From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"KING OF THE SOUTH 2020 JULY-AUGUST"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/BeastThatCameOutOfTheSea.htm from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
    Or return to King Of The South 2020 May-June or continue to King Of The South 2020 September-October.

KING OF THE SOUTH 2020 JULY-AUGUST


    So as 2019 has passed do we know who the "King of the South in 2019" is?
    The phrase “king of the South” is found in the Bible in only one location — Daniel 11, which is also the chapter containing the most detailed prophecy in the Bible.    The first mention of this ruler is found in verse 5, where we find that “the king of the South shall become strong” and that “His dominion shall be a great dominion.”    Who was this king?    Who will he be in the “time of the end” spoken of in verse 40?    To answer these questions, we need a little background information.    One of the first considerations is the setting of this prophecy.    Daniel received the message in “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” which was 537 or 536 B.C. according to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Daniel 10:1).    The prophecy of Daniel 11 begins with verses 2-4, which describe what would happen in the Persian and Greek Empires after Daniel was given this vision, and continues through “the time of the end” (verse 40).
    The Persian Empire refers to any of a series of imperial dynasties that were centred in Persia/Iran from the 6th century B.C. Achaemenid Empire era to the 20th century AD in the Qajar dynasty era.    Know that Ancient Persia is modern Iran.
    Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) also called the First Persian Empire, in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great.    It ranges from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army.    The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.
    By the 7th century BC, the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland.    From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire.    Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered most of the empire by 330 BC.    Upon Alexander's death, most of the empire's former territory came under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time.    The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century B.C. under the Parthian Empire.
    The Achaemenid Empire is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.    The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well.
    Despite the lasting conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings.    The impact of Cyrus's edict is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts, and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China.    The empire also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of Iran (also officially known as Persia).    The image below shows you the area for the "King of the South."
       
    So based on the above information I would acknowledge that the "King of the South" will come out of that area.
    As you may have noted that in 2019 I claimed that individual will be: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
    The reason was his image of the pentagram a Satanic symbol which is at the top of Erdogan’s Tek Devlet (One State) monument in Turkey, which is a pentagram, a satanic symbol, and believed in beheading, and Shriah Will Rise Again, religious education, Koranic courses, Arabic and Ottoman lessons, Islamization of all schools, sharia education and finally compulsory worship services in all schools
   
    Could Recep Tayyip Erdogan be the upcoming antichrist and may fit the description and then may not be the final antichrist.    The Bible tells us there are “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18); many believe there will be the single antichrist, and we are rapidly approaching the end of time as we know it, before the great tribulation begins.
    All of the antichrists have the same modus operandi (mode of operation).
    As Erdogan has tried to be a force in the South and has shown hints of hypocrisy along the way, and August 2014, he has steadily become dictatorial, and enacted laws to give him excessive powers.
    “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom, but he shall come in peaceably and obtain the kingdom by flatteriesDaniel 11:21.
    The Bible, in a number of instances, refers to the antichrist as the “Assyrian.”    A good part of Turkey was included in the Assyrian Empire, which also persecuted God’s people.
    “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Oh My people who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite you with a rod and shall lift up his staff against you, after the manner of Egypt.    For yet a little while and the indignation shall cease and My anger in their destructionIsaiah 10:24-25.
    “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land and when he shall tread in our palaces; then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal menMicah 5:5.
    Erdogan announced, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the honor of 1.7 billion Muslims, not just Palestinians, and the Muslim world cannot wait to remain indifferent to the restrictions imposed on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which is situated on the historical Jewish Temple Mount.
    Erdogan’s real crimes are buying the Russian S-400 missile system for Turkey, refusing to accept US support for America’s Kurdish YPG allies and allowing Islamist fighters to pour over Turkey’s border into Syria along with a load of weapons, mortars and missiles.    Erdogan said Turkey will work with the Syrian people directly to help achieve peace in the war-torn country.    He went on to clarify this does not mean he is willing to work with the Syrian government.
    “Russia takes the necessary measures against a (possible) threat by Syrian regime in Idlib, and as Turkey, we are taking all kind of measures against radical groups in Idlib,” stated President Erdogan.    “We are also taking joint action with Russia if it is necessary.”    His remarks come almost a month after Turkish and Russian forces announced a demilitarized zone in the Idlib province.
    In December, President Donald Trump’s called Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border, and delivered a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.
    As many promote what Daniel 11:40-45 claims it represents the Northern King’s Conquests. [AS SEEN IN THE VERSES ABOVE THAT THE EVENTS ARE LOOKING AS IF RUSSIA - KING OF THE NORTH AND THE MIDEAST NATIONS - KING OF THE SOUTH ARE GOING TO BECOME ENTWINED INTO THE PROPHECY ABOVE IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE AND THE KING OF THE WEST HAS PULLED OUT OF THIS MESS WHICH I THINK TRUMP MADE THE RIGHT CALL PROBABLY DUE TO GODS INFLUENCE SO LETS SEE HOW IT UNFOLDS AND ALSO WATCH FOR NEWS THAT THE EUPHARATES RIVER DRIES UP ENGAGING THE KINGS OF THE EAST TO GET INVOLVED.].
    The following image below is seen at http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterSix/Psalm83.htm so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    So what has happened in 2019 regarding the King of the South:
    Libya and its Militia groups battle in the Libyan capital, breaking four-month truce and Libya’s Haftar has blindsided world powers with his advance on Tripoli.
    Iraq must move away from economic reliance on Iran and demonstrators are seen at Al Jumhuriya bridge during a protest over corruption, lack of jobs, and poor services, in Baghdad, Iraq.
    In Lebanon who agreed to a new government and its PM vows bold reforms.    But the U.S. is concerned over Hezbollah’s growing role in Lebanon, who called on supporters to donate as sanctions pressure bites.    Germany won’t classify Iran ally Hezbollah as terrorist and Lebanon’s president urges ‘sacrifice’ as budget cuts are debated.    Hezbollah sanctions are harming Lebanon, says President Aoun.    Hezbollah warns U.S. over sanctions against Iran and allies.    Lebanon’s Aoun invites protesters to talk, hints at government reshuffle and Hezbollah warns of chaos and civil war in Lebanon, but demonstations continue and Prime Minister Hariri resigns as Lebanon crisis turns violent, no one wants to be PM, not only the financial woes.
    Yemen’s Houthi drones strike government military parade, several killed.    Yemen’s Houthis to quit two ports Monday under peace deal.    Yemen’s Houthis begin withdrawal from Hodeidah ports in boost to peace deal.
    The world is crazy now as all the Mideast countries are having riots and demonstrations trying to reform their governments as well as the Hong Kong fiasco is still going on.
    U.S. troops begin withdrawing from Syria after the U.S.-backed Syrian force pushed the Islamic State in ‘its final moments out of their caliphate,’ and by 3/22/2019 White House confirms ISIS caliphate ‘100% eliminated.’    On 10/27/2019 U.S. targeted and killed #1 Islamic State’s Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi giving Trump a big win from this.
    Turkey condemns French declaration of Armenian genocide commemoration day.    Turkey was told it cannot become an EU member.    Erdogan accuses women’s march of disrespecting Islam.    Turkey says U.S. missile deal impossible if tied to dropping Russian S-400s and will look elsewhere if U.S. won’t sell Patriots and F-35s.    Turkey economy has worst showing in nine years after lira crisis.    As economy sours, Erdogan’s party could lose grip on big cities in local polls.    Erdogan suffers major setbacks in local elections and that forced an Islam control of election as Erdogan’s AK Party appeals for annulment to seek fresh vote in Istanbul, citing irregularities and calls for annulment of Istanbul election, and ousted the winning Istanbul mayor who was promoting democracy.    Could you imagine a Muslim AK Party was going to let a Republican People's Party take over, which shows you how Islamic philosophy works, and I thought it could not get any worse that the screw up in the 2016 elections in some Florida counties trying to change the counts in certain districts, but they blew it and lost anyway.    The desperate Democrats may want to learn from the AKP and their Islamist predecessors so they can win the 2020 elections.    Erdogan says discussed Turkey setting up safe zone in Syria with Trump.    Turkey is ready to take over Syria’s Manbij, and Erdogan says Kurdish rebels will not shelter in Syrian safe zone.    Turkey aims to form safe zones in Syria for refugees to return.    Islamic State pinned in tiny eastern Syria enclave with families, U.S.-backed Syrian force to start ‘final battle’ against IS enclave IS ‘caliphate’ on brink of defeat in Syria as Trump urges Europe to do more.    U.S. to leave 200 American peacekeepers in Syria after pullout.    Syrian Kurds want secure border strip, reject Turkish ‘safe zone.’    Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war they do not because they are descendants of the Armenians.    Turkey should not attack Kurds after U.S. Syria pull-out.    On 10/5/2019 Erdogan says Turkey to launch military operation in northeast Syria.    U.S. withdraws troops from northeast Syria ahead of Turkish offensive.    Thousands flee, dozens killed in Turkish offensive on U.S.-allied Kurds in Syria Turkey bombards Syrian Kurdish militia, thousands flee as death toll mounts.    VP Pence to urge Turkey to halt Syria offensive as threat of further sanctions loom and Turkey agrees with U.S. to pause Syria assault while Kurds withdraw.    U.S. troops cross into Iraq as part of withdrawal from Syria.
    Israel: The U.S. Ambassador to Israel Indicates peace plan may be released this year by encouraging investments in Palestinians as first part of peace plan where Jarod Kushner hopes that the Saudis and other Gulf delegates will like what they hear enough to urge Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to consider the plan.    The message Kushner wants them to take to Ramallah: “We’d like to see you go to the table and negotiate and try to make a deal to better the lives of the Palestinian people.”
    THE QUESTION IS CAN YOU BUY MIDEAST PEACE BETWEEN PALESTINIANS AND ISRAEL WITH ALL THE HATERS IN THE BACKGROUND?
    Plus the issue of the prophecy in Daniel 9:27 "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate."    So is he the (Antichrist) who shall confirm the covenant (make a covenant) for one week (seven years); and in the middle of that week he will break the covenant?
    God has blessed Trump for his appraisal of Israel as his policies are working in this world so far but I think soon there will be an entity that will step out of the limelight to the world who has the influence to all parties to make this plan take place.    So the question is who will that be?
    More than half of the $50 billion would be spent in the economically troubled Palestinian territories over 10 years while the rest would be split between Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan.    Some of the projects would be in Egypt’s Sinai peninsula, where investments could benefit Palestinians living in adjacent Gaza, a crowded and impoverished coastal enclave>.
    Senior adviser Kushner to present peace proposal to Middle East and if Trump's version of a “peace plan” or deal-making and we do not know what it is yet.    Some think it is Israel to give up four communities in East Jerusalem in order to establish the Palestinian capital alongside the Israeli capital.    Israelis gave up their rights to their Holy Temple Mount immediately after it was given to them in the Six Day War in 1967, for the sake of “middle east peace.”    “The Temple Mount is in our hands!” again, and they handed it back?    For whatever reason, it was returned on some level to Jordanian control.    After the Six Day War, Judea and Samaria – along with the Golan Heights – were looked at as significantly important to the security of Israel.    Obviously, giving those who hate you the high ground overlooking your most populated areas would not make any sense.    But many Jews began re-settling then Mountains of Israel because they heard the call to return and build the ancient ruins, as the prophets had dreamed in Isaiah 61:4, Jeremiah 31:4, and Ezekiel 28:25,26.    “I will plant Israel in their own land, never again to be uprooted from the land I have given them,” Amos:15.    As it says in Jeremiah 31:6, "For there shall be a day, that the watchmen upon the mount Ephraim shall cry, Arise ye, and let us go up to Zion unto the Lord our God."    So I do not think Trump's plan is the one.    I like Trump but he does not seem to be one yet seen in Daniel 9:27a reads, “Then he shall confirm a covenant with many for one week.”    Daniel prophesies a “he” who confirms a covenant or treaty, depending on the translation, with the many that will last for one week.    And yet, prophecy teachers conclude from this verse that the Antichrist will make a seven-year peace treaty with Israel.    Daniel 9:27 (KJV): "And he shall confirm the covenant with many for one week: and in the midst of the week he shall cause the sacrifice and the oblation to cease, and for the overspreading of abominations he shall make it desolate, even until the consummation, and that determined shall be poured upon the desolate." one week = 7 years.
    Trump administration still backs a two-state solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.    Israel says it has completed hunt for Hezbollah tunnels from Lebanon.    Israel launches Gaza strikes after rockets fired at Tel Aviv.    Israel’s Netanyahu says he plans to annex settlements in West Bank.    Israel launches series of retaliatory airstrikes at Iranian interests in Syria.    U.S. deploys THAAD missile defense system to Israel.    USAID assistance in the West Bank and Gaza has ceased.    On 3/25/2019 Trump recognizes disputed Golan Heights as Israeli territory in boost for Netanyahu and Israel says Brazil is opening ‘diplomatic office’ in Jerusalem.    On 11/19/2019 U.S. backs Israel on settlements, angering Palestinians and clouding peace process.
    See the artcile dated 1/31/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan criticizes Arab silence over U.S. Middle East plan to consider as my statements about who the entity might be.

2020 JULY-AUGUST


7/1/2020 Israeli foreign minister says annexation move unlikely Wednesday by Dan Williams
An aerial view shows the Jewish settlement of Kochav Hashachar in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, June 23, 2020. REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s foreign minister said a move toward the proposed annexation of occupied West Bank land was unlikely on Wednesday, the start date set by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government for discussing such a move.
    “It seems unlikely to me that this will happen today,” Gabi Ashkenazi, a member of the centrist Blue and White party that is a coalition partner of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud, told Israel’s Army Radio.
    “I reckon there will be nothing today, regarding (the extension of Israeli) sovereignty.”
    Netanyahu and his senior coalition partner, Defence Minister Benny Gantz are at odds over the timing of any unilateral annexation move.
    After meeting U.S. envoys on Tuesday to discuss annexation within the framework of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, Netanyahu said such talks would continue for several days.
    Trump’s proposal calls for Israeli sovereignty over about 30% of the West Bank – land on which Israel has built settlements for decades – as well as creation of a Palestinian state under strict conditions.
    “There are very robust conversations with Israel on the Trump plan,” a U.S. official told Reuters after White House adviser Avi Berkowitz concluded his trip to Israel.
    The Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and have rejected Trump’s plan, saying it would deny them a viable state.
    Most world powers view Israel’s settlements as illegal.    Israel disputes this, citing historical and biblical ties to the West Bank, as well as security needs.
    In an editorial published in Israel’s largest selling newspaper on Wednesday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called for any annexation plans to be scrapped.
    “Annexation would represent a violation of international law,” Johnson wrote in Yedioth Ahronoth, echoing remarks he made in parliament on June 16.    “I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead.    If it does, the UK will not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.”
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Michael Perry and Timothy Heritage)

7/1/2020 Erdogan says EU’s treatment of Turkey over coronavirus is political
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin//File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that the European Union had treated Turkey in a restrictive way over the coronavirus pandemic in what he said was a political stance.
    He did not provide further details but his comments came after the EU excluded Turkey, along with the United States and other countries, from its initial “safe list” of countries from which the bloc will allow non-essential travel from Wednesday.
    Erdogan was giving a speech to officials from his AK Party.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/1/2020 UAE seeks to verify credentials of Pakistani pilots in its airlines by Asif Shahzad
FILE PHOTO: A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) passenger plane arrives at the Benazir
International airport in Islamabad, Pakistan, December 2, 2015. REUTERS/Faisal Mahmood
    ISLAMABAD (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates is seeking to verify the credentials of the Pakistani pilots and engineers employed in its airlines after the South Asian government grounded 262 pilots for holding “dubious” qualifications.
    Pakistan grounded the pilots on June 26 on suspicion that they allegedly falsified their examinations to qualify for flying aircraft, leading to them having licenses the country’s aviation minister termed “dubious."
    A total of 262 of the country’s 860 pilots were affected, including 141 of national carrier Pakistan International Airline’s (PIA) pilots.
    The Director General of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority Saif Mohammed Al Suwaidi requested the verification of the credentials of Pakistani pilots, aircraft maintenance engineers, and flight operations officers working in the Middle Eastern country in a June 29 letter reviewed by Reuters to the Director General of the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority Hassan Nasir Jamy.
    “We would like to request your good offices to verify the licensing credentials of the attached pilots list who are currently holding UAE’s pilots licences based on licences and qualifications issued by Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority,” the letter said.
    Pakistan’s aviation ministry did not respond to a request for comment.
    The European Union Air Safety Agency (EASA) on Tuesday suspended PIA’s authorisation to fly to the bloc for six months because of the licensing concerns.
    In a statement on Wednesday, the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA), the union for PIA’s pilots, alleges the announcement of the “dubious” license holders was a planned government move against the pilots to cut their headcount.
    “The malicious efforts of some at the helm of affairs with a mindset to cut the pilots down to size has resulted in PIA being reduced to an airline on paper,” the union said.
    The PALPA rejected the government’s list of pilots with licences deemed dubious, and pointed out that it was full of discrepancies, demanding a judicial investigation.
(Writing by Asif Shahzad; Additional Reporting by Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi, Pakistan; Editing by Christian Schmollinger)

7/1/2020 At least 52 killed in Ethiopia protests over singer’s death by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa poses while dressed in a traditional costume
during the 123rd anniversary celebration of the battle of Adwa, where Ethiopian forces defeated
invading Italian forces, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – At least 50 people were killed in Ethiopia’s Oromiya region in protests following the fatal shooting of a popular singer, a regional spokesman said on Wednesday, laying bare splits in the prime minister’s political heartland ahead of next year’s polls.
    Musician Haacaaluu Hundeessaa was shot dead on Monday night in what police said was a targeted killing.
    Protests reflecting anger at the killing of a popular figure and a sense of political marginalisation broke out the next morning in the capital and other towns and cities in the surrounding Oromiya region.
    The dead included protesters and members of the security forces, spokesman Getachew Balcha said. Some businesses had also been set on fire.
    “We were not prepared for this,” he said.
    Police said late on Tuesday that a policeman was also killed in Addis Ababa, and three explosions there had killed and injured an unspecified number of people.
    Prominent Oromo opposition leader Bekele Gerba and media mogul Jawar Mohammed were also arrested when Jawar’s bodyguards refused to disarm during a stand-off with police.
    Haacaaluu, whose funeral will be held Thursday, provided a soundtrack to a generation of young protesters.    Their three years of bloody street demonstrations forced the unprecedented resignation of the previous prime minister and the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in 2018.
    Abiy, Haacaaluu and Jawar are all Oromo, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, which has long complained of being excluded from power.
    Jawar was a prominent supporter of Abiy’s appointment, but became more openly critical last year.    Jawar’s popular Oromo Media Network gives him the ability to mobilise support quickly across Oromiya and his power base could pose a significant challenge to Abiy’s party in next year’s elections.
    Ethiopia’s federal structure means power was traditionally derived by claiming the support of large ethnic voting blocs.    Under the previous administration, voting was rarely free or fair and opposition activists were often jailed, torture or driven into exile.
    Abiy has allowed much greater political freedoms and promised the next polls will be free and fair. But his new ruling party, based on a pan-Ethiopian vision, faces stiff competition from newly emboldened regional powerbrokers like Jawar determined to stake claims for their people after decades of repression.
(Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie; Writing by Katharine Houreld, Editing by Angus MacSwan, Gareth Jones and Giles Elgood)

7/1/2020 UK PM Johnson tells Israel: do not annex parts of the occupied West Bank
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson delivers a speech during his visit to
Dudley College of Technology in Dudley, Britain, June 30, 2020. Paul Ellis/Pool via Reuters
    LONDON (Reuters) – British Prime Minister Boris Johnson told Israel that it should not annex parts of the occupied West Bank, cautioning that London would not recognise any changes to the 1967 lines.
    “Annexation would represent a violation of international law,” Johnson was quoted as saying by ynetnews.com.    “It would also be a gift to those who want to perpetuate the old stories about Israel.”     “I profoundly hope that annexation does not go ahead,” he said.    “If it does, the UK will not recognize any changes to the 1967 lines, except those agreed between both parties.”
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Kate Holton)
[Sounds like the UK is joining into the Globalist World Government opinion and maybe they are getting scared because the Old and New Testament prophecies are starting to become a reality that is in the works and everyone is also attacking the Trump administration at every turn and it is definite that the entity behind these attacks are very noticeable and if I were them I would get on the right side of the equation, which is GOOD vs. EVIL, Christianity vs DEVIL (aka Satan), and it is all in Daniel 9:27.].

7/1/2020 U.S. to work with Turkey on F-35 parts until 2022, state media citing Pentagon says
A Lockheed Martin F-35 aircraft is seen at the ILA Air Show in Berlin, Germany, April 25, 2018. REUTERS/Axel Schmidt
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The United States will continue working with Turkish companies producing some parts of F-35 fighter jets until 2022, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency quoted a Pentagon spokeswoman as saying on Wednesday.
    Turkey said in May it was still producing and delivering parts for the stealth jets despite being suspended from the programme nearly a year ago over its purchase of Russian S-400 anti-aircraft defence systems.
    Turkey was both a parts manufacturer and major buyer of the Lockheed Martin F-35s.    Washington says the S-400s jeopardise the jets – which Ankara denies – and are incompatible with NATO defence systems.
    Anadolu quoted Pentagon spokeswoman Jessica Maxwell as saying the Turkish companies would continue to produce 139 components of the jets until 2022.    “Our industry partners will carry out the continuing contracts,” she said, adding the Pentagon was still looking for alternatives to Turkey.
    The Pentagon was not immediately available to comment.
    Washington announced last July – when the first Russian S-400 units arrived in Turkey – that it was suspending Ankara from the F-35 programme and expected to “wind down” Turkey’s involvement by March 2020.
    The United States also said the purchase meant Turkey could be subjected to sanctions under U.S. legislation aimed at discouraging defence purchases from Moscow.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/2/2020 Eight years after bombing, Somalia reopens national theatre
A choir sings inside a renovated Somalia's National Theatre in Mogadishu, Somalia June 26, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Eight years after a suicide bomber destroyed the building, Somalia has reopened its imposing national theatre in Mogadishu as a symbol of culture in the heart of a city often defined by violence.
    The theatre, whose stage is underpinned by bright yellow pillars and is decorated in the light blue of the national flag, was opened in 1967 and closed in 1991 as the Horn of Africa country plunged into civil war.
    Clan-based warlords blasted each other with anti-aircraft guns as they fought over the theatre, which they used as a base. Its roof collapsed a year into the conflict.
    It reopened in 2012 after African Union and government troops beat back the al Shabaab insurgents from the capital, but was blown up two weeks later.
    Abdi Abdulahi, the theatre’s director, said it took 1,000 lorry trips to clear the rubbish and sand which had piled up in the building since then.
    He said security forces would protect the theatre and even the new coronavirus would not deter them from putting on shows.
    President Mohammed Abdullahi joined a choir on stage during a ceremony to mark the official opening last week.
    “We build our country if we all stand together,” the president said, citing donations from business people for the reconstruction and the government employees who worked on it.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Janet Lawrence)

7/2/2020 Greece urges Turkey to keep Hagia Sophia as museum
FILE PHOTO: Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was a Byzantine cathedral before being
converted into a mosque which is currently a museum, is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28, 2020.
Picture taken June 28, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. Picture taken June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ATHENS (Reuters) – Greece said on Thursday Turkey risked opening up “a huge emotional chasm” with Christian countries if it pressed ahead with a proposal to convert the Hagia Sophia museum in Istanbul into a mosque.
    A Turkish court on Thursday heard a petition seeking to convert the massive sixth century building, originally built as a Christian cathedral and today one of Turkey’s most visited tourist sites, back into a mosque.
    The court will announce its verdict within 15 days, a lawyer said.
    “Hagia Sophia is a world heritage monument… Many countries, culminating in the intervention of the U.S State Department, highlighted this very point, urging Turkey not to take steps which would create a huge emotional chasm between the Christians of the world and Turkey,” Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told a news briefing.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday urged Turkey to let Hagia Sophia, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, to remain a museum and to ensure it remains accessible to all.
    Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it to a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.
    Completed in the year 537 in what was then Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine empire, Hagia Sophia was the biggest cathedral in Christendom for 900 years before becoming a mosque after the city fell to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.
    It was converted into a museum in 1934 under the founder of the modern secular Turkish republic, Kemal Ataturk, but the case before the court challenges the legality of this step.
    President Tayyip Erdogan, a pious Muslim, has lent his support to turning Hagia Sophia, called Ayasofya in Turkish, back into a mosque.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas and Renee Maltezou; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/2/2020 Turkey wants French apology over Mediterranean warships incident
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint news conference following talks with
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia January 13, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday Turkey expects France to apologise after an incident between Turkish and French warships in the Mediterranean prompted Paris to request a NATO investigation that was inconclusive.
    Relations between the NATO members have soured over the Libya conflict.    France accused Turkish warships of aggressive behaviour after its warship tried to inspect a vessel in June that it suspected was violating a UN arms embargo on Libya.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans)

7/2/2020 Saudi-led coalition starts military operation against Yemen’s Houthis
Workers salvage a sack containing oil canisters from the wreckage of a vehicle oil and tires store
hit by Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A Saudi-led coalition has started a military operation against Yemen’s Houthi movement after it stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, Saudi state television reported on Wednesday.
    In Yemen, Houthi-run Al Masirah TV reported air strikes on the capital Sanaa, Marib, al-Jouf, al-Bayda, Hajjah and Saada provinces throughout the day and into the night.
    Residents in Sanaa described the air raids as violent.    Al Masirah said late on Wednesday a number of people had been injured there.
    The Western-backed coalition with Saudi Arabia and UAE as the main partners has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement for five years.    The coalition said earlier that there would be a news conference on the operation that aims to neutralise the Houthis military capabilities, Al-Ekhbariya channel and Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV said.
    Last week, Houthi fighters fired missiles that reached the Saudi capital Riyadh in the first such assault since a six-week ceasefire prompted by the novel coronavirus epidemic expired in late May.    The coalition said it intercepted the attack.
    The coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    The conflict is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Lisa Barrington and Alaa Swilam; Editing by Gareth Jones and Grant McCool)

7/2/2020 Palestinians slash public wages in tax dispute with Israel over annexation
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara wears a protective face mask during a leadership
meeting near Jericho in the Israeli-occupied West Bank June 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – The Palestinian Authority (PA) said on Thursday it will slash the wages of tens of thousands of its employees after its protest action against Israel’s annexation plans in the occupied West Bank deepened a cash crisis.
    Its economy already battered by the coronavirus pandemic, the PA, which has limited self-rule in the West Bank under interim peace deals, last month rejected handovers of taxes that Israel collects on its behalf.
    The transfers, about $190 million a month, make up more than half of the PA’s budget and stem from duties on imports that reach the West Bank and Gaza via Israeli ports.    The PA snubbed the taxes after declaring bilateral agreements with Israel null in May.
    Awaiting a green light from its U.S. ally and saying more talks with Washington were needed, Israel did not meet its July 1 target date for the start of a cabinet debate on extending sovereignty to the West Bank’s Jewish settlements and Jordan Valley.
    But the economic impact of the PA’s protest against annexation was already being felt.
    “Due to the rejection of the tax money and overall decline in income…the state’s revenues have declined by 80 percent,” Palestinian Finance Minister Shukri Bishara said, also referring to funds lost during the pandemic.
    He announced that many of the PA’s 132,000 employees would see their wages cut by half, not to fall below a minimum of 1,750 shekels ($507) a month.
    Analysts say the health crisis and financial disputes with Israel could drive the PA to financial collapse. After a surge in new coronavirus cases, the PA has placed several West Bank towns under lockdown, which it plans to expand to the entire territory beginning on Friday.
    Most PA employees are in the West Bank, with 30,000 in Hamas-run Gaza.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Rami Ayyub, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

7/3/2020 Blasts at Turkish fireworks factory kill two, wound 73
An aerial view of the firework factory following a blast is seen from a helicopter of Turkish Interior Minister
Suleyman Soylu, in Hendek in Sakarya province, Turkey, July 3, 2020. Turkish Interior Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A series of large explosions shook a fireworks factory in northwest Turkey’s Sakarya province on Friday, killing two people and wounding 73, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    Fire crews fought to contain the blaze ignited by an initial blast at 11.15 am (0815 GMT) in the province’s Hendek district, Turkey’s disaster and emergency management directorate AFAD said in a statement, describing it as an industrial accident.
    Some 85 ambulances and two helicopters were among emergency vehicles sent to the complex, Koca wrote on Twitter, adding President Tayyip Erdogan had instructed him to go to the scene.
    Video footage obtained by Reuters showed smoke billowing from the complex as firework explosions rang out and a huge plume of smoke rose into the sky.    The initial blast was heard up to 50 km (31 miles) away, state-owned Anadolu news agency said.
    Turkey’s interior and labour ministers also went to Sakarya to monitor the situation, Anadolu said.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/3/2020 Saudi coalition airstrike on Yemen’s capital kills at least 2 by OAN Newsroom
A worker walks among the wreckage of a vehicle oil store hit by Saudi-led airstrikes in Sanaa, Yemen, Thursday, July 2, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
    Two people were reportedly killed following airstrikes on Yemen’s capital this week.    Wednesday’s attack, which was led by a Saudi-backed coalition, targeted Houthi rebels in Sanaa.
    This came after an earlier round of attacks last week, in which Houthi fighters fired missiles on Saudi Arabia’s capital.    Those missiles were intercepted before they hit ground.
    The latest surge in violence marked the end of a six-week ceasefire between the two nations.
    “Last night, two airstrikes hit us, bombing the residential neighborhood and this place, exposing most of the houses to destruction.    We have children in hospitals and we have pregnant women having miscarriages.    It is a catastrophe and a major crime, they neither consider the place and its sanctity nor the sanctity of the inhabitants.” – Kamel al-Saffani, resident
Yemeni men offer prayers at the grave of their relative who was killed during Yemen’s ongoing conflict, at a cemetery in Sanaa, Yemen, Friday, July 3, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
    Saudi Arabia has led an intervention in Yemen, which is backed by the UAE and a number of other countries, against the Houthi movement for five years.

