countries that has allowed them to cultivate land there formally expires.
    Under the deal, part of the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty, two territories straddling the border were recognized as under Jordanian sovereignty but with special provisions allowing Israeli farmers to work the land and visitors to tour the Isle of Peace park in the area.
    But in 2018, Jordan said it did not want to continue the arrangement, in what was widely seen as a sign of increasingly strained diplomatic relations.
    “It was like a punch to the face,” said Eli Arazi, 74, a farmer whose kibbutz, or agricultural community, worked one of the land parcels that in Hebrew is called Naharayim and in Arabic, Baqoura.
    Naharayim, which means “two rivers” in Hebrew, straddles the confluence of the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers. Israelis trace private ownership rights there to the 1920s, when the territory was part of British-mandated Palestine.
    Arazi said his kibbutz, Ashdot Yaacov Meuhad, had been growing crops there for 70 years, including olives, bananas, avocados.
    In the 1994 peace treaty, Jordanian sovereignty over the area was confirmed, while Israelis retained private land ownership and special provisions that allow free travel.
    Jordan is one of only two Arab states that has a peace accord with Israel, and the neighbors have a long history of close security ties.    But the treaty is unpopular in Jordan where pro-Palestinian sentiment is widespread.
    The end of the land deal came at a low point in Israeli-Jordanian relations, said Israeli Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel.    “We are not on a honeymoon but rather in a period of ongoing arguments,” he told Reuters.
    Most recently, Amman was rattled by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise during campaigning for a September election to annex the Jordan Valley.
    Over the past few years, the deadlock in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and disputes over a Jerusalem compound, sacred to both Muslims and Jews, have further weighed on diplomatic ties.
    The government, Ariel said, should have taken action earlier to try to convince Jordan to extend the deal and let the farmers work the land.
    Arazi is still hopeful that eventually Jordan will quietly let the farmers back.
    Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported on Sunday that Amman granted his fellow farmers in Tzofar, the second land parcel further south, another six months of access to the land.    Jordanian and Israeli officials did not respond to request for comment.
(Editing by Maayan Lubell and Helen Popper)

11/10/2019 UAE calls for Iran talks with world powers, region
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, speaks at an event
at Chatham House in London, Britain July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Iran should come to the negotiating table with world powers and Gulf countries to seek a new deal that would deescalate regional tensions and revive its economy, a senior United Arab Emirates official said on Sunday.
    Tensions in the Gulf have risen since attacks on oil tankers in a vital global shipping lane this summer, including off the UAE coast, and a major assault on energy facilities in Saudi Arabia.
    Washington has blamed Iran, which has denied being behind the attacks on global energy infrastructure.
    On Thursday, Iran said it had resumed uranium enrichment at its Fordow nuclear site, stepping further away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers after the United States pulled out of it.
    “Further escalation at this point serves no one and we strongly believe that there is room for collective diplomacy to succeed,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a speech in Abu Dhabi.
    He warned against a “false choice” between war and the “flawed” atomic deal.
    The United States has imposed fresh sanctions on Iran since pulling out of the pact as part of its “maximum pressure” campaign on Tehran.
    Gargash said new talks with Iran should not just deal with the nuclear issue but also address concerns over its ballistic missile programme and regional interventions through proxy groups.
    These topics mean regional countries would need to be involved in the discussions, he said at an annual strategic debate in the UAE capital.
    The UAE, which says Iran is a destabilizing force in the region, backed U.S. President Donald Trump’s maximum pressure campaign against Tehran but called for deescalation after the attacks.
    “I believe there could be a path to a deal with Iran that all parties might soon be ready to embark on. It will be long, and patience and courage will be required,” Gargash said.
    It was important that the international community be on the same page, especially the United States and European Union countries, as well as regional states, he added.
    Washington says it hopes the sanctions, which are aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, will force Iran into negotiations to reach a wider deal.
    But Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has banned Iranian officials from holding such talks unless the United States returns to the nuclear deal and lifts all sanctions.
(Reporting by Sylvia Westall; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/10/2019 Turkey should scrap Russian missile system or face U.S. sanctions: White House official by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is very upset about Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defense systems and could impose sanctions on Ankara if it does not “get rid” of them, White House National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said on Sunday.
    “Turkey will feel the impact of those sanctions,” O’Brien told CBS’s “Face the Nation” in an interview, referring to penalties under the U.S. law known as the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act, which he said would pass Congress with “overwhelming” bipartisan support.
    His comments came ahead of a visit by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan to Washington on Nov. 13 to meet U.S. President Donald Trump for likely crucial talks as the two NATO allies have been at loggerheads over a range of issues.
    One key disagreement is Ankara’s purchase of the Russian S-400 anti-aircraft missile system, which Washington says is incompatible with NATO defenses and threatens its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.
    Despite threats of U.S. sanctions, Turkey started receiving its first S-400 deliveries in July.
    In response, Washington removed Turkey from the F-35 program, in which Ankara was a manufacturer and buyer. But so far, it has not slapped any sanctions on Ankara.
    Turkey has not yet activated the S-400 batteries it received, and Washington still hopes to persuade its ally to “walk away” from the Russian systems.
    “There’s no place in NATO for the S-400. There’s no place in NATO for significant Russian military purchases.    That’s a message that the president will deliver to him (Erdogan) very clearly when he’s here,” O’Brien said.
    Earlier this month, the head of Turkey’s Defense Industry Directorate said a second S-400 delivery to Turkey may be delayed beyond a planned 2020 timeline by talks on technology sharing and joint production.
    The S-400 issue is part of a wider range of disagreements between Turkey and the United States.
    Washington was incensed by Turkey’s offensive into northern Syria against U.S.-allied Kurdish YPG fighters last month.    Turkey halted the incursion after the Kurds withdrew from a border region under a U.S.- brokered truce.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

11/10/2019 Iraqi forces fire tear gas injuring 22 in Baghdad: sources
A demonstrator holds the Iraqi flag during the ongoing anti-government protests
in Baghdad, Iraq November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Security forces fired tear gas at anti-government protesters in Baghdad on Sunday injuring at least 22 people, police and medical sources said, a day after they pushed demonstrations back toward one main square in the Iraqi capital.
    One person died in hospital of wounds sustained in clashes the previous day, the sources said.    Security forces on Saturday pushed protesters back from bridges they had sought to control during the week.
    “The situation is the same, they’re still firing at people, wounded are coming in,” said Hayder Ghareeb, a volunteer medical worker at a makeshift clinic in Tahrir Square, now the main gathering point for demonstrators in Baghdad.
    Some of those hurt had choked on tear gas and been taken to hospital, medical sources said.
    No deaths were immediately reported on Sunday, however, making it one of the calmer days in weeks of unrest that erupted in Baghdad with protests over lack of jobs and services and have spread across much of southern Iraq.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young, unarmed protesters, killing more than 280 people, according to a Reuters tally based on medical and police sources.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has taken some measures to try to quell unrest including handouts to the poor and job opportunities for graduates, but has failed to keep up with growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq’s sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.
    Under pressure from powerful Shi’ite Muslim religious authorities, it has recently pledged more serious change such as electoral reform and has recognized the legitimacy of peaceful protest.
    Iraqi leaders agreed at a meeting in Baghdad on Sunday that imminent electoral reform should give a greater chance for youth to participate in politics and break a monopoly on power by political parties that have dominated state institutions since 2003, state media reported.
    The unrest is one of the biggest and most complicated challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the U.S. invasion and toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Iraq has suffered decades of war, sanctions and more recently sectarian violence.    The last major Sunni-Shi’ite civil strife took place during the rule by the Sunni extremist Islamic State’s of much of the north and west of Iraq.    The country had enjoyed rare calm after the jihadist group’s defeat in 2017.
    The current protests are free of sectarian rhetoric: directed by mostly Shi’ite protesters against a government dominated by Shi’ite politicians and powerful allies of Iran.
(Reporting by John Davison, Baghdad bureau; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/10/2019 Hezbollah says its ‘arms won’t be twisted’ as crisis deepens by Laila Bassam and Tom Perry
People chant slogans in a privately-run Zaytouna Bay, at a breakfast organised to protest during ongoing
anti-government protests in Beirut, Lebanon November 10, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Political talks to agree an urgently needed Lebanese government are still deadlocked, three senior sources said on Sunday, as the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah indicated it would not be forced into concessions.
    The latest failure to break Lebanon’s political impasse will worsen pressures on an economy gripped by its deepest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, amid protests against a political establishment widely regarded as corrupt and inept.
    Since reopening a week ago, commercial banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals, though the central bank has announced no formal capital controls.br>     A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
    A meeting on Saturday evening between caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri and senior officials from Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal failed to yield any breakthrough toward forming the new cabinet, the sources said.
    “The crisis is deepening,” one source familiar with Hariri’s position said. A senior source familiar with the view of Hezbollah and Amal said: “Nothing has changed.    So far the road is completely blocked.” A third senior source said the situation was still deadlocked.
Hariri quit on Oct. 29 in the face of unprecedented protests fueled by poverty, joblessness and lack of basic services like electricity.
    Hariri wants to lead a technocratic government devoid of other politicians, while Amal, Hezbollah and its Christian ally the Free Patriotic Movement want a government mixing technocrats and politicians.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED
    The source familiar with Hariri’s views has said he believes a cabinet composed of both technocrats and politicians would not be able to secure Western assistance and would also anger protesters who want to see a change of leadership.
    Hariri reiterated his position in the meeting with caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil of Amal and top Hezbollah official Hussein Khalil, the senior source familiar with Hezbollah and Amal’s view
    Both Hezbollah and Amal communicated their view — that Hariri should return as premier of a new ‘technopolitical’ cabinet — at the meeting. Hariri said he would only agree to head a technocratic cabinet.
    “Practically, what he wants is a government devoid of Hezbollah,” the senior source said.    “After 10 days have passed, matters must be decided.”
    The source familiar with Hariri’s position said he believed Hezbollah, Amal and the FPM were seeking the inclusion in the cabinet of politicians rejected by the protesters.
    These include FPM leader Gebran Bassil, foreign minister in the outgoing cabinet and a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun.
    “If these faces return to government we will have pushed the street to return to protest in a greater way,” the source familiar with Hariri’s position said.
    One dollar was buying 1,800 pounds or more on Friday compared to 1,740 on Thursday, two market sources said.    The pegged rate is 1,507.5 pounds.
    In a statement apparently referring to the deadlock and to Hezbollah’s loss of fighters in various conflicts, Hezbollah lawmaker Mohammad Raad said: “Our arms will not be twisted nor can we be neutralized from achieving the goals of the martyrs.”
    Lebanon’s highest Christian authority urged the president to hasten the appointment of a prime minister and the formation of a government that meets protesters’ demands.
    “The country’s situation cannot withstand another day of delays,” Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said.
(Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla; Writing by Tom Perry/Bill Maclean; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/10/2019 Israeli Prime Minister names Naftali Bennett as new Defense Minister by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center, Foreign Minister Israel Katz, left, and the government secretary
Tzachi Braverman, attend the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)
    After failing to build a coalition, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to secure support by naming a new defense minister. Sunday reports revealed Netanyahu appointed the head of the New Right Party, Naftali Bennett, to take over the position.
    The announcement comes after Bennett revealed he was willing to cut ties with Netanyahu and join opposition leader Benny Gantz’s coalition in order to avoid another round of elections.
    “There is no genuine need to drag the state of Israel into another election,” stated Netanyahu.    “It is possible and necessary to form a broad national unity government, as the president proposed — it is still not too late to do so.”
    Bennett previously served as education minister and is taking over the position from Netanyahu, who had been acting Defense Minister for more than a year.

11/10/2019 Lebanese protesters call for an end to corruption by OAN Newsroom
Anti-government protesters wave Lebanese flags as they chant slogans, during ongoing protests against
the Lebanese government in Lebanon, Sunday, Nov. 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    Protesters have taken to the streets in Lebanon and are demanding for the removal of corrupt banking officials.    Sunday reports said the country’s banking system has led to one of the world’s largest debt burdens, which prompted demonstrations.
    The protests came amid the country’s worst economic crisis in decades.    Banks have been trying to fight ‘capital flight’ by preventing most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals.    Demonstrators have said their efforts are not enough.
    “The central banks are working on accumulating funds in collusion with venture capitalists — these profits go to the top one percent,” stated one protester.    “This is why we are marching towards banks: to let them know that this type of rule must come to an end.”
    Protests against the government and the ruling elite have been ongoing since the middle of October.
    Lebanon’s prime minister recently announced his resignation after nationwide protests brought the country to a halt for nearly two weeks.    Saad Hariri stepped down amid anti-government demonstrations and has relinquished political power to the country’s president.
    The official’s decision came after protesters demanded he resign.    They expressed their joy after hearing the news, but said they will stay in the streets until all their demands are met.
    “The prime ministers resignation is the beginning of realizing what we are working for.    This is not yet enough, we surely want more than this. We want to continue with the remaining steps.” — Nisrine Hammoud, protester
    Recent rallies have drawn people from all around Lebanon.    They’ve said they are furious at their leaders for plundering state resources for personal gain.
    It’s unclear who will replace Hariri as Lebanese prime minister. Only time will tell if more officials follow in his footsteps as unrest in the country continues.

11/10/2019 Mark Milley: Less than 1,000 U.S. troops to remain in Syria by OAN Newsroom
American military convoy stops near the town of Tel Tamr, north Syria, Sunday, Oct. 20, 2019. (AP Photo/Baderkhan Ahmad)
    The Chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff is saying less than one thousand U.S. troops will remain in Syria to keep the pressure on ISIS.    During a Sunday interview, General Mark Milley estimated about 500 to 600 troops are expected to stay in Syria, but did not confirm any other specifics.
    Milley said he would send troops to the eastern region to protect the oil fields and keep the reserves out of the hands of terrorists.
    The chairman stated it is necessary to maintain pressure on ISIS to avoid a resurgence of the terror group.
    “There are still ISIS fighters in the region,” said Milley.    “Unless pressure is maintained on that group, there’s a very real possibility that conditions could be set for a reemergence of ISIS.”
In this photo provided by the White House, President Donald Trump is joined by from left, national security adviser
Robert O’Brien, Vice President Mike Pence, Defense Secretary mark Esper, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Mark Milley
and Brig. Gen. Marcus Evans, Deputy Director for Special Operations on the Joint Staff, Saturday, Oct. 26, 2019,
in the Situation Room of the White House in Washington. monitoring developments as in the U.S. Special Operations
forces raid that took out Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Shealah Craighead/The White House via AP)
    This comes amid recent allegations that the U.S. is seeking to exploit the Syrian oilfields. Several nations — including Iran and Russia — have questioned America’s motives to protect the oilfields. “We are convinced that it’s up to the Syrian people to manage their natural resources, including oil,” stated Russian Deputy Foreign     Minister Sergey Vershinin. “Any actions whatsoever that the United States undertake to keep themselves militarily present in Syria are unacceptable and illegal from our point of view.”     The Defense Department has said all revenue from U.S. controlled oilfields in Syria goes to the Syrian Democratic Forces — not the United States.    The Pentagon said U.S. forces are also working to prevent crimes against humanity in Syria.
    “There is a great deal of infrastructure that’s in disrepair,” stated Admiral Bill Byrne.    “It’s the SDF and the U.S. forces, shoulder to shoulder, protecting that to ensure that ISIS doesn’t have access.”
    Military officials also reaffirmed the withdrawal of American forces and equipment from Syria remains ongoing.    This comes after President Trump said he would bring the U.S. troops stationed in Syria back home and declared our country’s need to get out of the so-called “endless wars.”

In this Oct. 24, 2019, photo released by the U.S. Army Reserve, a Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle prepares to be loaded
onto a cargo plane at the Kobani Landing Zone (KLZ), Syria. (U.S. Army Reserve photo by Staff Sgt. Joshua Hammock via AP)

11/11/2019 U.S. calls on Iraq to hold early elections
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi demonstrators take part in the ongoing anti-government protests
in Baghdad, Iraq November 9, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The United States has called on Iraq’s government to stop using violence against protesters, reform its electoral system and hold early elections, after weeks of unrest in which security forces have killed nearly 300 protesters.
    The protests that began on Oct. 1 were initially focused on a lack of jobs and services but quickly morphed into denunciation of the sectarian power-sharing system of government introduced in 2003 and the political elites they say benefit from it.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young and unarmed protesters, killing more than 280 people.
    “The United States joins the UN Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfill President Salih’s promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections,” the White House press secretary said in a statement posted by the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on Monday.
    Iraqi leaders agreed on Sunday that electoral reforms should give more chance for young people to participate in politics and break the monopoly on power of political parties that have dominated state institutions since 2003, state media reported.
    The unrest, the worst for two years, is one of the biggest and most complicated challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the U.S. invasion and toppling of autocrat Saddam Hussein in 2003.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/11/2019 Turkey starts repatriation of captured Islamic State militants by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a news conference with Hungarian Prime Minister
Viktor Orban (not pictured) in Budapest, Hungary November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Monday it had deported two Islamic State militants — a German and an American — beginning a programme to repatriate fighters that has caused friction with its NATO allies since it launched an offensive in northern Syria.
    Allies have worried that Islamic State militants could escape as a result of the Turkish offensive, which began last month.    Turkey has accused Western countries, especially in Europe, of being too slow to take back citizens who travelled to the Middle East to fight on behalf of the militant group.
    Since launching its cross-border assault, Turkey has been seizing territory from Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of Islamic State fighters and tens of thousands of their family members, including foreigners.
    Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said last week Ankara would begin to send Islamic State militants back to their home countries starting on Monday, even if the nations the fighters came from had revoked their citizenship.
    Interior Ministry Spokesman Ismail Catakli said one American and one German fighter were deported on Monday.    He did not specify where they were sent, although Turkey has repeatedly said fighters would be sent to their native countries.
    The 23 others to be deported in coming days were all European, including a Dane expected to be sent abroad later on Monday, as well as two Irish nationals, nine other Germans and 11 French citizens.
    “Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations 90% finished and the relevant countries notified,” Catakli said.    “The process of repatriating foreign fighters to their countries will continue with determination,” he was cited as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.
    Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month, following President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of the way.
    The YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a U.S. ally against Islamic State, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeast Syria and has also overseen camps where relatives of fighters have sought shelter.    Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group.
    The Turkish offensive prompted widespread concern over the fate of the prisoners, with Turkey’s Western allies and the SDF warning it could hinder the fight against Islamic State and aid its resurgence.    Turkey has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat Islamic State with its allies.
Ankara has repeatedly urged European countries to take back citizens fighting for the jihadists.    It has also accused the YPG of vacating some Islamic State jails.
    European states are trying to speed up a plan to move thousands of jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq.
    So far, Denmark, Germany and Britain have revoked citizenship from some fighters and family members.
    Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying that there are 1,201 Islamic State prisoners in Turkish jails, while Turkey had captured 287 militants in Syria.
    On Monday, state broadcaster TRT Haber said Turkey aimed to repatriate around 2,500 militants, the majority of whom will be sent to European Union nations. It said there were 813 militants at 12 deportation centres in the country.
    Erdogan said Turkey had captured 13 people from the inner circle of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died during a U.S. raid last month.
(Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Peter Graff)

11/11/2019 Oman urges dialogue with Iran, stays neutral in regional tensions
FILE PHOTO: Oman's Oil Minister Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy talks to journalists as he
leaves the OPEC headquarters in Vienna, Austria December 5, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Oman’s oil minister called on Monday for dialogue with Iran, saying his country had been campaigning for talks and would remain neutral towards regional tensions.
    “Oman has always maintained that, yes, we are always neutral as neutrality suits us and suits the way we manage the differences,” Mohammed bin Hamad al-Rumhy told an oil conference in the United Arab Emirates.
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Dale Hudson)

11/11/2019 Syria’s Assad: anybody will be able to run at 2021 election
FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks during a meeting with heads of local councils, in
Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on February 17, 2019. SANA/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad said the Syrian presidential election in 2021 would be open to anybody who wants to run and that there would be numerous challengers for the presidency.
    Assad, who made the comment in an interview broadcast on Monday on Russian state-funded television channel RT, faced two challengers at the 2014 election which he won by a landslide, but which his opponents dismissed as a charade.
    “Last time we were three and this time of course we are going to have as much as they want to nominate.    There are going to be numerous nominees,” Assad said.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Catherine Evans)

11/11/2019 National Security adviser O’Brien: President Trump to address Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles by OAN Newsroom
In this photo taken from the outskirts of the village of Alakamis, in Idil province, southeastern Turkey, a Turkish army vehicles is driven
in Turkey after conducting a joint patrol with Russian forces in Syria, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019. (AP Photo/Mehmet Guzel)
    The Trump administration recently gave an update on the current status of U.S. military actions in Syria.    On Sunday, the chairman of Joint Chiefs of Staff said less than 1,000 U.S. troops will remain in Syria to keep the pressure on ISIS.    General Mark Milley said an estimated 500 to 600 troops are expected to stay in Syria, but he did not confirm any specifics.
    The announcement comes after President Trump moved U.S. troops out of Northern Syria to make way for Turkey’s incursion in the region. He then said he would send troops to the eastern region to protect the oil fields to keep the reserves out of the hands of terrorists.    Milley stated it is necessary to maintain pressure on ISIS to avoid a resurgence of the terror group.
    “There are still ISIS fighters in the region and unless pressure is maintained, unless attention is maintained on that group, then there is a very real possibility that conditions could be set for a reemergence of ISIS,” explained the U.S. general.    “The footprint will be small, but the objective will remain the same — enduring defeat of ISIS.”
    This comes after the president said he would bring the U.S. troops stationed in Syria back home and declared the U.S. needs to get of the so-called “forever wars.”
U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien speaks during a press conference on the sidelines of the
35th Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit in Nonthaburi, Thailand, Monday, Nov. 4, 2019.
Seven Southeast Asian leaders skipped an important meeting with the United States on Monday after
President Donald Trump decided not to attend their regional summit in Thailand. (AP Photo/Aijaz Rahi)
    In the meantime, the president’s National Security adviser, Robert O’Brien, has said Turkey’s purchase of Russian missiles will be addressed when President Tayyip Erdogan visits the White House this week.    The U.S. official said the Trump administration was “very upset” after Turkey bought a Russian-made missile defense system.    He then proceeded to slam the notion a NATO ally would purchase weapons from Moscow, adding, there’s no place in NATO for Russian defenses.
    “Well look, if Turkey doesn’t get rid of the S-400 there will likely be sanctions that will pass in Congress with an overwhelming majority, and Turkey will feel the impact of those sanctions,” said O’Brien.    “We’ve made that very clear to President Erdogan.”
    The Turkish president’s visit to Washington comes as tensions escalate over Turkey’s alleged war crimes against Syrian Kurds, following the U.S. troop removal from Northern Syria.

11/11/2019 Lebanon central bank says bank deposits are safe, banks to review curbs by Nadine Awadalla
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s central bank, seeking to shore up battered confidence in the financial system amid the worst economic crisis in decades, said on Monday bank deposits are secure and it had the ability to preserve the stability of the pegged Lebanese pound.
    In a televised news conference, governor Riad Salameh said capital controls were not on the table because Lebanon depended on free movement of money, adding that the central bank had taken steps to safeguard deposits and there would be no haircut.
    Already in deep economic turmoil, Lebanon has been plunged deeper into trouble since Oct. 17 when an unprecedented wave of protests against the ruling elite erupted across the country and prompted the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
    Lebanon is in urgent need of a new government to enact emergency economic measures.    The head of the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group     Hezbollah, said he wanted to avoid public discussion of closed-door talks over the new government, saying he wanted to leave the door open for an agreement.
    Three senior sources told Reuters on Sunday the talks were still deadlocked.
    A big part of Lebanon’s economic crisis stems from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and spawned a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
    Since reopening on Nov. 1 after a two-week closure, banks have been seeking to stave off capital flight by blocking most transfers abroad and imposing curbs on hard-currency withdrawals.
    Referring to these restrictions, Salameh said the central bank had asked banks to review what he described as somewhat “conservative” steps taken because of instability that was prevailing at the time banks had reopened.
STRIKE CALL
    Salameh said the banks would meet immediately to review and implement the central bank’s request.    He said that banks managing their liquidity did “not mean the solvency of the banking sector was reduced or poses dangers to deposits.”
    Salameh said the central bank was allowing banks to borrow dollars without limits at 20 percent interest to secure depositors’ needs on condition such funds were not sent abroad.
    “The mechanism we put in place to protect the depositor is through preventing any bank from failing,” he said.
    In a further potential disruption to bank operations, a union representing bank staff urged them to strike, starting on Tuesday, because of security concerns stemming from protests at banks and depositors demanding withdrawal of their funds.
    Lebanon’s banks held an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the strike call, the banking association said, pledging to protect employees after physical attacks on them.
    A statement issued by the Association of Banks in Lebanon however did not say whether banks would close on Tuesday, after some Lebanese broadcasters reported the banks would shut their doors because of the planned stoppage.
    Salameh said the central bank hoped for the formation of a new government as soon as possible.    The central bank would seek to lower interest rates through liquidity management, he added.
    “We are today in a new phase,” Salameh said.    “We will preserve the stability of the exchange rate of the pound, this stability is present,” he said, noting that banks were still dealing dollars at the official pegged rate.
    The difference between the official rate and that on the parallel market was due to “supply and demand,” he said.    The central bank would not go to exchange dealers to give them dollars to preserve the official rate, he said.
    This “phenomenon” would retreat when there is more “relief” in the situation, he said.
STAGNANT LOCAL ECONOMY
    Salameh said a round of so-called “financial engineering” in July had led to a $2 billion increase in its reserves, but the “exceptional circumstances” in Lebanon today did not allow for financial engineering and instead required liquidity management.
    One dollar bought 1,800 pounds or more on Friday compared to 1,740 on Thursday, two market sources said.    The pegged rate is 1,507.5 pounds.    Banks on Monday were closed for a holiday.
    Salameh said the central bank had a usable foreign cash reserve of $30 billion and total assets of $38 billion.
    A stagnant local economy and a slowdown in cash injections from Lebanese abroad have put pressure on the central bank’s foreign currency reserves in recent years.    Recent months have seen the emergence of a parallel exchange market for dollars.
    The build-up of economic and political pressure has made dollars harder to come by and weakened the pound against the dollar on the parallel exchange market with a discount to the official two-decade old peg around 20%.
    The caretaker education minister said schools and universities would close on Tuesday “to preserve the safety of students” amid continuing protests.    Schools have been closed for most of the time since the protests began.
    Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said fighting corruption in Lebanon must be through the judicial system.    He called on judges to bring forward corruption cases including against state officials, even if they were Hezbollah officials.
    He also accused Washington of seeking to deepen Lebanon’s economic woes, including through sanctions and preventing Chinese, Iranian and other firms from investing in Lebanon.
(Writing by Tom Perry/Ellen Francis; Editing by William Maclean)

11/11/2019 Saudi promo video labels feminism, atheism, homosexuality as extremist ideas
FILE PHOTO: Saudi students are seen at an exhibition to guide job seekers to a women's career
fair in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia October 2, 2018. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A promotional video published by Saudi Arabia’s state security agency categorizes feminism, homosexuality and atheism as extremist ideas, even as the conservative Muslim kingdom seeks to promote tolerance and attract foreigners.
    The animated clip posted on Twitter at the weekend by a verified account of the State Security Presidency said “all forms of extremism and perversion are unacceptable.”
    It listed those concepts alongside takfir – the Islamist militant practice of labeling followers of other schools of Islam unbelievers.
    “Don’t forget that excess of anything at the expense of the homeland is considered extremism,” said the promo’s voiceover.
    As part of plans to open up society and attract foreign investment to transform Saudi Arabia’s oil-dependent economy, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has pushed for a more moderate form of Islam and promoted nationalist sentiment.
    He has loosened social restrictions and launched a tourist visa and, as Saudi Arabia prepares to take over the presidency of the Group of 20 countries next year, Riyadh has chipped away at a guardianship system that assigns each woman a male relative to approve important decisions throughout their lives.
    But the authorities have also cracked down on dissent, arresting scores of critics including clerics, intellectuals and activists.
    Nearly a dozen women’s right advocates were detained weeks before a ban on women driving – which they had campaigned against – was lifted last year.    Activists and diplomats speculated that may have been a message that reform would happen only at the government’s initiative.
    The public prosecutor has said the women were arrested on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.    Some of the charges relate to their rights work.
    Under Saudi law, supporting groups classified as extremist organizations can lead to imprisonment.
    Homosexuality and atheism have long been illegal and punishable by death in the absolute monarchy, where public protests and political parties are banned and the media is tightly controlled.
(Reporting by Dubai Newsroom, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/11/2019 Bomb attacks kill five, injure dozens in Syria’s Qamishli: forces
People gather at a site of a bomb explosion in Qamishli, Syria in this handout released by SANA on November 11, 2019. SANA/Handout
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. REUTERS IS UNABLE TO INDEPENDENTLY VERIFY THIS IMAGE.
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Three bombs exploded in Qamishli in northeast Syria on Monday, killing five people and wounding 26 in the city, which is largely-controlled by Kurdish fighters, security forces said.
    Two cars and a rigged motorcycle exploded near a cafe and a church, a statement from the region’s security forces said.    The wounded included four security force members, it said, describing the blasts as a “terrorist operation.”
    With the Kurdish YPG militia at its forefront, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) defeated Islamic State across much of north and east Syria with U.S. help.
    A series of bomb attacks have struck towns and villages in northern Syria in the past year, including in the SDF region.
    Kurdish leaders say Islamic State sleeper cells still pose a threat and warn that a Turkish offensive at the border would allow a jihadist resurgence.
    Ankara launched its incursion last month into northeast Syria to target the YPG, after President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of the way.    Turkey deems the YPG a threat linked to a decades-long Kurdish insurgency at home.
(Reporting by Rodi Said in Syria; Editing by Edmund Blair)

11/11/2019 Israeli troops kill West Bank Palestinian, U.N. demands probe
A relative of Palestinian man Omar al-Badawi reacts during his funeral in al-Arroub
refugee camp, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian during confrontations with stone-throwing protesters in the occupied West Bank on Monday, Palestinian health officials said, drawing a U.N. demand for the incident to be investigated.
    They said 22-year-old Omar Badawi was shot in the chest in Al-Aroub refugee camp, near Hebron city.    It was not immediately clear if he had taken part in the protests marking the 15th anniversary of the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.
    An Israeli military spokeswoman said troops were sent into Al-Aroub in pursuit of local Palestinians who had thrown rocks at cars on a nearby road, and opened fire when confronted by “a large number of rioters,” some of them with petrol bombs.     The fatal shooting was under investigation, she added.
    Video circulated on social media, and which could not immediately be verified by Reuters, showed a young man with a what appears to be a piece of white cloth in his hand emerging hesitantly from an alleyway.    A shot rings out and he collapses.
    “Shocking to see the video (of) today’s killing of Omar Badawi by Israeli security forces,” Nickolay Mladenov, U.N. special coordinator for Middle East peace, tweeted, adding that the Palestinians appeared to have “posed no threat to anyone.”
    “Such acts must be thoroughly investigated,” Mladenov said.
    The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen sporadic violence since U.S.-brokered peace talks with Israel stalled in 2014.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Alex Richardson, Hugh Lawson and Giles Elgood)

11/11/2019 Top Iraqi cleric casts doubt on reforms offered to defuse unrest by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein
A member of Iraqi Security forces gestures during the ongoing anti-government protests
in Baghdad, Iraq November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric on Monday expressed concern that the political elite is not serious about enacting reforms in the face of mass unrest and said protesters should not go home until concrete steps had been taken to meet their demands.
    Security forces shot dead two protesters in the city of Nassiriya, bringing to 300 the number of people have been killed since protests against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and spread to the southern Shi’ite heartlands.
    The government has failed to find an answer to the unrest among mostly unemployed young people who see no improvement in their lives even in peacetime after decades of war and sanctions.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who only speaks on politics in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi’ite-majority Iraq, on Monday met Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert, the U.N. mission chief in the country.
    “His eminence made clear the importance of enacting serious reform within a reasonable time frame,” his office said.
    Sistani welcomed reform recommendations presented by the U.N. Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI).
    These include the release of all detained peaceful protesters, investigations into killings of protesters, declarations of assets by political leaders to address graft accusations, corruption trials, electoral reform and constitutional changes to make leaders more accountable within the next three months.
    Iraqi leaders agreed on Sunday that electoral reforms should allow more young people to participate in politics and break the monopoly on power of political parties, but Sistani cast doubt on their sincerity.
    “He expressed his concern that the concerned parties are not serious enough about enacting real reforms,” his office said.
    The unrest is the biggest and most complex challenge to the Iraqi political order since the government declared victory over Islamic State two years ago.
FIRE AND BLOOD
    Government handouts for the poor, pledges to prosecute corrupt officials and create more jobs for graduates have failed to placate protesters, whose demands include a new electoral system and the removal of all current leaders.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly young and unarmed protesters.
    “The security forces are dealing with us like they dealt with Daesh (Islamic State).    They’re killing us in the same way,” said Abbas, 25, who sported a helmet and an Iraqi flag freshly painted on his arm.
    He was one of thousands in and around Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, which has become the center of the uprising, packed with Iraqis from across sectarian and generational divides.
    The square was less crowded on Monday, though tents were still pitched.    A nearby street was packed with mostly young men, wearing helmets and makeshift body armor, who clashed with security forces in front of a burning building.
    Tuk-tuks ferried dozens of wounded to nearby medical clinics, staffed by volunteers: some victims were unconscious, others spat up or choked on tear gas, others bled.
    At least 34 people were wounded in Baghdad, police and medics said.    In addition to the two deaths in Nassiriya, where security forces used machine guns, over 100 people were wounded, police and medics said.
    In the southern oil city of Basra, around 3,000 people gathered in front of the local government building and set up tents, but no violence was reported.
‘SHOOTING AT US DAILY’
    Several protesters interviewed on Monday said Sistani’s agreement with the UN would be of little use unless politicians listened, which they doubted.
    “We’ve been asking for the UN to intervene because we don’t know where else to turn, but what can they do?    The politicians are all trying to save themselves, and not even the UN can stop them,” said 24-year-old Zaid.
    “The UN blamed them for killing us, but the Iraqi security forces are still shooting at us daily.”
    Washington also welcomed the UN plan, but protesters did not welcome that.    They perceive Iraq’s leaders as subservient to one of the country’s two main allies, the United States and Iran.
    “The United States joins the U.N. Assistance Mission to Iraq in calling on the Iraqi government to halt the violence against protesters and fulfill President (Barham) Salih’s promise to pass electoral reform and hold early elections,” the White House press secretary said in a statement.
    “I lost my son in a protest last week – they murdered him,” said one man, his voice cracking.    “We don’t want anyone to get involved – not the United Nations, not Iran, not America.    We just want them to go!    Why won’t they go?
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Giles Elgood and Mark Potter)

11/11/2019 Jordan’s king tours enclave along Israel border after end of lease deal by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Jordanian soldiers gather near a tent and Jordan's national flag, in an area known as Naharayim in Hebrew and Baquora in Arabic,
in the border area between Israel and Jordan, as seen from the Israeli side November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s King Abdullah paid his first visit on Monday to an enclave fringing the country’s northern border with Israel, a day after the expiry of a 25-year special regime that allowed Israeli farmers access to the area, official sources said.
    The king had announced on Sunday in parliament that Jordan was “imposing full sovereignty on every inch” of the enclave, to loud applause from lawmakers.    Many Jordanians had viewed the arrangement as a humiliating Israeli occupation of their land.
    Under the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty the enclave, made up of two territories straddling the border, was recognized as being under Jordanian sovereignty but with special provisions allowing Israeli farmers to work the land without visas.
    But in 2018, Jordan said it did not want to renew the arrangement, in what was widely seen as a sign of increasingly strained bilateral relations.
Jordan is one of only two Arab states with a peace accord with Israel, and the neighbours have a long history of close security ties.
    But officials say the king’s decision to end the arrangement reflected his anger at Israel’s rejection of a Palestinian state in the occupied West Bank and at its perceived infringements of one of Islam’s holiest sites in Jerusalem.    His Hashemite dynasty is custodian of the Muslim holy sites in the city.
    Under the peace terms, the special regime would automatically renew unless either party notified the other a year before expiry that it wished to terminate the agreement.
DASHED HOPES
    With little strategic value, the two territories have become a symbol of dashed hopes and growing anger with Israel on the part of Jordan’s political establishment, which says the 1994 treaty with its neighbour has brought no peace dividend.
    Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said Jordan remained committed to the peace treaty, which demarcated borders for the first time since the creation of Israel in 1948.
    “We are a country that respects its commitments to the peace treaty, which we have to abide by fully,” Safadi said.
    Many Jordanians however are opposed to normalised ties with Israel and have called on the government to scrap the peace treaty. Many citizens in Jordan are of Palestinian origin.
    Safadi said his country would continue to respect private ownership by Israelis in Baqoura, which in Israel is known by its Hebrew name Naharayim.
    But any Israeli who owns property in Baquora will now need to get a visa to enter Jordan and his property will be governed by Jordanian laws that apply to other foreigners, Safadi said.
    In the other territory, known as al Ghumar in Jordan and which Israel calls Tzofar, Israeli farmers have cultivated and invested in agro-industry, although they have not had ownership rights.    Safadi said the kingdom would allow these farmers to harvest a final crop before ending their activity there.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/11/2019 Saudi vice defense minister meets Omani ruler in Muscat-state news
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
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s vice minister of defense visited Oman on Monday and met with ruler Sultan Qaboos, Omani state news agency ONA reported, following a deal to end a power struggle in the south of Yemen.
    The Saudi defense ministry said Prince Khalid bin Salman, a son of the king, would meet with several Omani officials to discuss bilateral ties as well as regional security and stability.
    Neither statement mentioned Yemen, where Saudi Arabia is backing the internationally recognized government against the Iran-aligned Houthis.
    Oman has largely remained neutral but has hosted talks to try to resolve the conflict and previously used its good relations with the Houthis and Iran to mediate with Riyadh and Washington.
    The deal signed last week between the Saudi-backed government and southern separatists was hailed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as a step toward a wider political solution to end the multifaceted conflict.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Sandra Maler)

11/12/2019 Israel kills Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza, another targeted in Damascus by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
People walk past a damaged building in Mezzah, Damascus, Syria November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad in a rare targeted strike in the Gaza Strip on Tuesday, and militants responded by firing rockets at Israeli cities, including Tel Aviv.
    In the most serious escalation in months, an Israeli missile attack also targeted the home of an Islamic Jihad official in Damascus, killing two people including one of his sons, Syrian state media said. Israel declined any comment on that incident.
    “Israel executed two coordinated attacks, in Syria and in Gaza, in a declaration of war,” Islamic Jihad leader Khaled Al-Batsh said at the Gaza funeral of Baha Abu Al-Atta.
    Israeli officials described Al-Atta as “ticking bomb” who was responsible for a string of recent cross-border rocket, drone and sniper attacks and was suspected of planning more.
    “We conducted the attack (on Al-Atta) because there was no other choice,” Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus said.    “I want to emphasise that we are not looking to further escalate the situation.”
    Al-Atta’s slaying, in his home along with his wife, looked likely to pose a new challenge for Gaza’s ruling Hamas faction, which has mostly pursued truces with Israel since a 2014 war.
    Israel casts rising Gaza tensions as part of a regional struggle with arch-foe Iran that has also played out in Syria.    Conservative Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has cited such scenarios in trying to form a coalition government with centre-left rivals after two inconclusive elections this year.
    Islamic Jihad said the target of the Damascus attack was the home of a political leader, Akram Al-Ajouri.    His possible significance to Israel was not immediately clear.
SCHOOLS, BANKS SHUTTERED
    Palestinian militants fired dozens of rockets into Israel, setting off sirens as far north as Tel Aviv and prompting several municipalities to close schools.    Similar precautions were ordered in Gaza.
    The Israeli military said its Iron Dome air defence systems intercepted some of the Palestinian rockets.    Israeli hospitals reported several civilians with injuries.
    Israel’s banking regulator instructed banks in areas within rocket range to operate under emergency procedures, with essential staff only.    The main Tel Aviv share index <.TA125> was down 0.5%.    The shekel was 0.2% weaker against the dollar.
    A later Israeli air strike on two men riding a motorcycle in Gaza killed one and wounded the other, Palestinian residents said. Israel said the men were an Islamic Jihad rocket crew.
    Israel “bears full responsibility for all consequences of this escalation,” Hamas said in a statement, pledging that Al-Atta’s death “will not go unpunished
    Syrian state media said the Israeli attack in Damascus had been carried out using several missiles, one of which was shot down over the nearby suburb of Daraya.
    At the scene of the Damascus strike, a Reuters journalist said the top floor of a two-storey building had been completely scorched.    A neighbour said he had been woken up at around 4 a.m. by three consecutive explosions that had blown open the doors in his house.
    Syrian state media said six people were wounded in the attack, describing the target as a civilian home in Mezzah, a western district of the capital where several foreign embassies are located.
    In recent years, Israel has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iran and the Tehran-backed Lebanese Hezbollah group, which it calls the biggest threat to its borders.
(Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo, Tom Perry in Beirut and Steven Scheer in Jerusalem; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Sandra Maler, Lincoln Feast, Simon Cameron-Moore, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Peter Graff)

11/12/2019 Iraq’s elite rallies around Iran-backed plan to hang on to power by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Rasheed
Demonstrators run from tear gas thrown by Iraqi security forces during the ongoing
anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s ruling parties appear to have rallied behind a strategy, blessed by Iran, to try to survive a mass anti-government uprising by containing protests on the streets of Baghdad while offering a package of political reforms and elections next year.
    But the proposed solution involves keeping in power a ruling elite that Iran has cultivated for years – unlikely to placate protesters who have been demanding the entire caste of politicians be swept aside.
    Iran has been closely involved in formulating the new strategy, with a number of meetings between political groups and government figures attended by Qassem Soleimani, the general who commands the Quds Force of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards that supervises Tehran’s clients across the Middle East.
    Two sources with knowledge of the talks said Soleimani had approved the reform plan, which would keep Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi in power until new elections next year, as it would give Iran time to recalculate how to retain influence.
    The protests pose the biggest challenge to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated political order since it emerged after a 2003 U.S. invasion toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
    At least 300 protesters have been killed, most by security forces firing live ammunition into crowds.    But the violent response has done little to persuade the protesters to leave the streets.
    A senior security official told Reuters new tactics were being rolled out to try to confine the demonstrations to Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, a roadway junction at the foot of a bridge across the Tigris, where demonstrators have camped out for weeks.
    “Security forces received new orders on Saturday that protesters must be kept in Tahrir Square,” the security official said.    “They’re working quietly now to seal off the square from all directions, and an arrest campaign is expected to follow in a bid to reduce momentum of the protests.”
    Meanwhile the authorities will push on with a reform plan to mollify the crowd, with new elections run by a commission intended to be more independent, and parliament restructured to be smaller and more representative of Iraq’s diverse population.
    Sources who have attended recent government meetings say the strategy now enjoys the backing not only of the Iran-backed parties that support the government, but also of their main rivals, the faction of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, who regularly denounces Iran and had called for Abdul Mahdi to quit.
    Sunni and Kurdish political leaders also support the plan.
    “The anger of protesters at everyone in politics, even religious figures, forced all parties to listen to Iranian advice and work together to keep Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government standing,” said a source close to Sadr.
Even Sadr is on board,” he said.    “He worried that protests he’s not controlling could also threaten his position” among his followers, the source said.
REFORMS
    The new reforms include lowering the minimum age of candidates, increasing the number of voting districts and reducing parliament to 222 seats from 329, according to a proposal from Iraq’s President Barham Salih seen by Reuters.    Political appointees on Iraq’s Independent High Electoral Commission would be replaced with technocrats and judges.
    Parliament will vote on the changes before eventually approving a date for early elections in 2020, two sources close to the talks said, leaving room for potential delays.
    Izzat Shahbandar, an independent who has been mediating among senior political figures including Abdul Mahdi and regularly meets with protesters, said a partial cabinet reshuffle was agreed in principle, with the premier staying.
    “Everyone has rallied around the prime minister now. He’s their best bet to avoid chaos,” he said.
    It remains to be seen whether the promise of reforms can take any of the heat out of the protests.    The reforms clearly fall short of protester demands to scrap the entire post-Saddam political system, but parties could present them as evidence that they are serious about moving in the right direction.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, who speaks on politics only in times of crisis and wields enormous influence over public opinion in Shi’ite-majority Iraq, has called for serious reform within a “reasonable time frame.”    He has urged protesters not to go home until concrete steps are taken to meet their demands.
    As the protesters’ demands have become more specific, some have called for a system with an elected executive president, less beholden to the political factions that have selected all of Iraq’s post-Saddam prime ministers behind closed doors.
    Most say they just want the rulers out.
    “They choke us so we can’t breathe, so we can’t speak and tell them to go away!” said Ammar, 20, from Baghdad’s Sadr City district, wearing a helmet with a scarf around his face at a medical tent where he was being treated for tear gas exposure.
    “We’re dying here for our future.    We’re dying for things to change.”
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/12/2019 Lebanon’s banks shut as staff strike over safety fears
A man walks past a closed bank office in Beirut, Lebanon November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s banks and schools were shut on Tuesday in a new wave of disruption amid urgent political efforts to form a new government to steer the country out of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Bank branches, which were closed for nearly half of October, shut again on fears for the safety of staff who have felt intimidated by customers demanding access to their money and protesters who have gathered at banks, a union leader said.
    The demonstrations have been fueled by anger at Lebanon’s ruling elite, widely perceived to have overseen rampant state corruption for decades.
    Banks have been seeking to prevent capital flight by imposing restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad.
    “We aim to meet with the Association of Banks in Lebanon today and decide how we’re going to work together to solve this issue so that bank employees are not harassed,” President of the Federation of Syndicates of Bank Employees George al-Hajj said.
    ATM machines will be stocked so that depositors do not feel “punished” by the strike action, Hajj said.
    Lebanon’s central bank said on Monday that bank deposits were secure and it had the ability to preserve the stability of the pegged Lebanese pound.
    In a televised news conference, central bank governor Riad Salameh said capital controls were not on the table and there would be no haircut – or value-reduction – on deposits.
    Schools were also closed on Tuesday, a decision the education minister announced on Monday because of calls for a wider strike and out of respect for “students’ right to express their views
    Lebanon was pitched into deep turmoil on Oct. 17, when a wave of protests against the ruling elite began that led Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign on Oct. 29.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla; editing by John Stonestreet)

11/12/2019 Israel hit with 50 rockets from Gaza after killing of top Jihad commander by OAN Newsroom
Rockets are launched from Gaza Strip to Israel, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Israel killed a
senior Islamic Jihad commander in Gaza early Tuesday in a resumption of pinpointed targeting that
threatens a fierce round of cross-border violence with Palestinian militants. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)
    Several rockets were reportedly fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel in response to Israel’s killing of a top Jihad commander.     Palestinian militants fired around 50 rockets into southern and central Israel early Tuesday, setting off sirens and forcing people into bomb shelters.    Israeli officials say they intercepted about 20 of those rockets using their aerial defense system.
    Meanwhile, the country’s defense forces say “the barrage of rockets fired by Gaza at Israeli civilians shows exactly why their commander was targeted in the first place.” Baha Abu al-Ata, the leader of the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad organization, was killed Tuesday by a targeted strike in the Gaza Strip.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has pinned Baha Abu al-Ata as “the main instigator of terrorism” in the region.
Mourners carry the body of Palestinian Islamic Jihad field commander Baha Abu Al-Atta
during his funeral in Gaza City November 12, 2019. (REUTERS Photo)
    The Islamic Jihad now say Israel’s actions are a declaration of war against the Palestinian people.    According to reports, Baha Abu Al-Atta’s wife was also killed during the strike.
    Civilians were seen fleeing for shelter as more than 200 rockets were fired at Israel from Gaza since Tuesday morning.
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman took to Twitter to assure the U.S. will stand with its ally at this critical moment, and will “support Israel’s right to defend itself” against what he called “barbaric attacks.”

11/12/2019 Turkish President: U.S. failed to keep promise after offensive in Northern Syria by OAN Newsroom
A helicopter takes off from a US military base at an undisclosed location in eastern Syria,
Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. The deployment of the mechanized force comes after US troops withdrew from
northeastern Syria, making way for a Turkish offensive that began last month. (AP Photo/Darko Bandic)
    Turkey’s president is claiming the Trump administration failed to keep its promise to remove Kurdish YPG militia from the border between Syria and Turkey.    Just before boarding a plane to Washington Tuesday, Tayipp Erdogan said he plans on bringing the issue to President Trump during their talks this week.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his wife Emine Erdogan wave as they board a plane before a visit to the United States, in
Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2019. Erdogan warned European nations Tuesday that his country could release all the Islamic State
group prisoners it holds and send them to Europe, in response to EU sanctions over Cyprus.(Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
    Last month, Erdogan agreed to call off Turkey’s offensive into Northern Syria in exchange for the withdraw of Kurdish groups from the region.
    However, the Turkish leader is accusing the U.S. of not following through on that deal.     “We will express to President Trump with documents that our agreement on this military operation has not been fulfilled,” stated the Turkish president.
    Meanwhile, President Trump has said he plans to discuss Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems in July despite U.S. sanctions.
    The two leaders are scheduled to meet in Washington on Wednesday.

11/12/2019 Lebanon’s Aoun says found Hariri hesitant about being PM
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President
Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Tuesday he had found outgoing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri hesitant about taking the job again and he backed a cabinet mixing technocrats and politicians.
    “I met with Hariri and I found him hesitant between yes and no,” Aoun said in a televised interview, adding that he did not know if this was still the case.
    Aoun said formal consultations with MPs over the nomination of the next prime minister could begin on Thursday or Friday but he was waiting for answers without which it may take a few days longer.
    Hariri quit as prime minister of a coalition government on Oct. 29.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

11/12/2019 Egypt seeks to parry rights criticism after mass arrests by Aidan Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Cars move along the '6th October Bridge' near banners of Egyptian President
Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, in Cairo, Egypt October 2, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt has been trying to deflect criticism of its human rights record and prison conditions ahead of a U.N. review in Geneva on Wednesday that comes in the wake of thousands of new arrests.
    The crackdown, which rights activists say was the most intensive campaign of arrests for years, came after rare protests against President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Cairo and other cities in late September.
    More than 4,400 were detained, among them prominent activists, lawyers, academics and political figures, according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms.
    Around 3,000 are still being held under charges including using social media to spread false news, joining a banned terrorist group, and protesting without a permit, ECRF said.
    In late September, Egypt’s public prosecution acknowledged the arrest of not more than 1,000 people accused of involvement in the protests.
    Some of the detained are in Cairo’s Tora prison, where relatives and lawyers say inmates are often held in poor conditions and denied adequate healthcare.
    Tora is the prison complex in which former president Mohamed Mursi, whose overthrow in 2013 was led by Sisi, suffered a fatal heart attack in June during a courtroom hearing.
    U.N. experts said on Friday the prison regime may have led directly to Mursi’s death after he was held in solitary confinement for 23 hours a day and was denied life-saving care for diabetes and high blood pressure.
    Thousands more are at severe risk, the experts said, adding that two senior former aides of the banned Brotherhood were “effectively being killed by the conditions under which they are held and the denial of medical treatment.”
    Egyptian officials have denied mistreating prisoners or neglecting their health.
PRISON INSPECTION
    On Sunday, Egypt’s State Information Service released a video of an inspection of Tora by officials from the state security prosecution service.    It included interviews with two prisoners who said they were largely satisfied with conditions.
    A series of photos at the start of the film showed the officials visiting a well-stocked pharmacy and grocery shop, and tasting food in the prison refectory.
    On Monday, selected local and foreign journalists were invited to visit Tora, where they were shown a football match for prisoners, farm animals, and a metal workshop, but were not allowed to talk to inmates, according to one reporter present.    Reuters was not invited on the visit.
    State TV has also aired a short program on the detention system with a commentary saying that prisons are being modernized in line with international standards.
    Criticism from Western powers keen to develop security and economic ties with Sisi’s Egypt has been muted, and the session in Geneva provides a rare forum in which they can pose questions publicly.
    The U.N. Human Rights Council will be reviewing Egypt’s record for the first time in five years, as part of the forum’s regular appraisal of all U.N. member states.
    Advance questions cover prison conditions, torture and the recent arrests of activists, among other issues.    One rights lawyer, Mohamed al-Baqer, was interrogated over his engagement with the U.N. review following his detention, according to a question submitted by Liechtenstein.
    International rights group Amnesty International called on states “to vehemently condemn the vicious crackdown by authorities against NGO workers and civil society.”
    It said that since accepting 237 out of 300 recommendations at its last review in 2014, Egyptian authorities, had “adopted even more repressive measures that further restricted basic rights and freedoms.”
(Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/12/2019 Trump says U.S. has eye on Baghdadi’s third in command
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers remarks at the Economic Club of New York at the
Hilton Midtown Hotel in Manhattan, New York, U.S., November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Tuesday the United States knows the location of the third in command to Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who killed himself last month during a U.S.-led raid.
    “We have our eye on his third,” Trump said during the question-and-answer session following a speech at the Economic Club of New York.    “His third has got a lot of problems because we know where he is too.”
    Since Baghdadi’s death, the United States and Turkey have targeted possible successors and sympathizers and arrested family members, seeking to prevent a resurgence of the militant group.
    Trump did not identify the new target.    Earlier this month, the United States, said it was looking into Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi, who has been appointed Islamic State’s new leader.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Lisa Lambert in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese)

11/12/2019 Pompeo ‘deplored’ the death toll at protests in phone call with Iraqi PM: State Dept
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi in Baghdad,
during a Middle East tour, Iraq, January 9, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi “deplored the death toll” among protesters due to the crackdown of the Iraqi government and urged him to take immediate steps to address demonstrators’ demands, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said on Tuesday.
    Iraqi security forces on Monday shot dead two protesters in the city of Nassiriya, bringing to 300 the number of people killed since protests against political corruption, unemployment and poor public services erupted in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and spread to the southern Shi’ite heartlands.
    “The Secretary deplored the death toll among the protesters as a result of the Government of Iraq’s crackdown and use of lethal force, as well as the reports of kidnapped protesters,” Ortagus said in a statement.
    The government has failed to find an answer to the unrest among mostly unemployed young people who see no improvement in their lives even in peacetime after decades of war and sanctions.
    “Secretary Pompeo emphasized that peaceful public demonstrations are a fundamental element of all democracies,” Ortagus said and added that Pompeo urged Mahdi to address the protesters’ grievances by enacting reforms and tackling corruption.
    The unrest is the biggest and most complex challenge to the Iraqi political order since the government declared victory over Islamic State two years ago.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Chris Reese and Lisa Shumaker)

11/12/2019 U.N. urges Lebanon to build government of ‘competence’, banks close by Nadine Awadalla and Tom Perry
A demonstrator stands near burning tires during ongoing anti-government protests
in Tripoli, Lebanon November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The United Nations urged Lebanon on Tuesday to form a competent new government better able to seek international aid after weeks of protests against the ruling elite, warning the country was in a critical financial and economic situation.
    Lebanon’s banks and schools were shut in a new wave of disruption as politicians struggled to agree on a new government to steer the country out of its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Lebanon has been swept by weeks of demonstrations fueled by anger at the establishment, including several former civil war militia leaders, widely perceived to have overseen rampant state corruption for decades.
    The top U.N. official in Lebanon called for the urgent formation of a cabinet made up of people known “for their competence and integrity” that would be “trusted by the people”    Such a government would be in “a better position to appeal for support from Lebanon’s international partners.”
    “The financial and economic situation is critical, and the government and other authorities cannot wait any longer to start addressing it,” the U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said after meeting President Michel Aoun along with a group of foreign ambassadors.
    The head of an importers’ syndicate said restrictions on payments abroad were getting worse and further bank closures were not helping.
    Aoun said formal consultations with MPs to nominate a new prime minister and form the cabinet would be held soon.    Ahead of the formal discussions, politicians have been trying to agree on the composition of the government to replace caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri’s outgoing cabinet.
    Bank branches, which were closed for nearly half of October, shut again as staff went on strike over security fears, a union leader said, citing intimidation by customers demanding access to their money and by protesters who have gathered at banks.     The union, representing bank employees, called for the closure to continue on Wednesday.
SCARCITY OF DOLLARS
    The banking association later met union officials and afterwards pledged to work with authorities to provide suitable security to enable staff to resume work.    Customer needs would continue to be met through ATMs and call centers, it said.
    The economic crisis stems largely from a slowdown of capital inflows which has led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and generated a black market where the Lebanese pound has weakened below its official pegged rate.
    A foreign exchange dealer said a dollar cost 1,820 pounds, about the level on Friday when banks were last open and around 20% weaker than the pegged rate of 1,507.5 pounds.    Some retailers used the higher rate for the purchase of goods priced in dollars, although it did not appear on official receipts.
    Since reopening on Nov. 1 after a two-week closure, banks have been seeking to prevent capital flight by imposing restrictions on dollar withdrawals and transfers abroad.
    Lebanon’s central bank said on Monday that bank deposits were secure and it had the ability to preserve the stability of the pegged Lebanese pound.
    Hani Bohsali, general manager of Bohsali Foods and president of the Syndicate of Importers of Foodstuffs, Consumer Products and Drinks, which represents around 50 importers, said while some shortages were being felt these were not yet “strategic.”
PEOPLE ARE ANGRY
    “There is a lack of outgoing transfers, so in return there is a lack of inflow of goods, and suppliers are now starting to hold shipments that have not been paid for,” he said.
    While some payments had been processed since banks reopened, he added: “The trend is negative, it is decreasing.”
    At a news conference, central bank governor Riad Salameh said on Monday capital controls were not on the table and there would be no haircut – or value-reduction – on deposits.
    Schools were also closed on Tuesday, a decision the education minister announced because of calls for a wider strike and out of respect for “students’ right to express their views.”
    Protesters rallied in several towns and cities, and in Tripoli they blocked the main highway linking the northern city, Lebanon’s second biggest, to Beirut with burning tyres.
    “People are angry, the authorities colluded against us and are delaying us.    They are not sympathizing with our feelings, nor our pain, nor with the time we are spending on the streets,” said one of the protesters, Rabih al-Zein.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla and Tom Perry; editing by William Maclean)

11/13/2019 Israel kills nine Gazans, say Palestinians, as Islamic Jihad launches rockets by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Israeli soldiers run during an anti-Israel protest by Palestinians in al-Arroub refugee camp,
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli air strikes killed nine Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday, medical officials said, raising the Palestinian death toll to 19 over a two-day escalation in violence since Israel launched strikes to kill an Islamic Jihad commander.
    From early morning Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli military struck from the air, resuming after an overnight lull.
    The bodies of six people killed in Gaza City were brought into Shifa hospital in taxis and ambulances early Wednesday, as relatives wept and screamed.    Medics and witnesses said they were civilians who lived in densely populated neighbourhoods.
    A father and his son were among the dead with another son badly wounded, said family members.
    “They started this, we did not want war,” said one grieving relative.
    The Israeli military said on Wednesday it had resumed attacking Islamic Jihad targets in the Gaza Strip.    Air strikes took out at least three rocket launching crews, a military spokesman said.
    Islamic Jihad confirmed that two of its militants were killed in separate strikes south of Gaza City during the morning.    Medics later said another man was killed by an air strike while on a motorcycle.
    The worst fighting in months erupted on Tuesday after Israel killed Abu Al-Atta, a senior commander of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militant group, accusing him of masterminding and planning attacks against Israel.
    In response to the killing of Atta and his wife, Islamic Jihad fired about 200 rockets into Israel on Tuesday, resuming on Wednesday morning.
    Despite attempts by diplomats to restore calm, an Islamic Jihad official told Reuters that his group told mediators it intended to carry on its retaliatory attacks.
    “Attempts to restore calm did not succeed, the Islamic Jihad see that it is time to respond to the assassination policy, which was revived by the Zionist enemy,” the official said, asking not to be identified.
    “The enemy will pay the price of its foolishness and we are determined to confront this aggression with all our might.”
    However there was no sign that Hamas, the much larger Islamist group that controls Gaza, was inclined to be drawn into the fray.    Hamas and Israel have managed to defuse previous escalations and avoid a full-scale conflict for the past five years, after fighting three wars from 2008-2014.
SIRENS AND EXPLOSIONS
    The rockets from Gaza sent Israelis rushing to shelters in towns near the Gaza border and deeper in the country, with air raid sirens going off as far north as Tel Aviv and missiles striking Israeli highways and towns.    There were no reports of deaths in Israel.
    The Israeli military assembled armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, though a ground incursion into the territory seemed unlikely at this stage.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel, having taken out the Islamic Jihad commander, was not interested in a broader conflict.
    “We don’t want escalation, but we are responding to every attack against us with a very sharp attack and response.    Islamic Jihad best understand that now rather than when it’s too late for it,” Netanyahu said at the start of cabinet meeting.
    In Gaza, schools and most government offices remained closed for a second day, as were schools throughout much of southern Israel.
    Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war and withdrew troops and settlements in 2005.    The territory has been controlled since 2007 by Hamas while under an Israeli security blockade, also backed by Egypt, which has wrecked its economy.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

11/13/2019 Lebanon slides deeper into chaos, no sign of new government by Ellen Francis
A demonstrator walks past a closed road by burning tires during ongoing anti-government
protests, in Khaldeh, Lebanon November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa Kanaan
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Main roads across Lebanon were closed on Wednesday in fresh protests after President Michel Aoun angered demonstrators by urging them to end their revolt against corruption among the country’s ruling elite.
    His remarks in a television interview late on Tuesday ignited demonstrations overnight in which a protester was shot and killed after an altercation with Lebanese soldiers at a roadblock south of Beirut.
    The killing marked a bloody twist to the crisis that has gripped Lebanon for nearly a month, escalating tensions in a country ensnared in a deep political and economic crisis.
    The man was a follower of Walid Jumblatt, a veteran Druze politician and former civil war militia leader, who has urged his supporters to remain calm.
    Schools and banks were closed for a second straight day.    They have been shut for much of the four weeks since the start of the protests against political leaders seen as venal and unable to rescue Lebanon from rising poverty and unemployment.
    One banker said all transfers were frozen for now.
    “The reaction was very spontaneous.    People felt we have to ramp up the pressure,” said Joelle Petrakian, who was protesting at a blocked highway in central Beirut, describing Aoun’s interview as “very dismissive.”
    “I think they are trying all the ways to let us cool down but on the contrary, we will not stop.”
    Several dozen protesters watched by troops and police sat blocking the normally busy road.    Nearby lay smoldering debris ignited during protests overnight triggered by Aoun’s remarks.
    “Aoun ignites the intifada (uprising),” ran the front page headline in the daily Ennahar newspaper.
    In his interview, Aoun indicated there was no breakthrough in talks over forming a new government to replace Saad al-Hariri’s coalition cabinet.    Hariri, who quit on Oct. 29, was hesitant about being prime minister again, he said.
    Aoun also said a purely technocratic government, as demanded by many protesters, would not be able to govern Lebanon and so it should include politicians.
    Addressing protesters in his interview, he said, “If you continue in this way, you will strike Lebanon and your interests … If they keep going, there is a catastrophe.    If they stop, there is still room for (us) to fix things.”
    As Aoun’s interview was ending, protesters blocked several main roads across Lebanon, some with burning tyres.    Tensions flared in Beirut late into the night.    In the Cola district near Beirut, dozens of men pelted stones at soldiers and a tank.
    Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri called the head of the army and the police and stressed the need to protect citizens and ensure the safety of the protesters.    He called Jumblatt and conveyed his condolence, his Twitter feed said.
DOLLARS “UNDER THE PILLOW
    Commercial banks, seeking to avoid capital flight, have been imposing tight restrictions on financial transfers out of Lebanon and U.S. dollar withdrawals.    The authorities have not however announced official capital controls.
    Banks, which were closed for half of October during the protests, shut their doors on Tuesday and again on Wednesday in strike action by bank employees who are concerned about security risks posed by depositors demanding their money and protesters.
    Aoun called on the Lebanese not to rush to the banks, saying their money was safe.    He also said Lebanese were keeping dollars “under the pillow,” referring to money withdrawn from banks and kept at home.
    The United Nations urged Lebanon to form a competent new government better able to seek international aid and warned the country was in a critical financial and economic situation.
    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, wants to be prime minister of a technocratic cabinet that he believes would be better placed to secure urgently needed international financial support, political sources have said.
    But the heavily armed group Hezbollah and its ally Amal believe Hariri aims mainly to keep Hezbollah out of government, a senior source familiar with the two Shi’ite groups’ view said on Sunday.
    The Iran-backed Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States.    On Monday, its leader said talks were continuing over the new government and Hezbollah wanted to leave open the way for an agreement.
    Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said he was awaiting answers before calling formal consultations with MPs to designate the next prime minister.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; Editing by William Maclean and Toby Chopra)

11/13/2019 Turkey removes four more Kurdish mayors over alleged terror links
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference at Esenboga International Airport in
Ankara, Turkey, November 12, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey removed four more mayors on Wednesday as part of a widening government crackdown on the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), bringing to 20 the number of mayors who have been dismissed after being elected earlier this year.
    President Tayyip Erdogan and his government accuse the HDP of having links to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militant group, leading to prosecutions of thousands of its members and some leaders.    The HDP denies such links.
    Turkey’s interior ministry appointed local governors in place of the mayors in the two districts of Diyarbakir, the largest city in the country’s mainly Kurdish southeast.    Two mayors from districts of Sirnak and Tunceli provinces were also removed.
    The HDP governs many cities in the southeast of Turkey and typically appoints one male and one female co-mayor to promote gender equality.
    The former co-leaders of the HDP have both been jailed since 2016 on terrorism charges, with several other prominent members accused of supporting terrorism over what the government says are links to the PKK.
    The moves against the HDP come amid a Turkish military offensive in neighboring Syria against the YPG Kurdish militia, which Ankara also accuses of ties to the PKK.
    The HDP is the only party in the Turkish parliament that opposed the offensive in northeast Syria that began on Oct. 9.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

11/13/2019 Turkey’s Syria operation reveals cracks among Erdogan’s political foes by Ali Kucukgocmen, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun
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
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s military incursion in Syria has given President Tayyip Erdogan a bump in opinion polls and exposed potential cracks in an informal political alliance that claimed surprise victories over his ruling party in local elections this year.
    The operation in northeast Syria came after months of stagnant approval ratings for Erdogan, who had appeared vulnerable after his AK Party (AKP) lost control of Turkey’s two biggest cities for the first time since he took power in 2003.
    Opposition lawmakers told Reuters they suspected Ankara’s decision to launch cross-border attacks on the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia was taken largely to revive Erdogan’s political fortunes at home.    The government denies any such motive.
    Erdogan’s popularity had come under pressure after last year’s currency crisis caused a recession that sent unemployment soaring, and also from criticism by former prominent AKP members who are expected soon to launch new parties.
    But some three quarters of Turks support the Syrian incursion, launched on Oct. 9, polls show, despite international condemnation, including by Ankara’s NATO allies.
    Erdogan’s own approval rating rose last month to 48%, a Metropoll survey showed, its highest since shortly before the height of the currency crisis last year.    His disapproval rating was at its lowest since a coup attempt in 2016.
    Ankara says the YPG is a terrorist group with links to Kurdish militants at home. It has struck deals with Moscow and Washington to push back from the border region YPG fighters, who for years were U.S. allies in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.
OPPOSITION TENSIONS
    The incursion put the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) in a bind: its conditional support for the action put it at odds with the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) that helped it win the Istanbul and Ankara mayoralties.
    The leftist HDP, mainly backed by Kurds who make up some 18% of the population, is the only major party opposing the mission.
    Earlier this year the HDP offered outside support to an alliance of the secularist CHP and the nationalist Iyi Party, who oppose what they see as Erdogan’s authoritarianism and handed him stinging losses in March and June local elections.
    Any splintering between these parties would be a further boon for Erdogan, though one CHP lawmaker said he expected their cooperation to continue.
    “It is clear that the aim (of Erdogan)… is to demolish this democracy alliance that the CHP has formed… and to weaken the relationship that it has formed with Kurdish voters,” said Sezgin Tanrikulu, who opposes the Syria operation.
    “It has created a disenchantment but in my opinion this is not irreparable.    The period ahead of us will be a period in which… the relationship of trust will be established again.”
    Commenting on Erdogan’s improved ratings, Lutfu Turkkan, deputy group chairman of the Iyi Party, said polling firms were confusing support for the troops with support for the president.
    “The soldiers have succeeded but the politicians and diplomats have yet to achieve something (in Syria),” he said.
    But Turkkan also dismissed the HDP’s criticism of the incursion.    “The HDP’s rhetoric on this has no meaning for us” because removing terrorists from Turkey’s borders is a matter of national survival, he said.
    The CHP and Iyi Party have 139 and 39 seats respectively in Turkey’s 600-seat parliament.    They both backed a mandate extending military operations in Syria and Iraq while the HDP, with 62 seats, opposed it as a violation of international law.
    The opposition cannot afford to splinter if it hopes to challenge Erdogan on a national level given roughly half of Turks have strongly backed him for years.
    A source close to Erdogan’s AKP said “it will be extremely important who sides with whom” in the next election, adding “there is a warming” between the Iyi Party and the AKP.
    Iyi Party chairwoman Meral Aksener has previously denied the two parties were getting closer.
    The incursion has deepened a sense of alienation among Turkey’s Kurds, especially after Ankara ousted some HDP mayors and arrested dozens of people in the country’s southeast.
    Underlining the CHP’s dilemma, a poll shared among its members and seen by Reuters showed some 46% of its voters either disapproved of the Syria operation or were undecided. The CHP backed the mission even while it carved out policy differences from the AKP including calling for dialogue with Damascus.
    “This support (from the CHP) was a lifeline for the AKP.    That was what they wanted and they got it,” said HDP lawmaker Meral Danis Bestas, adding that her party would now have to decide on its future cooperation with other parties.
    Turkey’s military conducted two other operations in northern Syria over the last three years.    Shortly after each, Turks were sent to the polls for a referendum in 2017 and for nationwide elections in 2018.
    “This pattern suggests this was the main motivation for the mission,” said Unal Cevikoz, the CHP’s deputy chairman.
(Writing and additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Gareth Jones)

11/13/2019 U.S. adds companies to economic blacklist for providing WMD activity support in Syria
FILE PHOTO: A fence surrounds the U.S. Department of Commerce in Washington October 5, 2013. REUTERS/Mike Theiler
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday added more than a dozen companies and individuals to its trade blacklist for allegedly providing material support to chemical and biological weapons activity in Syria and diverting U.S. items to Iran without authorization.
    The action from the department’s Bureau of Industry and Security bars the firms and individuals from buying components from U.S. companies without U.S. government approval.
    The bureau added 22 companies and individuals to the Entity List in Bahrain, France, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Oman, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.
    It added Rahal Corporation for Technology and Medical Supplies, and the Jordanian Lebanese Company for Laboratory Instruments S.A.L. because they have been “involved in providing material support to chemical and biological weapons activity in Syria,” the department said.
    It also added Al Ras Gate General Trading, Bestway Line FZCO and six other entities to the list, saying they “knowingly divert U.S. origin items to Iran without authorization and are therefore unreliable recipients of U.S.-origin goods and technology,” the bureau said.
    The bureau added Fabcon International, Muhandis Corporation, Paktech Engineers, and Rohtas Enterprise for being involved in “supporting unsafeguarded nuclear activities.”
(Reporting by David Shepardson and Alex Alper; Editing by Dan Grebler)

11/13/2019 Gaza death toll reaches 23 in second day of escalation by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Israeli soldiers sit next to artillery shells in an area near the border with Gaza,
in southern Israel November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli air strikes killed 13 Palestinians in Gaza on Wednesday, medical officials said, raising the Palestinian death toll to 23 over a two-day escalation in violence since Israel launched strikes to kill an Islamic Jihad commander.
    From early morning Gaza militants fired rockets into Israel and the Israeli military struck from the air, resuming after an overnight lull.    There were reports of injuries but no deaths inside Israel, where the military said it shot many of the rockets down with air defences.
    The bodies of six people were brought to Gaza’s Shifa hospital in taxis and ambulances early Wednesday, as relatives wept and screamed.    Medics and witnesses said they were civilians who lived in densely populated neighbourhoods.
    In the north of Gaza City, family members said Rafat Ayyad and his two sons Islam, 25, and Ameer, aged 9, were killed by Israeli fire while rushing to hospital to visit another son who had earlier been injured in a separate attack.
    “I got wounded and I called my father.    He was coming to see me in hospital and two of my brothers were with him on the motorcycle when they were hit by Israel,” Loay Ayyad, 18, told Reuters during the funeral.
    The Israeli military said that it had struck at least five rocket squads on Wednesday morning.    Other targets included a rocket warhead manufacturing facility, an Islamic Jihad headquarters and a weapons storage site.    Islamic Jihad confirmed that two of its militants were killed in separate strikes.
DIPLOMATIC EFFORTS
    The fighting, the worst in months, erupted on Tuesday after Israel killed Baha Abu Al-Atta, a senior commander of the Iran-backed Islamic Jihad militant group, accusing him of masterminding and planning attacks against Israel.
    In response to the killing of Atta and his wife, Islamic Jihad fired about 200 rockets into Israel on Tuesday, resuming on Wednesday morning.
    “We will not allow the enemy to return to the policy of cowardly assassination under any circumstances,” said a statement by the ‘Joint Command’ of Palestinian armed factions.
    The joint command includes Hamas, the much larger Islamist group that controls Gaza.    But while Hamas appeared to be giving the green light for Islamic Jihad to continue, the larger group did not appear to be launching rockets itself, a decision that could reduce the likelihood of the violence escalating further.
    Hamas and Israel have managed to defuse previous confrontations and to avoid a full-scale conflict for the past five years, following three wars from 2008-2014.    In the past Israel has held Hamas responsible for rockets fired by any group in Gaza, but this time it appeared to be avoiding Hamas targets.
    U.N. Middle East peace envoy Nickolay Mladenov said he was “very concerned about the ongoing and serious escalation between Palestinian Islamic Jihad and Israel," following the targeted killing of one of the group’s leaders inside Gaza yesterday.
    “The indiscriminate launching of rockets and mortars against population centres is absolutely unacceptable and must stop immediately,” he said.
SIRENS AND EXPLOSIONS
    The rockets from Gaza sent Israelis rushing to shelters in towns near the Gaza border and deeper in the country, with air raid sirens going off as far north as Tel Aviv and missiles striking Israeli highways and towns.
    The Israeli military assembled armoured vehicles along the border with Gaza, though a ground incursion into the territory seemed unlikely at this stage.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel, having killed the Islamic Jihad commander, was not interested in a broader conflict.
    “We don’t want escalation, but we are responding to every attack against us with a very sharp attack and response. Islamic Jihad best understand that now rather than when it’s too late for it,” Netanyahu said.
    In Gaza, schools and most government offices remained closed for a second day, as were schools in much of southern Israel.
    Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war and withdrew troops and settlements in 2005.    The territory has been controlled since 2007 by Hamas while under an Israeli security blockade, also backed by Egypt.    The blockade has wrecked Gaza’s economy, and the United Nations says its 2 million residents have only limited access to electricity, clean water and medicine.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel and Peter Graff)

11/14/2019 Tenuous truce in Gaza as Islamic Jihad, Israel differ on terms by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
Palestinians gather around the scene of an Israeli air strike in the central
Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel declared a halt to hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday but a lasting ceasefire appeared tenuous as they differed on terms.
    Islamic Jihad said an Egyptian-mediated truce went into effect at 0330 GMT, about 48 hours after Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed faction’s top Gaza commander in an air strike, deeming him an imminent threat.
    A few hours’ calm ensued.    Then witnesses in Gaza saw five rockets being launched, and sirens sounded in Israeli border towns.    There was no word of casualties.    Israel’s military said two rockets were shot down by its Iron Dome air defense system.
    Gaza medical officials have put the total death toll from the two days of fighting at 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians and including eight children and three women.
    Hundreds of rocket launches by militants had paralyzed much of southern Israel and reached as far north as Tel Aviv, sending thousands of people to shelters. Dozens of Israelis were hurt.
    Hamas, Gaza’s dominant faction, appeared to have stayed out of this round of fighting. That may have helped stem escalation.
    Islamic Jihad said Israel had accepted its demand to stop both the targeted killing of militants and sometimes lethal army gunfire at weekly Palestinian protests on the Gaza border.
    “The ceasefire began under Egyptian sponsorship after the Occupation (Israel) submitted to the conditions set by Islamic Jihad on behalf of Palestinian resistance factions,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab Al-Braim said.
    But Israel said it would observe only a limited quid-pro-quo.    “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio.
MISSILE STRIKE
    In the deadliest incident of the two-day hostilities, eight members of a Gaza family were killed by an Israeli missile strike shortly before the truce took hold, said medical officials and residents.
    They said all were civilians.    But Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said the head of the family, Rasmi Abu Malhous, who was among the dead, was the commander of Islamic Jihad rocket crews in the central Gaza Strip.
    Neighbors left their homes to help rescue workers pull out the bodies of the family, some of which were completely buried in sandy earth.    Civilians tried to test the pulse of one body before pulling it out.
    Israel’s allegation about Rasmi Abu Malhous could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.    Islamic Jihad did not claim him as a member.
    Neither the hostilities nor efforts to halt them shifted the dynamics of the underlying core conflict.
    While Hamas has been open to long-term truces, like Islamic Jihad it refuses to accept permanent coexistence with Israel.
    Gazans are seeking to end years of an Israeli-led blockade. Refugees from the 1948 war of Israel’s founding and their descendents make up most of the two million Palestinians in Gaza and want the right to return to their families’ former lands.
    Israel rejects this as demographic suicide and sees no means of making peace as long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are armed.
    Katz said there would be no change to Israeli military policy in Gaza, contradicting the assertion of Islamic Jihad.
    Targeted killings “will not cease,” he said, and “the open-fire policy for which the Israel Defense Forces is responsible (at the Gaza border) will not change.”
    Markets in Gaza reopened as life returned to normal, though people expressed mixed feelings about the truce.
    “We responded and made clear our blood was not shed in vain.    Also a truce is good because we don’t want our people to suffer more under the blockade,” said one resident, Mohammad Al-Smairi.
    U.N. mediator Nickolay Mladenov said the Gaza situation remained fragile, tweeting: “.”
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/14/2019 Four killed, 52 wounded in Baghdad protests: police, medics
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi demonstrators are seen on the top of the building called by Iraqis 'the Turkish Restaurant Building,'
during anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed at least four people on Thursday and wounded more than 50 as they tried to push protesters further back to their main camp in central Baghdad, police and medical sources said.
    On Thursday morning, three protesters died after tear gas canisters directly struck them in the head and another died in hospital from wounds from a stun bomb fired by security forces, the sources said.
    Security forces used live rounds, rubber bullets and fired tear gas canisters in a bid to disperse hundreds of protesters gathered near Tahrir Square, a Reuters cameraman said.
    At least half of the wounded protesters had injuries sustained from live ammunition, police and medical sources said.
    The others were taken to hospital having choked on tear gas, or were struck by rubber bullets, the sources said.
    The square has been the epicenter of the country’s anti-government protests for weeks.
    Security forces increased use of tear gas, rubber bullets and live fire came after two days of relative calm.
    More than 300 people have been killed since the protests in Baghdad and the south of the country started in early October, driven by discontent over economic hardship and corruption.
    Demonstrations were also taking place in several locations in southern Iraq. Protesters on late Wednesday set fire to local officials’ houses in the town of Gharraf, 25 km (15 miles) north of the southern city of Nassiriya, security sources said.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has taken some measures to try to quell the unrest, including handouts to the poor and creating more job opportunities for college graduates.
    But it has failed to keep up with the growing demands of demonstrators who are now calling for an overhaul of Iraq’s sectarian political system and the departure of its entire ruling elite.
    The unrest is among the biggest and most complex challenges to the current ruling elite since it took power after the U.S. invasion and the toppling of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Since putting down an insurgency by Islamic State in 2017, Iraq has enjoyed two years of comparative stability.    But despite its oil wealth, many people live in poverty with limited access to clean water, electricity, healthcare or education.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/14/2019 Kuwait’s government submits resignation
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Prime Minister Sheikh Jaber Al-Mubarak Al-Hamad Al-Sabah addresses the 74th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s prime minister has submitted his cabinet’s resignation to the ruling emir of the Gulf Arab state, a government spokesman said on Thursday.
    The resignation came after Kuwaiti lawmakers on Tuesday submitted a motion for a no-confidence vote against Interior Minister Sheikh Khalid al-Jarrah al-Sabah, who is a senior member of the ruling Al Sabah family.
    Cabinet resignations in Kuwait happen frequently when elected lawmakers are set to question or submit a no-confidence vote against senior government officials.
    The emir still has to accept the resignation in order for it to be final.    He would then request a new cabinet to be formed.
    Lawmakers had questioned Sheikh Khalid over alleged abuse of power, charges he rejected.    The country’s public works minister resigned on Friday after being grilled by parliament about flood damage in the desert country following heavy rainfall.
    Kuwait, a U.S.-allied OPEC producer, has the most open political system in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, with a parliament that has the power to pass legislation and question ministers.
    The government is headed by a prime minister selected by the emir, who has the final say in state matters.    Senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.
    Frictions between the cabinet and parliament have led to frequent reshuffles or the dissolution of parliament.
    The assembly’s speaker, Marzouq al-Ghanem, told state news agency KUNA on Thursday that the emir does not intend to dissolve parliament.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy and Sylvia Westall; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Gareth Jones)

11/14/2019 Lebanese media: agreement on naming Safadi as next PM
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammad Safadi speaks during the Reuters
Middle East Investment Summit in Beirut, October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karamz
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Several major Lebanese parties have agreed on nominating Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, as the prime minister of a new government, the Lebanese broadcasters LBCI and MTV reported on Thursday.
    The agreement took place in a meeting on Friday between outgoing Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician, and senior representatives of the Shi’ite groups Amal and Hezbollah.
    MTV said the government would be a mixture of politicians and technocrats.
    They did not identify their sources.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Sandra Maler)

11/14/2019 U.S. wrong to push Turkey to drop Russian defenses: Erdogan by Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference at
Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul, Turkey September 8, 2017. REUTERS/Osman Orsal
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s president Tayyip Erdogan said Washington was not right to propose that Ankara get rid of the Russian S-400 missile defenses it purchased, calling it an infringement of sovereign rights, according to Turkish media.
    In a meeting at the White House on Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump urged Erdogan to abandon the S-400 systems that began arriving in Turkey in July despite threats of sanctions from Washington.
    Asked after his meeting whether Turkey would consider not activating the S-400s, Erdogan told reporters Ankara cannot harm its relations with Russia.    He also again held out the option of buying U.S. Patriot defenses.
    “We said, ‘We see the proposal to remove the S-400s completely while buying the Patriots as an infringement of our sovereign right and certainly do not find it right,'” he was quoted as saying by broadcasters.
    “This is the most binding element: we have some strategic efforts with Russia,” Erdogan said, adding the Turkstream natural gas pipeline, which begins in Russia and runs through Turkey, will start delivering gas to Europe.
    “I cannot abandon the S-400s because of Patriots now.    If you are going to give us Patriots, give them,” he was quoted as saying.
    Largely thanks to good relations between the two presidents, Turkey has so far avoided U.S. sanctions that by law should be triggered by the S-400s.    But the United States has banned sales of F-35 fighter jets to Ankara and removed it from a multinational program to produce the warplane.
    Erdogan said that he saw a much more positive approach to the F-35 issue from Trump.
CONSEQUENCES
    In contrast with the warm welcome Erdogan received from Trump, five Republican senators in a meeting on Wednesday questioned his motives for buying Russian weapons.
    “Senators made it clear to Erdogan that while they want to remain an ally of Turkey, Ankara cannot just purchase these Russian missile systems and expect nothing to happen as a consequence,” said a congressional source who was briefed on the meeting.
    The main target of the meeting was to discuss Ankara’s purchase of Russian weapons.    But the session stretched on for more than an hour and included a discussion of Syria, the source said, adding Trump gave the senator free rein to ask questions after making some remarks to start the meeting.
    Erdogan showed a video on an Ipad during the meeting, detailing the hostilities of the Kurdish militia. Erdogan said Trump looked “moved” while watching the footage.
    The U.S. Congress has been united in its anger against Turkey, which has deepened following Ankara’s Oct. 9 offensive into Syria to drive out the Kurdish militia, Washington’s main partner in the fight against Islamic State.
    Last month, the U.S. House of Representatives voted in favor of a non-binding resolution recognizing as genocide the century old killings of 1.5 million Armenians, angering Ankara. But on Wednesday, Lindsay Graham, a Trump ally and an outspoken critic of Turkey who was also at the meeting, blocked the resolution on Senate floor.
    “My objection would not be to sugar coat history or try to rewrite it,” Graham said on the floor.    “I do hope that Turkey and Armenia can come together and deal with this problem,” he said, adding that he just met with Erdogan and Trump.
(Additional reporting by Daren Butler, Ezgi Erkoyun and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and David Gregorio)

11/14/20219 Lebanon’s crisis is ‘dangerous’, evokes start of ’75 war-defense minister by Tom Perry and Nadine Awadalla
Demonstrators hold banners and chant slogans during ongoing anti-government
protests in Hazmiyeh, Lebanon November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Defense Minister said on Thursday the country was in a “very dangerous situation” and compared street unrest of recent days to the start of 1975-90 civil war.
    One month after the start of nationwide protests, Lebanon is in serious political and economic trouble with no indication of its leaders agreeing on a new government to replace the outgoing cabinet of Saad al-Hariri, who quit as premier on Oct. 29.
    Despite the magnitude of the economic crisis, the biggest since the war, leaders have not yet been able to agree a new cabinet or to tackle the grievances of demonstrators who say Lebanon has been ruined by corruption and sectarian cronyism.
    Though the protests have been overwhelmingly peaceful, a protester was shot dead in an altercation with soldiers on Tuesday.    A funeral was held for the protester, a follower of Druze politician Walid Jumblatt, while the soldier who opened fire has been detained.
    Caretaker Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab said tensions on the street and road closures “have reminded us of the civil war, what happened in 1975.    And this situation is very dangerous.”
    Bou Saab, a political ally of President Michel Aoun, said demonstrators had the right to protest and to be protected.    But the army and security services could not tolerate violence.     Aoun said he hoped a government could be formed in the coming days to meet the demands of the protesters.     He enraged protesters in an televised interview on Tuesday evening with a comment widely understood to mean he was telling them to emigrate if they didn’t like how the country was run.     Schools, banks and many shops were closed for the third straight day.    Some major routes around the capital that had been barricaded by protesters were unblocked by authorities, but the political mood remained brittle.
WE ARE ALL IN DEEP TROUBLE
    Hani Bohsali, general manager of Bohsali Foods and president of a group representing around 50 importers, said he was among businessmen who had warned of more trouble at a meeting with Central Bank governor Riad Salameh and other top bankers.
    “My message to all of them is that we are all in deep trouble, but you have to give priority to the food supply.    Because the food is even more important than the fuel,” he said.
    Banks, which were shut for half of October, closed again this week over staff security concerns.    Most transfers out of the country have been blocked and, with U.S. dollars scarce, the pegged Lebanese pound is weakening on the black market.
    So far there has been no sign of significant shortages.
    Paul Kallassi, a board member of Kallassi Group, a major buyer and distributor of food, said suppliers have so far continued to ship based on “trust” even as arrears mount, a situation he said was not sustainable.
    “They cannot finance millions of dollars just because they trust me,” said Kallassi.
    Lebanon’s bank staff union called for employees to stay on strike until it received details of a security plan, especially on how to deal with customers demanding their cash.
    A banker said that by remaining closed, banks were also avoiding the problem of depositor panic.
    “You have a problem of liquidity, and there is no solution for it, unless you put in place a proper plan to solve the problem, there is no need to open the banks,” a banker said.
    “You need to have a political solution, to offer a little bit of confidence, and this will eventually allow you to calm down the market and reopen normally.”
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Ellen Francis, Tom Perry and Eric Knecht; Additional reporting by Reuters television, Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/14/2019 Saudi Arabia discussing Yemen truce in informal talks with Houthis: sources by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Houthi police troopers ride on the back of a patrol truck in
Sanaa, Yemen November 5, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    DUBAI/NEW YORK (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia is intensifying informal talks with the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on a ceasefire in Yemen, sources familiar with the discussions said.
    The talks were launched in Jordan in late September, three of the sources said, with Riyadh taking sole responsibility for military efforts by the Arab alliance fighting in Yemen after the exit of its main partner, the United Arab Emirates.
    The discussions began after the Houthis offered to halt cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi cities if the Saudi-led coalition ended air strikes on Yemen, they said.
    A fourth source said “discussions on finalizing the security pact are moving very quickly now through a number of channels” but that Riyadh still had concerns about its border security.
    “We have had an open channel with the Houthis since 2016.    We are continuing these communications to support peace in Yemen,” a Saudi official said.
    A Houthi official, who declined to be named, confirmed the group was discussing a broad ceasefire with Riyadh but cautioned that the group’s patience was “wearing thin.”
    The United Nations also hopes to restart negotiations between Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthis to end what is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The U.N.’s Yemen special envoy has said he hopes for a resolution to the conflict in the first few months of 2020.
    The Sunni Muslim coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government of Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi in the capital, Sanaa.
    The war has killed more than 100,000 people and pushed millions to the brink of famine, according the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a non-governmental organization.
    The Houthis, who hold Sanaa and most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.
TOUGH ROAD AHEAD
    Diplomats said Riyadh hoped to build on the success of a deal it brokered this month between Hadi’s government and UAE-backed southern separatists to end a power struggle in Aden and other southern provinces, the alliance’s stronghold.
    The pact aims to prevent a new front in the war and unify ranks among nominal coalition allies that turned on each other.    It would see the southern separatists join Hadi’s government.
    “Riyadh wants to combine an eventual agreement with the Houthis along with the (southern) deal … to build momentum for a political solution that would end the war,” a Western diplomat said.
    Saudi forces have taken control of Aden port, Abyan and the oil-producing provinces of Shabwa and Hadramout as Emirati forces withdrew.
    Abu Dhabi distanced itself as Western pressure built and tensions with Iran increased, raising fears of war in the Gulf.    But military sources said Emirati troops remain in Balhaf LNG terminal in Shabwa, al-Dhabah oil port in Hadramout and in Mukalla, a former militant stronghold.
    Finding a framework that is palatable to Yemen’s fractious parties and addresses Saudi security concerns could be hard.
    “I think the most optimistic outcome is a sustained pause in the fighting and a prolonged series of negotiations that are unlikely to lead to a clear and comprehensive settlement,” said Graham Griffiths, a senior analyst at Control Risks Middle East.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Michelle Nichols in New York; Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad and Stephen Kalin in Riyadh, John Irish in Paris; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Timothy Heritage)

11/15/2019 Tenuous truce in Gaza as Islamic Jihad, Israel differ on terms by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams
Palestinians gather around the scene of an Israeli air strike in the central
Gaza Strip November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad and Israel declared a halt to hostilities across the Gaza Strip border on Thursday but a lasting ceasefire appeared tenuous as they differed on terms.
    Islamic Jihad said an Egyptian-mediated truce went into effect at 0330 GMT, about 48 hours after Israel triggered the exchange of fire by killing the Iranian-backed faction’s top Gaza commander in an air strike, deeming him an imminent threat.
    Occasional rocket fire from Gaza and a retaliatory Israeli air strike broke the calm, but the ceasefire largely held.
    Gaza medical officials have put the death toll from the two days of fighting at 34 Palestinians, almost half of them civilians and including eight children and three women.
    Hundreds of rocket launches by militants had paralyzed much of southern Israel and reached as far north as Tel Aviv, sending entire communities to shelters. Dozens of Israelis were hurt.
    Hamas, Gaza’s dominant faction, appeared to have stayed out of this round of fighting.    That may have helped stem escalation.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the military operation was drawing to a conclusion with its goals met. “Our enemies got the message – we can reach anyone,” Netanyahu said, as he visited soldiers at a missile interception battery.
    Islamic Jihad said Israel had accepted its demand to stop both the targeted killing of militants and sometimes lethal army gunfire at weekly Palestinian protests on the Gaza border.
    “The ceasefire began under Egyptian sponsorship after the Occupation (Israel) submitted to the conditions set by Islamic Jihad on behalf of Palestinian resistance factions,” Islamic Jihad spokesman Musab Al-Braim said.
    But Israel said it would observe only a limited quid pro quo.    “Quiet will be answered with quiet,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz told Army Radio.
MISSILE STRIKE
    In the deadliest incident of the two-day hostilities, eight members of a Gaza family were killed by an Israeli missile strike shortly before the truce took hold, said medical officials and residents.
    They said all were civilians. But Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said the head of the family, Rasmi Abu Malhous, who was among the dead, was the commander of Islamic Jihad rocket crews in the central Gaza Strip.
    Neighbors left their homes to help rescue workers pull out the bodies of the family, some of which were completely buried in sandy earth.    Civilians tried to test the pulse of one body before pulling it out.
    Israel’s allegation about Rasmi Abu Malhous could not immediately be confirmed by Reuters.    Islamic Jihad did not claim him as a member.
    Neither the hostilities nor efforts to halt them shifted the dynamics of the underlying core conflict.
    While Hamas has been open to long-term truces, it refuses, like Islamic Jihad, to accept permanent co-existence with Israel.
    Gazans are seeking to end years of an Israeli-led blockade. Refugees from the 1948 war of Israel’s founding and their descendents make up most of the 2 million Palestinians in Gaza and want the right to return to their families’ former lands.
    Israel rejects that as demographic suicide and sees no means of making peace as long as Hamas and Islamic Jihad are armed.
    Katz said there would be no change to Israeli military policy in Gaza, contradicting the assertion of Islamic Jihad.
    Targeted killings “will not cease,” he said, and “the open-fire policy for which the Israel Defence Forces is responsible (at the Gaza border) will not change.”
    Markets in Gaza reopened as life returned to normal, although people expressed mixed feelings about the truce.
    “We responded and made clear our blood was not shed in vain.    Also a truce is good because we don’t want our people to suffer more under the blockade,” said one resident, Mohammad Al-Smairi.
    U.N. mediator Nickolay Mladenov said the Gaza situation remained fragile, tweeting: “All must show maximum restraint and do their part to prevent bloodshed.    The Middle East does not need more wars.”
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)

11/15/2019 OPEC+ faces ‘major challenge’ from competitors’ surging output: IEA by Noah Browning
FILE PHOTO: A crude oil tanker is seen at Qingdao Port, Shandong province, China, April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jason Lee/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and its allies face stiffening competition in 2020, the International Energy Agency said on Friday, adding urgency to the oil producer group’s policy meeting next month.
    “The OPEC+ countries face a major challenge in 2020 as demand for their crude is expected to fall sharply,” the Paris-based agency said in a monthly report.
    The IEA estimated non-OPEC supply growth would surge to 2.3 million barrels per day (bpd) next year compared to 1.8 million bpd in 2019, citing production from the United States, Brazil, Norway and Guyana.
    “The hefty supply cushion that is likely to build up during the first half of next year will offer cold comfort to OPEC+ ministers gathering in Vienna at the start of next month,” it added.
    While U.S. supply rose by 145,000 bpd in October, the IEA said, a slowdown in activity that started earlier this year looks set to continue as companies prioritize capital discipline.
    Demand for crude oil from OPEC in 2020 will be 28.9 million bpd, the IEA forecast, 1 million bpd below the exporter club’s current production.
    The recovery by OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia from attacks on the country’s oil infrastructure contributed 1.4 million bpd to the global oil supply increase in October of 1.5 million bpd.
    “With plans underway for the Aramco IPO and the persistent need for revenues to fund the government budget, Riyadh has every incentive to keep oil prices supported,” the IEA said.
    Saudi state oil company Aramco, the world’s most profitable firm, starts a share sale on Nov. 17 in an initial public offering (IPO) that may raise between $20 billion and $40 billion.
    It was the IEA’s last monthly report before the Dec. 5-6 talks among OPEC states and partners led by Russia on whether to maintain supply curbs aimed at buoying prices and balancing the market.
    For a graphic on OPEC and Non-OPEC Oil Supply Change, OPEC+ Output, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/8743/8663/OPEC%20non%20supply.jpg
    The agency kept its assessments for growth in global oil demand in 2019 and 2020 at 1 million bpd and 1.2 million bpd respectively, but said its outlook might slightly underestimate the impact of tariffs from the U.S.-China trade war.
    The IEA said that if some or all tariffs were lifted in coming months, “world economic growth and oil demand growth would both rise significantly,” though the rebound may not be immediate.
    Sluggish refinery activity in the first three quarters has caused crude oil demand to fall in 2019 for the first time since 2009, the IEA said, but refining is set to rebound sharply in the fourth quarter and in 2020.
    For a graphic on Non-OPEC oil supply, change year-on-year, click https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/12/8746/8666/non-opec.jpg
(Reporting by Noah Browning; Editing by Dale Hudson)

11/15/2019 U.S. calls on Libya’s Haftar to halt Tripoli war, warns against Russia’s role
FILE PHOTO: A Libyan man carries a picture of Khalifa Haftar during a demonstration to support Libyan National Army
offensive against Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 12, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The United States on Friday called on eastern Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar to stop his offensive on the capital held by the internationally recognized government and warned against Russian interference.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying since April to take Tripoli, part of a power struggle in the oil producing nation since the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    He is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.    The LNA denies it has foreign backing.
    “The United States calls on the ‘Libyan National Army’ to end its offensive on Tripoli,” the U.S. State Department said in statement late on Thursday after a visit to Washington by the Tripoli-based foreign and interior ministers.
    Both sides launched a U.S.-Libyan security dialogue.
    “The U.S. delegation, representing a number of U.S. government agencies, underscored support for Libya’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in the face of Russia’s attempts to exploit the conflict against the will of the Libyan people,” the statement said.
    It was the strongest U.S. statement since Russian mercenaries were first sighted in Tripoli in September fighting alongside the LNA, which is allied to a parallel government in eastern Libya.
    President Donald Trump called Haftar in the first weeks of the offensive, which has failed to breach Tripoli’s defenses, in a move that some diplomats took as sign Washington might be backing the former Gaddafi officer.
    Trump “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 at the time.
    A parallel central bank in eastern Libya received increased deliveries of new banknotes from Russia this year, Russian customs data showed last month.
    While Russia has provided Haftar with support, it has simultaneously cultivated relations with the internationally recognized Government of National Accord in Tripoli.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing and Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/16/2019 Palestinian rockets, Israeli airstrikes jolt tenuous Gaza truce
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli soldier stands near a staging area near the border with Gaza,
in southern Israel November 14, 2019. REUTERS/ Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militants fired two rockets deep into southern Israel from Gaza on Saturday, and the Israeli military responded with a number of air strikes on militant targets, shaking an already tenuous truce.
    Sirens sounded in the middle of the night in Beersheba, the largest city in southern Israel, some 35 km (18 miles) from the Gaza border, warning of incoming fire.    The military said its missile defenses intercepted the two rockets.
    A few hours later, Israeli aircraft struck a number of militant outposts belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza. No injuries were reported.
    The overnight rocket attack came nearly two days after a ceasefire ended a flare-up in cross-border violence between Israel and a smaller Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad.
    The worst fighting in months was triggered on Tuesday when Israel killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, deeming him an imminent threat.
    Gaza medical officials said 34 Palestinians had been killed in the two days of fighting, almost half of them civilians.
    At the same time, hundreds of rocket launches by militants paralyzed much of southern Israel and reached as far north as Tel Aviv, sending entire communities to shelters. Dozens of Israelis were injured.
    Throughout the fighting, Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, appeared to have stayed on the sidelines.    That may have helped stem the escalation.
    Israel’s military, however, said on Saturday that it would hold Hamas responsible for any attack emanating from Gaza.
    “Hamas will bear the consequences for actions against Israeli civilians,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Sandra Maler & Kim Coghill)

11/16/2019 Turkey says it bought Russian S-400s to use them, not put them aside
FILE PHOTO: Parts of a Russian S-400 defense system are unloaded from a Russian plane at Murted Airport
near Ankara, Turkey, August 27, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey bought S-400 missile defense systems from Russia to use them, not put them aside, the head of the Turkish Defense Industry Directorate said on Saturday, days after talks between President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Erdogan and Trump held talks in Washington on Wednesday to overcome increasing differences between the NATO allies, ranging from Syria policy to sanctions threats over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400s, which Washington says pose a threat to its Lockheed Martin F-35 fighter jets.
    Washington has warned that Ankara will face sanctions over its purchase of the S-400s, and has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, in which it was a customer and manufacturer.    It has yet to impose any sanctions on Turkey, which began receiving the Russian systems in July.
    In an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk, Ismail Demir said it was not logical for any country to purchase such systems only to put them aside, and added that Ankara and Washington aimed to tackle the issue.
    “It is not a correct approach to say ‘we won’t use them for their sake’ about a system that we bought out of necessity and paid so much money for,” Demir said.    “We have allied relations with Russia and the United States. We have to go on and respect the agreements we signed,” he said.
    On Wednesday, Trump urged Erdogan at the White House to drop the S-400 systems, but Erdogan later said Ankara could not harm its relations with Russia.    He reiterated Turkey’s desire to buy U.S. Patriot defenses in addition to the S-400s.
    A top aide to Erdogan said on Friday that Turkish and U.S. officials had begun working as part of a joint mechanism aiming to evaluate the impact of the S-400s on the F-35s.
    Demir said the move showed an easing in the position of the United States, and added that Turkey was ready to take measures that will address U.S. concerns over the S-400s after the talks.
    “As a loyal friend and ally, we have said we were ready to take measures if there are any risks that we have overlooked on this issue,” Demir said.    “We still believe we can find a middle ground on the S-400 issue, so long as both sides are open.”
    Demir also said Turkish personnel were continuing their training on the S-400s in Russia, but added that there would be no Russian personnel coming to Turkey to operate the systems.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Catherine Evans and David Evans)

11/16/2019 U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff calls for Gulf Arab unity to counter Iran by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Air Force Chief of Staff General David Goldfein talks to journalists at the
Royal International Air Tattoo at Fairford, Britain July 8, 2016. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls
    DUBAI (Reuters) – United States Air Force Chief of Staff David Goldfein on Saturday pressed Gulf Arab states to reconcile differences and unify military capabilities as tensions with Iran simmer.
    Washington sees an ongoing dispute that Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt have with Qatar as a threat to efforts to contain Iran and has pushed for a united front.
    “When a missile or a UAV (drone) is en route from Iran that is not the time to reconcile past grievances.    That time is now. Today,” Goldfein told an air chiefs conference in Dubai.
    The U.S. blames Iran for a series of attacks in the Gulf over the summer, including the Sept. 14 missile and drone attack on Saudi Arabia that temporarily shutdown half the kingdom’s oil production. Tehran denies involvement.
    Washington has unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute, in which the four nations have severed political, trade and transport ties with Qatar since mid-2017 over accusations it supports terrorism.
    Doha denies the charge and says the embargo aims to impinge on its sovereignty.
    The United States is allied to all six Gulf states.    Qatar hosts Al-Udeid air base, the largest U.S. military facility in the region, while Bahrain is home to the Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
    “No one country has everything it needs to defend itself but together we have exactly what we need for collective defense,” Goldfein said.
    “We have the power to begin this right now as we face a common adversary who seems committed to malign behavior across the region.”
    Emphasizing the principle of collective security, Goldfein said the best chance to defend the UAE could be from Qatar or neighboring Oman.
    “Neighbors to the right and to the left who by geometry-alone have a better shot,” he said.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Edwina Gibbs)

11/16/2019 Protesters retake part of bridge in central Baghdad
Iraqi demonstrators smash concrete walls at Sinak Bridge during the ongoing
anti-government protests, in Baghdad, Iraq November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Wissm al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi protesters occupied part of a main bridge in Baghdad on Saturday that security forces had pushed them away from a week before, a Reuters photographer said.
    Demonstrators also occupied a tall building overlooking the bridge, taking new ground in the center of the Iraqi capital after protests had appeared to lose momentum.
    A bomb blast at a nearby square during the night killed at least three people, police and medics said, but it was not immediately clear who was responsible or whether it was linked to demonstrations.
    More than 300 people have been killed during weeks of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq.
    Protests that began in October over lack of jobs and public services have swelled.    Demonstrators are now demanding the departure of Iraq’s ruling class and an overhaul of the governance system that has fueled corruption since the toppling of Saddam Hussein in a U.S.-led invasion in 2003.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly unarmed demonstrators, killing an average of nearly 50 people a week since Oct. 1, according to a Reuters count based on police and medical sources.
    More than a dozen members of the security forces have died.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi’s government has warned against any violent protest.    It is under pressure from powerful religious authorities to ensure violence does not escalate and to enact real reform to improve the lives of Iraqis.
    Shi’ite-majority Iraq has suffered decades of war, sanctions and sectarian strife, most recently the brutal rule of Sunni Muslim extremist Islamic State over vast swathes of the north from 2014 to 2017.
    But despite a rare period of calm since IS was defeat, many people in the region’s second-largest oil producing country suffer poverty, unemployment and poor healthcare.    They accuse lawmakers and senior officials of pocketing public money and doling out jobs and wealth to their own kin or parties.
    Demonstrators also decry what they see as foreign interference in the running of the country, including from the United States but especially from Iran whose allies have dominated Iraqi state institutions since 2003.
    Iraq closed a southern border crossing with Iran to travelers on Saturday over unrest in both countries, a security official said.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom, John Davison; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/16/2019 Lebanon’s Safadi withdraws candidacy to be PM, urges Hariri for the post
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammad Safadi speaks during the Reuters
Middle East Investment Summit in Beirut, October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Former Lebanese finance minister Mohammad Safadi withdrew his candidacy to be the next prime minister on Saturday, saying that he saw that it would have been difficult to form a “harmonious” cabinet supported by all parties.
    Safadi, in a statement from his office, said he hoped outgoing prime minister Saad al-Hariri would be designated again for the post.    Hariri quit on Oct. 29 in the face of unprecedented anti-government protests.
(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Grant McCool)

11/16/2019 Lebanon’s Speaker Berri says situation in Lebanon getting more ‘complicated’: Al Joumhouria
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary session
in downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The situation in Lebanon is becoming more complicated, Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was cited as saying by newspaper al-Joumhouria on Saturday, comments that suggested a deal needed to form a new government had yet to be finalised.
    Lebanon appeared to move toward consensus on a new premier on Thursday after caretaker prime minister Saad al-Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal agreed to back ex-finance minister Mohammad Safadi, according to political sources and local media.
    But no political force has since formally endorsed Safadi and no date has yet been set for formal consultations required to designate a new prime minister.
    “Things are becoming more complicated and a quick solution is needed to get Lebanon out of this crisis,” Berri said, according to al-Joumhouria.
    Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29 in the face of protests against ruling politicians who are blamed for rampant state corruption and steering Lebanon into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Some protesters have rejected Safadi’s potential nomination, saying it would run counter to nationwide protests calling to oust a political elite they see him as part of.
    Safadi is a prominent businessman and former member of parliament from the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli.    He was finance minister from 2011 to 2014 under Prime Minister Najib Mikati, and was also previously minister of economy and trade.
    Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil was cited by Lebanese broadcaster MTV as saying that Safadi had agreed to be prime minister if he wins the support of the country’s leading parties.
    Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.
    The process for choosing a new premier requires President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, to formally consult members of parliament on their choice for prime minister.    He must designate whoever gets the most votes.
    Hezbollah and Amal have wanted Hariri to return as premier, but the Shi’ite groups and Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, have demanded the inclusion of both technocrats and politicians in the cabinet, while Hariri has insisted on a cabinet composed entirely of technocrats.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/16/2019 Palestinian rockets, Israeli airstrikes jolt tenuous Gaza truce
Palestinian demonstrators prepare to tires on fire during an anti-Israel protest near the Jewish settlement
of Beit El in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian militants fired two rockets deep into southern Israel from Gaza on Saturday, and the Israeli military responded with a number of air strikes on militant targets, shaking an already tenuous truce.
    Sirens sounded in the middle of the night in Beersheba, the largest city in southern Israel, some 35 km (18 miles) from the Gaza border, warning of incoming fire. The military said its missile defenses intercepted the two rockets.
    A few hours later, Israeli aircraft struck a number of militant outposts belonging to Hamas, the Islamist group that rules Gaza. No injuries were reported.
    The overnight rocket attack came nearly two days after a ceasefire ended a flare-up in cross-border violence between Israel and a smaller Palestinian militant group, Islamic Jihad.
    The worst fighting in months was triggered on Tuesday when Israel killed a top commander from the Iranian-backed Islamic Jihad, deeming him an imminent threat.
    Gaza medical officials said 34 Palestinians had been killed in the two days of fighting, almost half of them civilians.
    At the same time, hundreds of rocket launches by militants paralyzed much of southern Israel and reached as far north as Tel Aviv, sending entire communities to shelters. Dozens of Israelis were injured.
    Throughout the fighting, Hamas, the dominant force in Gaza, appeared to have stayed on the sidelines. That may have helped stem the escalation.
    Israel’s military, however, said on Saturday that it would hold Hamas responsible for any attack emanating from Gaza.
    “Hamas will bear the consequences for actions against Israeli civilians,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Sandra Maler & Kim Coghill)

11/16/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says interest rates to fall, inflation to hit single digits in 2020
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
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that interest rates will continue to fall, after the central bank last month cut rates to 14%, and added he expected inflation to hit single digits in 2020.
    Speaking at a ceremony in Istanbul, Erdogan also said he expected the unemployment rate to fall once data for September is released, after unemployment rose slightly to 14% in the three months to September with the youth jobless rate hitting a record high.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by David Evans)

11/17/2019 Crisis-swept Lebanon in gridlock after Safadi withdrawal
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's then-Minister of Economy and Trade, Mohammad Safadi, speaks during the Reuters
Middle East Investment Summit in Beirut, October 20, 2010. REUTERS/Cynthia Karam/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon slipped deeper into political crisis on Sunday after the withdrawal of a top candidate for prime minister narrowed the chances of creating a government needed to enact urgent reforms.
    Mohammad Safadi, a former finance minister, withdrew his candidacy late on Saturday, saying it was too difficult to form a “harmonious” government with broad political support.
    Safadi was the first candidate who had appeared to win some consensus among Lebanon’s fractious sectarian-based parties since Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, pushed out by sweeping protests against the ruling elite.
    Faced by the worst financial strains since its 1975-1990 civil war, Lebanon has pledged to carry out urgent reforms it hopes will convince donors to disburse some $11 billion pledged at a conference last year.
    The unrest has kept banks shut for most of the last month. They have imposed controls on transfers abroad and U.S. dollar withdrawals, and the pegged Lebanese pound is under pressure on an informal market.
    Safadi became the presumed front-runner for prime minister after a meeting between Hariri, a Sunni politician, and Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal, according to political sources and Lebanese media, but no political force later endorsed him.
    Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.
    Protesters who have filled Lebanon’s streets since Oct. 17 denounced the choice of Safadi, a prominent businessman and longtime politician they said was part of the elite they sought to oust.
    “We are in a deadlock now.    I don’t know when it will move again.    It is not easy,” said a senior political source.    “The financial situation doesn’t tolerate any delay.”
    A second political source described efforts to form a new government as “back to square one.”
    Safadi’s withdrawal leaves the powerful, Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies with even fewer options unless they push for a close Sunni ally, a scenario that would likely reduce the chances of Lebanon winning international support.
    Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States.
    Hezbollah and Amal, along with President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian, have sought for Hariri to return as premier but have demanded the inclusion of both technocrats and politicians in the new cabinet.
    But Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab states and the West, has said he will only return as prime minister if he is able to form a cabinet composed entirely of specialists capable of attracting the international support.
    Global ratings agency S&P flashed the latest warning on Lebanon’s debt-saddled economy on Friday, lowering its foreign and local currency sovereign credit ratings deeper into junk territory to ‘CCC/C’ from ‘B-/B’.
    S&P cited rising pressure on central bank foreign currency reserves and diminished depositor confidence brought on by the bank closures and reported restrictions on hard currency movement.
    Lebanon’s bank staff union said it would meet on Sunday or Monday to decide whether to call off a strike after receiving a security plan to keep branches safe and potentially re-open banks as early as Monday.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; writing by Eric Knecht; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/17/2019 Yemenis go solar amid war energy shortage by Abdulrahman al-Ansi
Farmers walk next to solar panels at a farmland in Wadi Dhahr near Sanaa, Yemen October 28, 2019. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA (Reuters) – When electricity was cut to Yemen’s capital four years ago after war broke out, Ebrahim al-Faqih saw a gap in the market and started selling solar panels.
    Faqih is part of a booming solar sector transforming lives and energy sustainability in Yemen, a poor country with scant rural power access even before conflict knocked out most of the national grid.
    “Even people who used to work selling food moved to work in solar energy because of the high demand,” Faqih said from his shop in Sanaa selling solar water heaters and panels imported from India and China.
    The United Nations estimates that only 10% of the population had access to electricity after the conflict began.
    Many areas need pumps to bring drinking and irrigation water to the surface and fuel shortages have also made water hard to come by.
    “Electricity these days isn’t just for lighting — electricity is life,” said Muhammad Yahya, whose home in Sanaa is powered by rooftop solar panels.
    He sees solar energy as a stop-gap measure for those who can get it and hopes everyone will have mains electricity when the war ends.
SOLAR FARMING
    Sanaa is controlled by the Houthi movement, which ousted internationally-recognized President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi from power in the capital in 2014.    A Saudi-led coalition intervened in 2015 and has carried out thousands of air strikes.
    There is no state power supply to Sanaa and many other areas, and buying a diesel generator or hooking up to a neighborhood generator is polluting and too expensive for many people.
    “Alternative energy is better, it changed my life dramatically.    Now I barely rely on normal electricity,” said Sanaa resident Akram Noman.
    He wants tax reforms to encourage solar energy use, and loans for farmers to buy solar systems.
    South of the capital in the Houthi-controlled rural Dhamar area, Omar Homadi farms vegetables, corn and the narcotic green leaf qat.    He could not cover the cost of diesel to irrigate his land, so he bought a solar-powered pump.
    “Our land had dried up but now it has come back to life thanks to the solar energy,” he said.
    Dhamar’s water production had fallen to 30 percent of pre-war levels, said Muhammad Ali al-Habshi of the local water authority, but has returned to 70-80 of pre-war capacity thanks to solar projects supported by international donors.
    “People used to get water every 10-12 days, now it is every three days … Solar energy was like a dream.”
(Reporting by Abdulrahman al-Ansi and Abduljabbar Zeyad in Yemen; Writing by Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/17/2019 Protesters regain control of third bridge in Baghdad
Iraqi protesters burn tires during the ongoing anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi protesters regained control of a third bridge leading to Baghdad’s Green Zone on Sunday, taking further ground in the biggest wave of anti-government demonstrations in decades.
    Security forces used tear gas and stun bombs to prevent protesters from getting right across Ahrar Bridge in central Baghdad, part of a weeks-long attempt to disrupt traffic and reach the Green Zone housing government ministry and embassies.
    Protesters made a barricade of old cabinets, trash cans and metal sheeting on the bridge while security forces took positions behind blast walls installed to prevent protesters from crossing to the other side.    Protesters who choked on the tear gas were evacuated by tuk-tuk, a Reuters cameraman said.
    On Saturday, Iraqi demonstrators reoccupied part of adjacent Sinak Bridge and a nearby tall building in Baghdad that security forces had pushed them away from a week before.    They have held a third bridge, Jamhuriya, since October 25.
    More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.
    In Basra in the south, dozens of protesters burned tires and briefly blocked some roads on Sunday, before police managed to restore control and reopen them, police said.
    The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
(Reporting by Kawa Omar and Baghdad newsroom; writing by Ahmed Rasheed; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/18/2019 Protesters block entrance to Iraq’s Umm Qasr port
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi protesters burn tires as they block the entrance to Umm Qasr Port,
south of Basra, Iraq November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Protesters have once again blocked the entrance to Iraq’s Umm Qasr commodities port near Basra, preventing employees and tankers from entering and bringing operations down by 50%, two port sources told Reuters on Monday.
    If the blockage goes on until the afternoon, operations will come to a complete halt, the sources said.    The port was previously blocked from Oct. 29 to Nov. 9 with a brief resumption of operations between Nov. 7-9.
    Umm Qasr is Iraq’s main Gulf port.    It receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
    The blockage cost the country more than $6 billion during just the first week of the closure, a government spokesman said at the time.
    More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and beholden to foreign interests.    They have turned to civil disobedience tactics like strikes, disrupting traffic, and blocking ports or oil facilities.
(Reporting by Aref Mohammed, writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Himani Sarkar & Shri Navaratnam)

11/18/2019 Kuwait PM declines reappointment, emir removes senior ministers
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al Ahmad al Sabah reads his opening speech at the start of the 4th ordinary
session of the 15th Legislative Parliament in Kuwait city, Kuwait October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    KUWAIT/DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s caretaker prime minister Sheikh Jaber al-Mubarak declined to be reappointed as premier on Monday, the state news agency KUNA reported, rebuffing the offer from the ruling emir after submitting the government’s resignation last week.
    The cabinet resignation came after lawmakers sought a no-confidence vote against the interior minister over alleged abuse of power and as a feud emerged between senior members of the ruling family, including the interior and defence ministers, over alleged mishandling of military funds.
    The interior minister has rejected lawmakers’ charges against him.
    Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah earlier on Monday removed his son, Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and Interior Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah from their posts in the current caretaker cabinet.
    Cabinet resignations in the U.S.-allied, OPEC oil producer happen frequently when elected lawmakers are set to question or submit a no-confidence vote against senior government officials.
    The emir sought to reappoint Sheikh Jaber as premier, a post he has held since 2011, and asked him to form a new cabinet.
    “I decline this appointment and ask that you accept that,” Sheikh Jaber said in a letter to the emir, citing media campaigns against him in the feud.    It was carried by KUNA.
    The defence minister had issued a statement two days after the government resignation, saying the cabinet had stood down to avoid addressing mismanagement of some 240 million dinars ($790 million) in military funds before he assumed office.    He said the defence ministry had submitted the case to the public prosecutor.
    Kuwait has the most open political system in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, with a parliament that has the power to pass legislation and question ministers.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Sylvia Westall in Dubai, Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Toby Chopra)

11/18/2019 Lebanon is a sinking ship, parliament speaker warns
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary
session in downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is like a sinking ship that will go under unless action is taken, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri was quoted as saying on Monday, referring to the country’s deep economic and political crisis.
    Berri, an ally of the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, told visitors that efforts to form a new government were “completely frozen” and awaiting developments at any moment, the newspaper al-Joumhuria reported.
    Struggling with a massive public debt and economic stagnation, Lebanon has sunk into major political trouble since protests erupted against its ruling elite a month ago, leading Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to quit on Oct. 29.
    On Sunday, banks, which have mostly been closed since the protests began, announced temporary measures including a weekly cap of $1,000 on cash withdrawals and restricting transfers abroad to cover urgent personal spending only.
    A bank staff union will decide later on Monday whether to lift a strike that has kept the banks shut for the past week.
    Efforts to form a new government, needed to enact urgent reforms, hit a setback at the weekend when former finance minister Mohammad Safadi withdrew his candidacy for the post of prime minister, sparking bitter recriminations.
    Hezbollah, a heavily armed group backed by Iran, said “political understandings” would take place between “the parties and even with leaders of the protest movement” to form a new government, without giving further details.
    Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem, in an interview with Iranian media broadcast by the group’s television station al-Manar, said the new government’s agenda would help to calm down the streets.
    Both Hezbollah and Berri want Hariri, who is aligned with Gulf Arab and Western states, to be prime minister again.    Hezbollah is classified as a terrorist group by the United States.
    Berri said he still hoped Hariri would agree to form the new cabinet, al-Joumhuria reported.
    “The country is like a ship that is sinking little by little,” the paper quoted him as saying.    “If we don’t take the necessary steps, it will sink entirely.”
    An-Nahar newspaper quoted Berri as likening the situation of the Lebanese people to that of passengers on the Titanic, the passenger liner that sank in 1912 after hitting an iceberg.
    Some protesters had rejected the potential nomination of Safadi, a prominent businessman and former lawmaker from the predominantly Sunni city of Tripoli, saying he is part of a political elite they want ousted.
    Lebanon’s prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim, according to its sectarian power-sharing system.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Clarence, Fernandez and Alison Williams)