7/4/2020 Suicide car bomber hits checkpoint at Somalia’s Mogadishu port
Somali policemen stand at the scene after suicide car bomber drove into a checkpoint outside the port in Mogadishu, Somalia July 4, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – An explosion shook parts of the Somali capital of Mogadishu early on Saturday as a suicide car bomber drove into a checkpoint just outside the port, witnesses said, but police made no immediate comment on casualties.
    “Metal debris fell all over us inside the port and we heard gunfire,” said a port worker who sought anonymity for security reasons.    “Security forces have surrounded the area.”
    The blast shoook the ground, said Mohammed Ali, a shopkeeper in the area. At the city’s Madina hospital, a nurse, Halima Nur, said it had received five people injured in the blast for treatment.
    Somalia has been mired in conflict since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew dictator Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
    Since 2008, the Islamist militant group al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the central government and establish its rule based on its own harsh interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

7/5/2020 Israel says ‘not necessarily’ behind all Iran nuclear site incidents
FILE PHOTO: A view of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility, in Isfahan,
Iran, July 2, 2020. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS.
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s defence minister said on Sunday it is not “necessarily” behind every mysterious incident in Iran, after a fire at the Natanz nuclear site prompted some Iranian officials to say it was the result of cyber sabotage.
    Israel, widely believed to be the region’s only nuclear power, has pledged never to allow Iran to obtain atomic weapons, saying Tehran advocates its destruction.    Iran denies ever seeking nuclear arms and says its atomic programme is peaceful.
    The underground Natanz site, where a one-storey building was partly burned on Thursday, is the centrepiece of Iran’s uranium enrichment programme and monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    Asked whether Israel had anything to do with “mysterious explosions” at Iranian nuclear sites, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said: “Not every incident that transpires in Iran necessarily has something to do with us.”
    “All those systems are complex, they have very high safety constraints and I’m not sure they always know how to maintain them,” Gantz told Israel Radio.
    Three Iranian officials who spoke to Reuters said they thought cyber sabotage had been involved at Natanz, but offered no evidence.    Two said Israel could have been behind it.
    An article by Iran’s state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States, although it stopped short of accusing either directly.
    In 2010, the Stuxnet computer virus, widely believed to have been developed by the United States and Israel, was discovered after it was used to attack Natanz.
    Last month, Israeli security cabinet minister Zeev Elkin said Iran had attempted to mount a cyber attack on Israel’s water system in April.
    Iran curbed its nuclear work in exchange for removal of most global sanctions under a 2015 accord with six world powers.    It has reduced compliance since the United States withdrew in 2018.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Michael Georgy and Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alexander Smith)

7/6/2020 Israel reimposes restrictions after COVID-19 spike by Jeffrey Heller
People wearing face masks to help fight the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are reflected in a mirror
as they walk past a shop displaying its merchandise in Jerusalem's Old City July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Monday reimposed a series of restrictions to fight a spike in coronavirus infections, including the immediate closure of bars, gyms and event halls.
    In public remarks at a special cabinet session on the health crisis, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel had to reverse course to avoid a wider lockdown that could paralyse its economy, where unemployment is just above 20%.    The Bank of Israel on Monday forecast a 6% economic contraction in 2020. [L8N2ED38M]
    “The pandemic is spreading – that’s as clear as day.    It is rising steeply daily and it is dragging with it, contrary to what we had been told, a trail of critically ill patients,” Netanyahu said.
    A government announcement said that in addition to the immediate shuttering of bars, night clubs, gyms, event halls and cultural events, the number of diners in restaurants would be limited to 20 indoors and 30 outdoors.
    Attendance at synagogues was capped at 19 worshippers, and buses can carry up to 20 passengers, the statement said.
    After largely containing the coronavirus in May and reopening schools, beaches and businesses, Israel has been hit by a sharp rise in infections.
    Only 37% of Israelis trust the government’s handling of the crisis, according to a survey published on Monday by N12 News, against 59% who distrust it.
    Epidemiologist Hagai Levine said Israel did not prepare well for the day after lockdown.
    “Israel’s experience should be a lesson to all countries: You cannot move from one extreme to another, from total lockdown to a quick, sweeping removal of restrictions without proper planning,” the professor at the Hebrew University-Hadasdah School of Public Health said.
    “We have to act based on data and focus on high-risk populations, epicentres and specific activities in which contagion risk is high.    The coronavirus will be with us for a long while.    This is a marathon, not a sprint,” Levine said.
    In Israel, more than 30,000 have tested positive and 332 have died.
    Palestinian officials in the occupied West Bank imposed a full lockdown on Friday as cases surged.    Nearly 4,300 cases and 16 deaths have been reported in the West Bank, and 72 cases and one death in Gaza.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Giles Elgood and Hugh Lawson)

7/6/2020 Israel launches spy satellite to keep a better eye on enemies
A new Israeli spy satellite, called Ofek 16, is shot into space from a site in central Israel
July 9, 2020. Israel Ministry of Defense Spokesperson's Office/Handout via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Monday launched a new spy satellite that it said would provide high-quality surveillance for its military intelligence.
    Israel has been building up its surveillance capabilities to monitor enemies such as Iran, whose nuclear program it sees as a major threat.
    The satellite, called Ofek 16, was shot into space early Monday morning from a site in central Israel by a locally-developed Shavit rocket, which was used to launch previous Ofek satellites.
    “We will continue to strengthen and maintain Israel’s capabilities on every front, in every place,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz.
    The Defense Ministry called Ofek 16 “an electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities.”
    The first images will be received in about a week.
    State-owned Israel Aerospace Industries [ISRAI.UL] was the main contractor for the project and the satellite’s payload was developed by defense firm Elbit Systems.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Michael Perry)

7/6/2020 Saudi Arabia announces haj health measures for domestic pilgrims
Saudi security officers stand in front of the Kaaba, as muslims pray during the Laylat al-Qadr, or Night of Power,
the holiest night for Muslims, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), during the fasting
month of Ramadan, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 19, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia announced health protocols to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus in the 2020 haj season, banning gatherings and meetings between pilgrims, the state news agency said on Monday.
    Saudi Arabia decided in June to limit the number of domestic pilgrims attending the haj to around 1,000 to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first year in modern times.
    Priority will be given to non-Saudi pilgrims who will be allotted 70% of available slots, the ministry that oversees pilgrimages said in a statement.    Those selected must test negative for the virus, must be first-time pilgrims between 20 and 50 years old and have no chronic medical conditions.
    Saudi healthcare workers and security personnel who have recovered from the novel coronavirus will be given the rest of the slots, “in recognition of their role in caring for society at all stages of the pandemic,” the statement said.
    Touching the Kaaba, the holiest site in Islam, will be banned during the haj this year, and a social distancing space of a meter and a half between each pilgrim during the rituals including mass prayers and while in the Kaaba circling area will be imposed, a statement by the Center for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) said.
    Also, access to holy haj sites at Mona, Muzdalifah and Arafat will be limited to those with haj permits starting Sunday July 19 till Aug. 2 2020, and wearing masks at all times will be mandatory for both pilgrims and organizers.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam; additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Kim Coghill)

7/6/2020 Qatar coronavirus cases exceed 100,000, Kuwait tops 50,000
FILE PHOTO: General view of a empty kids playing area, following the outbreak of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Doha, Qatar March 17, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Qatar exceeded 100,000 and Kuwait surpassed 50,000 on Monday, their health ministries said.
    Qatar, which has seen its daily case numbers fall from a peak of 2,355 in late May, added 546 new cases and five deaths in the past 24 hours to give a total of 133 deaths and 100,345 cases in total.
    Only about 12% of Qatar’s population are Qatari nationals and, as in other Gulf states, Qatar saw COVID-19 spread among low-income migrant workers living in crowded quarters.
    With a population of about 2.8 million people, the energy-rich Gulf state has one of the world’s highest per capita numbers of confirmed cases.
    Qatar, which did not impose curfews, began a four-phase lifting of restrictions on June 15.    The second phase began on July 1, allowing the limited reopening of restaurants, beaches and parks.
    Qatar has the second highest number of cases after much larger Saudi Arabia in the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Counci, which together have recorded more than 489,000 cases and 3,000 deaths.
    Kuwait reported 538 new infections to bring its total tally to 50,644 and 373 deaths.
    Kuwait initiated a five-phase plan at the start of June to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions, including partially restarting commercial flights from Aug. 1.    A partial curfew remains in place.
(Reporting by Yousef Saba; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Jon Boyle)

7/7/2020 UAE says it will test 2 million people for COVID-19 as cases rise
FILE PHOTO: People walk outside Dubai mall after the UAE government eased a curfew and allowed stores to open, following the
outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Dubai, United Arab Emirates May 3, 2020. REUTERS/Abdel Hadi Ramahi/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates plans to test two million people, or about 20% of the population, for the novel coronavirus over the next two months after the infection rate climbed again following the lifting of restrictions, a government spokesperson said.
    The regional business and tourism hub on June 24 removed a nationwide curfew in place since mid-March.    It has gradually reopened commercial businesses and public venues and the emirate, or state, of Dubai is set reopen to foreign visitors on Tuesday.
    “While it is worrying to see a slight increase in cases in the past few days, it is a reminder that we all should be responsible and committed to follow health practices,” government spokesperson Amna al-Shamsi said late on Monday.
    “UAE health authorities continue to increase testing capacity for Covid-19, with additional 2 million tests to be performed in the coming two months, across the country,” she said in comments carried on the government Twitter account.
    The UAE recorded 528 new cases on Monday, taking its tally to 52,068 with 324 deaths.    The daily infection rate had dropped from a peak of over 900 in late May to average between 300 to 400, but rose over the weekend to some 700.
    Dubai’s move to allow foreign visitors has not been implemented on the federal level in the UAE, which does not provide a breakdown of coronavirus cases for each of its seven emirates.
    Abu Dhabi, the largest and richest emirate, has restricted movement into the UAE capital, with people residing outside the emirate required to obtain a permit showing a negative COVID-19 test.
    Neighbouring Saudi Arabia has the highest count among the six Gulf Arab states at more than 213,700 infections with 1,968 deaths as of Monday.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

7/9/2020 Severe bread shortages loom for Syria as fresh U.S. sanctions grip by Maha El Dahan and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: A combine harvester harvests wheat at a field in Qamishli, Syria June 2, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo
    DUBAI/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria could face severe bread shortages for the first time since the start of the war, another challenge for President Bashar al-Assad as he grapples with an economic meltdown and fresh U.S. sanctions, a U.N. official, activists and farmers said.
    Any major disruptions to Syria’s bread subsidy system could undermine the government and threaten a population highly dependent on wheat as rampant inflation drives up food prices.
    “There is already some evidence of people cutting out meals,” said Mike Robson, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s Syria representative.
    “…If the currency continues under pressure, imports will be difficult to obtain and the months leading up to the 2021 wheat harvest may see real shortages.”
    Syria’s economy is collapsing under the weight of its complex, multi-sided conflict, now in its tenth year, and a financial crisis in neighbouring Lebanon, choking off a vital source of dollars.
    Soaring prices have made life harder for Syrians ravaged by a war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions.
    In the past six months alone, the number of “food insecure” people in Syria is estimated to have risen from 7.9 million to 9.3 million, according to World Food Programme data.
    “My 50,000 pound (monthly) salary ($21 on the informal market) is barely enough for a few days and I am living on debt.    People are selling their furniture… In our lives this has never happened,” said state employee Yara.
    The United States in June imposed its most sweeping sanctions on Syria yet.    Washington says the Caesar Act excludes humanitarian aid and aims to hold Assad and his government accountable for war crimes.
    Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread hardship among ordinary citizens.
    The Syrian pound, which held steady at around 500 to the dollar for several years, went into free fall last year, hitting a low of 3,000 in June, in anticipation of fresh sanctions.
    That currency drop is hindering Assad’s plans for buying up all of this year’s wheat to make up for a shortfall in imports that is drawing down on strategic reserves.
    Before the war, Syria could boast more than a year of wheat reserves.
    The government declined to answer questions on the current size of reserves and wheat procurement.    FAO’s Robson said he did not have data.
    Abdullah, a confectionary trader from Damascus, has never seen poverty on this scale.
    “We had always been self-sufficient.    Why we have reached this point where even a loaf will soon become a dream, I really don’t know,” he told Reuters in a text.
BREAD POLITICS
    Assad has regained control of much of the country from rebels, with backing from Russia and Iran.    But the main wheat regions remain in the hands of Kurdish-led fighters who seized vast territory from Islamic State.
    Syria has had drastically lower output since the conflict erupted.    It used to produce 4 million tonnes in a good year and was able to export 1.5 million tonnes.
    This year, Syria is estimated by the FAO to have produced between 2.1 million and 2.4 million tonnes.    The government expects to have produced 2.8 million tonnes.
    Demand across the country is around 4 million tonnes, leaving a shortfall to fill from abroad.
    But international import tenders conducted by the state’s main grain buyer, Hoboob, have repeatedly failed since last year.    The government declined to comment on how many deals it managed to conclude.
    While food is not restricted by Western sanctions, banking restrictions and asset freezes have made it difficult for most trading houses to do business with Syria.
    With major grain traders out of the equation, the government relied on businessmen to conclude transactions to sustain the bread subsidies.
    “They import quantities to Lebanon and then take it to Syria by land unless it is Russia giving direct shipments, government to government, then they can deliver to (the port of) Latakia,” said Ayman Abdel Nour, a U.S.-based political analyst.
    “Now that window has closed with the problems in Lebanon.”
    Reuters data shows that since June 2019, Hoboob has issued at least 10 international tenders for between 100,000 and 200,000 tonnes of wheat, failing to report results for most.
    Youssef Kassem, the head of Hoboob, has been quoted by media as stating that 1.2 million tonnes of Russian wheat imports were contracted throughout 2019 amounting to $310 million. Reuters could not independently verify that information.
    Hoboob tried to barter some of Syria’s durum wheat, used in making pasta, for soft bread-making wheat twice in September 2019, with no result announced.
    When bread lines started to get longer in government-held areas around March, Russia was urged to send the full amount of the 100,000 tonnes of wheat it had promised as humanitarian aid since 2019.
    “Maybe for the first time since the start of the Syrian uprising, you basically had a shortage of subsidised bread in ovens and that led to the development of a thriving black market,” Elizabeth Tsurkov, Fellow at the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute think tank and a Syria expert, said.
    Russia, the world’s largest wheat exporter, has been a steady supplier of wheat to Syria but the size of its wheat aid has not met demand.
    Russian customs data does not show supplies to Syria, and the size of real supplies varies wildly.
    “The supplies are going on. There are however, problems with the payment and availability of vessels ready to deliver to this destination,” a Russian industry source told Reuters.
    The source estimated only about 150,000 tonnes of commercial wheat had reached Syria between July 2019 and May 2020.
A RACE FOR RESERVES
    The government blamed bread lines on technicalities and with the start of its wheat buying season in June announced it would buy every single grain of its local crop.
    By mid-June, Hoboob said it had so far procured around 212,000 tonnes.    FAO estimates that around 700,000 tonnes of the total crop lie in government-controlled territory this year.
    But the three provinces which account for over 70 percent of production lie mostly in the hands of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), led by the Kurdish YPG militia.
    The government has historically lured farmers to sell their crop by paying a higher price than its rivals, even as the wheat remained in areas outside its control.
    This year, with the collapse of the pound, it has upped its price from the 225 pounds a kilo announced at the beginning of the season to 425 pounds.
    But facing a currency crash and in fear of a ripple effect from Caesar sanctions on the economy of the areas they control, the Kurdish-led authority not only raised its local wheat purchasing price but also pegged it to the going rate of the dollar, pledging to pay 17 U.S. cents a kilo no matter how far the pound slips.
    Salman Barodo, head of the region’s economy and agriculture board, said so far 400,000 tonnes had been bought and warned against any attempts to smuggle the crop outwards.
    The Kurdish-led authority, that runs the SDF region, is aiming to stockpile 18 months’ worth of supply and only open sales to government territories in the case of a surplus.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan in Dubai and Ellen Francis in Beirut; additional reporting by Suleiman Al Khalidi in Amman and Polina Devitt in Moscow; Editing by Michael Georgy and Nick Macfie)

7/9/2020 Palestinians hope Biden would roll back Trump’s embrace of Israel by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice-President Joe Biden (L) shakes hands with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas
in the West Bank city of Ramallah March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool/File Photo
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian leaders hope Democrat Joe Biden will tone down Washington’s pro-Israel policies if he becomes U.S. president, and Palestinian-Americans have been pressing his campaign for a change, sources familiar with the efforts said.
    So far, their efforts have had little impact, the sources said.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has recognised Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, moved the U.S. Embassy to the city and made peace proposals envisaging Israeli sovereignty over parts of the occupied West Bank, territory Palestinians seek for a state.
    Trump’s moves — including aid cuts to the Palestinian Authority that exercises limited self-rule in the West Bank — have prompted Palestinian officials to sever ties with Washington.
    “If Mr Biden (is) elected in November, we hope that it will be a totally different dynamic,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said last week during a virtual conference with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
    Biden is the presumptive Democratic challenger in November’s election.    He is on record as challenging plans by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to extend sovereignty to Jewish settlements in the West Bank — de facto annexation of territory Israel seized in a 1967 war.
    “Biden opposes any unilateral action by either side that makes the prospects of a two-state solution less likely – including annexation, which Biden opposes now, and would continue to oppose as President,” campaign spokesman Michael Gwin said in a statement for Reuters.
    Gwin did not address what action Biden might take if he were president and Israel annexed West Bank land.
    Netanyahu’s proposed move, under Trump’s peace blueprint, has been criticised by Arab and European nations.    The Israeli leader is awaiting the green light from Washington.
PROGRESSIVE SUPPORT
    Buoyed by support from progressives in the Democratic party, Palestinian diaspora activists want Biden to take a more critical look at Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.
    More than 120 prominent Palestinian-Americans have signed a “Statement of Principles” that they say determine their community’s support for candidates for federal office.
    They include making aid to Israel conditional on it ending “practices that violate Palestinian rights and contravene international law,” and revoking any potential U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty in occupied territory.
    “We want to see Biden embrace the party’s progressives, who have recognised the shared struggle between Palestinians living under military occupation, and Black and brown Americans who face police brutality, systemic racism and injustice,” said Zeina Ashrawi Hutchison, a delegate to the Democratic National Convention in August.
    Those positions have failed to gain traction with Biden’s team, three people familiar with the campaign’s thinking said.
    “The progressives want a full-throttle platform change — a pro-Palestinian flank, an anti-annexation flank — but there just isn’t appetite in the campaign so far,” one of the sources said.
(Additional reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt in New York, Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Timothy Heritage)

7/9/2020 Protests over economy in Israel may turn violent, opposition leader says by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Co-leader of Blue and White party, Yair Lapid, speaks to supporters at his
election campaign event in Tel Aviv, Israel September 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid said on Thursday protests over the economic slowdown could soon turn violent as restrictions to contain the coronavirus are reimposed and state assistance for the jobless lags.
    Alarmed by a new spike in COVID-19 cases, conservative Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week ordered a slew of businesses to shut back down and disbanded some children’s summer camps, dashing hopes for relief from record 21% unemployment.
    Protesters from across the political spectrum have taken to the streets with demands for speedier compensation from a coalition government they see as overstaffed and ineffectual. Less than half of $29 billion in pledged aid has been paid out.
    Israeli police said there had been no sign of violence at protests, but Lapid, a centrist, cautioned that could change.
    “We are talking to people who are becoming more and more desperate and angry, who feel, and rightly so, that the country has deserted them at their hardest hour,” Lapid told Reuters.
    “We are trying to be responsible…to calm things down, telling people, ‘You know violence is not the answer’,” he said.
    “But it’s getting harder by the day…I sympathise with the anger and I also worry about the possibility of violence as a result of this anger.    What I am trying to do is not to encourage it but to raise a red flag as to what might happen.”
    Tamar Hermann, a political scientist and sociologist at the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute, said violence had been rare at past domestic demonstrations.
    “In Israel, violence has always created a backlash against the protesters,” she said.    But Hermann said Israelis from many income groups were now feeling economic pain.    “The big question is what the government plans to do in the coming days.”
    Asked how far Israel was from violent unrest, Lapid said: “Not that far.    Not far enough.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/9/2020 Fears at Nile’s convergence in Sudan that new dam will sap river’s strength by Zohra Bensemra and Aidan Lewis
Mussa Adam Bakr (R), 48, who farms a plot of land next to a mud brick factory, collects eggplants with his workers
on his field on Tuti Island, Khartoum, Sudan, February 14, 2020. "I came to Tuti in 1988 because the land here is the
best for agriculture and close enough to supply markets, and it makes for a good income", said Bakr. "Through
out the year the Tuti earth produces all sorts of vegetables like potatoes, onions and aubergines." REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – At an open-air, riverbank factory where the Blue Nile and White Nile meet in Sudan, Mohamed Ahmed al Ameen and his colleagues mould thousands of bricks every day from mud deposited by summer floods.
    “I consider the Nile something I have not parted with since I was born,” Ameen said, as workers around him shaped bricks with blistered hands and laid them out to dry in the sun.    “I eat from it, I farm with it.    And I extract these bricks from it.”
    But the labourers on Tuti Island in Sudan’s capital Khartoum fear a giant dam Ethiopia is building close to the border between the two countries could endanger their livelihood.
    They worry the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam upstream could weaken the Blue Nile’s force, putting at risk an industry that locals say provided bricks for some of Khartoum’s first modern public buildings around a century ago.
    Pottery makers, farmers and fishermen around the Nile’s convergence share similar concerns, though other residents displaced by flooding last summer see benefit in a dam that will regulate the powerful river’s waters.
    The dam “will stabilise the Nile and we will get less flooding,” said Mutasim al-Jeiry, a 50-year-old potter in a village outside Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman, where workers craft jars with clay from the river.
    “But on the other hand we will get less clay and less water. Farmers, brick and pottery makers will be seriously affected,” he predicts.
    The residents’ views are a snapshot of the hopes and fears thrown up along the length of the Nile by the vast hydropower project, which has triggered a high-wire diplomatic stand-off between Ethiopia and Egypt downstream.
    Ethiopia, which says it is finally asserting its right to harness the Blue Nile’s waters to power its economy, promises to start filling the dam’s reservoir later this month.
    Egypt, which sees a risk to its scarce water supplies, is frantically trying to secure a deal that would guarantee minimum flows from the Blue Nile, the source of about 86% of the waters of the Nile, which flows into the Mediterranean.
    Sudan’s government says the dam could threaten the safety of some 20 million Sudanese living downstream and damage the country’s flood-plain agricultural system if not built and operated correctly.
    But it also sees potential benefits in controlling floods during the rainy season and improving the performance of its own dams.
    That ambivalence is echoed in the village of Wad Ramli, 60km (37 miles) downstream from Khartoum, where flooding was especially bad last summer.    Some residents whose houses were damaged or destroyed were displaced to canvas tents pitched nearby.
    “It is true the Renaissance dam will lower the Nile’s water levels and prevent flooding,” said Manal Abdelnaay, a 23-year-old living in one of the tents.    “However, it will impact farming, and the Wad Ramli area is one that lives off farming.”
    On Tuti Island, farmers and landowners are anxious that if the dam saps the river’s strength, there will be less water to irrigate and replenish the soil.
    “I came to Tuti in 1988 because the land here is the best for agriculture and close enough to supply markets, and it makes good incomes” says Mussa Adam Bakr, who farms a plot where vegetable fields back onto citrus and mango groves, next to the brick factory.
    “Through the year the Tuti earth produces all sorts of vegetables like potatoes, onions, aubergines,” says Bakr.
    Sudan was long overshadowed in the dispute over the dam by its two larger neighbours, but has recently stepped up to broker new negotiations between the three countries.
    Its citizens will be watching carefully for any changes in the waters they are so dependent upon.
    “A fish out of water will die, it cannot survive,” says Ashraf Hassan, a 45-year-old fish trader in Omdurman.    “Us too, we live as part of the water, or around it.”
(Additional reporting by Mohamed Nureldin Abadallah; writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

7/9/2020 Africa urged to test more as coronavirus cases exceed 500,000 by George Obulutsabr>
FILE PHOTO: Kenyan ministry of health medical workers prepare to take swabs from truck drivers during a testing for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
at the Namanga one stop border crossing point between Kenya and Tanzania, in Namanga, Kenya May 12, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – African countries must carry out more coronavirus testing and make people use masks, a regional disease control body said on Thursday as cases topped half a million in the continent.
    New cases in Africa were up 24% over the past week, with data from governments and the World Health Organization showing it had 512,499 confirmed COVID-19 cases, with 11,930 deaths.
    “The pandemic is gaining full momentum,” John Nkengasong, head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told a virtual news briefing from Addis Ababa.
    Nkengasong said African countries, many of which do not have reliable data, must adopt an aggressive approach to encourage the wearing of face masks and ramp up testing and tracing.
    “This will save lives and save (the) economy.”
    Egypt, Nigeria, South Africa, Ghana, and Algeria account for 71% of infections on the continent, Nkengasong said.
    Some governments have been reluctant to acknowledge epidemics or to expose crumbling health systems to outside scrutiny, while others are either too poor or conflict-ridden to carry out significant testing.
    Nkengasong said it was inevitable that as cases rise, hospitals will become overwhelmed.
    “That is something that is happening already.    We will continue to see it as the pandemic expands,” he added.
    Although many have also started gradually easing lockdowns to reopen hard-hit economies, governments are conscious that opening up too quickly could lead to a spike in new cases.
    The African Union Commission said on Thursday it had launched a consortium for vaccine clinical trials to be headed by the Africa CDC, which aimed to secure more than 10 late stage vaccine clinical trials as early as possible.
    South Africa and Egypt are already running human trials for a potential vaccine.
(Reporting by George Obulutsa; Editing by Omar Mohammed and Alexander Smith)

7/10/2020 Lebanese PM Sues American University Of Beirut Over Exit Package
FILE PHOTO: People wearing masks walk near the main gate entrance of the American University of Beirut
(AUB), in Beirut Lebanon, May 7, 2020. Picture taken May 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab is suing the American University of Beirut (AUB), where he worked for 35 years as an academic, a spokesman for Diab said, in a dispute over his exit package from the financially struggling institution.
    AUB, which has been hit hard by Lebanon’s economic meltdown, declined to comment on the case.
    Lebanon is grappling with a crisis caused by decades of state corruption and bad governance.    A hard currency liquidity crunch has led to an 80% weakening of the local currency since October.
    Diab presented his-long planned resignation in January – the month he became prime minister.
    “… He asked for an exit package in line with common practices and precedents at AUB.    This request was denied …,” the spokesman said.
    Diab had “never made any special request for any payments to be made either in foreign currency or into foreign bank accounts.    All AUB professors have their pensions paid in U.S. dollars, from a AUB foreign account”, the spokesman said.
    “What the PM expressed was only what was already stated in the AUB retirement plan regulations and policies.”
    The private AUB, founded in the 1860s, is alma mater of some of the Arab world’s leading figures in politics, medicine, law, science and art.    Its president told Reuters in May Lebanon’s catastrophic collapse represented one of the biggest challenges in the history of a university which has weathered many crises, including Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
    The state, which defaulted on its foreign currency debt in March, owes AUB’s medical centre – which attracts patients from across the Middle East and Central Asia – more than $150 million in arrears, AUB President Fadlo Khuri said.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/10/2020 Changes To Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia Could Trigger Heritage Review: UNESCO
FILE PHOTO: People visit the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site which was a Byzantine cathedral before
it was converted into a mosque and currently a museum, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 2, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – UNESCO must be notified of any change in the status of Istanbul’s sixth-century Hagia Sophia museum and the changes may have to be reviewed by its World Heritage committee, the United Nation’s cultural body said on Thursday.
    Turkey’s top administrative court is likely to announce on Friday that the 1934 conversion of the Hagia Sophia to a museum was unlawful, two Turkish officials said, paving the way for its restoration as a mosque.
    UNESCO told Reuters that the Hagia Sophia was on its list of World Heritage Sites as a museum, and as such had certain commitments and legal obligations.
    “Thus, a state must make sure that no modification undermines the outstanding universal value of a site listed on its territory,” UNESCO said.
    “Any modification must be notified beforehand by the state to UNESCO and be reviewed if need be by the World Heritage Committee,” it added.
    UNESCO said it had expressed its concerns to Turkish authorities in several letters and conveyed the message to Turkey’s ambassador to the institution on Thursday.
    “We urge Turkish authorities to start a dialog before any decision is taken that could undermine the universal value of the site,” UNESCO said.
    The World Heritage site was at the centre of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and is today one of Turkey’s most visited monuments.
    The prospect of a change in the museum’s status back to a mosque has raised alarm among U.S., French, Russian and Greek officials, as well as Christian church leaders.
(Reporting by Leigh Thomas; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Dan Grebler)

7/10/2020 Erdogan Declares Hagia Sophia A Mosque After Turkish Court Ruling by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, that was a Byzantine cathedral before being converted
into a mosque which is currently a museum, is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, June 28, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan declared Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia a mosque on Friday with the first Muslim prayers to begin in two weeks, after a top court ruled the ancient building’s conversion to a museum by modern Turkey’s founding statesman was illegal.
    Erdogan spoke on Friday just hours after the court ruling was published, brushing aside international warnings not to change the status of the nearly 1,500-year-old monument that is revered by Christians and Muslims alike.
    The United States, Russia and church leaders were among those to express concern about changing the status of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, a focal point of both the Christian Byzantine and Muslim Ottoman empires and now one of the most visited monuments in Turkey.
    Greece’s culture ministry described the court decision as an “open provocation” to the civilized world, while UNESCO said it regretted it was not notified ahead of time and would now review the building’s status.
    Erdogan has sought to shift Islam into the mainstream of Turkish politics in his 17 years at the helm.    He has long floated restoring the mosque status of the sixth-century building, which was converted into a museum in the early days of the modern secular Turkish state under Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
    “With this court ruling, and with the measures we took in line with the decision, Hagia Sophia became a mosque again, after 86 years, in the way Fatih the conqueror of Istanbul had wanted it to be,” Erdogan said in a national address.
    In a telling of history at times critical of the Byzantine Empire and the modern republic’s founders, Erdogan said Turkey could now leave behind “the curse of Allah, profits and angels” that Fatih – the Ottoman Sultan Mehmet II – said would be on anyone who converted it from a mosque.
    “Like all our mosques, the doors of Hagia Sophia will be open to all, locals and foreigners, Muslims and non-Muslims,” said Erdogan, who earlier on Friday signed off on the Religious Affairs Directorate managing the site.
    The U.S. State Department, which had urged Turkey to maintain the building as a museum, said in a statement it was “disappointed” by the decision but looked forward to hearing the plans “to ensure it remains accessible without impediment for all.”
APPLAUSE
    The association which brought the court case, the latest in a 16-year legal battle, said Hagia Sophia was the property of Sultan Mehmet II who captured the city in 1453 and turned the already 900-year-old Greek Orthodox cathedral into a mosque.
    The Ottomans built minarets alongside the vast domed structure, while inside they added panels bearing the Arabic names of God, the Prophet Mohammad, and Muslim caliphs.    The golden mosaics and Christian icons, obscured by the Ottomans, were uncovered again when Hagia Sophia became a museum.
    In its ruling the Council of State, Turkey’s top administrative court, said: “It was concluded that the settlement deed allocated it as a mosque and its use outside this character is not possible legally."
    “The cabinet decision in 1934 that… defined it as a museum did not comply with laws,” it said, referring to an edict signed by Ataturk.
    Erdogan, a pious Muslim, threw his weight behind the campaign before local elections last year which dealt a painful blow to his ruling Islamist-rooted AK Party.    Members stood and applauded in parliament on Friday when his decree was read out.
    In Istanbul, hundreds of people gathered near Hagia Sophia to celebrate the ruling.    “Those who built this did it to worship God as well,” said Osman Sarihan, a teacher.
    “Thank God today it reverted to its main purpose.    Today God will be worshipped in this mosque.”
REVERSING ATATURK STEP
    By reversing one of Ataturk’s most symbolic steps, which underlined the former leader’s commitment to a secular republic, Erdogan has capped his own project to restore Islam in public life, said Soner Cagaptay, director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    “Hagia Sophia is the crowning moment of Erdogan’s religious revolution which has been unfolding in Turkey for over a decade,” he said, pointing to greater emphasis on religion in education and across government.
    The Russian Orthodox Church said it regretted that the court did not take its concerns into account and said the decision could lead to even greater divisions, the TASS news agency reported.
    Previously, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual head of some 300 million Orthodox Christians worldwide and based in Istanbul, said converting it into a mosque would disappoint Christians and would “fracture” East and West.
    Turkish groups have long campaigned for Hagia Sophia’s conversion, saying it would better reflect Turkey’s status as an overwhelmingly Muslim country.
(Additional reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan and by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans, Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Daniel Wallis)

7/10/2020 Hundreds Gather For Funeral Of Palestinian Shot By Israeli Troops
Relatives of Palestinian man Ibraheem Yakoub react during his funeral in Kifl Haris
in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    SALFIT, West Bank (Reuters) – Hundreds of people gathered in the occupied West Bank on Friday for the funeral of a Palestinian man shot by Israeli soldiers a day earlier.
    Israel’s army said troops opened fire after the Palestinian and another man started throwing fire bombs at a guard post near the town of Nablus.
    Palestinian officials dismissed the report and said the man had been walking with friends when he was shot dead.
    People at the funeral in the village of Salfit carried Palestinian flags and chanted “Allahu Akbar,” or God is greatest.
    Tensions have been high in the West Bank in recent weeks as Israel weighs a plan to annex part of the territory that Palestinians seek for a future state.
(Reporting by Mohamad Torokman and Ali Sawafta; Editing by Andrew Heavens)
[I think we should send all the radical groups in the U.S. who are attacking police departments in Democrat controlled cities to Israel so they can see what they would do to them if they attacked them.].