11/18/2019 Timeline: Lebanon’s ordeal – Economic and political crises since civil war
Protesters sing at a demonstration during ongoing anti-government protests in
Beirut, Lebanon November 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Demonstrations against Lebanon’s ruling elite have plunged the country into political turmoil at a time of acute economic crisis, driven by deepening anger at sectarian politicians who have dominated the government since the 1975-90 civil war.
    One of the most severe periods of turmoil since the end of the conflict, it stands out from previous episodes because of financial pressures that have led to a scarcity of U.S. dollars and a weakening of the Lebanese pound.
    Here are Lebanon’s main previous post-war upheavals.
2005
    Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is killed on Feb. 14 when a massive bomb exploded as his motorcade traveled through Beirut; 21 others also died.
    A combination of subsequent mass demonstrations and international pressure force Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon.    Lebanese Shi’ite allies of Damascus stage their own big rallies in support of Syria.
    Lebanon enters a new era free of Syrian domination.    Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group and close ally of Damascus, enters government for the first time.
2006
    In July, Hezbollah crosses the border into Israel, kidnaps two Israeli soldiers and kills others, sparking a five-week war.    At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis are killed.
    After the war, tensions in Lebanon simmer over Hezbollah’s powerful arsenal.    In November, Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet led by the Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and organize street protests against it.
2007
    Hezbollah and its allies maintain a sit-in protest against the Siniora government for the entire year.    Their stated demand is veto power in the government.
    In May, fighting erupts at a Palestinian camp in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Sunni Islamist militants of the Fatah al-Islam group.    Thousands of Palestinian refugees are forced to flee the Nahr al-Bared camp.    In September Lebanese troops seize complete control of the camp after more than three months of fighting which kills more than 300 people.
2008
May 6, 2008 – Siniora’s cabinet accuses Hezbollah of running a private telecoms network and installing spy cameras at Beirut airport. The cabinet vows legal action against the network.
May 7 – Hezbollah said the move against its telecoms network was a declaration of war by the government.    After a brief civil conflict Hezbollah takes control of mainly Muslim west Beirut.
May 21 – After mediation, rival leaders sign a deal in Qatar to end 18 months of political conflict.    Parliament elects Michel Suleiman, the army chief, as president.
2011
    In January, Saad al-Hariri’s first government is toppled when Hezbollah and its allies quit because of tensions over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
    The tribunal later indicts four senior members of Hezbollah for the murder of Rafik al-Hariri.    Hezbollah denies any role in the assassination.    Its leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said the authorities would not be able to find the indicted men.
    A fifth Hezbollah member is indicted in 2013.
2012
    Hezbollah fighters deploy into Syria, secretly at first, to aid Syrian government forces facing a mostly Sunni rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad. The group plays a major role beating back the rebellion.
2015
    A crisis about waste erupts when the authorities closed the main landfill site near Beirut, having arranged no alternative.    Large protests broke out as huge mounds of rotting waste filled streets and demonstrators chanted “You stink!” at the government.    It became a glaring symbol of a sectarian power system unable to meet basic needs like electricity and water.
2017
    Saad al-Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which is furious at Hezbollah’s expanding role in Lebanon, hit a nadir in November 2017 when it was widely acknowledged Riyadh had forced him to resign and held him in the kingdom.    Saudi Arabia and Hariri publicly deny this version of events, though France’s Emmanuel Macron confirmed that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.
2019
    Amid stagnant economic growth and slowing capital inflows, the government is under pressure to curb massive budget deficit.
    Proposals to cut the state wage and pension bill meet stiff opposition.    The government vows to enact long-delayed reforms but fails to make progress that might unlock foreign support.
Oct. 17 – Government announces a 20 cents-per-day fee for internet calls, including Facebook and WhatsApp.    It also proposes to raise VAT to 15 per cent by 2022. Thousands protest, accusing leaders of corruption and mishandling the economy.
Oct. 18 – Government abandons proposals. Protests continue.
Oct. 29 – Hariri quits, against the wishes of Hezbollah.
(Writing by William Maclean; Editing by Tom Perry)

11/18/2019 Turkey will launch another Syria operation if area not cleared of Kurdish YPG: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in
Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s foreign minister said Ankara would launch a new military operation in northeast Syria if the area was not cleared of what he called terrorists, state-owned Anadolu agency reported on Monday.
    Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying that United States and Russia had not done what was required under agreements that halted a Turkish offensive against the Kurdish YPG militia in northeastern Syria last month.
    The deals stipulated that the YPG would be removed from a swathe of land bordering Turkey in northeastern Syria.
    Cavusoglu called on Washington and Moscow on Monday to do what is necessary under the deals.
    “If we do not obtain a result, we will do what is necessary, just as we launched the operation after trying with the U.S.,” Cavusoglu was quoted as saying, referring to work with Washington to remove the YPG from the area before Turkey launched its cross-border incursion on Oct. 9.
    Ankara views the YPG, the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that helped the United States defeat Islamic State, as a terrorist group with links to Kurdish militants on Turkish soil.
    Turkey’s latest offensive was widely condemned by Ankara’s Western allies, who said the assault could hinder the fight against Islamic State militants in Syria.    Turkey has dismissed the concerns, saying it will continue to combat Islamic State.
    Despite amicable relations between the presidents of the two countries, the U.S. Congress has passed a resolution calling on President Donald Trump to impose sanctions against Ankara, a NATO ally, over the offensive.
    The Republican chairman of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee said last week he did not want lawmakers to pass legislation imposing sanctions on Turkey for now. He cited a need to lessen friction during talks over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400s missile defense system, another point of disagreement between the allies.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/19/2019 U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process by Arshad Mohammed, Matt Spetalnick and Humeyra Pamuk
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo attends the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Small Group Ministerial
at the State Department in Washington, U.S., November 14, 2019. REUTERS/Yara Nardi
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank by abandoning its four-decade-old position that they were “inconsistent with international law,” a stance that may make Israeli-Palestinian peace even more elusive.
    The announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive Israeli elections this year, and a defeat for the Palestinians.
    It appeared to deliver a new blow to Trump’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread skepticism even before its release.
    Pompeo said U.S. statements about the settlements on the West Bank, which Israel captured in 1967, had been inconsistent, saying Democratic President Jimmy Carter found they were not consistent with international law and Republican President Ronald Reagan said he did not view them as inherently illegal.
    “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” Pompeo told reporters at the State Department, reversing a formal legal position taken by the United States under Carter in 1978.
    His announcement drew praise from Netanyahu, who said it “rights a historical wrong,” and condemnation from Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who said Washington was threatening “i>to replace international law with the ‘law of the jungle.'”
    Palestinians argued the U.S. stance flouted international law.    The international community views the transfer of any country’s civilians to occupied land as illegal under the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949 and U.N. Security Council resolutions.
    “The United States is neither qualified nor is authorized to negate international legitimacy resolutions and it has no right to give any legitimacy to Israeli settlement,” said Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.
    The United States said its stance could prompt violence, warning Americans in the region to exercise greater vigilance because those opposing the move “may target” U.S. government facilities, private interests and citizens.
    Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said the policy change would have “dangerous consequences” for the prospects of reviving peace talks and called settlements “a blatant violation of international law.”
    Pompeo said the move was not meant to prejudge the status of the West Bank, which the Palestinians hope will become part of an eventual Palestinian state as part of a wider resolution of the conflict.
    “This is for the Israelis and the Palestinians to negotiate,” he said, saying the U.S. decision was not meant “to compel a particular outcome nor create any legal obstacle to a negotiated resolution.”
    While Pompeo said the administration was adopting Reagan’s view that settlements were not intrinsically illegal, he dodged a question on whether he shared Reagan’s view that they were ill-advised and an obstacle to peace.
    Like many of the Trump administration’s pro-Israeli moves, the settlements announcement is likely to appeal to evangelical Christians, an important part of Trump’s political base that he is counting on to help him win re-election in 2020.
    The timing suggested the White House may believe it could help Netanyahu withstand a challenge from his leading domestic rival Benny Gantz two days before Gantz faces a deadline to form a government after an inconclusive election.
‘GRATUITOUS MOVE’
    Analysts criticized the move, saying it would make it even harder to resolve the more than 70-year-old conflict.
    “He can declare that night is day, but it will not change the fact that Israeli settlements are not only illegal under international law, but are also a huge obstacle to peace and to the stability of our region,” said Hagit Ofran of the Israeli anti-settlements group Peace Now.
    The announcement marked the third major instance in which the Trump administration has sided with Israel and against Palestinians and Arab positions.
    In 2017 Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, in 2018, the United States formally opened an embassy there.    U.S. policy had previously been that Jerusalem’s status was to be decided by the parties to the conflict.
    And in March, Trump recognized Israel’s 1981 annexation of the Golan Heights from Syria in a boost for Netanyahu that prompted a sharp response from Damascus.
    As of late Monday, no other nations appeared to have followed the United States by declaring they had ceased to view the settlements as inconsistent with international law.
    Trump’s move may aim to help Netanyahu as he tries to stay in power.    After two inconclusive elections this year, Netanyahu and rival Gantz have both struggled to forge a ruling coalition.
    Martin Indyk, a former U.S. peace negotiator, described the decision on Twitter as “a totally gratuitous move.”
    “Why slap the Palestinians in the face again? Why boost the settlement/annexation movement at the very moment that Gantz is trying to form a government?” he asked.
(Additional reporting Steve Holland, Jonathan Landay, Lisa Lambert and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; by Stephen Farrell and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Lisa Lambert, Giles Elgood and Cynthia Osterman)

11/19/2019 Protests force Lebanese parliament to postpone session; banks reopen
A police officer walks past protesters hitting fencing walls during ongoing anti-government
protests in Beirut, Lebanon November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament was blocked from holding its first session for two months on Tuesday after protesters prevented lawmakers from reaching the building, escalating a wave of demonstrations against rulers blamed for steering towards economic collapse.
    Queues built at banks that reopened after a one-week closure, with police deployed at branches and banks imposing tight restrictions on hard currency withdrawals and transfers abroad.
    Lebanon has slid further into economic crisis since the protests erupted on Oct. 17.    The political situation has been deadlocked since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, with no progress towards a deal on a new government.
    Gunfire was heard as a group of several dozen protesters forced two SUVs with official number plates and tinted windows to turn back as they approached the parliament, footage broadcast by Lebanese broadcasters showed.
    The vehicles sped away after they were struck by demonstrators chanting “Out, out, out!
    Authorities later announced that the session had been postponed indefinitely.
    The agenda of the parliamentary session had included reelecting members of parliamentary committees and discussion of a controversial amnesty law that is expected to lead to the release of hundreds of prisoners.
    Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri had already postponed the session last week due to security concerns.
    The security forces had fanned out on Tuesday before dawn in central Beirut, shutting down roads around parliament with barbed wire in what proved to be a failed attempt to prevent the protesters from blocking the session.
    Police scuffled with a group of protesters who were trying to use a cable to remove a barbed wire barricade.
    “How are they holding a session and not responding to the people?    Those that are in the session have nothing to do with us, and it’s not what we asked for,” said a protester who gave her name as Maria.
    The protests have been fuelled by perceptions of corruption among the sectarian politicians who have governed Lebanon for decades and are blamed for leading the country into its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Issam Abdallah; Editing by Tom Perry, Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)

11/19/2019 East Libyan forces target munitions in Misrata with air strikes by Ayman al-Warfalli
FILE PHOTO: Members of Libya's internationally recognized government forces carry weapons in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya
October 14, 2019. Picture taken October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – East Libya-based forces said they had carried out air strikes on the port city of Misrata in the early hours of Tuesday, targeting armored vehicles delivered from Turkey and a munitions depot.
    The strikes came hours after a deadly air strike on a biscuit factory in the capital Tripoli, 190 kms (118 miles) to the west, that the United Nations envoy to Libya said could constitute a war crime.
    They mark a new escalation in the conflict around Tripoli, where forces loyal to east Libya-based commander Khalifa Haftar have been on the offensive since early April.
    The attempt by Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to take Tripoli quickly stalled, and both sides have used drones and fighter jets to carry out air strikes amid sporadic fighting.
    Forces from Misrata have led the defence of Tripoli, home to Libya’s internationally recognised government.    Misrata is the second largest city in western Libya and a major source of opposition to Haftar.
    Residents said the strikes there were unusually powerful and followed by repeated explosions.    Pictures posted on social media showed a large ball of fire over surrounding houses.
    Libya has been divided between rival political and military camps based in Tripoli and the east since 2014.    In recent months the conflict has become increasingly internationalized.
    Haftar has received backing from the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.    The Tripoli government has been backed by Turkey.
INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS
    The LNA said its strike in Misrata targeted vehicles delivered from Turkey that arrived in Misrata’s port on Monday, as well as weapons and munitions.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry said it had no information on the matter. Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told parliament on Monday that Turkey supported international efforts to bring peace to Libya.
    “We see the establishment of a lasting ceasefire in Libya and the continuation of efforts for a political resolution under the U.N.’s auspices as a topic of priority,” he said.
    East Libyan officials had also warned of escalation after saying on Sunday that Misrata had seized a Libyan Airlines passenger jet that operates from the eastern city of Benghazi.
    Misrata is home to the only functioning civilian airport in western Libya. Tripoli’s Mitiga airport was shut following air strikes and shelling.
    The strike on the biscuit factory in Tripoli was part of an escalating air campaign, and killed at least 10 workers and wounded 35, U.N. Libya envoy Ghassan Salame told the Security Council in New York on Monday.
    Two of those killed were Libyan and the rest appeared to be migrant workers, according to local emergency services.
    An official at Bangladesh’s embassy in Tripoli said one of its nationals had been killed and 15 wounded, and that hundreds of workers were inside the factory when it was hit.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, and Ruma Paul in Dhaka; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

11/19/2019 Erdogan says Turkey aware that U.S. support for Kurdish YPG will not end immediately
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan answers questions during a joint news conference with
U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is aware that the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia will not end immediately, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, but added that Ankara’s battle against the militia it considers a terrorist group will continue.
    Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish militants waging an insurgency on Turkish soil, and has launched three offensives in northern Syria against the militia.    It has been infuriated by the U.S. support for the militia, repeatedly urging its NATO ally to halt its relations with the group.
    Speaking to members of his AK Party, Erdogan said Turkey will continue to battle the YPG until all threats towards Turkey are stopped and every militant is eliminated.    He added that no plan in the region can be realised without Turkey’s consent and support.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

11/19/2019 Erdogan says told Trump Turkey will not give up on Russian S-400s
FILE PHOTO: A new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside the
town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he told U.S. President Donald Trump during talks in Washington last week that Turkey would not give up on the Russian S-400 missile defence systems it procured this year despite protests from its NATO ally.
    Erdogan and Trump held talks at the White House to overcome mounting differences between the allies.    Washington has said the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets and has suspended Turkey from the jet programme, where it is a buyer and manufacturer.    It has also warned of U.S. sanctions over the deal, but has yet to impose them.
    Speaking to members of his AK Party in parliament, Erdogan also said he had told Trump that if the United States maintained its “uncompromising stance” on the F-35s, Turkey would have to seek alternatives to meet its medium-term defence needs.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

11/19/2019 Israel says intercepts rockets fired from Syria
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the town of Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel
and Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s military said its missile defense system shot down four rockets fired from Syria toward Israel early on Tuesday.
    Minutes earlier, sirens warning of incoming rocket fire sounded in the area of the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.
    “Four launches were identified from Syria towards Israeli territory which were intercepted by the Israeli air defense systems,” the army said.    “No hits on Israeli communities were identified.”
    Israel captured the Golan from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed and settled it – moves not accepted by most world powers.
    Israel says it needs to keep the plateau as a buffer zone between Israeli towns and the instability of its neighbor to the north.    Syria insists that the part of the Golan held by Israel is occupied territory and has demanded its return.
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

11/19/2019 Turkey orders detention of 133 military personnel over suspected Gulen links: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in
Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has ordered the detention of 133 military personnel over suspected links to a network Ankara accuses of organizing an attempted coup in 2016, the state-run Anadolu news agency said on Tuesday.
    The suspects are being sought in an operation centered in the western coastal province of Izmir, Anadolu said, adding that 82 of them were serving members in the military.
    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.    Widespread arrests are still carried out routinely.
    Turkey’s Western allies and rights groups have criticized the massive 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 facing Turkey, and has vowed to eradicate Gulen’s network.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Shri Navaratnam)

11/19/2019 U.S. support for Israeli settlements renews focus on core issue in Mideast conflict by Stephen Farrell and Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets heads of regional councils in Jewish settlements at the Alon Shvut
settlement, in the Gush Etzion block in the occupied West Bank November 19, 2019. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s ruling right-wing government on Tuesday moved swiftly to embrace Washington’s backing for Israeli settlements, even as Palestinians and Arab leaders said it was a threat to the international rule of law.
    Monday’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abandoned the position that settlements in Israeli-occupied territory were “inconsistent with international law,” reversing a position taken by the United States under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost no time in making political capital out of the announcement, as he struggles to remain in power following two inconclusive Israeli elections and possible criminal prosecution over corruption charges, which he denies.
    “I admit that I am very moved,” Netanyahu said as he visited the Etzion bloc of settlements in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    “The Trump administration has corrected a historic injustice,” Netanyahu said.    “This is a very great day for the State of Israel and an achievement that will stand for generations.”
    Some Israeli analysts said the announcement had little practical effect – with settlement building already in evidence under a Netanyahu government, as it had been since the area was captured from Jordan in the 1967 war.
    In Geneva, the U.N. human rights office said the settlements remain in breach of international law, echoing a position taken by the International Court of Justice in an advisory opinion in 2004.
    Israel disputes this, and Netanyahu has cited historical and biblical links to the West Bank in supporting Jewish settlement.
    Palestinians say settlements jeopardise their goal of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital.
HOLD BACK
    Although President Donald Trump told Netanyahu in early 2017 that he would “like to see you hold back on settlement for a little bit,” the intervening period has seen repeated postponement of the White House’s “Deal of the Century” peace plan.
    Trump has also made a succession of pro-Israeli initiatives.
    These include U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, moving the U.S. embassy to the city in 2018 and cuts in U.S. aid to Palestinians.    In March, Trump recognised Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.
    Hagit Ofran, Settlements Watch Director of the left-wing Israeli group Peace Now, said there were 430,000 settlers in the West Bank and 200,000 in East Jerusalem, living in 132 settlements and 121 unofficial settlement outposts.    About 3 million Palestinians live throughout the West Bank.
    “If you want to know what the Deal of the Century plan was, we know what it is now,” said Ofran after Pompeo’s announcement.    “It is to say to the Palestinians ‘you are not going to get any of your basic demands and rights’.”
INTERNATIONAL LAW
    The speed and consistency of the response by Palestinian officials suggested they are familiar with headline-grabbing Trump initiatives and have decided to frame them in a wider context.
    “The bias of the Trump administration towards the most extreme in Israel blinds it from seeing the basic principles of international law and consensus,” said Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh on Twitter.
    Palestinian Ambassador to the United Nations Riyad Mansour said he was consulting other nations at the Security Council to “lobby a unified international position to confront the American illegal announcement regarding settlements.”
    Diana Buttu, a former legal adviser to the Palestine Liberation Organization, said the U.S. decision had been decades in the making.
    “Each U.S. administration, since Reagan, has pandered to Israel on settlements,” she told Reuters.
    “I get the sense from the Palestinian leadership’s responses that they believe this issue has to be framed as not just about ‘us’ but about the world order that people believe in… when you go down this path it isn’t just about Palestine, this affects Crimea and other places around the world.”
FACTS ON THE GROUND
    David Friedman, the Trump-appointed U.S. Ambassador to Israel, said on Twitter that Pompeo’s announcement would “advance the cause of peace” by creating a “level playing field” for future talks.
    To many Israeli settlers, the U.S. move simply recognised the status of settlements they regard as permanent.
    “From the sea to the Jordan River, it belongs to the people of Israel,” said Zomi Osi, a settler speaking near the new settlement neighbourhood Ramat Givat Zeev, which is expanding along a valley in the West Bank.
    But yards away in Beit Ijza, overlooking Ramat Givat Zeev and an Israeli highway built through the West Bank, retired Palestinian villager Mahmoud Salem said nothing could change the fact that the land was Palestinian.
    “He (Trump) doesn’t own it, he has no right to give it to anybody and he can’t force its owners to leave it,” he said.
GAZA AND ARAB WORLD
    In Gaza, where Israeli withdrew soldiers and settlers in 2005, Palestinian student Fatima Attallaa stood outside a building that was once part of the Israeli settlement Neve Dekalim, saying she looked forward to the day when the West Bank was also free of settlers.
    “The American decision is void,” she said.    “Settlements will be removed. We are at a university that was once a settlement and today it is Al-Aqsa University.”
    Wider Arab and Muslim reaction was equally condemnatory.
    Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said such an “unfortunate change” in the American position would not bring Israel security, peace or normal relations with Arab countries.    Egyptian state news agency MENA quoted him as saying it would “push the legions of Israeli settlers to practise more violence and brutality against the Palestinian population.”
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Twitter: “No country is above international law” and “fait accompli style declarations” had no validity.
    Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, said a U.S. change of position on settlements would have “dangerous consequences.”    Calling the settlements illegal, he said they killed prospects for a Palestinian state existing side-by-side with Israel.
    But in U.S.-allied Saudi Arabia, the state news agency did not mention the issue after a cabinet meeting, focusing on criticism of Israeli air raids in Gaza.
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ali Sawafta in Beit Ijza,; Yousef Saba in Cairo, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, Dahlia Nehme in Dubai; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/19/2019 Trump shift on Israeli settlements fulfills wish list of evangelical base by Maria Caspani and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: Labourers work in a construction site in the Israeli settlement of Ramat Givat Zeev
in the occupied-West Bank November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    NEW YORK/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A U.S. decision effectively backing Israel’s building of settlements in the occupied West Bank, long a cherished item on conservative Christians’ wish list, is expected to strengthen evangelicals’ support for Donald Trump as he seeks re-election in 2020, according to a leader of the president’s evangelical advisory group.
    While Palestinians and Arab governments condemned the Trump administration’s declaration on Monday that Jewish settlements in occupied territory are not “inconsistent with international law,” the reversal of four decades of U.S. policy drew praise from evangelicals, an important part of his base.
    Trump had already tightened his bond with his pro-Israel constituency by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017, moving the U.S. embassy to the holy city in 2018 and then endorsing Israel’s annexation of the Golan Heights, captured from Syria in 1967.
    Though an intense push by evangelicals set the stage for Trump’s Jerusalem moves, Mike Evans – Texas-based founder of Friends of Zion     Museum in Jerusalem – said evangelicals felt no need to mount a similar campaign with the administration over settlements, one of the core issues of the decades-old Middle East conflict.
    “There was virtually no lobbying for the policy shift because he (Trump) knows us, he knows what we believe,” Evans told Reuters in New York.
    U.S. policy makers, however, were widely known to have consulted regularly with evangelical leaders – as well as some of Israel’s Jewish American supporters – in crafting a series of pro-Israel initiatives that have thrilled most Israelis but angered Palestinians since Trump took office in 2017.
    The latest move could nevertheless undermine Trump’s efforts to resolve the conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread skepticism even before its release.
    Evans, an informal adviser and member of Trump’s Faith Initiative, said he was given advance word on the announcement and was personally briefed by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo immediately after he unveiled it in Washington.
‘HE WILL GET 100% OF THIS BASE’
    Evangelicals have been a core base for 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, which Israel seized in a 1967 war and Palestinians want as part of their future state, holds special importance to evangelicals who see a divine hand in the modern-day return of Jews to a Biblical homeland.
    Pompeo – along with Vice President Mike Pence – is himself an evangelical, telling an interviewer in Israel in March that “the Lord was at work here” in Trump’s Israel policies.
    U.S. officials denied the announcement was timed to help right-wing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power following two inconclusive Israeli elections and faces possible criminal prosecution over corruption charges, which he denies.
    The U.S. legal determination on settlements had been “a long time in the making” and only just came to fruition, according to a person familiar with the matter.
    But Evans said Trump appeared to be trying to give Netanyahu a boost.    “Donald Trump trusts Benjamin Netanyahu and there’s a chemistry between them,” he said.    “He was sending a signal.”
    Asked about Trump’s own re-election prospects, he said: “I have 68 million Facebook followers.    When the president blesses Israel, they feel strongly that God is going to bless us … He won’t get 90%; he will get 100% of this base.”
    Jack Graham, pastor of 40,000-plus-member Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, Texas, was quoted by the Christian Broadcasting Network as saying the Trump administration “once again has demonstrated why evangelical Christians have been unwavering in their support.”
    The settlement announcement could also help lay part of the legal groundwork for Trump’s long-delayed peace plan, which Pompeo said he hoped would be rolled out “before too long,” after a new Israeli government is formed.
    While details have been kept under wraps, it is widely expected to call for Israel to keep the vast majority of its settlements.    The international community mostly considers them illegal, an assertion disputed by Israel.
    But a U.S. official told Reuters: “Nothing in yesterday’s announcement should be read as previewing the content of the White House’s vision for peace.”
(Writing by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)

11/19/2019 More than 120 journalists still jailed in Turkey: International Press Institute
FILE PHOTO: Press freedom activists read opposition newspaper Cumhuriyet during a demonstration in solidarity with the
jailed members of the newspaper outside a courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 28, 2017. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – More than 120 journalists are still being held in Turkey’s jails, a global record, and the situation of the media in the country has not improved since the lifting of a two-year state of emergency last year, a global press watchdog said on Tuesday.
    Turkey declared a state of emergency soon after a failed coup in 2016.    It sacked or suspended 150,000 judges, academics, military officers, civil servants and others during the two years it was in force on suspicion of backing a U.S.-based cleric blamed by Ankara for the coup.    More than 77,000 people were jailed pending trial.
    Hundreds of journalists have faced prosecution since the coup, mainly on terrorism-related charges, the International Press Institute (IPI) said in a new report, adding the number of journalists still in jail had fallen from a high of over 160.
    “Behind those figures lies a story of egregious violations of fundamental rights, with dozens of journalists held on the most serious terrorism-related charges for months, sometimes years, pending trial, in many cases without an official indictment,” it said.
    Journalists were jailed “as a consequence of an extended, politically motivated crackdown against the media,” the report said, adding that Turkey has been the world’s “undisputed leading jailor of journalists” for almost a decade.
    Turkish officials were not immediately available for comment on the report.
    The institute said Turkey’s judiciary had been flooded with cases since the coup but had been unable to properly examine them because a third of all judges were among those removed from office due to suspected links to the failed coup.
    Ankara says the detentions, sackings and suspensions were necessary to safeguard national security, given that Turkey has faced attacks from Kurdish, Islamist and far-left militants.
    Critics say President Tayyip Erdogan used the failed coup as a pretext to clamp down on dissent and strengthen his grip on power, a charge Ankara denies.
    Trials against many journalists still continue.
    Last week, a Turkish court ordered prominent journalist and author Ahmet Altan back to jail, a week after he was released following a retrial on coup-related charges, in a case condemned by human rights groups and by the IPI.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)

11/19/2019 U.S. deploys aircraft carrier group to Persian Gulf amid Iran turmoil by OAN Newsroom
An F/A-18 fighter jet taxis on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier
in the Arabian Sea, Monday, June 3, 2019. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)
    A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is entering the Persian Gulf amid the latest threats from Iran’s Ayatollah regime.
    On Tuesday, the U.S. Navy said the USS Lincoln sailed through the Strait of Hormuz into the gulf, without specifying the reason behind the move.
    Over the past few days, Iran has ramped up nuclear enrichment, made new threats against Israel and killed dozens of its own citizens — who were protesting Tehran’s policies.
    The UN said the Ayatollah regime may be imploding and could resort to desperate and irresponsible actions to protect itself.
    “It would suggest that it is not simply the immediate trigger to the protest — which was a rise in fuel prices — but something much deeper-seated, problems in the country,” stated UN spokesperson Rupert Colville.
    U.S. military officials previously said U.S. warships could enter the gulf in the case of a dramatic escalation of security tensions with Iran.    Tehran has yet to comment on the matter.

11/20/2019 Israel launches air strikes in Syria, Damascus says two killed
Light in the sky, believed to be a missile, is seen the city in Damascus, Syria November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
    BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for rockets fired towards Israel a day earlier.
    Syrian state media reported two civilians were killed and several others injured in the attacks, but said Syria’s air defenses destroyed most of the missiles fired by Israeli jets over the capital Damascus before they reached their targets.
    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group said 11 people were killed, including seven who were not from Syria, citing their own sources.
    Israel’s military said its missile defense system shot down four rockets fired from Syria toward Israel on Tuesday.
    “I have made clear that whoever hurts us, we will hurt him,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early on Wednesday.
    “This is what we did overnight vis-a-vis military targets of the Iranian Al Quds force and Syrian military targets in Syria after a barrage of rockets was launched at Israel,” he said.
    The elite Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards (IRGC).
    The Observatory said weapons and ammunition storage facilities belonging to the Al Quds force were destroyed in the attack.
    On Twitter, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said warplanes attacked dozens of targets, including surface-to-air missiles, headquarters, weapons depots and military bases.
    “At exactly 1:20 a.m. today, Israeli warplanes from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights and the Lebanese Marjayoun targeted the perimetre of the city of Damascus with a number of rockets,” a Syrian military source was quoted as saying by the Syrian state news agency SANA.    Marjayoun is a city in the south of Lebanon.
    Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapons shipments to Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
    “Yesterday’s Iranian attack on Israeli territory by firing missiles … is the best proof of Iran’s real cause in Syria.    The Iranian position poses a threat to Israel’s security, stability in the region, and the Syrian regime,” Adraee said.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla in Beirut; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/20/2019 Algeria army arrests militants heading for Sahel region: ministry
FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from a video shows smoke rising in the distance after
a car bomb attack in Gao, northern Mali July 1, 2018. REUTERS/via Reuters TV
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s army has arrested eight people planning to join Islamist militants in the neighboring Sahel region, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.
    The eight were arrested on Tuesday in the Ghardaia and Relizane provinces, a ministry statement said without providing details.
    Algeria has repeatedly expressed concerns about security across its southern borders with Mali and Niger, where Islamist militants have carried out deadly attacks on civilians and government forces.
    The army has tightened security across the country’s frontiers with the Sahel region and with Libya, and announced seizures of weapons during patrols this year.
Algeria emerged from decade-long Islamist linked violence in the 1990s when an estimated 200,000 people were killed following the cancellation of a legislative election an Islamist party was poised to win.

11/20/2019 Turkey says about 100,000 Syrians left Istanbul since early July
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators shout slogans in support of Syrian refugees during a protest against Turkish
government's recent refugee policies in Istanbul, Turkey, July 27, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s Interior Minister said on Wednesday that around 100,000 Syrians living without approval in Istanbul had left it since early July, when the government set a deadline for Syrians not registered in the city to leave for other provinces.
    As sentiment towards Syrian refugees among Turks began to sour in recent years, authorities said Syrians not registered in Turkey’s largest city should return to the provinces in which they are registered by Oct. 30, or face forced removal.
    Turkey hosts some 3.6 million refugees who fled the eight-year-old civil war, more than any other country.    The Syrian population in Istanbul, home to some 15 million people, had swollen to more than half a million, more than those in any other Turkish city.
    Syrians registered in other cities came to Istanbul, leading to an acculumation in the city, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu told parliament.
    “Around 100,000 Syrian have returned to provinces in which they are registered since July 12,” he said, adding that a total of 200,000 migrants had left the city.
    Turkey also houses migrants from other Middle Eastern and African nations.
    On Friday, the Istanbul governor’s office said more than 6,000 Syrian migrants in Istanbul were sent to temporary housing centres in other provinces since early July.
    Ankara wants to settle some Syrian refugees in a swathe of land it now controls in northeast Syria, after it launched an offensive last month against the Kurdish YPG militia.
    Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch last month published reports saying Turkey is forcibly sending Syrian refugees to northern Syria.    Turkey’s Foreign Ministry called the claims in the reports “false and imaginary.”
    Turkey has deported 86,625 illegal migrants so far this year, compared to 56,000 in all of 2018, Soylu said.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen, Editing by William Maclean)

11/20/2019 Israel launches air strikes in Syria; Damascus says two killed
Light in the sky, believed to be a missile, is seen the city in Damascus, Syria November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
    BEIRUT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said its aircraft struck dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria on Wednesday in retaliation for rockets fired towards Israel a day earlier.
    Syrian state media reported two civilians were killed and several others injured in the attacks, but said Syria’s air defenses destroyed most of the missiles fired by Israeli jets over Damascus, the capital, before they reached their targets.
    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a monitoring group, said 11 people were killed, including seven who were not from Syria, citing its own sources.
    An Israeli official who requested anonymity said a preliminary and yet unconfirmed tally put the number of fatalities at between 10 and 20 military personnel, “about two-thirds of them Iranian and a third (of them) Syrian.”
    Israel’s military said its missile defense system shot down four rockets fired from Syria toward Israel on Tuesday.
    “I have made clear that whoever hurts us, we will hurt him,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said early on Wednesday.    “This is what we did overnight vis-a-vis military targets of the Iranian Al Quds force and Syrian military targets in Syria after a barrage of rockets was launched at Israel,” he said.
    The elite Quds Force is the overseas arm of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.
    The Observatory said weapons and ammunition storage facilities belonging to the Al Quds force were destroyed in the attack.
    On Twitter, Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Avichay Adraee said warplanes attacked dozens of targets, including surface-to-air missiles, headquarters, weapons depots and military bases.
    “At exactly 1:20 a.m. today, Israeli warplanes from the direction of the occupied Golan Heights and the Lebanese Marjayoun targeted the perimeter of the city of Damascus with a number of rockets,” a Syrian military source was quoted as saying by the Syrian state news agency SANA. Marjayoun is a city in the south of Lebanon.
    Israel says it has carried out hundreds of strikes in Syria against Iranian targets trying to establish a permanent military presence there and against advanced weapons shipments to Tehran-backed Lebanese militia Hezbollah.
    “Yesterday’s Iranian attack on Israeli territory by firing missiles … is the best proof of Iran’s real cause in Syria.    The Iranian position poses a threat to Israel’s security, stability in the region, and the Syrian regime,” Adraee said.
(Reporting by Samar Hassan in Cairo and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Nadine Awadalla in Beirut; Editing by Alison Williams and Leslie Adler)

11/20/2019 At United Nations, U.S. faces strong opposition to its shift on Israeli settlements by Rodrigo Campos
European ambassadors to the United Nations Security Council (L-R) Jurgen Schulz, German Deputy Ambassador
to the UN, France's Nicolas De Riviere, Britain's Karen Pierce, Poland's Joanna Wronecka and Belgium's Marc Pecsteen
de Buytswerve reiterate their position on Israeli settlements in occupied Palestinian territories ahead of a Security
Council meeting on the Middle East at the United Nations in New York, U.S., November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodrigo Campos
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday defended itself at the United Nations against strong opposition from the European Union and other world powers to the Trump administration’s declaration that it no longer considers Israeli settlements to be in violation of international law.
    Monday’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed a four-decade-old U.S. position on Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories.    The move was welcomed by Israel but drew condemnation from Palestinians and Arab leaders.
    At the United Nations, the U.S. policy shift came under fire from the EU and an array of Security Council members, including Russia and China.
    “All settlement activity is illegal under international law and it erodes the viability of the two-state solution and the prospects for a lasting peace,” British Ambassador to the UN Karen Pierce told reporters before the meeting.    She spoke on behalf of Germany, France, Poland, Belgium and Britain, the EU’s current Security Council members.
    Deputy U.S. Ambassador to the UN Cherith Norman Chalet reiterated the new American position on Israeli settlements in the West Bank, saying they are “not, per se, inconsistent with international law.”    The shift has been widely interpreted as a green light for Israeli settlement building in the occupied West Bank, which the Palestinians want as part of their future state.
    The U.S. move could also undermine efforts by President Donald Trump to resolve the conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread skepticism even before its release.
    Chalet said the United States “remains committed to the cause of peace, and Monday’s announcement does not alter this fact.”
    “The Pavlovian response of some European countries to (the U.S.) announcement only further delays the chances of ending the conflict,” Israeli ambassador to the UN Danny Danon told the Security Council.
    The chief Palestinian delegate at the United Nations, Riyad Mansour, said: “The U.S. administration once again makes another illegal announcement on Israeli settlements in order to sabotage any chance to achieve peace, security and stability.”
    Like many of the Trump administration’s pro-Israeli moves, the settlements announcement has appealed to evangelical Christians, an important part of Trump’s political base that he is counting on to help him win re-election in 2020.
    Israel’s settlements are one of the most heated issues in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.    Most of the international community sees the settlements as illegal, a view Israel has long disputed.
(Reporting by Rodrigo Campos; editing by Matt Spetalnick and Jonathan Oatis)

11/20/2019 Third Israeli election looms after Netanyahu and challenger fail to form government by Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell
Avigdor Lieberman, head of the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu party delivers a statement
at the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel moved closer toward holding a third election in less than a year on Wednesday, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main challenger failed to form a government.
    Benny Gantz’s announcement that he would not meet a midnight deadline following Netanyahu’s own failure to put together a coalition in October deepened political deadlock at a time of mounting security and economic concerns.
    There now begins a 21-day period in which Israeli lawmakers can nominate any one of the Knesset’s 120 lawmakers to try and establish a coalition where others have failed.
    If that fails too, an election is triggered within 90 days, raising the prospect for a weary electorate of going back to the polls after inconclusive votes in April and September.
    The stalemate has shaken Israelis’ confidence as conflicts with Iran and Syria deepen, and has vexed a usually friendly White House, which has had to repeatedly delay a long-awaited Middle East peace plan until an Israeli government is formed.
    For Netanyahu, not securing a fifth term as prime minister also has legal implications: It may increase his vulnerability to possible indictment on corruption charges.
    Israel’s attorney-general is due to announce soon whether or not the conservative Likud party leader – who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister – will be formally charged following long-running police investigations.
    Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing, accusing his opponents of a witch-hunt.    Under Israeli law a serving prime minister does not have to step down if charged.
    Gantz, a former general who heads the Blue and White party, has made much of Netanyahu’s legal woes, portraying himself as a unifying centrist figure.
    “In the past 28 days, I have left no stone unturned, irrespective of how small, in my attempt to form a government that would bring to the State of Israel leadership with integrity, morality and values," he said on Wednesday night.
    “We have made great efforts toward forming a broad, liberal unity government… a government that will serve everyone – religious and secular, Jews and Arabs.”
    While they are largely aligned on national security, Gantz has signaled more openness than Netanyahu to a resumption of long-stalled peace talks with the Palestinians.
    Netanyahu has sought to cast Gantz as a dovish novice who is not up to the task of running Israel’s economy and statecraft alone.br> POWER-STRUGGLE
    Netanyahu issued a last-gasp appeal to Gantz to compromise, telling rightist factions that, even among its closest allies, Israel was “becoming a joke” due to its political turmoil.
    “For the sake of Israel’s security, for the sake of the will of the people, for the sake of reconciliation among the people, we indeed need to form a unity government.”
    President Reuven Rivlin had proposed a “rotation” agreement between Netanyahu and Gantz in which the Likud leader would take a leave of absence as prime minister should he be indicted.
    One potential kingmaker, Avigdor Lieberman, declined to back either Netanyahu or Gantz as the deadline neared.
    Lieberman, who heads the far-right Yisrael Beitenu party said on Wednesday that “both (Netanyahu and Gantz) were guilty” in failing to agree a Likud-Blue and White alliance, which he had strongly advocated.
    With no unity government in sight, Lieberman said, he would deny both men the support of his party’s eight legislators, effectively meaning that neither Netanyahu nor Gantz would have sufficient backing to get a working majority.
    “As things stand now, we are on the way to another election,” Lieberman said.
    He reiterated opposition to a Netanyahu-led government that included ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties with religious influence over life in Israel, and to an administration headed by Gantz that, he said, would be dependent on support from Arab parties he described as a “fifth column.”
    Ahmed Tibi, a senior politician from Israel’s 21 percent Arab minority, tweeted that Lieberman’s rhetoric constituted “incitement” and “straight-up racism and anti-Semitism.”
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Philippa Fletcher)

11/20/2019 EU should recognize Palestinian state after U.S. backs Israeli settlements: Luxembourg
FILE PHOTO: Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn addresses the 72nd United Nations General Assembly
at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 21, 2017. REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
    BERLIN (Reuters) – The European Union should recognise a Palestinian state after the United States expressed support for Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank, Luxembourg Foreign Minister Jean Asselborn said on Wednesday.
    Monday’s announcement by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo abandoned the position that settlements in Israeli-occupied territory were “inconsistent with international law,” reversing a stand taken under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.
    Palestinians say the settlements jeopardise their goal of a state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital, and that the U.S. move will make an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal even more elusive.
    “Recognising Palestine as a state would be neither a favour nor a carte blanche but rather a mere recognition of the right of the Palestinian people to its own state,” Asselborn told Reuters.    “It would not be meant against Israel,” he said, but a measure intended to pave the way for a two-state solution.
    The Trump administration’s decision was a victory for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is struggling to remain in power after two inconclusive Israeli elections this year, and a defeat for the Palestinians.
    It could deliver a new blow to Trump’s efforts to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a peace plan that has been in the works for more than two years but has drawn widespread scepticism even before its release.
    The EU said after the U.S. announcement that it continued to believe that Israeli settlement building in occupied Palestinian territory was illegal under international law.
    The European Parliament adopted a resolution in 2014 supporting Palestinian statehood in principle.    The motion was a compromise reached after lawmakers on the left sought to urge the EU’s 28 member states to recognise Palestine unconditionally.
    Since the collapse of U.S.-sponsored peace talks in 2014, Israel has pressed on with building settlements in territory the Palestinians want for their future state.
    More than 135 countries already recognise a Palestinian state, including several east European countries that did so before they joined the EU.
(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/21/2019 At least four killed and 48 wounded in Baghdad protests: security sources
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi demonstrators use tuk-tuk during an ongoing anti-government
protests, in Baghdad, Iraq November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa al-Deen
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Four people were killed and 48 wounded early on Thursday when Iraqi security forces shot live fire and tear gas canisters at protesters near two key bridges in Baghdad, security and medical sources said.
    The cause of death was live fire and tear gas canisters aimed directly at the head, the sources said.
    Police said earlier one protester was killed near Sinak bridge and one near the adjacent Ahrar bridge, police said.
    Two other critically wounded protesters died in hospital later, one from wounds caused by live fire shots to the head and the other struck in the head by tear gas canister, police and hospital sources said.
    Hospital sources said some of the wounded protesters had injuries sustained from live ammunition and others were wounded by rubber bullets and tears gas canisters.
    Protesters are still holding ground, controlling parts of three major bridges in central Baghdad, which lead to the Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located.
    More than 300 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Deadly use of live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly unarmed demonstrators have stoked the unrest.
    The protests are an eruption of public anger against a ruling elite seen as enriching itself off the state and serving foreign powers, especially Iran, as many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
    The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

11/21/2019 Turkey says talking with Russia over Kurdish YPG in northeast Syria
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar arrives for a bilateral meeting with U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper (not pictured)
as part of a NATO defence ministers meeting in Brussels, Belgium October 25, 2019. Virginia Mayo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is discussing with Russia how to address the continued presence of Kurdish YPG militants in areas covered by an agreement between the two countries, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday.
    Ankara halted its incursion against the YPG last month after agreeing with Moscow for the YPG to pull out of a swathe of land east of the Euphrates river, as well as the towns of Tel Rifat and Manbij, west of the river.
    Turkey has complained that the withdrawal has not been completed, and threatened to resume its offensive.    But Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday that it was almost done, and added that Ankara had assured Moscow that it did not plan to launch a new military operation.
    Akar said that Russia told Turkey on Oct. 29 that 34,000 militants and more than 3,200 heavy weapons were removed from a 30-km deep strip of land in Syria on the Turkish border.
    “Findings to the contrary are being discussed with the Russian Federation,” Akar told a parliamentary commission.
    Akar said Turkey had determined that the YPG was still present in the Manbij region “wearing the clothes of the (Syrian government) regime elements,” and had asked Russia to address the issue. Talks with Russia on increasing patrols in Tel Rifat were ongoing, he said.
    Turkey and Russia have backed opposing sides in Syria’s eight-year civil war but they have worked together on several fronts to broker deals between President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Moscow, and the opposition, backed by Turkey.
    The two countries agreed in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib region of northwest Syria. Idlib is the last remaining major rebel stronghold and is home to some three million Syrians, some of whom fled violence in other parts of the country.
    Despite the agreement, fighting has continued in Idlib.    An attack by Syrian government forces on Wednesday killed at least 15 at a displaced persons camp, rescue workers said. [nL8N2806E8]
    Akar said on Thursday that a permanent ceasefire could be established in Idlib when government forces withdraw behind the lines previously agreed with Russia.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

11/21/2019 Multiple killed, at least 38 wounded in Iraq protests by OAN Newsroom
Protesters receive treatment at Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Renewed clashes
overnight in Baghdad between anti-government demonstrators and security forces killed and
wounded protesters, security and hospital officials said Thursday. (AP Photo/Ali Abdul Hassan)
    At least two people have been killed and 38 more have been wounded in Iraq, following the latest wave of violence between protesters and police.    The citizens were killed Thursday morning while protesting in Baghdad.
    Both individuals reportedly died after being hit directly on the head by tear gas canisters fired by authorities.    Those wounded are recovering from injuries reportedly sustained from live ammunition, rubber bullets, and tear gas.
    This comes as demonstrations in Iraq enter their seventh week as civilians continue to call for more job opportunities, better public services, and an end to government corruption.
    “We are leaving our businesses, families, and our children.    We are taking to the streets to claim our rights.    We want a homeland.    We want to get rid of these (political) parties.    We want to live like other people in the world do.” –– unnamed Iraqi protester
Demonstrators try to extinguish a protester who has caught fire, during clashes between Iraqi security
forces and anti-Government protesters, in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. Iraqi officials said several
protesters were killed as heavy clashes erupt in central Baghdad. (AP Photo/Khalid Mohammed)
    More than 300 people have died since the protests began in early October.

11/21/2019 Netanyahu charged in corruption cases, deepening Israeli political disarray by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to supporters
at party headquarters in Tel Aviv March 18, 2015. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud on Thursday, a criminal indictment that plunged Israel deeper into political disarray.
    The decision announced by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was the first of its kind against a serving Israeli prime minister and represented the gravest crisis in the political career of the man popularly known as “Bibi.”
    Netanyahu, in power since 2009, has dominated Israeli politics for a generation and is the country’s longest-serving leader.    He has denied wrongdoing in three corruption cases, saying he is the victim of a political witch hunt.
    The indictment posed no immediate threat to Netanyahu’s decade-long hold on power, a grip loosened by elections in April and September in which neither the right-wing Likud leader nor centrist challenger Benny Gantz secured a governing majority.
    Netanyahu remains caretaker prime minister and is under no legal obligation to resign once charged.    The opening of a trial could be delayed for months by a possible new election and any moves by Netanyahu to secure parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
    “This is a difficult and sad day,” Mandelblit said, announcing the indictment in a televised statement.
    Mandelblit, who was appointed to his post by Netanyahu, said he had a duty to Israel’s citizens to ensure that no one was above the law.
    Netanyahu, 70, was due to make a statement from his official residence at 1830 GMT.
CASES 1000, 2000 AND 4000
    Police recommended in February that Mandelblit file criminal charges against Netanyahu in the long-running investigations dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000. [L8N281633]
    Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts from tycoons and of allegedly dispensing favors in return for favorable stories about him in Israel’s biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and the Walla website.
    Case 4000, the most serious of the three, alleges that Netanyahu granted regulatory favors worth about 1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to Israel’s leading telecommunications company, Bezeq Telecom Israel .
    In return, Mandelblit said, Netanyahu and his wife often received positive coverage on the Walla site, which is owned by Bezeq’s former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.
    He indicted Netanyahu on charges of breach of trust and fraud in all three corruption cases against him, as well as bribery in Case 4000.
    Netanyahu could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
    Earlier, during one of the most unusual days in Israeli political history, the country’s president told lawmakers to name a candidate to form a new government after Netanyahu and Gantz both failed, a development that probably sets the stage for a third election within a year.
    “These are harsh dark days in the annals of the State of Israel,” President Reuven Rivlin said as he announced that Gantz had not mustered enough support for a stable coalition.
    The prolonged political stalemate comes at a tricky time for Israel and its most prominent statesman on the domestic and international fronts.
    Its conflict with arch-foe Iran has deepened – Israeli warplanes hit Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday after rockets were fired toward Israel – while fighting with Palestinian militants in Gaza flared last week.
    The introduction of criminal charges could further complicate the eventual rollout of the U.S. administration’s long-delayed Middle East peace plan by imperiling the political future of one of the key players whose support is needed.
    And if a new Israeli election is in the cards, Netanyahu would be running as an indicted suspect, displaying a rare vulnerability that could entice potential challengers within his own party to make a move against a weakened prime minister.
    Palestinians greeted the news with grim pleasure.    Palestine Liberation Organization official Wasel Abu Youssef said that for years Netanyahu had sought to avoid this outcome by “launching wars against the Palestinian people” to boost his domestic popularity.
(Editing by Stephen Farrell and Giles Elgood)

11/21/2019 Israel’s attorney general indicts PM Netanyahu on corruption charges
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media at the
Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem May 30, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s attorney general indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on corruption charges on Thursday, heightening uncertainty over who will ultimately lead a country mired in political chaos after two inconclusive elections this year.
    Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced the decision, the first of its kind against a serving Israeli prime minister, in a statement and said the charges included bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
    Netanyahu, who has denied wrongdoing in three corruption cases, is under no legal obligation to resign after being charged.    He was due to make a statement at 2030 GMT.
    Police recommended in February that Mandelblit file criminal charges against the right-wing prime minister in the long-running investigations dubbed Cases 1000, 2000 and 4000.
    Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting $264,000 worth of gifts, which prosecutors said included cigars and champagne, from tycoons and of dispensing favours in alleged bids for improved coverage by Israel’s biggest selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, and the Walla website.
    Israel’s longest-serving premier could face up to 10 years in prison if convicted of bribery and a maximum 3-year term for fraud and breach of trust.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/21/2019 Britain urges Israel to halt settlement expansion, in contrast to U.S.
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows the Israeli settlement of Beitar Illit in the occupied West Bank as seen in 2018 and obtained by
Reuters from "Peace Now" on June 3, 2019. Peace Now/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain urged Israel to halt its “counterproductive” settlement expansion on Thursday, saying it was illegal under international law.
    The Foreign Office reiterated its position on the settlements after the United States on Monday effectively backed Israel’s right to build Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.
    “The position of the UK on settlements is clear,” it said in a statement.    “They are illegal under international law, present an obstacle to peace, and threaten the viability of a two-state solution.    We urge Israel to halt its counterproductive settlement expansion.”
(Reporting by Kate Holton; Editing by William Schomberg)

11/21/2019 Turkey needs to ‘get rid of’ Russian S-400 system to overcome impasse with U.S. – U.S. official by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: A Russian plane carrying parts of a Russian S-400 defense system lands at Murted Airport
near Ankara, Turkey, August 27, 2019. Turkish Military/Turkish Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey needs to “get rid of” the Russian S-400 missile defense system it purchased, a senior State Department official said on Thursday, to overcome a standoff with Washington, which says the procurement poses a threat to NATO defense capabilities.
    Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets.
    U.S. President Donald Trump hosted his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan at the White House last week for a meeting, which Trump described as “wonderful.”    However, it was not clear if the two NATO allies made any breakthrough on the S-400 impasse.
    “There is room for Turkey to come back to the table.    They know that to make this work they need to either destroy or return or somehow get rid of the S-400,” the official told reporters at a briefing.
    The United States earlier this year suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, which it was a buyer and producer of, to punish it for its purchase of the Russian systems and warned of possible U.S. sanctions over the deal, although it has yet to impose them.
    During last week’s meeting, Trump told Erdogan that Ankara needed to drop the S-400 system and that in return, U.S. was ready to sell Ankara U.S. Patriot systems.
    But Erdogan, upon his return to Ankara, said he told Trump during talks that Turkey would not give up on the Russian S-400 missile defenses and cited strong ties with Moscow.
    The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said he was aware of Erdogan’s recent comments.
    “They (Turkey) know that they have the choice to move forward and the choice is to rid themselves of the S-400 so that we can move forward,” he said, and added that the risk of U.S. sanctions, under Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA), was still a possibility.
    “The timeline on CAATSA sanctions is not prescribed or absolute,” he said, adding that it took Washington nine months to impose sanctions on China under the same law over Beijing’s purchase of Russian fighter jets.
    Ankara began receiving the S-400 system last July but it is not yet operational.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Bill Berkrot and Bernadette Baum)

11/21/2019 Lebanon parliament speaker calls session following cancellation
FILE PHOTO - Nabih Berri, speaks after he was re-elected Lebanon's parliamentary speaker, as Lebanon's
newly elected parliament convenes for the first time to elect a speaker and deputy speaker in
Beirut, Lebanon May 23, 2018. Lebanese Parliament/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese House Speaker Nabih Berri on Thursday scheduled a session of parliament next week to discuss draft legislation on banking secrecy and returning stolen state funds, state news agency NNA reported.
    Protests fuelled in part by anger over corruption forced parliament to postpone on Tuesday, delaying what would have been its first session in two months.
    Berri called for two parliamentary committees to hold a joint session on Nov. 27 to discuss the draft laws, which echo demands of protesters who blame the country’s elite for rampant corruption and steering Lebanon deep into economic crisis.
    The protests prompted Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to resign on Oct. 29, leaving Lebanon at a political standstill as it looks to form a new government needed to enact urgent economic reforms.
    A Lebanese prosecutor referred the caretaker minister and two former telecoms ministers for trial on Wednesday on charges of wasting public funds, among the first proceedings opened against high-level officials since the unrest erupted on Oct. 17.
    The parliament session this week was slated to reelect members of committees and discuss an amnesty law that would lead to the release of hundreds of prisoners.    Protesters were angry the MPs were not tackling their demands for reform.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht, Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Angus MacSwan)

11/22/2019 UAE in weapons making push as allies restrict sales by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Models of guided munitions at the Edge display during the fifth day of Dubai Air Show
in Dubai, United Arab Emirates November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is making a push to develop high-tech military hardware that would give it control over critical defense capabilities and lessen reliance on imports.
    Wary of threats from rival Iran, and concerned over moves by some allies to hold up arms sales, the UAE is reshaping a military industry already seen as the region’s most sophisticated.
    State defense companies have been brought together to form EDGE, a $5-billion conglomerate to spearhead development of advanced weapons for the country’s military.
    Those ambitions were put on display at this week’s Dubai Airshow where the military handed an EDGE company a $1 billion contract for guided missiles.
    “Like many countries, on specific critical capabilities you want to have sovereignty,” EDGE Chief Executive Faisal al-Bannai told Reuters.
    The UAE’s defense industry dates back two decades, built through joint ventures and technology transfer programs. Much of it now sits under EDGE, manufacturing drones, small ammunitions and providing maintenance.
    Despite close ties with the West, the oil-rich Gulf nation has had difficulty acquiring some sophisticated weapons.
    The United States will not sell armed drones to the UAE under a longstanding export policy limiting their use.    Recently, some European countries have blocked sales to the UAE over its involvement in the Yemen war.
    Meanwhile, the UAE maintains close ties and continues to buy weapons from China and Russia.
    Abdulla al-Hashimi, assistant undersecretary for support services at the UAE ministry of defense, said sovereign capabilities were a “necessity” for security and the economy.
EMERGING THREATS
    A series of attacks in the Gulf over the summer, blamed on Iran by the United States, highlighted new threats to the security of Gulf states. Tehran denied involvement.
    Oil tankers off the UAE coast were sabotaged and a swarm of missiles and drones temporarily wiped out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production in a September attack.
    EDGE could develop directed energy technology, Bannai said, which can be used to counter drone threats.
    Directed energy weapons emit focused energy in the form of lasers, microwaves, electromagnetic radiation, radio waves, sound or particle beams.
    “The Emiratis not only believe that they can make a profit in this sphere but also that they are well-equipped to understand and counter regional threats,” said Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute.
    The UAE is expected to spend $17 billion on defense next year, according to U.S.-based defense analysis firm Teal, up from $14.4 billion in 2014 when last disclosed by the government.    Today, just a fraction is spent domestically.
    Abu Dhabi, the main petroleum producing emirate, is leading the development of the country’s industry.
    There, the move is seen as a step not only toward more diversification of an oil-based economy but toward “greater strategic autonomy with regards to foreign and defense policies,” said Jean-Loup Samaan, associate professor at the UAE National Defense College.
    EDGE, which wants to build on joint ventures that developed the country’s defense industry, also has eyes on exporting.
    That could draw new scrutiny.
    U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs R. Clarke Cooper said Washington would like the UAE to establish greater oversight as it develops its military industry.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Potter)

11/22/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu faces calls to quit but is defiant in crisis by Stephen Farrell
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel
November 22, 2019. The placards in Hebrew read, "Strong in security, strong in Economy ". REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faced calls to resign over a corruption scandal on Friday, as senior government colleagues publicly declared support after some signs of cracks in party loyalty.
    Netanyahu said he would not quit after he was indicted on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust by Israel’s attorney general on Thursday night.
    The 70-year-old right-wing Likud Party leader denies all wrongdoing and denounced the indictment – the first against a sitting Israeli prime minister – as an “attempted coup.”
    But his ability to lead a country mired in political crisis, after two inconclusive elections this year that failed to produce a government, is being questioned.
    The centrist Blue and White Party headed by Netanyahu’s main rival, Benny Gantz, issued a statement calling on him to “immediately resign from all ministerial positions in the government.”
    The party – which has 33 of parliament’s 120 seats to Likud’s 32 – said its lawyers had formally approached the prime minister and attorney general’s offices saying it was “imperative” that Netanyahu step down.
    Under Israeli law, as prime minister he is under no obligation to do so.    But with Israel heading towards a likely third election in less than a year, Netanyahu could soon find himself in the difficult position of trying to win an election while preparing to be prosecuted.
    The support of his Likud party colleagues is likely to be crucial to Netanyahu’s chances of staying in power.
    Two Likud lawmakers publicly broached holding a party leadership contest on Thursday, but even such mild expressions of disloyalty upset loyalists.
    Senior ministers issued public statements declaring their support, and Justice Minister Amir Ohana said he was proud of his fellow Likud parliamentarians for standing by Netanyahu, adding pointedly: “Except for two of them.”
    Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist coalition partner Bezalel Smotrich, the transport minister, also offered sympathy for Netanyahu over the charges against him, announced by Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit on Thursday.
    Smotrich said in a tweet that planned street protests in support of the prime minister were aimed at preventing “a predatory, violent and dangerous judicial dictatorship.”
    After a national televised address on Thursday night Netanyahu himself kept a low profile on Friday, posting a tweet with heart and an Israeli flag emojis saying: “Thank you for your support and love.    Shabbat Shalom.”
ELECTION SCHEDULE
    But Israel’s election schedule could work against Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving prime minister after 10 successive years in power plus three years in office in the 1990s.
    President Reuven Rivlin on Thursday set a three-week deadline for lawmakers to nominate a new candidate from their own ranks to try to form a new government after Netanyahu and Gantz both failed to do after April and September elections.
    If that also fails to produce a government, an election will be triggered in three months.
    A source close to Rivlin said he expected appeals to disqualify Netanyahu as a candidate because of the indictment.    If the president does so, Netanyahu could be ejected by Likud.
    “Netanyahu’s great fear is that, amid the extraordinary constitutional crisis has been created, and amid the political and legal synchronization, he will emerge as the only member of parliament who cannot do this (form a government),” wrote Tal Shalev, political commentator for Israel’s Walla news site.
    Two of the three cases involve news media outlets whose bosses allegedly received inducements from Netanyahu in return for more favourable coverage on his policies and personal conduct.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Tova Cohen and Nidal al-Mughrabi. Editing by XX)