7/10/2020 Ethiopia Arrests Suspects In The Killing Of Popular Singer by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Oromo musician, Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, rides a horse in traditional costume during the 123rd anniversary celebration of the battle
of Adwa where the Ethiopian forces defeated the invading Italian forces, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, March 2, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian authorities said on Friday they had arrested two suspects over the killing of a popular political singer, whose death last week sparked protests in which 166 people were killed.
    The shooting of Haacaaluu Hundeessaa, a musician widely revered among his Oromo ethnic group, ignited protests in Addis Ababa and the surrounding Oromiya region.    Prime Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described his killing as “an evil act.”
    In a televised statement, Attorney General Adanech Abebe said that the shooter was acting on the orders of an anti-government group, the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF-Shene).
    The two men who were arrested included the suspected shooter and an accomplice. A third suspect was still at large, Adenech said.
    “We have arrested those who killed him, and those who collaborated in the killing,” Adanech said in the statement.    “We will continue to ensure the rule of law.”
    The suspects have not yet been charged.
    Haacaaluu sang in Oromo, the language of Ethiopia’s biggest ethnic group.    His killing tapped into grievances fuelled by decades of government repression and what the Oromo describe as their long exclusion from political power.
    Abiy, himself an Oromo, came to power in 2018 as the first modern Ethiopian leader from that ethnic group, after months of violent demonstrations led to his predecessor’s resignation.
    The unrest last week was the deadliest since Abiy took office.    The prime minister has initiated a broad package of political and economic reforms in what has long been one of the most tightly controlled countries in Africa, and won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea.
    But the increased freedoms under his leadership have also been accompanied by a rise in ethnic violence, and some Oromo figures say he has not done enough to address their longstanding grievances.
(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/10/2020 Mali Police Fire Gunshots And Tear Gas To Disperse Protesters by Tiemoko Diallo and Fadima Kontao
FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin //File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Police in Mali on Friday fired gunshots and tear gas to try to dislodge protesters demanding the resignation of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from occupying the state broadcasting house and parliament, according to a Reuters witness.
    Two sources said at least one person was killed outside the national assembly building.
    Mali’s state television ORTM went off the air after hundreds of protesters occupied the building in the capital Bamako.
    The protesters, called to a rally by an opposition coalition, also tried to take over two major bridges.
    The protest was the third since June, and came after the opposition coalition rejected concessions from Keita aimed at resolving a months-long political stand-off that began after a disputed legislative election in March.
    Mali’s neighbours and outside powers worry the impasse could further destabilise the country and jeopardise a joint military campaign against Islamist insurgents in the West African Sahel region.
    Protesters pelted the national assembly with rocks and shattered its glass facade, then ransacked and set fires in parts of the building.
    Videos on social media sites showed a fire burning outside the building while protesters ran away with what looked like files, computers, furniture and other items. The authenticity of the videos could not be verified by Reuters.
    Gunshots could be heard in the vicinity of both the national assembly and the ORTM building, a Reuters witness said, while other groups of protesters fought running battles with the police along a main bridge and surrounding neighbourhoods.
    Leaders of the protest had called on supporters to occupy buildings, including the Prime Minister’s office, as part of a civil disobedience campaign aimed at forcing Keita to resign for failing to tackle Mali’s security and economic problems.
    Before the rally, influential Muslim cleric Imam Mahmoud Dicko, one of the leaders of the protest, told France24 television that they had dropped the demand for the president to resign but wanted further gestures from him.
    “This is because we think it (the resignation) will cause more problems than it will resolve,” Dicko said.    “Mali’s problem is not about a government of national unity.    It is a problem of governance.”
    Other leaders of the coalition said at the rally they still want Keita to resign, however, and said they would persist with the disobedience campaign until he quits.
    Keita was re-elected in 2018 for a second five-year term but his leadership has faced mounting opposition amid a surge in jihadist violence and an economic crisis.
    J. Peter Pham, U.S. Special Envoy to the Sahel, warned that any unconstitutional change of government in Mali was out of the question.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice and Bate Felix; Editing by Frances Kerry, Hugh Lawson and Sonya Hepinstall)

7/11/2020 Turkish Parliament Passes Disputed Bar Associations Law
FILE PHOTO: People are pictured outside the parliament building in Ankara, Turkey
July 16, 2016, after an attempted Turkish military coup. REUTERS/Tumay Berkin
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament passed a law on Saturday on changing the structure of bar associations, a move that lawyers argue will further undermine judicial independence in a country where they say the judiciary is already in disarray.
    Thousands of lawyers have protested in Istanbul, Ankara and other cities against the plan, saying it aims to silence some of the few institutions still speaking out against the government’s record on rule of law and human rights.
    The legislation allows multiple bar associations to be formed in each province, in place of the current system where each province has a single association, diluting the institutions’ power.
    A lawmaker for President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, Cahit Ozkan, said last week the law was needed because bar associations were no longer able to function properly following a 13-fold increase in the number of lawyers in Turkey since the previous law came into effect.
    Opponents say it will strengthen small provincial bars at the expense of the large associations in the main cities.    The larger associations currently predominate and are frequently critical of the government.
    These associations say the judicial system has descended into chaos in recent years with lawyers jailed, defences muzzled and confidence in judges and prosecutors destroyed.
    The law was passed with 251 votes in favour in the 600-seat parliament, with only 417 MPs voting.    The AK Party has 291 seats in the assembly, while its nationalist MHP allies have 49 seats.
    The legislation “appears calculated to divide the legal profession along political lines and diminish the biggest bar associations’ role as human rights watchdogs,” Human Rights Watch and the International Commission of Jurists said.
    Muharrem Erkek, deputy leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said the new law would erode and polarise the legal profession.
    “Their aim is to create partisan bar associations.    If you weaken the bars, if you divide them, the citizens will suffer harm,” he said shortly before parliament began debating the bill on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Daren Butler and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/11/2020 Israelis Protest Against Government Response To Coronavirus by Rami Amichay
Israelis carry a stretcher as they protest against the government's response to the financial fallout of the coronavirus disease (COVID- 19) crisis
at Rabin square in Tel Aviv, Israel July 11, 2020. The words on the placard in Hebrew read "We do not have air" REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis demonstrated on Saturday in Tel Aviv, angered by what they say has been an inept government response to the economic hits they have taken during the coronavirus crisis.
    In keeping with restrictions on public gatherings, police limited the number of people allowed into Tel Aviv’s Rabin square for the rally as nearby streets filled with demonstrators wearing face masks.
    “I have 40 workers with no income, no money,” said Michal Gaist-Casif, vice president of a sound and lighting company.
    “We need the government to pump in money until we’re back to normal.    We haven’t been working since mid-March through April, May, June and July, and August is looking to be a catastrophe.”
    Israeli media said thousands attended the rally.    No official figure for the number of protesters was given.
    Unemployment in Israel has soared to 21% since the country went into partial lockdown in March and aid packages promised by the government have been slow to come through, frustrating Israelis who fear they are on the verge of economic collapse.
    Alarmed by a new spike in COVID-19 cases which surged after the economy began reopening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this week reimposed a series of restrictions in a bid to contain infections, shutting down a slew of businesses again.
    With less than half of the $29 billion previously pledged in aid paid out and anger building, Netanyahu announced a new welfare package on Thursday, saying the measures would provide an economic safety net for the coming year.
    In the past few weeks, protesters from across the political spectrum have taken to the streets with demands for speedier compensation from the coalition government, which they see as overstaffed and ineffectual.
    “People feel helpless, there’s no response.    They are enraged and want the government to take responsibility,” said Roee Cohen, president of the Israel Chamber of Independent Organizations and Businesses.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by David Clarke)

7/11/2020 Lebanon Records New Coronavirus Infection High
FILE PHOTO: Health workers and members of internal security forces wearing face masks stand inside Beirut international airport
on its re-opening day following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beirut, Lebanon July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s number of new coronavirus infections increased for a third consecutive day to a record 86, the government said on Saturday.
    Lebanon has recorded 2,168 infections and 36 deaths since February.
    Health Minister Hamad Hassan told Reuters on Friday the spike was partly due to expatriates who came after the airport was reopened on July 1.    One infected 12 people at a wedding and another infected 12 at a funeral, he said.
    A second cluster of infections had appeared among nurses and doctors and a third among refuse collectors, he said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/12/2020 Lives Will Be Lost As Syria Aid Access Cut, Aid Agencies Warn
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Red Crescent workers carry humanitarian aid at Kelbit camp, near the Syrian-Turkish
border, in Idlib province, Syria January 17, 2018. Picture taken January 17, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal/
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A U.N. Security Council resolution that leaves only one of two border crossings open for aid deliveries from Turkey into rebel-held northwestern Syria will cost lives and intensify the suffering of 1.3 million people living there, aid agencies said.
    Western states had pressed for aid access to continue through two crossings at the Turkish border, but Russia, President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally in his war against, and China vetoed a last-ditch effort on Friday to keep both open.     “In northwest Syria, where a vital cross-border lifeline has been closed … it will be harder to reach an estimated 1.3 million people dependent on food and medicine delivered by the U.N. cross-border,” aid agencies operating in Syria said in a joint statement.
    “Many will now not receive the help they need. Lives will be lost.    Suffering will intensify.”
    “With the first case of COVID-19 confirmed in Idlib, an area with a severely weakened health infrastructure, this is a devastating blow,” the statement added.
    In a separate statement, Physicians for Human Rights said the resolution had shut down “direct routes to hundreds of thousands of displaced Syrians in dire need of food and medicine
    Russia and China have argued that the northwest can be reached from within Syria, meaning via government-held territory, and that aid deliveries from Turkey violate Syria’s sovereignty.
    “This issue should not be politicized,” deputy Russian U.N. envoy Dmitry Polyanskiy said after the vote.
    Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Council members buckled and gave Moscow what it wanted – a further drastic reduction of cross-border aid to desperate Syrians who rely on it for survival.”
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/12/2020 Five Tunisian Parties Seek To Oust Ghanouchi As Parliament Speaker by Tarek Amara
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's prime minister designate Elyes Fakhfakh speaks at the Assembly of People's
Representatives in Tunis, Tunisia February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – At least five Tunisian parties plan to launch a vote of no confidence in the speaker of parliament, Rchaed Ghanouchi, the leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, politicians said on Sunday.
    The no-confidence motion poses the biggest challenge yet to Ennahda, which was swept to power after the Arab Spring, but which was forced to step down in 2013.
    Pressure on the government has also mounted in recent weeks after opponents called for the resignation of Prime Minister Elyes Fakhfakh over an alleged conflict of interest.
    Mohammed Ammar from Attayar party, said that four parliamentary blocs agreed to start the process of withdrawing confidence from the speaker, citing numerous violations, poor management and unilateral decisions that serve partisan interests.
    These blocs include the Tahya Tounes, Attayar and Chaab parties, which are in the coalition with Ennahda.
    The Free Constitutional party led by Abir Moussi, a supporter of former President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali?overthrown by the 2011 revolution, has campaigned to oust Ghanouchi for weeks.
    Moussi’s party accused Ghanouchi of serving the Muslim Brotherhood’s agenda and foreign allies, including Turkey and Qatar.
    Ghanouchi has rejected these accusations, arguing that Tunisians want a government focused on economic and social policy, not political in-fighting.
    Procedures for withdrawing confidence require the signature of 73 members of the house for it to be put to a public vote.    To succeed, 109 lawmakers will need to vote for no-confidence.
    The five parties have about 90 members.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, editing by Louise Heavens)

7/12/2020 Lebanon Records New Coronavirus Infection High With 158 Cases
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective face masks walk past open shops, as Lebanon is gradually reopening
its economy following a four-day shutdown imposed to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Hamra street in Beirut, Lebanon May 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Lebanese waste management company is quarantining 133 Syrian workers who tested positive for the coronavirus, the company manager said on Sunday, as the country recorded a new daily high for infections.
    The health ministry said a total of 158 new cases had been confirmed in the last 24 hours.
    Lebanon has recorded more than 2,000 infections and 36 deaths from the coronavirus since February.
    “The number will remain high this week,” Health Minister Hamad Hassan said. “To reassure people, the source is known,” he added in comments to broadcaster LBC.
Most of the new cases were at what he described as “a big cleaning company,” an apparent reference to waste management firm RAMCO, which collects garbage across Lebanon.
    RAMCO said it was moving infected workers to quarantine.
    “We are separating those who are infected from those who aren’t … we are waiting for more results,” RAMCO manager Walid BouSaad told Reuters.
    Hassan said 800 workers from the company in question needed testing, along with another 1,000 workers from two other companies with whom they were connected.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Imad Creidi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Louise Heavens)

7/12/2020 Jordan Presses Sweeping Tax Evasion Crackdown To Aid Ailing Economy by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
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 Prime Minister Omar al-Razzaz promised on Sunday to deepen a crackdown on tax evasion that officials say has deprived the country’s cash-strapped economy of billions of dollars’ revenue in recent years.
    The government has gone after senior businessmen and former politicians suspected of tax dodging, money laundering and customs evasion in a weeks-long campaign that has gained greater urgency with the hit to state finances from the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “Protecting public money and fighting corruption is a national duty,” Razzaz said in his weekly television address to the nation.
    Tax authorities have raided around 650 companies so far, sometimes accompanied by security forces, according to officials who say this is the biggest campaign to combat tax evasion in decades.
    The government said it had frozen the assets of dozens of companies and businessmen on suspected tax evasion charges.    It added that it would track offshore havens where wealthy Jordanians have long parked cash to avoid taxes.
    Some critics have accused the government of using the campaign to carry out a witch hunt against its political enemies, including some of Jordan’s leading business figures, including former ministers and senior politicians.
    Officials deny that, saying the goal is to ensure justice and that no one is above the law.
    The government has been using its wider powers under a state of emergency since March to give prosecutors and the main anti-corruption agency greater powers, and stiffen penalties.
    A two-month coronavirus lockdown has crippled Jordanian businesses and slashed state revenues by tens of millions of dollars, leading to the sharpest economic contraction in two decades.
    The government expects the economy to shrink by 3.5% this year, a far cry from an International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimate of 2% growth before the pandemic.
    The aid-dependent country, already undertaking a tough three-year IMF reform programme, tapped international debt markets this month to borrow $1.75 billion.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/12/2020 Lebanese Christian Cleric Seen To Criticize Hezbollah, Allies Over Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai visits the Lebanese embassy
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, November 13, 2017. REUTERS/Faisal Al Nasser/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s top Christian cleric stepped up criticism of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies without naming them on Sunday, saying Lebanese rejected being isolated from their allies and driven into decline.
    Lebanon is suffering a financial meltdown which marks the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    For the second sermon in a row, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai stressed the importance of Lebanon’s neutrality, implicit criticism of the heavily armed Hezbollah over its support for Iran in conflicts with Sunni-led Gulf Arab states.
    Rai carries weight as the head of the Maronite church, the Christian community from which the president must be drawn in a sectarian system of government.
    His last two sermons have been seen to mark a shift to a more openly critical stance against the policies of both Hezbollah and its ally President Michel Aoun.
    Both back the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab.
    “The intervention was seen as a shift in his politics away from supporting the president and more into criticizing the political position of the country, regionally and internationally,” Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said.
    Rai, in a copy of the sermon sent by email, said Lebanese “rejected any … parliamentary majority messing with the constitution … and Lebanon’s model of civilization, and that it isolate it from its brothers and friends … and that it move it from abundance to want and from prosperity to decline.”
    Lebanon’s crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance by the sectarian ruling elite.
    Hezbollah’s opponents say it shoulders blame as its alliance with Iran has led Gulf Arab states that once supported Lebanon to keep their distance, closing off an important source of aid.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has called on Lebanon to look east as it seeks help fix the economy, though he said last week this does not mean the country should cut itself from the rest of the world.
(Reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/12/2020 Sudan To Allow Drinking Alcohol For Non-Muslims, Ban FGM by Khaled Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Civilians walk past graffiti reading in Arabic "Freedom, Peace, Justice and Civilian" in the
Burri district of Khartoum, Khartoum, Sudan, July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan will permit non-Muslims to consume alcohol and strengthen women’s rights, including banning female genital mutilation (FGM), its justice minister said late on Saturday, in a reversal of almost four decades of hardline Islamist policies.
    About 3% of Sudan’s population is non-Muslim, according to the United Nations.
    Alcoholic drinks have been banned since former President Jaafar Nimeiri introduced Islamic law in 1983, throwing bottles of whisky into the Nile in the capital Khartoum.
    The transition government which took over after autocrat Omar al-Bashir was toppled last year has vowed to lead Sudan to democracy, end discrimination and make peace with rebels.
    Non-Muslims will no longer be criminalised for drinking alcohol in private, Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari told state television.    For Muslims, the ban will remain.    Offenders are typically flogged under Islamic law.
    Sudan will also decriminalise apostasy and ban FGM, a practice which typically involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia of girls and women, he said.
    Women will also no longer need a permit from male members of their families to travel with their children.
    Nimeiri’s introduction of Islamic law was major catalyst for a 22-year-long war between Sudan’s Muslim north and the mainly Christian south that led in 2011 to South Sudan’s secession.
    Bashir extended Islamic law after he took power in 1989.
    Sudanese Christians live mainly in Khartoum and in the Nuba mountains near the South Sudan border.    Some Sudanese also follow traditional African beliefs.
    The transition government led by Abdalla Hamdok runs the country in an uneasy coalition with the military which helped remove Bashir after months of mass protests.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Khaled Abdelaziz; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Catherine Evans)

7/13/2020 Mali Government Criticized By U.N., EU For Lethal Response To Protests
FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel summit
in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – The United Nations and the European Union have condemned the Malian government’s use of lethal force during protests calling for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to resign, and urged it to release detained opposition leaders.
    On Friday the latest and third mass demonstration held since protests began in early June turned violent, with police firing gunshots toward demonstrators, some of whom had occupied state buildings in Bamako.
    Protesters have been calling for Keita to step down over his failure to quash violence by jihadist groups and ethnic militias, and over disputed results of legislative elections in March.
    The government acknowledged four people were killed on Friday.    The opposition says the policed killed at least eight more during smaller protests on Saturday.    Several leaders of the M5-RFP, the coalition leading the protests, were also arrested.
    In a statement late on Sunday night, the U.N. mission in Mali, the African Union, West African regional bloc ECOWAS and the European Union criticized vandalism by protesters but reserved their sharpest criticism for the authorities.
    International and regional powers fear political turmoil in Mali could undermine their military campaigns against Islamist insurgents in West Africa’s Sahel region.    The United Nations has over 13,000 peacekeeping soldiers in Mali.
    The organisations “condemn the use of lethal force in the context of maintaining public order and invite all stakeholders to exercise restraint,” the statement said.
    It added that M5-RFP leaders arrested over the weekend should be released “to create the conditions for political dialogue
    The M5-RFP, a coalition of religious, political and civil society leaders, has repeatedly rejected concessions offered by Keita as insufficient, including his offer on Saturday to dissolve the Constitutional Court as the M5-RFP has demanded.
    The most prominent M5-RFP leader, Muslim cleric Mahmoud Dicko, urged his supporters on Sunday to stay calm.    “We can really find and obtain everything we want through patience and good behaviour,” he told French radio.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

7/13/2020 Turkey Will Cover Hagia Sophia Mosaics During Prayers -Ruling Party Spokesman
Police officers walk in front of Hagia Sophia, or Ayasofya-i Kebir Camii, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 11, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Mosaics in Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia will be covered by curtains or lasers during times of Muslim prayer, the spokesman for Turkey’s ruling AK Party said on Monday, after President Tayyip Erdogan converted the museum into a mosque.
    The Christian icons would be uncovered and be open to all visitors at other times, and admission would be free of charge, the AKP’s Omer Celik said.
    It was not immediately clear how the lasers would work.
    On Friday, a Turkish court ruled that the building’s conversion to a museum in 1934 was unlawful and Erdogan, declaring it a mosque, said the first prayers would be held there within two weeks.
    The move drew international criticism and concern, including from Greece, the United States and Russia, as well as UNESCO and Pope Francis, who said he was hurt by the decision.
    Celik told a news conference in Ankara that the biggest disrespect to Hagia Sophia in history was done by the papacy.
    He said Orthodox Christians and Hagia Sophia had suffered for years during a “Latin invasion” led by the papacy in the 13th century, when Crusaders pillaged the cathedral.
    Greece condemned the decision on Friday, saying it would have repercussions on relations between the two countries and on Turkey’s ties with the European Union.    The U.S. State Department said it was “disappointed” by the move.
    The leader of Italy’s far-right League party, Matteo Salvini, led a demonstration outside the Turkish consulate in Milan to protest against the decision.
    “I would stop every kind of financial aid to the Turkish regime and I would terminate once and for all any hypothesis of Turkey entering the European Union because we have given more than 10 billion euros to a regime that transforms churches into mosques and I think they have gone over the limit,” he said.
    UNESCO said on Friday it would review the status of the monument as a World Heritage Site following Erdogan’s announcement.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara was surprised by UNESCO’s reaction and would let it know of further steps that will be taken regarding Hagia Sophia, which was a Byzantine church for nine centuries before the Ottomans converted it to a mosque.
    Turkey is sensitive about protecting its historical character, he said.    “We have to protect our ancestors’ heritage.    The function can be this way or that way – it does not matter,” Cavusoglu told state broadcaster TRT Haber.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)

7/13/2020 Head Of Somalia’s Military Unhurt, Civilian Killed In Suicide Car Bomb On Convoy by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
Somali security officers assess the wreckage of a car destroyed at the scene of an explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – The head of Somalia’s military escaped unhurt and one civilian was killed on Monday when a suicide attacker drove a bomb-laden car into a convoy in the capital Mogadishu, according to a military spokesman and an ambulance service.
    The al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group said it was behind the attack.
    General Yusuf Rage was driving in the convoy near the military hospital in Mogadishu’s Hodan district when the blast struck, Colonel Abdiqani Ali, the military spokesman said.
    “The commander’s guards opened fire on the suicide car bomb as it speedily tried to swerve into the convoy.    The bomber was shot dead and his car bomb exploded.    The commander and his guards escaped unhurt,” he said.
    Mogadishu’s Aamin Ambulance service said it had collected the body of one civilian.
    Al Sabaab’s military operations spokesman Abdiasis Abu Musab said in a statement: “We conducted a martyrdom operation in Mogadishu.    The target was a military convoy escorting senior apostate commanders.”
    Since 2008, the Islamist militant group has been fighting to overthrow the central government and establish its rule based on its own harsh interpretation of Islam’s Sharia law.
(Editing by George Obulutsa)

7/14/2020 Egypt, Sudan, Ethiopia Deadlocked On Nile Dam In New Talks
A handout satellite image shows a closeup view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the
Blue Nile River in Ethiopia July 12, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA/CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan have failed to reach agreement at a new round of talks hosted by the African Union to regulate the flow of water from the giant Blue Nile hydropower dam built by Addis Ababa, the three countries said.
    The AU launched its mediation effort two weeks ago, involving eleven online sessions to end the deadlock over the filling and operation of the $4 billion Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) on the Blue Nile, which flows into the Nile river.
    The dam is the centrepiece in Ethiopia’s bid to become Africa’s biggest power exporter, but has sparked concerns in Cairo that Egypt’s already scarce supplies of Nile waters, on which its population of more than 100 million people is almost entirely dependent, would be further restricted.
    “Unchanged and additional and excessive demands of Egypt and Sudan prohibited the conclusion of this round of negotiation by an agreement,” the Ethiopian foreign ministry said on Tuesday.
    It did not elaborate but said Ethiopia was willing to show flexibility as talks would continue.
    The Egyptian irrigation ministry said on Monday that all three countries would submit a report on the talks to mediator Cyril Ramaphosa, the South African president and African Union president who is preparing a new mini summit.
    “The desired goal is to always reach an agreement and it is the thing we are trying to achieve,” Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry told local TV.
    Sudan’s information minister, Faisal Saleh, said on Monday that the issue must be resolved through dialogue, and a fair solution was necessary to limit the negative impact of the dam.
    The three countries had been expected to sign an agreement in Washington in February but Ethiopia skipped the meeting and only Egypt initialled the deal.
    The GERD is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, source of most of the Nile’s waters.
    Sudan and Egypt have sought a legally binding agreement before the dam is filled, which Ethiopia said would start this month using seasonal rains.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Khalid Abdelaziz, Nayera Abdallah, Dawit Endeshaw and George Obulutsa; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/14/2020 Head Of Cecil Rhodes Gouged Off Cape Town Monument
A damaged bust of Cecil John Rhodes, a controversial figure in the history of South Africa, is seen after the statue
had been vandalised and had the head removed in Cape Town, South Africa, July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – The head of Cecil Rhodes has been chopped away from a bust of the 19th century colonialist at a monument on the slopes of Table Mountain in Cape Town, park rangers said on Tuesday.
    The bust housed at the top of a flight of steps at the Rhodes Memorial shows Rhodes with his arms folded. His right hand now cups what would have been his cheek – only with most of his face and head missing.
    Lauren Clayton, a spokeswoman for South African National Parks in the Western Cape, said rangers patrolling Table Mountain came across the disfigured bust during regular patrols on Monday.
    The incident likely occurred on Sunday night or Monday morning, she added.    She said no one had claimed responsibility.
    Thousands of protesters have marched across the United States and Europe calling for the removal of monuments seen as glorifying the imperialist nature of countries such as Britain.
    Rhodes, who made his fortune in South African diamond mining, has become a lightning rod for anti-colonial anger since students forced the University of Cape Town in 2015 to remove his statue from its campus.
    Completed in 1912, Rhodes Memorial consists of massive granite steps, flanked by bronze lions, and a rider astride a bronze horse at the beginning of the steps which leads to the top where the bust is situated, with an inscription beneath.
    “It has been vandalised before, multiple times … At this stage we are still unclear about the reasoning behind the vandalism,” Clayton said.
    Last month students at Britain’s Oxford University called for a Rhodes statue to be removed, triggered in part by protesters in the port city of Bristol tearing down a statue of 17th century slave trader Edward Colston and throwing it into the harbour.
(Reporting by Mike Hutchings and Wendell Roelf; Editing by Promit Mukherjee and Alison Williams)

7/14/2020 Malian Accused Of Timbuktu War Crimes Refuses To Enter Plea by Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Malian Islamist militant Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag Mohamed Ag Mahmoud sits in the courtroom of the ICC
(International Criminal Court) during a hearing at the Hague in the Netherlands, July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/Pool/File Photo
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – A Malian Islamist rebel accused of being central to the “persecution” of residents of Timbuktu and the destruction of the city’s holy grounds refused to enter a plea Tuesday as his lawyers argued he was not mentally fit to stand trial.
    Prosecutors at the International Criminal Court, which opened the trial on Tuesday, say the Ansar Dine Islamist group that Al Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz belonged to controlled every aspect of public life in Timbuktu after seizing part of the north of Mali in 2012 along with Tuareg separatists.
    Timbuktu’s inhabitants were “belittled, humiliated and assaulted, subject to a veritable persecution on religious and gender grounds to which they saw no end and in which Al Hassan, the acting embodiment of the Islamic police, played a leading role,” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told judges.
    As well as trying to impose sharia Islamic law across divided Mali, the al Qaeda-linked fighters used pick-axes, shovels and hammers to shatter earthen tombs and centuries-old shrines reflecting the local Sufi version of Islam in what is known as the “City of 333 Saints.”
    This kind of Sufi worship was anathema to Islamists like the Ansar Dine fighters who adhere to a puritanical branch of Sunni Islam.
    The attacks, which drew international condemnation, were an echo of the 2001 dynamiting by the Taliban of two 6th-century statues of Buddha carved into a cliff in Bamiyan in Afghanistan.
    The ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal, has been examining events in Mali since 2012. French and Malian troops pushed the rebels back the following year.
    Al Hassan faces 13 charges for rape, torture, sexual slavery and directing attacks against religious and historical buildings.
    According to his defence team, restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak meant they had not been able to see their client in person for four months.    He has been held in ICC custody since March 2018.
    When they finally did this month they were “alarmed” at his state and cited a defence health expert report that Al Hassan was “experiencing disassociation” due to post-traumatic stress from “severe maltreatment” he suffered earlier while in jail in Mali before his transfer to The Hague.
    While the judges ordered a medical examination of Al Hassan to determine his fitness to stand trial, they also ruled they would not delay the hearing.
    Al Hassan was asked to enter a plea to each of the charges but refused, telling judges 13 times: “I cannot answer that question.”
    He is the second suspect from Mali to appear before the ICC over crimes suspected to have been committed by Ansar Dine.    Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi pleaded guilty to the destruction of cultural heritage for his part in smashing the mausoleums.    He was sentenced to nine years in 2017 after apologising for his actions.
(Reporting by Stephanie van den Berg; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/14/2020 DR Congo Police Fire Tear Gas To Disperse Protests Over Election Chief
Opposition activists march in a renewed protest against the nomination of Ronsard Malonda as president of the Independent
National Electoral Commission (CENI) in Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Benoit Nyemba
    KINSHASA (Reuters) – Thousands of opposition activists marched across Democratic Republic of Congo’s capital Kinshasa on Monday in renewed protest against the nomination of the election commission’s new head.
    Demonstrators braved rain and a ban on protests because of the COVID-19 outbreak to voice their opposition to the proposed appointment of Ronsard Malonda as president of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI).
    Critics in Congo say Malonda is too close to former President Joseph Kabila, who still wields strong influence, and say his oversight of a contested 2018 election was problematic.
    Police used tear gas to disperse crowds near parliament and in the east of the capital, where Jean-Pierre Bemba, a senior figure in the opposition party alliance of LAMUKA, led a march of thousands, a Reuters witness said.
    At least three people died in nationwide protests over Malonda’s appointment last week.
    Malonda was a senior member of CENI during the 2018 election which was marred by accusations the commission tampered with results to deny victory to LAMUKA’s candidate Martin Fayulu.
    “We do not want Ronsard Malonda at the head of the CENI, he is the driving force behind electoral cheating,” said a LAMUKA supporter named Edmond, who declined to give his full name.
    Last week LAMUKA in a statement called Malonda an “agent” of Kabila’s FCC political alliance, and demanded a financial and operational audit of CENI.
    The last month has seen rising tensions in the ruling coalition between supporters of President Felix Tshisekedi and those of his predecessor Joseph Kabila, who maintains extensive power through his parliamentary majority.
(Reporting by Stanis Bukakera; writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Edward McAllister and Angus MacSwan)

7/14/2020 Saudi Arabia Sees Decrease In New COVID-19 Infections
FILE PHOTO: General view of Riyadh city, after the Saudi government eased a curfew, following the outbreak
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, June 21 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian officials said on Tuesday the kingdom has seen a decrease in the number of new coronavirus cases over the past seven days.
    The kingdom recorded 2,692 new infections on Tuesday, the fourth day in a row the numbers have stayed below 3,000. Saudi Arabia has recorded a total of 237,803 cases with 2,283 deaths.
    The number of new daily infections had reached their highest point of 4,919 on June 16, but those numbers have been steadily declining since early July, falling below 3,000 for the first time on July 10.
    “We’ve noticed a decrease in the number of cases, and in particular the number of critical cases,” Health Ministry spokesman Mohammed Abdelali told a news conference.
    “We’ve noticed a stabilisation of the numbers of cases we’re monitoring and a decline in the curve.”
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Alison Williams)

7/14/2020 IMF Predicts Dire Economic Consequences Of Pandemic In Middle East by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Sept. 20, 2019 file photo, workers stand on a platform at a Saudi Aramco oil separator processing facility in Abqaiq,
near Dammam in the Kingdom’s Eastern Province. The International Monetary Fund said in the latest outlook released Monday, July 13, 2020,
that the Middle East’s energy producers are expected to earn $270 billion less in oil revenue compared to last year. (AP Photo/Amr Nabil, File)
    Forecasts indicate Middle Eastern countries should expect to be hit particularly hard by the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Projections released by the International Monetary Fund Monday (IMF) indicate the region’s economy is expected to contract by 3.3 percent this year.    This is a worse outlook than the global average.    The world’s economy is expected to shrink by 3 percent this year.
    Of particular concern for the region are drops in oil revenue.    The IMF expects sales to be reduced by 7.3 percent, or $270 billion, this year.
    The organization is urging governments to prepare for the fallout as they fear social unrest under worsened conditions.
    “We are calling for revamping social protection, improving access to social services, and also increasing the level of financial inclusion to help and support those who are vulnerable,” stated Jihad Azour, Director of the Middle East and Central Asia IMF.
    Since the start of the pandemic, the IMF has approved roughly $17 billion in emergency aid to countries in the Middle East.

7/14/2020 Erdogan, Trump Agree To Work More Closely In Libya To Ensure Stability: Turkish Presidency
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump reaches to Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan during a joint news
conference at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call to work more closely in Libya to ensure lasting stability in the country, the Turkish presidency said on Tuesday.
    Turkey supports the internationally recognised Government of National Accord in Libya, which is fighting against the eastern-based Libyan National Army, backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia.    Ankara has previously said the United States needs to play a more active role in Libya.
    Trump and Erdogan also discussed bilateral ties and a trade target of $100 billion, the presidency said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

7/14/2020 Eastern-Based Libyan Parliament Asks Egypt To Intervene In War
FILE PHOTO: Troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognized government prepare themselves
before heading to Sirte, in Tripoli, Libya, Libya July 6, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Sahely
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Libya’s eastern-based parliament has called for Egypt to directly intervene in the country’s civil war to counter Turkish support for the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), based in the capital Tripoli.
    In a statement late on Monday, the House of Representatives based in the eastern port of Tobruk said Egyptian backing was needed to stave off what it described as a Turkish invasion and occupation.
    The statement underscores the growing stakes in Libya, where battle lines solidified earlier this month near the city of Sirte after the GNA and Turkey repelled a yearlong assault on Tripoli by the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).
    Libya has been divided since 2014 between the GNA in Tripoli and a rival eastern administration in Benghazi, where LNA commander Khalifa Haftar has dominated.    There is also a separate House of Representatives based in Tripoli.
    Any major new escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.    The LNA is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.
    Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has already warned the army might enter Libya if the GNA and its Turkish allies renew an assault on Sirte, a central coastal city seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump agreed in a phone call on Tuesday to work more closely in Libya to bring about lasting stability in the country, the Turkish presidency said.
    Ankara has previously said the United States needs to play a more active role in the North African country.
    The White House said the two leaders underscored the “need for a negotiated settlement of regional issues.”
    Control over oil, the main source of state revenue, has emerged as the biggest prize in the conflict, with eastern forces having imposed a blockade on production and exports since January.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall with additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by Peter Graff and Mark Heinrich)

7/14/2020 Egyptian Pipeline Fire Injures 17
Burned vehicles are seen following a fire that broke out in? Egypt's Shuqair-Mostorod crude oil? pipeline,
at the beginning of Cairo-Ismailia road, Egypt July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A major fire broke out after a leak of oil from the Shuqair-Mostorod pipeline next to a busy highway in a Cairo suburb on Tuesday and 17 people were injured, authorities said.
    The pipeline runs along a motorway on the outskirts of the capital and a spark caused by passing cars ignited crude that was leaking from the pipe, the petroleum ministry said.
    The pipeline’s valves were immediately closed in the area of the blaze and the flames were brought under control, it added in a statement.
    A witness at the scene said about two dozen cars were torched, apparently abandoned by motorists.    A video posted online showed two residents pulling an injured person away from the highway while thick plumes of smoked billowed skyward.
    There was no immediate word from authorities on why the pipeline had leaked.    The state prosecutor dispatched a team to investigate, a statement said.
    The crude pipeline runs from the Red Sea oil port of Shuqair to the refinery complex of Mostorod in Greater Cairo.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad, Ehab Farouk, Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Jane Merriman, Nick Macfie and Mark Heinrich)

7/15/2020 Israeli Police Disperse People Protesting Against Prime Minister Netanyahu by OAN Newsroom
Israeli border police officers arrest an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish man during a protest against lockdown that has been
placed in their neighborhood due to a coronavirus outbreak, in Jerusalem, Monday, July 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Israeli police have been clashing with protesters who are calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.    Officers forcibly dispersed the crowd and arrested at least 50 people outside of the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem on Tuesday night.
    The demonstrators demanded Netanyahu step down over his response to the coronavirus crisis and allegations of corruption against him.    He’s facing charges of bribery, breach of trust as well as fraud.
    “And since I wouldn’t like my child to be in a nursery where the kindergarten teacher has indictments or I wouldn’t like to have a bank manager who has stolen from his customers…even though his trial hasn’t finished yet, I don’t want my prime minister to have indictments,” stated one unnamed protester.
    While commenting on the incident, Jerusalem police said they initially did not plan on forcibly breaking up the protest, but had to do so after demonstrators repeatedly refused peaceful orders to disperse.br>     Netanyahu’s’ trial, which began in May, is set to resume on Sunday.
Protesters, defying orders to maintain social distancing requirements, chant slogans and blew horns outside of the
Prime Minister’s residence in Jerusalem, Tuesday, July 14, 2020. Thousands of Israelis demonstrated outside of the
official residence of Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on the embattled Israeli leader to resign. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

7/15/2020 Under Fire Over Coronavirus Policy, Netanyahu Announces Money For All by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz wears a protective mask, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
as he attends a weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, July 5, 2020. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced on Wednesday a plan for government grants for all Israelis amid growing public anger over his handling of a coronavirus crisis that has taken a sharp turn for the worse.
    Critics seized on the 6 billion shekel ($1.75 billion) handout package as a bid to boost the veteran leader’s popularity before a widely expected series of new lockdowns.
    Payments will range between 750 shekels ($219) for individuals to up to 3,000 shekels ($875) for families with three or more children, Netanyahu said in a special TV address.
    Now in his fifth term, Netanyahu is grappling with new coronavirus transmissions.    He said in his television address that he was “doing the utmost” to avoid a new national lockdown and denied street protests had prompted the new aid package.
    “Why are we giving this money? We have to get the economy moving,” Netanyahu said, calling on his coalition government to approve the payments.    “This money will boost consumer spending and employment.”
    The government reopened schools and many businesses in May, lifting restrictions that had flattened an infection curve.    With new COVID-19 cases now exceeding 1,000 a day, some public health experts said it had moved too fast.
    With unemployment at a record 21%, thousands of Israelis demanding economic relief demonstrated against Netanyahu on Saturday in Tel Aviv.    In Jerusalem on Tuesday, police used water cannon on thousands of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators outside his home.
    A poll by the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday found only 29.5% of the public trust Netanyahu’s handling of the health crisis.
    Netanyahu’s new cash grant plan followed an announcement on Thursday of a new welfare package for the self-employed, in addition to a payout of $29 billion in aid previously pledged by the state.
    Israel, with a population of nine million, has reported nearly 44,000 coronavirus cases and 375 deaths.
(Editing by Nick Macfie)

7/16/2020 Young Gazans Sell Recycled Cloth Bags To Challenge Plastic by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian worker carries plastic items collected to be recycled in a factory
in the northern Gaza Strip July 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Dismayed by the plastic bags piling up in the Gaza Strip, a group of young Palestinians is recycling discarded fabric into reusable totes to clamp down on waste and protect the environment.
    Their cloth bags – painted with colourful characters and slogans including “NOT PLASTIC – FANTASTIC” sell for 25 shekels ($7), more than the average daily wage in the territory.
    But the four entrepreneurs behind the “Gaza bags” scheme say they have also given many away and shared instructions so people can make their own at home.
    “We can make bags that are environmentally friendly, from any piece of cloth around the house – an old T-shirt, for example,” said Ahmad al-Madhoun, who oversees the project, a partnership with the German Agency for International Cooperation.
    The scheme says it is hoping to provide an alternative to the rolls of free, single-use bags that line the aisles of Gaza’s produce markets.    Customers can end up with dozens of them at the end of a single shopping trip.
    Ultimately it wants to raise awareness and stop waste plastic piling up in streets and landfill – a prospect not welcomed by everyone in the territory.
    Every day, thousands of other young Palestinians head out to collect plastic waste at garbage dumps, load it onto donkey carts and rickshaws and sell it on to firms who recycle it for industrial use.    Each 10 kg sells for five shekels.
    “Many young people depend on (plastic scavenging) amid the difficult economic conditions,” said Khalil Al-Ramlawi, who owns one of the plastic recycling factories.
    “It is very hard for people to stop using plastic,” he added.    “It is available and at cheaper prices than cloth.”
($1 = 3.4409 shekels)
(Reporting by Nidal Al-Mughrabi; Editing by Rami Ayyub and Andrew Heavens)

7/16/2020 Netanyahu Faces Pushback Over Money-For-All Coronavirus Grants Plan by Steven Scheer
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands nearby as President Reuven Rivlin shakes hands with Amir
Yaron during his swearing-in ceremony as Bank of Israel governor, in Jerusalem December 24, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a lukewarm reception on Thursday from his main coalition partner and the head of the central bank to a plan to grant money to all Israelis to kickstart the economy during the coronavirus crisis.
    Netanyahu announced the 6 billion-shekel ($1.75 billion) package on Wednesday, amid public anger over his handling of a pandemic in which contagion has surged and promised state aid to businesses has been slow to arrive.
    The payments of 750 shekels for individuals and up to 3,000 shekels to families, Netanyahu said, would boost consumer spending and employment. The plan still requires cabinet approval.
    Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi of the centrist Blue and White party that has partnered with Netanyahu’s Likud in the government, said the money should instead be targeted at the poorest citizens.
    In an interview with Army Radio, Yaron said it was very important to help “but even more important to aid those in need.    There are more effective ways to help increase demand,” he said, adding that more cash could be given to the unemployed.
    Yaron had supported a previous 100 billion shekel ($29 billion) stimulus package and a second one announced last week, even though they are expected to drive this year’s budget deficit up to 13% of gross domestic product.
    The economy is set to contract 6% in 2020.    Unemployment soared to 27% after a partial lockdown in March but is now running at 21% as people have come back from furlough.
    Ashkenazi said on Army Radio that while he was not opposed to grants for Israelis hit by economic hardship, Blue and White would try to amend Netanyahu’s plan so that the money would go “to those who are hurting and not to those who don’t need it.”
    Netanyahu said doing so would be too time-consuming.
    Polls show less than 30% of the public trusts Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.    Thousands took part in anti-Netanyahu rallies last week.
    Israel, with a population of around nine million, has reported more than 44,000 coronavirus cases and 377 deaths.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller)

7/16/2020 Tunisia Protesters Close Main Oil Pumping Station In The South
FILE PHOTO: A Tunisian protester prays during a sit-in at El Kamour oilfield, demanding jobs and a share in revenue from
the area's natural resources, near the town of Tatouine, Tunisia May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian demonstrators shut an oil pumping station that feeds a coastal terminal on Thursday, escalating weeks of protests for jobs in the marginalized southern region of Tatouine, witnesses told Reuters.
    The move places further pressure on Tunisian leaders already struggling with political deadlock following the resignation on Wednesday of prime minister Elyes Fakhfakh and an attempt by several parties to oust parliament speaker Rached Ghannouchi.
    Protesters are calling on the government to implement a 2017 deal to create jobs in oil companies and infrastructure projects to reduce unemployment now running at 30% in the region, one of the highest rates in Tunisia.
    Despite the presence of the army protecting petroleum installations, hundreds of protesters insisted on closing Tunisia’s main Saharan pumping station at Kamour.
    Tunisia produces only about 44,000 barrels per day (bpd).    Protesters have been camped out in the Sahara since last week in a region where Italy’s ENI and Austria’s OMV have operations.
    The closure of the pumping station follows clashes last month between police and job-seeking protesters in Tataouine.
    A decade after a popular revolution ended Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali’s autocratic rule, the North African state is still struggling to deliver economic opportunities to unemployed young people in deprived regions like Tataouine.
    Investment minister Slim Azzabi said on Monday that Tunisia had asked four countries to delay loan repayments expected this year, as it announced more pessimistic budget forecasts for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
    The request underscores the dire condition of Tunisia’s public finances, already a source of concern before the coronavirus crisis pummelled the global economy.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara, Editing by William Maclean)

7/16/2020 Sisi Says Egypt Won’t Stand Idle In Libya If Security Is Threatened by Mahmoud Mourad and Omar Fahmy
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a meeting with Belarusian President
Alexander Lukashenko in Minsk, Belarus June 18, 2019. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt will not stand idle in the face of any direct threat to Egyptian and Libyan security, President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi said on Thursday, after lawmakers allied to commander Khalifa Haftar urged Cairo to intervene militarily in Libya’s civil war.
    Tribal leaders who flew in from Haftar’s Benghazi stronghold told Sisi at a meeting in Cairo that they authorized him and the Egyptian army to intervene in their country to counter what they described as the “Turkish invasion and terrorism.”
    The meeting, broadcast on state TV, illustrates the growing regional stakes in Libya, divided since 2014 between areas held by an internationally recognised government in Tripoli, backed by Turkey, and a rival eastern administration, backed by the UAE, Russia and Egypt.
    The eastern-based parliament allied to Haftar called on Egypt this week to help counter Turkish support for Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli.
    Turkey has helped the Tripoli administration force Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) to abandon an offensive on Tripoli.
    Any major escalation could risk igniting a direct conflict in Libya among the foreign powers that have already poured in weapons and fighters in violation of an arms embargo.
    In response to Turkish actions, Sisi last month said Egypt’s army might enter Libya if the Tripoli government and its Turkish allies renewed an assault on the central Sirte-Jufrah frontline seen as the gateway to Libya’s main oil export terminals. Both areas are held by the LNA.
    At the meeting with tribal leaders backing Haftar, Sisi said “the red lines that we announced earlier… were basically a call for peace and to put an end to the conflict in Libya.”
    “But we will not stand idle in the face of any moves that pose a direct threat to our national strategic security on our western borders, especially in light of the increasing military build-up operations in the vicinity of the city of Sirte.”     Sisi said he would seek approval for any military move in parliament, which is dominated by his supporters.    “Egypt is able to change the military situation quickly and decisively if it wants,” Sisi said before urging all parties to stop fighting.
    Haftar enjoys the backing of tribes mainly from east but also former LNA strongholds like Tarhouna in western Libya.
    But the former officer from the regime of toppled Muammar Gaddafi is very unpopular in much of western Libya after his 14-month assault on Tripoli, which displaced some 200,000 people.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Mohamed Wali, Mohamed Hendawy, Omar Fahmy and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by William Maclean)

7/17/2020 Israel Sets New Weekend Shutdown To Fight Coronavirus Surge
FILE PHOTO: People wear face masks as they shop in a main market in Jerusalem July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel imposed a new weekend shutdown on Friday and tightened a series of coronavirus curbs to lower infection rates, amid growing public anger over the government’s handling of the crisis.
    People would be allowed to leave their homes this weekend but malls, shops, pools, zoos and museums would shut from Friday afternoon until Sunday morning, the government said in a statement.
    Full weekend lockdowns that could confine people to their homes may be imposed by July 24, after the government gains parliamentary approval for that, Israel Radio reported.    Weekends in Israel begin on Friday afternoon, the eve of the Jewish Sabbath, and last until Sunday – a working day.
    On all days, gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 20 outdoors and restaurants would be allowed to serve take-out only, the government said. A further decision on whether to keep summer schools and nurseries open would be made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz.
    Israel reopened schools and many businesses in May, lifting restrictions that had flattened an infection curve after a partial lockdown imposed in March.
    But with the infection rate rising sharply in the past few weeks, many public health experts said the government had moved too fast while neglecting to take the necessary epidemiological steps to control the pandemic once the economy reopened.
    A poll by the non-partisan Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday found only 29.5% of the public trust Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis and thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, demanding economic relief.
    Unemployment soared after the March lockdown and is at 21%. Netanyahu has announced numerous aid packages, some of which have been slow to come through and others that have drawn criticism for being ineffective. [L5N2EN1PY]
    Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported more than 44,000 coronavirus cases and 377 deaths.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Robert Birsel)

7/18/2020 Major Beirut Medical Centre Lays Off Hundreds As Crisis Bites
A healthcare worker gestures as he stands outside American University of Beirut
(AUB) medical centre in Beirut, Lebanon July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Zawqan Abdelkhalek, a nurse at the American University of Beirut’s (AUB) medical centre since 2012, was laid off on Friday along with hundreds of colleagues as even hospitals buckle under the weight of Lebanon’s economic collapse.
    “I have a baby daughter, I need to get her food and water and pay for her vaccines,” the 29-year-old said. A currency crash means his pension in Lebanese pounds is now worth just around $500, he said.br>     He blamed the ruling elite for daily power cuts, skyrocketing prices and pushing the country to the brink.
    “You can’t do anything anymore … who’s hiring today?    This is where they got us, and now they tell you ‘go plant crops and buy candles, you’ll be fine’, while we just move backwards,” he said.
    The AUB, one of the country’s oldest universities and a regional medical hub, did not respond to requests for comment.
    Local media and employees said the institution laid off more than 500 workers, mainly in administrative and nursing departments.
    Its president, Fadlo Khuri, had said there would be staff cuts as the financial meltdown and the coronavirus pandemic hit revenues.    He told Reuters in May the private institution faced its biggest threat since its foundation in 1866.
    While Lebanon produces little hard economic data, businesses have shut at a rapid rate.
    At least 220,000 jobs in the private sector were shed between October and February, a survey by research firm InfoPro showed, with the figures only expected to get worse.
    Mahmoud Edelbe, a maintenance worker at AUB who also lost his job on Friday, said his monthly income was only around $100 since the Lebanese pound, known as the lira, lost nearly 80% of its value on the parallel market.
    “Are we the burden on the university?” he said near dozens of ex-employees crowding the hospital entrance.    “We get the short end of the stick, we who have nobody to back us or help us.”
    Some AUB alumni on social media criticised the heavy security presence near the campus and medical centre during the layoffs on Friday.    A Reuters witness saw 10 army vehicles nearby.
    “I spent days and nights at this university, it’s my home,” said Khaled al-Homsi, 59, a father of five who worked there for 35 years.    “And in the end you get tossed out.”
    He worried about the future, with job prospects bleak.    “Now a million lira is worth a $100, what can I even do with it?
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah and Ellen Francis; Editing by Mark Potter)

7/18/2020 Kuwait’s Ageing Emir In Hospital, Crown Prince Takes Over Some Duties: State News Agency
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the Arab
summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah was admitted to hospital on Saturday for medical checks, and the country’s crown prince will temporarily carry out some of his duties, the state news agency KUNA reported.
    It said Sheikh Sabah, who has ruled the OPEC oil producer and U.S. ally since 2006, would undergo a number of medical checkups, but it gave no further details.
    A royal order was issued assigning Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah, the emir’s designated successor, “to take over some constitutional jurisdictions of His Highness the Emir temporarily”, KUNA said in a separate statement.
    Last year, Sheikh Sabah was admitted to hospital in the United States while on an official visit there, after suffering what his office described as a health setback in Kuwait in August. He returned to the Gulf Arab state in October.
    Kuwait’s central bank governor issued a statement on Saturday after news of the emir’s hospitalisation stressing the strength and stability of the dinar currency, which is pegged to a weighted basket of the country’s big trading partners.
    S&P Global Ratings on Friday revised Kuwait’s outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’, saying it expects the country’s main liquidity buffer, the General Reserve Fund, to be insufficient to cover the state budget deficit.
    The government has been trying to bolster its finances which have been hit by low oil prices and the coronavirus pandemic, and has been rapidly running down the General Reserve Fund.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Samar Hassan in Cairo and Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait; writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi and Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Hugh Lawson)

7/18/2020 Death Toll In Turkish Migrant Boat Sinking Rises To 54
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu speaks during a news conference for foreign
media correspondents in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2019. Ahmet Bolat/Pool via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The death toll from a migrant boat disaster in Lake Van in eastern Turkey has risen to 54, the governor’s office said on Saturday, after three weeks of search operations.
    The boat, which sank on June 27, is believed to have been carrying 55 to 60 migrants, according to Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.    Five people have been arrested in relation to the incident.
    Nine bodies were recovered from the lake on Saturday, bringing the confirmed death toll to 54, the governor’s office said.
    Lake Van is near Turkey’s border with Iran, from where migrants from Iran, Afghanistan and other countries regularly cross into Turkey heading west towards Europe.
    Seven people died and 64 were rescued when a boat carrying migrants from Pakistan, Bangladesh and Afghanistan sank on the lake in December.
    More than a million people reached Greece from Turkey in 2015-16. Numbers dropped sharply following a 2016 agreement between the EU and Turkey for Ankara to take migrants back in return for funds.
    Earlier this year, tens of thousands of migrants tried to cross into Greece via land and sea borders after Ankara said it would no longer stop them.
    Turkey, home to 3.6 million Syrians, the world’s largest refugee population, had said it would open the frontier because it was alarmed by the prospect of another wave of refugees fleeing war in northwest Syria.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Ros Russell)

7/18/2020 Dialogue Needed Over Issue Of Lebanon’s ‘Neutrality’ In Region: PM Diab
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference at the
government palace in Beirut, Lebanon May 21, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Saturday dialogue was needed over the country’s stance on regional conflicts, after meeting with a top Christian cleric who has urged Lebanon to remain neutral to help it out of its crisis.
    The country is in the grip of a financial meltdown, raising concerns for its stability, and is badly in need of foreign aid.    Hopes of salvation through an IMF deal have retreated with the government hamstrung by the conflicting agendas of sectarian leaders.
    Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai has made several comments this month that were widely interpreted as criticism of both the Shi’ite Hezbollah movement and its ally President Michel Aoun, both backers of Diab’s cabinet.
    “The issue of neutrality is a political one … and it needs deep dialogue between all the political sides in Lebanon,” Diab said after meeting with Rai on Saturday.
    In an interview published earlier this week, Rai blamed Hezbollah for closing off a vital source of aid from Western and Gulf Arab states.    Hezbollah’s opponents say its alliance with Iran, in the power struggle with Saudi Arabia, pushes away the mainly Sunni Gulf Arab states that once helped Lebanon.
    “We are fundamentally a neutral country…and in the end, our salvation is in our neutrality,” Rai told local broadcaster LBC later on Saturday.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Ros Russell)

7/18/2020 Libyan GNA Fighters Head For Front As Battle For Sirte Looms
A member of the troops loyal to Libya's internationally recognized government rides a military vehicle as he
prepares before heading to Sirte, on the outskirts of Misrata, Libya, July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Sahely
    MISRATA, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) on Saturday moved fighters closer to Sirte, a gateway to Libya’s main oil terminals that the GNA says it plans to recapture from the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA).
    Witnesses and GNA military commanders said a column of about 200 vehicles moved eastwards from Misrata along the Mediterranean coast towards the town of Tawergha, about a third of the way to Sirte.
    The GNA recently recaptured most of the territory held by the LNA in northwest Libya, ending eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s 14-month campaign to take the capital, Tripoli, before the new front line solidified between Misrata and Sirte. Backed by Turkey, the GNA has said it will recapture Sirte and an LNA airbase at Jufra.
    But Egypt, which backs the LNA alongside the United Arab Emirates and Russia, has threatened to send troops into Libya if the GNA and Turkish forces try to seize Sirte.
    The United States has said Moscow has sent warplanes to Jufra via Syria to act in support of Russian mercenaries who are fighting alongside the LNA.    Moscow and the LNA both deny this.
    The LNA has itself sent fighters and weapons to bolster its defence of Sirte, already badly battered from earlier phases of warfare and chaos since the 2011 revolution against longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi.
(Reporting By Ayman al-Sahely; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/18/2020 Israelis Protest Against Netanyahu, Government Handling Of COVID-19 Crisis
Police use water cannon as Israelis protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators around Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence on Saturday as protests mounted against him over alleged corruption and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    Hit by high unemployment, a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases and reimposed coronavirus curbs, Israelis have taken to the streets in almost daily demonstrations against the government.
    Public anger has been compounded by corruption alleged against Netanyahu, who went on trial in May for bribery, fraud and breach of trust – charges he denies.
    In Jerusalem, hundreds gathered outside the prime minister’s residence and then marched through the streets, calling for Netanyahu’s resignation as police used water cannons to disperse the crowds.    At least two people were arrested, police said.
    In Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, thousands gathered at a rally by the beach, demanding better state aid to businesses hurt by coronavirus restrictions and to people who have lost jobs or have been put on unpaid leave.    Unemployment presently stands at 21%.
    Israel reopened schools and many businesses in May, lifting restrictions that had flattened an infection curve after a partial lockdown imposed in March.
    But with the infection rate rising sharply in the past few weeks, many public health experts said the government had moved too fast while neglecting to take the necessary epidemiological steps to control the pandemic once the economy reopened.
    A poll by the nonpartisan Israel Democracy Institute on Tuesday found only 29.5% of the public trust Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis.
    Netanyahu has announced numerous economic aid packages, some of which have been slow to come through while others have drawn criticism for being ineffective.
    Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported almost 50,000 coronavirus cases and 400 deaths.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

7/19/2020 Netanyahu’s Corruption Trial Resumes Amid Coronavirus Protests
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the first working cabinet meeting of the new government at the
Chagall Hall in the Knesset, the Israeli Parliament in Jerusalem May 24, 2020. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s graft trial resumed on Sunday after a two-month break amid mounting protests over his alleged corruption and handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli prime minister to go on trial, did not attend what a spokesman for the prosecution said would be a technical discussion.
    His presence was not required at the session in Jerusalem District Court, where he appeared in May at the opening of the trial to deny charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Netanyahu, 70, was indicted in November in cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
    After clinching a coalition deal three months ago with centrist Benny Gantz, his main rival in three inconclusive elections since April 2019, Netanyahu took centre stage in ordering restrictions that flattened Israel’s first wave of coronavirus infections.
    But after a sharp rise in COVID-19 cases, high unemployment and reimposed coronavirus curbs in recent weeks, Israelis have taken to the streets in almost daily demonstrations against him, with public anger compounded by the corruption allegations.
    On Saturday, police used water cannons to disperse demonstrators around Netanyahu’s Jerusalem residence.    In Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial hub, thousands gathered to demand better state aid to businesses hurt in the health crisis.
    Bribery charges carry a sentence of up to 10 years in jail and/or a fine.    Fraud and breach of trust carry a prison sentence of up to three years.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

7/19/2020 Kuwait Ruler Had Successful Surgery, State News Agency Says
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during the
Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah underwent successful surgery on Sunday morning, his office said, after having been admitted to hospital on Saturday for medical checks.
    Sheikh Sabah has ruled Kuwait since 2006. His office, in a statement carried by state news agency KUNA, did not specify what kind of surgery he underwent.
    The emir’s designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties on Saturday temporarily.
    Last year, Sheikh Sabah was admitted to hospital in the United States while on an official visit there, after suffering what his office described as a health setback in Kuwait in August. He returned to the Gulf Arab state in October.
    Kuwait’s central bank governor issued a statement on Saturday, after news of the emir’s hospitalisation, stressing the strength and stability of the dinar currency.
    S&P Global Ratings on Friday revised Kuwait’s outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable,’ saying it expects the country’s main liquidity buffer, the General Reserve Fund, to be insufficient to cover the state budget deficit.
    The government has been trying to bolster its finances which have been hit by low oil prices and the novel coronavirus pandemic, and has been rapidly running down the General Reserve Fund.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy, Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Elaine Hardcastle)

7/19/2020 Hagia Sophia Mosaics Will Be Covered With Curtains During Prayers: Turkish Presidential Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: People visit the Hagia Sophia or Ayasofya, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, which was a Byzantine cathedral
before being converted into a mosque and currently a museum, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 10, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Mosaics depicting Christian figures in Istanbul’s ancient Hagia Sophia will be covered with curtains during Muslim prayers, Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Sunday, as work to prepare the building for use as a mosque continues.
    Authorities had said last week that the mosaics would be concealed with either curtains or lasers when the first prayers are held next Friday.
    In a move that sparked sparked international criticism and concern, President Tayyip Erdogan declared Hagia Sophia open to Muslim worship earlier this month following a court ruling that said the building’s conversion to a museum in 1934 was unlawful.
    Hagia Sophia dates back to the sixth century and has a history as both a church and a mosque before it was turned into a museum.
    In an interview with broadcaster NTV, Kalin said some mosaics of Mary and Gabriel that are positioned in the direction of Qiblah, where Muslims face during prayer, would be covered with curtains.
    He said other mosaics of Jesus and other Christian figures did not pose an obstacle for Muslim prayers because they are not located in the direction of Qiblah.    But he did not say whether they would remain uncovered at all times.
    Outside prayers, Hagia Sophia will be open to all visitors and tourists and all mosaics will be uncovered, authorities have said.
    Erdogan visited the mosque earlier on Sunday to inspect the progress in preparing the building.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/19/2020 Syria Goes To The Polls As New Sanctions Hit War-Ravaged Economy
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad and his wife Asma cast their vote inside a polling station during the parliamentary
elections in Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on July 19, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    DAMASCUS/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria held a parliamentary election on Sunday, gripped by a collapsing economy and new U.S. sanctions after President Bashar al-Assad clawed back control of most of the country.
    People voted across government territory at more than 7,000 polling stations, including for the first time in former rebel bastions that the army has recaptured over the last two years.
    Assad’s opponents denounced the vote as a farce, nearly a decade into a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made millions refugees.
    The elections, originally set for April, were postponed twice due to the coronavirus pandemic.    At a polling station in the capital     Damascus, many voters – who were disinfected upon arrival – said they were worried about the rising costs of living.
    “We have to find a solution for the living conditions,” said Samer Mahmoud, who owns a clothing shop.
    “God willing, I hope we overcome these sanctions,” said Mouna Sukkar after casting her ballot.
    More than 1,600 candidates, many prominent businessmen, were competing for 250 MP seats in the third such election since the conflict erupted in 2011.    No surprises were expected in the vote that marked Assad’s second decade in power, with no real opposition to the ruling Baath party and its allies.
    The Syrian National Coalition, an opposition bloc based in Turkey that had Western backing, called it a “theatrical election by the Assad regime” with millions uprooted or in exile.
    In the town of Douma, in the eastern suburbs of Damascus where a fierce army offensive snuffed out insurgents in 2018, candidate banners hung in front of piles of rubble, collapsed rooftops and buildings pockmarked with bullets.
    Dozens of people crowded a polling station where a portrait of a smiling Assad covered a wall.
    “I came to vote…because we want to live in safety and for the rising prices to go down.    There’s a big turnout,” said Ziad, a resident who fled and returned some two years ago.    In 2016, when the town was rocked by fighting, he had cast his ballot in Damascus.
    The town was the site of a suspected poison gas attack that killed dozens of people in 2018 and prompted Western missile strikes.    Damascus and Moscow denied any chemical attack took place.
    Thanks to help from Russia and Iran, Assad holds more of Syria than at any time in the war, with the northeast in Kurdish hands, and rebels now confined to a northwest corner near the Turkish border.
    But the battered economy is sinking deeper into trouble, hit also by a financial meltdown in Lebanon that choked off dollars and the toughest U.S. sanctions yet imposed last month.
    Washington says the goal is to hold Assad to account.    Damascus blames them for the hardship, as soaring prices and a fall in the value of the currency makes life harder for Syrians.
(Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/19/2020 Mali Opposition Rejects ECOWAS Proposals On Ending Political Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel
summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – An influential opposition group in Mali rejected a proposal by regional mediators on Sunday aimed at ending a political crisis in which at least 11 people have been killed this month during protests against President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
    ECOWAS, which represents countries in West Africa, sent a delegation to Mali last week to try to help end the crisis, with the protesters calling on Keita to resign over what they say is his failure to halt violence by jihadist groups or address the disputed results of recent legislative elections.
    Issuing its recommendations on Sunday, the delegation proposed that Mali’s Constitutional Court examine the contested elections and that Keita create a new government including opposition members and civil society.
    The M5-RFP coalition, which has led the protests, dismissed the recommendations.
    “(ECOWAS) came to support Keita and threaten the M5-RFP.    All they want is their vision, Keita’s vision, but not ours,” said coalition spokesman Nouhoum Togo.
    Further protests were inevitable until Keita stepped down, Togo said.
    The government did not respond to requests for comment. An ECOWAS representative could not immediately be reached for comment.
    The president has offered concessions including dissolving the Constitutional Court, but the opposition has hardened since police fired on protesters and leading members were arrested this month.
    The coalition has said that 20 people have been killed in the protests this month.    The Health Ministry puts the toll at 11.
    International powers fear turmoil in Mali could undermine their military campaigns against Islamist insurgents in West Africa’s Sahel region.    The United Nations has over 13,000 peacekeeping soldiers in Mali, the epicentre of much of the violence.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallom, Writing by Edward McAllister, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/19/2020 Turkey Suspends Flights To Iran, Afghanistan Due To Coronavirus Outbreak
FILE PHOTO: A social distancing sign is seen before the Turkish Airlines check-in counters at the international departure terminal
of the Istanbul Airport amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Istanbul, Turkey June 19, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey has suspended flights to Iran and Afghanistan as part of measures against the coronavirus outbreak, the Transport Ministry said on Sunday.
    Iranian Presiden Hassan Rouhani said on Saturday that 25 million people may have been infected with the coronavirus in Iran, although health officials later sought to play down the estimate.
    Turkish Airlines had gradually restarted international flights as of June 11.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Editing by Elaine Hardcastle and Angus MacSwan)