11/22/2019 Iraqi forces kill four protesters, cleric warns of crisis by Ahmed Aboulenein
An Iraqi demonstrator throws away a tear gas canister during the ongoing anti-government
protests in Baghdad, Iraq November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed four protesters in Baghdad on Friday, according to police sources, and forcibly dispersed activists blocking the main port near Basra, as the country’s top cleric called for electoral reforms to end the unrest.
    Security forces opened fire and launched tear gas at protesters on a central Baghdad bridge, police sources said.    Two people died from bullet wounds and two from tear gas canisters launched directly at their heads.    At least 61 more were injured.
    The prime minister’s military spokesman denied any protesters had been killed on Friday.
    In the south, security forces reopened the entrance to Iraq’s main port, Umm Qasr, which protesters had blocked since Monday, port sources said.    Normal operations had not yet resumed.
    At least 330 people have been killed since the start of mass unrest in Baghdad and southern Iraq in early October, the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
    Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, called on Friday for politicians to hurry up in reforming electoral laws because the changes would be the only way to resolve weeks of deadly unrest.
    “We affirm the importance of speeding up the passing of the electoral law and the electoral commission law because this represents the country moving past the big crisis,” his representative said during a sermon in the holy city of Kerbala.
    Reforms proposed by President Barham Salih would have lawmakers elected from individual districts instead of whole provinces, and stand as individuals rather than on party lists, to satisfy demands of protesters to reduce the power of parties and have greater local representation.    But a bill proposed this week by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi omitted those changes.
ELECTORAL REFORM
    The United Nations Assistance Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) said on Wednesday the drafts being discussed in parliament required improvement to meet public demands.
    “I would like to urge the parliamentarians to act on their constituents’ legitimate demands for credible, free and fair elections,” said U.N mission chief Jeanine Hennis-Plasschaert.br>     Sistani, who weighs in on politics only in times of crisis, holds wide influence over public opinion in Shi’ite-majority Iraq.    He met Hennis-Plasschaert last week and endorsed the U.N’s presented reform recommendations.
    On Friday he said it was important politicians reformed electoral laws “in the manner described in last week’s sermon” and repeated his view that the protesters had legitimate demands that should not be met with violence.
    Unsatisfied by government reform promises they see as meager, many protesters have turned to civil disobedience tactics in recent weeks.
    They had previously blocked Umm Qasr from Oct. 29-Nov. 9, apart from a brief resumption of operations for three days.    It receives imports of grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
    The initial blockage cost Iraq more than $6 billion during just the first week of the closure, a government spokesman said at the time.
STREET BATTLES
    Protesters in Baghdad are also disrupting traffic, and are still holding ground, controlling parts of three major bridges which lead to the capital’s fortified Green Zone, where government buildings and foreign embassies are located.
    On Friday they clashed with security forces who opened fire and lobbed tear gas canisters over a concrete barricade separating them on Ahrar bridge.    Tuk-tuks carried scores of injured young men to nearby tents housing medics.
    Protesters threw stones and launched makeshift fireworks from behind the barricade, and some with oversized gloves occasionally picked up hot tear gas canisters to send back.
    Similar scenes had been ongoing across the capital and many southern provinces since the protests erupted for the first week of October then resumed on Oct. 25.
    Off the streets many are also now going on strike, with several labor unions led by teachers in particular joining.    Schools and government offices were shut in several southern provinces on Monday.
    The government on Thursday restored access to messaging apps and social media websites such as Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, 50 days after blocking them.
    The unrest has shattered the relative calm that followed the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Additional reporting by Aref Mohammed in Basra; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

11/22/2019 Lebanese protesters pack streets to mark independence day
People attend a parade, on the 76th anniversary of Lebanon's independence, at Martyrs' Square
in Beirut, Lebanon November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of protesters took to the streets in Lebanon on Friday to mark independence day with a fresh wave of demonstrations against a ruling elite accused of rampant corruption and steering the country into deep crisis.
    The unprecedented wave of nationwide protests erupted five weeks ago, leading to the resignation of Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri on Oct. 29.    Despite a worsening economic crisis, deeply divided politicians have yet to agree on a new government.
    Protesters waving Lebanese flags packed central Beirut’s Martyrs Square where music blasted into the night.    Many protesters said they felt like they were celebrating independence for the first time.
    “This year independence day is different.    Before, they marred it with their system of sharing power and corruption.    Today, we are demanding a clean independence and a country where we can live in dignity and pride,” said a protester who gave her name as Hind.
    “It’s important to show up today of all days and be united as a country.    Everyone is realizing what true independence looks like,” said Lydia, 21, who was protesting in Beirut.
    A military parade usually held on the seafront near Martyrs Square was relocated to the defense ministry where Hariri, still serving as prime minister in a caretaker capacity since his resignation, attended a low-key ceremony with President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, is at odds with Aoun, Berri and the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah over the make-up of the next government.    Broadcaster al-Jadeed noted an “unusual” silence between Hariri and Berri while other members of the government chatted to each other.
    Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, rooted in years of state corruption and waste.    The crisis has spread to the financial system where the pegged Lebanese pound has weakened, dollars have become scarce and banks have imposed controls to prevent capital flight.
    Aoun, in a televised speech marking independence day on Thursday, said it was “not the time for speeches, words and celebrations.”    “It is time for work, serious and diligent work because we are in a race against time.”
(Reporting by Dala Osseiran and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Tom Perry and Peter Graff)

11/22/2019 Hezbollah accuses U.S. of meddling in Lebanon’s crisis by Samia Nakhoul and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah speaking on television inside
a coffee shop in the port city of Sidon, Lebanon October 25, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah accused the United States of meddling in the formation of a new Lebanese government on Friday, its strongest accusation yet of U.S. interference in Lebanon’s political and economic crisis.
    As Lebanon grapples with the worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war, Hezbollah deputy leader Sheikh Naim Kassem told Reuters he did not see signs of a new conflict. Hezbollah would not be dragged into strife, he said.
    He also said the economic crisis which has spread to the banking system was hitting the Shi’ite group’s followers along with everyone else in Lebanon. Hezbollah backed putting corrupt officials on trial “regardless of who they are,” he added.
    Already grappling with an economic crisis, Lebanon has slid even deeper into turmoil since protests erupted against the ruling elite last month, fueled by anger over the corruption of the sectarian politicians who have dominated Lebanon for years.
    U.S. dollars have grown scarce, the Lebanese pound has weakened and capital flight from the banking system has led banks to impose controls on depositors.
    The protests led Saad al-Hariri to quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, toppling a coalition government that included the heavily armed Hezbollah.
    Hezbollah, which is classified as a terrorist group by the United States, had more influence in the Hariri-led cabinet than any previous administration, reflecting a political balance that had tilted in its favor at elections in 2018.
    Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, wants to return as head of a cabinet of expert ministers that would exclude other parties – terms that would effectively curb Hezbollah’s role.
    “The first obstruction in the formation of the government is America, because it wants a government that resembles it and we want a government that resembles the Lebanese people,” Kassem said.    The crisis would continue, he said, until foreign parties gave up on trying to achieve their goals.
    U.S. officials had been in direct contact with Lebanese politicians and officials, he said.    “Let them leave us alone so we can reach an understanding among ourselves.    The more they intervene the more they delay the solution.”
    Though they hold a parliamentary majority, Shi’ite Hezbollah and allies including the Christian Free Patriotic Movement continue to seek a deal with Hariri over a government which they say should include both politicians and technocrats.
    Asked why Hezbollah and its allies had not opted to form a cabinet on their own, Kassem said the group preferred the prime minister be chosen through agreement with the main parties.
    The position is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.    Hariri is Lebanon’s leading Sunni.    “There are continuous contacts between Hezbollah and Prime Minister Hariri to pick the prime minister,” Kassem said.
    The United States has said it stands by protesters who are demanding reforms and an end to corruption, and that it is ready to work with a new government that can build a stable, prosperous and independent Lebanon.
PUTTING THE CORRUPT ON TRIAL
    Sources close to Hariri have said he is sticking by his demand for a cabinet of experts because he believes it would be best placed to secure international support and steer Lebanon out of crisis.
    Kassem said the first step towards dealing with the crisis would be the formation of a government which should start by implementing an emergency economic plan after amending it if necessary.
    The causes of the crisis included by bad policies and corruption, he said.
    “We support the people 100% in putting the corrupt on trial,” he said.    “The corrupt must stand trial in Lebanon regardless of who they are … we support all measures that limit corruption and that recover looted wealth.”
    The protests in Lebanon have been overwhelmingly peaceful despite occasional confrontations.
    “I do not see signs of a civil war in Lebanon.    Hezbollah is determined not to fall into strife that America wants.    But we have information of American attempts to create some security problems,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/23/2019 All King Bibi’s men: Netanyahu’s inner circle key to criminal cases by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu protest outside his residence following Israel's
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit's indictment ruling in Jerusalem November 21, 2019. The placards in Hebrew read, "Mandelblit
you are getting a positive coverage this evening, tomorrow you are a suspect
," REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM, (Reuters) – Secret recordings, powerful media moguls, illicit gifts of cigars and champagne, betrayals by trusted aides.    The three corruption cases against Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu have all the makings of a political thriller.
    On Thursday, after more than three years of investigations, the most dominant Israeli politician of his generation was charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Investigators have not revealed the informants who provided the first tips about alleged corruption by the veteran conservative nicknamed “King Bibi.”    But from there they methodically picked off members of the prime minister’s inner circle of hand-picked aides and senior officials as state witnesses against him.    The mounting evidence was revealed in a series of tantalizing leaks that undercut what prosecutors allege was Netanyahu’s scheme to control his public image by trading regulatory favors to news companies for positive coverage.
    The man heading the investigation was Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who was appointed by Netanyahu in 2016 and had previously served as Bibi’s cabinet secretary starting in 2013.
    “I had the privilege of working with him and witnessing his many talents and capabilities as prime minister,” Mandelblit said in announcing the charges.    “The decision to file an indictment against him was made with a heavy heart.”
    Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing from the beginning of the investigations and remained defiant in his emotional prime-time national address on the night of his indictment.    He called the cases an “attempted coup” to overthrow him, based on “fabrications.”
‘ROTTEN’
    The probe began with tips trickling into investigators.
    “Something smelled rotten, but it wasn’t clearly criminal,” a law enforcement source with direct knowledge of the investigation told Reuters.
    Mandelblit launched an initial inquiry in July 2016, soon after Netanyahu appointed him.    Investigators soon focused on dealings between the prime minister, Israeli Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan and Australian billionaire James Packer.
    These would eventually lead to Case 1000, in which Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust for allegedly requesting and receiving gifts from Packer and Milchan, which included a regular supply of cigars and champagne.     The indictment alleges Netanyahu helped Milchan with various business interests.    Milchan and Packer provided testimony and have not been charged with any wrongdoing.
    During a separate probe of Netanyahu’s former chief of staff, Ari Harow, investigators stumbled on a Pandora’s box: secret recordings made on Harow’s mobile phone.
    They documented a series of meetings between two men who were then known publicly as enemies: Netanyahu and Arnon Mozes, the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.
    “It was jaw-dropping,” said the source, describing the moment investigators first heard the recordings.
    In meetings held between 2008 and 2014, the two allegedly discussed a deal in which Mozes would provide positive coverage of Netanyahu and negative coverage of his political rivals, while Netanyahu would push for regulations on Yedioth’s biggest competitor, Israel Hayom, a free daily owned by U.S. casino mogul and Netanyahu supporter, Sheldon Adelson.
    The 63-page indictment released on Thursday quotes a meeting held in December 2014 during the run-up to the 2015 election.    Prosecutors allege the two men discussed a bill that would have limited Israel Hayom’s circulation.
    “We need to make sure you are prime minister,” Mozes allegedly told Netanyahu.    “Assuming there will be a law that you and I have agreed upon, I will do my utmost best that you stick around for as long as you want to.”
    The bill the two men discussed would never become law.
    The recordings shocked prosecutors as they digested them over six hours, the source told Reuters.
    “That was a big drama,” said the source.    “It’s hard to believe something like this can even happen.”
    The recordings set off the investigation that led to Case 2000, which charges Netanyahu with fraud and breach of trust and Mozes with bribery.
    Harow served two stints as Netanyahu’s chief of staff before resigning in 2015 amid allegations that Harow improperly advanced his own business interests while holding the position.    He turned state’s witness against Netanayu in 2017 as part of a plea deal in which Harow confessed to fraud and breach of trust.
    Mozes’s lawyers denied wrongdoing in a written statement and called prosecutors allegations of bribery an “erroneous and warped interpretation” of the recordings.
‘THEY WERE AFTER ME’
    The most serious case against Netanyahu, Case 4000, did not start with the prime minister. In 2017, Israel’s Securities Authority (ISA) was investigating Shaul Elovitch, the chairman of the country’s biggest telecommunications firm, Bezeq Israel Telecom.    ISA was investigating whether he had illegally profited from a 2015 deal in which Bezeq bought out his remaining shares in a satellite TV company.
    Netanyahu, who at the time also served as Communications Minister, was not a suspect.
    One of the key figures in the probe – Shlomo Filber, director-general of the communications ministry – was picked for the government job by Netanyahu soon after he took over the communications ministry.    The source said the investigation revealed a secret backchannel between Bezeq and Filbur, who in 2018 would agree to provide evidence against Netanyahu.
    Investigators later found evidence pointing to the prime minister’s involvement in regulatory moves that prosecutors allege provided a benefit worth about 1.8 billion Shekels ($500 million) to Bezeq.    The company has denied wrongdoing.
    Bezeq controlled a popular news website called Walla. The indictment alleges that Netanyahu made the regulatory concessions in return for better coverage of him and his family.    It describes a dinner in which Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, hosted Elovitch and his wife, Iris, a few weeks before Israel’s 2013 election.
    “The defendants agreed that Netanyahu and his wife will be able to make demands on Mr. and Mrs. Elovitch concerning their media coverage,” the indictment said.
    The Netanyahus allegedly made hundreds of demands over the next few years for Walla to change headlines, remove negative reports about them and increase exposure of positive ones.
    The Elovitches have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice.    Shaul Elovitch has also been charged money laundering.    The couple denies any wrongdoing.
    The indictment cited a striking example of Netanyahu’s influence on the news involving a rare interview he gave Walla, days before a 2015 election.
    “Netanyahu was very angry about the questions,” Dov Gilhar, the journalist who interviewed him, told Israel’s public broadcaster Kan in March.    After the interview, “Netanyahu ripped the neck-mic off, threw it on the floor, says nothing, gets up, walks into his office and slams the door.”
    Gilhar told Kan that he had expected the exclusive interview to be published quickly, but two days passed before a chopped-down version ran after being edited without the journalist’s involvement.
    The indictment alleges the edits were dictated by Netanyahu and Nir Hefetz, the media advisor to the prime minister’s family at the time and his former official spokesman.    Hefetz turned state witness in 2018. Netanyahu has been charged with bribery in this case, as well as fraud and breach of trust.
    Netanyahu said on Thursday that quid pro quo relations between politicians and the media were common, but he was being singled out.
    “They weren’t after the truth,” Netanyahu said of police and prosecutors.    “They were after me.”
    Attorney General Mandelblit has rejected Netanyahu’s accusations.    A source close to Mandelblit described him as “very fond of Netanyahu.”
    “But at the end of the day there’s no room for sentiment,” the source said.    “Either the evidence tells the story or it doesn’t.”
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Brian Thevenot)

11/23/2019 On Iraq visit, Pence reassures Kurds and discusses protests with prime minister by Jeff Mason
FILE PHOTO - U.S. Vice President Mike Pence walks past training facility with a border wall during a visit the U.S. Customs
and Border Protection Advanced Training Facility in Harpers Ferry, West Virginia, U.S., March 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – Vice President Mike Pence visited Iraq on Saturday to reassure Iraqi Kurds of U.S. support after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw troops from northern Syria drew criticism that Washington had betrayed its Kurdish allies there.
    His trip included a visit with Nechirvan Barzani, the president of the Kurdistan region in Iraq, and also a phone call with Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to discuss the unrest and protests over corruption that have rocked the country.
    The visit also served to bolster U.S. troops ahead of next Thursday’s Thanksgiving holiday in the United States.
    Pence made two stops during his short trip, which was previously unannounced for security reasons.    Traveling on a military cargo plane, he landed first at Al Asad Air Base northwest of Baghdad and talked by phone with Abdul Mahdi.
    “We spoke about the unrest that’s been taking place in recent weeks here in Iraq,” Pence told reporters.    “He assured me that they were working to avoid violence or the kind of oppression we see taking place even as we speak in Iran.”
    “He pledged to me that they would work to protect and respect peaceful protesters as … part of the democratic process here in Iraq.”
    Hundreds have been killed since early October when mass protests began in Baghdad and southern Iraq. Protesters want to dislodge a political class they view as corrupt and beholden to foreign powers at the expense of Iraqis who suffer from poverty and poor healthcare.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday the United States was prepared to impose sanctions on any Iraqi officials found to be corrupt as well as those responsible for the deaths and wounding of peaceful protesters.
    The trip gave the Trump administration a chance to show it is working on foreign policy even as impeachment hearings led by Democrats consume Washington.
    Pence said he reiterated Trump’s commitment to an independent and sovereign Iraq.    “We continue to be concerned about the malign influence of Iran across Iraq,” he said.
SUPPORT FOR KURDS
    The vice president went on to Erbil in the semi-autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, seeking to show U.S. appreciation for Kurdish sacrifices and affirm a message of U.S. support and partnership with Kurdish fighters.
    Pence told Barzani at the beginning of their meeting at Erbil airport that he wanted on Trump’s behalf to “reiterate the strong bonds forged in the fires of war between the people of the United States and the Kurdish people across this region.”
    Last month Turkey launched an offensive into northeastern Syria after Trump’s abrupt decision to withdraw all 1,000 U.S. troops there.    Pence brokered a pause with Ankara to allow time for Kurdish fighters to withdraw.
    That truce aimed to mitigate the crisis sparked by Trump’s announcement, which U.S. Republican and Democratic lawmakers criticized as a betrayal of Kurdish allies aligned with Washington in the fight against Islamic State.
    Asked whether he had to smooth over any sense of betrayal from the Kurds, Pence said: “I don’t think there was any confusion now among the leadership here in the Kurdish region that President Trump’s commitment to our allies here in Iraq as well as to those in the Syrian Defense Forces, the Kurdish forces who fought alongside us, is unchanging.”
    Pence did not leave the White House’s frustration about the impeachment probe at home.    During remarks to U.S. troops at the Al Asad Air Base, he made mention of “partisan politics and endless investigations” back in Washington slowing down the ability to get troops the resources that they need.
    Pence and his wife, Karen, served a traditional Thanksgiving meal of turkey, cranberry sauce and other fixings to some 700 troops at the base, which Trump visited in a similar surprise trip last year.
    Pence, on his first trip to Iraq as vice president, did not to go Baghdad to meet the prime minister personally because of safety concerns related to the protests, a U.S. official said.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason and Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by John Davison and Jeff Mason; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Frances Kerry)

11/24/2019 Security forces kill nine in Iraq protests by Aref Mohammed
A masked protester throws a tire into fire during ongoing anti-government protests
in Basra, Iraq November 24, 2019. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Security forces opened fire on protesters in Baghdad and several cities in southern Iraq on Sunday, killing at least nine people and wounding dozens of others, police and medical sources said, the latest violence in weeks of unrest.
    Anti-government protests erupted in early October and have swollen into the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.    A Reuters tally of the dead as given by security and medical sources shows at least 339 people have been killed.
    Iraq’s state news agency quoted the health minister on Sunday as saying 111 people had been killed, including protesters and members from security forces, without breaking down the tally or elaborating over what period.    It was the first official figure issued by a government official since Oct. 25.
    A government report last month had said there were 157 deaths during the first week of October.    Protests paused after then and resumed on Oct. 25.
    Protesters are demanding the overthrow of a political class seen as corrupt and serving foreign powers while many Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs, healthcare or education.
    In Nassiriya, security forces used live ammunition and tear gas canisters to disperse protesters who had gathered overnight on three bridges.
    Police and health officials said three people were killed, and hospital sources said another person died later from bullets wounds to his head.
    More than 50 others were wounded, mainly by live bullets and tear gas canisters, in clashes in the city, they added.
    Three people were killed and around 90 wounded near the Gulf port of Umm Qasr near Basra when security forces used live fire to disperse protesters, police and medical sources said.
    The protesters had gathered to demand security forces open roads that authorities have blocked to try to prevent protesters from reaching the port’s entrance.
    Umm Qasr is Iraq’s largest commodities port, taking in grain, vegetable oils and sugar shipments that feed a country largely dependent on imported food.
    In Baghdad, two protesters were killed during overnight demonstrations in central al-Rasheed street when police used live fire to disperse protesters, police and medical sources said.
    Protests flared anew on Sunday on the street when security forces used live fire and tear gas to prevent protesters from trying to reach the road leading to the central bank. At least 15 protesters were wounded, police and medical sources said.
    Medical authorities evacuated infants and children from a hospital in central Nassiriya overnight after tear gas spread inside hospital courtyards, two hospital sources said.    Protests continued in the city on Sunday, with some government offices set on fire, sources said.
    In Basra, hundreds of protesters burned tyres and blocked some roads, preventing government employees from reaching offices, police said.
    Protesters set fire to a police vehicle in the city centre. At least 35 people were wounded by rubber bullets and tear gas canisters shot by security forces, said a Reuters reporter.
    Protests continued in other southern regions, including Diwaniya, Kut, Amara and Najaf and schools and offices were partially opened on Sunday.
    Security forces also wounded at least 24 people in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala overnight after opening fire on demonstrators to prevent them from reaching the local government headquarters, medical and security sources said.
(The story corrects headline and first paragraph to nine killed.)
(Reporting by Aref Mohammed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Mark Potter, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Frances Kerry)

11/24/2019 Netanyahu faces court, party challenges after indictment by Dan Williams
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the weekly cabinet meeting at the
Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, November 24, 2019. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s top court on Sunday dismissed a petition to order Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step aside after his indictment on corruption charges.
    The four-term conservative leader has pushed back against the indictment and also a challenge from within his ruling party by projecting business as usual, touring the country’s northern frontier and ramping up rhetoric about Iranian threats.
    Netanyahu’s indictment on Thursday came amid political disarray in Israel, after neither Netanyahu nor his main challenger, centrist Benny Gantz, secured a majority in parliament in elections in April and September.
    Netanyahu has denied the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust and said he will stay in office and defend himself.
    Gideon Saar, a rival within the Likud party has challenged Netanyahu saying he would not be able to win another election and called on Likud to hold a leadership ballot.
    The Movement for Quality Government in Israel, which petitioned for Netanyahu to step aside, said in its filing to the Supreme Court that the first criminal charges against a sitting prime minister constituted “the crossing of a red line and a grave blow to public trust in ruling institutions.”
    The court, however, dismissed the petition to force Netanyahu to resign or temporarily recuse himself from office.    It said the watchdog had not yet exhausted other avenues, such as petitioning Netanyahu directly and Israel’s attorney general.
    For his part, Netanyahu kept his focus on security and toured the Golan Heights with top military brass.
    “I am doing everything needed to carry out government work, cabinet work … in all necessary ways, to ensure the security of the citizens of Israel and the things that are crucial for Israel,” he said in a video statement.
    He reiterated concerns over Iran’s attempt to entrench itself militarily in a number of Middle East countries and said Israel “will act to prevent Iran’s attempt to make Iraq and Yemen bases for rocket and missile launches against Israel.”
    But Israeli news coverage remained focused on the political challenge. Commentators said other court petitions could follow.
    Gantz’s mandate to form a government – after an unsuccessful attempt by Netanyahu to do so – expired on Wednesday.    The next day, Israel’s president declared a three-week period in which lawmakers can nominate one of their own to try to put together a ruling coalition.
    Should that fail, a new election – Israel’s third in a year – will be triggered.
    Netanyahu’s hope of securing that parliamentary nomination was challenged by Saar.
    “There is only one way in which we can save the country, extricate it from the crisis and ensure the Likud’s continued rule – and that is if we go to snap primaries today, within these 21 days,” Saar told Israel’s Channel 12 television.
    A less adversarial proposal was launched by a second Likud lawmaker, Nir Barkat, who called for nominating a deputy to Netanyahu who would take his place should he be forced to take a leave of absence.
    The head of Likud’s central committee, Haim Katz, said he would meet with Netanyahu to decide on the two proposals.     Saar has previously said he would consider running for the top Likud slot.
    While voicing appreciation for Netanyahu’s record-long term and noting he was innocent until proven otherwise, Saar criticized the premier’s attempts to cast his criminal prosecution as a “coup attempt” involving police, prosecutors and the media.
    “Not only is it wrong to say that, it’s also irresponsible to say that.    It’s completely out of touch,” Saar said.
    The Likud party spokesman dismissed the challenge.
    “It is sad to see that while Prime Minister Netanyahu keeps Israel safe on all fronts and works to preserve Likud rule, Gideon Saar, as is his wont, is displaying zero loyalty and maximum subversion,” the spokesman said.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Frances Kerry/Jane Merriman)

11/25/2019 Lebanese protesters clash with supporters of Hezbollah, Amal in downtown Beirut
Lebanese army soldiers and riot police are deployed after clashes broke out between anti-government demonstrators and
supporters of the Shi'ite movements Hezbollah and Amal in Beirut, Lebanon, November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Clashes broke out between anti-government demonstrators and supporters of the Shi’ite movements Hezbollah and Amal in the Lebanese capital, Beirut, early on Monday, live footage on Lebanese television channels showed, as tensions escalated when demonstrators blocked a main bridge downtown.
    Protesters initially began to scuffle and their numbers quickly rose, footage on social media showed.
    Army soldiers and riot police formed a barrier between the dozens of protesters on opposite sides of the Ring bridge as they threw rocks at each other across the street.
(Reporting by Issam Abdullah, Laila Bassam and Nadine Awadalla in Beirut; Additional reporting by Nayera Abdullah in Cairo; Editing by Peter Cooney)

11/25/2019 Turkey to test Russian S-400 systems despite U.S. pressure: media
FILE PHOTO: 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/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish F-16 warplanes will fly over the country’s capital Ankara on Monday to test its new Russian S-400 missile defenses, Turkish media said, despite pressure from Washington for Turkey to drop the system.
    Ankara’s purchase of the S-400s has been a major factor souring relations with the United States, which says the system is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 stealth fighter jets.
    The provincial governor’s office announced on Sunday that the Turkish Air Force F-16s and other aircraft will conduct low- and high-altitude flights over Ankara on Monday and Tuesday to test an air defense system project.
    Broadcaster CNN Turk and other media said specifically that the flights were to test the S-400 radar system. Ankara began receiving the S-400s last July but they are not yet operational.
    Dealers said the reports had a negative impact on the lira, which weakened to 5.7380 against the dollar from a close of 5.7140 on Friday.    Tensions in U.S.-Turkish relations played a major role in a near 30% slide in the lira’s value last year.
    As recently as last Thursday, a senior State Department official told reporters Turkey needed to “get rid of” the system. Those comments came after President Tayyip Erdogan met U.S. President Donald Trump at the White House.
    Trump said their talks were “wonderful” but it was unclear if the two NATO allies made any breakthrough on the S-400 issue and Erdogan subsequently said U.S. pressure to get rid of the S-400s was an infringement of sovereign rights.
    Washington has suspended Turkey from the F-35 program, which it was a buyer and producer of, to punish it for the S-400 purchase.    It has warned of possible U.S. sanctions over the deal but has not yet imposed them.
    Trump has told Erdogan the United States is ready to sell Ankara U.S. Patriot systems if it drops the Russian system.
(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

11/25/2019 Clashes, gunfire in Lebanon in second night of violence: state news agency
FILE PHOTO: Police officers stand guard during ongoing anti-government protests
in Beirut, Lebanon November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Clashes between supporters of Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Saad al-Hariri, and Shi’ite groups Hezbollah and Amal erupted into gunfire in Beirut late on Monday, state news agency NNA reported.
    The clashes marked the second consecutive night of violence linked to Lebanon’s political crisis, threatening to tip largely peaceful demonstrations directed at the country’s ruling elite in a more bloody direction.
    A video posted by Lebanese broadcaster LBCI showed heavy gunfire around Cola bridge in Beirut.    The source of the gunfire was not immediately clear.    No injuries were reported.
    In the southern town of Tyre, supporters of Hezbollah and Amal tore up protest tents and set them on fire, prompting security forces to intervene and fire into the air, according to Lebanese media.
    The protests that have swept Lebanon since Oct. 17 are fueled by deep resentment for a ruling class seen as mired in corruption and having driven the economy into crisis.
    Supporters of Amal and the heavily armed Hezbollah have occasionally sought to break up the demonstrations and clear roads cut off by protesters.    They destroyed a main protest camp in central Beirut last month.
    The groups were influential in the coalition government led by Hariri, who quit on Oct. 29 after the protests began.    They had opposed Hariri’s resignation.
    In a statement, Hariri’s Future Movement warned its supporters to refrain from protesting and stay away from large gatherings to “avoid being dragged into any provocation intended to ignite strife.”
    Groups of men on motorcycles, some waving Amal and Hezbollah flags, were seen roving streets in Beirut and Tyre, according to witnesses and videos broadcasted on Lebanese media.
    Adding to tensions, two people were killed when their car slammed into a traffic barrier on a coastal road on Monday, sparking criticism from Hezbollah and others of protesters that have cut roads as a primary tactic to keep up pressure.
    Lebanon is facing the worst economic strains since its 1975-1990 civil war.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Ayat Basma, Alaa Kanan and Eric Knecht; Editing by Peter Cooney)

11/25/2019 Arab League formally rejects U.S. policy shift on Israeli settlements
FILE PHOTO: Secretary General of the Arab League Ahmed Aboul Gheit attends the Arab Foreign Ministers extraordinary
meeting to discuss the Syrian crisis in Cairo, Egypt October 12, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The Arab League on Monday formally rejected a decision by the United States to no longer consider settlements in Israeli-occupied territory illegal, saying the move was a threat to peace and a flagrant violation of international law.
    Meeting in a special session in Cairo, the Arab League said it considered the U.S. position legally null and void and showed “unprecedented disdain for the international system,” according to Egyptian state news agency MENA.
    The Nov. 18 announcement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reversed a stand taken under President Jimmy Carter in 1978.    Palestinians and Arab leaders criticized the Trump administration’s move as the latest in a succession of pro-Israeli initiatives that were damaging to peace efforts.
    “On which basis would the Palestinians negotiate with the Israelis if this occupation does not exist?”    Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Monday.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Hesham Abdul Halek; Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Grant McCool)

11/26/2019 Turkey says it made no promises about not installing Russian S-400s: Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: 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 has given no promises to anyone about not installing or using Russian S-400 missile defense systems, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was cited as saying by state media on Tuesday, despite a row with the United States over the systems.
    Washington has told Ankara that the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and has warned its NATO ally that it will face U.S. sanctions unless it drops the Russian systems.    It also removed Turkey from the F-35 jet programme, where Ankara was a buyer and manufacturer, in response to the Russian deal.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

11/26/2019 Russia hopes to agree new S-400 missile deal with Turkey next year by Anton Kolodyazhnyy and Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: A new S-400 "Triumph" surface-to-air missile system after its deployment at a military base outside
the town of Gvardeysk near Kaliningrad, Russia March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Vitaly Nevar/File Photo
    MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia hopes to seal a deal to supply Turkey with more S-400 missile systems in the first half of next year, the head of Russian state arms exporter Rosoboronexport, Alexander Mikheev, said in an interview with RIA news agency published on Tuesday.
    Such a move could further sour ties between Turkey and the United States, which has suspended Ankara from the F-35 stealth fighter jet programme, in which it was a producer and buyer, to punish it for buying S-400 batteries earlier this year.
    Washington has also warned of possible U.S. sanctions, saying the missiles are not compatible with NATO defenses, but has not yet imposed them.    A senior U.S. State Department official said last week that Turkey needed to get rid of the S-400s it had already bought to mend fences.
    But Mikheev said in an interview with RIA that Moscow and Ankara were actively discussing Ankara taking up an option that was part of the original contract for it to take delivery of more S-400 systems with talks focused on financial questions.
    “We hope that in the first half of 2020 we will sign the contract documents,” RIA cited Mikheev as saying. “But I want to stress that military technical cooperation with Turkey is not limited to the supply of the S-400s.    We have big plans ahead.”
    As Mikheev’s comments emerged, President Tayyip Erdogan was cited on Tuesday as saying Turkish and U.S. officials would conduct efforts until April to sort out the dispute between the NATO allies over the S-400s.
    “There is a process that is ongoing until April.    Our defense and foreign ministers will carry out these efforts.    We need to see where we get with these efforts,” broadcaster NTV reported him as saying when asked how they would resolve the row.
    After the delivery of S-400 parts to Turkey began in July, Erdogan said that the system would be fully deployed by April 2020.
ISSUE “RELATED TO NATO
    At a meeting in the White House earlier this month, Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed to ask their respective ministers and national security advisers to work on resolving the S-400 issue.
    “This is an issue that is related to NATO.    There is nothing about using or not using them,” Erdogan told reporters on a flight to Turkey from Qatar on Monday.    “There are steps that need to be taken within NATO rules.    Our colleagues will do the work.”
    Erdogan is set to attend a summit of NATO heads of state and government in London on Dec. 3-4.
    Turkish media said on Monday F-16 warplanes would fly over the country’s capital Ankara to test the S-400 system, but Turkish officials have not confirmed that such tests took place.
    In the interview published on Tuesday, Rosoboronexport’s Mikheev said the new S-400 deal option, if signed, would cover a new regiment of the defense systems and that some of the components would be produced in Turkey.
    He said it was premature to talk about which components would be made in Turkey however and in what quantities.
    Mikheev was cited as saying that efforts by the United States to stop other countries buying Russian military hardware had not been as effective as Washington hoped.
    “You can see how confident India, China, Turkey and other countries are on the international stage,” he said.
    “Many are openly outraged by U.S. sanctions policy, which is trying to prevent them from developing their own armed forces and technical military cooperation with Russia,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Andrew Osborn and Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Philippa Fletcher)

11/26/2019 Turkey orders 168 detained over suspected links to wanted cleric
FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in
Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities on Tuesday ordered the detention of 168 people, including military personnel, with suspected links to the network that Ankara says orchestrated a 2016 coup attempt.
    Ankara has cracked down on suspected followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, since the coup attempt in which some 250 people were killed. Operations against the network are still routine.
    Istanbul prosecutor’s office said it ordered the detention of two civilians and 52 military personnel, including two retired colonels, a lieutenant colonel on active duty and two former majors who had already been expelled from the military.    More than half of them were detained by early Tuesday.
    Istanbul police said they had detained 15 of the 27 people for whom the prosecutors issued warrants in a separate investigation, over the suspects’ use of ByLock, an encrypted messaging app used by Gulen’s network.
    In the central province of Konya, state-owned Anadolu news agency said prosecutors issued detention warrants for 50 people.    Anadolu also said that 36 soldiers were ordered detained by Ankara prosecutors, in addition to one civilian.
    Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.    He has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
    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 Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

11/26/2019 Erdogan calls on Turks to dump foreign currencies and embrace lira
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at
the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 19, 2019. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday called on Turks to “leave the dollar” and convert their foreign currencies to Turkish lira in order to boost the currency and show patriotism.
    “Leave the dollar and the rest.    Let’s turn to our money, the Turkish lira.    The Turkish lira doesn’t lose value anymore.    Let’s show our patriotism like this,” Erdogan told members of his AK Party in parliament.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

11/26/2019 Pompeo: Turkey’s test of Russian weapons system ‘concerning’
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Turkey carrying out tests with the Russian defense system it purchased was “concerning,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Tuesday, but added that talks between Washington and Ankara to resolve the issue were still underway.
    Speaking at a news conference, Pompeo said the United States has made it clear to Turkey that Washington wants to see Ankara move away from full operation of the S400 air defense system.
    “Yes it is concerning,” Pompeo said, when he was asked about the reports that Turkish F-16 warplanes flew over the country’s capital Ankara on Monday to test its new Russian S-400 missile system.
    “We are hopeful.    We are still talking to the Turks, still trying to figure out our way through this thing,” he said.
    Ankara and Washington have been at loggerheads over Turkey’s purchase of the S-400 system, which Washington says is not compatible with NATO defenses and poses a threat to its F-35 stealth fighter jets, which Lockheed Martin is developing.
    U.S. President Donald Trump hosted his Turkish counterpart, Tayyip Erdogan, at the White House earlier this month for a meeting, which Trump described as “wonderful.”    However, it was not clear if the two NATO allies made any breakthrough on the S-400 impasse.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis; Writing by Susan Heavey; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

11/26/2019 Exclusive: Turkey holds up NATO military plans over Syria dispute – sources by Robin Emmott
A Turkish flag flies next to NATO logo at the Alliance headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium, November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Turkey is refusing to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until the alliance offers Ankara more political support for its fight against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria, four senior alliance sources said.
    Ankara has told its NATO envoy not to sign off on the plan and is taking a tough line in meetings and in private conversations, demanding the alliance recognize the YPG as terrorists in the formal wording, the sources said.
    Turkey’s NATO delegation was not immediately available for comment.    Turkey’s defense and foreign ministries did not respond to requests for comment.
    The dispute, before NATO holds its 70th anniversary summit in London next week, is a sign of divisions between Ankara and Washington over Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria against the YPG militia, which it regards as terrorists with links to Kurdish militants on Turkish soil.
    NATO envoys are seeking formal approval by all 29 member states for the military plan to defend Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia in the event of a Russian attack.
    Without Turkey’s approval, it could be harder for NATO to step up its defenses in the Baltics and Poland quickly.
    “They (the Turks) are taking eastern Europeans hostage, blocking approval of this military planning until they get concessions,” one of the diplomatic sources told Reuters.
    A second source called Turkey’s behavior “disruptive” as NATO tries to show it is united after U.S. President Donald Trump voiced scepticism about the alliance and French President Emmanuel Macron suggested it was experiencing “brain death
    Asked about the issue, NATO’s spokeswoman Oana Lungescu said: “NATO has plans for defending all allies.    NATO’s commitment to the safety and security of all allies is unwavering.”
    Turkey began its offensive in northern Syria after the United States pulled 1,000 troops out of the area last month.    Ankara’s NATO allies fear the incursion will undermine the battle against Islamic State militants.
COLLECTIVE DEFENCE
    The plan for the Baltic states and Poland, drawn up at their request after Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014, has no direct bearing on Turkey’s strategy in Syria, but it raises issues about security on all of NATO’s frontiers.
    Under the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation’s 1949 founding treaty, an attack on one ally is an attack on all, and the alliance has military strategies for collective defense across its territory.
    Turkey made its demands before its offensive in northern Syria but the issue has come to a head because of next week’s summit, at which security documents are to be approved.
    NATO envoys still hope for a compromise because Ankara also needs leaders to approve a separate, upgraded military plan detailing how NATO would defend Turkey in the event of an attack, two of the diplomatic sources said.
    Macron, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will meet on the summit’s margins to discuss Ankara’s Syria operation.
    “Everyone is criticizing them (the Turks), but if they give in, it will be at the cost of non-interference in their Syria strategy,” one of the diplomatic sources said.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/26/2019 Former Erdogan ally says Turkey ‘in dark tunnel’, plans new party by year-end
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
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Former Turkish deputy prime minister Ali Babacan warned on Tuesday of the dangers of “one man rule” and said he hoped to have formed a new political party by the end of the year to challenge President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party Babacan resigned from the AK Party (AKP) in July, citing “deep differences.”    A founding member of the Islamist-rooted AKP, which has ruled Turkey since 2002, he served as economy and then foreign minister before becoming deputy prime minister, a role he held from 2009 to 2015.
    But following a failed military coup in 2016, Erdogan has presided over purges in the civil service, the judiciary, the military and academia that critics say undermine the rule of law and democratic freedoms.
    Erdogan also assumed new powers under a constitutional overhaul at the expense of parliament and the government.
    “We have seen that Turkey has entered a dark tunnel, with its problems on every issue growing by the day,” Babacan told broadcaster HaberTurk in his first live interview since resigning from the AKP.
    “Consequently we have begun our efforts to create a new party,” he said.
    Babacan largely refrained from directly criticizing Erdogan, but repeatedly said that a lack of democracy under “one-man rule” damaged the country.
    “There were important principles and values during the foundation of the AK Party, but there has been a significant departure from these principles.    This has become a national issue, and we felt a serious responsibility toward our country.”
    Babacan, along with Turkey’s former president Abdullah Gul, another AKP founder and onetime Erdogan ally, has long been rumored to be planning a rival party.
    Babacan said Gul would not be actively involved in the party, but was working as an adviser or “big.”
    Former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu also fell out with Erdogan in 2016 and criticized the AKP’s economic policy, but Babacan ruled out Davutoglu joining his new party.
    Turkey’s next elections are scheduled for 2023.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/26/2019 Top U.S. general arrives in Iraq amid protests, questions over Iran’s influence by Idrees Ali
FILE PHOTO: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley meets service members in front
of the USS Sirocco in Manama, Bahrain on November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Idrees Ali/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The top U.S. general, Mark Milley, arrived in Iraq on Tuesday amid a spate of anti-government protests in the Middle East and questions about how they could impact Iranian influence in the region.
    Anti-government protests in Iraq erupted in early October and have grown into the largest demonstrations since the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    Lebanon has faced five weeks of anti-government protests, fueled by anger at corruption among the sectarian politicians.
    As the governments in Iraq and Lebanon struggle with huge waves of popular protest, powerful factions loyal to Iran are pushing to quash political upheaval that challenges Tehran’s entrenched influence in both countries.
    Some experts believe that protests in the region, including those in Iran itself, could give the United States an opportunity to reduce Tehran’s regional influence.    But they warn they could hurt American interests as well.
    “Everybody looking at popular protests in the Middle East has to keep very much in mind that we rarely have an idea where these are going to go,” said Jon Alterman, a Middle East expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
    “It could displace a number of vital partners as it could displace the Iranians… Ultimately, I don’t think you can ever get the Iranians out of Iraq,” Alterman said.
    There are more than 5,000 U.S. troops in Iraq supporting local forces, though Iraq has rejected any long-term presence of additional U.S. forces that crossed its border during an American drawdown from northern Syria.
    There are also concerns Iran could lash out militarily against U.S. allies in the region to deflect from pressure being built up by protests within Iran.
    Iran’s clerical rulers have blamed “thugs” linked to exiles and foreign foes – the United States, Israel and Saudi Arabia – for stirring up unrest that has led to some of the worst violence in the country in a decade.
    U.S.-Iran tensions have risen after Sept. 14 strikes on Saudi oil facilities, following attacks on tankers in Gulf waters. Washington has blamed the attacks on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
    “Iran is aggressive in the region against their neighboring states, both overtly and covertly,” Army General Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters this week.
    “So will they continue to do that in the future?    I don’t know.    I would like to say no, but it is certainly possible that they will,” he added.
BURDEN SHARING
    Milley, who is in the Middle East for the first time since taking the chairman job in September, is meeting with allies in the region.    He met with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Monday.
    The United States has deployed about 3,000 additional military forces to Saudi Arabia in recent months to bolster Saudi defenses, including an air expeditionary wing and air defense personnel.
    U.S. and Saudi officials are negotiating burden-sharing arrangements for the American troops in the kingdom, officials said.    Riyadh could help pay for things like upgrades to a major air base, fuel and other logistics.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said last month that Saudi Arabia had agreed to help underwrite the deployment to the kingdom, something Trump has repeatedly called for.
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
[The Mullahs have cried wolf too many times now that the Iranian people have awaken to their lies and the Mullahs are too dumb to realize that and yes Donald Trump's policies are causing the Mullahs from selling their oil which is definitely affecting their economy and they better watch out or they will be overthrown by the very people who overthrew the Shah in the 1970's.].

11/26/2019 Thousands rally in support of Israel’s Netanyahu after graft indictment by Rami Amichai
Supporters of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu take part in a protest supporting Netanyahu after
he was charged in corruption cases, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Several thousand Israelis rallied on Tuesday in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he faces the gravest threat to his political survival after corruption charges and two failed elections.
    Held under the banner “Stop the Coup”, the protest failed to draw the huge crowds its organizers – members of Netanyahu’s Likud party – had hoped to attract and only a handful of the faction’s senior lawmakers and cabinet ministers attended.
    Netanyahu was charged on Thursday with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.    He denies wrongdoing in all three of the criminal cases and has cast the investigations against him as an attempted coup aimed at ousting a popular right-wing leader.
    Israeli media put the number of demonstrators at about 2,000 to 3,000 people while Likud said 15,000 attended the rally.
    “The legal establishment’s goal is to topple an elected prime minister,” said Ron Nahmani, 70, who had come to the protest.    Addressing the crowd, Likud lawmaker Miki Zohar said the justice system was playing a part in a leftist conspiracy.
    Netanyahu’s centrist rival Benny Gantz, who heads the Blue and White party said on Twitter: “In a healthy democracy, a prime minister does not organize a demonstration against the justice system.”
    Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who made the decision to charge Netanyahu, said that attacks on the legal system had gone too far.
    “I’m hearing threats.    I’m hearing baseless slander.    It’s shocking,” Mandelblit said at a judiciary conference in southern Israel.    Two of the lead prosecutors on the Netanyahu investigations have had to have bodyguards assigned to them, he said.
    Netanyahu, Israel’s longest serving leader and in power since 2009, presently heads a caretaker government after two inconclusive elections this year. He is not obliged by law to leave office over the charges and has vowed to stay in power.
    But the indictment against him, the first of a sitting Israeli premier, has prompted calls from the center-left opposition for him to step down, and has stirred up a leadership challenge from within his Likud party. [L8N2854II]
    Israel is facing unprecedented political turmoil after neither Netanyahu nor Gantz failed to form a coalition government following elections held in April and in September.    With the political deadlock unresolved, Israel could be facing a third ballot within a few months.
(Reporting by Rami Amichai in Tel Aviv; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/26/2019 ‘When will the bloodshed stop?’ – notes and prayers on Iraq’s Wall of Wishes
An Iraqi demonstrator pastes a note with his wish at a wall of wishes, during ongoing anti-government protests, at the building called
'the Turkish Restaurant Building', in Baghdad, Iraq November 25, 2019. Picture taken November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The small white post-it note was stuck to the wall amid thousands of other sticky squares, each bearing a wish, a comment or a prayer for the future of Iraq.
    “When will the bloodshed stop in my country?” someone had written in neat Arabic script.
    Just off Baghdad’s Tahrir Square, ground zero for a protest movement that remains unbowed despite the deaths of hundreds of demonstrators in a government crackdown, protesters have set up a “wall of wishes.”
    “I wrote: ‘I used to hate Iraq before October 25, now I’m proud of it’,” said Fatima Awad, 16, naming the date last month when protesters first tried to storm the Green Zone of government buildings on the opposite side of the bridge across the Tigris that leads from the square.
    “Before, we did not have a future, and no one would protest because everyone was scared.    Now, we’re all gathered at Tahrir Square,” she said.
    The anti-government protesters accuse the government of corruption and squandering the national wealth.    At least 339 people have been killed since the demonstrations began in October.    Most of the victims have been unarmed protesters shot with live ammunition.
    A note on the wall says simply: “We want the government to change.”    One note calls for the execution of a hated politician; in another, a young man says he wants to finish his sports college.
    Activists set up the wall at an abandoned public bathroom.    They now plan to compile the wishes in a book.
    “We formed a team with a group of youth and we worked with the spirit of one team, as active as bees in a beehive,” said Sattar Judeh, a writer who helped set up the wall.
    “It was the activity that the people liked the most and interacted with the most: the Wall of Wishes.”
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/26/2019 U.N. investigators eye 160 Islamic State militants over Yazidi massacres by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Displaced people from the minority Yazidi sect, fleeing violence from forces loyal to the
Islamic State in Sinjar town, walk towards the Syrian border on the outskirts of Sinjar mountain near the
Syrian border town of Elierbeh of Al-Hasakah Governorate in this August 11, 2014. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – United Nations investigators have so far identified 160 Islamic State militants accused of massacres of Yazidis in northern Iraq in 2014 and are building legal cases against them, the head of the team told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.
    The U.N. investigative team, created by the U.N. Security Council, started work a year ago to collect and preserve evidence for future prosecution of acts by Islamic State in Iraq that may be war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
    “In relation to the Yazidi community alone, the crimes that targeted them, we have identified over 160 perpetrators of massacres against the Yazidis … and we’re focusing our work to build solid cases hopefully in relation to each of those that may be presented to domestic courts,” said Karim Asad Ahmad Khan, head of the U.N. team.
    U.N. experts warned in June 2016 that Islamic State was committing genocide against the Yazidis in Syria and Iraq to destroy the minority religious community through killings, sexual slavery and other crimes.
    Islamic State militants consider the Yazidis to be devil-worshippers.    The Yazidi faith has elements of Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam.
    Nadia Murad, who won the 2018 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war, and human rights lawyer Amal Clooney played a key role in pushing for the U.N. investigative team.    Murad is a Yazidi woman who was enslaved and raped by Islamic State fighters in 2014.
    Islamic State overran the Yazidi faith’s heartland of Sinjar in northern Iraq in 2014, forcing young women into servitude as “wives” for its fighters and massacring men and older women.
    Yazidi survivor Kachi, whose full name was withheld to protect him, addressed the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday.
    “After shooting at us, ISIL members left to another place.    I found myself under a pile of dead bodies,” he told the council.    “When I opened my eyes I saw three of my brothers.    They were next to me.    They were dead.    So were my nephews and my cousins.”
    He said his wife and daughters were kidnapped and sold as slaves and that he had lost some 75 members of his family.
    “Five years have passed and I can still hear my wife and my daughters screaming when the members of ISIL kidnapped them.    I can also hear the voice of my daughter Lara, who was three months old when she passed away in captivity because of thirst and hunger,” Kachi said.
    He said the Yazidis now want justice.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Tom Brown)

11/26/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri says he does not want be PM
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a news
conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri said on Tuesday he did not want to be prime minister of a new government, putting the onus on adversaries including the Iran-backed group Hezbollah to find an alternative who can steer the country out of crisis.
    Hariri, who is Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician and is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, said his decision was final.    He quit on Oct. 29 in the face of nationwide protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite over rampant state corruption.
    His decision leaves no clear frontrunner to form a government that must tackle the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.    The post is reserved for a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.
    Five weeks since the protests began, the situation facing Lebanon is as grave as any since the end of the civil war, raising concerns for the stability of a heavily indebted state riven by sectarianism.
    Hezbollah and its allies had wanted Hariri to return as premier but rejected his demand for the formation of a cabinet of expert ministers with no political parties represented.    Instead, they sought a government comprising both technocrats and politicians.
    “I am sticking by the rule ‘not me, rather someone else’ to form a government that addresses the aspirations of the young men and women,” Hariri said in a written statement.
    “I have full hope and confidence, after announcing this clear and decisive decision, that the president of the republic … will immediately call the binding parliamentary consultations” to designate a new prime minister, he said.
    A prominent contractor mooted by political sources as a candidate, Samir Khatib, told Lebanese broadcaster MTV he was ready to take on the job if there was consensus on him.
    A statement from Hariri’s office denied that names it said were circulating on social media had been proposed by him and said he his choice would be determined when the formal process of designating the prime minister begins.
CONSULTATIONS
    President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian allied to Hezbollah, must now hold official consultations with members of parliament to designate a new prime minister.    The candidate with the greatest support will be nominated.
    A ministerial source close to Aoun said the next government would not be of “one colour” and efforts would be made with Hariri to agree on the next prime minister.
    Aoun’s consultations with lawmakers are expected to be held on Thursday or Friday, the source said.
    Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, a political ally of Hariri, said Hariri had taken the decision after attempts to impose “unacceptable conditions” on him.
    “He decided to leave the way for somebody else, which is good,” Jumblatt told Reuters.
    “The prime minister did his best to have an acceptable technocratic government, to find a compromise.    It was rejected, so he decided to quit.    Let’s hope that the new one can succeed and basically concentrate on the economic crisis,” he said.
    The long-brewing economic crisis, which is rooted in state corruption and waste, has been exacerbated by a shortage of hard currency that has led the pegged Lebanese pound to weaken sharply on the black market.
    The pound slid further on Tuesday with five foreign exchange dealers offering dollars at rates of between 2,100 and 2,130 pounds, or 41% weaker than the official rate of 1,507.5 pounds.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/26/2019 Saudi-led coalition says it freed 200 Houthi prisoners
FILE PHOTO: A Saudi soldier walks past an armored personnel carrier outside a hospital during the
delivery of Saudi medical aid in Aden, Yemen, November 6, 2019. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – A Saudi-led military coalition said on Tuesday it had freed 200 prisoners from the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in a step that could further efforts to end the nearly five-year war in Yemen.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross said it was aware of the coalition’s “intention to release 200 detainees.”
    “We are in contact with the parties in this regard. We are ready to facilitate the repatriation of these detainees,” spokeswoman Ruth Hetherington told Reuters.
    A coalition statement said it would also ease restrictions on Yemeni airspace to allow flights out of the Houthi-held capital Sanaa, helping evacuate people requiring medical treatment abroad.
    Senior Houthi official Mohammed Ali al-Houthi welcomed the coalition’s move and called for the rest of its prisoners to be released.
    The Sunni Muslim alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the Houthis after they ousted the internationally recognized government from power in Sanaa in late 2014.
    Saudi Arabia has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September on a ceasefire, sources have said, seeking to exit an unpopular war in which it has taken sole responsibility for military efforts after the exit of its main coalition partner, the United Arab Emirates.
    “The coalition leadership is keen to continue supporting efforts to resolve the crisis in Yemen and to push forward the Stockholm agreement, including the deal related to the exchange of prisoners,” spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki said.
    He was referring to a prisoner swap agreed by Yemen’s Saudi-backed government and the Houthis last December at peace talks in Sweden that involves thousands of detainees, but which has stalled amid deep mistrust between the warring sides.
    The Houthis had in September unilaterally released 350 prisoners, including three Saudis, after extending an offer to halt cross-border missile and drone strikes on Saudi Arabia if the coalition ended air strikes on Yemen.
    The United Nations is trying to restart political negotiations to end the war, which has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Asma Alsharif and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Stephen Kalin; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/26/2019 Erdogan says Turkey aims to have its own fighter jet in 5-6 years
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses lawmakers from his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the
parliament in Ankara, Turkey, November 26, 2019. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to have its local-made fighter jet ready for flight in the next five to six years, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, amid an ongoing dispute with the United States over the purchase of F-35 jets.
    Erdogan also said Turkey would invest in a facility that would allow the charging and filling of the detonators produced by F-16s and armed unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones.
(Reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)
[Like I have said Erdogan is a rogue of NATO and will do what Muslims do and he is obviously developing into the King of the South status and is in definite connections with the King of the North as Putin has got his teeth into Syria as biblical prophecy develops and Trump has got the United States out of that issue as it grows into Ezekiel's prophecy.].

11/27/2019 Eastern Libyan forces regain control of El Feel oilfield: LNA by Ayman al-Warfalli
FILE PHOTO: A view shows El Feel oil field near Murzuq, Libya, July 6, 2017. REUTERS/Aidan Lewis/File Photo
    BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Eastern Libyan forces said on Wednesday they had driven armed groups from Libya’s 70,000-barrel-per-day (bpd) El Feel Oil Field, where production was halted after a rival group took control of it.
    The National Oil Corporation said earlier on Wednesday that air strikes had halted production at El Feel as eastern-based forces retaliated after forces aligned to the internationally recognized government in Tripoli took control of the field.
    The Libyan National Army (LNA) drove out the rival group and was securing the field, its spokesman, Ahmed Mismari, said on his Facebook page.
    The fighting reignited a conflict for control of large oilfields in southwestern Libya between competing military alliances that are also battling on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli.
    “There have been air strikes at the gates of the El Feel oilfield and inside a housing compound at the field used by NOC personnel,” NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said in a statement.
    “Production will remain shuttered until military activity ceases and all military personnel withdraw from NOC’s area of operations.”
    The LNA, led by Khalifa Haftar, said its jets had launched air strikes “at the perimeter of El Feel oilfield targeting the positions of armed groups that attacked the field.”
    Some members of the forces aligned with the Tripoli-based government posted videos or photos on social media appearing to show them at the field.
    Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in Tripoli and the east.    Haftar controls most of Libya’s oil fields and facilities but oil revenues are controlled by the central bank in Tripoli.
    The country’s oil production has been repeatedly disrupted in recent years by conflict and blockades but is currently relatively stable at about 1.25 million bpd.
    El Feel is operated by Mellitah Oil and Gas, a joint venture between the NOC and Italy’s Eni.    An engineer at the field said production was 70,000 bpd before the stoppage.
    Haftar’s forces have controlled El Feel and the nearby El Sharara oilfield, Libya’s largest, since February, when they swept through the south before launching an offensive on Tripoli in April.
    The campaign for Tripoli quickly stalled, though fighting between rival forces continues on the outskirts of the capital.
(Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Aidan Lewis and Yousef Saba; Editing by David Clarke, Kevin Liffey, Kirsten Donovan)

11/27/2019 Fears of violence grow as Lebanese crisis deepens by Tom Perry and Ahmed Fahmy
Men walk near broken glass from a damaged Bankmed branch in Tripoli, Lebanon November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The crisis sweeping Lebanon has taken a violent turn this week with three nights of skirmishes that have prompted warnings of bloodshed and revived memories of the 1975-90 civil war.
    Trouble flared in several areas of Lebanon on Tuesday night, including the Beirut district of Ain el-Remmaneh, where the civil war began.    The army deployed to prevent a confrontation between supporters of rival Christian and Shi’ite Muslim groups.
    A senior Shi’ite cleric warned on Wednesday the street could spin out of control and push “our nation into a slide towards anarchy.”    Sheikh Ali al-Khatib urged politicians to “remedy the situation and contain the deterioration.”
    Lebanon has been sinking deeper into turmoil since protests erupted against its ruling elite on Oct. 17, fueled by anger at corruption that has led to the worst economic crisis in decades.
    The economic crisis, which was long in the making, has now come to a head: dollars are scarce, the pegged Lebanese pound has slumped by more than 40%, and controls imposed by banks are preventing depositors from withdrawing their savings.
    In parallel, a political crisis has left Lebanon without a government since Sunni Muslim politician Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, bringing down a coalition that included the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    Though violence has been rare since the protests began, this week’s incidents included assaults by supporters of Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal on demonstrators in Beirut and the city of Tyre, where a protest camp set was set on fire.
    Tuesday’s incident in Beirut began when a three-year-old video showing men insulting Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah began to circulate on social media, according to a security source.
    Believing the men in the video to be supporters of the Christian Lebanese Forces party from Ain el-Remmaneh, a group of from the neighboring Shi’ite district of Chiyah took to the streets.    The army deployed as rocks began to fly.
    With tension among party supporters running high, the security source warned that “playing with the street is very dangerous.”    “All the while the political matters are not being resolved, the security pressures are getting more dangerous.”
    Ali, the owner of a cafe on a road between Chiyah and Ain el-Remmeneh, said the situation had been “unbelievably tense.”
    “The situation in the country is not okay and things like this should not be allowed to happen, because our country cannot bear it.    As a Shi’ite, I cannot accept that the Shi’ite side does this to the Christian side, and I cannot accept the Christian side does this to the Shi’ite side.”
    The area was a front line of the civil war which began as a conflict between Lebanese Christian groups on the one hand and Palestinian, Lebanese leftist and Sunni Muslim groups on the other, and fractured Lebanon into sectarian enclaves.
DANGER OF ARMED CLASHES
    Jamileh al Jaroush, in her 50s, who lives on the street dividing Chiyah from Ain el-Remmaneh, said she had been praying for God to calm the situation.    “Those who did not witness the previous civil war don’t know the meaning of war … it is impossible to repeat it.”
    There was also trouble in the Christian town of Bikfaya when supporters of President Michel Aoun, a Maronite Christian and Hezbollah ally, tried to drive a convoy through the area, a political bastion of the Kataeb party which opposes Hezbollah.
    As people sought to block the road to prevent the Aoun supporters from passing, the army tried to open it, the security source said.    A few people were lightly injured in clashes with sticks and stones.
    There were also disturbances in the mainly Sunni Muslim city of Tripoli, where an office belonging to the political party founded by Aoun was attacked, along with a bank ATM. A hand grenade was thrown but did not explode, the source said.
    The incidents have taken the crisis into a more dangerous phase, said Nabil Boumonsef, a columnist at an-Nahar newspaper.    While the number of casualties had so far been limited, the violence would become harder to contain.
    “If there is not a quick, political containment of the crisis, we are facing the danger of armed clashes,” he said.
    He noted that while only Hezbollah has heavy weaponry, light arms are widely dispersed throughout Lebanon.    “When you find problems of this type, you will find that weapons will spread in five seconds into the hands of everyone,” he said.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/27/2019 Saudi crown prince invites UAE to Riyadh G20 summit: state TV
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia
November 20, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on Wednesday invited the UAE to attend the G20 summit in Riyadh in November 2020, according to state TV.
    Saudi Arabia will host the 15th annual G20 Leaders’ Summit on Nov. 21 and 22, 2020 in its capital Riyadh.
    Representing more than 80% of the global GDP, the G20 has made continuous efforts toward achieving robust economic growth worldwide.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam; Editing by Tom Brown)

11/27/2019 Iraq protesters torch Iran consulate in Najaf, curfew imposed by John Davison and Ahmed Aboulenein
An Iraqi demonstrator wears a mask during ongoing anti-government protests
in Baghdad, Iraq November 27, 2019. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi protesters stormed the Iranian consulate in the southern city of Najaf and set fire to the building on Wednesday bringing a new level of violence to demonstrations aimed at the downfall of a government backed by Tehran.
    It was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators, who have taken to the streets for weeks in Baghdad and the Shi’ite Muslim-majority south – and have been gunned down in their hundreds by Iraqi security forces.
    Staff at the consulate had evacuated shortly before demonstrators broke in, police and civil defense first responders said.    There were no immediate reports of casualties.
    Local authorities imposed a curfew following the incident, state media reported.
    The protests that began in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and have spread through southern cities are the most complex challenge facing the Shi’ite-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein.
    Young, mostly Shi’ite protesters say politicians are corrupt, beholden to foreign powers – especially Iran – and blame them for a failure to recover from years of conflict despite relative calm since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
    Protesters blocked roads with burning tyres in southern Iraq and clashed with police in Baghdad earlier on Wednesday, aiming to use economic disruption as leverage to push the government from power and root out state corruption.
    Security forces shot dead two people in Kerbala, near Najaf, overnight and two in Baghdad on Wednesday, while a fifth person died when security forces opened fire during protests in the southern oil capital of Basra.
    Demonstrators prevented government employees getting to work in Basra by installing concrete barriers painted as mock-up coffins of relatives killed in weeks of unrest, a Reuters witness said.
    Authorities have warned against exploitation of the unrest by armed groups, especially should protest-related violence spread to northern Iraq, where IS militants are waging an insurgency.
    The Sunni extremist group on Thursday claimed three bomb blasts in Baghdad overnight which killed at least six people, although they provided no evidence for the claim.
    Government reform has amounted to little more than a handful of state jobs for graduates, stipends for the poor and pledges of election reform which lawmakers have barely begun to discuss.
    “First we were demanding reform and an end to corruption,” said Ali Nasser, an unemployed engineering graduate protesting in Basra.
    “But after the government started killing peaceful protesters we won’t leave before it’s been toppled together with the corrupt ruling class.”
SLOW, MEANINGLESS REFORM
    Alia, a 23-year-old medical student, said: “The reforms are just words.    We want actions.    We’ve had 16 years of words without actions.    We have been robbed for 16 years.”
    Security forces meanwhile shot dead more demonstrators.    In the holy city of Kerbala, south of Baghdad, they used live ammunition against protesters, killing two overnight. Two more were killed in clashes near Baghdad’s Ahrar Bridge on Wednesday.
    Near Basra one protester died of wounds from gunfire, police and medics said, bringing the toll since unrest broke out on Oct. 1 to 344 people dead nationwide.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi expressed concern over both the violence and the financial toll of unrest late on Tuesday, but mostly blamed unidentified saboteurs for the damage.
    “There have been martyrs among protesters and security forces, many wounded and arrested … we’re trying to identify mistakes” made by security forces in trying to put down the protests, he told a televised cabinet meeting.
    “The blocking of ports has cost billions of dollars.”
    Protesters have blocked traffic into Iraq’s main commodities port near Basra this month and tried to surround the Central Bank in Baghdad, apparently bent on causing economic disruption where calls for removal of the government have failed.
    The government is moving slowly in enacting any kind of change.    Promises of electoral reform and an early general election have yet to be ratified by parliament, and the political class has closed ranks in the face of a significant challenge to its grip on power.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Aboulenein, Thaier al-Sudani, Kawa Omar, Baghdad newsroom, Ali Hafthi in Hilla, Aref Mohammed in Basra Additional reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Editing by William Maclean and Hugh Lawson)

11/28/2019 Iraqi forces kill 16 protesters after Iranian consulate torched by John Davison
Iraqi demonstrators burn tires to block a street during ongoing anti-government
protests in Najaf, Iraq November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces shot dead 16 protesters in the southern city of Nassiriya on Thursday, medical sources said, and authorities imposed a curfew in Najaf after demonstrators burned its Iranian consulate.
    Authorities set up joint military-civilian “crisis cells” to try to stem unrest and a paramilitary commander vowed to use force to stop any attack against Shi’ite Muslim religious authorities.
    The torching of the consulate in Najaf, the southern holy city, escalated violence in Iraq after weeks of mass demonstrations that aim to bring down a government seen as corrupt and backed by Tehran.
    It was the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi demonstrators as the gulf widens between a largely Iran-aligned ruling elite and an increasingly desperate Iraqi majority with few opportunities and minimal state support.
    The inability of Iraq’s government and political class to deal with the unrest and answer protesters’ demands has fueled public anger.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has promised electoral and anti-corruption reform but barely begun delivering while security forces have shot dead hundreds of mostly peaceful demonstrators in the streets of Baghdad and southern cities.
    The protests, which began in Baghdad on Oct. 1 and have spread through southern cities, are the most complex challenge facing the Shi’ite-dominated ruling class that has controlled state institutions and patronage networks since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled long-time Sunni ruler Saddam Hussein.
    Young, mostly Shi’ite protesters say politicians are corrupt, beholden to foreign powers – especially Iran – and they blame them for a failure to recover from years of conflict despite relative calm since the defeat of Islamic State in 2017.
    Security forces opened fire on protesters who had gathered on a bridge in Nassiriya before dawn, medical sources said.    Sixteen were killed and dozens wounded, they said.
    A curfew was imposed in Najaf after protesters stormed and set fire to the Iranian consulate late on Wednesday.    Businesses and government offices remained closed in the city, state media reported.
    “The burning of the consulate last night was a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people – we don’t want the Iranians,” said Ali, a protester in Najaf.    “There will be revenge from Iran I’m sure, they’re still here and the security forces are going to keep shooting us.”
    A protester who witnessed the burning of the consulate said security forces had opened fire to try to stop it.
    “All the riot police in Najaf and the security forces started shooting at us, as if we were burning Iraq as a whole,” he said, declining to give his name.
‘INFILTRATORS AND SABOTEURS’
    The military commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary groups whose most powerful factions are close to Tehran, said the groups would use full force against anyone trying to attack Iraq’s most powerful Shi’ite cleric, who is based in Najaf.
    “We will cut the hand of anyone trying to get near (Grand Ayatollah Ali) al-Sistani,” commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said in a statement on the PMF website.
    Observers said the events in Najaf would likely bring a tough response, rather than pushing the government into enacting reforms.
    “Apart from casual statements … the government has not announced any plan (or) given any clear account of what measures it will take,” said Dhiaa al-Asadi, advisor to powerful populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr.    “Initiatives are going to be scarce.”
    Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, said the government might use the burning of the Iranian consulate as a pretext for an even more heavy-handed crackdown.
    “The downside from the protesters’ point of view is this might reinforce the government’s narrative that protesters are infiltrators, saboteurs and up to no good,” he said.
    “It sends a message to Iran but also works to the advantage of people like Muhandis … (giving) a pretext to clamp down and framing what happened as a threat against Sistani.”
    Sistani rarely speaks on political issues but traditionally wields enormous influence over public opinion, especially in Iraq’s southern Shi’ite heartland. He has used Friday sermons in recent weeks to urge the government to enact real reform and stop killing demonstrators.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against mostly unarmed protesters.    Some demonstrators have lobbed petrol bombs, bricks and fired slingshots at police.
    Authorities set up “crisis cells” in several provinces to try to restore order, a military statement said on Thursday.    They would be led by provincial governors but include military leaders who would take charge of local security forces.
    The violence has killed more than 350 people, according to police and medics.
(Reporting by John Davison, Alaa Marjani in Najaf, Baghdad newsroom; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

11/28/2019 Turkey and Libya sign deal on maritime zones in the Mediterranean
FILE PHOTO: Libya’s internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Serraj is seen during an interview
with Reuters at his office in Tripoli, Libya June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Ulf Laessing/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey and Libya’s internationally recognized government have signed an agreement on maritime boundaries in the Mediterranean Sea as well as a deal on expanded security and military cooperation, the Turkish government said on Thursday.
    There were no immediate details on the maritime accord, which could further complicate disputes over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean where Turkish drilling has angered Greek Cypriots, Athens and the European Union.
    EU foreign ministers agreed economic sanctions against Turkey two weeks ago to punish it for drilling off the coast of Cyprus in violation of a maritime economic zone established off the divided island.
    The dispute pits Turkey against several eastern Mediterranean states that have agreed maritime and economic zones with Greece and Cyprus, leaving Ankara searching for allies in the region.
    The new agreements were signed at a meeting in Istanbul on Wednesday between Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Fayez al-Serraj, the head of the Tripoli-based government which Ankara is backing against a rival military force based in eastern Libya.
    “The (security) agreement establishes training and education, structures the legal framework, and strengthens the ties between our militaries,” the Turkish presidency’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said in a tweet.
    “We will also continue advocating for a political solution to build a democratic, stable and prosperous Libya,” he said.
    Altun’s office said in a statement that the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on the “delimitation of maritime jurisdictions,” which aims to protect the two countries’ rights under international law.
    Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east.    Serraj’s government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.
    Haftar controls most of Libya’s oil fields and facilities but oil revenues are controlled by the central bank in Tripoli.    The competing military alliances are also battling on the outskirts of the capital.
    In June, Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) said they had cut all ties with Turkey and that all Turkish commercial flights or ship trying to access Libya would be treated as hostile.
    Diplomats say Ankara has supplied drones and trucks to Serraj, while the LNA received support from the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and David Clarke)

11/28/2019 Qatari foreign minister’s Saudi visit seen easing Gulf rift by Stephen Kalin and Dmitry Zhdannikov
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    RIYADH/LONDON (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister has made an unannounced visit to Riyadh, two sources told Reuters, amid signs that a 2-1/2-year rift among U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states could soon subside.
    Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani met with senior Saudi officials last month, said one of the sources familiar with the trip, the highest-level visit since May when Qatar’s prime minister attended an Arab summit in Mecca.
    It was unclear if the visit, first reported by the Wall Street Journal, included a face-to-face with de facto Saudi ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said the minister’s trip was “an important move that showed openness to some dialogue between the two sides.”
    “At the very least, I think the Saudis seem sincere in trying to figure out the path forward,” he told Reuters during a trip to Bahrain.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing terrorism.    Qatar denies the charge and accuses its neighbors of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.
    Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate the rift, which has undermined Washington’s efforts to confront Iran.
    “The United States and Kuwait are keen to have this resolved and help rebuild trust in the Gulf,” the first source said.
    The boycotting nations set 13 demands for lifting the boycott, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish military base, reducing ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
    When asked about the visit, a senior Qatari official said Doha has “welcomed each and every opportunity to resolve the ongoing blockade through open dialogue and mutual respect of each country’s sovereignty.”
    The Saudi government communications office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir told reporters last weekend Riyadh was still waiting for Doha to answer the demands.
    Saudi Arabia, whose reputation was damaged by last year’s murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, is trying to boost its global image as it takes over the presidency of the Group of 20 countries.
    Two Western officials told Reuters early efforts at internal reconciliation on Qatar seem to be underway.
    A soccer tournament in Qatar kicked off on Tuesday with teams from the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, in an apparent sign of improving ties.
    A Gulf Arab diplomat said a regional summit expected early next month in Riyadh could lay the groundwork for improving ties which is more likely now than at any recent time.
    “We see the Gulf kiss (with noses) coming,” the diplomat said.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris and Eric Knecht in Beirut, Writing by Stephen Kalin, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/28/2019 Turkey dismisses Macron’s Syria criticism, says he sponsors terrorism
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends the Istanbul Mediation Conference
in Istanbul, Turkey, October 31, 2019. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday dismissed French President Emmanuel Macron’s criticism of Turkey’s offensive in Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia, saying the French leader sponsors terrorism.
    “He is already the sponsor of the terrorist organization and constantly hosts them at the Elysee.    If he says his ally is the terrorist organization… there is really nothing more to say,” Cavusoglu said.
    “Right now, there is a void in Europe, (Macron) is trying to be its leader, but leadership comes naturally,” he told reporters in parliament.
    Last month, Macron met Jihane Ahmed, the spokeswoman for the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is a big part, to express France’s solidarity with them in their fight against Islamic State in Syria.
    Turkey considers the YPG as a terrorist group and has been infuriated by the supports its allies have given the group.    The Turkish assault, launched on Oct. 9, was condemned by Ankara’s NATO allies, including France.
NATO SUMMIT
    Earlier on Thursday, Macron said that Turkey could not expect solidarity from NATO allies when it launched its offensive in northeast Syria as a “fait accompli
    Ties between Turkey and France have been strained in recent years, but Macron and Cavusoglu’s comments on Thursday highlight growing tensions ahead of NATO’s 70th anniversary summit in London next week.
    Reuters reported on Tuesday that Turkey was refusing to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until it got more political support for its fight against the YPG.    On Wednesday, a Turkish source said the impasse stemmed from the United States’ move to withdraw its support for a separate Turkey defense plan.
    Asked about the stalemate, Cavusoglu said that NATO needed to act in a way that addresses the concerns of all its allies, but added that Ankara wanted to find a middle ground over the defense plan stalemate.
    “We are not against this NATO plan for the Baltics.    However, what is being requested for the Baltic countries should also be done for us.    We are also allies,” Cavusoglu said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Dominic Evans)

11/29/2019 Iraqi forces kill 45 protesters after Iranian consulate torched by John Davison and Alaa Marjani
Iraqi demonstrators burn tires to block a street during ongoing anti-government
protests in Najaf, Iraq November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD/NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces shot dead at least 45 protesters on Thursday after demonstrators stormed and torched an Iranian consulate overnight, in what could mark a turning point in the uprising against the Tehran-backed authorities.
    At least 29 people died in the southern city of Nassiriya when troops opened fire on demonstrators who blocked a bridge before dawn on Thursday and later gathered outside a police station. Police and medical sources said dozens of others were wounded.
    Four people were killed in Baghdad, where security forces opened fire with live ammunition and rubber bullets against protesters near a bridge over the Tigris river, the sources said, and twelve died in clashes in Najaf.
    In Nassiriya thousands of mourners took to the streets, defying a curfew to bury their dead after the mass shooting.
    Video of protesters cheering in the night as flames billowed from the consulate were a stunning image after years in which Tehran’s influence among Shi’ite Muslims in Arab states has been a defining factor in Middle East politics.
    The bloodshed that followed was one of the most violent days since the uprising began at the start of October, with anti-corruption demonstrations that swelled into a revolt against authorities seen by young demonstrators as stooges of Tehran.     Iran closed the Mehran border crossing to Iraq on Thursday night because of security reasons, the semi-official Mehr news agency reported, citing a local border official.
    “With attention to the recent events and the unrest in the country of Iraq the Mehran border has been closed from tonight,” Mojtaba Soleimani, the manager of the border post said, according to Mehr.
    He said it was not clear when the border would reopen.
    In Najaf, a city of ancient pilgrimage shrines that serves as seat of Iraq’s powerful Shi’ite clergy, the Iranian consulate was reduced to a charred ruin after it was stormed overnight.
    The protesters, overwhelmingly Shi’ite, accused the Iraqi authorities of turning against their own people to defend Iran.
    “All the riot police in Najaf and the security forces started shooting at us as if we were burning Iraq as a whole,” a protester who witnessed the burning of the consulate told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
    Another protester, Ali, described the attack on the consulate as “a brave act and a reaction from the Iraqi people.    We don’t want the Iranians.”
    But he predicted more violence: “There will be revenge from Iran, I’m sure.    They’re still here and the security forces are going to keep shooting at us.”
    Iran’s foreign ministry condemned the attack and demanded “the Iraqi government’s firm response to the aggressors.”
    So far, the authorities have been unyielding in response to the unrest, shooting dead hundreds of demonstrators with live ammunition and tear gas, while floating proposals for political reform that the protesters dismiss as trivial and cosmetic.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi has so far rejected calls to resign, after meetings with senior politicians that were attended by the commander of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards’ Quds Force, the elite unit that directs its militia allies abroad.
    Abdul Mahdi on Thursday summoned a senior military commander in Dhi Qar province, where Nassiriya is located, to Baghdad to explain why the situation had deteriorated, a military statement said.
CUT THE HANDS
    In a statement that indicated more violence was to come, the military commander of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), an umbrella group of paramilitary groups whose most powerful factions are close to Iran, suggested the overnight unrest in Najaf was a threat to Shi’ite clergy based in the city.
    The paramilitary fighters would use full force against anyone who threatened Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis said in a statement posted on the PMF website.
    “We will cut the hand of anyone trying to get near al-Sistani,” he said.
    Influential populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr issued a fresh call for the government to resign, while warning those who torched the embassy that they risked provoking a violent backlash from the authorities.
    “Do not give them cover to end your revolution, and stay clear of religious sites,” he said in a statement on Twitter.    If the government does not resign, “this is the beginning of the end of Iraq,” he said.
    Fanar Haddad, senior research fellow at the National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute, said the government and its paramilitary allies could use the consulate incident to justify crushing the demonstrations.
    “It sends a message to Iran, but it also works to the advantage of people like Muhandis,” he said.    The paramilitaries could use the consulate incident as “a pretext to clamp down, framing what happened as a threat against Sistani.”
    Sistani himself has appeared to back the protesters since the unrest erupted, calling on politicians to meet the popular demands for reform.
    Authorities set up “crisis cells” in several provinces to try to restore order, a military statement said on Thursday.    They would be led by provincial governors but include military leaders who would take charge of local security forces.
(Reporting by John Davison, Alaa Marjani in Najaf, Ali Hafthi in Hilla, Baghdad newsroom; Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Peter Graff, Giles Elgood and Daniel Wallis)

11/29/2019 Sudan moves to dissolve ex ruling party, repeals public order law
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage at the courthouse where he is
facing corruption charges, in Khartoum, Sudan September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese transitional authorities approved a law on Thursday to dissolve the former ruling party and repealed a public order law used to regulate women’s behavior under ex-president Omar al-Bashir, the justice minister said.
    The two measures responded to key demands by a protest movement that helped overthrow Bashir in April.
    Their implementation will be a crucial test of how far transitional authorities are willing or able to go to overturn nearly three decades of rule by Bashir, who took power in a 1989 coup and whose Islamist movement penetrated deep into Sudan’s institutions.
    The law to dissolve Bashir’s National Congress Party (NCP) also allows for the party’s assets to be seized, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdelbari said.    State TV described it as a measure to “dismantle” the former regime.
    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded the protests against Bashir, welcomed the law.
    “It is an important step on the path to building a democratic civilian state,” the group said in a statement.
    The law was passed during a marathon, 14-hour meeting of Sudan’s sovereign council and cabinet.    The meeting saw disputes over an article that bans people who took leading posts in the former regime from practicing politics, sources with knowledge of the proceedings told Reuters.
    Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Twitter that the measure was not an act of revenge, but was rather aimed at preserving the “dignity of the Sudanese people
    Information Minister Faisal Mohamed Saleh said the delay in approving the law was caused by work to “improve” it.    “By this law, we want to establish a new era,” he said.
CELEBRATION
    In the capital Khartoum, some drivers hooted car horns in celebration after the late night announcement, while others exchanged slogans from the uprising on social media.
    Hamdok’s government was formed in September after a power-sharing deal between anti-Bashir groups and the Transitional Military Council that ruled the country immediately after Bashir’s overthrow.
    The transitional authorities are due to hold power for just over three years before elections.
    Under Bashir, the public order law was deployed to impose conservative Islamic social codes, restricting women’s freedom of dress, movement, association, work and study.
    This could include preventing women from wearing trousers or leaving their hair uncovered in public, or mixing with men other than their husbands or an immediate relative.
    Those found to have contravened the law could be punished with flogging.    Hamdok called the rules “an instrument of exploitation, humiliation, violation, aggression on the rights of citizens.”
    Women played a prominent role in months of protests against Bashir.
    Women’s rights activist Hadia Hasaballah said the repeal of the law showed the failure of Islamist ideology.
    “The decision to abolish the public order law is a culmination of the courageous struggles of women for 30 years,” she told Reuters.    “Women martyrs deserve it.”
(Reporting by Khartoum bureau; additional reporting by Hesham AbdulKhalek, Alaa Swilam, Samar Hassan; writing by Mahmoud Mourad and Aidan Lewis; editing by Richard Pullin)

11/29/2019 Iraq death toll passes 400 in weeks of mass protests: police, medics
Mourners hold a banner as others carry the coffin during the funeral of a demonstrator who was killed at
an anti-government protest overnight in Najaf, Iraq November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The death toll in Iraq from weeks of anti-government unrest rose on Friday to at least 408 people killed, mostly unarmed protesters, a Reuters count based on police and medical sources showed.
    Several people died of wounds sustained in clashes on Thursday with security forces in the southern city of Nassiriya, hospital sources said, bringing the number of people killed there to at least 46 and the total nationwide to 408 since Oct. 1.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom)

11/29/2019 Ankara blasts NATO for boosting Baltic states’ defenses while ‘ignoring’ Turkey by OAN Newsroom
Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, right, and Masrour Barzani, Prime Minister of Iraqi Kurdish Regional Government,
speak to journalists after their talks, in Ankara, Turkey, Thursday, Nov. 28, 2019.(AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
    Turkey is calling on NATO to support its security amid a standoff over Ankara’s deployment of Russian missile defense systems.    In a statement Thursday, the Turkish foreign minister said the alliance is ignoring threats to Turkey’s security posed by Kurdish fighters in Syria.    The diplomat criticized NATO for ramping-up security of Baltic states, but not doing the same for Turkey.
    Several NATO members have criticized the alliance over its alleged failure to prevent the Turkish offensive in Syria as well as its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles.    However, Turkey is calling for deeper dialogue within the alliance.
    “NATO decisions need to have a consensus.    We are not against NATO’s plans for the Baltic nations, but NATO should also want for Turkey what it wants for the Baltics.    We are allies too.    We continue these talks.    The NATO Secretary General has some ideas, suggestions and we’re discussing those.” – Mevlut Cavusoglu, Foreign Minister – Turkey
    Separate reports claim Turkey may vote down NATO’s proposal to boost defenses of the Baltic states against Russia as retaliation for NATO criticism of Ankara’s recent actions.

11/29/2019 Threats, arrests, targeted killings silence Iraqi dissidents by John Davison and Ahmed Aboulenein
FILE PHOTO: A protester holds an Iraqi flag amid a cloud of smoke from burning tires during ongoing
anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq November 26, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – After armed men raided the home of Hussein Adel al-Madani and his wife Sara Talib last year, the Iraqi activists spent months of self-imposed exile in Turkey, changed address upon returning home and ceased participating in protests, according to two friends of the couple.
    But a day after anti-government demonstrations erupted in Baghdad in October, unidentified gunmen believed by activists to be working on behalf of Iran-backed militia shot the couple dead in their home in the southern city of Basra, said the friends and two security sources familiar with the incident.    Sara was several months pregnant.
    “It was a message. No matter who you are, how peacefully you object – if you go out and demonstrate, you’ll be threatened, locked up, or killed,” said one of the friends, an activist who gave the name Abbas, an alias, for fear of reprisal from armed groups.
    Reuters interviews with five officials and more than half a dozen Iraqi rights activists depict a pattern of mass arrests, intimidation and torture, and in some cases targeted killings of Iraqi protesters.
    On Friday, Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation following weeks of protests calling for the removal of a government viewed as corrupt and the powerful Iran-backed paramilitary groups that support it.    Iraqis say the resignation alone will not curb the power of corrupt officials or armed groups.
    At least six activists have been shot dead in or near their homes over the past year in what appear to be targeted assassinations, according to activists and one government official.    The official and the activists said they believed Iran-backed militia were behind the deaths because those killed had been openly critical of the militias and had also received threats based on their anti-government and anti-Iranian activism.
    The number of targeted killings and details of intimidation tactics used in the crackdown have not previously been reported.    Several activists say it amounts to what they view as a campaign intended to silence dissidents and is causing them to abandon protests or consider fleeing the country.
    An Iranian official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said accusations of killings and threats by militias Tehran supports were “baseless.”
    Ahmed al-Asadi, a spokesman for the state umbrella grouping of paramilitary factions that include the biggest Iran-backed militias, could not be reached for comment.    The body has previously denied any involvement in killing protesters and activists.
    Iraqi government spokesman Saad al-Hadithi declined to comment on the assassination of activists.
    Iraqi authorities say they have arrested and released some 2,500 protesters, with another 240 detained on criminal charges.    More than 400 people have been killed since October during the biggest challenge to Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated, Iran-backed political class that emerged after a 2003 U.S.-led invasion which toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.
    The protesters, many under the age of 30, represent a cross-section of society clamoring for an overhaul of the post-2003 political system, which they say has plundered the state’s resources including abundant oil and pushed ordinary people into poverty.    They have become increasingly critical of Iran’s dominant role in the country.
    According to two Iraqi security officials, it is not uncommon for those detained to be beaten, electrocuted and forced to sign pledges not to demonstrate or speak to media.    Heads of Iraqi security services have given their forces operating in Iraq the green light to detain “anyone they suspect of being a security threat or involved in inciting unrest,” one of the Iraqi security officials said.
    The Iraq government spokesman, al-Hadithi, denied that those detained had been tortured or subjected to violence, adding that the Justice Ministry and Supreme Judicial Council were overseeing the questioning of those arrested.    He denied that security services or the military were detaining peaceful protesters.
    If activists do have evidence of torture, it should be investigated, said Abdul Karim Khalaf, a government military and security spokesman.    But, he added, “we have not had any confirmation of this happening.”
    Iraqi authorities say some protesters have tried to incite violence after properties in Baghdad and the headquarters of several Iran-aligned parties in southern cities were burned.    More than a dozen members of the security forces have been killed and scores injured in the unrest, authorities add.
    Demonstrators on Thursday torched the Iranian consulate in the southern holy city of Najaf, the strongest expression yet of the anti-Iranian sentiment of Iraqi protesters as the gulf widens between a largely Iran-aligned ruling elite and an increasingly desperate Iraqi majority with few opportunities and minimal state support.
POWERFUL MILITIA
    Hussein Adel al-Madani and his wife, aged 25 and 24, respectively, were among protesters who openly opposed the influence of Iran-backed militias that were made formally part of the armed forces after they helped the government defeat Islamic State in 2017.
    Abbas, a close friend and former housemate of al-Madani, said the couple were among the first to protest last year in the southern city of Basra, and Sara was among the first women out on the streets.
    “But they had to stop.    Gunmen raided their home late in 2018 and asked them to write down names of other protesters,” he said, adding that the couple were accused of helping to burn and destroy Iran’s Basra consulate.
    “They decided to leave for Turkey until things calmed down.”
    The couple returned to Basra days before the latest wave of protests began on Oct. 1, the two security sources familiar with the incident said.    Armed men broke into the home on Oct. 2, fatally shooting al-Madani twice in the chest and once in the head, and his wife once in the head, they said.
    The security sources did not say who they believed killed the couple.    An investigation into the deaths was being treated as a targeted killing by an unidentified armed group, they said.    But they didn’t rule out other motives such as an honor killing by family members belonging to a militia who disapproved of their marriage.
    “Investigators are working on the basis it was an organized armed group because it’s two victims who were activists and had been threatened,” one of the two sources said.
    The government official, asked whether Iran-backed militiamen had killed the couple to silence them, said: “A powerful militia threatened them, they fled and when they returned were killed.    Everyone knows who did it, but doesn’t dare say.”    He didn’t specify which group.
    Other protesters have died in circumstances that activists and some government officials say point the finger squarely at Iran-backed groups because the protesters had spoken out against them, but which are still under investigation.
    Gunmen driving unmarked cars killed two other outspoken activists in November using silenced pistols in separate incidents in Baghdad and southern Amara, the two security officials said.
    In the Baghdad incident, Adnan Rustum, 41, was shot dead returning from an anti-government protest in his neighborhood, which is dominated by one Iran-backed militia.    Asked about whether Iran-backed militia were responsible, two local police sources said Rustum’s role in the protests was the reason he was killed but didn’t elaborate.
    The Iraqi parliament’s human rights committee has demanded the government investigate “assassinations and kidnappings” of activists and bloggers, including Rustum’s death.
    As previously reported by Reuters, Iran-backed militias deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops during anti-government protests in October, according to two Iraqi security officials.
BEATEN, ELECTROCUTED
    Four of the activists Reuters spoke to said they were arrested in the past year and two of those said they detained and beaten in recent weeks. They asked that their names not be published for fear of being targeted by security forces or militias.
    One of those protesters described being arrested shortly after leaving a demonstration, beaten and electrocuted during 10 days of detention.
    “They asked me to give names and addresses of other protesters, which I did,” said the 26-year old man.
    “I refused to confess to attacking police and damaging property but signed a document promising not to demonstrate again, and not to talk to press.    They said they’d kill me if I did.”    He denied involvement in any attacks or vandalism.
    The man said he was released, wrapped in a blanket and left outside his home in Baghdad after relatives pleaded for his freedom with contacts they knew in security forces and one paramilitary group.    Reuters could not independently verify his account.
    “Those detained and released are only released on bail.    Charges are not dropped so they face re-arrest and trial,” said Hassan Wahab from Baghdad-based human rights group Amal Association.
    “Many people are fleeing, either heading to Erbil (the capital of Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region) or abroad,” Wahab said.
(Additional reporting by Baghdad newsroom and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai.; Writing by John Davison; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

11/29/2019 Are you ‘brain-dead’? Turkey’s Erdogan raps Macron before NATO summit
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 22 October 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL/PARIS (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Emmanuel Macron’s warning that NATO was dying reflects a “sick and shallow” understanding, telling the French president “you should check whether you are brain dead.”
    The comments drew a swift rebuke from the French foreign ministry, which summoned Turkey’s ambassador to Paris to protest over what a French presidential adviser called “insults.”
    Erdogan was speaking days ahead of a summit of the military alliance, which Macron has said is experiencing “brain death” because of U.S. unpredictability under President Donald Trump and strained ties with Turkey.
    The Turkish and French presidents, who have traded criticism over Ankara’s cross-border offensive in northeast Syria, will be among NATO leaders meeting at a summit of the transatlantic alliance in Britain on Dec. 4.
    “I’m addressing Mr Macron from Turkey and I will say it at NATO: You should check whether you are brain dead first,” Erdogan said.
    Macron said in an interview three weeks ago there was a lack of strategic coordination between European allies on the one hand and the United States and Turkey, on the other.    He has also decried NATO’s inability to react to what he called Turkey’s “crazy” offensive into northern Syria.
    On Friday, French officials said they expected substantial clarifications from Erdogan rather than a war of words.
    “Let’s be clear, these are not statements, they are insults,” a presidential adviser said.    “The president says things clearly.    It’s up to Turkey to provide the answers that we and many allies expect.”
    Macron’s adviser said that beyond the issue of Turkey’s offensive in Syria, its refusal to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltic republics and Poland was unacceptable.
    “Turkey can’t take the defense plans of Poland and the Baltic countries hostage,” the adviser said.
    Turkey is refusing to back a NATO defense plan for the three Baltic states and Poland unless it secures more political support from its allies for its fight against Kurdish YPG militia in northern Syria.
    Ankara views the YPG as terrorists with links to militant Kurdish separatists in southeast Turkey.
    Macron’s remarks on NATO drew strong reaction from France’s neighbors who say Europe still has to rely heavily on the U.S.-led alliance for its defense.    Macron said on Thursday his remarks had been a useful wake-up call and that he would not apologize for saying them.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

11/29/2019 Algerian protesters keep up pressure on authorities as vote nears
FILE PHOTO: Police officers try to disperse demonstrators during a protest calling for the release of detained
protesters and rejecting the December presidential election in Algiers, Algeria November 28, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Algerian protesters marched on Friday to demand that a presidential election next month be canceled until the old ruling guard step aside and the army quit politics.
    The marches, held in cities and towns across the country, marked the 41st consecutive weekly protest of a movement that has already forced the ruling hierarchy to jettison a veteran president and jail top officials.
    The protest movement’s continued momentum now poses a major challenge to the military, which has pushed for the December 12 election as the only way to resolve the deadlock between the authorities and the nebulous, leaderless opposition movement.
    Protesters on Friday chanted “No to the election,” “Free the detainees” and “the army should leave politics” as they marched through central Algiers.    One protester held up a placard reading: “They have the vote.    We have the veto.”
    Since the election campaign officially began earlier this month, tensions have escalated, with more frequent demonstrations, more arrests, longer prison terms and scuffles between police and protesters in a provincial town on Wednesday.
    Algeria’s main labor union, which is pro-government, plans a rare march on Saturday in Algiers to demonstrate in favor of the election.
    The protests began in February as it became clear that veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika planned to seek another presidential term in a vote originally scheduled for July.
    As hundreds of thousands marched across the country, the army pushed him to quit in April.    Dozens of senior figures, including a former intelligence chief, Bouteflika’s brother, government ministers and allied business tycoons were detained.
    Several of them have been jailed for long terms on corruption charges and two former prime ministers, Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal, are to be prosecuted next week.
    However, the protesters have demanded a more thorough purge of the ruling elite, which has controlled Algeria since winning independence from France in 1962, and the authorities have also arrested dozens of opposition figures and demonstrators.
    Algeria, which relies heavily on oil and gas sales, has been hit hard by the crash in oil prices, halving its revenues from $60 billion to $30 billion.
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi; Editing by Angus McDowall and Gareth Jones)

11/29/2019 Israeli troops kill Palestinian teen at Gaza protest, Palestinians say
Relatives of a Palestinian teenager who was killed near the border fence, mourn at the
hospital in the southern Gaza Strip November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Palestinian teenager near the border fence with the Gaza Strip on Friday, Palestinian officials said.
    Israel’s military said soldiers had been fending off Palestinians who had approached and tried to sabotage its security fence.    The military also said the demonstrators threw a number of explosive devices.
    Residents in Gaza said a few dozen Palestinians had approached the border fence, an area in which Israel’s military, citing security concerns, enforces a “no go” zone.    Some in the crowd hurled stones at the barrier, residents said.
    One 16-year-old was killed and four other people were wounded by live fire, Gaza’s health ministry said.
    An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers had “identified a number of attempts to approach the fence as well as a number of attempts to sabotage it.”
    “Troops responded with riot dispersal means and 0.22 caliber rounds,” the spokesman said.    “A report regarding the death of a Palestinian is being looked into.”
    Israeli soldiers have been confronted by frequent Palestinian protests that often turn violent along the Gaza border.    They have used tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition against demonstrators who the military said hurled rocks or petrol bombs at them.
    The organisers of those protests said they had called off this week’s mass-demonstration, but a smaller crowd still gathered.
    Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations have been working to keep the border calm.
    Gaza officials say about 210 Palestinians have been killed since the weekly protests began in March 2018.    In that time an Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier and another was killed during an undercover raid into Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)

11/29/2019 Iraq PM says he will quit after cleric’s call but violence rages on by John Davison
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks during a symbolic funeral ceremony
of Major General Ali al-Lami, who commands the Iraqi Federal Police's Fourth Division, who was
killed in Salahuddin, in Baghdad, Iraq October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily /File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation on Friday after the country’s senior Shi’ite Muslim cleric urged lawmakers to reconsider their support for a government rocked by weeks of deadly anti-establishment unrest.
    Violence raged on in southern Iraq, however, killing at least 21 people, and one protester was killed in central Baghdad as demonstrations continued including a thousands-strong sit-in at Tahrir Square in the Iraqi capital.
    Young, unemployed and unarmed protesters have led calls for an overhaul of a political system they say is endemically corrupt and serves foreign powers, especially Baghdad’s ally Tehran.
    The departure of Abdul Mahdi could be a blow for Iranian influence after Iran’s militia allies and its own commanders intervened last month to keep the premier in place despite mass anti-government unrest.
    The biggest unrest for years in a country struggling to recover from decades of conflict and sanctions pits protesters from Shi’ite heartlands in Baghdad and the south against a corrupt Shi’ite-dominated ruling elite seen as pawns of Iran.
    Iraq’s current political class is drawn mainly from powerful Shi’ite politicians, clerics and paramilitary leaders including many who lived in exile before a U.S.-led invasion overthrew Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003 – including Abdul Mahdi.
    “In response to this (the cleric’s) call, and in order to facilitate it as quickly as possible, I will present to parliament a demand (to accept) my resignation from the leadership of the current government,” a statement signed by Abdul Mahdi said.
    The statement did not say when he would resign.    Parliament is to convene an emergency session on Sunday to discuss the crisis.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani earlier urged parliament to considering withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government to stem spiraling violence.
    Protesters celebrated the imminent departure of Abdul Mahdi, but said they would not stop their demonstrations until the whole of the political class was removed.    Violence continued in southern Iraq.
    “Abdul Mahdi’s resignation is just the beginning.    We’ll stay in the streets until the entire government has gone, and all the rest of the corrupt politicians,” said Mustafa Hafidh, a protester at Baghdad’s Tahrir Square.
    “It’s not enough,” said Ali al-Sayeda, another demonstrator.    “We need them all out, root and branch.    We can’t let up the pressure.”
    A victory for Iraq’s national soccer team against the United Arab Emirates gave protesters at Tahrir Square more cause for celebration and they set off fireworks, enjoying a brief respite from the unrest.
    Later, security forces shot dead a demonstrator at nearby Ahrar Bridge, police sources said.
VIOLENCE UNABATED
    Security forces meanwhile shot dead at least 21 people in the southern city of Nassiriya after protesters tried to storm a local police headquarters, hospital sources said.    In Najaf, unidentified armed men shot live rounds at demonstrators sending dozens scattering.
    Iraqi forces have killed hundreds of mostly young, unarmed demonstrators people since mass anti-government protests broke out on Oct. 1.    More than a dozen members of the security forces have also died in clashes.    At least 436 people have died in less than two months, according to a Reuters tally from medical and police sources.
    The burning of Iran’s consulate in the holy city of Najaf on Wednesday escalated violence and drew a brutal response from security forces who shot dead more than 60 people nationwide on Thursday.
    Sistani, who only weighs in on politics in times of crisis and wields huge influence over public opinion, warned against an explosion of civil strife and tyranny.
    He urged government forces to stop killing protesters and the protesters themselves to reject all violence, in apparent reference to the burning of the consulate in Najaf.
    The government “appears to have been unable to deal with the events of the past two months … parliament, from which the current government emerged, must reconsider its choices and do what’s in the interest of Iraq,” a representative of Sistani said in a televised sermon.
    Some protesters took to the streets in Iraq’s northern, Sunni-majority provinces in solidarity with their Shi’ite compatriots in the south, spurred by Abdul Mahdi’s resignation and emboldened by the soccer win, Reuters witnesses said.
    Sunni areas decimated by the fight to defeat Islamic State have mostly been quiet, partly because of fears that IS militants could exploit unrest to grow an ongoing insurgency.
    A rocket hit Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone which houses government buildings and embassies late on Friday but caused no casualties, the military said.
    Iraq’s “enemies and their apparatuses are trying to sow chaos and infighting to return the country to the age of dictatorship … everyone must work together to thwart that opportunity,” Sistani said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by John Davison, Baghdad newsroom; additional reporting by Reuters TV; Editing by William Maclean, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis)

11/30/2009 Protesters burn tires in southern Iraq in renewed anti-government rage
Burning vehicle of Iraqi security forces is seen after clashes with protesters during ongoing
anti-government protests, in Nassiriya, Iraq November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Protesters burned tires and surrounded a police station in the southern Iraqi city of Nassiriya on Saturday, a Reuters witness said, pressing their demands for sweeping reform despite the prime minister promising to resign.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi announced his resignation on Friday after a call from the country’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric for the government to step down to end weeks of deadly unrest.
    Security forces have used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades against protesters for nearly two months, killing more than 400 people including scores in recent days, particularly in Nassiriya.
    The city was the scene of the worst violence to hit war-weary Iraq since anti-government protests began in Baghdad on Oct. 1.
    The burning by demonstrators of the Iranian consulate in the southern holy city of Najaf on Wednesday escalated unrest and led to Abdul Mahdi’s resignation.    In Nassiriya, deadly clashes erupted on Thursday hours after the torching of the Najaf consulate.
    Parliament has yet to make Abdul Mahdi’s resignation effective and will convene on Sunday to pass a vote of no confidence in him.
    However, Abdul Mahdi’s promise to quit will not satisfy protesters, who are demanding the overhaul of a political system that they say is corrupt and keeping them in poverty and without opportunity.
    Many Iraqis fear violence will continue to escalate as angry families mourn dead relatives and the government moves slowly to enact very little reform.
    Weeks of political wrangling are expected before a successor to Abdul Mahdi is picked and a new government formed.
    Iraq’s semi-official Human Rights Commission said in a statement on Saturday that those responsible for the killings of protesters must be brought to justice and that it would gather evidence for prosecution.
    The statement did not acknowledge the prime minister’s resignation.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross urged a halt to rising casualties.
    “Firearms and live ammunition must only be used as a last resort,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom, John Davison)

11/30/2019 OPEC November oil output slips before Aramco IPO, policy meeting by Alex Lawler
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC)
is seen at OPEC's headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 1, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    LONDON (Reuters) – OPEC oil output has fallen in November as Angolan production has slipped due to maintenance and Saudi Arabia has kept a lid on supply to support the market before the initial public offering (IPO) of state-owned Saudi Aramco, a Reuters survey found.
    On average, the 14-member Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has pumped 29.57 million barrels per day (bpd) this month, according to the survey.    That is down 110,000 bpd from October’s revised figure.
    The survey suggests Saudi Arabia, after resuming normal supply after attacks on facilities in September, is still pumping far less than an OPEC-led supply deal allows.    OPEC meets to review the pact on Dec. 5, the same day Aramco is due to announce the final offer price.
    OPEC, Russia and other allies, known as OPEC+, agreed to reduce supply by 1.2 million bpd from Jan. 1.    OPEC’s share of the cut is about 800,000 bpd, to be delivered by 11 members, with exemptions for Iran, Libya and Venezuela.
    The producers are expected to extend their supply pact at meetings on Dec. 5-6.    OPEC delegates have said the producers could discuss deeper supply cuts amid forecasts of excess supply in 2020.
    “The minimum is to extend,” said an OPEC delegate.
    Oil has slipped to $63 a barrel after spiking to $72 following the Sept. 14 attacks on Saudi oil plants.    The current price is below the levels many OPEC countries need to balance their budgets and below the levels officials say they favor.
    The 11 OPEC members bound by the agreement, which for now runs until March 2020, have easily exceeded the pledged cuts.    Compliance has risen to 152% in November, the survey found, from 135% in October, although Iraq and Nigeria remain laggards among larger producers.
(GRAPHIC: OPEC oil supply cuts – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/ce/7/7600/7582/Pasted%20Image.jpg )
ANGOLAN DROP
    OPEC’s largest production drop of 140,000 bpd was in Angola, which exported less crude in November due to maintenance affecting the Girassol crude stream, traders said.
    The African producer was already pumping far below its OPEC quota due to a natural decline in production and a lack of new fields coming online, rather than due to voluntary restraint.
    Saudi Arabia has pumped 9.85 million bpd, down 50,000 bpd from October, the survey found.
    Riyadh’s output had jumped by 850,000 bpd in October after the September attacks, but remained below Saudi Arabia’s OPEC quota.    In November, the country has been pumping more than 400,000 bpd less than the agreement allows, the survey found.
    OPEC’s second-largest producer Iraq has pumped slightly less, but continues to overshoot its target.
    Nigeria, which has consistently pumped more than its OPEC target, continued to do so in November, the survey found, although output has edged lower this month.
    Among countries pumping more, the largest increase was in Kuwait, which increased output by 70,000 bpd to 2.72 million bpd, reaching its exact quota level.
    Ecuador also pumped more after a decline in October, when protests against government austerity measures led to several fields being shut down.
    Venezuela, which is contending with U.S. sanctions imposed on state oil firm PDVSA and a long-term decline in output, managed a small boost to supply with exports increasing in November.
    Production from the two other exempt producers, Libya and Iran, was little changed.
    The Reuters survey aims to track supply to the market and is based on shipping data provided by external sources, Refinitiv Eikon flows data and information provided by sources at oil companies, OPEC and consultants.
(Additional reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by Edmund Blair and Louise Heavens)

11/30/2019 At least 2 dead, 11 injured in Iraqi protests by OAN Newsroom
Protesters prepare to throw stones during clashes between Iraqi security forces and
anti-government protesters, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    The death toll continues to rise in Iraq as anti-government protests rage across the southern half of the nation.
    On Saturday, two protesters were killed and at least 11 others were injured after demonstrators attempted to cross into Baghdad’s barricaded Green Zone.    The term refers to the city’s government center, where the Iraqi central bank and foreign embassies are barricaded from the rest of the city.
    Protesters attempted to topple the barricades and were met by security forces, who threw tear gas and fired live ammunition at demonstrators.
    Citizens also held a funeral for two different protesters, who were killed Friday during brutal clashes with security officials.
    “(This was) a young man, who was carrying only a flower and an Iraqi flag when he was shot dead by a sniper,” said one witness.    “This is a sacrifice for the homeland.”
    The deadly clashes came just one day after the country’s prime minister announced his resignation from office, as a result of the ongoing protests.
Anti-government protesters stage a sit-in while security forces close a bridge leading to the Green Zone
government areas, during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq, Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)

12/1/2019 Parliament approves Iraqi prime minister’s resignation
FILE PHOTO: Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi speaks during a symbolic funeral ceremony of
Major General Ali al-Lami, who commands the Iraqi Federal Police's Fourth Division, who was
killed in Salahuddin, in Baghdad, Iraq October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily /File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s parliament voted on Sunday to accept the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi after weeks of violent anti-government protests that have rocked the country.
    Abdul Mahdi’s decision to quit on Friday came after a call by Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani for parliament to consider withdrawing its support for Abdul Mahdi’s government to stem the violence.
    “The Iraqi parliament will ask the president of state to nominate a new prime minister,” a statement from parliament’s media office said.
    Lawmakers said Abdul Mahdi’s government, including the prime minister himself, would stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government is chosen.
    Under the constitution, President Barham Salih is expected to ask the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new prime minister to form a government, a move expected to trigger weeks of political wrangling.
    Iraqi forces have killed nearly 400 mostly young, unarmed demonstrators since mass anti-government protests broke out on Oct. 1.    More than a dozen members of the security forces have also died in clashes.
    Abdul Mahdi’s resignation, though welcomed by protesters, is not expected to end the demonstrations, which have called for an overhaul of a political system accused of being corrupt and keeping most of the population in poverty.
    Protesters on Sunday torched the Iranian consulate in the holy Shi’ite city of Najaf for the second time in a week, police and civil defense sources said.
    Demonstrators entered the consulate in Najaf on Wednesday and set fire to the entire building, drawing a deadly response from security forces and escalating the unrest that has led to Abdul Mahdi’s resignation.
    Demonstrations are continuing in Baghdad and other southern regions.    Security forces killed one protester and wounded nine others near a bridge in the capital on Sunday, police and a medical source said.
    In Nassiriya, two protesters died on Sunday from wounds sustained in previous clashes with security forces in the southern city, police and medical sources said.
    The unrest poses the biggest challenge for Iraq since Islamic State insurgents seized swathes of Iraqi and Syrian territory in 2014.
    It pits mostly young, disaffected Shi’ite protesters against a Shi’ite-dominated government backed by Iran and accused of squandering Iraq’s oil wealth while infrastructure and living standards deteriorate.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Mark Potter and David Goodman)

12/2/2019 President Trump speaks with Israel’s Netanyahu about Iran, other issues
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as they pose on
the West Wing colonnade in the Rose Garden at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump spoke on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about Iran and other issues, the White House said in a brief statement.
    “The leaders discussed the threat from Iran, as well as other critical bilateral and regional issues,” the White House said in an email statement.
    Relations between Iran and the United States have worsened since last year when Trump pulled out of Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers and reimposed sanctions on the country.
(Reporting by Diane Bartz; Editing by Tom Hogue)

12/2/2019 Saudi Arabia wants OPEC+ to deepen oil cuts due to Aramco IPO by Rania El Gamal, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) is seen inside
its headquarters in Vienna, Austria, December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger/File Photo
    DUBAI/LONDON/MOSCOW (Reuters) – OPEC and its allies plan to deepen oil cuts and have the deal in place so it runs at least until June 2020 as Saudi Arabia wants to deliver a positive surprise to the market before the listing of Saudi Aramco, two sources familiar with the talks said.
    The deal being discussed by the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries and other producers, known as OPEC+, would be to add at least 400,000 barrels per day (bpd) to existing cuts of 1.2 million bpd or 1.2% of global supply.
    The current deal runs to March.
    “They (the Saudis) want to surprise the market,” one of the sources said.
    Another two sources said the latest OPEC analysis, drawn up by OPEC’s Economic Commission Board (ECB), showed a large oversupply and build up in inventories in the first half of 2020, if no additional cuts were made.
    Russia, a key non-OPEC ally, has so far opposed deeper cuts or a longer extension.    But Moscow has often taken a tough stance before every meeting before approving the policy.    Sources said Saudi Arabia was working on convincing Russia.
    Riyadh needs high oil prices to balance its budget and support the pricing for the Aramco initial public offering (IPO), which could be the world’s biggest.
    Russia, the world’s second biggest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, also benefits from a higher oil price and has been working with OPEC on cuts to prevent an oil glut building as a result of booming production from the United States, which has climbed to become the world’s crude producer.
    Benchmark Brent oil prices rose by more than 2% to nearly $62 per barrel on Monday on the news about the possibility of deeper cuts.
DEEP SAUDI CUT
    Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman heads to Vienna this week for his first OPEC meeting as Saudi Arabia’s energy minister.
    The veteran oil official, known as a tough negotiator, wants to ensure oil prices stay high enough for Aramco’s IPO, sources said.
    The IPO will be priced on Dec. 5, the same day OPEC meets in Vienna.    The OPEC+ grouping holds talks on Dec. 6.
    Saudi officials, including Prince Abdulaziz, have insisted on stricter compliance with the current cuts, especially as countries such as Iraq and Nigeria have produced well above their quotas while Riyadh has cut more than demanded.
    The Saudis are also lobbying other producers to deepen cuts and have been signaling that they are ready to continue taking the biggest burden and to cut well in excess of their target.
    Saudi Arabia has been cutting more than the amount agreed for most of this year.    Its actual cut in November was 783,000 bpd, according to a Reuters survey, a level that was about 400,000 bpd more than its pledged cut of 322,000 bpd.
    Saudi and Russian oil production costs are much cheaper than those in the United States so any OPEC cut.    A price rise can hurt OPEC and its allies because it further bolsters U.S. production and allowing U.S. shale oil producers to grab a bigger market share.
    “If WTI goes up to $60 per barrel, there will be more shale,” one of the sources familiar with OPEC talks said, warning against much steeper output cuts.
(Additional reporting by Olesya Astakhova and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; Editing by Edmund Blair)

12/2/2019 Prosecution in Israel lines up over 300 witnesses in Netanyahu case by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting
at his office in Jerusalem December 1, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An indictment submitted to Israel’s parliament on Monday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu names more than 300 prosecution witnesses, including wealthy friends and former aides, in three graft cases against him.
    By formally sending the indictment to the legislature, after announcing charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud on Nov. 21, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit set the clock ticking on a 30-day period in which Netanyahu can seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution.
    Such protection seems unlikely, with Israeli politics in disarray after inconclusive elections in April and September and the failure of Netanyahu and his main challenger, Benny Gantz, to secure a ruling majority in the legislature.
    Netanyahu, in office for the past decade, has denied any wrongdoing, saying he is a victim of an attempted “coup” waged by legal authorities trying to unseat a popular right-wing leader.
    As prime minister, he is under no legal obligation to resign after being charged.    No date has been set for the opening of the trial, with three judges presiding in Jerusalem District Court.
    The indictment submitted to parliament listed 333 witnesses for the prosecution.    Legal experts said the long roster meant proceedings could go on for years.
    They include U.S. casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife Miriam, Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan, Australian billionaire James Packer and retired Israeli security chiefs, and several former aides who will be state witnesses against him.
    Netanyahu poured scorn on the length of the witness list.
    “When an accusation is true, you don’t need 333 witnesses,” he wrote on Twitter.    “When the accusation is untrue, not even 333 witnesses will help.”
TALKS DEADLOCKED
    In one case, Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully requesting and accepting expensive gifts, including champagne and cigars, from Milchan and Packer.    Neither has been charged with any wrongdoing.
    Another case focuses on allegations that Netanyahu promised the owner of Israel’s best-selling newspaper to push for regulations on its main competitor, owned by Adelson.
    Netanyahu also is accused of granting regulatory favors worth about 1.8 billion shekels ($500 million) to Bezeq Telecom Israel in return for positive coverage on a website owned by its former chairman.
    Talks between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party on a “national unity” government are deadlocked.
    If no agreement is reached within 10 days – the end of a three-week period in which legislators can nominate a candidate to try to form a government – Israel is likely to hold a new election.
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/2/2019 Turkey not ‘blackmailing’ NATO over Baltics defense plan: security source by Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a NATO foreign ministers
meeting in Brussels, Belgium, November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is not blackmailing NATO with its rejection of a defense plan for the Baltics and Poland, and has full veto rights within the alliance, a Turkish security source said on Monday ahead of a NATO alliance summit in London.
    Reuters reported last week that Turkey was refusing to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until it received more support for its battle with the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which it views as a terrorist organization.
    Ankara has said the impasse was caused by the United States withdrawing support from a separate defense plan for Turkey, covering any possible attack from the south where it borders Syria, and that it wanted the issue resolved.
    “NATO is an institution where Turkey has full veto rights, politically and militarily, and there are procedures here,” the source said.    “There is no such thing as Turkey blackmailing – a statement like that is unacceptable.”
    A diplomatic source told Reuters last week that Turkey was “taking eastern Europeans hostage” by blocking approval of the military planning, and a second source call Ankara’s behavior “disruptive.”
    NATO envoys need formal approval by all 29 members for the plan to improve the defense of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia against any threat from neighboring Russia.
    A Turkish diplomatic source later said Turkey was “open to offers,” and that NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg was trying to find common ground between the allies.
    However, relations between Turkey and its NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues ranging from Ankara’s decision to procure Russian air defense systems to Syria policy.    Several NATO members condemned Turkey’s decision last month to launch an offensive into northeastern Syria against the YPG.
    Turkey, which has NATO’s second largest military, wants the alliance to formally classify the YPG, the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as terrorists.    It has been infuriated over the support NATO allies have given the YPG, a Western partner in fighting Islamic State militants.
    Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused French President Emmanuel Macron of sponsoring terrorism in his support for the YPG, after Macron said Turkey should not expect solidarity from NATO after its Syria incursion.
    Macron has also criticized NATO ahead of the summit, saying the alliance was experiencing a “brain death.”    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan lambasted his remarks on Friday, telling the French leader to “check whether you are brain dead.”
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Mark Heinrich)

12/2/2019 After Libya arms embargo breaches, U.N. Security Council warns countries to stop
FILE PHOTO: Sirte forces, which are allied to the UN-backed government
in Tripoli, deploy in Sirte, Libya March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
    UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations Security Council called on all countries on Monday to implement an arms embargo on Libya and to stay out of the conflict after U.N. sanctions monitors accused Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey of repeated violations.
    The 15-member council urged all states “not to intervene in the conflict or to take measures that would exacerbate the conflict” and expressed concern at “the growing involvement of mercenaries.”    Such statements are agreed by consensus.     The council “called for full compliance with the arms embargo,” but any action over reported sanctions violations is unlikely, diplomats said.
    Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey have repeatedly violated an arms embargo on Libya and it is “highly probable” that a foreign attack aircraft is responsible for a deadly strike on a migrant detention center, U.N. experts monitoring the implementation of sanctions on Libya reported last month.
    The U.N. missions of Jordan and Turkey did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment at the time on the accusations.    The United Arab Emirates said it was “firmly committed to complying with its obligations under the Libya sanctions regime and all relevant Security Council resolutions.”
    “The transfers (of military material) to Libya were repeated and sometimes blatant with scant regard being paid to compliance with the sanctions measures,” the independent U.N. experts wrote in the confidential report, due to be published this month.
    Libya descended into chaos after a NATO-backed uprising that overthrew leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.
    Thousands of people have been killed in sporadic fighting since 2014 between factions in the east and west.    The violence has allowed militants and migrant smugglers to flourish, hit Libya’s oil industry and divided the country’s key institutions.
    Earlier this year commander Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) launched an offensive against the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and its forces in Tripoli. But the war has reached an impasse.
    The U.N. experts accuse Jordan and the United Arab Emirates of supplying military material to Haftar’s forces, which they said then prompted Libya’s Government of National Accord to ask Turkey for help.
    Haftar is also backed by Egypt and more recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.    The LNA denies it has foreign backing.    The United States has pushed Haftar to end his offensive.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols)

12/3/2019 Turkey to oppose NATO plan if it fails to recognize terrorism threats: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin
in the Black sea resort of Sochi, Russia, 22 October 2019. Sergei Chirikov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey will oppose NATO’s plan for the defense of Baltic countries if the alliance does not recognize groups that Turkey deems terrorists, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday, ahead of a NATO alliance summit in London.
    Relations between Turkey and its NATO allies have been strained over a host of issues, ranging from Ankara’s decision to procure Russian air defense systems to Syria policy.    Several NATO members condemned Turkey’s decision to launch an offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia.
    Ankara has refused to back a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until it receives more support for its battle with the YPG, which it views as a terrorist organization.
    Ahead of his departure from Ankara for the NATO summit, Erdogan said he had spoken to Polish President Andrzej Duda on the phone on Monday and had agreed to meet with him and leaders of Baltic countries in London to discuss the issue.
    “With pleasure, we can come together and discuss these issues there as well,” he said.    “But if our friends at NATO do not recognize as terrorist organizations those we consider terrorist organizations … we will stand against any step that will be taken there.”
    A Turkish security source said on Monday that Turkey is not “blackmailing” NATO with its rejection of the plans and that it has full veto rights within the alliance.
    Turkey, France, Germany and the United Kingdom are expected to hold a separate meeting on the sidelines of the NATO summit.    Erdogan said they would mainly discuss Turkish plans to establish a safe zone in northeast Syria, which has until now been met with criticism from Ankara’s European allies.
    Separately, Turkey has been at odds with Greece and Cyprus over ownership of offshore natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean.    Erdogan said he will also meet with the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in London.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Catherine Evans)