7/19/2020 Exclusive: Kuwait Scrambles To Boost Coffers With Up To $16 Billion Debt Plan by Ahmed Hagagy
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view shows Kuwait City and the National Assembly Building (Kuwait Parliament), after the country entered virtual lockdown,
as a preventive measure against coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Kuwait City, Kuwait, March 20, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait plans to issue between 4 billion and 5 billion dinars ($13 billion to $16 billion) in public debt by the end of the fiscal year ending March 2021 if parliament approves a long-debated debt law, a government document seen by Reuters showed.
    Facing one of the worst economic crunches in the oil-exporting Gulf region, Kuwait is scrambling to boost state coffers badly hit by the coronavirus crisis and low crude prices, rapidly depleting its General Reserve Fund (GRF) to plug a budget deficit.
    A parliamentary committee is due to vote on the law – which would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets – on Sunday ahead of putting it to the elected assembly for approval.
    Legislators have been requesting more visibility from the state about use of the funds and repayment mechanisms given the government’s heavy reliance on oil income.
    “The government will face a real crisis in everything if the debt law is not passed,” a government official told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    The law, which a parliamentary committee discussed last week, would allow it to borrow 20 billion dinars ($65 billion) over 30 years.
    Other Gulf states have tapped international markets over the past few years and the region saw more issuances when oil prices crashed earlier this year as the pandemic hit global demand.
    Even with parliamentary approval, Kuwait could need three to four months to prepare a debt sale, according to the government document.
    A finance ministry official declined to comment when contacted by Reuters.
    Kuwait has already depleted the cash in its GRF, the document showed.    The International Monetary Fund estimates the deficit could reach more than 11% of gross domestic product this year, compared with a 4.8% surplus last year. (https://tmsnrt.rs/30jiP6k)
    The finance ministry also proposed selling 2.2 billion dinars of the GRF’s assets to Kuwait’s other – much larger – sovereign fund, the Future Generations Fund, or borrowing from the central bank to boost state finances, the document showed.
    Finance Minister Barak al-Sheatan said in a statement published in state media on Saturday that the ministry submitted to cabinet “available options for securing sufficient liquidity” and that the government had approved an “interim financial reform scheme.”    He did not specify the measures approved.
    “The government looks forward to the legislative authority’s cooperation,” Sheatan said in the statement issued after S&P Global Ratings on Friday revised Kuwait’s outlook to ‘negative’ from ‘stable’.
    Kuwait’s 91-year-old Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah underwent successful surgery on Sunday morning after being admitted to hospital on Saturday, his office said.    His designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah temporarily took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties on Saturday.
TAXES
    The document said the cabinet approved a slate of reforms aimed at diversifying state revenues away from oil, but it did not specify them.
    Lawmaker Riyadh al-Adsani had tweeted that reforms include introducing value-added tax and excise taxes, a tax on net profits of private businesses, reforming the wage structure in the bloated public sector, slashing some benefits and raising utility prices.
    Successive parliaments have hampered far reaching economic reform plans over the past decade in a country whose citizens are accustomed to a cradle-to-grave welfare system. Kuwait is due to hold parliamentary elections in the next several months.
    Deutsche Bank estimates its economy will contract by 7.8% this year, the biggest fall among Gulf states.
    Last month Kuwait’s government approved a cut to state entities’ budgets by at least 20%.    It is also considering making an annual 10% transfer of state revenue to the Future Generations Fund conditional on budget surpluses, a move that could save it some $3 billion in the current fiscal year.
(Writing by Davide Barbuscia, additional reporting by Yousef Saba in Dubai; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

7/20/2020 Saudi King Salman, 84, Admitted To Hospital by Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz meets with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (not pictured)
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 14, 2019. Picture taken January 14, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s 84-year-old ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, has been admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh, suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder, state news agency SPA said on Monday.
    The king, who has ruled the world’s largest oil exporter and close U.S. ally since 2015, is undergoing medical checks, the agency added, without giving details.
    After the news, Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi postponed a visit scheduled to Saudi Arabia, said Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said.
    King Salman, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, spent more than 2-1/2 years as the Saudi crown prince and deputy premier from June 2012 before becoming king.    He also served as governor of the Riyadh region for more than 50 years.
    The de facto ruler and next in line to the throne is the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, widely referred to as MbS, who has launched reforms to transform the kingdom’s economy and end its “addiction” to oil.
    The 34-year-old prince, who is popular among many young Saudis, has won praise at home for easing social restrictions in the conservative Muslim kingdom, giving more rights to women and pledging to diversify the economy.
    To the king’s supporters, this boldness at home and abroad was a welcome change after decades of caution, stagnation and dithering.
    But state control of the media and a crackdown on dissent in the kingdom make it difficult to gauge the extent of domestic enthusiasm.
    The crown prince’s reforms have been accompanied by a purge of top royals and businessmen on charges of corruption, and a costly war in Yemen, which have all unnerved some Western allies and investors.
    His prestige also suffered a blow after the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 at the hands of Saudi security personnel seen as close to him.
(This story refiles to replace headline)
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam in Cairo and Marwa Rasahd in Riyadh; Writing by Marwa Rashad, Editing by Clarence Fernandez and Maha El Dahan)

7/20/2020 Saudi Social Media Campaign Targets Former Crown Prince
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Nayef, the interior minister, arrives to a military parade in preparation for the annual Haj pilgrimage
in the holy city of Mecca September 5, 2016. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah./File Photo July 20, 2020
    LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi Twitter users have sent thousands of tweets accusing the kingdom’s former crown prince and his long-time aide of corruption, in what two Saudi sources said was a campaign to discredit him ahead of a possible indictment, as Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman moves to sideline rivals to the throne.
    The tweets against Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, who was ousted and replaced as heir to the throne by the crown prince in a palace coup in 2017, began on Friday and also targeted his aide, ex-intelligence official Saad al-Jabri.
    The Twitter storm comes as King Salman, 84, was admitted to hospital in the capital Riyadh on Monday, suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder, according to state news agency SPA.    The government’s media office declined to comment further on his condition.
    The two Saudi sources, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the campaign by apparent pro-government Twitter users was aimed at swaying public opinion ahead of an expected announcement of corruption charges against bin Nayef.
    “They have been preparing documents against him since March,” said one of sources, who is familiar with the matter, adding that those behind the Twitter campaign wanted to “smear his image domestically.”
    The second Saudi source said the campaign clearly had government backing since prominent Saudis close to the crown prince — known by the initials MbS — were amplifying the tweets.
    Prior to his ouster, bin Nayef was seen as the most significant rival for the throne.    He controlled the country’s security forces, developed close ties to Western intelligence agencies, and remains popular among conservatives sidelined by the crown prince.
    The Saudi government’s media office did not respond to a request for comment.
    Reuters could not reach bin Nayef, his lawyers, or Jabri for comment.
    Saudi authorities detained bin Nayef in March and he is being held along with two other senior royals in an undisclosed location. Jabri is in exile in Canada, while his two adult children were also detained by Saudi authorities in March.
    Jabri’s son Khalid said in a text message to Reuters that the Twitter campaign was a “deflection from the actual story: hostage taking of my brother and sister, unlawful persecution and false allegations.”
    In June, well-connected Saudi sources told Reuters that MbS was seeking to press charges against bin Nayef relating to allegations of corruption during his time at the interior ministry and wanted documents to which Jabri had access.    Saudi authorities did not respond to Reuters requests for comment at that time.
    The moves against bin Nayef are the latest in a series of measures seen aimed at consolidating MbS’s strength within the ruling Al Saud family and removing perceived threats to his power ahead of an eventual succession upon the king’s death or abdication.
ACCELERATING THE CAMPAIGN
    Several influential Saudi newspapers on Sunday carried a Wall Street Journal report published on Friday that cited Saudi officials and government documents as saying Jabri led a network of officials who misspent $11 billion in government money from an interior ministry fund during bin Nayef’s time there.
    Jabri’s son Khalid strongly denied the Journal report, saying in a text message that his father never controlled the fund and that bin Nayef “had the sole and full discretion” over it “with a clear and undisputed mandate from King Abdullah.”
    Reuters could not independently confirm who controls the fund.
    Thousands of Twitter accounts used the Arabic hashtags “the fugitive Saad al Jabri” and “Saad al Jabri’s corruption” over the weekend.
    One high-profile account which frequently tweets pro-government content and has more than 1.2 million followers, Al Radaa al Saudi, tweeted: “Mohammed Bin Nayef allowed the corruption network run by al-Jabri to operate.”
    A well-connected diplomat said the tweets paved the way for the Saudi authorities to accuse bin Nayef of involvement in Jabri’s alleged corruption.
    The first Saudi source said MbS’s aides were “accelerating the campaign” against bin Nayef and Jabri ahead of November’s U.S. presidential election in case President Donald Trump, who has publicly voiced support for MbS, loses.
    Trump’s opponent, presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, has taken a tougher stance towards MbS, promising to make him “pay the price” for the killing in 2018 of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and vowing to end arm sales to Saudi Arabia.
    Twitter has been a favourite tool of Saud al-Qahtani, a former top aide to MbS, who ran the royal court’s media center and formed an electronic army tasked with protecting the kingdom’s image and attacking its enemies online.
(https://reut.rs/3fMAoSS)
    Qahtani was fired in 2018 for his alleged involvement in the killing of Khashoggi and was investigated but not charged. Several sources have told Reuters that he remains in the crown prince’s inner circle.
(Editing by Nick Tattersall)

7/21/2020 Netanyahu Coalition Ally Wants Military To Front Anti-COVID Campaign by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Alternate Prime Minister and Defence Minister
Benny Gantz, as they both wear a protective mask due to the ongoing coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
pandemic, during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem June 7, 2020. Menahem Kahana//File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The military should take over responsibility for keeping Israel’s spreading coronavirus epidemic in check, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main coalition partner said on Tuesday, in comments likely to fuel tensions within the government.
    Israel lifted a partial lockdown in May, but a second surge of infections has seen cases rise above 50,000 and deaths above 400, while Netanyahu’s approval ratings have plunged to under 30% and employment soared to 21%.
    Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, of the centrist Blue and White party, said he expected a decision “this week” to hand the running of anti-coronavirus containment measures from the health ministry to the armed forces’ Homefront Command.
    “This virus will not leave us for an entire year.    Therefore there needs to be a change in management,” Ashkenazi told Ynet TV.    “Put ego aside … I am saying this to Bibi (Netanyahu) … I am saying we need to shift responsibility to the defence establishment.”
    Netanyahu’s office had no immediate comment, but he may be reluctant to empower Defence Minister Benny Gantz – who is also the Blue and White leader – when they are already at odds over proposed Israeli annexations in the occupied West Bank and budgets.
    Formed primarily to protect citizens from missile attacks, the Homefront Command is also trained to help during natural disasters and well equipped to communicate quickly with Israel’s ethnically diverse sectors.
    Its troops have already helped out during the epidemic with evacuations and food distributions.    A Blue and White source said Gantz and Ashkenazi want that role expanded to include testing and contact-tracing.
    Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kish warned against drawing the conscript military into controversy among Israel’s 9 million population akin to what met the use of counter-terrorism technologies to track coronavirus carriers.
    “You understand what it would mean if soldiers were to begin questioning people, with: ‘What have you been doing, who have you been meeting with?'” Kish, of Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party, told Army Radio.
    “This is a super-sensitive matter, a health issue … There’s no ego element here,” he said, calling current cooperation between the health ministry and the military “excellent.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by John Stonestreet)

7/21/2020 Bashir Trial For 1989 Coup Adjourned As Crowds Jostle Outside Court by Khaled Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese former president Omar Hassan al-Bashir sits inside a cage during the hearing of the verdict that
convicted him of corruption charges in a court in Khartoum, Sudan. December 14, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ousted Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir appeared in court Tuesday at the opening of his trial for leading the military coup that brought him to power in 1989, before the hearing was adjourned to find a bigger venue amid chaotic scenes outside.
    Hundreds of lawyers, supporters, family members and journalists jostled outside, complaining to security officials that they were unable to get into the court, a Reuters journalist said.
    Sudansese people, ringed by police, also chanted slogans outside the court, some in support of Bashir, who has been jailed since he was toppled in April last year following mass protests against his 30-year rule.
    The trial, which includes some of Bashir’s former allies, was adjourned until Aug. 11 when it will be moved to larger venue.
    Bashir could be sentenced to death if convicted, a lawyer and SUNA, the state-news agency, said.
    State TV footage showed scores of security members inside the packed but otherwise calm courtroom, but did not show Bashir himself.    Two witnesses who attended the session told Reuters they saw Bashir inside the defendants’ cage in a white prison uniform.
    In December, his lawyer told reporters it was a “political trial par excellence” more than 30 years after the event. Judge Essam Eddin Mohamed Ibrahim promised a fair trial.
    Another Sudanese court has already handed down a two-year sentence in December on corruption charges.    Bashir also faces trials and investigations over the killing of protesters.
    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.
    Before any statements or evidence could be given, the judge postponed the hearing.    “We will end this court session (and adjourn trial proceedings) to take better measures (to have a bigger hall to include all lawyers),” he said.
    Some lawyers had complained their colleagues had not been able to get into Tuesday’s session.    Others asked for more precautionary measures due to the risk from the coronavirus.
    Other defendants include former allies of Bashir such as former Vice President Ali Osman Taha and Ali al-Haj, secretary general of the Islamist Popular Congress Party (PCP), judicial officials said.
    The judge refused defence lawyers’ requests to release some of the defendants before the resumption of the trial, SUNA said.
    A civilian transition government took over from Bashir under a three-year power sharing deal with the military deal who helped remove Bashir but it has struggled to make fix an economy in crisis.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Alex Richardson and Alison Williams)

7/21/2020 Iraq PM, On Tehran Visit, Says Won’t Allow Threats To Iran From Iraqi Soil
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani and Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi walk during a welcome ceremony,
as they wear protective masks, in Tehran, Iran, July 21 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via
REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said on a visit to Tehran on Tuesday that Iraq would not allow any threat to Iran coming from its territory.
    Speaking at a news conference alongside Iranian President Hassan Rouhani ahead of a meeting with Iran’s Supreme Leader, Kadhimi alluded to Iraq’s concern not to become a battlefield between arch-enemies Iran and the United States.
    The Iraqi premier faces a tough balancing act between Tehran and Washington which have come close to open conflict in the region, particularly on Iraqi soil, over the past year.
    At home, Kadhimi faces increasing pressure from Iran-aligned parties and paramilitary groups who perceive him as siding with the United States because he has indicated he wants to curb the power of Iranian-backed militias and political groups.
    “The people of Iraq want good relations with the Islamic Republic of Iran based on the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of both countries,” he told the news conference, carried live by Iranian state television.
    “Iraq is a country that won’t allow any aggression or challenge to Iran from its territory,” said Kadhimi.
    In his first two months in office, Iraqi security forces carried out two arrest raids against militias but most of those detained were quickly released.
    The United States praised those moves and supporters welcome several appointments Kadhimi has made in the security forces, including reinstating Iraq’s Counter Terrorism Service chief Abdul Wahhab al-Saidi, whose dismissal under the previous government fuelled mass anti-government unrest last year.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif visited Baghdad on Sunday, making a stop at the site where a U.S. drone strike killed Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani and Iraq’s paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in January.
    That action brought the region to the brink of a full-blown U.S.-Iran conflict, before both sides stepped back.
    Rouhani said Iran and Iraq hoped to boost bilateral trade to $20 billion yearly.
    Kadhimi’s visit, his first foreign trip since taking office in May, was meant to come after a trip to Saudi Arabia but that was cancelled after the Saudi king was admitted to hospital suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder.
(Reporting by Amina Ismail in Cairo, John Davison in Baghdad and Babak Dehghanpisheh in Geneva; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

7/21/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey Will Remain In Syria ‘Until Syrian People Are Free’
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks to members of his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a video conference
call in Ankara, Turkey, July 1, 2020. Mustafa Oztartan/Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Turkish forces, which have carried out several incursions into northern Syria since 2016, would remain in the country until Syrians can live in freedom and safety.
    “Nowadays they are holding an election, a so-called election,” Erdogan said of a parliamentary election on Sunday in Syria’s government-controlled regions, after nearly a decade of civil war.    “Until the Syrian people are free, peaceful and safe, we will remain in this country,” he said in a speech in Ankara.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Dominic Evans)

7/21/2020 Lebanon’s Turmoil Fuels Brain Drain by Tom Perry
Charlotte Karam, associate professor at the American University of Beirut is pictured at
American University of Beirut (AUB), in Beirut, Lebanon July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A pioneering academic at Lebanon’s most distinguished university, Charlotte Karam has enjoyed professional success that has made her decision to leave the country all the more heart-wrenching.
    An associate professor at the American University of Beirut (AUB), she has founded a centre to facilitate career success for women across the Arab world and with her team helped draft legislation against sexual harassment in Lebanon, the first of its kind.
    But like many of Lebanon’s brightest people, Karam is on her way out of the country as it sinks ever deeper into crisis, part of a brain drain that points to crushed hopes and fear for the future.
    “Leaving Lebanon is leaving a part of me.    It’s a huge conflict,” said Karam, 45, a mother of two with a PhD in Applied Social Psychology.
    “Every fibre in my body is telling me I have to stay to continue my work from Lebanon, but my fear is for the kids and their future,” said Karam, who was born in Canada to Lebanese parents.
    In August, she will move back to Canada with her family, a decision shaped by the turmoil that has swept Lebanon since its financial system collapsed last year, shattering lives nationwide.
    The crisis is widely seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Professionals including doctors, academics, entrepreneurs, and designers are planning to leave. Some have already gone. In many cases, they are drawing on second nationalities acquired by parents or grandparents who left Lebanon in emigration waves of the past.
    The brain drain is stripping Lebanon of the kind of talent needed to bring about recovery.
    It is a testament to the failure of Lebanese politicians to chart a path out of a crisis of their own making, and signals widely shared concern for the stability of a country that never fully recovered from its last war.
    “Every time I sit with Lebanese colleagues, children of the civil war, they tell me to leave.    ‘No-one should have to live the way we lived’.    They are encouraging me to leave while they are stuck here.    It’s heart-breaking,” Karam said.
    She is moving to Ottawa, joining her brother who left Lebanon in 2015 as its slowing economy forced the sale of a once successful construction equipment business he ran with her husband. She will continue her work for AUB from Canada.
BUBBLE OF HOPE
    Karam’s family have moved between Canada and Lebanon since the beginning of the last century.    Her grandfather moved there from Lebanon in the 1950s, helped by an aunt who was the first to emigrate to Canada decades earlier.
    Her parents brought the family to Lebanon in 1993.
    “Lebanon was entering into high spirits and hope of rebuilding,” she said.    “There were people who were returning, from North America, Australia, England, the Gulf, it was beautiful.”
    “It was really a wonderful time.”
    Lebanon has since endured numerous crises, including war with Israel, assassinations and political conflicts.    Yet the current crisis is seen as the most dangerous of all.
    The Lebanese pound has sunk by around 80%.    Poverty, unemployment and prices are soaring, and depositors have lost access to their life savings.
    The crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and bad governance, came to a head last October as the country was swept by protests demanding the reform of the sectarian system.
    Karam took part and with colleagues drew up plans for the kind of competence-based governance many in Lebanon dream of.
    “There was a big bubble of hope then the economic collapse, coupled with COVID-19 burst it,” she said.
    “I blame the government and every single politician.    We are done with the entrenched political class … It is shameful that they could allow the country to spiral so badly out of control.”
(Additional reporting by Imad Creidi and Issam Abdallah; Editing by Ed Osmond)

7/22/2020 Power Cuts Return, Adding To Frustrations In COVID-Weary South Africa by Mfuneko Toyana
Keitumetse Modise, a freelance beauty specialist, poses for a photograph outside her home in Randfontein,
a gold mining city west of Johannesburg, South Africa July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Keitumetse Modise was already struggling to juggle her appointments as a freelance beautician while home-schooling her daughter during South Africa’s nearly four-month-old COVID-19 lockdown.    The last thing she needed was the lights going out.
    But after being forced to turn kitchen tables into classrooms and bedrooms into home offices, pandemic-weary South Africans now face an added challenge in the form of a familiar headache: rolling blackouts.
    Months of pandemic-induced shutdown and reduced demand had actually resulted in uncharacteristically reliable electricity for those stuck at home, as South Africa’s creaking grid was given some respite.
    Since last week however, with restrictions easing and businesses cautiously reopening, planned blackouts – known locally as loadshedding – are back and with them the frustration of unstable internet, lost revenue and disrupted schedules.
    Modise, a 33-year-old single mother, has had to push back work appointments to ensure she can help with online schoolwork when there is power.    “You do what you have to,” she said.
    South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, suffered its worst ever power cuts late last year as debt-crippled state utility Eskom imposed cuts to ward off a grid overload.
    After nearly four months without nationwide outages, Eskom conducted a fresh round in July, with a spokesman saying “it would be naive to think we are done.”
    Many South Africans now expect them to again become a part of daily life, complicating efforts to work and learn online.    Focused power cuts targeting mainly poor townships with unpaid electricity bills have meanwhile continued.
    The timing could hardly be worse. Now a global COVID-19 hot spot, South Africa is hurtling towards the peak of its outbreak, topping 380,000 total infections this week.
    Schools reopened for some year groups but millions of children are still trying to follow lessons from home.
    Primary school teacher Ronald Maswanganyi has faced two weeks of power cuts, sometimes in the middle of his teaching.
    “There’s nothing I can do except call my boss, the principal, and tell him I can’t continue with the lesson,” he said.
    The return of loadshedding also threatens to deepen economic misery in a country already in a recession, with the unemployment rate topping 30% before the pandemic hit.    Things have only worsened with widespread layoffs.
    Wellness firm Body20 lost 30% of its revenue due to the lockdown, so began offering personal trainer sessions online.
    “Our frustration is that no matter how much you try to adapt and innovate to cope with something as catastrophic as COVID-19, suddenly you don’t have electricity,” said Body20’s CEO Philip Hughes.
(Additional reporting by Siyabonga Sishi; Editing by Joe Bavier and Alexandra Hudson)

7/22/2020 Saudi King Chairs Cabinet Meeting From Hospital, In Stable Condition
FILE PHOTO: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz delivers a televised speech regarding the outbreak of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 19, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman held a cabinet meeting via video call from hospital in the capital Riyadh on Tuesday, a day after the 84-year-old monarch was admitted with what state media said was inflammation of the gall bladder.
    Three Saudi sources had previously told Reuters that the king was in stable condition.
    A video of the king chairing the meeting was broadcast on Saudi state TV on Tuesday evening.    In the video, which has no sound, King Salman can be seen behind a desk, wordlessly reading and leafing through documents.
    The king, who has ruled the world’s largest oil exporter and close U.S. ally since 2015, was undergoing medical checks, state media on Monday cited a Royal Court statement as saying without further details.
    Three well-connnected Saudi sources who declined to be identified, two of whom were speaking late on Monday and one on Tuesday, told Reuters the king was “fine.”
    An official in the region, who requested anonymity, said he spoke to one of King Salman’s sons on Monday who seemed “calm” and that there was no sense of panic about the monarch’s health.
    King Salman received phone calls from the leaders of Kuwait, Bahrain and Jordan on Monday, state media reported.
    A diplomatic source said the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman flew back to Riyadh on Monday from his palace in the Red Sea city of NEOM, cancelling a planned meeting with a visiting Iraqi delegation.
    The diplomatic source and the third Saudi source said the crown prince was still in the capital.
    King Salman last spoke publicly on March 19 in a five-minute televised address about the coronavirus pandemic.    State media have published pictures and videos of the king chairing online weekly cabinet meetings.    Media have also carried images of the crown prince attending those meetings online.
    King Salman, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, spent more than 2-1/2 years as the Saudi crown prince and was deputy prime minister from June 2012 before becoming king.    He also served as governor of the Riyadh region for more than 50 years.
    He named his young son Mohammed as crown prince to become next in line to the throne after a 2017 palace coup that ousted then-Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad, Raya Jalabi and Aziz El Yaakoubi; additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by William Maclean and Marguerita Choy)

7/22/2020 Trump, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Discuss Libya In Phone Call: White House
FILE PHOTO: Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump
as they meet in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S. May 15, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan discussed regional security issues including the “importance of de-escalation in Libya through the removal of foreign forces” during a phone call on Tuesday, the White House said.
    The crown prince is the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates.    The UAE, alongside Egypt and Russia, backs eastern Libya commander Khalifa Haftar, whose fighters have been battling the forces of the country’s internationally recognized government.    Turkey has stepped up support for the government in Tripoli.
(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)
[It was the right thing for Trump to remove our troops in these Middle East battles as they have been fighting over religious ideologies of Islam the result of the descendants of Ishmael in Genesis who are the Arab world today for centuries and will continue until the end times and the U.S. is the Eagle with Two Wings who helped the Woman with Twelve Stars as the God of Abraham has prophesied in Revelation 12:1-2.].