12/3/2019 Lebanese politicians suggest progress in government talks
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil talks during a news conference with Turkish Foreign
Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Beirut, Lebanon, August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese politicians signaled progress on Tuesday towards agreeing a new government to tackle the country’s worst economic crisis in decades, though a deal had yet to be done.
    Talks between the main feuding parties have been deadlocked since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister in late October under pressure from huge protests against the ruling elite.
    A previous deal had appeared to be finalised, but it unraveled last month after a candidate for prime minister withdrew.
    The next government will have to enact urgent reforms and attract foreign support to stave off even worse collapse after years of bad governance, corruption and waste.
    Hariri said on Tuesday that he backed Lebanese businessman Samir al-Khatib to head the next cabinet but added that “some details” still had to be hashed out.    He said his party would only name technocrats as ministers.
    Western ally Hariri, whose government grouped all of Lebanon’s dominant parties including the Iranian-backed Hezbollah movement, is still serving in a caretaker capacity.     Political sources said negotiations were moving quickly towards creating a cabinet with Khatib as prime minister.
    Caretaker Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said there was agreement on forming a government led by “a trusted figure Hariri fully backs” and with a majority of “competent” specialists from each side.
    “We have hope that matters have reached close to a happy ending,” Bassil, President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, told a news conference.
    Aoun was quoted earlier as saying the coming days would bring “positive developments.”
    Lebanon’s economic crisis, long in the making, has come to a head: Pressure has piled on the Lebanese pound’s 22-year peg to the U.S. dollar.    A hard currency crunch has left many importers unable to bring in goods, forcing up prices.    Banks have restricted dollar withdrawals and blocked nearly all transfers abroad.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Jon Boyle, Angus MacSwan and Giles Elgood)

12/3/2019 Bethlehem set for a Happy Christmas: more rooms, more inns and part of its manger back by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a mosque minaret and the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM, West Bank (Reuters) – As the Christmas decorations go up in Manger Square, Bethlehem is preparing for its best Christmas for two decades, the town’s mayor and hoteliers say.
    Five new hotels are in the pipeline and existing ones are expanding.    The town has even extended the opening hours of the Church of the Nativity, revered by Christians worldwide as the place of Jesus’ birth.
    But even after three years of relative peace and prosperity, people are still nervous in the small Palestinian town, a few miles south of Jerusalem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    So dependent has Bethlehem become on tourist income that an upsurge of violence anywhere in the volatile Middle East – not just in its near vicinity – spells financial disaster, with nervous tour groups prone to cancelling months ahead.
    Sitting in his municipality office overlooking the newly lit Christmas tree in Manger Square, Mayor Anton Salman said Bethlehem looked set to improve upon the 1.5 million visitors it received last year.
    “Since three years (ago), things are going up, this year is better than 2018 and 2018 was better than 2017 and it is a continuous increase in the number of tourists who are coming to the city,” Salman told Reuters.
    The main bottleneck, he said, was the tiny front door of the Nativity church, through which pilgrims must crouch to enter.    Once vast, it was reduced in size centuries ago by the Crusaders, then again during the Mamluk and Ottoman Turkish eras to prevent looters driving carts into the church.
    For the first time this year the authorities extended the church’s opening hours from sunset to 8 p.m., Salman said, and in 2020 they plan to enlarge the town’s coach station and to address heavy congestion on the narrow road to Manger Square.
    They will even consider asking tourist groups to register in advance in future.    “If the number will be high and the church can’t receive all of them we need to look for other plans that can be helpful,” he said.
GHOSTS OF CHRISTMAS PAST
    This year townsfolk are abuzz about a new attraction – a wooden relic reputed to be from the manger used by the infant Jesus and sent back last week to Bethlehem from Rome.
    But the town remains wary.    Bethlehem enjoyed good times until the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in 2000, which saw years of mutual blood-letting between Israelis and Palestinians, leading tourism to collapse.
    Scars remain – most visibly Israel’s high concrete wall that towers over the northern entrance to Bethlehem, and separates it from Jerusalem.
    Palestinians call Israel’s military barrier a land grab.    Israel says the cordon of fences, ditches and walls has drastically reduced attacks on its citizens.
    The manager of the Alexander Hotel in Bethlehem, Joey Canavati, said his family had nearly given up on the town during the lean years, but now had bookings through to 2021. The hotel plans to nearly double in size from 58 to 110 rooms.
    “Business has been booming, we have never seen it like this ever before,” he said.    “(With) the number of tourists that have been coming in this year we have a huge lack of rooms here in Bethlehem.”
    But he added a familiar note of caution: “It’s always about stability.”
(Writing by Stephen Farrell, additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/3/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri backs businessman Khatib for prime minister
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Saad al-Hariri on Tuesday backed businessman Samir al-Khatib to head the next government, though he said some details still had to be discussed.
    Hariri, who resigned as prime minister in late October under pressure from protests against the ruling elite, told reporters on Tuesday that he would not take part in the new government.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/3/2019 Tourism in Israel? U.S. charity’s offer with Gaza hospital project irks Palestinians by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Trucks loaded with equipment for a U.S charity tent hospital, under construction, arrive
into Gaza September 24, 2019. Picture taken September 24, 2019 REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A U.S. charity building a tent hospital in the Gaza Strip is causing Palestinian unease by offering foreign medical volunteers the opportunity of weekend tourism in Israel, just across the volatile border.
    The facility, to be operated by the U.S. evangelical Christian group FriendShips, had won rare joint support from Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas and their enemy, Israel, which maintains a blockade along its frontier with the enclave.
    Now, however, eyebrows are being raised in Gaza over a Holy Land pilgrimage pitch on the Louisiana-based organization’s website that is promoting an endeavor to improve health services strained by years of conflict.
    The 50-bed encampment in northern Gaza across from Israel’s Erez border crossing “will offer a wonderful opportunity to work in an important and productive project and, at the same time, to see and enjoy the Biblical sites of Israel,” the website said.
    Volunteers at the facility would be expected to work and live onsite Monday through Thursday but they “will be free to go to Israel and tour” on their days off, it said.
    Asked about the NGO’s tourism perk to volunteers, Hamas official Basim Naeem said: “We are certainly against using our people’s suffering to market Israel or attracting employees at our people’s expense.”
    There was no suggestion from Hamas that it was about to scrap the project as a result of the sightseeing offer.
    A de facto truce brokered between Israel and Hamas by Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations after deadly cross-border fighting in May included the mediators’ support for the field hospital.
    Gaza’s 13 hospitals often lack equipment for specialized treatments, while its two million residents need hard-to-obtain permits from Israeli authorities to get medical care in Israel and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    The FriendShips encampment will have “telemedicine for worldwide consultation with specialists” and eventually offer cancer treatment and PTSD therapy, among other services, the NGO’s website says.
    “It will either be an uplifting humanitarian tool for our people, or it will be asked to leave immediately,” senior Hamas official Khalil Al-Hayya said.
    FriendShips, which previously operated a tent hospital along Israel’s border with Syria, did not respond to multiple requests for comment and it was not clear when the facility would open.
    Israel declined to comment on the project.    It keeps Gaza under a blockade, citing security concerns posed by Hamas, with which it has fought three wars and waged dozens of other deadly skirmishes over the past decade.
    But the hospital’s construction with private U.S. funding drew criticism from Hamas’s rivals in the Palestinian Authority (PA), which exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank.
    “It will be an American-Israeli military base put forward on the land of Gaza Strip,” said Mai Alkaila, the PA’s health minister.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

12/4/2019 Israel’s Netanyahu, Pompeo to meet in Lisbon this week: U.S
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend
a meeting in Jerusalem, Friday, October 18, 2019. Sebastian Scheiner/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday in Lisbon, the U.S. State Department said on Tuesday.
    Pompeo, accompanying President Donald Trump at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in London, will be in Lisbon on Wednesday and Thursday and will meet with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa and Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva, the department said in a statement.
    The hastily arranged talks with the top diplomat of Israel’s closest ally could be aimed at giving Netanyahu a political boost at home.
    Israeli politics are in disarray after inconclusive elections in April and September and the failure of Netanyahu and his main challenger, Benny Gantz, to secure a ruling majority in the legislature. Netanyahu also faces a corruption indictment, charges that he denies.
    Pompeo and Netanyahu are expected to speak about the threat from Iran, among the issues the Israeli leader discussed in a phone call with Trump on Sunday.
    Netanyahu praised Pompeo last month for an announcement of a softening of the longtime U.S. position on Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.    Pompeo declared that Washington no longer considered the Jewish settlements to be in violation of international law, a policy shift that drew condemnation from Palestinians and Arab leaders.
(Reporting by Eric Beech and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Richard Chang)

12/4/2019 OPEC gearing up for deeper oil cuts, Russia yet to agree by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Alex Lawler and Olesya Astakhova
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) sits outside its headquarters
ahead of the OPEC and NON-OPEC meeting in Vienna, Austria, July 2, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – OPEC is gearing up to deepen production cuts later this week but still needs to agree with allies such as Russia over details of a deal to support oil prices and head off a looming oil glut next year.
    The Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) meets on Thursday in Vienna followed by a meeting with Russia and others, a grouping known as OPEC+, on Friday.
    OPEC+ has been curbing output since 2017 to counter oversupply as a result of booming output in the United States, which has become the world’s biggest producer and is not taking part in cuts.
    Next year, rising production in non-OPEC countries such as Brazil and Norway threaten to add to the glut.
    OPEC’s actions in the past have angered U.S. President Donald Trump, who has repeatedly demanded OPEC’s de facto leader Saudi Arabia bring oil prices down if it wants Washington’s to provide Riyadh with military support against arch-rival Iran.
    In the past few months Trump has remained silent on OPEC but he faces re-election in November next year when the issue of gasoline prices is likely to become a hot political topic again.
    Washington’s ongoing trade dispute with China has also clouded the economic and therefore oil demand outlook for 2020.
    OPEC’s second largest oil producer Iraq said on Tuesday key members supported deepening cuts for OPEC+ from the current level of 1.2 million barrels per day, or 1.2% of global demand.
    “My understanding is that they (Saudis) do (prefer it),” Iraqi Oil Minister Thamer Ghadhban told reporters in Vienna.
    The current deal expires in March and two OPEC sources have said it would be extended at least until June.    Oman’s oil minister Mohammed al-Rumhi said on Wednesday his delegation would recommend extending cuts until the end of 2020.
DEEPER CUTS AND COMPLIANCE
    Saudi Arabia needs higher oil prices to support its budget revenue and the pending share sale of state-owned oil giant Saudi Aramco with pricing expected on Thursday.
    OPEC’s actions have supported oil prices at around $50-$75 per barrel over the past year and on Wednesday they traded at $61 per barrel . [O/R]
    Iraq’s Ghadhban said new cuts could be expanded to 1.6 million bpd while OPEC sources have also said Riyadh was pressing fellow members Iraq and Nigeria to improve their compliance with quotas, which could provide an additional reduction of up to 400,000 bpd.
    Not all OPEC members were convinced of the need to cut deeper, however. One OPEC delegate said the move would boost prices and help spur a new phase of U.S. oil output growth.
    Non-OPEC Russia has yet to agree to extend or deepen cuts from its current pledge of 228,000 bpd as its companies are arguing they are finding it tough to reduce output during winter months due to very low temperatures.
    Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said on Tuesday that Moscow had yet to finalize its position: “Let’s wait …But I think the meeting, as usual, will be of a constructive nature.”
    A source familiar with the Russian thinking told Reuters that Moscow would “most likely” reach a consensus with OPEC this week and just needed to iron out a few outstanding issues.
    One sticking point for Russia this time is how its output is measured – it includes gas condensate in its figures, while other producers do not.
(Reporting by Rania el Gamal and Shadia Nasralla; writing by Dmitry Zhdannikov; editing by Jason Neely)

12/4/2019 U.S. to exchange ambassadors with Sudan: State Department
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo holds a news conference at the Alliance
headquarters in Brussels, Belgium November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to boost diplomatic relations with Sudan by exchanging ambassadors, the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement on Wednesday as Sudan’s prime minister visited Washington.
    Pompeo, in a statement, said the two nations would “initiate the process of exchanging ambassadors after a 23-year gap.”
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Tim Ahmann; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

12/4/2019 After 20 years, Palestinian mother and son reunited in Egypt
Palestinian journalist, Amjad Yaghi, hugs his mother, Nevine Zouheir, after 20 years
of separation, in Banha, Egypt December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Palestinian journalist Amjad Yaghi was just nine years old when his mother left the Gaza Strip on what should have been a short trip to Egypt for medical treatment.
    But until a joyful reunion this week, they did not see each other again for 20 years.
    After leaving Gaza in 1999, Yaghi’s mother, Nevine Zouheir, could not return to Gaza because of spinal disc pain for which she needs surgery.
    Despite 14 attempts to go to see her, Yaghi was unable to get out of Gaza after the militant group Hamas took control of the territory in 2007 and Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade that included travel restrictions.
    Though he was invited to attend several conferences abroad, he received travel clearance only after they ended, leaving him without a valid reason to cross the border.
    Yaghi was finally granted a visa to enter Egypt via Jordan, and made his way to his mother’s apartment in the Nile Delta town of Banha on Monday.
    When she saw him from her balcony, Zouheir cried out her son’s name.    She went to the bottom of the stairwell to embrace him and they held hands as they walked up to the apartment.
    “It was very difficult, knowing you could die without having realized your dreams, without having seen your family, your mother,” said Yaghi, who was wounded in 2009 in armed conflict with Israel.
    “In all of these situations, you need a mother. Yes, okay, I am 29 years old.    But I need a mother beside me,” he said.    “I have relatives who are all great, but a mother is important in a country which lives under occupation.”
    Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight controls on Palestinian movement in and out of Gaza, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East War.
    Egypt only occasionally opens a border crossing at the city of Rafah to allow certain people through, such as holders of foreign passports, students and those in need of medical treatment.
(Reporting by Sayed Sheasha and Mohamed Abd El-Ghany; Writing by Nadeen Ebrahim; Editing by Yousef Saba, Angus MacSwan and Timothy Heritage)

12/4/2019 Algeria tries top figures for corruption as opposed election looms
Members of the Research and Intervention Brigades (BRI) stand guard outside a court during the trial of senior
officials including two former prime ministers in Algiers, Algeria December 04, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria began the corruption trial of senior officials including two former prime ministers on Wednesday, a week before a presidential election opposed by a huge protest movement.
    Fighting corruption in the entrenched ruling hierarchy is one of the main goals of the protesters, but they have not yet been mollified by the arrest of dozens of senior figures including officials, former officials and businessmen.
    Wednesday’s trial is the second of top figures since the start of the protest movement in February, with long prison terms handed to a former spy chief and other once powerful figures in October.
    It comes at a pivotal moment in the months-long struggle between the large but leaderless protest movement, known as the “Herak,” and the military-backed authorities.
    Next week’s election has been pushed by the army as the only way to end the standoff with the opposition, but the protesters have rejected the vote, saying it cannot be free or fair while the ruling elite, including the military, stay in power.
    The Herak had already been mobilizing tens of thousands of demonstrators every Friday for months, but since the start of the official campaign period, it has also begun protests on other days, ramping up pressure on the authorities.
    Though the demonstrations have so far been mostly free from violence, there was some scuffling between protesters and riot police during a march in an eastern town last week and the government has started arresting more opposition figures.
    On Tuesday, Interior Minister Salah Eddine Dahmoune attacked people opposing the election as “traitors, mercenaries and homosexuals
    He later said his comments were aimed at people based overseas, rather than at the protest movement, but many supporters of the Herak were angered.
    “The remarks will only complicate things,” said Ahmed Bachichi, who has been taking part in the weekly protests.
    In the court on Wednesday, former prime ministers Ahmed Ouyahia and Abdelmalek Sellal faced charges of “misappropriation of public funds, abuse of office and granting undue privileges.”
    They and most of the other officials and businessmen on trial were closely linked to the former president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was forced from office in April.
    Wednesday’s session included evidence of corruption in the car assembly business, a sector encouraged by the government after 2015 in an effort to improve the trade balance in response to lower energy revenue.
    “You acted with favoritism when you granted authorizations to set up car assemblies,” the judge told Ouyahia, who denied the charge, saying all permits were granted in accordance with the law.
    The prosecution accused Sellal, who was campaign manager for Bouteflika when he planned to stand for another term of office early in the year, of involvement in illegal funding of the campaign.    He denied it.
    No verdict is expected in the trial this week.
(Reporting By Hamid Ould Ahmed, editing by Angus McDowall and Angus MacSwan)

12/5/2019 Exclusive: U.S. military completes pullback from northeast Syria, Esper says by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper delivers remarks before ringing the closing NASDAQ bell for
Veterans Day in New York, New York, November 11, 2019. DoD/Lisa Ferdinando/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States has completed its military pullback in northeastern Syria, settling into a more stable posture of about 600 troops in the rest of the country after repositioning and reducing forces, Defense Secretary Mark Esper said.
    Esper’s remarks in an interview with Reuters could signal the end of a period of turbulence and uncertainty surrounding the U.S. military presence in Syria after President Donald Trump’s initial withdrawal order in October.
    Since then, troop levels in Syria have fallen about 40 percent from around 1,000.
    Esper stressed he retained the ability to move in and out smaller numbers of forces as needed into Syria.    But he suggested the number of troops will fluctuate around the 600-level for the foreseeable future.
    “It will be relatively static around that number.    But if we see things happen … I can dial up a little bit,” Esper said late on Wednesday during a flight back from the NATO summit on the outskirts of London.
    Esper also didn’t rule out being able to reduce U.S. troop levels in Syria further if European allies contributed to the Syria mission.
    “The coalition is talking a lot again. We could see some allies want to volunteer troops,” Esper said, without suggesting any new contribution was imminent.
    “If an allied country, a NATO country, decided to give us 50 people, I might be able to turn off 50 people.”
    The U.S. military says it is focused on preventing a resurgence of Islamic State in Syria and carried out a raid last month that led to the death of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
    Trump, in London, said he wanted remaining U.S. forces to ensure Syria’s oil reserves don’t fall back into the militant group’s hands.
    “We kept the oil.    And the oil is what fueled ISIS,” Trump said, using an acronym for Islamic State.
NO MOVEMENT ON TURKEY S-400S
    Trump softened his pullout plans for Syria after backlash from Congress, including among key Republicans, who say he cleared the way for a long-threatened Turkish incursion against Kurdish forces in Syria who had been America’s top allies in the battle against Islamic State.
    NATO diplomats worry that Turkey, a NATO member since 1952 and a critical ally in the Middle East, has increasingly acted unilaterally, launching its incursion in Syria against U.S.-backed forces and buying advanced Russian S-400 air defenses.
    Washington says the S-400 system is incompatible with NATO air defenses, poses a threat to Lockheed Martin Corp’s F-35 stealth fighter jets and announced in July it was removing Turkey from the F-35 program.    It has also warned of possible U.S. sanctions.
    After summit talks between Trump and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, Esper suggested Ankara had not budged yet on the S-400 issue.
    “There’s no movement at this point,” Esper said.
    Still, after lobbying by NATO allies, including the United States, Erdogan backed off from a threat to block defense plans for the Baltic states and Poland unless allies declared Kurdish fighters in Syria terrorists.
    “I think it was a positive move forward,” Esper said, of the change in position by Turkey.
    “They’ve been a valuable part of NATO for decades, from the earliest days.    So we got to keep them in the fold.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart. Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

12/5/2019 Israel’s foreign minister says he hopes Corbyn loses British election
FILE PHOTO: Britain's opposition Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn arrives to speak outside
University of London, in London, Britain December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s foreign minister said on Thursday that he hopes Jeremy Corbyn loses next week’s British election, citing allegations of anti-Semitism buffeting the Labour Party leader.
    With Israel in political disarray of its own after two inconclusive elections, the British contest has elicited few comments from Israeli leaders despite deep concern among British Jews over Corbyn and media reports that some might opt to emigrate if he wins.
    Last week, Foreign Minister Israel Katz said the Israeli government had not discussed the prospect of Corbyn’s election or the future of intelligence and security ties with Britain should the veteran pro-Palestinian campaigner become its leader.
    But pressed on the issue in an Israeli Army Radio interview on Thursday, Katz was more forthcoming as the Dec. 12 ballot approaches.
    “I won’t meddle in internal elections but I personally hope that he won’t be elected, with this whole wave of anti-Semitism…I hope the other side wins,” he said.
    Labour Party spokesmen did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Katz played down the prospect that security relations with Britain, which include intelligence sharing over Islamist militant activity, would necessarily be degraded should Corbyn take office.
    “Leaders don’t harm their country’s own interests so fast.    But we will of course discuss these things if they occur,” Katz said.
    Corbyn has rejected allegations of anti-Semitism – last week Britain’s chief rabbi accused him of failing to stem the “poison” gripping Labour – while holding to policies that rile Israel.
    Last year, Corbyn said he would recognize a Palestinian state if elected.    In a speech on Sunday, he pledged increased oversight of British arms exports to Israel in the name of not fuelling its conflict with the Palestinians.
    On Tuesday, Corbyn made a direct apology for not doing enough to tackle anti-Semitism in his party.
    “Obviously I’m very sorry for everything that has happened,” he said.    “But I want to make this clear, I am dealing with it, I have dealt with it.”
    Polls have shown Labour trailing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party.    And for now, Israel does not appear to be bracing for any influx of British Jewish immigrants.
    Asked about this possibility, its Immigration Ministry said in a brief statement only that it “is prepared to take in immigrants from all over the world and welcomes immigration in any political situation.”
    The quasi-governmental Jewish Agency for Israel, which handles immigration requests abroad, said 507 British Jews moved to Israel between January and October, an 8% rise compared with the same period in 2018.
    Yigal Palmor, the agency’s head of international relations, played down any sense that Corbyn’s candidacy was a major spur for British Jews to leave.
    “We have no solid findings to show an increase in British immigration (due to the elections).    What we have are more general indications – more discussions of the option,” he said.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

12/5/2019 Lebanon’s Aoun hopes government will be formed quickly
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese President Michel Aoun arrives at Vnukovo International Airport
in Moscow, Russia March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Thursday he hoped a new government would be formed quickly to carry out essential reforms in a country grappling with the worst economic crisis since its 1975-90 civil war.
    More than one month since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister in the face of mass protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite, Sunni businessman Samir Khatib appears on course to be designated as the new premier in formal consultations on Monday.
    Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis has grown more acute since protests began on Oct. 17, spiraling into a financial crunch that led banks to impose informal capital controls as dollars became scarce and the local currency weakened.
    The designation of a new prime minister, who must be a Sunni Muslim according to Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system, will be followed by talks to form the new government that is expected to include technocrats and politicians.
    A senior political source said once Khatib is designated, the cabinet was expected to be formed quickly because major parties had already reached an agreement on its make-up.
    Aoun, speaking during a meeting with heads of professional syndicates, said the new government’s priorities would include “achieving the essential reforms in different sectors” and fighting corruption, a statement from the presidency said.
    There were some signs of opposition.    Christian politician Samir Geagea – whose Lebanese Forces party holds 15 of parliament’s 128 seats – said the proposed new cabinet would be made of establishment technocrats, out of touch with protesters calling for broader change.
    But the prospects of a prime minister being designated helped the Lebanese pound to strengthen.    Dollars were being offered on a parallel market at 1,980 pounds compared to 2,030 pounds on Wednesday, a dealer said.    The official rate is 1,507.5 pounds.
    Lebanon’s economic crisis is rooted in decades of state waste and corruption that have made it one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.
    A U.S. official, addressing a subcommittee of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee on Wednesday, noted that more than $11 billion in financing had been pledged to Lebanon last year in Paris if it acts seriously on reform.
    “But there is no Western country that is going to jump in there and say ‘we are going to bail you out this time once again even though you haven’t gotten the message from your people and even though you haven’t committed to reform’,” said Joey Hood, principal deputy assistant secretary at the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs.
    Efforts to agree a new government have been mired in political differences between Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, and the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, including Aoun.
    Hezbollah, which had more influence in the Hariri-led cabinet than in any previous administration, has accused the United States of meddling in the formation of a new Lebanese government.    It had backed Hariri’s return.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Eric Knecht; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Heavens)

12/5/2019 Erdogan says allies must support Turkey after it approved NATO plan: NTV
Turkey's President President Tayyip Erdogan attends the NATO leaders summit
in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville
    ANKARA (Reuters) – NATO allies should support Turkey in its conflict with Syrian Kurdish fighters after Ankara dropped its objections to the alliance’s defense plans for Poland and the Baltics, President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Thursday.
    Ahead of Wednesday’s summit, Turkey had angered other NATO members by saying it would block the defense plan until they designated the Kurdish YPG militia, against which Ankara waged a military offensive two months ago, a terrorist organization.
    Speaking to reporters in London, Erdogan said that Turkey dropped its objection to the Baltics plan after NATO Secretary-General Stoltenberg and the leaders of Germany, France and Poland asked for Turkey’s backing.
    “They all called us and asked us for support on this.    After talks with my colleagues, we said yes to this, but you must not abandon us in the fight against terror,” broadcaster NTV quoted Erdogan as saying.
    Stoltenberg told reporters after the summit that allies had not discussed how to designate the YPG during their talks.
    Ties between Turkey and its NATO allies have soured over a host of issues, ranging from Ankara’s decision to procure Russian air defense systems to Syria policy.    Ankara accuses its allies of not providing enough support against the threats it is facing and in hosting more than 3.5 million Syrian refugees.
    Turkey says it aims to establish a “safe zone” in part of northeast Syria after clearing the region of the YPG, and says that Syrian refugees can be settled there.
    Erdogan has also urged allies to provide funds for its plans, which he discussed with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson at the summit.
    Erdogan said that only one country, which he did not name, has so far pledged support for Turkey’s Syria plans. He said the four leaders had agreed to meet again in Istanbul in February and to hold talks annually.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/6/2019 Israel: Hezbollah boosting presence along border, preparing attacks by OAN Newsroom
FILE – in this Sept. 5, 2018 file photo, an Israeli soldier stands near a wall at the Israel Lebanon border near
Rosh Haniqra, northern Israel, A year after uncovering a network of cross-border Hezbollah tunnels, the Israeli military
says the Lebanese militant group has beefed up its presence along the volatile frontier. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
    Israeli officials say Islamic terror group Hezbollah is ramping-up its presence along the borders of the Jewish state. According to the Israeli Defense Force Thursday, Hezbollah is preparing for a military conflict with Israel.
    Officials have claimed the terror group appears undeterred by the recent destruction of its tunnels.    They also said Hezbollah has up to 130,000 missiles and is being supported by Iran with its ultimate goal of destroying the Jewish state.    Security officials are not ruling out preventive strikes against Hezbollah.
    “We have a very serious enemy that everything he is doing and did is to try and to plan to attack us,” stated Col. Roy Levy, commander of the Northern Border Brigade – Israeli Defense Force.
Col. Roy Levy, the commander of Israel’s Northern Border Brigade, speaks inside a tunnel that the army says crosses from Lebanon
to Israel, Northern Israel, Thursday, Dec. 5, 2019. A year after uncovering a network of cross-border Hezbollah tunnels, the
Israeli military says the Lebanese militant group has beefed up its presence along the volatile frontier. (AP Photo/Patty Nieberg)
    Israeli officials say they will continue to destroy Hezbollah’s terror infrastructure and ramp up missile defenses against future attacks.

12/6/2019 Iraqi cleric warns against meddling as protest death toll rises by John Davison
Iraqi demonstrators from Nassiriya city hold the pictures of people who were killed during ongoing
anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s top Shi’ite Muslim cleric said that a new prime minister must be chosen without foreign interference in an apparent nod to Iranian influence as gunmen killed at least eight people near a Baghdad protest site on Friday.
    More than 20 others were wounded near Tahrir Square, the main protest camp in the Iraqi capital, police and medics said, a week after Iraqi prime minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he would resign following two months of anti-government protests.
    Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani’s comments followed reports that a senior Iranian commander had been in Baghdad this week to rally support for a new government that would continue to serve Shi’ite Iran’s interests.
    Sistani has repeatedly condemned the killing of unarmed protesters and has also urged demonstrators to remain peaceful and stop saboteurs turning their opposition violent.
    The departure of Abdul Mahdi, whom Tehran had fought to keep at the helm, is a potential blow to Iran after protests that have increasingly focused anger against what many Iraqis view as Iranian meddling in their politics and institutions.
    Sistani, Iraq’s most senior Shi’ite cleric, has long opposed any foreign interference as well as the Iranian model of senior clergy being closely involved in running state institutions.
    He only weighs in on politics in times of crisis and holds enormous sway over public opinion.
    “We hope a new head of government and its members will be chosen within the constitutional deadline” of 15 days since the resignation was formalized in parliament on Sunday, a representative of Sistani said in his Friday sermon in the holy city of Kerbala.
    “It must also take place without any foreign interference,” he said, adding that Sistani would not get involved in the process of choosing a new government.
    The burning of Iran’s consulate in the holy city of Najaf, the seat of Iraq’s Shi’ite clergy, and subsequent killings of protesters by security forces in southern cities paved the way for Sistani to withdraw his support for Abdul Mahdi.
    Abdul Mahdi pledged to step down last week after Sistani urged lawmakers to reconsider their support for the government following two months of anti-establishment protests where security forces have killed more than 400 demonstrators.
    More than a dozen members of the security forces have been killed in the clashes.
    Washington on Friday imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.    A senior U.S. Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.
    Iraq’s two main allies, the United States and Iran, have acted as power brokers in Iraq since the 2003 U.S. invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein, although Tehran’s allies have mostly dominated state institutions since then.
    Iranian officials including the powerful commander of its Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, stepped in to prevent Abdul Mahdi’s resignation in October, Reuters reported.
    Soleimani was reported to be in Baghdad this week.
    Abdul Mahdi’s government, including himself, will stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government can be chosen, the prime minister said last week.
    President Barham Salih officially has 15 days – until Dec. 16 – to name a new premier tasked with forming a government that would be approved by parliament up to a month later.
    Iraqi lawmakers say they will then move to hold a general election next year but protesters say that without a new, fully representative electoral law and unbiased electoral commission, a snap vote will keep corrupt politicians in power.
(Reporting by John Davison, Editing by William Maclean, Angus MacSwan, Giles Elgood and Alexander Smith)

12/6/2019 Algerian protesters hold last Friday rally before election by Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators chat slogans during a protest to demand that a presidential election next month be cancelled until
the old ruling guard steps aside and the army quit politics, in Algiers, Algeria November 29, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Algerians took to the streets on Friday, making a show of strength of their last weekly protest before a presidential election next week that they have rejected as meaningless.
    The protesters have been demonstrating twice a week since February to demand that the shadowy ruling elite that has controlled Algeria since independence in 1962 quits power.
    On Friday, they chanted “We will not vote” and held aloft banners reading “No need to prepare the polling stations” and “The people are fed up” as they paraded through central Algiers.
    The army, the major force within the Algerian state, sees the Dec. 12 election of a new president as the only way to restore normality after nine months of demonstrations which in April ousted the veteran leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika.
    Protesters say any election is pointless if the ruling hierarchy, including the army, continues to wield power, and want it put off until more top officials step aside and the military quits politics.
    “We will stick to our position.    We don’t care about next Thursday.    We need change,” said post office employee Aissa Baha’i, 32.
    Later on Friday the former senior officials running for president will take part in a televised debate, Algeria’s first, but the protesters dismissed it as political theater.
    “We are used to hearing promises.    I don’t trust them,” said Djamila Chabi, 37, referring to the debate.
    Though the protest movement, which during the spring was regularly bringing hundreds of thousands of people to the streets, has so far been peaceful, there have been signs of growing tensions as the election nears.
    Earlier this year the authorities detained dozens of protesters for waving flags with Berber symbols as it began to put more pressure on the marches, and later sentenced many of them to year-long prison terms for undermining national unity.
    Late on Thursday, the security services accused a Berber separatist movement of planning to disrupt the election by using agents provocateurs among the protesters to incite police violence, saying a student in the banned group had confessed.
    The government has also arrested several opposition figures and journalists, charging some with attacking army morale.
    In recent weeks, protesters have marched more frequently and have also challenged the coming election by demonstrating against campaigning candidates and hanging bags of garbage in public spaces reserved for electioneering.
    Meanwhile the government has sought to appease protester anger over corruption, arresting dozens of senior officials and former officials and businessmen, many of them associated with Bouteflika, and sentencing some to long prison terms.
    On Friday, state media also reported that thousands of people had joined marches in towns in western and eastern provinces in support of Thursday’s vote.
    “Change cannot be made with the old system’s men.    This election is a waste of time,” said university student Noureddine Kadiri, 25, marching with his two younger brothers.
(Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

12/6/2019 Turkey says it did not fully approve NATO’s Baltic defense plan
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference, a day ahead of the first meeting of the new
Syrian Constitutional Committee at the Untied Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will block final publication of a NATO defense plan for the Baltics and Poland until allies agree to designate the Syrian Kurdish YPG a terrorist group, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday.
    Two days after a NATO summit at which alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg announced that Turkey had withdrawn its objection, allowing plans to move forward, Cavusoglu said Ankara agreed to the next step in the process but had not given final approval.
    Ankara will block the plan until a defense proposal for Turkey – which Ankara says must include an endorsement of Turkey’s view of the YPG by the alliance – is approved as well, he told reporters on a visit to Rome.
    “That plan will not be published until our plan is published too,” Cavusoglu said, describing Ankara’s move at the summit as a gesture to its allies.    “It would not be fair for some countries to not approve our plan while at the same time backing a plan for others,” he said.
    “Both plans are waiting at the same level … and if they are going to be published, it will be together.    But, if there is a problem, then they will both be blocked.    It is out of the question for there to be a compromise here.”
    The YPG has formed the main fighting element of the Syrian Democratic Forces, Washington’s partner in the fight against Islamic State in Syria.    Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group and has been infuriated by Western support for the militia.
    Stoltenberg told reporters after the summit that allies had not discussed how to designate the YPG.    Later, Erdogan told reporters in London that NATO allies must not abandon Turkey in its fight against terror after it approved the plan upon the request of the French, German, Polish leaders and Stoltenberg.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/6/2019 Greece to expel Libyan ambassador over Turkey-Libya accord by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas
A Libyan flag flutters atop the Libyan Consulate in Athens, Greece, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Friday it was expelling the Libyan ambassador, angered by an accord between Libya and Turkey signed on Nov. 27 that maps out a sea boundary between the two countries close to the Greek island of Crete.
    Libya called the move unacceptable.    Turkey dismissed it as outrageous.
    Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said the Turkey-Libyan accord was a “blatant violation of international law,” telling a news briefing that the ambassador, Mohamed Younis AB Menfi, had 72 hours to leave the country.
    The move did not mean Greece was severing diplomatic relations with Libya, Dendias said. Another foreign ministry official said Libya had “deceived” Greece.
    “This is a legally invalid document,” Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis told parliament.
    “Not only is it geographically and historically invalid — wiping Greek islands off the map — but because it led Turkey to an unprecedented diplomatic isolation,” he said.
    “It’s just a piece of paper nobody recognizes.”
    Libyan Foreign Minister Mohamed Siyala told Reuters Greece’s decision was not acceptable, and Libya would have reciprocated if Greece had diplomatic representation in the country.
    “It is Greece’s right to go to the International Court of Justice and to the legal channels to remove any confusion.    But to take the stand of expelling the ambassador, summoning him and escalating the situation, this is unacceptable to the Libyan government,” Siyala said.
OIL, GAS RESERVES
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu also condemned the move.    “Expelling an ambassador just because of the (agreement) that we signed is not a mature behavior in diplomacy.    This is outrageous,” he told reporters in Rome.
    The expulsion is the latest twist in a saga of Mediterranean states jostling to claim mostly untapped oil and gas reserves in the region.
    Turkey and the internationally recognized government of Libya signed the accord in November defining their boundaries and a deal on expanded security and military cooperation, a step Turkey said was protecting its rights.
    Greece called the accord absurd because it ignored the presence of Crete between the coasts of Turkey and Libya.
    “The text of this agreement carries the signature of the Libyan foreign minister.    It is the same person who, in September, had assured the Greek side otherwise,” Dendias said.
    Mitsotakis said the speaker of Libya’s parliament would be in Athens in coming days for consultations.
    Greece and Turkey are at odds over a host of issues ranging from mineral rights in the Aegean Sea to ethnically-split Cyprus.    Tensions are also running high because of Turkish drilling off Cyprus, and the European Union has prepared sanctions against Turkey in response.
    On Thursday, Cyprus said it had petitioned the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to safeguard its offshore rights.    It said an attempt to deliver a notice of its intentions to the Turkish embassy in Athens was not accepted.
    Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy told reporters in Ankara that Turkey was not aware of any such petition.
(Additional reporting by George Georgiopoulos in Athens, Ahmed Elumami in Tripoli, Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Turkey; Editing by Catherine Evans, William Maclean)

12/6/2019 Israel detains Palestinian Authority TV journalists in Jerusalem
Journalists from Palestine TV, the Palestinian Authority's official TV station, are seen soon after being
released from detainment by Israeli police in Jerusalem, December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police on Friday detained four journalists from the Palestinian Authority’s official television station in Jerusalem, drawing protest from Palestinians who say their activities in the holy city are increasingly restricted.
    The Palestine TV crew was filming a talk show outside of Jerusalem’s walled Old City when Israeli officers detained them and took their equipment, the Authority’s Wafa news service said.
    The journalists with the daily “Good Morning Jerusalem” program were held for four hours at a police station in Jerusalem and later released, said Mohammad Barghouti, Palestine TV’s general manager for news.
    Israeli police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said: “The journalists were detained in connection with illegal activity by (the) Palestinian Authority in Jerusalem.”
    Israel forbids any official activity in Jerusalem by the Western-backed PA, saying it breaches Israel’s sovereignty over the city and violates interim peace agreements.
    The Palestinians want East Jerusalem, which includes the Old City, as capital of a future state.    Israel annexed the area after capturing it in the 1967 Middle East war and says the entire city is its eternal and indivisible capital.
    In November, Israel ordered the closure of Palestine TV’s Jerusalem office for six months on the grounds that it was planning to stage activities for the PA, which exercises limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank adjacent to Jerusalem.
    An office of the PA’s education ministry in Jerusalem was also given a six-month closure notice in November, which Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan said at the time was “part of a firm policy against any attempt by the (PA) to violate our sovereignty in the capital.”
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the journalists’ detention as “part of the Israeli government’s scheme to entrench Israeli control over the occupied city of Jerusalem and its holy sites.”
    The last round of peace talks between the two sides broke down in 2014.    Palestinians have boycotted U.S. President Donald Trump’s mediation efforts, partly over his recognition in 2017 of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Suheir Sheikh in Jerusalem)

12/6/2019 Lebanon appeals for import aid; France to hold meeting by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon appealed to friendly states on Friday to help it import essential goods as it grapples with an acute economic crisis, and official sources said France would convene an international meeting next week to mobilize support for the country.
    Lebanon’s economic crisis, the worst since its 1975-90 civil war, has spiraled into a financial crunch since the eruption of protests against the ruling elite in October, leading to hard currency shortages that have impeded imports.
    The country has also been in a political crisis since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister more than five weeks ago, prompted by protests against ruling politicians over corruption.
    Consensus emerged this week around businessman Samir Khatib as the new premier and he is expected to be designated on Monday unless Lebanon’s volatile politics brings surprises before then.
    A new government is seen as a crucial step for Lebanon to chart a way out of the crisis and appeal for the help of foreign governments waiting for the new administration to take shape.
    Hariri, running a caretaker government, issued his appeal to Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Turkey, the United States, China, and Egypt, seeking help to finance imports of essential goods.
    A statement said this was part of his efforts to address the liquidity shortage and to ensure “the continuity of food security and raw materials for production.”
    Capital controls – which are being enforced by commercial banks but have not been formalized by the authorities – have led some importers to slash their orders as they have been unable to source dollars at the official rate or make transfers abroad.
    The central bank has rationed dollars for wheat, fuel, and medicine, but buyers of these must still source 15% of the dollars, raising costs because of a slump in the Lebanese pound.
    The pound firmed slightly on Friday, with dollars offered at 1,930 pounds compared to 1,980 on Thursday, but was still 28% weaker than the official rate of 1,507.5 pounds, dealers said.
    The crisis is rooted state waste and corruption overseen by leaders using government resources for their own gain.    Lebanon is one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.
    Lebanon won international pledges of more than $11 billion in project financing last year on condition reforms are enacted.
    France aims to mobilize international support at the conference which a European official and a Lebanese official said would take place in Paris on Dec. 11.
    The meeting will gather representatives of the International Support Group which includes the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.    Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates were also expected to be invited, the Lebanese official said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht in Beirut and John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

12/6/2019 Saudi Arabia’s Jubeir says possible to calm Yemen situation ahead of settlement: Al-Arabiya
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/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir said there is a possibility of calming the situation in Yemen as a prelude to reaching a settlement in the four-year conflict, Saudi-owned channel Al-Arabiya cited him as saying on Friday.
    Saudi Arabia released at the end of November a group of Yemeni prisoners belonging to the Iran-aligned Houthi group, a step that may support efforts to end a war that has killed tens of thousands and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
    “There is a possibility to calm down the situation that will be followed by a settlement in Yemen,” Jubeir told a conference in Rome, according to Al-Arabiya.
    A coalition led by Saudi Arabia intervened in Yemen in March 2015, after the Houthis ousted the internationally-recognized government in Sanaa.
    The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/6/2019 U.S. imposes sanctions on Iraq amid protests by OAN Newsroom
Protesters hold Popular Mobilization forces and Iraqi flags and chanting religious slogans
march towards Tahrir Square in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    The U.S. is imposing sanctions against Iraq over its treatment of anti-government protesters.    On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced the sanctions on the leaders of three Iran backed militias.     The group has been accused of playing a role in the killings of dozens of Iraqis, who are protesting economic conditions and foreign meddling in their nation.
    “The Iraqi people…are calling for genuine reform, accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq’s national interests first,” stated Pompeo.    “Those demands deserve to be addressed without resorting to violence or suppression.”
    The Trump administration is cracking down on Iraqi officials in an effort to stop the deadly violence, which started at the beginning of October.
    “According to the UN, over 400 Iraqis have been killed, who are protesting for better governance and a brighter future,” stated Assistant Secretary David Schenker.    “If you are perpetrating violence against protesters, regardless of whether you’re in or outside of the government, you are at risk of being designated.”
Policemen use slingshots to fire stones towards anti-government protesters during clashes
on Rasheed Street in Baghdad, Iraq, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    These are the latest sanctions by the U.S., which target Iraqi individuals or groups with ties to Iran, as Washington maintains its maximum pressure campaign against Tehran.
    Meanwhile, residents in one Iraqi town held a mile long march to commemorate those lost in the demonstrations.    The latest reports said 15 people were killed and 60 injured in Baghdad on Friday.

12/7/2019 Death toll in Baghdad attack rises to 23
Iraqi demonstrators gather during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The death toll in an attack by armed men at Baghdad’s main protest site on Friday night rose to 23 on Saturday, police and medical sources said, the deadliest incident to hit the capital in weeks.
    More than 127 others were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters near Tahrir Square, police and medical sources said.    The death toll includes three members of the police.
    Thousands of Iraqis have occupied the central square and three nearby bridges which lead to the city’s Green Zone for weeks, calling for the complete uprooting of the current political system.
    Security sources said they could not identify the gunmen who attacked protesters.
    The incident was followed by further intimidation early on Saturday morning, as unknown gunmen drove in a convoy down the main riverside street which leads to Tahrir Square, firing a volley of shots toward it.
    The heavily armed, masked gunmen roamed the street near the square and attempted to advance onto Tahrir Square but were eventually turned around at a checkpoint manned by Iraq’s security forces, witnesses said.
    The incidents were the most violent flare-ups in the capital for weeks and came a week after Iraqi’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said he would resign following two months of anti-government protests.
    Friday’s deadly attack came hours after Washington imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders who it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.    A senior U.S. Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Ros Russell)

12/7/2019 United States and Iran swap prisoners in rare act of cooperation by Parisa Hafezi and David Brunnstrom
U.S. Ambassador to Switzerland Edward McMullen greets Xiyue Wang in
Zurich, Switzerland December 7, 2019. U.S. Embassy in Switzerland/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States and Iran each freed a prisoner on Saturday in a rare act of cooperation between two longtime foes whose ties have worsened since President Donald Trump took office.
    Iran released Xiyue Wang, a U.S. citizen who had been held for three years on spying charges, while the United States freed Iranian Massoud Soleimani. He had been facing charges of violating U.S. sanctions against Tehran.
    A senior U.S. official said Washington was hopeful that Wang’s release would lead to the freeing of other Americans held in Iran and that it was a sign Tehran was willing to discuss other issues.
    Wang appeared to be in good health and humor, he said.
    Switzerland facilitated the swap. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif met Soleimani in Zurich, state news agency IRNA said.    Soleimani, who then flew to Iran, was accompanied to Switzerland by Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, according to a U.S. official.
    Trump thanked Iran on Twitter for what he called a “very fair negotiation” that led to the exchange.    He said the swap showed the United States and Iran “can make a deal together.”
    In an earlier statement, Trump thanked the Swiss government for its help in negotiating Wang’s release.
    “Freeing Americans held captive is of vital importance to my administration, and we will continue to work hard to bring home all our citizens wrongfully held captive overseas,” Trump said.
    Arriving in Tehran, Soleimani, a stem cell expert, told reporters the Americans who had held him were “petty.”
    “I told them that I had patients that needed my help.    And they said who cares.    Let them die,” he said.    “It shows that American officials have issues with Iranians.”
    IRNA reported that Wang was released based on “Islamic clemency.”
    The releases were the result of three or four weeks of intensive negotiations, the senior U.S. official said.
    “We’re hopeful this will lead us to further success with Iran,” he told reporters in a conference call.
    Switzerland represents U.S. diplomatic interests in Iran, since Washington and Tehran cut diplomatic ties shortly after the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
CHARGES DROPPED
    Wang, a Princeton University graduate student, was convicted on espionage charges and sentenced to 10 years in prison in 2017.    His family and the university have always said he was in Iran for research into a history degree and denied spying.
    According to Princeton, he was born in Beijing in 1980, emigrated to the United States in 2001 and became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2009.    His wife and child are Chinese citizens. China, which normally requires its citizens to give up their nationality when they become citizens of another country, has not commented publicly on the case.
    Soleimani was arrested at Chicago airport in October 2018 over U.S. allegations he tried to export biological materials to Iran in violation of sanctions imposed by Washington because of its nuclear program.
    Tensions have risen between Iran and the United States since Trump last year pulled Washington out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Tehran’s economy.    Iran has responded by gradually removing its commitments under the agreement.
    Soleimani had been due to appear in court on Dec. 11 but the charges against him were dropped, the senior official said.
    He said no ransom was paid or any other sort of concession made by the United States.    He referred questions on the status of Soleimani’s legal case to the Department of Justice.
    “But what I can tell you in light of the status of Mr. Soleimani’s case, this was an extraordinarily good outcome for the United States of America,” the official said.
    Asked about the status of Soleimani’s case, a senior Department of Justice official sent Reuters an Atlanta court order showing the criminal indictment was dismissed on Saturday.
    “The President made a decision in this matter based on foreign policy considerations.    The Administration has effectuated this decision,” the official said in an email.
‘THREE LONG YEARS’
    The second U.S. official said Wang would be examined by doctors in Germany, where he was expected to stay for several days.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo wrote on Twitter he was “pleased that the Iranian government has been constructive in this matter.”
    Hua Qu, Wang’s wife, told Reuters she was “happy.”
    “Our family is complete once again,” she said in a separate statement.    “Our son Shaofan and I have waited three long years for this day, and it’s hard to express in words how excited we are to be reunited with Xiyue.”
    “We are thankful to everyone who helped make this happen.”
    Nizar Zakka, a Lebanese businessman resident in the United States who was freed in June after four years in prison in Iran, told Reuters he was the first to know of the release and had told Wang’s mother and wife.
    “Wang’s wife has got a visa to travel to Germany.    Wang is expected to come to Washington, D.C., on Monday,” said Zakka.
    Washington has demanded that Iran release all the Americans it is holding, including father and son Baquer and Siamak Namazi; Michael R. White, a Navy veteran imprisoned last year, and Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent missing since 2007.
    “I hope, pray, and expect that this is not a one-time trade but the beginning of an expedited process that will bring my family home soon,” Babak Namazi, Siamak’s brother, said in a statement.
    Several dozen Iranians are being held in U.S. prisons, many of them for breaking sanctions.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and David Brunnstrom; Additional reporting by Tim Ahmann in Washington and Joseph Ax in New York; Writing by Frances Kerry, Peter Graff; editing by Sonya Hepinstall, Grant McCool and Jonathan Oatis)

12/7/2019 Rocket hits Iraqi cleric’s home following deadly Baghdad attack by Ahmed Rasheed and Raya Jalabi
Iraqi demonstrators gather during ongoing anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq December 6, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A rocket fired from a drone targeted the home of populist Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr on Saturday, lawmakers from his Saeroon party said, following one of the capital’s bloodiest nights in recent weeks.
    The drone attack, which caused little damage and left no casualties, followed a deadly attack by armed men near Baghdad’s main protest site on Friday night, which left at least 23 dead, police and medical sources said.
    Nearly 130 others were wounded by gunfire and stabbings targeting anti-government protesters at the Sinak bridge near Tahrir Square, the sources said.    The death toll includes three members of the police.
    Thousands of Iraqis have occupied the central square and three nearby bridges which lead to the city’s Green Zone, Iraq’s political center, for more than two months, calling for a complete uprooting of the political system.
    Friday and Saturday’s attacks came days after Iraq’s prime minister, Adel Abdul Mahdi, said he would resign.
    Sadr, a mercurial figure who has supported the protests but not thrown his full weight behind them, was in Iran at the time of the drone attack on his home in the southern holy city of Najaf, a source in his office said.
    However, a spokesman for his party said the incidents were aimed at pressuring both protesters and political leaders to accept whichever candidate is nominated for the premiership by the ruling elite.
    “The Sinak massacre and the bombing of (Sadr’s home) is geared at pushing the acceptance of the candidate for prime minister,” said Jaafar Al-Mousawi.
    Iranian officials including the powerful commander of its Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, Qassem Soleimani, stepped in to prevent Abdul Mahdi’s resignation in October, Reuters reported.
    Soleimani was reported to be in Baghdad this week, negotiating with political leaders for a new consensus candidate for prime minister.
MASKED GUNMEN
    The weekend’s developments marked a drastic escalation to quell the demonstrations, the country’s largest in decades.    More than 430 people have been killed since protests began on Oct. 1.
    Security sources said they could not identify the gunmen who attacked protesters on Friday night.
    The incident was followed by further intimidation early on Saturday morning, as more unknown gunmen drove in a convoy down the main riverside street which leads to Tahrir Square, firing a volley of shots toward it.
    The heavily armed, masked gunmen roamed the street near Tahrir Square and attempted to advance onto it but were eventually turned around at a checkpoint manned by Iraq’s security forces, witnesses said.
    Friday’s deadly attack came hours after Washington imposed sanctions on three Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary leaders whom it accused of directing the killing of Iraqi protesters.    A senior U.S. Treasury official suggested the sanctions were timed to distance those figures from any role in forming a new government.
    Western diplomats condemned the attack on protesters, urging Iraqi authorities to investigate whoever is responsible.
    The government has said it would investigate and try those responsible for the violence, but there has been little evidence of real accountability, partly due to the complexity of Iraq’s varied security apparatus.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Raya Jalabi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Ros Russell and James Drummond)

12/7/2019 Air strikes kill at least 20 in Syria’s Idlib: Observatory, activists
FILE PHOTO: Road direction signs are pictured at the entrance en route to
Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Air strikes by Syrian government and Russian forces killed at least 20 people in rebel-held northwestern Syria on Saturday, activists and the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
    The attacks hit five villages in the Idlib region of the northwest, part of the last major territorial foothold of the insurgency against President Bashar al-Assad.
    Russian jets killed at least nine people in an attack that hit a market in the village of Balyoun and another four people in a strike on the village of al-Bara, the Observatory said.
    Five more people were killed in a barrel bomb attack by Syrian government helicopters on the village of Abdita, the Observatory said.    Barrel bombs killed two more people in the villages of Jebghas and Tel Minis, it added.
    Syrian state media carried no reports of military operations by the Syrian army or its Russian ally in those areas on Saturday.
    The Observatory said eight children were among the dead.
    Russia and Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition and has troops on the ground in Idlib, brokered a ceasefire in the northwest in August but attacks have continued since then.
    At least 11 people were killed in Syrian government air strikes that hit two outdoor markets on Monday, the civil defense said.
    President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recover “every inch” of Syria, which descended into a multi-sided conflict after the eruption of protests against his rule in 2011.
(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Khalil Ashawi in Turkey; Editing by Jan Harvey)

12/7/2019 Lebanon appeals to more states for help with imports
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon appealed to more friendly states on Saturday to help it import essential goods as it wrestles with an acute economic crisis and hard currency shortages, the office of caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri said.
    Hariri wrote to the leaders of Germany, Britain and Spain on Saturday to request help in securing credit for imports, having made the same appeal on Friday to Saudi Arabia, France, Russia, Turkey, the United States, China, and Egypt.
    The letters were part of efforts to “deal with the liquidity shortage and to secure basic import needs for citizens … to secure continued food security and raw materials for production,” his office said.
    Lebanon’s economic crisis, the worst since its 1975-90 civil war, has spiraled into a financial crunch since the eruption of protests against the ruling elite in October.
    The economic crisis is rooted in decades of corruption and waste that have made Lebanon one of the world’s most heavily indebted states.
    Hariri, running a caretaker government, resigned as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by the protests which have taken aim at corruption.
    Consensus emerged this week around businessman Samir Khatib as the new premier and he is expected to be designated on Monday unless Lebanon’s volatile politics brings surprises before then.
    Lebanon’s sectarian system requires the prime minister to be a Sunni Muslim.    Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, the leading Shi’ite Muslim in the state, said he would nominate Khatib.
    “I was originally going to nominate Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri or the person he backs to form the government, and given that he supports Engineer Samir Khatib, I will nominate … Samir Khatib,” he told al-Joumhouria newspaper.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/7/2019 20 killed in attack on anti-government protesters in Iraq by OAN Newsroom
Protesters gather at the site of a gunmen attack in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Gunmen in cars opened
fire Friday in Baghdad’s Khilani square, killing and wounding scores of people. (AP Photo/Hadi Mizban)
    At least 20 people were killed after gunmen opened fire on anti-government protesters in Iraq.    The unknown attackers raided the main protest site on Saturday in the nation’s capital of Baghdad.
    130 other people were wounded on Friday in a separate clash between protesters and security forces.    Overall, 400 people have been killed since the protests began back in October.
    “They want to eliminate the demonstrations, even though it’s peaceful,” said one protester.    “They used grenades, which led to the killings of many people.”
    Iraqi Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi has resigned as a result of the demonstrations, but protesters are seeking an overhaul of the country’s political system.    They are calling for an end to corruption, unemployment and Iranian influence.

Iraqis gather around a crying man who lit candles by the spot where an Iraqi protester was killed
Friday, at Khilani square, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 7, 2019. Gunmen in cars opened fire Friday
in Baghdad’s Khilani square, killing and wounding scores of people. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

12/8/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri reemerges as PM candidate as Khatib withdraws
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrives to attend a military parade to mark the 76th anniversary
of Lebanon's independence at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze, Lebanon November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, Saad al-Hariri, re-emerged as a candidate for prime minister on Sunday when businessman Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy to lead a government that must tackle an acute economic crisis.
    President Michel Aoun responded by postponing until Dec. 16 consultations with lawmakers that had been expected to result in Khatib being named prime minister on Monday.    The delay was requested by most parties in parliament, the presidency said.
    Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by mass protests against an entire political class blamed for state corruption and steering Lebanon into the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Under the country’s power sharing system, the prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim.    Hariri has continued to govern in a caretaker capacity until a new prime minister is named.
    After Hariri quit, talks to agree a new cabinet became mired in divisions between Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, and adversaries including the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.    Last month Hariri officially withdrew his candidacy to be prime minister.
    A consensus on Khatib appeared to form last week among the main parties, including Hariri.    But Khatib failed to win enough backing from the Sunni Muslim establishment for the position.
    Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdul Latif Derian, Lebanon’s most senior Sunni cleric, told Khatib during a meeting on Sunday that he backed Hariri, Khatib said after the meeting.
    “I learnt … that as a result of meetings and consultations and contacts with the sons of the (Sunni) Islamic sect, agreement was reached on nominating Saad al-Hariri to form the coming government,” Khatib said.
    Khatib later went to see Hariri at his Beirut residence where he announced the withdrawal of his candidacy.     There was no immediate statement from Hariri.
    In recent days, in his role as caretaker prime minister, Hariri appealed to friendly foreign states to help Lebanon secure credit lines for essential imports as the country grapples with a hard currency shortage.
    He has said he would return as prime minister only if he could lead a government of specialist ministers which he believes would satisfy protesters and be best placed to deal with the economic crisis and attract foreign aid.
    But this demand has been rejected by groups including Hezbollah and its ally Aoun, a Maronite Christian.    Both say the government must include politicians.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam and Samar Hassan in Cairo; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair, Timothy Heritage and Peter Graff)

12/8/2019 Saudi Arabia ends gender-segregated entrances for restaurants by Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: Women sit among men in a newly opened cafe in Khobar, Saudi Arabia, August 2, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Restaurants in Saudi Arabia will no longer need to maintain entrances segregated by sex, the authorities said on Sunday, further eroding some of the world’s strictest social rules as sweeping reforms take hold.
    Previously, Saudi Arabia required all restaurants to have one entrance for families and women, and another for men on their own.    The ministry of municipalities and rural affairs announced on Twitter this would no longer be mandatory.
    Unrelated men and women have for decades been barred from mixing in public places under strict social rules once enforced by hardline clerics and the religious police.
    But Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has brought the religious establishment to heel — partly by arresting critics — and eased other restrictions, including bans on women driving and public entertainment.
    Segregation has quietly eased over the past year or so, as eateries, cafes, conference centers and concert halls stopped strictly enforcing it.
    A spokesman for the ministry contacted by Reuters did not specify whether segregated seating areas inside restaurants would also be eliminated.    The new rules are not compulsory, meaning restaurants could still maintain separate entrances if owners choose to do so, he said.
    There was no announcement of changes to other public establishments, such as schools and hospitals, which appear likely to remain segregated for now.
    Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s most gender-segregated nations, has also been chipping away at a guardianship system which requires all women have a male relative’s approval for important decisions, though some key restrictions remain.
    Social openness has been accompanied by a crackdown on dissent that has seen the arrests of dozens of clerics, intellectuals and activists, including women who had campaigned for some of the freedoms that have lately been granted.
    It has also raised concerns about a possible backlash by conservatives, though there has so far been little concrete pushback.
    The crown prince, 34, is the heir to the Saudi throne and de facto ruler.    If and when he replaces his father, King Salman, he would be the first Saudi monarch from a new generation after a succession of six brothers that have ruled since 1953.
    Prince Mohammed’s reputation in the West as a bold reformer suffered after the murder of U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents last year inside the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/8/2019 Sudan says it has reduced troops in Yemen to 5,000 by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's prime minister in the transitional government, Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during a
Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s prime minister said on Sunday Khartoum had reduced the number of troops it has in Yemen from a peak of 15,000 to 5,000, confirming a drawdown in a conflict which he said could not be solved militarily.
    Abdalla Hamdok, who heads a civilian government formed in September under a power-sharing deal with the military after it ousted long-term leader Omar al-Bashir, gave details of troop levels in public for the first time on his return from talks in Washington.
    Sudanese troops have been deployed as part of a Saudi-led alliance that intervened in Yemen in 2015 against the Houthi movement that controls the capital, Sanaa.
    “Regarding Yemen we said that there is no military solution and there must be a political solution,” Hamdok told reporters at a briefing following his trip to Washington.
    There had been speculation that Sudan would reduce its troop numbers since the United Arab Emirates (UAE) said in June it had down scaled down its military presence in Yemen, and later withdrew troops from the southern port of Aden.
    The deployment of Sudanese troops in Yemen has also been criticized by some political groups.
    The conflict is seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis, who control most big urban centers, say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    Riyadh has been holding informal talks with the Houthis since late September about a ceasefire, sources have said, as it seeks to exit an unpopular war following the troop withdrawals by the UAE, its main partner in the military coalition.
    The war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.
TALKS IN WASHINGTON
    Hamdok said there had been no discussions during his visit to Washington about withdrawing Sudanese forces from Yemen.
    During the visit, he said he had held successful talks with U.S. officials on Sudan’s removal from the U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list, a step that would allow Khartoum to access badly needed financial support from international lenders.
    The U.S. government added Sudan to its list of state sponsors of terrorism in 1993 over allegations that Bashir’s Islamist government was supporting terrorist groups.
    From an initial list of seven conditions for Sudan’s removal from the list, including human rights and peace talks with rebels, all had been dealt with bar the issue of compensation for the families of victims of terrorist attacks, Hamdok told reporters at Khartoum airport.
    Counter-terrorism cooperation was “ongoing issue,” he said.    Sudan’s lifting from the list has to pass through Congress, and Hamdok said no timetable had been agreed for the process.
    During his five-day visit Sudan and the United States agreed to exchange ambassadors for the first time in 23 years.
    Hamdok said he had also held talks with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank over Sudan’s foreign debt of nearly $60 billion.
(Additional reporting by Hesham Abdul Halek, Writing by Aidan Lewis and Peter Graff, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/9/2019 Turkey cannot go back on NATO Poland-Baltics plan: Polish official
FILE PHOTO: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg speaks during the annual NATO heads of
government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. Steve Parsons/Pool via REUTERS
    WARSAW (Reuters) – A senior Polish official said Monday there could be no backtracking from a NATO decision to pursue a defense plan for Poland and the Baltics after Ankara suggested it might still block it until allies designate a Kurdish militia as terrorists.
    After a NATO summit in London last week, alliance chief Jens Stoltenberg said Turkey had withdrawn its objections but added that the allies had not discussed how to designate the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia.
    Speaking also after the summit, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said NATO allies must not abandon Turkey in its fight against terrorists after it approved the Poland-Baltics plan.
    Two days later Turkey’s foreign minister said it would block final publication of the Poland-Baltics defense blueprint until allies agreed to brand the YPG a terrorist group.
    “There is no going back from the decision made at NATO (last week),” Krzysztof Szczerski, an aide to Poland’s president, told Reuters on Monday.    “Decisions were made for both the Polish-Baltic and the Turkish plans and now we are waiting to implement the plans.    That’s a military matter.”
    On Friday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara had only given approval for the Poland-Baltics plan to move to another stage of debate, not full approval.
    Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar reaffirmed on Monday that Ankara wanted both defense plans to be published together and said Turkey would not yield on its demands regarding the YPG.
    “We allowed the Poland and Baltic plan, which is under revision, to pass the NATO Council and be re-evaluated at the military committee,” Akar told state media.
    “However, after talks with the NATO Secretary-General, we agreed that both plans should be published at the same time,” he said, adding that Turkey was open to cooperating on the issue.
    Turkey deems the YPG, the main component of the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), as a terrorist group linked to Kurdish insurgents on its own soil, and has been infuriated by the support its NATO allies have provided the militia as a partner in fighting Islamic State militants in Syria.
(Reporting by Joanna Plucinska in Warsaw and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

112/9/2019 Erdogan says Turkey and Libya can hold joint exploration in eastern Med
FILE PHOTO: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan adresses the audience during the official opening of the new
Cambridge Central Mosque, in Cambridge, Britain, December 5, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Libya can carry out joint exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean after the two sides signed a deal on maritime boundaries, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan told state broadcaster TRT Haber on Monday.
    He also said Turkey would procure a new drilling ship to continue activities in the eastern Mediterranean, adding that Ankara could expand operations to the Black Sea or international waters.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by David Goodman)

12/9/2019 Lebanon impasse deepens as financial strains grow by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s political impasse has deepened after a tentative deal on a new prime minister unraveled, leaving the country rudderless as it grapples with the worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Six weeks since Saad al-Hariri resigned as prime minister, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, the financial crisis is generating concerns for Lebanon’s stability: banks are enforcing capital controls, dollars are scarce, and the Lebanese pound has lost a third of its value on a black market.
    France confirmed it would host an international conference in support of Lebanon on Wednesday, saying this aimed to press Beirut to quickly form a government to restore the economic situation.
    But analysts saw little prospect of a quick end to a standoff that reflects an old power struggle between Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Sunni Muslim Gulf Arab states, and adversaries including the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    “They are trying to see who can scream first and it is too dangerous a game,” said Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center.
    “There are deep miscalculations by all political sides about how this will unfold.    The old type of politics does not apply.”
    The impasse returned to square one on Sunday when businessman Samir Khatib withdrew his candidacy to be prime minister, after the Sunni religious establishment said it wanted Hariri in the job, which is reserved for a Sunni.
INDISPENSABLE REFORMS
    Hariri has said he would only return to lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract foreign aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of an entire political class blamed for state corruption and misrule.
    But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun say the government must include politicians.
    Hariri has not commented since Khatib withdrew his candidacy. A political source said his position was unchanged.
    A senior source familiar with the view of Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal said Hariri should be now designated prime minister.    This would enhance the legitimacy of the Hariri-led caretaker government if a new cabinet was delayed, the source said.
    The economic crisis has been building for years due waste and corruption that have landed Lebanon with one of the world’s heaviest debt burdens.    Lebanon won pledges of more than $11 billion in financing at a Paris conference last year, conditional on reforms it failed to implement.
    The French foreign ministry said Wednesday’s meeting “aims to detail the conditions required and indispensable reforms expected from the Lebanese authorities so that the international community is able to accompany Lebanon.”
    Many people have lost jobs or had their salaries halved.    In the space of one week alone, more than 60 firms had submitted requests to sack their entire work force, the caretaker labour minister said last week.
    “The government will not be formed quickly,” political commentator Rajeh Khoury said.    “The country is in a state of economic collapse and political bankruptcy.”
(Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

12/9/2019 Israeli parties agree on March 2 election if no government formed by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv, Israel November 17, 2019, and
the leader of Blue and White party, Benny Gantz, in Tel Aviv, Israel November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Nir Elias, Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s two biggest parties agreed on Monday on a March 2 election date, barring a last-minute power-sharing deal, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fighting for political survival under criminal indictment.
    A 21-day period in which parliament can nominate a legislator with majority support to try to put together a ruling coalition expires at 2200 GMT on Wednesday, triggering the legislature’s dissolution and an election within 90 days.
    It would be Israel’s third national ballot in less than a year.    Recent opinion polls have predicted no dramatic shifts among voters since inconclusive elections in April and September.
    Neither Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party nor the centrist Blue and White party led by his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, won enough seats in parliament for a governing majority in the previous two contests.
    Both men were delegated the task of forming a coalition, but failed, throwing the ball into parliament’s court.    Their parties have been deadlocked in talks on a “unity” administration in which Netanyahu and Gantz would take turns as prime minister.
    The two parties, which disagree over which man would serve first and for how long, announced they had agreed on the March 2 election date.    The date needs parliament’s approval but the two parties dominate the assembly so it is sure to pass.
    The political disarray and a long-running corruption investigation have threatened to curtail Netanyahu’s decade-long hold on power.    Last month, Netanyahu, 70, was charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
    Denying any wrongdoing, he has accused Israel’s legal authorities of attempting a “coup” aimed at ousting a popular right-wing leader.     Critics alleged that Netanyahu was trying to undermine the rule of law and set an election campaign theme portraying himself as the victim of “deep state” conspiracy.
    As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign following the indictment.    A caretaker premier remains in the post until a new government is formed – a process that could stretch months past a March ballot if coalition-building is taken into account.
    Before the national poll, Netanyahu would face an internal Likud leadership election.    No date has been announced and only one challenger has emerged, former cabinet minister Gideon Saar, with no signs of any broad party revolt to oust Netanyahu.
    In a speech on Sunday, Netanyahu said he hoped to avoid another election, “but if one is forced upon us, we will win big.”
(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/10/2019 Qatar sends premier to Gulf summit in prospective thaw in rift by Stephen Kalin
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud meets Qatar's Prime Minister and Interior Minister
Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser bin Khalifa Al Thani during the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC)
40th Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 10, 2019. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Qatar sent its prime minister to a Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, its highest level of representation at the annual meeting in two years and the most concrete sign yet of a possible thaw in a regional dispute.
    Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani’s attendance follows an intensification of efforts to resolve the row among U.S. allies that has seen Riyadh and its partners impose a political and economic boycott against Qatar since June 2017 over allegations Doha backs terrorism.
    Qatar denies the charges and accuses Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-GCC member Egypt of trying to curtail its sovereignty.
    Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate the rift, which shattered the GCC alliance and undermined Washington’s efforts to form a united front against Iran, which is locked in a struggle for regional supremacy with Saudi Arabia.
    A senior regional official told Reuters that Kuwait recently was working “extremely hard to come up with reconciliation … supported by the United States.”
    Efforts to end the row, including talks between Qatar’s foreign minister and Saudi officials in October, appeared to intensify after attacks in September on Saudi oil plants that initially halved the kingdom’s output and heightened regional tensions.
    Riyadh and Washington blame Iran for the assault as well as earlier strikes this year on tankers in Gulf waters.    Tehran denies involvement.
    Two sources familiar with Saudi thinking said Riyadh has softened its stance on a list of 13 demands to lift the embargo, including that Doha cut links to the Muslim Brotherhood, close Al Jazeera TV, shutter a Turkish military base and reduce ties with Iran, with whom Qatar shares a giant gas field.
    But little is known about the current state of negotiations, and the UAE and Egypt may still refuse to yield.
    “The onus lies with the one that caused the crisis, to reconsider erroneous policies that led to its isolation,” senior Emirati official Anwar Gargash tweeted on Monday.
    A Western diplomat said the summit could be a step forward in resolving the dispute but was unlikely to see an immediate end to it.
    The Qatari premier last visited Saudi Arabia in May for an emergency summit to discuss regional security following an attack on tankers in Gulf waters.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Michael Georgy, Andrew Cawthorne and Gareth Jones)

12/10/2019 Turkey’s Erdogan says Nobel academy rewarding human rights violations
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan attends a NATO leaders summit
in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan accused the Nobel academy on Tuesday of rewarding human rights violations by awarding the prize for literature to Peter Handke, who has been criticized for backing late Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic.
    Turkey has said it is joining Albania and Kosovo in boycotting the Nobel awards ceremony to protest the academy’s choice of Austrian Handke for the prize.
    “Giving the Nobel Literature Prize to a racist, who denies the genocide in Bosnia and defends war criminals, on December 10, Human Rights Day, will have no meaning other than the rewarding of human rights violations,” Erdogan said.
    The academy’s choice has been widely criticized.
    Handke, now 77, expressed support for Milosevic and spoke at the funeral of the former Serbian president in 2006 after he died in detention during his trial at the U.N. war crimes tribunal.
    Milosevic was charged with war crimes in connection with atrocities and ethnic cleansing committed by Serb forces in Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo during the 1990s wars triggered by the disintegration of federal Yugoslavia.
    On Friday, Handke dismissed questions about his support for Milosevic.    On Tuesday, he will formally be handed the 9 million crown ($935,000) award and later attend the traditional Nobel banquet.
    Handke is the author of books such as “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” and “Slow Homecoming.”    He also co-wrote the script of the critically acclaimed 1987 film “Wings of Desire.”
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/10/2019 U.S. defense policy bill requires nuclear power inspections for Saudi Arabia: sources by Timothy Gardner
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo takes part in a meeting with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince
Mohammed bin Salman in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, September 18, 2019. Mandel Ngan/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and other countries seeking to use U.S. technology to develop nuclear power plants must agree to comprehensive U.N. inspections under legislation to be included in the defense policy bill expected to be announced as soon as early this week, two Democratic congressional aides said on Monday.
    The measure, spearheaded by Democratic U.S. Representative Bradley Sherman, requires countries to sign the so-called Additional Protocol.    The measure requires the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, to conduct snap inspections of nuclear power facilities to ensure countries are not developing materials for nuclear weapons.
    The language is included in the annual National Defense Authorization Act, one of the few pieces of legislation that Congress must pass every year, the two aides said.    The $700 billion NDAA bill could be announced in coming days after months of negotiations.
    President Donald Trump’s administration has long held quiet talks with Saudi Arabia, which wants to build two nuclear power plants and could use U.S. technology to do so.
    Lawmakers have been seeking more oversight over any deal with Saudi Arabia after Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman said last year his country does not want nuclear weapons but will pursue them if rival Iran develops them.    Concern in Congress about Saudi Arabia’s quest for nuclear power increased after the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last year.
    Nonproliferation experts said including the measure in the bill was a good step, but that Congress needs to do more.    “The bad news is it took Saudi misbehavior to get this legislation; the good news is we finally have it,” said Henry Sokolski, head of the nonprofit group the Nonproliferation Policy Education Center.
    In September, former U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry sent a letter to Saudi officials saying any deal on nuclear power must also contain a so-called 123 commitment to forgo enrichment of uranium or reprocessing, two pathways to making fissile material for nuclear weapons.
    Separately, a Republican congressional aide said legislation by Senator Ted Cruz to impose sanctions on companies building Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea, will also be included in the NDAA bill.
    The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, opposes the pipeline, saying it will increase Russia’s political and economic grip over many European countries.
    Germany and Russia have said the pipeline, expected to be completed sometime next year, is a commercial project.
(This story corrects name of nonproliferation group, paragraph 6)
(Reporting by Timothy Gardner; Editing by Dan Grebler)

12/10/2019 Lebanon not expecting new aid pledges at Paris meeting: official
FILE PHOTO: Nadim Munla, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri's senior adviser, gestures as he speaks during
an interview with Reuters in Beirut, Lebanon March 22, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) – Lebanon does not expect new aid pledges at conference which France is hosting on Wednesday to press for the quick formation of a new government that can tackle an acute financial crisis.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian urged Lebanon to create a new government swiftly or risk the crisis worsening and threatening the country’s stability.
    The economic crisis is the worst since the 1975-90 civil war: a liquidity crunch has led banks to enforce capital controls and the Lebanese pound to slump by one third.
    Lebanon has also been in a political impasse since Saad al-Hariri quit as prime minister on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against the ruling elite, with no agreement on a new government.
    Nadim Munla, senior adviser to Hariri, who is running the government as caretaker, told Reuters the Paris meeting would probably signal a readiness to offer support once a government is formed that commits to reforms.
    “They will recognize that there is a short-term problem and that if and when a government (is formed) that basically responds to the aspirations of people, most probably the international community will be ready to step in and provide support to Lebanon, or additional support,” he said.
    “It is not a pledging conference.”
    Lebanon won pledges of over $11 billion at a conference last year conditional on reforms that it has failed to implement.    The economic crisis is rooted in years of corruption and waste that have generated one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
    The political impasse returned to square one on Sunday when a tentative agreement on a new prime minister unraveled.
    Hariri is now seen as the only candidate for the post.
    He has said he would only lead a cabinet of specialist ministers, believing this is the way to address the economic crisis, attract aid, and satisfy protesters who have been in the streets since Oct. 17 seeking the removal of a political class blamed for corruption and misrule.
    But Hezbollah and its allies including President Michel Aoun say the government must include politicians.
    “Let’s see the coming few days and if there will be an agreement among the political parties on a formation … otherwise we might take longer,” Munla said.    Hariri would be willing to have politicians in cabinet but they should not be “the regular known faces of previous governments.”
(Reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and John Irish in France; Writing by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis; Editing by Giles Elgood)

12/11/2019 With Netanyahu’s fate in question, Israel poised for new election by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting
at his office in Jerusalem December 1, 2019. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel headed on Wednesday toward a third national election in less than a year with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu facing the fight of his life for political survival after a criminal indictment.
    After giving its preliminary approval, and barring last-minute progress in deadlocked efforts to form a new government, parliament was set to vote for its dissolution later in the day and approve a March 2 election date already agreed by the two major parties.
    What had once seemed nearly impossible to many Israelis – a third visit to polling stations after inconclusive elections in April and September – carries a heavy economic price: it will be well into 2020 before a new budget is passed, which will mean months of cutbacks that will weigh on growth.
    Neither Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party nor the centrist Blue and White party led by his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, won enough seats in the Knesset (parliament) for a governing majority in the previous two contests.
    Both men were delegated the task of forming a coalition, but failed.    Each has blamed the other for the impasse, in which neither could agree on the terms for a “rotating” premiership.
    In the two previous national ballots, Netanyahu’s opponents focused on the three corruption investigations against him that included allegations he dispensed favors to media barons in a push for more favorable media coverage.
    But this time, Israel’s longest-serving leader is running under the cloud of criminal indictment after charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud against him were announced last month.
    Denying any wrongdoing, Netanyahu, 70, has accused legal authorities of attempting a “coup” aimed at ousting a popular right-wing leader.    Critics alleged that Netanyahu was trying to undermine the rule of law and set an election campaign theme portraying himself as the victim of “deep state” conspiracy.
    As prime minister, Netanyahu is under no legal obligation to resign as a result of the indictment, and while in office he can ask the legislature to grant him immunity from prosecution.
    As caretaker premier, Netanyahu would remain in the post until a new government is formed – a process that could stretch months past a March ballot if what is likely to be tortuous coalition-building is taken into account.
    “The entire country is held hostage by the prime minister’s legal battles,” the left-wing Haaretz newspaper said in an editorial on Wednesday.
    Netanyahu, vowing to “win big” at the polls, has described himself as best-placed to deal with Israel’s many security threats.    He has citing challenges posed by arch-enemy Iran as a main reason why Gantz should rally to his call for a unity government.
    An opinion poll on Israel’s Channel 13 news on Tuesday forecast Blue and White would win 37 seats to Likud’s 33 in the 120-member parliament, increasing the one-seat advantage it gained in the election in April.
    But it also indicated that both parties could still struggle to secure enough allies for a majority coalition.
(Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/11/2019 Turkey says will retaliate against any sanctions ahead of U.S. vote
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference
in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Wednesday it would retaliate against any U.S. sanctions over its purchase of Russian defense systems, adding that with Britain it had agreed to speed up a joint fighter jet program to meet Turkish defense needs.
    U.S. lawmakers will vote – and likely pass – a defense bill later on Wednesday that calls for sanctions against Turkey over Ankara’s decision to procure the S-400 defenses.
    Turkey and the United States, NATO allies, have been at odds over the purchase.
    Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and cannot be integrated into NATO defenses.    In response, it has suspended Turkey from the F-35 jet program, where it was a manufacturer and buyer, and threatened sanctions.
    In an interview with Turkish broadcaster A Haber, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said any U.S. sanctions would harm U.S.-Turkish ties and repeated a threat of retaliation.
    “U.S. lawmakers must understand they will get nowhere with impositions.    If the United States approaches us positively, we will also react positively.    But, if they take negative towards us, then we will retaliate these,” Cavusoglu said.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained over a host of issues in recent years.    Turkey has been enraged with the U.S. support for the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, which Cavusoglu called the “financing of terrorism” on Wednesday.
    He added that Turkey was open to alternatives to buying the F-35 jets, including from Russia.    He said President Tayyip Erdogan and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had discussed speeding up work on the TF-X joint fighter jet project to meet Turkey’s defense needs.
    “We bought the S-400s because the most suitable offer on air defense systems came from Russia.    Until we produce it ourselves, the alternative to the F-35 could be the Russian market, but we are open to other alternatives too,” Cavusoglu said.
    Turkey and Britain agreed a 100 million pound ($133 million) deal in 2017 to develop Turkish fighter jets, and Turkey’s Kale Group said it was setting up a joint venture with Rolls-Royce to work on the project.    In March Rolls-Royce said it had scaled back efforts to join the program.
    A Turkish source said the disagreement with Rolls-Royce stemmed from licensing issues, which are “critical and indispensible” for Turkey.    But the source said talks had been revived and added Turkey expected the project to advance after a solution was reached.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

12/11/2019 Turkey, Britain agreed to speed up fighter jet project: Turkish minister
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a NATO foreign ministers
meeting in Brussels, Belgium, November 20, 2019. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Britain have agreed to speed up work on a project to build fighter jets, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told broadcaster A Haber on Wednesday.
    The two countries agreed a 100 million pound ($133 million) deal in 2017 to develop Turkish fighter jets, and Turkey’s Kale Group said it was setting up a joint venture with Rolls-Royce to work on the project.    In March Rolls-Royce said it had scaled back efforts to join the program.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/11/2019 Pompeo says U.S. wants to work with Russia on Libya, reminds Lavrov on arms embargo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reacts to reporter's question after making a statement to the
press at the State Department in Washington, U.S., December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States wants to work with Russia to end the conflict in Libya, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Wednesday, but he added that he reminded Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov a day ago of the arms embargo that is in place on the North African country.
    “We want to work with the Russians, to get to the negotiating table, have a series of conversations that ultimately lead to a disposition that creates what the United Nations has been trying to do,” Pompeo said at a news conference.
    Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east.    Fayez al-Serraj’s government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.
    Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) has been trying since April to take Tripoli.    He is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.    The LNA denies it has foreign backing.
    Washington last month called on the LNA to end its offensive on Tripoli.    Pompeo on Wednesday said the United States has called Moscow and other parties to cease sending weapons.
    “I reminded him (Lavrov) that there’s a weapons embargo that’s still in place in Libya and that no nation had to be providing incremental material inside Libya,” he said.
    The U.S. military believes that an unarmed American drone reported lost near Libya’s capital last month was in fact shot down by Russian air defenses and it is demanding the return of the aircraft’s wreckage, U.S. Africa Command said last week.
    Pompeo declined to comment on that incident.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

12/11/2019 Paris conference sign of foreign concern for Lebanon: Berri
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri chairs a parliamentary session
in downtown Beirut, Lebanon July 16, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Paris conference to mobilize support for Lebanon showed that the international community is more concerned about the country than some Lebanese, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said on Wednesday.
    “This conference … is a strong indication that the international community is more interested in Lebanon, its stability and security than some Lebanese,” Berri told lawmakers in his parliamentary bloc, Ali Bazzi, one of the MPs said.
    Berri also said he would call a parliamentary session very soon to debate and approve the 2020 budget.
(Writing by Tom Perry)

12/11/2019 Defense Secy. Esper: Situation in northeast Syria has ‘stabilized’ by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of Defense Mark Esper testifies to a House committee hearing on U.S. policy in
Syria, Wednesday, Dec. 11, 2019, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper is saying the situation in northeast Syria has ‘stabilized.’    While speaking before the House Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Esper said no ceasefire is perfect, but things have settled down following Turkey’s offensive in October.
    The defense chief also addressed concerns regarding potential war crimes committed by Turkey and the country’s distancing from NATO.
    He said the U.S. position on Syria has remained unchanged.
    “The United States strategy in the Middle East seeks to ensure the region is not a safe haven for terrorists, is not dominated by any power hostile to the United States and contributes to a stable global energy market,” stated Esper.
    The secretary added although the Turkish incursion has complicated matters, the DOD remains confident they will complete their mission to ensure the lasting defeat of ISIS.

12/12/2019 Former Turkish PM Davutoglu forms new party in challenge to Erdogan
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/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Former Turkish prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, once a close ally to President Tayyip Erdogan, applied on Thursday to establish a breakaway political party which could erode support for Erdogan and his ruling AK Party.
    Davutoglu, 60, served as prime minister from 2014 to 2016, before falling out with Erdogan.    Earlier this year, he slammed the president and the AK Party’s (AKP) economic management, and accused them of curbing basic liberties and free speech.
    A source close to Davutoglu said the former premier applied to the Interior Ministry on Thursday to form his new party and that he will formally announce it at a news conference in Ankara on Friday.    It will be called Future Party, the source said.
    “He will announce his party’s principles and give information about the founding members,” the source said.    “The new party will breathe new life into politics.”
    Davutoglu announced his resignation from the Islamist-rooted AKP in September, saying it was no longer able to solve Turkey’s problems and no longer allowed internal debate.    His resignation came two months after former deputy prime minister Ali Babacan resigned from the AKP, citing “deep differences.”
    Earlier this year Turkey’s main opposition party handed stinging defeats to Erdogan’s AK Party in mayoral elections, taking control of the capital Ankara and Istanbul, the country’s commercial hub, after more than two decades.
    Babacan, will also announce his own rival political party within weeks, a source close to Babacan said.
    “Efforts to form the party are in the last stages.    The final changes are being made to the texts, the party’s founders are nearly complete,” the source said.
    In his first televised interview since resigning from the AKP, Babacan said last month that Turkey was in a “dark tunnel” and warned of the dangers of “one-man rule.”
(Reporting by Orhan Coskun; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/12/2019 Algeria holds presidential election as thousands demonstrate against vote by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
Ballot papers of the five presidential candidates are displayed at a
polling station in Algiers, Algeria December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets in central Algiers on Thursday chanting “No vote!    We want freedom!” as the authorities held a presidential election that a mass protest movement views as a charade intended to keep the ruling elite in power.
    Police rushed the crowd with sticks to disperse the marchers, but then fell back as more protesters arrived.
    The army, the strongest political player, sees the election as the only way to restore order by naming a successor to Abdelaziz Bouteflika, who was toppled by a popular uprising earlier this year after two decades in office.
    Huge protests that brought down Bouteflika have continued for 10 months, and the demonstrators have sworn to boycott the election.    All five candidates that won approval to stand are former senior officials, including two former prime ministers, and protesters say none is likely to challenge the army’s dominance.
    In central Algiers some people were voting on Thursday as police patrolled the streets on foot and in vehicles.    A helicopter circled overhead.
    “The country has entered a critical phase,” said Aziz Djibali, 56, who went to vote at a polling station near the prime minister’s office.    “It’s time for Algerians to voice their opinions peacefully.”
    But Salim Bairi, a schoolteacher sitting a central cafe, was boycotting: “What is the benefit of voting?
    Elections under Bouteflika were largely uncompetitive.    Kamel Moumni, 36, waiting for a taxi driver to take him to a dentist, said he hadn’t voted for years.    “I will not change my mind today,” he said.
    Outside the capital there were also reports of protests.    In the Kabylie region, a main center of the protests against the ruling elite, a resident said protesters stormed a polling station in the town of Bejaia, destroying ballot boxes, and took to the streets in the town of Haizer chanting “No vote.”
    Polling stations in some areas were still closed hours after the official 0700 GMT start of voting, witnesses said. Polls close at 1800 GMT and no official results are expected until at least Friday.
    Bouteflika stepped down after the army withdrew its support for him in April.    The authorities were forced twice to delay an election to replace him, with votes previously scheduled for April and July.
    The five presidential candidates are ex-prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, ex-culture minister Azzedddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a former member of the ruling FLN party’s central committee.
    Some official preliminary figures for voter turnout will probably be released throughout Thursday, with the government hoping for wide participation to give the new president legitimacy and help end the protests.
    There are no foreign observers monitoring the elections and many protesters have said they do not have faith in official results.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)

12/12/2019 Israel bars Gaza’s Christians from visiting Bethlehem and Jerusalem at Christmas
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the old city of Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
December 2, 2019. Picture taken December 2, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – Christians in the Gaza Strip will not be allowed to visit holy cities such as Bethlehem and Jerusalem to celebrate Christmas this year, Israeli authorities said on Thursday.
    Gazan Christians will be granted permits to travel abroad but none will be allowed to go to Israel and the occupied West Bank, home to many sites holy to Christians, a spokeswoman for Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians said.
    Israel tightly restricts movements out of the Gaza Strip, territory controlled by Hamas, an Islamist group that it considers a terrorist organization.
    The spokeswoman said that following “security orders”, Gazans would be allowed to travel abroad via Israel’s Allenby Bridge border crossing with Jordan but not to visit cities in Israel or the West Bank.
    Gaza has only around 1,000 Christians – most of them Greek Orthodox – among a population of 2 million in the narrow coastal strip.
    This year’s decision is a break with usual policy.    Last year, Israel granted permits for close to 700 Gazan Christians to travel to Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Nazareth and other holy cities that draw thousands of pilgrims each holiday season.
    Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said the ban points “to the intensifying of access restrictions between the two parts of the Palestinian territory,” calling it “a deepening of Israel’s separation policy” for the West Bank and Gaza.
    The Palestinians seek to set up a state in the West Bank and Gaza, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Israel in the past has defended its restrictions on Gazans traveling to the West Bank, saying many Palestinians from Gaza stay on illegally when granted short-term permits.
    In Gaza, one Christian woman voiced hope Israel would reverse its policy so she could visit her family in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    “Every year I pray they will give me a permit so I can celebrate Christmas and see my family,” Randa El-Amash, 50, said, adding: “It will be more joyful to celebrate in Bethlehem and in Jerusalem.”
    Christian leaders in Jerusalem condemned the move, but added that they are appealing to Israeli authorities to reverse the decision.
    “Other people around the world are allowed to travel to Bethlehem.    We think Gaza’s Christians should have that right, too,” said Wadie Abu Nassar, an adviser to local church leaders.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Toby Chopra)

12/12/2019 Lebanese Christian party says it won’t join government on Hariri’s terms
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil talks during a news conference with Turkish
Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Beirut, Lebanon, August 23, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s largest Christian political party will not join a new government under the terms set by caretaker premier Saad al-Hariri, but will not obstruct the formation of a new cabinet, its leader said on Thursday.
    The position of the Free Patriotic Movement led by Gebran Bassil could ease the way to the formation of a Hariri-led government.    Much will depend on whether Bassil’s ally, the powerful Shi’ite Hezbollah, will consent to its main Christian ally staying out of government.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, whose group is backed by Iran, is set to address the country on Friday.
    Lebanon is in urgent need of a new government to pull it from a deepening economic crisis that has shaken confidence in its banking system.    Foreign donors have said they would offer support only after a cabinet able to enact reforms is in place.
    The country has been mired in political gridlock since Hariri, the leading Sunni politician in a sectarian power-sharing system, resigned on Oct. 29 and made his return conditional on leading a cabinet comprised exclusively of specialists.
    Those terms have proven to be a stumbling block with Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal, as well as for President Michel Aoun, Bassil’s father-in-law, all of whom have backed a mixed cabinet of technocrats and politicians.
    Bassil’s participation has been a particularly contentious sticking point in talks over the government with Aoun, who has insisted the Christian party leader be included in any new government led by Hariri, political sources say.
    The crisis took an important twist on Sunday, when Lebanon’s top Sunni cleric said he backed Hariri to be prime minister again, killing a tentative compromise on another candidate for a job reserved for a Sunni.
    “If Prime Minister Hariri insists on the equation ‘either me or nobody else'” as prime minister, Bassil said, the Free Patriotic Movement is not interested in participating in such a government “because its fate will be certain failure.”
    Bassil appeared to leave the door open for his party to participate on different terms, saying he supported the formation of a government made up entirely of technocrats, including its prime minister.
    “We are ready to sacrifice not with one ministerial seat, but with all of our seats, to save the country from collapse and chaos,” he said.
    Hariri on Thursday discussed with the International Monetary Fund and World Bank the possibility of technical assistance in drawing up a plan to rescue the economy after formation of the government.
(Reporting by Beirut newsroom; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Tom Perry Timothy Heritage and Bill Berkrot)

12/12/2019 U.S. Senate passes resolution recognizing Armenian genocide, angering Turkey by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump and Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan pose for a family photo during the annual NATO
heads of government summit at the Grove Hotel in Watford, Britain December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution that recognizes as a genocide the mass killings of     Armenians a century ago, a historic move that infuriated Turkey and dealt a blow to the already problematic ties between Ankara and Washington.
    Turkey condemned the measure, which passed a month after an official visit to the White House by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who enjoys a special rapport with President Donald Trump, amid mounting issues that have soured the relationship between the two NATO allies.
    Trump had cast his Nov. 13 meeting with Erdogan as “wonderful” despite no concrete breakthrough on deep disagreements such as Ankara’s purchase of Russian weapon systems and diverging views on Syria policy.
    The Democratic-led House of Representatives had passed the resolution by an overwhelming majority in October.    But a vote in the Senate was repeatedly blocked by Trump’s fellow Republican senators since meeting with Erdogan.
    “This is a tribute to the memory of 1.5 million victims of the first #Genocide of the 20th century and bold step in promotion of the prevention agenda.    #NeverAgain,” Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan tweeted in English.
    The resolution asserts that it is U.S. policy to commemorate as genocide the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923. The Ottoman Empire was centered in present-day Turkey.
    Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
    Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu called the decision a “political show” while presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Ankara strongly condemned and rejected the measure. The resolution is nonbinding.
    “History will note these resolutions as irresponsible and irrational actions by some members of the US Congress against Turkey,” Fahrettin Altun, Turkey’s communications director, said on Twitter in response.
VINDICATION
    Congressional aides said the White House does not want the legislation to move ahead while it negotiates with Ankara on sensitive issues.    However, since the visit, Erdogan repeatedly said Turkey has no intention of dropping the Russian S-400 air defense missile systems it has bought, crushing any hopes for progress.
    For decades, measures recognizing the Armenian genocide have stalled in the U.S. Congress, stymied by concerns about relations with Turkey and intense lobbying by Ankara.
    “I’ve invested like decades of my life,” said Aram Hamparian, executive director of the Armenian National Committee of America.    “So it was a sense of relief and a bit of a vindication that … (the United) States recognized the history of the Armenians, but also put up a firewall against foreign countries coming into our democracy and dictating to us.”
    The U.S. Congress has been united in its opposition to Turkey’s recent policy actions.    Republican senators have been incensed with Turkey’s purchase of the S-400, which the United States says pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and cannot be integrated into NATO defenses.
    They have also moved to punish Turkey over its Oct. 9 incursion into Syria. A U.S. Senate committee backed legislation on Wednesday to impose sanctions on Turkey, pushing Trump to take a harder line on the issue, as many lawmakers blame Trump for giving a green light to Ankara for its military offensive.
    To become law, that legislation would have to pass the House of Representatives, which passed its own Turkish sanctions bill by an overwhelming 403-16 vote in October, and be signed by Trump.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, editing by Jonathan Oatis, Chizu Nomiyama and Bill Berkrot)
[SO GET MAD TURKEY AND GO BUY SOME RUSSIAN FIGHTER JETS.].

12/12/2019 Algerians protest through day of disputed election by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi
Algeria's presidential candidate Abdelkader Bengrina casts his ballot during the presidential
election in Algiers, Algeria December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets in Algiers and other cities on Thursday chanting “No vote! We want freedom!” as Algerian authorities held a presidential election that protesters view as a charade to keep the ruling elite in power.
    No official results are expected on Thursday, but four of the five candidates – all former senior officials – said they had either won the election or would go through to a second-round run-off with none winning outright.     In the capital, police rushed the crowd with sticks to disperse the marchers, but fell back as more protesters arrived.    One young man of about 25 shouted “We are free!” as a policeman tried to arrest him.
    The military-backed government sees the vote as the only way to end 10 months of unrest that brought down veteran president Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April.    The demonstrators say no vote to replace him can be legitimate while the old guard still holds sway.
    Officials said 33% of registered voters had cast ballots by 1600 GMT, two hours before polls closed.    Protesters may dispute official figures.
    In the center of the capital Algiers some people were voting as police patrolled the streets on foot and in vehicles.    A helicopter circled overhead.
I WILL NOT VOTE AGAINST MY COUNTRY
    “The country has entered a critical phase,” said Aziz Djibali, 56, who went to vote at a polling station near the prime minister’s office.    “It’s time for Algerians to voice their opinions peacefully.”
    But Djamel Faradji, among thousands protesting on the capital’s central Didouche Mourad boulevard, waved a flag that read: “I am Algerian and I will not vote against my country.”
    The unemployed 27-year-old has been protesting for months.    Like many demonstrators, he carried a flower to show that the protests are peaceful.    Protests would continue despite the apparent defiance of the authorities, he said.
    Others who did not join the protests also seemed ambivalent at best.    “What is the benefit of voting?” asked Salim Bairi, a schoolteacher sitting in a central cafe.
    The five presidential candidates are ex-prime ministers Abdelmadjid Tebboune and Ali Benflis, ex-culture minister Azzeddine Mihoubi, former tourism minister Abdelkader Bengrine, and Abdelaziz Belaid, a former member of the ruling FLN party’s central committee.
    Tebboune’s campaign said he had won the vote outright, but the campaigns of Bengrina, Belaid and Mihoubi each said they had advanced as one of the two leading candidates to a second-round run-off.
    Their estimates of vote share were based on information they had from their campaign observers monitoring vote-counting in various provinces.
    The winner faces a dire economy, with falling oil revenue leading to a planned 9% fall in public spending next year.     Video posted online showed other demonstrations in Oran, Constantine and elsewhere.    Protesters destroyed ballot boxes in the town of Bejaia and others took to the streets in the town of Haizer in the Kabylie region, chanting “No vote,” as polling stations stayed shut.
    The area – once a bastion of the independence movement against French colonialism and the main arena of a 1990s civil war between the state and Islamist insurgents that killed 200,000 people – has been a center of this year’s protests.
    Aissa Ait Mohand, 22, an unemployed farmer’s son, said young people in the area regarded the election as a “trick” by the authorities to stay in power.    “The government is corrupt.    It has to be uprooted one way or another,” he said.
    However, some people in Haizer supported the election, including former Islamist fighters who laid down their arms after the civil war and now back working with the authorities.
    “We used to chant for an Islamic state without elections in the 1990s,” said one of them, who gave his name as Yahya.    “We ended up with a civil war.”
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed and Lamine Chikhi; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Graff, Mark Heinrich and Lisa Shumaker)

12/812/2019 As another election looms, Israel’s president asks public not to despair by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin talks during a press conference at the
Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus February 12, 2019. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president on Thursday urged Israelis not to lose faith in their democratic system after persistent political deadlock threw the country into a third election in less than a year.
    The March 2 ballot, agreed by parliament when it voted overnight to dissolve, will be held in the shadow of a corruption indictment last month against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing.
    Neither the right-wing Likud party leader nor his main political rival, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, won enough support in elections in April and September for a ruling majority in the legislature.
    Negotiations between the two parties on a “national unity” coalition deteriorated into a blame game as to who would bear responsibility for a third election that both Netanyahu and Gantz insisted neither they nor the country wanted.
    President Reuven Rivlin, whose proposal of a “rotating” premiership between the two men faltered over who would serve first and for how long, issued a statement appealing to Israelis not to “sink into despair” in the face of the political logjam.
    “We must not lose faith in the democratic system or in its ability to create the reality we live in with our own hands,” said Rivlin, a former Likud legislator whose current post is largely ceremonial.
    Netanyahu also faces challenges from within his own party.
    Likud announced on Thursday it would hold a leadership vote on Dec. 26, the winner of which would head the party’s ticket in the March 2 election, a party official said.
    However, only one Likud lawmaker, Gideon Saar, has said he would consider running for the top slot.    He has not won much support, with most lawmakers indicating they would stick with Netanyahu.
    The disarray carries a heavy economic price: it will be well into 2020 before a new budget is passed.
    “The new elections will paralyze the government for another six months in which it will have to operate under an interim budget and hinder economic growth,” said Modi Shafrir, chief strategist in Mizrahi Tefahot Bank’s finance division.
    Diana Perkins, a Tel Aviv florist, voiced frustration at another do-over ballot, with recent opinion polls predicting no significant change in voting results from three months ago.
    “I don’t know who has the answer,” she said.    “I wish I had a magic ball to say, like, ‘This going to solve all the issues.'
    As prime minister, Netanyahu, 70, is under no legal obligation to resign as a result of the indictment and he can seek parliamentary immunity from proceedings he has condemned as a “coup” attempt by government lawyers.
    For some commentators the bottom line is that Netanyahu, in office for the past decade, has managed to cling to power as Israel’s longest-serving leader despite setbacks at the polls and that he will get another chance at survival at the ballot box.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Steven Scheer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/12/2019 Head of Libya parliament says Turkey-Libyan deal invalid
Libya's parliament speaker Aguila Saleh, Greek parliament speaker Konstantinos Tasoulas and Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias
make a joint statement following their meeting, at the parliament in Athens, Greece December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    ATHENS (Reuters) – The head of Libya’s eastern-based parliament on Thursday said he disagreed with an accord between Libya and Turkey establishing maritime boundaries which has infuriated Athens.
    Greece expelled the Libyan ambassador last week over the Nov. 27 accord establishing a sea corridor between Libya and Turkey and in areas where Greece considers it has maritime rights.
    “We are here to stress that this specific agreement is rejected, it is invalid,” said Aguila Saleh Issa, speaker of the Libyan House of Representatives.
    “Those that signed it do not have any legal authority to do so, since the government itself was rejected.    It did failed a confidence vote twice and has not been legally sworn in at the House of Representatives,” Issa told reporters in Athens through an interpreter.
    Issa is aligned to General Khalifa Haftar who controls the east of the country which opposes the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli.
    Turkey says the accord aims to protect its rights and is in line with international law.    President Tayyip Erdogan said that the accord will allow Turkey and Libya to hold joint exploration operations in the region.
    On Tuesday Athens said it had lodged objections with the United Nations, saying the accord violated international law.
    Since 2014 Libya has had competing governments based in Tripoli and the east.    Saleh’s House of Representatives was Libya’s internationally recognized chamber at the time of a UN-backed deal in 2015 that led to the formation of the GNA, but the chamber has since fragmented.
(Reporting by Renee Maltezou and Lefteris Papadimas, writing by Michele Kambas, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12/12/2019 Libya’s Haftar announces offensive to remove UN-backed government from Tripoli by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Aug. 14, 2017 file photo, Libyan militia commander General Khalifa Haftar, top center, listens to Russian
Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, bottom center, during their meeting in Moscow, Russia. (AP Photo/Ivan Sekretarev, File)
    The commander of Libyan rebels is announcing the final push by his forces to liberate the nation’s capital.    On Thursday, Libyan National Army Commander Khalifa Haftar said his forces have started a decisive push to remove the UN-backed government from Tripoli.
    The Libyan rebels have accused the government of failing to tackle Islamic terror and reunite the country for years.
    The commander said the new ‘Zero Hour’ offensive will follow the international rules of combat.    He also noted widespread popular support for his move to liberate Tripoli.
    “Tripoli became a hideout for criminals.    They rule weak people by the power of arms, after the state institutions inside of Tripoli became their tool, to loot the wealth of the Libya people in daylight with pride.    We will return Tripoli as history knows it, a beacon and a capital of civilization.“ – Khalifa Haftar, Commander of the Libyan National Army
    Turkey has said it may intervene to help the government in Tripoli, which stirred concerns the Libyan crisis could escalate further. The Haftar forces are backed by Russia, France and Israel.
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC),
in Istanbul. Monday, Dec. 9, 2019. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

12/13/2019 Mass protests expected as Algerian media call election a success by Lamine Chikhi
Election workers count ballots at the end of voting for presidential election at
a polling station in Algiers, Algeria December 12, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of demonstrators were expected to take to the streets of Algeria on Friday to denounce a presidential election they reject as a charade to keep the ruling elite in power.
    Authorities said 40% of voters took part in Thursday’s election, which state media cast as a high enough turnout to vindicate the decision to hold the poll in spite of a boycott.
    But protesters say the contest between five officially sanctioned candidates to replace ousted leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika was still an illegitimate sham.
    No official result will be announced until later on Friday.    One candidate, Abdelmadjid Tebboune, a former prime minister, has said he won the election outright, while three others have said they took enough votes to force a second round run-off.
    The authorities, including the powerful army, argue that the only way to move the country forward after demonstrators brought down Bouteflika in a popular uprising in April is to elect a successor.
    But weekly protests that toppled Bouteflika have not stopped, with demonstrators demanding the entire ruling elite cede power to a new generation, despite no obvious leader emerging to represent them.    The protesters refer to themselves simply as “Hirak,” or “the movement.”
    All five candidates were former senior officials, including two ex-prime ministers, two former ministers and a former member of the ruling party’s central committee.
    Protesters marched in cities and towns across Algeria throughout Thursday’s election, in some places clashing with police, who tried to disperse them with baton charges.
    Late on Thursday, the election body said some 9 million Algerians took part in the election.
    “The turnout is satisfying and it will give the new president enough backing to implement his reforms,” said Ahmed Mizab, a commentator on state television, saying it showed the decision to hold the elections was “propitious and right.”
    But Riad Mekersi, 24, who has participated in all the Hirak protests since Feb. 22 in Algiers, said the movement will continue no matter who wins.
    “We have toppled Bouteflika, and we will topple all the system’s men.    We won’t give up,” he said.
    Even without questions over his legitimacy, the next president faces difficult times.
    Nearly all Algerian state revenues come from oil and gas exports, which have declined in both price and volume in recent years.    The government has already approved a 2020 budget with a 9% cut in public spending, though politically sensitive subsidies remain untouched.
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi and Hamid Ould Ahmed; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/13/2019 ‘We are nothing’ without U.N. agency’s help, says Palestinian refugee by Stephen Farrell and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinian man George Salameh, 59, owner of Afteem restaurant, works at his restaurant
in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    BETHLEHEM/GAZA (Reuters) – George Salameh’s family has lived in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem for 70 years.    Still, he prefers his family be called “al-Yafawi,” meaning “of Jaffa,” an ode to the Mediterranean coastal town his family left in 1948 and still considers home.
    Salameh, like many Palestinians whose families were made refugees following the mid-20th century war that surrounded Israel’s creation, views his presence in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city as temporary.
    Other Palestinian refugees are scattered from the Gaza Strip to Lebanon, Jordan and Syria.    Many still hold iron keys which they say belong to homes they fled or were forced to flee amid what Palestinians call the “Nakba,” or catastrophe, in 1948.
    Salameh, 59, now runs a falafel, ful and hummus restaurant, just off Bethlehem’s Manger Square.    The motto “since 1948” is emblazoned on the restaurant’s menus and its waiters’ shirt sleeves.
    He says his membership card from UNRWA – the U.N.’s agency for Palestinian refugees – guarantees his right under international law to return to his family’s home in Jaffa, which now sits in central Israel, some 78 km (nearly 50 miles) away.
    The U.N. General Assembly voted on Friday to renew UNRWA’s mandate to provide education, health and relief services to more than five million Palestinian refugees across the region.
    UNRWA argues its services are needed “in absence of a solution to the Palestine refugee problem.”
    But Israel refuses the right of return Salameh and other refugees claim, fearing the country would lose its Jewish majority.     Salameh admits his hopes for going back remain dim.
    “We don’t believe there will be a right of return.    It’s like an anaesthetic, it takes the pain away, but it is not a cure,” Salameh said.
    In the Gaza Strip, Zakeya Moussa says her family once owned 16 acres (6.5 hectares) of land just north of the coastal enclave’s fortified border with Israel.
    Moussa, 63, has spent her entire life living in Palestinian refugee camps in the Strip, which Israel has kept under blockade since 2007 citing security concerns from its Islamist rulers Hamas.
    Near Moussa’s home in Gaza’s Beach refugee camp on the shores of the Mediterranean, Palestinians were unloading sacks of flour they receive from UNRWA, which provides aid to over half of the enclave’s two million residents.
    “UNRWA gives us flour, plant oil, beans and milk, we get treated for free, we get medication… We are nothing without UNRWA,” Moussa said.
    She says her family’s land had a house surrounded by tracts of fruit and vegetable fields, all now north of the Strip’s Erez border crossing with Israel.
    Under different circumstances, it would be just a short walk away, she said.
    “If I started walking now, I would be there in the afternoon.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Nick Macfie)

12/14/2019 Qatar says there has been ‘small progress’ in resolving Gulf dispute
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during the
annual Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister said on Saturday there has been small progress to resolve a 2-1/2 year dispute between the Gulf state and its neighbors.
    Asked whether there was progress at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit held last week, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told Reuters that there has been “small progress, just a little progress.”
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing terrorism.    Qatar denies the charge and accuses its neighbors of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

12/14/2019 Former Sudan president Bashir sentenced to two years in detention for corruption by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage at the courthouse where he is facing
corruption charges, in Khartoum, Sudan September 28, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/FIle Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – A Sudanese court on Saturday convicted former president Omar al-Bashir on corruption charges and sentenced him to two years of detention in a reform facility, the first ruling against the ex-leader ousted by mass unrest.
    The presiding judge said Bashir, 75, who was deposed by the military in April following months of street protests against his three-decade rule, was being sent to the reform facility, rather than a prison, on account of his age.
    He also ordered the confiscation of millions of euros and Sudanese pounds found in Bashir’s residence when he was toppled.
    Bashir’s prosecution is a test of how fast and how far military and civilian authorities now sharing power in Sudan will act to overturn his legacy.
    Ahead of Saturday’s verdict, hundreds of supporters of the Islamist ex-president gathered in streets near the presidential palace in the capital Khartoum.
    Troops and military vehicles were deployed in the area, blocking access to the palace and the Defence Ministry, and there was a heavy security presence at the court.
    Bashir is also wanted by the International Criminal Court, which issued arrest warrants against him in 2009 and 2010 on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sudan’s restive Darfur region.
    Dressed in traditional white robes and a turban, Bashir watched silently from inside a metal defendant’s cage while the judge, Al-Sadiq Abdelrahman, read out the verdict on Saturday.
    “The convict, Omar al-Bashir, is consigned to a social reform facility for a period of two years..The sums of foreign and national currency that were seized are confiscated,” Abdelrahman said.
APPEAL
    Ahmed Ibrahim al-Tahir, Bashir’s lead defense lawyer, said he would appeal.    “The judge made the ruling based on political motives, but despite that we still have confidence in the Sudanese judiciary,” Tahir told reporters.
    Several other judicial cases have been launched in Sudan against Bashir.    In May he was charged with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters, and this week he was summoned for questioning over his role in the 1989 military coup that brought him to power.
    Authorities running Sudan under a three-year, power-sharing deal struck in August are eager to demonstrate progress in the country’s political transition ahead of the first anniversary of the start of the uprising against Bashir.
    On Thursday, the Sudanese military officer in charge of removing the powers of the old regime announced that Sudan’s bar association and trade union governing bodies were being dissolved, according to state news agency SUNA.
    He also announced that a committee was being formed to dissolve the assets of Bashir’s National Congress Party.
    Protests triggered by a deepening economic crisis began to spread across Sudan on Dec. 19, 2018.
    Nearly four months later, a group of military generals removed Bashir from power and jailed him in Khartoum’s Kobar prison where he had incarcerated thousands of opponents of his repressive rule.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/14/2019 Baghdad protesters burn posters of President Trump, U.S. flag during demonstrations by OAN Newsroom
Protesters set on fire a cardboard cutout that depicts US President Donald Trump and hung to a gallows, during a rally
for the Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
    Protesters burned images of President Trump and the U.S. flag during Saturday’s demonstrations in Iraq.    The AP reported thousands of protesters marched along the streets in Baghdad to condemn recent U.S. intervention into the country’s affairs.
    This followed the U.S. government’s decision to blacklist three Iraqi militia leaders earlier this month, who were accused of killing anti-government protesters.
    “The Iraqi people…are calling for genuine reform, accountability and for trustworthy leaders who will put Iraq’s national interests first,” stated Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.    “Those demands deserve to be addressed without resorting to violence or suppression.”
    The leaders have denied any involvement in the deaths of protesters, who have been demonstrating against the government for more than two months.
    Reports revealed security forces have killed around 400 mostly unarmed protesters thus far.
An Iraqi protester burn a US flag during a rally for the Shiite group Asaib Ahl al-Haq,
in Baghdad, Iraq, Saturday, Dec. 14, 2019. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

12/15/2019 Clashes rock Beirut as security forces fire tear gas at protest by Ellen Francis and Alaa Kanaan
Smoke rises from tear gas fired during anti government protests in Beirut, Lebanon December 15, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Tear gas engulfed central Beirut as security forces chased protesters near Lebanon’s parliament on Sunday in a second night of street clashes that wounded dozens of people.
    Protesters had returned despite a fierce crackdown by security forces the night before when clashes also injured dozens.
    It marked the most violent unrest in the capital in a historic wave of protests that has swept Lebanon since Oct. 17 and pushed Saad al-Hariri to resign as prime minister.
    The protests erupted from anger at a political elite that has overseen decades of corruption and steered the country toward its worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    “We will not leave.    They are the ones who looted the country.    They are the ones who got us here.    We want our rights,” said Nadine Farhat, 31, a lawyer protesting on Sunday.
    Riot police and security forces, deploying again in large numbers, unleashed water cannons at hundreds of demonstrators who remained on the streets.
    The Lebanese Civil Defense said it had treated 46 people for injuries and taken 14 others to hospital.
    The clashes rocked a commercial district of Beirut for hours late into the night, and army soldiers closed off some roads.
    Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces said they fired tear gas after demonstrators pelted them with fireworks and stones, injuring some officers.    On Twitter, the ISF called on people to leave the streets.
    Crowds of men and women ran for cover chanting “revolution, revolution!” as white smoke streaming out of tear gas canisters encircled them.    Some hurled the canisters back at riot police standing nearby in body armor.
    “They attacked us in a barbaric way, as if we’re not protesting for their sake, their children,” said a protester, Omar Abyad, 25, a nurse who has been unemployed since he graduated two years ago.
    Abyad said he rallied on Sunday in part against Hariri’s potential return as prime minister, calling him one of the same faces who have long ruled the country.
    Lebanon’s main parties have fueded over forming a new government, and Hariri is expected to be named prime minister again at formal consultations on Monday.    But political rifts look set to hinder agreement on the next cabinet, which the country badly needs to ward off an even worse crisis.
    Foreign donors say they will only help after there is a cabinet in place that can enact reforms.
    Lebanon’s economic woes, long in the making, have come to a head: Pressure has piled on the pegged Lebanese pound.    A hard currency crunch has left many importers unable to bring in goods, forcing up prices. And banks have restricted dollar withdrawals.
    “There’s no work, no wages, no money, nothing,” Abyad said.    “I am in the streets and I have nothing to lose.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Alaa Kanaan, Ayat Basma and Imad Creidi; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Louise Heavens and Daniel Wallis)

12/15/2019 Netanyahu says Brazil committed to move embassy to Jerusalem in 2020
FILE PHOTO: Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro sits next to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during an
event with Israeli and Brazilian business people in Jerusalem April 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Sunday he has been given assurances by the son of Brazil’s president that Brazil will follow the United States and move its embassy to Jerusalem next year.
    Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has signaled before he intends to move his country’s embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, but senior officials later backtracked for fear of damaging trade ties with Arab countries.
    Brazil did, however, open a trade mission to Israel in Jerusalem this year.
    Bolsonaro’s son, lawmaker Eduardo Bolsonaro, told the new trade mission that, prior to traveling, his father, “told me that for sure, as a commitment, he’s going to move the embassy to Jerusalem.”
    He did not give a date.
    Netanyahu later issued a statement saying he met with Eduardo Bolsonaro, who told him they had “committed to move Brazil’s embassy to Jerusalem in 2020.”
    U.S. President Donald Trump broke global consensus by recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in late 2017 and moving the U.S. embassy there the following May.
    Most world powers say the city’s status should only be decided as part of a peace process with the Palestinians.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Christina Fincher)

12/15/2019 Turkey could close Incirlik air base in face of U.S. threats: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President President Tayyip Erdogan attends a NATO leaders summit
in Watford, Britain, December 4, 2019. REUTERS/Toby Melville/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey could shut down its Incirlik air base, which hosts U.S. nuclear warheads, in response to threats of U.S. sanctions and a separate U.S. Senate resolution that recognized mass killings of Armenians a century ago as genocide, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday.
    “If it is necessary for us to take such a step, of course we have the authority … If this is necessary, together with our delegations, we will close down Incirlik if necessary,” Erdogan said on A Haber TV.
    Turkey can also close down the Kurecik radar base if necessary, he added.    “If they are threatening us with the implementation of these sanctions, of course we will be retaliating,” he said.
    Turkey condemned the U.S. Senate measure last week.    Erdogan suggested on Sunday that Turkey could also respond with parliamentary resolutions recognizing the killings of indigenous Americans in past centuries as genocide.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Pravin Char)

12/15/2019 Turkey ready to give any military support Libya needs: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan adresses the audience during the official opening of the new Cambridge Central
Mosque, in Cambridge, Britain, December 5, 2019. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday Turkey is ready to provide Tripoli any military support it needs after Ankara and Libya’s internationally recognized government signed a security deal.
    “We will be protecting the rights of Libya and Turkey in the Eastern Mediterranean,” he said on A Haber TV.    “We are more than ready to give whatever support necessary to Libya.”
    Khalifa Haftar, who leads forces in eastern Libya, “is not a legitimate leader…and is representative of an illegal structure,” Erdogan said after meeting in Istanbul with Fayez al-Sarraj, prime minister of Libya’s Government of National Accord.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

12/15/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri may be named PM but faces struggle to form government
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saad al-Hariri is expected to be named Lebanon’s prime minister on Monday, but political rifts look set to hinder agreement on a new government badly needed to rescue the country from a dire economic crisis.
    Hariri, a Western ally and the leading Sunni Muslim politician, is widely seen by politicians as the only candidate for the post.    He quit the job in late October under pressure from protests against the political elite that has overseen decades of corruption and bad governance.
    But he is at odds with Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah movement and its allies, including President Michel Aoun, over the make-up of the next government.
    Lebanon needs a new government to pull it out of the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.    Foreign donors will only help after there is a cabinet that can enact reforms.
    Hariri wants to lead a cabinet of specialist ministers which he says would be able to tackle the crisis and attract foreign aid, while his opponents want a combination of politicians and experts.
    Aoun’s formal consultations with lawmakers to designate the premier, postponed from last week, are scheduled to take place on Monday despite the dispute.
    “It should be clear to anyone who might nominate Hariri tomorrow that he will only form a government of specialists,” a source close to Hariri told Reuters.
    Aoun is required to choose the candidate with greatest support among parliament’s 128 lawmakers.
    Though it was not immediately clear how many lawmakers would back Hariri, political sources said he would most likely be picked, barring any last-minute surprise in Lebanon’s volatile politics.
    Attempts to reach compromise deals on other candidates for the job of prime minister – reserved for a Sunni in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system – have failed.
    Hundreds of people protesting against the ruling elite returned to central Beirut on Sunday, despite a fierce crackdown by security forces near parliament the previous night.    The security forces had fired tear gas and rubber bullets overnight at demonstrators in clashes that wounded dozens.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Editing by Pravin Char)