7/22/2020 Yemen’s Children Starve Amid Rising Fears Of Famine
A doctor measure the arm of malnourished boy Hassan Merzam Muhammad, at a hospital in
Aslam district of Hajjah province, Yemen July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Eissa Alragehi
    HAJJAH, Yemen (Reuters) – Weighing just 9kg at ten years old, Hassan Merzam Muhammad is so emaciated by the severe malnourishment plaguing hundreds of thousands of Yemeni children like him that he can no longer walk.
    Fears of famine in Yemen are resurfacing, the United Nations says.    A U.N. report Wednesday said Yemen was returning to “alarming” levels of food insecurity.
    “My son is sick and I don’t know where to take him.    He has fever and I’ve nothing to treat him, I can’t even get water,” said Zaina Muhammad, mother to Hassan and his six siblings.    “Sometimes we go days without washing.”
    Coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response have compounded an already dire hunger situation after five years of war.
    Resurgent violence in recent weeks between warring parties, despite U.N. peace efforts, is also killing and injuring civilians.
    Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen. U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up after which the World Food Programme fed up to 13 million a month.
    “Now all those improvements are at risk,” WFP spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said.
    Despite mounting economic and health pressures on Yemen, the world’s largest aid response is scaling back due to insufficient funding.
    Nutrition services for 2.5 million children could cease by the end of August.    The WFP already in April halved food aid to alternate months in north Yemen.
    “They are on the brink of famine but it is not famine yet… It’s not too late,” she said, appealing to donors.
    Displaced five times by war, Hassan’s family now live in rural Hajjah, one of the poorest regions, with no income.
    “Warplanes circle above us, Houthi armaments are nearby; we cannot move on,” Zaina said.
    Nurse Makieh al-Aslami watched Hassan’s father carry the boy, unable to walk or react, into the malnutrition clinic she runs.
    “Hassan has no health problems. His problem is hunger,” she said.    “Like all children, Hassan needs play, school… It’s like he’s in a cage, with hunger increasing depression.”
    After a few days’ treatment Hassan started to walk about and – mute since birth – used signals to request things.
    “He was coming back to life,” she said.
    Thin and exhausted herself, Aslami says malnutrition is increasing.
    The number of malnourished under-fives could rise by 20% to 2.4 million by year end on funding shortfalls, UNICEF has said.
    A Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by the Iran-aligned Houthis.    80% of the population relies on humanitarian aid.
    According to the U.N.’s Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) analysis, 40 percent of south Yemen will face high levels of acute food insecurity in July-December, up from 25 percent in February-April.
    IPC data for north Yemen, where most Yemenis live and which is controlled by Houthi authorities, is due in September.
    “If we wait for famine to be declared, it will already be too late as people will already be dying,” Byrs said earlier this month.
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Addiitonal reporting by Cecile Mantovani in Geneva; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

7/22/2020 Pandemic Hit To Haj Saddens Would-Be Pilgrims
A security man checks the temperature of a worker as they work on raising the Kiswa, a silk cloth covering the Holy Kaaba, before the annual
pilgrimage season, at the Grand Mosque in Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 22, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – This year’s haj will be a time of sadness for many Muslims around the world prevented from travelling to Saudi Arabia, but a decision to honour local health and security staff in the front line of the fight against the coronavirus has won praise.
    For the first time in the modern era, amidst efforts to curb COVID-19, Muslims from abroad will be unable to attend the pilgrimage.
    This year’s event has been limited to about 1,000 pilgrims from within Saudi Arabia, 70% of whom will be foreign residents of the kingdom.
    The remaining 30% will be drawn from Saudi healthcare workers and security personnel who have recovered from the coronavirus, as a gesture of thanks for their sacrifice.
    “Haj this year is for the heroes who saved the country and saved our people, they deserve it … I personally would have loved to go but there are priorities,” said Saudi citizen Nour al Ghamdi.
    Those chosen will receive supplies including special ihram garments, toiletries, and a prayer rug in a suitcase from the Saudi haj ministry, as well as pre-arranged meals.    They will be required to maintain social distancing.
    Like many Muslims around the world, Egyptian Mahmoud Ali Mahmoud, 55, laments the restriction to domestic pilgrims.
    “As you can see, I had everything prepared.    Here is my Quran, my ihram clothing, my garment,” he said, opening his packed suitcase.
    “The time that one can spend there could be a time for us to pray that God rids the world of this pandemic,” he said from his Cairo home.
    Some 2.5 million Muslims typically visit the holiest sites of Islam in Mecca and Medina for the week-long pilgrimage, due to start on July 28.    A once-in-a-lifetime duty for able-bodied Muslims who can afford the cost, it is usually extremely crowded.
    Dhera Arizona, 31, had been saving up for seven years to travel to Mecca from Indonesia this year.
    “We are disappointed and sad,” she said, but “we understand that in this kind of pandemic situation, it is impossible to hold the worship service.”
    Official figures show that the haj and the year-round umrah pilgrimage earn the kingdom about $12 billion a year. Minimizing the event will hurt government finances, already hit by falling oil prices and the pandemic.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, Agustinus da Costa in Jakarta, Sayed Sheasha in Cairo, and Syed Raza Hassan in Karachi; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/22/2020 Cut Off From World, And Virus, Gaza Prepares For Eid Like Nowhere Else by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinians enjoy the beach after the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions
were largely eased, in Gaza City July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Gazans are thronging beaches and crowding markets filled with holiday sweets and clothes as they prepare to celebrate Eid al-Adha largely free of the coronavirus restrictions affecting the Muslim festival elsewhere.
    The 360 sq. km. coastal strip has had little access to the outside world for years due to an Israeli-led blockade which many Palestinians say is like living in permanent lockdown.
    No cases have been recorded in the towns and refugee camps where its two million Palestinian population live, although 75 infections and one death have occurred in quarantine centres.
    Arrivals spend 21 days in the centres on orders from Hamas, the armed Islamist group that has controlled Gaza for over a decade, but other coronavirus measures, such as restaurant and school closures and bans on large gatherings, have been lifted.
    The result is that Gazans are preparing much as normal ahead of Eid, which begins at the end of July, with few people wearing masks in shopping centers that are packed after sunset.
    The scenes contrast with restrictions elsewhere: Saudi Arabia has capped the number of its own citizens attending the upcoming haj pilgrimage; Oman has implemented a nightly curfew and Iraq has said its curfew will last through the holiday.
    “God protected us from the virus,” said Malkeya Abdallah, 62, as she relaxed on the beach near Gaza City.
    But medics are alarmed by the risks inherent in Gaza’s potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely packed refugee camps and limited hospital capacity.
    “We see total relaxation within the communities, the malls, the supermarkets, wedding halls, the mosques, everything is working as normal with no precautionary measures whatsoever,” said Abdelnaser Soboh, director of the World Health Organization’s Gaza office, calling for more precautions.
    “The virus will eventually get (in) … you can’t isolate Gaza from the world forever.”
    On Saturday, Hamas’s health and interior ministries staged a COVID-19 drill, cordoning off a busy area of Gaza City and halting traffic between towns.
    The economic impact of the coronavirus is already being felt.
    Eighty percent of Gazans, who have seen three wars in a dozen years, already rely on humanitarian aid.
    Palestinians blame the closures, which neighbouring Israel and Egypt say are needed due to security concerns.
    The World Bank expects poverty in Gaza to increase from 53% to 64% due to decreased consumer demand led by potential cuts in public sector wages across the Palestinian Territories, and the potential for losses from the Strip’s earlier shutdown.
    Meat merchants say far fewer Palestinians buying sheep to slaughter during the four-day Eid festival.
    “We would have sold 500-700 sheep by this time last year… so far, we have only sold 30-35,” said Mahmoud Abu Warda, a livestock breeder.
(Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/22/2020 Kuwait Ruler To Travel To U.S. For Medical Treatment
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah is seen during
the Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah will travel to the United States on Thursday for medical treatment after he underwent surgery this week, his office said.
    Sheikh Sabah, who has ruled Kuwait since 2006, underwent surgery on Sunday that his office described as successful, for an unspecified condition.
    “[Sheikh Sabah] will leave Kuwait at dawn…based on the advice of the medical team treating His Highness in order to complete treatment after a successful surgical procedure,” said a statement from the emir’s office published by state news agency KUNA.
    The emir’s designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah temporarily took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties on Saturday.
    Last year, Sheikh Sabah was admitted to hospital in the United States while on an official visit there after suffering what his office described as a health setback in Kuwait in August.    He returned to the Gulf Arab state in October.
    Kuwait’s stock index on Wednesday fell 3%.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy and Maha El Dahan; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Toby Chopra)

7/22/2020 Turkey Shifts Fight Against Kurdish Militants Deeper Into Iraq by Orhan Coskun, Daren Butler and John Davison
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reacts ahead of a meeting with EU Council President
Charles Michel pose in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman/File Photo
    ANKARA/BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Turkey is taking its decades-old conflict with Kurdish militants deep into northern Iraq, establishing military bases and deploying armed military drones against the fighters in their mountain strongholds.
    The cross-border campaign has attracted less attention than Turkey’s incursions into neighbouring Syria – partly because Turkish troops have long been in Iraq – but it is part of a strategy to push the fight beyond its borders after years of bloodshed at home.
    Turkey has been battling an insurgency in its mainly Kurdish southeast by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants that has killed 40,000 people since the 1980s and which has largely been directed from within Iraq.
    After the breakdown of peace efforts in 2015, heavy fighting erupted again in Turkey.    Since then President Tayyip Erdogan’s government has sought to address what it says is the root of the crisis.
    “The new approach aims to destroy the threat from where it begins,” a Turkish official told Reuters.
    A ground assault launched on June 17 and dubbed Operation Claw Tiger has seen Turkish troops advance up to 40 km (25 miles) inside Iraq and establish over 30 “temporary bases,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    It aims to deny PKK fighters any sanctuary near the border, cut their supply lines between Iraq and Syria, and prepare the ground for a possible offensive on the main PKK stronghold around the Qandil mountains, inside Iraq on the Iranian border.
    Turkey’s frequent claims of military gains in a conflict far from the spotlight are difficult to verify, but analysts and an Iraqi Kurdish official say the scope of the air and ground offensives extends beyond Ankara’s usual operations.
    Baghdad summoned Turkey’s ambassador last month to formally complain, but the central government has limited authority in the autonomous region, while the Kurdistan Regional Government in northern Iraq is wary of antagonising Turkey, which has NATO’s second largest standing army.
    “Baghdad has been very quiet and we are forced to be very quiet, otherwise we run the risk of escalation with Turkey,” an official in the KRG said.
DRONE POWER
    The Iraq operation comes after Turkey launched three incursions into northern Syria in three years to drive PKK and Islamic State fighters from its borders, and then deployed forces in Idlib province to halt a Russian-backed Syrian government offensive against Syrian rebels.
    Turkey has also projected power in the east Mediterranean, turning the tide of Libya’s conflict by helping to repulse an attack on Tripoli, and has established military bases in the Gulf and the Horn of Africa.
    Turkey’s interventions under Erdogan have alarmed regional rivals Egypt and the United Arab Emirates and led to accusations from domestic opponents that he is seeking diversions from an economic crisis and political setbacks after 17 years in power.
    Much of the new military muscle comes from domestically produced armed drones.    In Iraq, that means Turkey can attack militants in areas once beyond its reach.
    PKK casualties in Iraq had risen in the last year, with increasing numbers of veteran fighters killed in targeted strikes, the International Crisis Group (ICG) says.
    “The use of drone technology appears to have significantly shifted the balance of power on the ground, allowing Turkish forces to go after militants in areas previously difficult to penetrate,” ICG Turkey analyst Berkay Mandiraci said.
    The ICG says 5,000 people have been killed in Turkey’s wider conflict with the PKK since the 2015 ceasefire collapse, one tenth of them in northern Iraq.    So far this year, that proportion of fatalities in Iraq has leapt to 70%.
    Turkish officials say the latest fighting targets several border districts including Haftanin and Metina near Syria to the west, and regions nearer Iran including Avasin and Hakurk, a possible staging post to Qandil further south.
    “The operation in Iraq aims to secure Turkey’s border, prevent the passage (of PKK fighters) to Syria, and from there infiltration to Turkey,” a second Turkish official said.    “When the time comes, (targeting) Qandil will be evaluated.”
    Turkey ultimately may be guided more by progress on the ground than any response from Baghdad.
    The Iraqi government is hamstrung by political infighting, an economic crisis and the prospect of more mass unrest, and its own relations with the Kurds have often been fraught – especially when its forces halted a Kurdish bid for independence in 2017.
    “From the Baghdad point of view … the (Turkish) incursion is headed for the KRG, so there’s little harm in this,” said Bilal Wahab of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    “Ultimately these things require some level of respect for Iraq’s sovereignty and some sort of power,” Wahab said.    “On both counts, Iraq has become so weak that it’s hard to demand that kind of respect from anyone.”
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Giles Elgood)

7/22/2020 Saudi Arabia To Widen Privatisation Scope, Finance Minister Says by Davide Barbuscia and Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Minister of Finance Mohammed al-Jadaan speaks during an interview with Reuters at the
Four Seasons hotel in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia September 18, 2019. REUTERS/Hadeel Al Sayegh/File Photo
    DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will look to sell assets in sectors not previously considered for privatisation, the country’s finance minister said on Wednesday, as the country contends with the economic impact of sustained low oil prices.
    Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter, is facing a sharp recession because of the coronavirus crisis and depleted oil revenues.
    The International Monetary Fund has forecast a 6.8% contraction this year, but Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said at Bloomberg event that he expects the economy to contract less than that.
    “A lot of factors work in our favour … local and domestic tourism for example is picking up very nicely this month,” he said.
    Saudi Arabia has planned a series of privatisations in recent years, including the initial public offering of state-owned oil giant Aramco, which took place last year.
    “We’re looking at sectors that haven’t been targeted before for privatisation,” Jadaan said, mentioning healthcare and education.
    Asked how much revenue privatisations would generate, he said the sale of assets would generate more than 50 billion riyals in the next four to five years.
    The prospects for economic recovery were brightened by some promising July data, though the pandemic makes for an uncertain outlook, he added.
    Saudi Arabia tripled its value-added tax to 15% this month as part of efforts to bolster state coffers.    Though Jadaan said there are no imminent plans to introduce an income tax, he added that nothing could be ruled out.
    Later on Wednesday state news agency (SPA) quoted an unnamed Saudi official as saying that the issue has not been discussed by the Cabinet or any government committee.
    “This topic is not a matter of discussion,” the source added.
    International debt investors are likely to be tapped by Saudi Arabia once again this year, Jadaan said, but no decision has been taken on the currency of the planned issuance.
    Saudi Arabia, which has raised $12 billion from international bond issues this year, has increased local debt issuance significantly from its original plans, the minister said.
(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia and Marwa Rashad; Editing by Toby Chopra, David Goodman and Jonathan Oatis)

7/23/2020 France’s Le Drian In Crisis-Hit Lebanon To Urge Reforms by Tom Perry
French Foreign Affair Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, meets with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun at
the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 23, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Lebanon on Thursday to urge the government to enact badly-needed reforms to help steer the country out of an acute financial crisis.
    The crisis, rooted in decades of state corruption and waste, marks the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.    A collapsing currency has led to soaring inflation and poverty and savers have lost free access to accounts in a paralysed banking system.
    Former colonial ruler France has led international efforts to get Lebanon to reform, hosting a donor meeting in 2018 when more than $11 billion was pledged for infrastructure investment contingent on reforms which were promised but not delivered.
    “(Le Drian) wants to send a strong message to the Lebanese authorities and politicians on the need to reform urgently and stress our incapacity and refusal … to provide economic and financial support until concrete acts and swift reforms are started,” a European diplomat said.
    Le Drian met with President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Diab told him Lebanon had accomplished a number of reforms despite “obstacles” and had set out a timeline for further reforms, government sources said.
    Le Drian was due to give a news conference later on Thursday.
    Lebanon began talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in May but these have been put on hold in the absence of reforms and as differences arose between the government, the banking sector and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses in the system.
    Diab also told Le Drian that authorities had approved an audit of the central bank to uncover financial gaps and their causes, and pave the way for potential audits of other institutions, the government sources said.
    One area donors want to see progress is in fixing the state-owned electricity grid which bleeds up to $2 billion a year in public funds while failing to meet the country’s power needs.
    Lebanon, with one of the highest public debt burdens in the world, defaulted on its foreign currency sovereign debt in March, citing critically low reserves.    The Lebanese pound has lost some 80% of its value since October.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut and John Irish in Paris; Editing by William Maclean and Andrew Cawthorne)

7/23/2020 COVID-Induced Khat Shortage Adds To Health Problems In Somalia by Abdirahman Hussein
A Somali man displays drying khat stimulant leaves at an open air market in
Hodan district of Mogadishu, Somalia June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – In the sweltering seaside port of Mogadishu, Sharif Ahmed tried to attack his relatives and neighbours, resulting in an emergency trip to a psychiatric hospital in handcuffs.
    It is not the endless civil war making the 22-year-old restless, but withdrawal from the narcotic leaf khat that he has been chewing on since he was 15.
    Somalia is a major market for khat, which is grown in neighbouring Kenya’s fertile central highlands and soon after harvesting driven at high speeds to Nairobi airports for distribution to consumers abroad.
    Once the khat arrives in Mogadishu, men gather in groups to chew the leaf, a mild stimulant, and chat into the early hours.
    Somalia shut down flights in late March to curb the spread of the virus, meaning the drug could no longer be imported by air from Kenya.
    That affected users, causing some to go for long periods without sleep, said Abdirashid Abdulahi, a doctor at Mogadishu’s Habeeb Psychiatric Emergency Hospital.
    “The withdrawal symptoms have come out,” he said, adding that those who do manage to get to sleep often suffer from nightmares.
    Ahmed’s mother Halima Mohamed took him to hospital in the battle-scarred city this month, hoping she could finally cure him of his addiction.
    The price of khat had surged to as much as $300 per kg from $20 when the flights were stopped due to the coronavirus restrictions, putting the commodity out of reach for most users. [nL8N2BK23V]
    That has put huge extra strain on facilities at the Habeeb hospital.
    “Out of the total number of patients we have, half of them are addicted to the drug,” said Abdulahi, referring to the 40 patients under his care.
    There are more than 10 million users of khat around the world, the Nairobi-based Kenya Medical Research Institute said.
(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Ed Osmond)

7/23/2020 Kuwait Ruler Leaves The Country To Complete Medical Treatment In The U.S.
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah witnesses a signing ceremony at
the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 9, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah left the country early on Thursday for the United States to complete his medical treatment, the state news agency reported.
    Sheikh Sabah, who has ruled Kuwait since 2006, underwent successful surgery on Sunday, his office said this week, for an unspecified condition.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Tom Hogue)

7/23/2020 Turkish Parliament Gives Erdogan Authority To Extend Layoff Ban For A Year
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a televised address to the nation in
Ankara, Turkey, July 10, 2020. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament on Thursday approved a law allowing President Tayyip Erdogan to extend a layoff ban imposed to combat the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic until July 2021.
    The layoff ban was first imposed in April for three months.    With the new law, Erdogan will be allowed to extend the ban by three months each time until June 30, 2021.
    Turkey’s headline unemployment rate fell to 12.8% in the March-May period from 13.2% a month earlier.    But analysts have said the data does not show the economic blow dealt by COVID-19.[nL8N2EH1AO]
    According to another section of the law, Erdogan will have the authority to decide for each sector whether to extend the short labour pay benefit, a system that provides additional wages to employees whose hours are cut short.
    The law also allows the payment of social security premiums from the unemployment fund for three months to private sector companies that return to normal working hours after benefiting from the short labour pay or cash support system.
    The measures regarding the short labour pay and the social security premiums will expire at the end of the year.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

7/23/2020 Sudan Finds Mass Grave Believed To Have Bodies Of Officers Executed By Bashir 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) – Sudan has found a mass grave that most likely contains remains of 28 army officers executed in 1990 for plotting an attempted coup against the former President Omar al-Bashir, the public prosecutor office said late on Thursday.
    The officers were executed in mysterious circumstances after a quick military trial one year after Bashir himself took the power in a military coup in 1989.    There burial site was not disclosed for decades.
    “The public prosecution managed to find a mass grave that data indicates that it is most likely the graveyard where the bodies of the officers who were killed and buried in a brutal manner,” the public prosecutor said in a statement.
    A team of 23 experts reached this result after an effort that lasted for three weeks, and more forensic and investigative measures will be taken in the site, the statement added.
    The public prosecutor assured the families of the executed officers that “such crimes will not pass without a just trial.”
    Bashir appeared in court on Tuesday at the opening of his trial for leading the military coup that brought him to power in 1989.    He was ousted by the army in April 2019, after months of mass protests.
    Bashir’s attorneys could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Local media reports said earlier this month that prosecutors questioned Bashir over the 1990 executions.    The prosecution has not publicly commented on the matter.
    Last month, Sudan’s public prosecutor announced the discovery of a mass grave east of Khartoum suspected to contain the remains of students killed in 1998 as they tried escaping military service at a training camp.
    Bashir already was handed down a two-year sentence by a court in December on corruption charges.    Bashir also faces trials and investigations over the killing of protesters.
    He is also wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC), 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.
(This story corrects number of experts on team to 23, not 29.)
(Additional reporting Alaa Swilam; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

7/23/2020 Trump, Saudi Crown Prince Discuss Economic Recovery From Coronavirus: White House
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during family photo session
with other leaders and attendees at the G20 leaders summit in Osaka, Japan, June 28, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman discussed the fight against the coronavirus pandemic and “re-energizing global economies” during a telephone call on Thursday, the White House said.
    The two leaders also discussed regional and bilateral issues and the prince “reaffirmed the strong United States-Saudi defense partnership,” a White House spokesman said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Chris Reese)

7/23/2020 Egyptians Crowd Livestock Market Ahead Of Eid Holiday Despite Coronavirus by Mohamed Abd El-Ghany
A general view of a cattle market in Al Manashi village, ahead of the Muslim festival of sacrifice Eid al-Adha, following the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Giza, on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Thousands of Egyptians defied government warnings over the coronavirus on Thursday to crowd a vast seasonal livestock market near the capital, without wearing face masks, a week before the Muslim Eid Al-Adha holiday.
    Muslims slaughter cows, sheep or goats to mark the holiday, which commemorates the account of the prophet Ibrahim, or Abraham, offering to sacrifice his son on God’s command.    The meat is shared among family and friends and donated to the poor.
    The Al-Manashi livestock market in Giza is usually crowded with sellers and buyers before Eid, and the pandemic did not reduce their numbers, but few had much money to spend.
    "As you can see, the livestock are lined up down there.    There has been neither buying nor selling,” said trader Ahmed Abdel Rasoul.
    He and others said they had lowered their prices but that even then, buyers were scarce.
    “I will not be able to buy anything with the money I have,” said Mansour Abdel Alim, an employee from the nearby Qalubia province who had sought to buy a sheep to symbolise the eventual sacrifice made by Ibrahim instead of his son.
    Abdel Alim said he had only 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($188.21) available this year compared with 5,000 last year.
    Traders also complained that local authorities were carrying out periodic raids to disperse crowds for fear they could spread the disease.    Officials have urged people to wear masks to limit transmission and said the face coverings must be worn on public transport and in shops.
    Egypt’s economy has been badly hit by the coronavirus as tourism has collapsed and worker remittances have been threatened by the decline of oil revenues in Gulf Arab states, where many Egyptians are employed.
    In mid-March, the country imposed lockdown measures including a night curfew, bans on large public gatherings and the closure of restaurants and theatres.    It has lifted most of the measures since late June.
    So far it has registered 89,745 coronavirus infections, including 4,440 deaths.    Daily case numbers have been declining over the past two weeks.
(Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

7/24/2020 Erdogan Joins Thousands At Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia For First Friday Prayers by Mert Ozkan and Ali Kucukgocmen
People wait for the beginning of Friday prayers outside Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, for the first time after it was
once again declared a mosque after 86 years, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan joined thousands of worshippers at Hagia Sophia on Friday for the first prayers there since he declared the monument, revered by Christians and Muslims for almost 1,500 years, a mosque once again.
    Erdogan and his top ministers, wearing white facemasks as a precaution against COVID-19, knelt on blue carpets at the start of a ceremony which marks the return of Muslim worship to the ancient monument.
    Earlier, crowds formed at checkpoints around the historic heart of Istanbul where massed police maintained security.    Once through the checks, worshippers sat apart on prayer mats in secured areas outside the building in Sultanahmet Square.
    “We are ending our 86 years of longing today,” said one man Sait Colak, referring to the nearly nine decades since Hagia Sophia was declared a museum and ceased to be a place of worship.    “Thanks to our president and the court decision, today we are going to have our Friday prayers in Hagia Sophia.”
    A top Turkish court announced this month it annulled Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum. Erdogan immediately turned back into a mosque a building which was a Christian Byzantine cathedral for 900 years before being seized by Ottoman conquerors and serving as a mosque until 1934.
    The president was set to attend Friday prayers shortly after 1 pm (1000 GMT) with several hundred invitees for the ceremony in the sixth-century building.    A large screen and speakers were set up in the square to broadcast proceedings to the thousands gathered outside.
    As crowds grew, leaving little space for social distancing, Istanbul Governor Ali Yerlikaya said authorities had stopped people entering the area due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus.    On Twitter he called for patience and said the mosque would be open for prayer until Saturday morning.
    “God is greatest,” chanted people in the square.    Some slept after arriving overnight and others ate on the grass, shaded by trees from the hot sun.    Some in the crowds held Turkish and Ottoman flags.
CHRISTIAN ICONS CONCEALED
    During his 17-year rule, Erdogan has championed Islam and religious observance and backed efforts to restore Hagia Sophia’s mosque status.    He said Muslims should be able to pray there again and raised the issue – popular with many pious AKP-voting Turks – during local elections last year.
    The conversion triggered fierce criticism from church leaders, who said the change to exclusively Muslim worship risked deepening religious divisions.    Turkey says the site will remain open for visitors and its Christian artworks protected.
    Erdogan has reshaped Turkey’s modern republic, established nearly a century ago by the staunchly secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, lifting a ban on Muslim headscarves in public, promoting religious education and taming Turkey’s powerful military, once a bastion of Ataturk’s secular values.
    Inside Hagia Sophia, the Christian frescoes and the glittering mosaics adorning the cavernous dome and central hall will be concealed by white curtains during Muslim prayer times, but remain on display for the rest of the time.
    On Friday morning, the interior echoed to the sound of Koranic recitations from white-robed clerics, sat on blue carpets freshly laid this week ahead of the prayers.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

7/24/2020 Protesters In Israel Call For Netanyahu’s Resignation by OAN Newsroom
Israeli police officers arrest a demonstrator during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
outside his residence in Jerusalem, late Thursday, July 23, 2020. Protesters demanded that the embattled leader resign as
he faces a trial on corruption charges and grapples with a deepening coronavirus crisis. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    Protesters in the Israeli capital are calling for the resignation of the country’s prime minister.    Thousands of protesters gathered outside of Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem Thursday, where they called for him to resign.
    The demonstrators cited the corruption charges against Netanyahu and his handling of the coronavirus pandemic as reason for the outrage.    The protesters were met by pro-Netanyahu demonstrators and clashes ensued.with police using water cannons to disperse the crowds.
    “Unfortunately, I cannot stay at home anymore and see what is happening to my beloved country, we are fighting for our democracy,” stated an unnamed protester.    “The real criminal is 400 meters from here and we should thank these kids, every night they are here fighting our fight.”
    Dozens of protesters were arrested by police with some left wounded in the clashes.

7/24/2020 Erdogan Joins Thousands To Pray For First Time At Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia by Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan attends Friday prayers at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, for the first time after it was
once again declared a mosque after 86 years, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 24, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan joined huge crowds on Friday for the first prayers at Hagia Sophia in nine decades, sealing his ambition to restore Muslim worship at an ancient site long revered in both Christianity and Islam.
    After the call to prayer rang out from four minarets surrounding the mosque, whose rose-pink walls and huge grey dome have dominated Istanbul since Christian Byzantine times, hundreds knelt in prayer inside the building.
    Outside, tens of thousands more prayed in a public square and on sidewalks, squeezing into spaces between cars or in cafes, joining a ceremony which many saw as righting a historic mistake when the mosque was converted to a museum in 1934 by modern Turkey’s secularist founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
    Hagia Sophia was the largest cathedral in the world for 900 years until its capture by Ottoman Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, after which it was one of Islam’s most exalted mosques for nearly another 500 years.
    “This is the opening of a place of worship that was conquered by the right of the sword by the holy conqueror,” said worshipper Latif Ozer, 42.    “This is a source of great pride for us, great excitement.”
    That excitement has not been universally shared.    Church leaders and some Western countries have sharply criticised Turkey’s move, saying the shift to exclusive Muslim worship at Hagia Sophia risks deepening religious divisions.
    Pope Francis said he was deeply pained by the decision, which came after a Turkish court annulled Hagia Sophia’s status as a museum two weeks ago.    Erdogan immediately issued a decree converting it once again to a mosque.
    In Greece, church bells tolled in mourning on Friday. Most Greeks consider the monument central to their Orthodox Christian religion.    Greek criticism of the conversion has been scathing, underscoring the countries’ tense relations.
    Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a “troublemaker,” and the Hagia Sophia conversion an “affront to civilization of the 21st century
HEARTBREAK” IS ENDING
    Several hundred invitees joined Erdogan for the ceremony inside the sixth-century building.
    The president, his head covered by a white prayer cap, read a Koranic recitation before the head of Turkey’s religious directorate Ali Erbas addressed worshippers.
    “The longing of our nation, which has turned into a heartbreak, is coming to an end today,” Erbas said from the pulpit, holding a sword in his hand – a tradition for preachers in mosques which have been captured in conquest, he later said.
    “God willing, we will continue this tradition in the future,” Anadolu agency quoted Erbas as saying as he left the mosque.
    New white curtains covered an image of Mary and Jesus which would have faced the worshippers, but pictures of angels were still visible on arches supporting the mosque’s cavernous dome.
    Officials say that glittering mosaics and other art in the main hall will be concealed during prayer time, but will remain uncovered in other parts of the building.
    Earlier, crowds formed at checkpoints around the historic heart of Istanbul where massed police maintained security.    Once through the checks, worshippers sat apart on prayer mats in secured areas outside the building in Sultanahmet Square.
    A large screen and speakers set up in the square broadcast proceedings to a crowd which Erdogan said was 350,000-strong.
CHRISTIAN ICONS CONCEALED
    “God is greatest,” chanted people in the square. Some held Turkish and Ottoman flags.
    During his 17-year rule, Erdogan has championed Islam and religious observance and backed efforts to restore Hagia Sophia’s mosque status.    He said Muslims should be able to pray there again and raised the issue – popular with many pious AKP-voting Turks – during local elections last year.
    Erdogan has reshaped Turkey’s modern republic, established nearly a century ago by the secularist Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, lifting a ban on Muslim headscarves in state institutions, promoting religious education and taming Turkey’s powerful military, once a bastion of Ataturk’s secular values.
    After leaving Hagia Sophia, Erdogan went straight to the nearby Fatih (Conqueror) mosque, named after Sultan Mehmet who seized Istanbul for the Ottomans.
    “Hagia Sophia will continue to serve all believers as a mosque and will remain a place of cultural heritage for all humanity,” Erdogan said, adding he wanted to “visit the tomb of Sultan Mehmet the Conqueror, the real owner.”
(Additional reporting by Mert Ozkan, Ece Toksabay and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

7/24/2020 Lebanese Official Finds He Has COVID-19 At Lunch With France’s Le Drian
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Affair Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian wears a face mask to prevent the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as he meets with Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti at the
Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A senior Lebanese official said on Friday he had taken bad news of testing positive for COVID-19 during a lunch with visiting French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.
    “I received a telephone call from the hospital saying the test was positive, so naturally I left the lunch and informed all those present,” Hadi Hashem, head of the Lebanese foreign minister’s office, told the local OTV broadcaster.
    A spokesman for Le Brian, whose lunch with Lebanese officials on Thursday came during a trip urging reforms to the crisis-hit economy, had no immediate comment on the matter.
    Speaking by video, Hashem told OTV he had taken a polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test ahead of a planned trip to Denmark, but was now self-isolating at home until Monday before another test.
    “The result was unexpected but the most important thing is that the virus level is low and not contagious,” he said.
    After Hashem’s diagnosis, Lebanese Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti and his political affairs director also underwent PCR tests, but their results came back negative, a health ministry source told Reuters.
    Lebanon has recorded 3,258 infections and 43 deaths from the novel coronavirus since February.
(Reporting by Yara Abi Nader; Additional reporting by Matthias Blamont in Paris; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

7/24/2020 Libyans Face Painful Power Cuts As Years Of Chaos Hit Grid
A general view of a Misrata power plant during the long-lasting power blackouts, in Misrata, Libya July 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Warfare has stopped – for now – in the Libyan capital, but long power blackouts caused by years of poor maintenance still cause misery in the scorching summer weather.
    The blackouts have led to protests, and armed men storming electricity facilities to demand engineers bring back power, underscoring continued instability even after an assault by eastern forces on Tripoli ended last month.
    Conflict continues, fought between the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA), backed by Turkey, and the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) backed by the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt.
    The LNA assault on Tripoli added to the problems, damaging or destroying transmission lines and control stations for the grid.    Theft of equipment is a problem too.
    Abdulfattah Mabrouk Emhamid, a farmer west of Tripoli, spent 25,000 dinars ($18,000) for a generator three years ago “so that my farm will not stop work” he said.
    But while businesses and wealthier residents pay for private generators to cool their homes, poorer people have little choice but to sit out the hot nights without air conditioning or electric fans.
    Abdulmenam al-Hajaji, a cafe worker, spends the evenings with his family in a small park near their sixth-storey apartment because his meager wage stretches little further than rent and other necessities.
STALLED PROJECTS
    “We stay out here until the children get sleepy,” he said, adding that the power cuts were getting worse each summer, when demand spikes.    His wife, Mouna, said she waits to do housework until the electricity returns, sometimes at midnight.
    A major oil exporter, Libya once had a strong electricity network.    But years of chaos and fighting since the 2011 revolution that ousted Muammar Gaddafi have wrecked infrastructure and weakened state institutions.
    The national Audit Bureau said Libya has lost 2,700 megawatts out of its original 3,363MW and that state power company GECOL spent 1.6 billion dinars last year without advancing dozens of stalled projects.
    GECOL tries to manage the blackouts by sharing power supply among different towns in western Libya, but says some of these have refused to accept cuts, using force to keep electricity running in their areas, causing problems elsewhere.
    In Misrata on the coast, the head of the power workers union said a colleague was killed last year in an attack on a control room.
    The GNA’s Turkish backers have proposed bringing a floating power station to Libya like ones its electricity company has installed off other countries.
    GECOL’s executive manager Ali Sassy, said that would help bring power back more quickly, but it would cost the Libyan state “a lot.”
(Reporting By Reuters Tripoli newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)
[FACT: FEEL FREE TO BLAME OBAMA SINCE HE WAS THE ONE WHO ORDERED THE WAR AGAINST LIBYA IN 2011 AND CAUSED THE DEATH OF GADDAFI WITHOUT APPROVAL OF THE U.S. CONGRESS BECAUSE LIBYA RAISED THE PRICE OF OIL TO $104 A BARREL AND SCREWED UP HIS U.S. ECONOMY BECAUSE GAS WENT TO $4 A GALLON AND THE RESULT WAS HE SHUT DOWN ALL THE OIL FACILITIES IN THE U.S. WHICH TRUMP RESTORED WHEN HE CAME INTO OFFICE.].