12/15/2019 Turkey to sign off on military pledge to Libya by Jonathan Spicer and Yesim Dikmen
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj
in Istanbul, Turkey, November 27, 2019. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey moved closer to military support for Libya’s internationally recognized government late on Saturday when a bilateral deal that provides for a quick reaction force if requested by Tripoli was sent to parliament.
    Ankara’s latest move raises tensions in the Mediterranean region and risks confrontation with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya, where rival political factions have been based since 2014.
    Late last month, Ankara and Tripoli signed an expanded security and military accord and, separately, a memorandum on maritime boundaries that Greece said violates international law.
    While the maritime accord has been sent to the United Nations for approval, the military deal has been presented to Turkey’s parliament.    “Parliament will enter it into force after approval,” Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday.
    It was unclear when a vote would take place in the parliament controlled by President Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling AK Party (AKP) and its nationalist MHP allies.
    On Thursday, Haftar urged his forces to advance toward the center of Tripoli in what he said would be a “final battle,” after an offensive against the government that began in April but has stalled outside the capital.
    Egypt, which has condemned the maritime deal as “illegal,” urged other countries on Sunday to stop intervening in Libya to enable the country to restore its own security and stability, in an apparent rebuke to Turkey.
    “… we have the ability to (intervene in Libya) but we haven’t,” Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi told a youth forum in the Red Sea resort of Sharm El-Sheikh.
    Sisi expressed his support for “national armies” in Libya, an apparent reference to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
    Egypt is a regional rival of Turkey and one of the main backers of the LNA, which is battling forces aligned with the internationally recognized government in Tripoli.    In the past Egypt has carried out air strikes in Libya and has channeled material support to the LNA, according to U.N. experts.
GREEK ANGER
    Greece, which expelled the Libyan ambassador over the maritime boundary pact, has also condemned the maritime accord and warned that Turkey is escalating tensions in the region.
    “Turkey must choose if it will follow the road of self-isolation, continuing to play the role of trouble-maker in the region, or behave like a good neighbor henceforth,” Greece’s deputy foreign minister, Miltiadis Varvitsiotis, told Sunday’s Ethnos newspaper.
Greece has also condemned new Turkish gas exploration off the coast of the divided island of Cyprus.
    On Sunday, Israel’s energy ministry told Reuters that a Turkish vessel had asked one of its research ships to leave an area where it was “legally located in Cyprus’s commercial waters.”    Israeli and Turkish media said Turkey’s navy escorted the ship away in the incident, which occurred two weeks ago.
    According to the text of the military agreement sent to Turkish lawmakers, Tripoli could request vehicles, equipment and weapons for use in army, navy and air operations.    It also provisions for new intelligence sharing.
    Utku Cakirozer, a lawmaker from Turkey’s main opposition CHP and a member of the NATO parliamentary assembly, said it was “worrying” that Erdogan raised the prospect of sending troops and taking sides in the Libyan conflict.
    “Turkey should not enter into a new adventure,” he told Reuters.    “The AKP government should immediately stop being a party to the war in Libya.”
(Additional reporting by Irem Koca in Istanbul and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and George Georgiopoulos
in Athens and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Editing by Christina Fincher, Louise Heavens and Gareth Jones)

12/15/2019 Talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar good for the region: Iran foreign minister
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif attends a news conference, a day ahead of the first meeting of the new
Syrian Constitutional Committee at the Untied Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 29, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo
    DOHA (Reuters) – Talks between Saudi Arabia and Qatar to heal their two-year rift are a good development for the whole Gulf region, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Sunday in Doha.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017, accusing it of backing terrorism and aligning itself with Iran.
    Doha denies their charges and accuses its neighbors of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.
    Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Nasser Al Thani attended an annual Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Saudi Arabia last Tuesday, its highest representation at the meeting since 2017.
    Asked at the Doha Forum in Qatar if the recent contact between Doha and Riyadh was good for the region, Zarif told reporters: “Of course it is.”
    Qatari Foreign Minister Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told the same event on Saturday that there had been “small progress” in resolving the bitter dispute.
    Sheikh Mohammed briefly met with Zarif in public at the forum on Sunday and sat in the audience as the Iranian foreign minister gave an address.
    Kuwait and the United States have tried to mediate the rift between Qatar and its neighbors, which has undermined Washington’s efforts to confront Iran.
    Mainly Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia are locked in a struggle for influence in the Gulf region.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/16/2019 Qatar FM says early talks with Saudi Arabia have broken stalemate: CNN
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani speaks during the annual
Munich Security Conference in Munich, Germany February 17, 2019. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister said recent talks have broken a protracted stalemate with Saudi Arabia and that Doha was open to studying demands by its rivals in a Gulf dispute but would not turn its back on ally Turkey.
    The row between U.S.-allied Arab states saw Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar in June 2017 over allegations that it backs terrorism.    Doha denies the charge and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.
    “We have broken the stalemate of non-communication to starting a communication with the Saudis,” Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN on Sunday.
    “We want to understand the grievances.    We want to study them and to assess them and to look at the solutions that can safeguard us in the future from any other potential crisis,” he said without mentioning what concessions, if any, were possible.
    The boycotting nations set 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera television, shuttering a Turkish military base, downgrading ties with Iran and cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood.
    Sheikh Mohammed, who made an unannounced visit to Riyadh in October amid hints the rift could soon subside, denied Qatar has direct ties with the Brotherhood, which the other countries label a terrorist organization.
    He also said Doha would not alter its relationship with Ankara in order to resolve the dispute, which has undermined Washington’s efforts to maintain Gulf unity to confront Iran.
    “Any country that opened up for us and helped us during our crisis, we will remain grateful for them … and we will never turn our back to them,” he said.
    Turkey sent troops, military hardware, food and water to small but wealthy Qatar after the boycott began.
    Asked how long a resolution would take, Sheikh Mohammed said: “We believe we are still at a very early stage, and what happened in the last 2-1/2 years was a lot and there is, I think, a need for some time to rebuild trust again.”
    Qatar’s premier attended an annual Gulf Arab summit in Riyadh last week, its highest representation since 2017, but the boycott got no direct public mention.
    Efforts to end the row appeared to intensify after a September attack on Saudi oil plants that initially halved the kingdom’s output and pushed the region toward war.    Riyadh and Washington blame the strikes on Iran, which denies involvement.
(Reporting by Stephen Kalin; Editing by Giles Elgood)

12/16/2019 How one deadly day prompted Iraqi leader’s exit by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
An Iraqi demonstrator reacts during ongoing anti-government
protests in Najaf, Iraq December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    NAJAF, Iraq (Reuters) – In the pre-dawn hours of Nov. 28, after Iraqi demonstrators set the Iranian consulate in the southern holy city of Najaf ablaze, the killings began.
    By the end of that day, Iran-linked militiamen in Najaf and Iraq’s elite Interior Ministry forces in Nassiriya farther south had shot dead scores of mostly unarmed demonstrators with assault rifles and machine guns.    It was the single bloodiest episode of Iraq’s two-month-old anti-government uprising.
    The next day, Iran-backed Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi said he would quit.
    Reuters interviews with more than two-dozen protesters, paramedics, security officials and politicians in Najaf, Nassiriya and Baghdad revealed how the government’s brutal response and the actions of uncontrolled militias on the ground led to the prime minister’s resignation.    Abdul Madhi’s successor – who will be an interim leader – is technically supposed to be named this week.
    The downfall of Abdul Mahdi earned a scalp for tens of thousands of protesters seeking to remove an Iraqi ruling elite they view as corrupt and fend off Iran’s influence in their country.
    Reuters’ interviews filled in details of that November day, including the lead-up to the killings and the flurry of backroom activity that signaled the end for Abdul Mahdi.    Most sources declined to be named out of concern for retribution from the government or armed groups.
    Many of the circumstances have not been previously reported, including what led to the security forces’ fatal attacks on 60 demonstrators in Nassiriya, and how much pressure from Shi’ite clans in the south was brought to bear on religious and state institutions.
    Two senior security sources involved in advising the Iraqi government, speaking out for the first time, told Reuters that after the consulate burned in Najaf, Abdul Mahdi dispatched at least five military commanders to “restore security by any means” in the southern Shi’ite and tribal heartlands.    In response, they said, the commander sent to Nassiriya, Lieutenant General Jamil al-Shammari, ordered elite Rapid Response Division units to fire upon unarmed protesters.
    “Sending military men to handle security in turbulent areas like Nassiriya and Najaf was the wrong decision,” one of the security sources privy to the internal deliberations said.    “When the prime minister read why so many people were killed in Nassiriya, he realized he’d made a big mistake.”
    Under tribal pressure to take a stand against the violence that felled some of their kinsmen, the country’s most prominent Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, ended support for the government, tribal and clerical sources said.    That, in turn, spelled the end for Abdul Mahdi.
    Spokespeople for the Iraqi government, the military and Iraqi paramilitary groups did not respond to requests for comment.    Iraq has previously denied ordering live fire against demonstrators, and paramilitary groups, including Iran-linked militias have denied a role in putting down protests.    Reuters could not reach Shammari, who went into hiding after the killings, for comment.
    Iranian officials could not be reached but have consistently denied groups they back have killed peaceful protesters.
YEARS OF FRUSTRATION
    The move to replace Abdul Mahdi is unlikely to end the biggest protests against Iraq’s Shi’ite Muslim-dominated, Iran-backed political class which ascended after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion that toppled dictator Saddam Hussein.    Already, more than 400 people have been killed in the unrest since October.
    After decades of war against its neighbors, U.N. sanctions, two U.S. invasions, foreign occupation, sectarian civil war, and the difficult but ultimately successful defeat of the Islamic State insurgency in 2017, many Iraqis are desperate.    Their frustration, culminating in the current uprising, is inflamed by the breakdown of public services, broken infrastructure and a lack of jobs despite oil output at record levels.
    The first blood on November 28 was shed in Nassiriya, at about 3 a.m., five hours after the military commanders were ordered south.
    Rapid Response units led by Shammari began shooting at demonstrators blocking a bridge and nearby roads in an attack that lasted about two hours, protesters said.    Thirty-one people were killed that morning and 29 more died over the next 24 hours, according to police and hospital sources.
    Three medics showed gruesome videos on their phones of protesters with fatal wounds from gunfire.    Reuters could not verify the videos.
    “All those who died were from bullets to the head or chest,” said Karar Hacham, a 30-year-old medic and activist.    “A lot of ammunition used was from BKC machine guns.”
    Raad Harbi, a 21-year-old demonstrator who was on the bridge, said they were nearly surrounded by government “special forces” wearing the insignia and uniforms of elite Interior Ministry units.    “They came from two directions and deployed snipers to a nearby building to take shots as us.”
    Protesters said they saw Shammari around the town the next day.    Local authorities issued an arrest warrant for the commander under pressure from powerful armed tribes.    Shammari then fled by military helicopter, one of the two security sources said.    He is still in hiding.
    In Najaf, the killings began in the afternoon, this time at the hands of militiamen cracking down on protesters venting fury against Iran, whom they blame for an entrenched system of political patronage and corruption.    Iran, a Shi’ite Muslim state, has close links to Iraqi Shi’ite politicians who have run the country since the toppling of Saddam.
    Protesters had ripped Islamic Republic emblems off the Iranian consulate’s charred remains and scrawled graffiti: “Iraq is off-limits for you.”
    They then turned their anger toward the Mohammed Baqir al-Hakim shrine complex next door, dedicated to the founder of an Iran-backed group that fought Saddam in the 1980s, local activists and police said.    Skirmishes broke out between demonstrators and shrine guards.    Protesters believed that gunmen were holding demonstrators hostage inside, which shrine officials, police and other security sources have denied.
    The commander sent to Najaf by Abdul Mahdi, Major General Ali al-Hashimi, failed to control the crowds, the security sources said.     Local police refused to coordinate with forces he brought from Baghdad because he deployed them without consulting police chiefs, a senior security source in Najaf said.
    Hashimi’s forces withdrew from the area and protesters petrol-bombed the shrine doorway.    The militiamen, wearing civilian clothes soon arrived and fired into the crowds, another local security source and several protesters said.    Hashimi could not immediately be reached for comment.
    “They used hunting rifles, Kalashnikovs and BKC machine guns … 28 people died,” the second security source said.    “Police couldn’t intervene, they don’t have the same firepower.”
    The source said more than 300 gunmen were involved in the shootings.
    “Najaf ran with blood,” said Saif, a 28-year-old protester who escaped with a bullet wound to the leg.    He spoke on condition that only his first name be used.
    The security sources and about 20 medics and protesters said the gunmen in Najaf were from militia groups with links to Iran and to the shrine itself, which see themselves as defenders of the religious site.
    An official close to the shrine, Ali Khafaji, said its custodians refused offers by these militia groups to intervene, but that it was possible individual militiamen had deployed of their own accord and been involved in the killings.
    “Government security forces couldn’t deal with the situation,” Khafaji said.    “Najaf was out of control.”
‘ITCHING TO QUIT’
    In Baghdad, Abdul Mahdi’s heart sank as soon as the killings were reported, one of the security sources who is close to the prime minister’s office said.
    “He’d been convinced by top military aides that a tough stance in Najaf and Nassiriya would bring the situation under control.    He was shocked after hearing his commanders instead escalated unrest by causing a high protester death toll."
    “He knew Sistani would not tolerate this.”
    Abdul Mahdi’s grip on power was already shaky.    He had nearly been ousted a month before but Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani, head of the Revolutionary Guards’ elite Quds Force, had stepped in to rally pro-Iran parties behind him.
    Now incensed southern tribes whose kin had been gunned down were heaping pressure on Sistani to oppose Abdul Mahdi’s government, threatening to take up arms against security forces and militias, tribal leaders told Reuters.    If Sistani did not intervene to stop the “bloodbath,” they told him in a Nov. 28 letter, the tribes would take matters into their own hands.
    “We said the tribes in the south will bear arms to protect protesters,” said Sheikh Ali al-Ghizzi of Nassiriya, a prominent tribal leader who signed the letter.
    Sistani’s aides, also shocked by news from Najaf and Nassiriya, “believed if they didn’t react to stop the killings, (Sistani’s) status among Shi’ites would be on the line,” a Shi’ite cleric close to the aides said.
    Abdul Mahdi “was itching to quit immediately,” a lawmaker close to him said – but Iran-backed parties convinced him to wait until after Sistani’s announcement during his Friday sermon, in case they could find another solution.
    No solution presented itself.
(John Davison reported from Najaf and Nassiriya; Ahmed Rasheed reported from Baghdad; additional reporting by the Baghdad newsroom; Editing by Julie Marquis and Jason Szep)

12/16/2019 Spontaneous protest hounds former Lebanese PM from concert by Ayat Basma
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese composer Guy Manoukian plays the piano during a Christmas concert at
American University of Beirut's Assembly Hall, Lebanon December 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ayat Basma
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Outraged concert-goers shouting “revolution, revolution” hounded former Lebanese prime minister Fouad Siniora from a Christmas concert at the American University of Beirut on Sunday night.
    Lebanese politicians past and present have been the focus of weeks of demonstrations demanding the end to a governing elite blamed for years of misrule and Siniora’s presence at the concert set off a spontaneous protest.
    Siniora, an alumnus of the university, sat impassively on the front row as audience members erupted in chorus against him but eventually bowed to the pressure and left the concert hall with his bodyguards.
    “How dare they have the nerve to come to a concert when they know that people hate them. How dare they?” Terese, a retired teacher, told Reuters.    “We started chanting: revolution, revolution, Siniora get out … He didn’t budge.”
    A performance by composer and pianist Guy Manoukian was interrupted by the uproar from the audience though once Siniora had left, the concert began in earnest.
    Siniora later sent a tweet saying history would prove that he had always worked in Lebanon’s interests though he may have made some mistakes.
    Before serving as prime minister from 2005 to 2008, Siniora was a long-time finance minister.    He was questioned last month by a state prosecutor over how $11 billion in government funds was spent while he was in power.
    His office has said the spending was entirely legal.
    Show of irreverence toward senior figures such as Siniora who have long commanded respect has broken taboos in Lebanon, setting the current wave of demonstrations apart from previous dissent.
    The presence of Siniora, a former banker and one of the country’s wealthy elite, showed indifference to the suffering of many people, some concert-goers said.
    “Politicians should understand that they have become distanced from the people,” said Maestro Barkev Taslakian, conductor of Al Fayhaa Choir.
    Many Lebanese politicians have avoided public gatherings for fear of being targeted by angry protesters.    One audience member said it was a blatant provocation for of a leading member of the establishment to attend the concert.
    “They cannot ignore what’s happening and attend and then pretend that actually they are not to blame,” said entrepreneur Bahe Ghobril.
    Others said music should be left out of Lebanon’s deepening political divisions and economic woes.
    “This is a cultural, artistic event and the revolution should be outside of these doors,” one of the organizers said during the uproar.
(Reporting by Ayat Basma; Editing by David Clarke)

12/16/2019 Turkey must step up measures against money laundering, watchdog says
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) is seen during a news conference after a
plenary session at the OECD Headquarters in Paris, France, October 18, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish authorities must address shortcomings in tackling money laundering and terrorism financing or face being added to a “gray list” of countries with inadequate financial controls, according to a global money laundering watchdog.
    In a report issued on Monday, the Paris-based Financial Action Task Force (FATF) highlighted gaps in Turkey’s efforts to prevent financing of terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.
    Out of 11 areas evaluated, Turkey was deemed to require major or fundamental improvements in nine.    The report’s findings mean Ankara will be put under observation for a year, and could be added to the gray list if it does not make improvements.
    The watchdog said Turkey should make “fundamental improvements in measures for freezing assets linked to terrorism, terrorist organizations and financiers.”
    Turkey had a low rate of conviction for terrorism financing, the report said, pointing to data it said was provided by authorities showing more than 6,000 people were prosecuted in 2017 but only 115 convicted.
    Ankara should also improve efforts to prevent “the raising, moving and using of funds for weapons of mass destruction,” the report said, adding that Turkey was slow in following up U.N. Security Council resolutions relating to Iran and North Korea.
    Turkey says it abides by all international laws and United Nations resolutions.
    The report also called on Turkey to strengthen its use of financial intelligence in money laundering cases and develop a national strategy for investigating and prosecuting different types of money laundering.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans and John O’Donnell,Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/16/2019 Pentagon chief urges Iraq to stop attacks on bases housing U.S. forces
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is pictured during a wreathlaying ceremony at the Manila American
Cemetery and Memorial in Taguig City, Metro Manila, Philippines, November 19, 2019. REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper on Monday urged Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to take steps to prevent bases housing U.S. troops from being shelled, a statement from the premier’s office said.
    Esper’s call came after a senior U.S. military official warned last week that attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.
    Rocket strikes targeting Iraqi bases where members of the U.S.-led coalition are also stationed have increased in past weeks with no claim of responsibility from any party.
    However, the U.S. military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia groups.
    Esper “expressed his concerns over the shelling of some installations and the necessity to take procedures to stop it,” a statement from Abdul Mahdi’s office quoted the Pentagon chief as saying during a phone call.
    Abdul Mahdi warned Esper that unilateral action could have negative consequences that will be difficult to control and might jeopardize Iraq’s sovereignty.
    Abdul Mahdi resigned last month under pressure from mass anti-government protests.    He is carrying out his duties in a caretaker capacity.
    Tension between the United States and Iran has risen as a result of U.S. sanctions that are hitting Tehran hard.    The two sides have also traded blame over attacks on oil installations, militia arms depots and bases hosting U.S. forces.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Giles Elgood)

12/17/2019 Kuwait appoints new cabinet after parliament tension
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah attends the Arab League's
foreign ministers meeting to discuss unannounced U.S. blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace,
in Cairo, Egypt April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany - RC17318E1500/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait formed a new government on Tuesday that replaced the son of the emir as defense minister and named an interior minister from outside the ruling family, a month after the former cabinet quit due to a row between members of the family and parliament.
    The oil minister of the OPEC producer retained his post while new foreign and finance ministers were named, the state news agency KUNA said.
    Kuwait, an ally of the United States, has the most open political system in the Gulf Arab region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.
    Before the government stepped down last month, lawmakers sought a vote of no confidence in the interior minister as a feud emerged between senior members of the ruling family, including the interior and defense ministers, over alleged mishandling of military funds.
    Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah last month tapped then foreign minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah to take over as premier and form a cabinet.    The prime minister traditionally helps navigate often tense relationships between parliament and government.    The emir has final say in state matters.
    The key post of oil minister remained occupied by Khaled al-Fadhel, but Ahmad Mansour al-Ahmad al-Sabah was appointed defense minister, Anas Khaled Nasser al-Saleh became interior minister, and Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah became foreign affairs minister.
    Mariam Aqeel al-Aqeel had previously been acting minister of finance and was confirmed to that position.
    Friction between the cabinet and parliament in Kuwait has led to frequent reshuffles or the dissolution of parliament.
    Power struggles between senior ruling family members have often played out in parliament.    Cabinet resignations happen frequently when elected lawmakers are set to question or submit a no-confidence vote against senior government officials.
(Reporting by Ahmad Hagagy in Kuwait and Maher Chmaytelli and Tuqa Khalid in Dubai; writing by Lisa Barrington; editing by John Stonestreet and Philippa Fletcher)

12/17/2019 Main opposition says Turkey arrests mayor over alleged Gulen links
FILE PHOTO: U.S.-based Turkish cleric Fethullah Gulen at his home in
Saylorsburg, Pennsylvania, U.S. July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A mayor from Turkey’s main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) was arrested over suspected links to the network that Ankara says orchestrated a failed coup in 2016, a party official said early on Tuesday.
    Ankara has cracked down on suspected followers of Fethullah Gulen, a U.S.-based Muslim cleric, since the July 2016 coup attempt in which some 250 people were killed. Operations against the network are still routine.
    Burak Oguz, the mayor of Urla district in the Aegean coastal province of Izmir, is the first local authority from the CHP to be arrested since elections in March.
    Separately, Ankara has removed 28 co-mayors from the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party (HDP) due to alleged links to Kurdish militants.    Twenty-two co-mayors have been arrested since August and 19 remain in pre-trial detention, according to the HDP.
    Deniz Yucel, head of the CHP’s Izmir provincial group, said on Twitter that Oguz had been arrested and rejected the accusation that the mayor belonged to any Gulen network.
    “There is no chance for FETO to survive within the CHP,” he said, using a word that commonly refers to the network.    The party condemns the judiciary removing from office those who were elected, he said.
    The Urla municipality did not immediately comment.
    Gulen has lived in self-imposed exile in Pennsylvania since 1999.    He has denied any involvement in the coup attempt.
    In the three years since the 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 Turkey faces, vowing to eradicate Gulen’s network.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

12/17/2019 Palestinians eye long-delayed election, ask Israel to allow Jerusalem voting by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas gestures as he speaks during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the death
of his predecessor Yasser Arafat, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) said on Tuesday its heralded national election must also be held in East Jerusalem, an area annexed by Israel, raising a demand on which a still-unscheduled vote could hinge.
    Palestinians’ last parliamentary ballot in 2006 resulted in a surprise win by Hamas, widening an internal political rift that led to the Islamist group’s seizure of the Gaza Strip in 2007 and contributed to the long delay in setting further elections.
    PA President Mahmoud Abbas, who heads the rival Fatah party and is based in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said in September he would issue a decree for national elections, but gave no date.
    Hamas supported the move, while PA officials put Israel on the spot by requesting it again allow polling stations in East Jerusalem to operate, as they had in the parliamentary ballot in 2006 and a presidential election a year earlier.
    That message was echoed on Tuesday by Abbas, who said in a statement issued by the PA’s WAFA news agency that “legislative elections must be held in Jerusalem.”
    Israel forbids any official activity in Jerusalem by the Western-backed PA, saying it breaches 1990s interim peace deals with the Palestinians.    An Israeli official said on Tuesday Israel was aware of the Palestinians’ request but “has not yet taken a position on it.”
    Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed it in a move that has not won international recognition.    It regards all of Jerusalem as its capital.
    Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    The PA’s 2.2 million registered voters are split among East Jerusalem, Gaza and the West Bank.    Jerusalem is home to more than 300,000 Palestinians and 500,000 Israelis.    The Palestinian Central Elections Commission says Jerusalem has 75,401 eligible Palestinian voters.
    Senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat, speaking to Reuters at the Doha Forum in Qatar on Sunday, said an Israeli refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem “would be a major problem” and could stop the vote from taking place entirely.
    But a poll released Tuesday by the West Bank-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research showed some 56 percent of Palestinians believe the elections should proceed even if East Jerusalem is excluded.
    Tareq Baconi, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, said the Palestinian leadership might have raised the East Jerusalem issue to avoid holding elections after more than a decade in power.
    “East Jerusalem is exactly the alibi the Palestinian leadership needs … (It will) be able to fault Israel for refusing to allow elections to go ahead,” Baconi said.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Doha, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Jeffrey Heller/Mark Heinrich)

12/17/2019 Lebanon’s Berri, Hariri call for calm after night of violence
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri arrives to attend a military parade to mark the 76th anniversary
of Lebanon's independence at the Ministry of Defense in Yarze, Lebanon November 22, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament speaker and caretaker prime minister warned against strife on Tuesday after clashes between supporters of Shi’ite groups and security forces overnight stirred fears of further political and economic turmoil.
    Lebanon has been gripped by protests since Oct. 17, leading to the resignation of Saad al-Hariri as prime minister, amid anger at the government’s failure to address the country’s worst economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    Security forces lobbed tear gas overnight in central Beirut to disperse supporters of the Shi’ite Amal party of Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and its ally the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement.
    Hundreds of men on motorcycles waving their party flags chanted “Shi’ite, Shi’ite.”    They set tyres on fire, hurled stones at security forces and torched cars, witnesses said.
    They said they were furious at a video that circulated online in which a man curses their party and religious leaders, including Berri and Imam Ali, using language that could be inflammatory in a country with deep sectarian divisions.
    The men tried to break a security cordon around a square where tents have been set up as part of the wave of protests against the ruling elite which erupted two months ago.
    In a statement after meeting on Tuesday, Berri and Hariri, two of the country’s top leaders, urged the Lebanese “not to get dragged toward strife” and to maintain civil peace.
    “The national need has become more than pressing to speed up forming the government,” the statement added.
    Lebanon’s main parties have feuded over how to agree a new government since Hariri – the leading Sunni politician – resigned under pressure from the protests.    He has stayed on as caretaker prime minister.
    The job of premier is reserved for a Sunni, according to the country’s sectarian power-sharing system.
    The Internal Security Forces said on Tuesday that 65 police were injured in the violence overnight and three people were detained.
    In the mainly Sunni city of Sidon and the mainly Shi’ite city of Nabatieh in the south, groups of men also attacked protest tents overnight, local TV stations said.
    Angry at chants against their politicians, Amal and Hezbollah supporters have at times attacked protesters who are seeking to remove a political class that has dominated Lebanon since the civil war.
    The unrest took a violent turn at the weekend when security forces fired tear gas in Beirut at protesters and dozens of people were wounded in the clashes.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Editing by William Maclean)

12/17/2019 Russian, Syrian air strikes kill 17 in rebel-held northwest: rescuers
Road direction signs are pictured at the entrance enroute to Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib, Syria August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Omar Sanadiki
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian government and Russian air strikes killed at least 17 people on Tuesday in rebel-held northwestern Syria in a spike in casualties from relentless daily strikes in recent months, witnesses and rescuers said.
    The northwest corner of the country, including the Idlib region, is the last significant swathe of Syrian territory still in insurgent hands after eight and a half years of war.
    Russia, which has backed President Bashar al-Assad against rebels and Islamist militants, and Turkey, long a supporter of rebels, co-sponsored a conflict “de-escalation” deal for the area earlier this year that has since faltered.
    Two members of local rescue services said at least four people were killed and scores hurt when aerial bombs fell on a major market in the rural town of Maasran.    Another six civilians lost their lives when the town of Bdama was hit, they said.
    Videos posted on social media and confirmed by residents showed emergency crews pulling charred bodies along the debris-strewn streets of Maasran as ambulances were arriving.
    A further five people were killed in the nearby town of Telmanas in the southeastern part of Idlib province, according to Abdullah al-Halabi of the local rescue service.
    Air strikes on several villages in the area had killed another two dead two people and injured scores, he added.
    Syrian state media carried no reports of military operations by the Syrian army or its Russian ally in those areas.
    The Idlib region is home to hundreds of thousands of people who fled other parts of Syria as government forces wrested back large areas of the country following Russian intervention on Assad’s side in early 2015 that tipped the war in his favor.
    There has been no major ground offensive since Turkish-backed rebel forces retook territory seized by Moscow and its Syrian allies in rural parts of east Idlib province last month, rebels and diplomats say.
    Russian-backed forces have kept up air strikes on populated areas to wear down rebel forces that have so far repelled government attempts to seize back terrain.
    Islamist militant groups have also foiled repeated attempts by Russian-backed forces to advance into rural, inland parts of coastal Latakia province where they have dug in for years.
    While the Damascus government has vowed to recover all of Idlib, its immediate priority is to retake key pre-war highways that pass through the province to shore up Syria’s sanctions-battered economy, Western diplomatic sources say.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/18/2019 Erdogan says world powers yet to pledge Syria ‘safe zone’ support: NTV
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan leaves Downing Street after talks with Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson and
other heads of state, ahead of the NATO summit in Watford, in London, Britain December 3, 2019. Daniel Leal-Olivas/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said world powers have yet to pledge support for the country’s “safe zone” plans in northern Syria, where it intends to resettle one million Syrian refugees, broadcaster NTV reported on Wednesday.
    “Not even the countries we regard as the most powerful and respected have come out yet in response to our call on the safe zone and said ‘we’re in’,” Erdogan told reporters in Geneva, where he attended the Global Forum on Refugees on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Daren Butler)

12/18/2019 Qatar says its Gaza aid to continue through March 2020 at least
FILE PHOTO: Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi gestures during an interview with
Reuters in Gaza City, August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
    GAZA (Reuters) – Qatar will continue providing humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip into next year, the gas-rich Gulf state’s envoy to the Palestinian enclave said on Wednesday, a pledge that may help stave off conflict between Hamas and Israel.
    Since the last Gaza war, in 2014, Qatar has with Israel’s approval provided over $1 billion in reconstruction funds and stipends for poor Palestinians.    The aid has helped Doha win favor in Washington despite Qatari-Saudi diplomatic tensions.
    Qatari envoy Mohammed Al-Emadi visited Gaza this week to oversee the donation of 22 fire trucks and other emergency vehicles and discuss proposed new energy and health projects.
    “For the first quarter of the year we are continuing, this is for sure. For the rest of the year, I think we will continue, we are looking carefully and positively on this issue,” Emadi told Reuters when asked about future Qatari grants.
    In an effort to ease economic hardships and help calm down tensions along the border with Israel, Qatar provided more than $150 million in 2019 to buy fuel for Gaza’s lone power plant and provide monthly cash handouts to nearly 70,000 of the enclave’s needy.
    Israeli and Palestinian officials say the Qatari aid helps calm internal Gaza economic hardships that, in the past, have contributed to flare-ups in fighting between Hamas and Israel.
    Emadi said Hamas, whose chief Ismail Haniyeh visited Qatar this week, had requested extending the financial aid into 2020.
    “After March there is a big chance we will continue this monthly support for electricity and poor people,” Emadi said.
    Qatar does not have formal relations with Israel, which disapproves of the Gulf state’s ties to Iran and Hamas.    But Israeli officials privately welcome the Qatari largesse in Gaza, seeing a means of preventing humanitarian crises even if the money helps Hamas maintain its rule over the blockaded strip.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi, Editing by William Maclean)

12/18/2019 Israeli electric company cuts power to West Bank over Palestinian debt
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli engineer stands in the new electrical substation near
the West Bank city of Jenin July 10, 2017. REUTERS/Abed Omar Qusini/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s state-owned electric company on Wednesday said it was continuing power cuts to several cities in the occupied West Bank to press for payment of what it said was $519 million owed by a Palestinian electricity company.
    Israel Electric Corp (IEC) began daily, three-hour power cuts on Sunday, a spokeswoman said, adding that the company is “determined to collect the debt but disconnects the power in a reasonable and proportionate way.”
    The cuts have led to afternoon power outages in the cities of Ramallah and Bethlehem, affecting an estimated 130,000 people, said Hisham Omari, who heads the Palestinians’ main electric company in the West Bank.
    “When you have no electricity, there is no life.    You stop life, you stop work, you feel the winter cold, for three hours,” added Omari, chairman of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO).
    Palestinians in the West Bank, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War, are largely dependent on electricity supplied by Israel.
    JDECO buys electricity from IEC and then sells it to customers in the West Bank, where the Palestinian Authority has limited self-rule under interim peace deals with Israel.
    JDECO does not have its own power stations and relies on Israel for 95 percent of its energy supply.    It buys the remainder from neighboring Jordan.
    Omari said the company was “trying to take a 150 million shekels ($43.25 million) loan from a Palestinian bank to help pay off the debt.”
    He added that the PA is negotiating with Israel to reschedule JDECO’s debt payments and end the power cuts.
    The Palestinians have tried to reduce what they call their dependence on Israel for energy, in part through state- and private sector-funded solar energy projects and plans to build their own power plants.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

12/18/2019 Erdogan says Turkey to boost cooperation with Libya: NTV
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan waves as he arrives at Downing Street for talks with Britain's Prime Minister
Boris Johnson, ahead of the NATO summit in Watford, in London, Britain, December 3, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will improve cooperation with Libya by offering military support to its internationally recognized government and backing joint steps in the eastern Mediterranean, broadcaster NTV cited President Tayyip Erdogan as saying on Wednesday.
    Last month, Turkey and Libya’s Tripoli-based government signed a deal on maritime boundaries, infuriating neighboring Greece, and another pact on military cooperation.    Ankara says it may send troops to Libya if the Tripoli government requests it, but that no such request has been made yet.
    Speaking to reporters in Geneva after a forum on migration, Erdogan said he had met the premier of the Tripoli-based government, Fayez al-Serraj, to discuss potential joint initiatives, adding Ankara was ready to help.
    “We will speed up the process between Turkey and Libya. We told them that we are always ready to help if they need it.    From military and security cooperation, to steps taken regarding our maritime rights – we are ready,” he was cited as saying by NTV.
    Libya has been torn by factional conflict since the 2011 uprising that deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi.    Turkey has been providing military equipment to Serraj’s government despite a U.N. embargo, diplomats say.    Rival forces under Khalifa Haftar controlling the east of the North African state have received support from Russia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.
    Erdogan also said he and Russian President Vladimir Putin have appointed delegations to discuss developments in Libya and that the officials would meet “soon.”
    For its part, the Kremlin said on Tuesday Erdogan and Putin would address Ankara’s offer of military support to Serraj’s government during talks in Turkey next month.    Erdogan and Putin then held a phone call to discuss Libya.
    Turkey has said the maritime accord allows the two countries to carry out joint energy exploration activities in the eastern Mediterranean, where Ankara has been at odds with Greece and Cyprus over offshore hydrocarbon resources.
    Greece says the move violates international law. Ankara rejects this and says it is aimed at protecting its rights.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said that once the maritime accord was approved and registered by the United Nations, Turkey will start working on licensing for oil and gas exploration and production in the region.
    “I think we will start the process in the first months of 2020,” Donmez said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay with additional reporting by Can Sezer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/19/2019 Erdogan says 50,000 Syrians fleeing Idlib to Turkey
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan leaves after the Global Refugee Forum
at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 17, 2019, REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that 50,000 people were fleeing Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib to Turkey, and slammed Muslim nations for not supporting his plans to resettle refugees in other parts of north Syria.
    Turkey currently hosts some 3.7 million Syrian refugees, the largest refugee population in the world, and fears another influx from the Idlib region, where up to 3 million Syrians live in the last significant insurgent-held swathe of territory.
    Syrian and Russian forces carry out regular air strikes against targets in Idlib, which President Bashar al-Assad has vowed to recapture, pushing more people toward the Turkish border.
    “Look, 50,000 people are once again coming from Idlib to our lands,” Erdogan told a meeting of Muslim leaders in Malaysia.    “We already have 4 million people, and now another 50,000 are coming and this may increase.”
    He gave no details and did not say whether the Syrians had actually crossed into Turkey, which has built a wall along its 911 km (570 mile) southern border since the outbreak of Syria’s eight-year conflict.
    Erdogan is seeking international support for plans to settle 1 million Syrians in part of northeast Syria which Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies seized from the Kurdish YPG militia in a cross-border incursion in October.
    Ankara has received little public backing for its plans and Erdogan said that world powers, including Muslim nations, were more concerned about sending arms to Syria than supporting a Turkish “safe zone.”
    “Is the Muslim world that poor? Why don’t they support this?” he said.    “Even if they just gave their alms, there would no poverty here, no have-nots,” he said.
    “They provide no support when we call on them to form a safe zone, but when it comes to weapons, the arms come,” he said.
    In its third offensive into northern Syria in three years, Turkey seized a 120 km (75 mile) stretch of border territory two months ago from the YPG, which had spearheaded the fight against Islamic State in Syria with U.S. support.
    Washington’s backing for the YPG has infuriated Turkey, which considers it a terrorist group because of its links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters who have waged an insurgency in southeast Turkey in which thousands of people have been killed.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/19/2019 Algeria swears in new president as opposition debates response by Lamine Chikhi
Newly elected Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune gestures during a swearing-in
ceremony in Algiers, Algeria December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria swore in Abdelmadjid Tebboune as president on Thursday as the Hirak protest movement debates its response to his offer of dialogue to end a months-long political crisis.
    Mounted guards in traditional red tunics, white turbans and hooded cloaks lined the way into the Palais des Nations as Tebboune entered, Algeria’s flag fluttering overhead.
    Tebboune, a former prime minister who casts himself as a reformer, was elected last week in a vote the opposition regarded as a charade intended to keep the ruling elite in power.
    The army saw Thursday’s election as the best way to end 10 months of weekly mass protests that helped oust Tebboune’s predecessor Abdelaziz Bouteflika in April, and restore a political order in which it holds sway.
    Official figures showed 40% of voters took part on Thursday as protests and strikes paralyzed some cities and towns, with Tebboune winning 58% of votes.
    State media presented even that low level of turnout as vindicating the decision to hold the election, though with no outside observers monitoring the vote, many Hirak supporters regarded the figures as suspect.
    “Tebboune is not my president. He doesn’t represent Hirak and has no legitimacy.    Protests must go on until the people become the decision makers,” said Slimane Hachoud, 24, who has been protesting since February.
    Since the election, the weekly Friday and Tuesday protests have gone ahead as usual, though there were widespread reports of police arresting many demonstrators in the western city of Oran.
    Among the leaderless protest movement, where debate over goals and strategy takes place on social media or during demonstrations, there were mixed reactions to the offer of dialogue and a new constitution that Tebboune made last week.
    “We are not against dialogue and negotiations to end the crisis, but we cannot shake Tebboune’s hand if he doesn’t first free the detainees,” said Abdeljabar, a student protester.
    Scores of protesters and opposition figures have been detained or jailed since the start of the protests in February on charges including “undermining national unity” and “weakening army morale.”
    However, some prominent Hirak supporters urged talks.
    “Now that the generals have a civilian representative in the person of Abdelmadjid Tebboune, we must negotiate the transition to a rule of law with him,” said Lahouari Addi, a political science professor.
    “Hirak must initiate and offer names with a list of demands,” said Lies Merabet, a labor union leader, on Facebook.
(Writing by Lamine Chikhi, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

12/19/2019 Lebanon’s Hariri arrives at presidency as PM consultations begin
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's caretaker Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after meeting with President Michel Aoun
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 7, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Outgoing Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri arrived at the presidential palace on Thursday as formal consultations began to designate a new premier, live television footage showed.
    Senior political sources said former education minister Hassan Diab looks set to be designated to the position with the backing of factions including the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    Hariri, who is aligned with the West and Gulf Arab states, resigned on Oct. 29, prompted by protests against the ruling elite.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/19/2019 Exclusive: U.S. probe of Saudi oil attack shows it came from north – report by Humeyra Pamuk
A comparison of engines (L) involved in the September 14, 2019 attack on an Aramco oil facility
in Saudi Arabia and from the Shahed-123, displayed in the Iranian Materiel Display, are shown in this
handout image provided by a U.S. government source. U.S. government/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said new evidence and analysis of weapons debris recovered from an attack on Saudi oil facilities on Sept. 14 indicates the strike likely came from the north, reinforcing its earlier assessment that Iran was behind the offensive.
    In an interim report of its investigation – seen by Reuters ahead of a presentation on Thursday to the United Nations Security Council – Washington assessed that before hitting its targets, one of the drones traversed a location approximately 200 km (124 miles) to the northwest of the attack site.
    “This, in combination with the assessed 900 kilometer maximum range of the Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV), indicates with high likelihood that the attack originated north of Abqaiq,” the interim report said, referring to the location of one of the Saudi oil facilities that were hit.
    It added the United States had identified several similarities between the drones used in the raid and an Iranian designed and produced unmanned aircraft known as the IRN-05 UAV.
    However, the report noted that the analysis of the weapons debris did not definitely reveal the origin of the strike that initially knocked out half of Saudi Arabia’s oil production.
    “At this time, the U.S. Intelligence Community has not identified any information from the recovered weapon systems used in the 14 September attacks on Saudi Arabia that definitively reveals an attack origin,” it said.
    The new findings include freshly declassified information, a State Department official told Reuters.
    The United States, European powers and Saudi Arabia blamed the Sept. 14 attack on Iran.    Yemen’s Houthi group claimed responsibility for the attacks, and Iran, which supports the Houthis, denied any involvement.    Yemen is south of Saudi Arabia.
OIL PRICE SPIKE
    Reuters reported last month that Iran’s leadership approved the attacks but decided to stop short of a direct confrontation that could trigger a devastating U.S. response.    It opted instead to hit the Abqaiq and the Khurais oil plants of U.S. ally Saudi Arabia, according to three officials familiar with the meetings and a fourth close to Iran’s decision making.
    According to the Reuters report a Middle East source, who was briefed by a country investigating the attack, said the launch site was the Ahvaz air base in southwest Iran, which is about 650 km north of Abqaiq.
    Some of the craft flew over Iraq and Kuwait en route to the attack, according to a Western intelligence source cited by the report, giving Iran plausible deniability.
    The 17-minute strike by 18 drones and three low-flying missiles caused a spike in oil prices, fires and damage and shut down more than 5% of global oil supply.    Saudi Arabia said on Oct. 3 that it had fully restored oil output.
    U.S. Special Envoy for Iran, Brian Hook, told Reuters that the newly-declassified information was more evidence that Tehran was behind the attack.    “The UAVs flew into Saudi Arabia from the north, and the recovered debris is consistent with Iranian-produced materiel,” he said.
    “As many nations have concluded, there are no plausible alternatives to Iranian responsibility,” he said.
    The United States presented its findings to a session of the U.N. Security Council on Thursday as it hopes to mobilize more support for its policy to isolate Iran and force it to the negotiating table for a new nuclear deal.
    “The damage at the oil facilities shows that the attack came from the north, not from the south, as you would expect if the Houthis were responsible,” U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told the Security Council on Thursday.
    UN political affairs chief Rosemary DiCarlo stressed to the council that the United Nations was still reviewing components and collecting and analyzing additional information on the missiles.
    Iran’s U.N. Ambassador Majid Takht Ravanchi addressed the Security Council and categorically rejected the accusations against Tehran over attacks on Saudi oil facilities.    He described U.S. sanctions on Iran as “economic terrorism” and said that “Iran does not negotiate under the threat of a sword.”
DRONE PARTS ‘NEARLY IDENTICAL’
    In a similar report last week, the United Nations also said it was “unable to independently corroborate” that missiles and drones used in attacks on Saudi oil facilities in September “are of Iranian origin.”
    The report noted that Yemen’s Houthis “have not shown to be in possession, nor been assessed to be in possession” of the type of drones used in the attacks on the Aramco facilities.
    Washington’s interim assessment also included pictures of drone components including the engine identified by the United States as “closely resembling” or “nearly identical” to those that observed on other Iranian unmanned aerial vehicles.
    It also provided pictures of a compass circuit board that was recovered from the attack with a marking that is likely indicating a potential manufacturing date written in the Persian calendar year, the report assessed.
    The name of a company believed to be associated with Iran, SADRA, was also identified on a wiring harness label from the Sept. 14 wreckage, the report said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump last year withdrew from a 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran and snapped back sanctions on Tehran with the aim of choking Iranian crude sales, the Islamic Republic’s main source of revenues.
    As part of its ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, Washington has also sanctioned dozens of Iranian entities, companies and individuals to cut Tehran’s revenue, a move some analysts have suggested may have forced Iran to act more aggressively.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in the UNITED NATIONS; Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Mary Milliken, William Maclean and Diane Craft)

12/19/2019 Political deadlock delays choice of new PM to steer Iraq out of crisis
An Iraqi woman reads the Koran in front of the pictures of people who were killed during ongoing
anti-government protests in Baghdad, Iraq December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi lawmakers said on Thursday that deadlock in parliament was holding up the selection of an interim prime minister, meaning leaders would miss a deadline to name a replacement for Adel Abdul Mahdi and prolong nationwide unrest.
    More than 450 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since a wave of popular unrest began on Oct. 1.    Protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.
    The protests have shaken the country out of two years of relative calm following the defeat of Islamic State insurgents.
    Infighting between political parties who are clinging onto power has fueled the crisis and threatens to cause more unrest as protesters lose patience.
    Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi resigned last month under pressure from the streets but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.     The constitutional deadline to name a replacement expires on Thursday.
    “Until this moment no candidate has been agreed on by the political parties.    We have multiple nominees but their partisan affiliations prevent them from having the job,” said Shi’ite Muslim lawmaker Naeem al-Abboudi.
    Two blocs of political parties, one backed by Iran and the other populist and anti-Iranian, are closely involved in backroom deals to agree on a candidate before Salih presents them.
    President Barham Salih this week asked the largest bloc in parliament to nominate a new premier to form a government.    The two main blocs dispute who has the most seats because this was never made clear in the current parliament, and some lawmakers have frequently switched allegiance.
    “Differences are everywhere and it will not be easy to agree soon on a new election law inside parliament,” said Hassan Khalati, another Shi’ite lawmaker.
    Lawmakers and politicians said Salih could now delay the nomination to Dec. 22, based on a federal court ruling allowing national holidays to be excluded from the run-up to the constitutional deadline.
    That would create breathing space for the political factions to strike a deal, with Abdul Mahdi remaining as caretaker premier until then, legal expert Tareq Harb said.
    But any agreement on thorny political issues looks unlikely.
    The house failed on Wednesday to pass a new electoral law, a key demand of protesters, which would make elections fairer after each round in recent years has been marred by allegations of fraud.
    Protesters demand a new electoral law and committee, but also the removal of the entire political class, and a prime minister with no party affiliation.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by John Davison/Mark Heinrich)

12/19/2019 Hezbollah-backed candidate named Lebanon PM, vows to form government quickly by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
Hassan Diab talks to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister,
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s newly named prime minister said on Thursday he would quickly form a government to pull the country out of economic crisis after he was designated with backing from Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies.
    Hassan Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister who surfaced as a candidate overnight, said he would address the grievances of protesters who have been demonstrating for two months and urgently enact a reform plan.
    The designation set the stage for a cabinet that excludes allies of the United States and Sunni Gulf Arab countries while underlining the influence of Iran’s friends in Lebanon.    The move would complicate efforts to secure Western financial aid, analysts say.
    Lebanon, facing its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, has been seeking a new government since Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Oct. 29, prompted by the protests against the ruling elite.
    Efforts to reach a deal on a new premier have been hampered by divisions that reflect tensions between Hariri, who is aligned with Western and Gulf Arab states, and Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah.    Washington regards the heavily armed Hezbollah as a terrorist group and has imposed sanctions on it.
    “I will work hard to form a government as soon as possible,” Diab said in a speech.    “All our efforts must focus on stopping the collapse and restoring confidence.”
    He said the crisis required all sides to stand together and that the priority in government would be for specialists.
    Diab also sought to reassure protesters angry at an elite they accuse of steering Lebanon towards crisis, saying: “I have heard your voices, which are expressing long-standing pain and anger at the state we have reached.”
CRISIS
    President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally who has also been at political loggerheads with Hariri, held consultations with deputies on Thursday on designating the new premier, who under the country’s sectarian political system must be a Sunni Muslim.
    Aoun, a Maronite Christian, is required to designate the candidate with the most support.
    The move to nominate Diab signaled a decision by Hezbollah and its allies to abandon efforts to forge a consensus with Hariri and pick a candidate of their choosing.
    But it was not immediately clear how quickly a government would be formed.    For now, Hariri, Lebanon’s leading Sunni politician, will stay on as caretaker prime minister.
    Lebanon’s crisis has been growing, with banks imposing tight capital controls, the pound slumping by a third from its official rate and companies shedding jobs and cutting salaries.
    Fitch last week cut Lebanon’s credit rating for the third time in a year, warning it now expected the country to restructure or default on its debt.
    Jason Tuvey, senior emerging markets economist at Capital Economics, said: “A government with a Hezbollah-backed prime minister would be even less likely to secure support from the Gulf countries…and might also potentially reduce the chances of Lebanon getting support from the IMF if the U.S. raises concerns.”
    A senior banker expressed concern Hezbollah is too preoccupied with its struggle with the United States and said the “real battle” was against “liquidity meltdown.”
    Members of parliament with Hariri’s Future Movement told Aoun it would not take part in the next government, a source close to Hariri said.
    Hariri had seemed on course to be nominated prime minister but withdrew his candidacy on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis in Beirut, Tom Arnold in London; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Samia Nakhoul/Mark Heinrich and Timothy Heritage)

12/20/2019 Lebanon’s new PM aims to form government within six weeks: Deutsche Welle interview
Hassan Diab talks to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister,
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 19, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s new prime minister designate Hassan Diab said in an interview with Deutsche Welle he will work on forming a government within six weeks to help pull the country out of a deepening economic and political crisis.
    Diab, an academic and former education minister, was designated on Thursday as the country’s next prime minister with the support of Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies.
    “Previous governments in the last decade took a year to form and I seek to form a government in the next four weeks or a period that does not exceed six weeks,” Diab said.
    The designation set the stage for a cabinet that excludes allies of the United States and Sunni Gulf Arab countries while underlining the influence of Iran’s friends in Lebanon.    The move would complicate efforts to secure Western financial aid, analysts say.
    Lebanon, in its worst economic crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, has been seeking a new government since Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri resigned on Oct. 29 in response to protests against the ruling elite.
    Diab, who failed to get the support of Hariri under a sectarian political system that leaves the post of premier to a Sunni Muslim, dismissed accusations that the government would be under the thumb of Hezbollah. Hariri is the country’s main Sunni politician.
    “This matter is silly because the new government will not be a government of a political grouping chosen from here or there,” Diab added.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by David Clarke, William Maclean)

12/20/2019 Cameroon grants special status to Anglophone regions by Josiane Kouagheu
FILE PHOTO: A still image taken from a video shot on October 1, 2017, shows protesters waving Ambazonian flags as they move
forward towards barricades and police amid tear gas in the English-speaking city of Bamenda, Cameroon. REUTERS/via Reuters TV
    YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroon’s parliament granted special status on Friday to two English-speaking regions to try to calm a separatist insurgency that has killed 2,000 people, but the separatists said only independence would satisfy them.
    The law, passed in a special session of parliament, says the Anglophone Northwest and Southwest regions “benefit from a special status founded on their linguistic particularity and historic heritage.”
    It mentioned schools and the judiciary system as part of the special status — a delayed response to protests in 2016 by teachers and lawyers.
    Conflict between Cameroon’s army and English-speaking militias seeking to form a breakaway state called Ambazonia began after the government cracked down violently on peaceful protesters complaining of being marginalized by the French-speaking majority.
    The insurgency has forced half a million people to flee and presented President Paul Biya with his biggest threat in nearly 40 years of rule.
    “This is a law unique in the world,” said senator Samuel Obam Assam, from the ruling Cameroon People’s Democratic Movement, the majority group in the Senate.    “It is an answer to our fellow countrymen’s concerns.”
    But Jean-Michel Nintcheu, a congressman from the main opposition party, said he did not believe the law would solve the crisis.
    “The Anglophones, even the moderate ones, want a federal state.    This law is not the result of a dialogue.. we were against it,” he said.
    The reforms were recommended at the end of national talks organized by Biya in October to chart a way out of the conflict.
    But separatists boycotted that dialogue, saying they would negotiate only if the government released all political prisoners and withdrew the military from the Northwest and Southwest.
    “We want independence and nothing else,” said Ivo Tapang, a spokesman for 13 armed groups called the Contender Forces of Ambazonia.
    He said the special status made no difference as no law passed in the Cameroonian parliament should be imposed in Ambazonia.
    The roots of Cameroonian English speakers’ grievances go back a century to the League of Nations’ decision to split the former German colony of Kamerun between the allied French and British victors at the end of World War One.
(Additional reporting by Juliette Jabkhiro; Writing by Aaron Ross and Juliette Jabkhiro; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/20/2019 Iraq’s Sistani says early election only way out of crisis
Iraqi demonstrators carry the Iraqi flag during ongoing anti-government protests in Najaf, Iraq December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Alaa al-Marjani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s top Shi’ite cleric, Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, said on Friday that an early election was the only way out of the current unrest gripping the country and a new government should be formed soon.
    More than 450 people, mostly unarmed demonstrators but also some members of the security forces, have been killed since a wave of popular unrest began on Oct. 1.    Protesters, most of them young, are demanding an overhaul of a political system they see as profoundly corrupt and keeping most Iraqis in poverty.
    “The fastest and most peaceful way out of the current crisis, and avoiding the unknown or chaos or civil strife, is to go back to the people by holding an early election after legislating a fair electoral law,” Sistani said.
    Parliament failed on Wednesday to pass a new electoral law, a key demand of protesters, which would make elections fairer after votes in recent years have been marred by allegations of fraud.
    “We hope that the formation of a new government is not delayed for long,” Sistani said in a speech read out by a representative at a Friday sermon in the Shi’ite holy city of Kerbala.
    Deadlock in parliament also held up the selection of an interim prime minister, causing lawmakers to miss on Thursday the constitutional deadline to name a replacement for Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi, who resigned last month but has remained in office in a caretaker capacity.
(Reporting by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by David Clarke and Giles Elgood)

12/20/2019 Thousands flee bombardment in northwest Syria, head to Turkish border
FILE PHOTO: People walk near rubble of damaged buildings in the city of Idlib, Syria
May 27, 2019. Picture taken May 27, 2019. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Thousands of people have fled to the Turkish border from the last big opposition stronghold in northwestern Syria because of an intensified bombardment by Russian forces and the Syrian army, residents and rescue workers said on Friday.
    A long line of vehicles was seen on Friday leaving the opposition-held city of Maarat al Numan which has borne the brunt of the attacks, which included air strikes, they said.
    “The exodus is in the thousands.    It’s a humanitarian catastrophe, we are seeing people walking in the streets and people waiting near the homes for cars to take them out,” said Osama Ibrahim, a rescue worker from Maarat al Numan.
    Air strikes killed six people overnight in Maarat al Numan and 11 were killed in villages in the area, rescue teams said.
    Hundreds of people have been killed this year in attacks on residential areas in the region, according to U.N. agencies, though a Syrian and Russian military campaign launched at the end of April had subsided in August under a fragile ceasefire. Syrian state media said the Syrian army had pushed into several villages southeast of Idlib.
    Rebel fighters, who say the Russian and Syrian forces are implementing a scorched earth policy as they advance, said villages seized included Um Jalal in southern Idlib province and Rabea and Harbiya in eastern Idlib.
    Russia and the Syrian army, which is loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, deny allegations of indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they are fighting al Qaeda-inspired Islamist militants.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who reached an accord last September with Russia to contain the fighting and whose country is seen by many civilians in opposition areas as a protector, has warned of a renewed refugee influx.
    Erdogan said on Thursday 50,000 people were fleeing Syria’s northwestern region of Idlib.    He did not say whether any of the people fleeing had entered Turkey.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/20/2019 Erdogan says Turkey will retaliate against possible U.S. sanctions
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reacts during a Kuala Lumpur Summit roundtable session in
Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia December 19, 2019. Malaysia Department of Information/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying on Friday that Ankara would retaliate against potential U.S. sanctions over its purchase of Russian defense systems and a natural gas pipeline.
    U.S. Congress has moved to impose sanctions on Turkey over its purchase of S-400 defense systems from Russia and related to Russia’s TurkStream pipeline, which will carry Russian gas to Turkey.
    Asked about the various sanctions against Ankara, Erdogan repeated that the S-400 deal was already completed.
    “Now they are saying, ‘we will impose sanctions against this’ regarding TurkStream,” he was quoted as saying.    “This is a breach of our rights in the fullest sense.    We will of course have our own sanctions against all of these.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen)

12/21/2019 ICC to probe alleged war crimes in Palestinian areas, pending jurisdiction by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends a trial at the ICC (International Criminal Court)
in The Hague, the Netherlands July 8,2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/Pool/File Photo
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor said on Friday she would launch a full investigation into alleged war crimes in the Palestinian Territories as soon as the court’s jurisdiction had been established.
    The announcement opens the possibility of charges being filed against Israelis or Palestinians.
    The Palestinians welcomed the decision but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whose country captured the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war, said the ICC had no jurisdiction to investigate the Palestinian Territories.
    The ICC’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said a preliminary examination into alleged war crimes, opened in 2015, had provided enough information to meet all criteria for opening an investigation.
    “I am satisfied that … war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip,” Bensouda said in a statement.
    She said she had filed a request with judges for a jurisdictional ruling because of the contested legal status of the Palestinian territories.
    “Specifically, I have sought confirmation that the ‘territory’ over which the court may exercise its jurisdiction, and which I may subject to investigation, comprises the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and Gaza,” Bensouda said.
    Determining where she can investigate should be resolved before she starts an investigation “and not settled only later by judges after my investigations are completed,” she said.
    It is not clear when a decision would be made but Bensouda said she had asked the court to “rule expeditiously” and to allow potential victims to participate in proceedings.
    “Palestine welcomes this step as a long overdue step to move the process forward towards an investigation, after nearly five long and difficult years of preliminary examination,” the Palestinian Authority, a limited self-rule body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, said in a statement.
    Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said the ICC decision was “a dark day in the history of Israel”.
    Netanyahu said the ICC had no jurisdiction in the case.
    “The ICC only has jurisdiction over petitions submitted by sovereign states.    But there has never been a Palestinian state,” he said in a statement.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement the United States did not believe Palestinians qualified as a sovereign state and added: “We firmly oppose this and any other action that seeks to target Israel unfairly.”
    The ICC has the authority to hear cases of war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity committed on the territory of the 123 countries that have signed up to it.    Israel has not joined the court but the Palestinian Authority has done so.
    The ICC prosecutors said in December that a preliminary investigation on the West Bank had focused on “reported settlement-related activities engaged in by Israeli authorities.”
    The Palestinians and many countries consider the 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.
    The prosecutor’s office has also looked into allegations of Israeli violations in Gaza and that Palestinian security services in the West Bank have committed torture and that Palestinian authorities paid families of Palestinians involved in attacks on Israelis.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg, additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by David Clarke, Timothy Heritage and Sandra Malr)

12/21/2019 U.S. says concerned as Libyan conflict turning bloodier with Russian mercenaries: official by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: A member of Libya's internationally recognised government forces carries
a weapon in Ain Zara, Tripoli, Libya October 14, 2019. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States is “very concerned” about the intensification of the conflict in Libya, with a rising number of reported Russian mercenaries supporting Khalifa Haftar’s forces on the ground turning the conflict into a bloodier one, a senior State Department official said on Saturday.
    The United States continues to recognize the Government of National Accord (GNA) led by Fayez al-Serraj, the official said, but added that Washington is not taking sides in the conflict and is talking to all stakeholders who could be influential in trying to forge an agreement.
    “We are very concerned about the military intensification,” the official told Reuters.    “We see the Russians using hybrid warfare, using drones and aircraft…This isn’t gooda.”
    “With the increased numbers of reported Wagner forces and mercenaries on the ground, we think it’s changing the landscape of the conflict and intensifying it,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, referring to a shadowy group of mercenaries known as Wagner.
    Libya has been divided since 2014 into rival military and political camps based in the capital Tripoli and the east. Serraj’s government is in conflict with forces led by Khalifa Haftar based in eastern Libya.
    Haftar is backed by Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and most recently Russian mercenaries, according to diplomats and Tripoli officials.    The issue has come up in a meeting earlier this month between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
    Pompeo said there could be no military solution to the fighting and that Washington had warned countries against sending weapon