7/25/2020 Turkey Condemns Greek Reaction To Hagia Sophia Prayers
FILE PHOTO: Worshippers attend afternoon prayers and visit Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque, for the first time after it was
once again declared a mosque after 86 years, in Istanbul, Turkey, July 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – The Turkish Foreign Ministry on Saturday condemned statements by Greek officials and a flag-burning protest in Greece after the first Islamic prayers in nine decades were held at Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia.
    “Greece showed once again its enmity towards Islam and Turkey with the excuse of reacting to Hagia Sophia Mosque being opened to prayers,” ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said in a written statement.
    Greek criticism of the conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque after decades as a museum has been scathing, underlining tense ties between Greece and Turkey.    Church bells tolled in mourning across Greece on Friday as Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan joined prayers at the building.
    In a message marking Greece’s 46th anniversary of the restoration of democracy, Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis called Turkey a “troublemaker,” and the conversion an “affront to civilisation of the 21st century.”
    Friday’s ceremony sealed Erdogan’s ambition to restore Muslim worship at the ancient site, which most Greeks consider as central to their Orthodox Christian religion.
    The Turkish Foreign Ministry said it strongly condemned hostile statements by the Greek government and parliament members to stir up the public, and the burning of a Turkish flag in the Greek city of Thessaloniki.
    Hagia Sophia was opened to prayer as a mosque in line with the will of the Turkish people and belonged to Turkey like all cultural assets in the country, it added.
    Greece and Turkey disagree on a range of issues from airspace to maritime zones and ethnically split Cyprus.    This week they also exchanged barbs over the delimitation of their continental shelves in the eastern Mediterranean, an area thought to be rich in natural resources.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Frances Kerry)

7/25/2020 Israel Coronavirus Cases Top 60,000 As Infections Jump
FILE PHOTO: People wear protective masks as they walk around central Jerusalem amid the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 7, 2020. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The number of people to test positive for coronavirus in Israel topped 60,000 on Saturday as the government struggles to contain a resurgence in infection rates.
    The latest daily tally showed 1,770 new infections, bringing the total number of cases to 60,496, the country’s health ministry reported.
    With a population of 9 million, Israel has reported a total of 455 fatalities from the pandemic.
    Israel was one of the first countries to impose a nationwide lockdown and initially was successful in clamping down on the outbreak.    Daily cases that numbered in the hundreds dropped to low double digits.
    Concerned about the economic toll, the government eased those restrictions – too quickly, some officials have since acknowledged – and infection rates resurged.
    Renewed sporadic closures of various sectors of the economy have deepened public vexation, sparking daily demonstrations.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Christina Fincher)

7/25/2020 Somalia’s Parliament Ousts Prime Minister In No-Confidence Vote by Abdi Sheikh
FILE PHOTO: Somalia's newly appointed Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire attends the Parliament seating
where he was confirmed in Somalia's capital Mogadishu March 1, 2017. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia’s parliament ousted Prime Minister Hassan Ali Khaire in a no-confidence vote on Saturday, as a simmering power struggle between him and the president came to the fore.
    Khaire and President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed have been tussling over whether to delay a national election due in February next year, with the prime minister insisting it go ahead and the president favouring postponement.
    President Mohamed elevated the deputy prime minister Mahdi Mohamed Guled to prime minister in an acting capacity, a statement issued by his office said.
    The president’s allies have also accused Khaire of failing to stabilise the security situation.
    Lawmakers voted 170-8 to remove Khaire from office.
    “The government failed in its promise on the preparation of a clear plan for the one man, one vote election,” said Mohamed Mursal Sheikh Abdirahman, the speaker of parliament, referring to the first direct election since civil war erupted in 1991.
    The Horn-of-Africa country has been holding elections through representatives like elders in the past decade, due to insecurity caused by al Shabaab militants in most areas.
    Mohamed Abukar Islow, the internal security minister and a key ally of Khaire, accused the speaker and the president of plotting to remove the prime minister to extend their terms.
    “It is a dark day,” Islow said, terming the move unconstitutional due to the requirement that an election be held every four years.    Khaire, a former oil company executive, was not immediately available for a comment.
    President Mohamed he had accepted the decision of lawmakers to remove Khaire, citing the need to preserve the unity of the various arms of government.
    Rashid Abdi, an independent Horn of Africa analyst, said Khaire’s removal was inevitable because of differences with the president and the prime minister’s ambition to be president one day.
    “What was surprising was the swiftness with which it was done.    There was no debate or negotiations,” Abdi told Reuters.
(Additional reporting and writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Christina Fincher)

7/25/2020 Kuwait To Lift Lockdown In Farwaniya On Sunday
FILE PHOTO: Police and civil aviation personnel wearing protective face masks work at the Kuwait Airport as the repatriation process of Kuwait citizens continues,
following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Kuwait City, Kuwait April 21, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Kuwait will end the strict lockdown imposed in Farwaniya governorate from 5 a.m (0200 GMT) on Sunday, the centre for government communication announced on Twitter on Saturday.
    Farwaniya was the last area to be effectively isolated in a country which has reported 63,309 coronavirus cases and 429 deaths.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Mark Potter)

7/25/2020 Tunisia President Designates New PM Amid Hopes Of Ending Political Crisis by Tarek Amara
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's President Kais Saied gives a speech at the government's swearing-in ceremony at the Carthage Palace outside the capital Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2020. Fethi Belaid/Pool via REUTERS
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian President Kais Saied on Saturday designated the interior minister as the new prime minister to succeed Elyes Fakhfakh, who resigned over allegations of a conflict of interest, TAP state news agency said.
    New premier Hichem Mechichi, 46, an independent, now has a month to form a government capable of winning a confidence vote in parliament by a simple majority, or the president will dissolve parliament and call for another election with urgent economic decisions hanging over Tunisia.
    The resignation of Fakhfakh this month rippled through parliament, where parties are seeking a no confidence motion against Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the leader of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party.    A session is scheduled for Thursday but with Saied choosing Mechichi, the result of any vote in parliament not guaranteed.
    Mechichi is seen close to Saied and served as the president’s adviser.    He was also member of the National Commission of Investigation on Corruption founded in 2011.
    But political analysts says Mechichi has no economic background at a time when international lenders are asking Tunisia to make painful reforms.
    Western countries have hailed Tunisia for its comparatively successful transition to democracy since the 2011 revolution that ended decades of autocratic rule despite periodic crises.
    Many Tunisians are frustrated with economic stagnation, a decline in living standards and decay in public services while political parties often seem more focused on staying in office instead of tackling problems.
    The novel coronavirus pandemic has made things worse.    Tunisia now expects the economy to shrink by 6.5% this year and forecasts a deficit equivalent to 7% of gross domestic product.
    It has asked four countries to delay debt repayments.
    The last parliamentary election in October led to a chamber in which no party held more than a quarter of the seats, complicating efforts to form a stable government.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; editing by Grant McCool)

7/26/2020 Gulf Dispute Has Gone On Too Long, U.S. Envoy Says On Visit
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook speaks during a joint news conference with Saudi Arabia's
Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Brian Hook said on Sunday a rift between Qatar and some of its other Gulf Arab allies had lasted too long and urged them to rebuild trust and unity.
    Gulf states Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt cut ties with Qatar in June 2017 over accusations it supports terrorism.    Doha denies the charges and says the bloc aims to infringe its sovereignty.
    The United States, along with Gulf state Kuwait, has so far unsuccessfully tried to mediate the dispute, which Washington sees as a threat to efforts to contain Iran.
    “The dispute has continued for too long and it ultimately harms our shared regional interests in stability, prosperity and security,” Hook told reporters from Qatar after meeting with the Gulf state’s foreign minister.
    “Bringing an end to this dispute really will advance the collective interests of all the parties to this conflict.”
    Hook is in the Middle East to urge the extension of a United Nations arms embargo on Iran.    He has visited U.N. Security Council member Tunisia and will soon travel to Kuwait, he said.
    Hook said he would raise the Gulf dispute with Kuwaiti officials and hoped that the hospitalisation of its 91-year-old ruler would “not have any negative effect on diplomatic efforts
    Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who is in the United States receiving medical treatment, has long tried to mediate the dispute.
    Hook said he believed Sheikh Sabah, a long-serving diplomat, would want Kuwaiti efforts to continue.
    Diplomats and Gulf sources have told Reuters the United States has been trying to convince Saudi Arabia and its allies to reopen their air space, which they closed to Qatar three years ago, but that the mediation efforts since the start of 2020 have yet to succeed.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Barbara Lewis)

7/26/2020 News Of Kuwait Emir’s Health Reassuring, Parliament Speaker Says
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah witnesses a signing ceremony at the
Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 9, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – News about the health of the Emir of Kuwait, who is in the United States for medical treatment, is “very reassuring,” parliament speaker Marzouq al-Ghanim said on Sunday in a statement on the parliamentary Twitter account.
    Kuwait’s 91-year-old ruler, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah arrived in the United States on Thursday to complete medical treatment following surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait.
    The emir’s designated successor Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah temporarily took over some of the ruler’s constitutional duties last Saturday.
    Last year, Sheikh Sabah was admitted to hospital in the United States while on an official visit there after suffering what his office described as a health setback in Kuwait in August. He returned to the Gulf Arab state in October.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Barbara Lewis)

7/26/2020 Hezbollah Says All-Out War With Israel Unlikely In Coming Months by Laila Bassam
FILE PHOTO: A man rides a motorbike past a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed
Hassan Nasrallah, near Sidon, Lebanon July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The deputy leader of Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah movement on Sunday dismissed the prospect of an escalation of violence between the Iran-backed movement and Israel despite increased tensions in the last week.
    “The atmosphere does not indicate a war … It’s unlikely, the atmosphere of war in the next few months,” Sheikh Naim Qassem said in an interview with pro-Damascus television station al Mayadeen.
    Tensions rose along Israel’s frontier with Syria and Lebanon after Lebanon’s Hezbollah militia said a fighter was killed in an apparent Israeli strike on the edge of Damascus last week.
    After two Hezbollah members were killed in Damascus in August 2019, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah vowed the group would respond if Israel killed any more of its fighters inside Syria.
    The Israeli military has since boosted its forces on its northern front.
    An Israeli drone crashed inside Lebanon during operational activity along the border, an Israeli military spokeswoman said on Sunday.
    Israel has stepped up strikes on Syria in recent months in what Western intelligence sources say is a shadow war approved by Washington that has undermined Iran’s military power in the region without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
    Hezbollah has deployed fighters in Syria as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad in a conflict that spiralled out of protests against his rule in 2011.
    The bases in eastern, central and southern Syria which Israel has hit in recent months are believed to have a strong presence of Iranian-backed militias, according to intelligence sources and military defectors familiar with the locations.
    Analysts say Hezbollah and Israel want to avoid an all-out conflict at a time of regional tensions and keep rules of engagement drawn up since the Iran-backed movement fought a one-month war with Israel in 2006.
    “There is no change of rules of engagement and the deterrent equation with Israel exists and we are not planning to change it,” Qassem said.
(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

7/27/2020 West Bank Mosque Damaged By Arson, Palestinians Blame Settlers
A Palestinian man walks at a mosque entrance that was torched and sprayed with Hebrew graffiti
in Al-Bireh in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    AL BIREH, West Bank (Reuters) – A section of a mosque in the occupied West Bank was set on fire on Monday, and Palestinian officials accused Israeli settlers of being behind the attack.
    “The Land of Israel for the People of Israel,” read part of a slogan sprayed in Hebrew on the mosque’s wall, a reference to a biblical, historical and political claim to an area that includes the West Bank.
    Israeli cabinet minister Amir Peretz condemned the incident on Twitter, calling for “the criminals and hatemongers” responsible for the blaze in the city of Al-Bireh to be brought to justice.    He did not explicitly mention settlers in his tweet.
    A Palestinian emergency services official said a bathroom area of Al-Bir and Al-Thsan mosque was burned after flammable liquid was poured through a smashed window before dawn.
    He said residents living near the mosque and firefighters extinguished the flames, and the mosque’s prayer area was undamaged.
    The Palestinian Religious Affairs Ministry and Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat accused Jewish settlers of setting the blaze.
    “This is racism and apartheid,” Erekat said in a statement.
    Slogans in Hebrew similar to the one spray-painted in black outside the mosque have been used in previous attacks on Palestinian property which Israeli police suspect were carried out by Israeli ultranationalists in the West Bank.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war, and more than 400,000 settlers now live there among some 3 million Palestinians.
    Palestinians, who seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, say the settlements – viewed by most nations as illegal – make a future country unviable.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Giles Elgood)

7/27/2020 Syrian Tycoon Says Front Companies Used To Dodge Sanctions As Rift With Assad Widens by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Bashar al-Assad addresses the government committee that oversees measures to curb the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria in this handout released by SANA on May 4, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian businessman Rami Makhlouf revealed on Sunday he had set up a web of offshore front companies to help President Bashar al Assad evade Western sanctions, in a social media post blasting the government for investigating his business empire.
    One of Syria’s richest and most powerful businessmen, Makhlouf said security forces were now targeting Cham Holding, the centrepiece of a vast business portfolio much of which has been seized by the cash-strapped government.
    The former Assad loyalist who is also a cousin of the president said security forces were pursuing contracts signed by Cham Holding on suspicion he had embezzled funds abroad.
    “They fabricated our embezzlement of funds and transferring it to our accounts abroad … Stop these unjust claims and read well the contracts,” Makhlouf said in a Facebook post.
    “These companies’ role and aim is to circumvent (Western) sanctions on Cham Holding.”
    Makhlouf, who has helped bankroll the ruling family and its supporters, brought in 70 investors nearly 15 years ago to set up Cham Holding.    It is the largest Syrian company by capital and has a monopoly on key property developments.
    Washington enacted sweeping sanctions on Syria last month known as the Caesar Act targeting new lists of individuals and companies who support Assad’s government, among them entities owned by Makhlouf.
    Makhlouf’s estrangement with Assad first came to the open on April 30 when he denounced taxes imposed on Syriatel, the country’s main mobile company which the Makhlouf family controls.
    He later blasted the “inhumane” arrests of his aides in an unprecedented attack on the government from within Assad’s inner circle, exposing a deep rift within the ruling elite.    He added that he would not surrender his wealth under intimidation.
    Businessmen and insiders familiar with the struggle say Assad is targeting Makhlouf’s wealth abroad as Syria’s economy collapses after a decade of war.    Most of his onshore assets have been seized while his contracts to manage and operate duty free markets were abrogated.
    The billionaire and others close to him are under U.S. sanctions for what Washington calls public corruption.
    The European Union has also slapped sanctions on Makhlouf since the Syrian conflict began in 2011, accusing him of bankrolling Assad.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Stephen Coates)

7/27/2020 Egypt And Sudan Criticize Ethiopia At Start Of New Nile Dam Talks
FILE PHOTO: Water flows through Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in
Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    CAIRO/KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Egypt and Sudan criticized Ethiopia for what they called unilateral filling of its Blue Nile dam at a new round of talks that kicked off on Monday to regulate the flow of water from the huge project.
    Sudan and Egypt both fear the $4 billion hydroelectric dam could lead to water shortages in their own countries.    The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile, from which Egypt’s 100 million people get 90% of their fresh water.
    Almost a decade of tortuous negotiations have failed to yield an agreement to regulate how Ethiopia will fill the reservoir and operate the dam while protecting Egypt’s scarce water supplies.
    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, which provides the bulk of the water in the Nile after it meets the White Nile in Sudan.
    Last week, Ethiopia, which says it needs the dam to generate electricity for its people, said it had already achieved its first-year target for filling the reservoir, thanks to a heavy rainy season.
    Egypt and Sudan expressed concerns about the “unilateral filling,” which they said “cast a shadow on the meeting and raised many questions about the feasibility of the current course of negotiations and reaching a fair agreement,” Egypt’s Irrigation Ministry said in a statement.
    said Ethiopia’s action was “a harmful and disturbing precedent in the course of cooperation between the countries concerned,” according to a statement from its Irrigation Ministry.
    There was no immediate word from Ethiopia.    Among the issues at stake in the talks, being hosted by the African Union, are how the dam will operate during “dry years” of reduced rainfall, and whether the agreement and its mechanism for resolving disputes should be legally binding.
(Reporting by Ulf Laessing, Nayera Abdallah and Khaled Abdelaziz; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/27/2020 Netanyahu Warns Hezbollah Against Playing With Fire After Frontier Incident
Smoke rises from the disputed Shebaa Farms area as seen from Marjayoun village
in southern Lebanon, Lebanon July 27, 2020. REUTERS/Karamallah Daher
    JERUSALEM/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israeli forces thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to infiltrate across the Lebanon frontier on Monday, which the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group denied.
    “Hezbollah should know it is playing with fire,” Netanyahu said in a televised address from Israel’s defense ministry headquarters in Tel Aviv.    He cautioned that any attacks from Lebanese territory would draw a powerful response.
    Earlier, a Reuters witness in Lebanon counted dozens of Israeli shells hitting the disputed Shebaa Farms area along the frontier.    Fires burned and smoke rose from the area, but no casualties were reported by Israel or Hezbollah.
    Occupied by Israel, the Shebaa Farms is claimed by Lebanon.    The United Nations regards it as part of Syrian territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Israeli forces have been on alert along the northern border in anticipation of Hezbollah retaliation for the killing of one of its members a week ago in an alleged Israeli attack on the edge of the Syrian capital Damascus.
    “A Hezbollah squad infiltrated Israeli territory,” Netanyahu said.    Saying that Lebanon had “paid a heavy price” for Hezbollah attacks on Israel in the past, Netanyahu cautioned the group’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, “not to repeat this mistake.”
    An Israeli military spokesman said between three and five Hezbollah militants had taken part in the operation and had crossed back into Lebanon.
    Hezbollah, which last fought a war with Israel in 2006, denied that its forces tried to cross the frontier and said in a statement that the Shebaa Farms incident was “one-sided.”
    “There were no clashes or opening of fire from our side in today’s events,” Hezbollah said.    “Our response to the martyrdom of Ali Kamel (Mohsen)… will surely come,” it said, referring to the fighter who died in Syria.
    A Lebanese source said Hezbollah had fired a guided missile at an Israeli tank.    Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus told reporters he was unaware of any such incident.
    After the killing of two Hezbollah members in Damascus last August, Nasrallah vowed to respond if Israel killed any more of its fighters in Syria.    However the group’s deputy leader on Sunday said an all-out war with Israel was unlikely.
    Hezbollah fighters have deployed in Syria as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad.    Israel sees the presence of Hezbollah and Iran in Syria as a strategic threat, and has mounted hundreds of raids on Iranian-linked targets there.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem and Tom Perry, Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Janet Lawrence and Peter Graff)

7/27/2020 Israel Says Hezbollah Tried To Infiltrate Frontier, And Warns Against ‘Playing With Fire’
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wearing a face mask during a media statement with US special
representative for Iran Brian Hook at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, Israel. 30 June 2020. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Hezbollah carried out an infiltration attempt along the Lebanese-Israeli frontier on Monday, disputing the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group’s denial that it had done so.
    In a televised address hours after the incident in the Israeli-occupied Shebaa Farms region adjoining the Golan Heights, Netanyahu said: “We take a grave view of this attempt to infiltrate our territory. Hezbollah and Lebanon bear full responsibility for this incident and any attack from Lebanese territory against Israel.    Hezbollah should know that it is playing with fire.”
    He was sitting alongside Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who warned that any operation against Israel would draw a powerful Israeli response.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell)

7/27/2020 Lebanon Reimposes COVID-19 Restrictions As Infections Spike
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon reimposed severe COVID-19 restrictions on Monday for the next two weeks, shutting places of worship, cinemas, bars, nightclubs, sports events and popular markets, after a sharp rise in infections.
    Shops, private companies, banks and educational institutions would be permitted to open, but only on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, with a near total lockdown in place Thursday through Monday until Aug 10.    This week’s lockdown coincides with the Eid al-Adha holiday when Muslims normally hold large gatherings.
    Officials said they were alarmed by a spike in cases in recent days, with at least 132 new infections and eight deaths confirmed in the last 24 hours.    Lebanon has recorded just "51" deaths from the coronavirus since February.
    ”We have to go back a step back and work with determination as though the pandemic has now begun,” Minister of Health Hamad Hassan was quoted in state media as saying.    “We have to work more seriously to avoid a medical humanitarian catastrophe.”
    Beirut’s airport, land border crossings with Syria and sea ports would be kept open, as well as medical institutions, industrial and agricultural firms and critical government functions.
    Those arriving from high risk countries would be held in quarantine for 48 hours until they receive the results of a coronavirus test.    Those arriving from other areas would be expected to quarantine at home.
(Reporting by Beirut newsroom; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi)

7/27/2020 How A U.S. Navy Base In The Gulf Tackles Coronavirus
A member of the U.S. Navy personnel stands next to a COVID-19 precaution sign during his daily duty hours at the U.S. Navy Fifth
Fleet base following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Manama, Bahrain July 26, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    MANAMA (Reuters) – At the U.S. Navy’s main base in the Gulf, military staff are strictly abiding by rules to stem the spread of the new coronavirus.
    The Bahrain base houses the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command (USNAVCENT), operating in the Gulf amid high tensions between Iran and the United States.
    “It is necessary for everyone to assume that they are infected at all times,” said base commanding officer Captain Greg Smith, citing learning about asymptomatic carriers of the virus.
    “Our job is important and it must continue.”
    With people living and working in close proximity on base, mask wearing and social distancing must be adhered to, said Smith, adding he was not allowed to disclose the number of cases recorded there.
    Outside Bahrain, outbreaks have been reported on two U.S. warships at sea – aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt in the Asia-Pacific region in March, and the Kidd in the Pacific in April – and on a number of U.S. Navy ships in port.
    Posters and hand-washing stations are dotted around the base.    Remote working and teleconferences reduce the number of people in rooms, and interaction with the rest of Bahrain has been limited.
    “We don’t do unnecessary shopping, we don’t eat in the fine restaurants here in Bahrain,” he said, adding that anyone coming onto the base is kept isolated for 14 days.
    The base follows Bahrain government guidelines for contact tracing, testing and isolation.
    “As soon as you find one person positive you identify all the people they may have come into contact with and you isolate them as well so you don’t get that continuous spread after a case,” Smith said.
    “If someone has to go into isolation and hospitalization, the plan is to use Bahraini facilities, which are superb,” he said, adding that treatment was also available on base.
    The small island state of Bahrain, with a population of 1.5 million, has recorded almost 39,000 coronavirus cases and 140 deaths.
(Reporting by Reuters TV; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/27/2020 U.N. Moves Last Grain From Frontline Store Symbolic Of Yemen’s Aid Struggle by Lisa Barrington
FILE PHOTO: A U.N. vehicle is seen at Hodeidah port in Hodeidah, Yemen May 13, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – A U.N. grain store that symbolised aid agencies’ struggle to navigate the front lines of Yemen’s war has finally been emptied and distributed to a starving population almost two years after fighting cut access, the U.N. food agency said on Monday.
    The Red Sea Mills, a milling facility rented by the World Food Programme (WFP) as part of an aid operation feeding 13 million people a month, had become a focal point of a frozen conflict in the strategic port of Hodeidah.
    Located in a complicated web of frontlines between forces loyal to Yemen’s internationally recognised government and those of the Iran-aligned Houthi group, the grain store became inaccessible in September 2018 and suffered shelling damage.
    Enough to feed nearly four million people, the grain risked rotting in the humid climate.    It took a year of negotiations and risky cross-frontline operations to regain access and resume milling and distribution in September last year.
    Aid agencies have repeatedly complained that the combatants in the five-year-old conflict across Yemen have restricted access to needy populations and aid supplies.
    The flour delivery comes as fears of famine in Yemen are resurfacing, the United Nations has said.
    Yemen is seen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis where 80% of the population relies on humanitarian aid.    A recent U.N. report saw Yemen returning to “alarming” levels of food insecurity.
    Coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of this year’s aid response have compounded an already dire hunger situation.
    The WFP in April halved food aid to alternate months in Houthi-controlled north Yemen and says it needs $737 million to keep services running to December.
    Coronavirus restrictions are affecting aid operations.    The WFP has had to charter extra vessels to keep food flowing as ships must observe a 14-day quarantine before docking in Yemen, the WFP spokesperson said.
    Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    The U.N. has been holding virtual talks between the warring parties to agree a permanent ceasefire and confidence-building steps to restart peace negotiations last held in December 2018.
    U.N.-mediated talks between warring parties in Hodeidah have so far failed to achieve a full troop withdrawal and ceasefire.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean)

7/28/2020 Israel, Hezbollah trade fire across volatile Lebanese border
    JERUSALEM – Israeli forces on Monday exchanged fire with Hezbollah militants on the volatile Israeli-Lebanese frontier, as Israeli civilians living in the area were ordered to remain indoors amid the heaviest fighting between the bitter enemies in nearly a year.    The fighting occurred in an area known as Chebaa Farms, which was captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war and is claimed by Lebanon.    Residents of southern Lebanon near the border reported Israeli shelling was continuing for more than an hour.

7/28/2020 Lebanese PM Urges Caution Amid Heightened Border Tensions With Israel
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks during a news conference at
the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon May 21, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Tuesday that Israel had violated his country’s sovereignty with a “dangerous military escalation” along the Israeli-Lebanese frontier on Monday and called for caution amid heightened border tensions.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israeli forces thwarted an attempt by Hezbollah to infiltrate across the Lebanese frontier on Monday, which the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group denied.    A Reuters witness in Lebanon counted dozens of Israeli shells hitting the disputed Shebaa Farms area.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones)

7/28/2020 Turkey Says May Pause Mediterranean Energy Work Pending Greece Talks
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan delivers a televised address to the nation
in Ankara, Turkey, July 10, 2020. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey could pause energy-exploration operations in the eastern Mediterranean Sea for a while pending talks with Greece, presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Tuesday.
    In an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk, Kalin said President Tayyip Erdogan had requested that operations be put on hold as a constructive approach to negotiations.
    Long-standing tensions between the NATO allies escalated last week after Turkey’s navy on Tuesday issued an advisory known as a Navtex for seismic surveys in waters between Cyprus and Crete.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

7/28/2020 End Game For Oil? OPEC Prepares For An Age Of Dwindling Demand by Alex Lawler
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printed oil pump jack is seen in front of displayed stock graph and Opec logo
in this illustration picture, April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration/File Photo
    LONDON (Reuters) – The coronavirus crisis may have triggered the long-anticipated tipping point in oil demand and it is focusing minds in OPEC.
    The pandemic drove down daily crude consumption by as much as a third earlier this year, at a time when the rise of electric vehicles and a shift to renewable energy sources were already prompting downward revisions in forecasts for long-term oil demand.
    It has prompted some officials in the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, oil’s most powerful proponent since it was founded 60 years ago, to ask whether this year’s dramatic demand destruction heralds a permanent shift and how best to manage supplies if the age of oil is drawing to a close.
    “People are waking up to a new reality and trying to work their heads around it all,” an industry source close to OPEC told Reuters, adding the “possibility exists in the minds of all the key players” that consumption might never fully recover.
    Reuters interviewed seven current and former officials or other sources involved in OPEC, most of whom asked not to be named.    They said this year’s crisis that sent oil below $16 a barrel had prompted OPEC and its 13 members to question long-held views on the demand growth outlook.
    Just 12 years ago, OPEC states were flush with cash when oil peaked above $145 a barrel as demand surged.
    Now it faces a dramatic adjustment if consumption starts a permanent decline.    The group will need to manage even more closely its cooperation with other producers, such as Russia, to maximise falling revenues and will have to work to ensure relations inside the group are not frayed by any fratricidal dash to defend market share in a shrinking businesses.
    “OPEC’s job will be harder in the future because of lower demand and rising non-OPEC production,” said Hasan Qabazard, OPEC’s head of research from 2006 to 2013 whose work now includes advising hedge funds and investment banks on OPEC policy.
    One official, who works in energy studies in the oil ministry of a major OPEC member, said shocks to oil demand had in the past led to permanent changes in consumer behaviour.    He said this time was unlikely to be different.
    “The demand does not return to pre-crisis levels or it takes time for this to happen,” he said.    “The main concern is that oil demand will peak in the next few years due to rapid technological advances, especially in car batteries.”
    In 2019, the world consumed 99.7 million barrels per day (bpd) – and OPEC was forecasting a rise to 101 million bpd in 2020.
    But global lockdowns this year that grounded planes and took traffic off the streets, prompted OPEC to slash the 2020 figure to 91 million bpd, with 2021 demand still seen below 2019 levels.
(Graphic – OPEC 2019-2021 Global Oil Demand: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/nmopalkgnva/Pasted%20image%201595529390400.png)
PREDICTING THE PEAK
    Producing nations, energy analysts and oil companies have long tried to work out when the world would reach “peak oil,” the point after which consumption starts permanently falling.    But demand has climbed steadily each year, with occasional exceptions amid economic downturns.
    Nevertheless, OPEC has been scaling back expectations.    In 2007, it forecast world demand would hit 118 million bpd in 2030.    By last year, its 2030 forecast had dropped to 108.3 million bpd.    Its November report is expected to show another downward revision, one OPEC source says.
(Graphic – OPEC Long-Term Global Oil Demand Forecast: https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xlbvgbblnpq/Pasted%20image%201595865457762.png)
    OPEC officials declined to comment on its demand outlook or policy for this article. But officials have said history shows OPEC’s ability to adapt to changes in the market.
    Consumption forecasts vary outside OPEC.    Oil companies have cut long-term crude price outlooks as demand prospects fade – slashing the value of their assets as a result.
    Global consultancy DNV GL believes demand probably peaked in 2019.
    Oil’s percentage share of the global energy mix has steadily fallen in recent decades, from about 40% of energy used in 1994 to 33% in 2019, even as volumes consumed rose with more cars on the roads, rising air travel and a petrochemical industry that makes ever more plastics and other products.
(Graphic – Shares of global primary energy consumption by fuel (%) Source: BP – https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xegvbamllpq/Pasted%20image%201595601226490.png
    That may now be changing, as more electric vehicles roll out of factories and airlines struggle to recover from the pandemic.    The International Air Transport Association (IATA) does not expect air travel to reach 2019 levels until 2023 – at the earliest.     “Once aviation recovers by end-2023, demand will go back to normal — aside from the competition from other sources of energy,” said a second OPEC official involved in forecasting, highlighting the difficulty of making predictions amid a global trend towards using more renewables and other fuels.
    It leaves OPEC with a mounting challenge.    Most members of the group, which sits on 80% of the world’s proven oil reserves, rely heavily on crude.    Oil prices, now hovering above $40, are still well below the level most governments need to balance their budgets, including Saudi Arabia, OPEC’s de facto leader.
NEW STRESSES
    OPEC, whose output accounts for about a third of world supplies, is no stranger to crises.    It has managed supply shocks during Gulf conflicts in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s and found ways to cope when rival non-OPEC producers turn on the taps, like the U.S. shale oil industry in the past decade.
    Most recently, when the coronavirus crisis pummelled demand, OPEC with Russia and other allies, a grouping known as OPEC+, agreed record output cuts of 9.7 million bpd, the equivalent of 10% of global supplies.    Those deep cuts run to the end of July.
    Yet, what comes next promises to be a new test of OPEC’s mettle. Instead of dealing with one-off shocks, OPEC must learn to live with long-term decline.
    “This trend will put a stress on the cooperation between OPEC members, as well as between OPEC and Russia, as each strives to maintain its market share,” said Chakib Khelil, Algeria’s oil minister for a decade and twice OPEC’s president.
    Some short-term challenges may come from within OPEC, as Iran and Venezuela, both hit by U.S. sanctions, seek to boost production or as output recovers in conflict-stricken Libya.
    Others may come from outside, as the group tries to prevent U.S. shale production taking market share while OPEC seeks to curtail output in its efforts to support prices.
    “Many challenges are ahead, and we have to adapt,” said one OPEC delegate, who said the group’s handling of past crises proved it was able to respond.
    OPEC’s former research head, Qabazard, said the group might have a little more time to adjust before demand peaked.    But he said the deadline for OPEC to adapt was approaching.
    “I don’t think it will go higher than 110 million barrels per day by the 2040s,” he said, adding that fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic had changed consumer habits for good.
    “This is permanent demand destruction.”
(Reporting by Alex Lawler; Editing by Edmund Blair)

7/28/2020 Saudi Arabia Posts $29 Billion Deficit In Second Quarter As Oil Revenues Slump by Davide Barbuscia
FILE PHOTO: A Saudi flag flutters atop Saudi Arabia's consulate in Istanbul, Turkey October 20, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia posted a deficit of 109.2 billion riyals ($29.12 billion) in the second quarter this year as low oil prices hurt revenues, a finance ministry report published on Tuesday showed.
    The coronavirus crisis has hurt the non-oil sectors of the world’s largest oil exporter this year, adding to the impact of historic price lows on the economy.
    Second quarter oil revenues fell by 45% year-on-year to $25.5 billion.    Total revenues dropped 49% to nearly $36 billion.
    Total second-quarter expenditures dropped annually by 17% to around $65 billion, the report on quarterly budget performance showed, although spending increased when compared to Q1 by 7.5%.
    “A pullback in spending is essential for containing the deficit,” said Monica Malik, chief economist at Abu Dhabi Commercial Bank.    “The proactive stance of the government was already reflected in the austerity measures announced in April.    However, these will dampen the recovery outlook,” she said.
    Facing deep recession this year, Riyadh has introduced steps such as removing a cost-of-living allowance for state employees and tripling value-added tax to 15% to bolster state revenues.
    Economists have said this could restrict recovery as curbs aimed at reducing the spread of the cornavirus are lifted.
RESERVES
    The IMF has estimated the economy could shrink by 6.8% this year, a figure Saudi officials have said was “pessimistic”
    Saudi Arabia, which in the first three months of 2020 posted a $9 billion deficit, has raised $12 billion in international markets so far this year and has borrowed 41.1 billion riyals ($10.96 billion) in the domestic market, the document showed.
    Finance Minister Mohammed al-Jadaan said this month the kingdom plans to tap international debt investors at least once more this year.
    In addition to borrowing, the government has used around $13 billion in government reserves in the second quarter to finance its deficit, budget data showed.    That is largely within a $32 billion drawdown limit targeted by the government this year.
    Between March and April, however, the kingdom used $40 billion in foreign reserves to back overseas investments of its sovereign fund, the Public Investment Fund.
(Reporting by Davide Barbuscia; editing by Jon Boyle, Larry King, William Maclean)

7/29/2020 Half Of Violence Against African Migrants Is By Law Enforcers, U.N. Says by Cecile Mantovani
FILE PHOTO: Migrants are seen at the Anti-Illegal Immigration Agency shelter center
in Tajoura near Tripoli, Libya April 24, 2019. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Nearly half of all the violence visited on African migrants during their journey to the Mediterranean coast is perpetrated by law enforcers, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR said on Wednesday.
    According to a report by UNHCR and the Danish Refugee Council’s Mixed Migration Centre (MMC), thousands of refugees and migrants suffer extreme abuse including torture and sexual or gender-based violence, and in some cases death.     The report is based on nearly 16,000 interviews with refugees and migrants.
    “In 47% of the cases, the victims reported the perpetrators of violence are law enforcement authorities, whereas in the past, we believe that it was mainly smugglers and traffickers,” Vincent Cochetel, UNHCR special envoy for the central Mediterranean, told a news conference in Geneva.
    “States have a responsibility that they need to discharge in that respect.”
    UNHCR reported that 1,750 people had died in 2018 and 2019 trying to reach the sea, but Cochetel said the true numbers were likely to be higher.
    “That is just the visible tip of the iceberg.    There are many families looking for their loved ones along the routes, and there is no answer to give them,” he said.br> In recent months, hundreds of migrants have been stopped at sea and sent back to Libya despite the risk of violence there.
    On Monday, Libyan authorities shot dead three Sudanese migrants trying to avoid detention as they disembarked from a failed attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.
    War-ravaged Libya is a major transit point for migrants seeking to reach Europe and now hosts an estimated 654,000 of them, often living in cramped conditions with little access to healthcare.
(Writing by Michael Shields; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

7/29/2020 ‘Last Supper’ Artwork Of Feasting Netanyahu Irks Israeli Leader
An artwork by Israeli artist Itay Zalait, that includes a sculpture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sitting at a table
recalling the famous "Last Supper", amid a wave of almost daily protests against Netanyahu's alleged corruption and his government's
handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, is displayed at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, Israel July 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A statue in a Tel Aviv square of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu enjoying a “Last Supper” feast added new bite on Wednesday to mounting protests against his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    Netanyahu, whose popularity has plunged in opinion polls amid 21.5% unemployment, said his depiction in a mock tableau of Jesus’s final meal before his crucifixion, was tantamount to a death threat.
    In the installation, Netanyahu sits alone at a grand 10-metre (33 ft) long table, with two candelabras, grabbing at a huge cake resembling an Israeli flag.
    Moet & Chandon champagne, Chivas Regal scotch and Courvoisier cognac are placed alongside a heaping spread of fruit and meats, accompanied by a single cigar, to allude to the corruption allegations against Israel’s longest-serving premier.
    Netanyahu denies any wrongdoing in three corruption cases against him, which include allegations he illegally received gifts of champagne and cigars from affluent businessmen.
    His trial, the first for a serving Israeli prime minister, opened in May and witnesses are to begin testifying in January.
    Passersby, many of them wearing face masks, stopped to snap photos of the sculpture by Tel Aviv artist Itay Zalait.    He said the work was meant to symbolise the “Last Supper of Israeli democracy.”
    “Many people refer to (Netanyahu) as a genius – Mr Economy, Mr Security – he’s more than anyone else, he’s like the son of God,” Zalait said, standing next to the sculpture.
    “Mr. Economy … people don’t have food to bring for their children,” he said.
    Netanyahu, who has drawn accusations of autocratic rule by using emergency regulations to fast-track social distancing edicts, took to Twitter to term the exhibit “a shameful threat of crucifixion."
    The Last Supper, as depicted in a 15th century mural by Leonardo da Vinci, shows Jesus at the table with his apostles in Jerusalem.    The mural, one of the most famous paintings in the world, is in a Milan convent.
    Zalait’s work is displayed in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square – where several anti-Netanyahu demonstrations have been held this summer.
(Reporting by Rami Amichay, Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

7/29/2020 Jordan Sets Nov. 10 As Date For Parliamentary Elections by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: King of Jordan Abdullah II addresses the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France January 15, 2020. REUTERS/Vincent Kessler/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan has set Nov. 10 as the date for parliamentary elections, hours after a royal decree to hold a countrywide poll, state media said Wednesday.
    Jordan’s parliament has legislative powers but its electoral law marginalises the representation of political parties and most MPs rely on family and tribal allegiances.    Constitutionally most powers rest with the king, who appoints governments and has the final say over new laws.
    The election will be held at a time when the aid-dependant country is grappling with a severe economic contraction due to COVID-19 and comes amid heightened worries about any unilateral Israeli move to annex territory in the occupied West Bank.
    Officials fear that annexation would bury the prospect of a viable Palestinian state and mean that any eventual settlement of the decades-old conflict would be at the expense of Jordan, a country where many people are descendants of Palestinian refugees whose families left after the creation of Israel in 1948.
    The electoral law keeps intact a system that limits the representation of those of Palestinians origin in favour of native Jordanians who are the backbone of the country’s political establishment.
    Jordan’s main political opposition comes from a party drawn from the ranks of the Muslim Brotherhood movement but it faces legal curbs on its activities
.
    Opposition politicians say the government has been using draconian emergency laws enacted last March at the start of the coronavirus lockdown to limit civil and political rights.    Activists have been arrested in recent weeks over comments on social media.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alison Williams and David Holmes)

7/29/2020 Lebanon’s Jumblatt Says Country Needs New Prime Minister: Newspaper
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a
meeting with French President Francois Hollande, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon needs a new prime minister to help it exit a deep economic and financial crisis, one of the country’s leading politicians said in an interview published on Wednesday.
    Veteran Druze power broker Walid Jumblatt said replacing Hassan Diab “should seriously be considered because he has amnesia,” according to comments to local daily L’Orient-Le Jour that were confirmed by his office.
    The newspaper said Jumblatt was referring to remarks by Diab on Tuesday in which he appeared to criticise French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for linking assistance to Lebanon with enacting of reforms and an IMF deal.    Le Drian visited Beirut last week.
    “It is high time the sponsors of the government realise the gravity of the situation their protege (Diab) has put us in,” Jumblatt said.
    Lebanon desperately needs aid as it wrestles with a financial meltdown rooted in decades of state corruption and waste, in its worst crisis since a 1975-90 civil war.    It entered negotiations with the International Monetary Fund in May after defaulting on its foreign currency debt.
    Jumblatt’s party is not represented in Diab’s cabinet, formed in January with backing from the Iran-backed Shi’ite movement Hezbollah and its allies.
    But the Druze, adherents to a small offshoot of Islam, are an important minority in Lebanon’s sectarian system of government and Jumblatt has frequently played the role of kingmaker.
    The state news agency quoted Diab as telling a cabinet meeting that France’s Le Drian’s warning and “lack of information” about government reforms indicated an “international decision not to assist Lebanon.”    Diab has deleted a tweet stating the same.
    The IMF talks have stalled in the absence of reforms and amid differences between the government and banks over the scale of Lebanon’s financial losses.
    The finance ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the IMF dialogue was “ongoing and constructive,” and the government remained commitment to constructive engagement over its debt restructuring.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by John Stonestreet)

7/29/2020 U.S. Slaps Sanctions On Syria In Push For Assad To End War by Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: A woman walks past a poster depicting Syria's President Bashar al-Assad in Damascus, Syria March 5, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed new sanctions aimed at cutting off funds for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government and warned that anyone doing business with Damascus was also at risk of being blacklisted.     Assad’s son, Hafez, was among four people and 10 entities, including a Syrian army unit, targeted by Washington over accusations they either aided government funding through luxury real estate construction – sometimes on land belonging to displaced civilians – or prolonged the nearly decade-long war.
    “More sanctions will follow as part of a sustained campaign of economic and political pressure to deny the Assad regime the resources it uses to wage war against the Syrian people,” the White House said in a statement.
    A crackdown by Assad on protesters in 2011 led to civil war, with Iran and Russia backing the government and the United States supporting the opposition. Millions of people have fled Syria and millions more have been internally displaced.
    The U.S. sanctions, imposed under the Caesar Syria Civilian Protection Act and other measures, come as Assad grapples with a deepening economic crisis.br>     Syria was already subject to U.S. and European Union sanctions that have frozen assets of the state and hundreds of companies and individuals.    Washington also bans American export and investment in Syria, as well as transactions involving oil and hydrocarbon products.
    Wednesday’s action marks the second round of sanctions imposed by Washington under the Caesar Act, which can freeze the assets of anyone dealing with Syria, regardless of nationality, and cover many more sectors.    It also targets those dealing with entities in Syria from Russia and Iran.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement that the sanctions were intended to push Assad to take irreversible steps toward ending the country’s war as called for by the United Nations Security Council.
    A senior U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, also cautioned investors in the Middle East, including Gulf nations, that the United States would not hesitate to blacklist those who help the Syrian government “steal land from displaced civilians to profit and support” Assad’s government.
    Syrian authorities blame Western sanctions for widespread civilian hardship in the country, where a collapse of the currency has led to soaring prices and people struggling to afford food and basic supplies.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft told a Security Council meeting on Syria on Wednesday that Washington’s sanctions on Syria are not intended to harm the country’s people and do not target humanitarian assistance.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Jonathan Landay in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey and Steve Holland; Editing by David Gregorio and Jonathan Oatis)

7/30/2020 Saudi King Salman Leaves Hospital After Gallbladder Surgery
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 14, 2019.
Picture taken January 14, 2019. Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s 84-year-old ruler, King Salman bin Abdulaziz, left King Faisal hospital in the capital Riyadh after recovery, state news agency SPA reported on Thursday.
    The Saudi king, the custodian of Islam’s holiest sites, was admitted to hospital on July 20 to undergo medical checks, after suffering from inflammation of the gall bladder, which he had removed later that week.
    In a video released by SPA, the king could be seen walking steadily out of hospital, followed by several aides and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, wearing a face mask.    The king was walking with a cane, as he usually does.
    The king, who has ruled the world’s largest oil exporter and close U.S. ally since 2015, chaired a meeting via video from hospital last week before his surgery.    In a video aired by state media outlets, he could be seen reading and leafing through documents.    Reuters could not independently verify the date the footage was filmed.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek and Ahmed Tolba; writing by Raya Jalabi Editing by Franklin Paul and Grant McCool)

7/30/2020 In Mecca, A Fortunate Few Pray For A Pandemic-Free World by Marwa Rashad
Muslim pilgrims enter Namira Mosque in Arafat to mark Haj's most important day, Day of Arafat, during their Haj pilgrimage amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) pandemic, outside the holy city of Mecca, Saudi Arabia July 30, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – In years before the coronavirus, some 3 million white-clad pilgrims from across the world flocked to Islam’s holiest sites to attend haj under Saudi Arabia’s blistering sun.
    With the pandemic making large gatherings impossible, only a few thousand pilgrims – Saudis and foreign residents – are gathering this year on Mount Mercy on the plains of Arafat for the most important ritual.    They share a common plea.
    “Everyone will be praying for this pandemic to end, and for all the people of the world to see better months to come after all the suffering caused by coronavirus,” said Ammar Khaled, a 29-year-old Indian pilgrim who is an IT professional in Jeddah.
    Saudi Arabia stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of haj, which has been marred in the past by deadly stampedes, fires and riots.
    Over the years, the kingdom has spent billions of dollars on making one of the world’s biggest religious gatherings more secure.
    This year it faces the challenge of keeping haj, a once-in-a-lifetime duty for every able-bodied Muslim who can afford it and a major source of income for the government, safe from COVID-19.
    For the first time in modern history it has dramatically reduced the number of pilgrims to ensure social distancing measures are adhered to.
    The haj minister said in June the number of pilgrims would be limited to around 1,000, but no official number has been given for those performing the rituals this week. Some local media cited a figure of some 10,000.
    Saudi healthcare and security professionals, on the frontlines of the battle against the disease, make up about 30% of the total, with the remainder coming from 160 nationalities residing in the Kingdom.
    Mask-wearing pilgrims circled the Kaaba – a stone structure that is the most sacred in Islam and the direction which Muslims face to pray – in small groups of 50 people, each keeping a safe distance apart and accompanied by a health professional monitoring their movements.
    Unlike past years when they lunged towards the Kaaba, pilgrims are not allowed to touch the plain stone cube building covered in black cloth and wrapped in Arabic writing in golden silk.
    Workers sanitised the structure, rubbing Oud perfume, the popular Arab sweet and woody scent, on its walls and carrying incense as they moved around the premises of the Grand Mosque.
PLAY IT SAFE
    Crowds of millions of pilgrims from around the world could be a hotbed for virus transmission, and in the past some worshippers have returned to their countries with respiratory and other diseases.
    The government is being cautious this time around.
    Pilgrims took several medical tests and were asked to quarantine for a week before starting their journey, then isolate for another week in their hotel rooms.
    They were given an electronic bracelet to monitor their movements and a suitcase containing all basic necessities.
    On site, 3,500 workers spread across the Grand Mosque in Mecca to sanitise it using 54,000 litres (11,888 gallons) of disinfectant and 1,050 litres of air fresheners daily.
    The floors of the mosque were scrubbed 10 times a day, up from three times in the past.
    Six hospitals were dedicated to serving pilgrims and 51 clinics and 200 ambulances were spread across different sites, with the support of 62 field teams and 8,000 healthcare professionals.
    “The kingdom is relying on years of experience in managing the pilgrimage and has worked hard in collaboration with the WHO to ensure that the pilgrimage goes very smooth,” said Hanan Balkhy, assistant director-general of antimicrobial resistance at the World Health Organization.
    With joy and tears, pilgrims spent the day on Mount Arafat, where the Prophet Mohammad gave his last sermon, raising hands in prayer to atone for their sins, their lips moving behind face masks.
    At sunset, the pilgrims will move to the plain of Muzdalifa, where in previous years they gathered pebbles to throw at stone columns symbolizing the devil at Jamarat.
    This year each pilgrim received sanitised pebbles in advance of the event on Friday, the first day of Eid al-Adha or the feast of sacrifice.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; additional reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Maha El Dahan and Mike Collett-White)

7/30/2020 Surveillance Scheme Hunts For COVID Traces In Israel’s Sewers
Employees of Kando, a wastewater management technology form, demonstrate a project whereby sewer surveillance
can pinpoint unknown outbreaks of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) by identifying traces of the virus
in the sewage system, in Ashkelon southern Israel July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    ASHKELON, Israel (Reuters) – Sewer surveillance in Israel’s coastal city of Ashkelon has pinpointed unknown outbreaks of COVID-19 by identifying traces of the virus in the sewage system.
    The project, similar to those undertaken in other countries, was carried out by wastewater management technology firm Kando and researchers from Israeli educational institutions including Ben Gurion University and the Technion in Haifa.
    The research pointed to wastewater as a means of detecting outbreaks of the disease early as well as the ability to narrow hotspots down to specific streets, Kando said on Thursday.
    Early studies by scientists in The Netherlands, France, Australia and elsewhere suggest sewage sampling for signs of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus could help assess the number of infections in a geographic area, without having to test every person.
    Samples of wastewater from the Paris sewage system have been showing traces of COVID-19 again since the end of June, having vanished when France imposed a lockdown.
    For the Israeli pilot study, the coastal city of Ashkelon, with 150,000 residents, was chosen as it was thought to have a low number of cases.    But researchers discovered significant remnants of the coronavirus in municipal wastewater, Kando said.
    The results suggest that tracking coronavirus remnants in the sewer network can be a more efficient gauge of the extent of outbreaks than testing individuals, especially given the asymptomatic nature of many suffering from COVID-19, it said.
    “This will allow authorities to take actions to contain future outbreaks,” said Nadav Davidovitch, director of Ben Gurion University’s School of Public Health.
    Kando said it is in talks with several cities in Israel and abroad about deploying the system.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen and Amir Cohen; Editing by Steven Scheer and Mike Collett-White)

7/31/2020 Zimbabwe Businesses Closed, Streets Deserted On Day Of Protests
Police officers check bus passengers ahead of planned anti-government protests during the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Harare, Zimbabwe, July 31, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo
    HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s businesses were shut and streets deserted in the capital Harare early on Friday as security forces increased patrols to stop anti-government protests called by activists over corruption and economic hardship.
    President Emmerson Mnangagwa, who is under pressure to revive a stricken economy, has said the protests constitute an “insurrection” by the opposition.
    In central Harare and nearby Mbare township – a hotbed of past protests – businesses, including banks and supermarkets, were shut as police and soldiers patrolled the streets.
    “Workers were told not to come today just in case there was trouble,” said a security guard, who identified himself as Martin, having a meal of tea and sweet potatoes at a bank.
    Security forces increased check points on roads leading into central Harare.
    A journalist in the second biggest city Bulawayo said businesses were also closed with few cars on the road.
    Scores were killed during a crackdown on the last major protests in January 2019 and the government shut the internet.
    Zimbabwe’s worst economic crisis in more than a decade is marked by inflation running above 700%, acute shortages of foreign currency and public hospitals crippled by strikes and a lack of medicine.
    Critics say Mnangagwa is exploiting a COVID-19 lockdown to stifle dissent.    Mnangagwa imposed an overnight curfew and restricted free movement last week to curb coronavirus infections.
    The president’s opponents say he has failed to unite a deeply divided nation after much hope when he took over from Robert Mugabe, who was removed in a coup in 2017.    Mnangagwa, like Mugabe before him, says the economic crisis is the result of sabotage by businesses and an opposition funded by the West.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; Editing by Peter Graff)

7/31/2020 Israel’s ‘Bibi Generation’ Starts To Turn On Netanyahu Over Economy And COVID-19 by Tova Cohen and Steven Scheer
Protesters gesture as the police use a water cannon during a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption
and his government's handling of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, in Jerusalem July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – For two months, many Israeli television viewers watched nightly as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued warnings and updates about the novel coronavirus and imposed lockdowns.
    When infections fell, he went on television on May 26 to boast of his success.    “Have a beer.    Enjoy yourselves,” he said.    Many Israelis did just that.
    But infections later surged, and opinions polls showed confidence in Netanyahu was falling.    He now faces nationwide protests over the state of the economy, hit by the coronavirus.
    Waving banners outside the prime minister’s Jerusalem residence, the demonstrators are led by young people who scarcely remember any other leader — Netanyahu has been prime minister since 2009 — but want him to resign.
    “We are a generation who have lost complete faith in the system.    People are fighting for their livelihood,” said Costa Black, 30, who was arrested during the protests and lost his restaurant job because of the pandemic’s impact on the economy.    “Our leaders stopped serving us, they don’t care about us.”
    A July 12 poll by the Israel Democracy Institute found 29.5% trust the 70-year-old leader’s handling of the crisis, down from 57.5% in April and 47% in June.
    Netanyahu has rebuked the protesters, tweeting: “Don’t drag the country towards anarchy, violence and attacks against the police.”
    But critics say Netanyahu — who normally receives high marks for his economic policies — appeared to lose interest in managing the crisis and failed to prepare a clear exit strategy after the first lockdown.
    Promised financial aid has been slow to arrive, and has been dogged by bureaucracy, businesses say.
    Some Israelis believe Netanyahu was distracted by plans to annex parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    Others say his attention turned to a corruption case against him, in which he denies wrongdoing.
    Netanyahu dismisses the criticism.    Addressing the delays in providing financial aid, he wrote on Facebook this week: “The money is on its way.    We will continue to take care of all Israeli citizens and we will bring more plans soon.”
BIGGEST CRISIS
    With a population of 9 million, Israel has recorded 68,000 coronavirus infections, of which 75% occurred post-lockdown, and 497 fatalities.    It is now on a “Red List” of countries whose citizens are barred from the European Union.
    Many restrictions have been lifted to revive business activity, but unemployment hovers at 21.5% and the economy is expected to contract by 6% in 2020.    A Central Bureau of Statistics survey showed 55% of Israelis fear they will have difficulty paying bills, up from 46% during lockdown.
    “Israelis understood in March-April that the situation is difficult and were willing to accept it because they felt the government was doing the utmost,” Israeli Democracy Institute President Yohanan Plesner said.
    “Now the sense is the government is no longer managing, from both an economic standpoint and a health standpoint.”
    Plesner said the long-term implications for Netanyahu remain unclear.    But the latest poll would give his Likud Party just 31 of the parliament’s 120 seats, down five.    Other right-wing parties would improve their standing.
    “The government has broken the contract with its citizens, that in a time of crisis it will take care of them,” said Oren Elgar, 27, a computer mapper protesting in Jerusalem.
    Though protests have not reached the levels of 2011, when high living costs brought hundreds of thousands of people onto the streets, they are growing.
    “Those who grew up under Netanyahu …(wonder) why there is no money to take care of our economy right now when it’s the biggest crisis we’ve known,” said former member of parliament Stav Shaffir, a protest leader in 2011.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell, Dedi Hayun and Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

7/31/2020 Iraq PM Calls Early Election For June 6, 2021
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attends a news conference with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani as he
wears a protective mask, in Tehran, Iran, July 21 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi on Friday called an early general election for June 6, 2021, roughly a year ahead of when it would normally be held.
    Early elections are a key demand of Iraqi anti-government protesters who staged months of mass demonstrations last year and were killed in their hundreds by security forces and gunmen suspected of links to militia groups.
    Iraqi’s parliament must still ratify the election date.
    Kadhimi was selected by parliament in May to head a government that would guide the country towards early elections.    His predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi quit under pressure from protests in December last year.
    Activists have also demanded fairer elections and changes to Iraq’s voting process and election committee after widespread accusations of fraud in the last nationwide vote in 2018.
    The United Nations praised Kadhimi’s announcement saying it would promote “greater stability and democracy
    Voter turnout in Iraq’s last election was 44.5 percent, but especially low in some impoverished southern Shi’ite Muslim areas.    Many Iraqis say they have no faith in Iraq’s electoral system.
    Demonstrators who took to the street in their hundreds of thousands last year accuse the political elite, especially lawmakers, of squandering Iraq’s oil wealth to line their own pockets.
    Kadhimi’s government faces a health crisis with a rapid spread of the coronavirus, a fiscal crisis because of low oil revenues and exports, challenges from powerful militia groups which oppose him and a rising Islamic State insurgency.
(Reporting by John Davison in Baghdad, Hesham Abdul Khalek and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Chris Reese, Kirsten Donovan)

8/1/2020 Egypt Reports Lowest Coronavirus Daily Figure Since May 3
Women walk in front of closed shops at the gold market street following the outbreak of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in old Cairo, Egypt July 26, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt reported 321 new COVID-19 infections on Friday, the health ministry said, the lowest figure since May 3.
    In total, 94,078 COVID-19 cases have been reported in Egypt, of which 39,638 have recovered and 4,188 have died, including 31 on Friday, the ministry said in a statement late on Friday.
    Egypt reopened resorts to foreign tourists on July 1 after tourism came to a halt in March under measures to curb the coronavirus outbreak.
    But Egypt has not yet made it to a “safe list” of countries for resumption of non-essential travel to the European Union.
    Tourism accounts for 5% of Egypt’s economic output, according to the government.    The figure rises to as much as 15% if jobs indirectly related to the sector are included, analysts say.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Stephen Coates)

8/1/2020 South Africa’s COVID-19 Cases Surpass Half A Million
FILE PHOTO: A Stranded commuter walks at a deserted Baragwanath taxi rank during a protest by the South African
minibus taxi operators against the government's financial relief package to the taxi industry, during
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, in Soweto, South Africa, June 22, 2020. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s confirmed cases of COVID-19 have crossed half a million, its health ministry said on Saturday, while cases in Africa as a whole approached a million.
    Africa’s most industrialised nation recorded 10,107 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, pushing the total to 503,290, the ministry said.
    Just over 3 million people have so far been tested for the virus in South Africa, which confirmed its first case five months ago, and 8,153 deaths have been recorded.    Africa has recorded 934,558 cases, 19,752 deaths and 585,567 recoveries, according to a Reuters tally.
    South Africa imposed a nationwide lockdown at the end of March to curb the spread of the virus, but it has now eased many restrictions to boost economic activity – as have other countries across the continent, a large chunk of whose populations are poor and face hunger.
    “The lockdown succeeded in delaying the spread of the virus by more than two months, preventing a sudden and uncontrolled increase in infections in late March,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a separate statement.
    As restrictions have eased, infections have spiked over the last two months.
    However, the daily increase in infections appears to be stabilising, particularly in the worst-hit Western Cape, Gauteng and Eastern Cape provinces, Ramaphosa added.
    The World Health Organisation’s top emergencies expert Mike Ryan last week warned that South Africa’s experience was a precursor for what was likely to happen across the continent.
    The difficulty – if not outright impossibility – of socially distancing in Africa’s poor, tightly packed urban areas, has also been an enabler for the spread of the virus.
    Cases in South Africa, which has the fifth highest total in the world, have overwhelmed an already stretched healthcare system.
    That presents a cautionary tale to the other African countries, whose health services are for the most part even more stretched.
    During August, the National Ventilator Project will deliver 20,000 locally-produced, non-invasive ventilators to where they are most needed, Ramaphosa said, as the government continues to mobilise additional facilities, equipment and personnel in provinces still experiencing an increase in infections.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Paul Simao)

8/2/2020 Thousands Protest Against Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu Over Alleged Corruption by OAN Newsroom
Thousands of protesters chant slogans and hold signs during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, Saturday, Aug 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Thousands of Israelis took to the streets in protest on Saturday over their prime minister’s alleged corruption.    An estimated 15,000 protesters gathered outside Benjamin Netanyahu’s home this weekend, where they called on him to resign.
    Netanyahu is facing an ongoing corruption trial, but has denied any wrongdoing and is determined to remain in office during the case.
Demonstrators chant slogans and hold signs during a rally against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin
Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, Saturday, Aug 1, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Critics of the prime minister have described him as incapable of leading the country.
    “It’s one of the biggest demonstrations in Jerusalem since people gathered here to protest, to say ‘We’ve had enough.’    The prime minister is corrupt, he’s not capable of leading.    He’s not capable of managing the country anymore because he’s so much involved in what is going on with his trial, he’s only centered in this.” – Tamir Guy Tsabary, protester
    In response to the demonstrations, Netanyahu tweeted out “don’t drag the country towards anarchy, violence and attacks against the police.”

8/2/2020 Syria Says U.S. Oil Firm Signed Deal With Kurdish-Led Rebels
FILE PHOTO: Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand together in the
village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria’s foreign ministry said on Sunday that an American oil company had signed an agreement with Kurdish-led rebels who control northeastern oilfields in what it described as an illegal deal aimed at “stealing” Syria’s crude.
    A ministry statement, published on state media, did not name the firm involved in the deal with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), an alliance that seized swathes of north and east Syria from Islamic State with U.S. help.
    There was no immediate response from SDF officials to a Reuters’ request for comment. There was no immediate comment from U.S. officials on Sunday.
    A U.S. senator and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had referred to an oilfields deal between the SDF and a U.S. firm during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Thursday.
    Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said during the committee hearing that SDF General Commander Mazloum Abdi informed him that a deal had been signed with an American company to “modernize the oil fields in northeastern Syria,” and asked Pompeo whether the administration was supportive of it.
    “We are,” Pompeo responded during the hearing streamed live by PBS.    “The deal took a little longer … than we had hoped, and now we’re in implementation.”
    Damascus “condemns in the strongest terms the agreement signed between al-Qasd militia (SDF) and an American oil company to steal     Syria’s oil under the sponsorship and support of the American administration”, the Syrian statement said.    “This agreement is null and void and has no legal basis.”
    Syria produced around 380,000 barrels of oil per day before civil war erupted following a crackdown on protests in 2011, with Iran and Russia backing President Bashar al-Assad’s government and the United States supporting the opposition.
    Damascus lost control of most oil producing fields in a stretch east of the Euphrates River in Deir al-Zor.    Western sanctions have also hit the energy industry.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has said that despite a military pullback from northeast Syria, a small number of American forces would remain “where they have oil.”    The Pentagon said late last year that oilfield revenues would go to the SDF.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/3/2020 Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Quits Over Lack Of ‘Will To Reform’ by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti speaks during a news conference with French Foreign Affair Minister
Jean-Yves Le Drian at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Nassif Hitti resigned on Monday over what he described as lack of political will to reform as his nation wrestles with a financial crisis posing the biggest threat to stability since a 1975-1990 civil war.
    Foreign donors have made it clear there will be no aid until Beirut enacts long-stalled reforms to tackle state waste and corruption, root causes of the collapse.    Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) have been put on hold amid a row over the scale of financial losses.
    “Given the absence of an effective will to achieve structural, comprehensive reform which our society and the international community have urged us to do, I have decided to resign,” Hitti said in a statement.
    “I took part in this government to work for one boss called Lebanon, then I found in my country multiple bosses and contradicting interests,” he said.    “If they do not come together in the interest of rescuing the Lebanese people, God forbid, the ship will sink with everyone on it.”
    Hitti, a former Lebanese ambassador to the Arab League, was named foreign minister in January when Prime Minister Hassan Diab took office with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies.
    His decision to quit was also driven by differences with Diab, especially after a recent visit by France’s foreign minister, and frustration at being sidelined, sources close to the ministry earlier told Reuters.
    Diab appeared to criticise French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian for tying any aid to reforms and an IMF deal on his visit to Beirut last month.
    The state entered talks with the IMF in May after defaulting on its hefty foreign currency debt.
    But hopes of salvation through an IMF deal have been put on hold in the absence of reforms and amid differences between the government and banks over the financial losses.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/3/2020 South African Corruption Watchdog Probes COVID-19 Tenders by Alexander Winning
FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa visits the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) treatment facilities at
the NASREC Expo Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa April 24, 2020. Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa’s anti-corruption watchdog said on Monday it was investigating irregularities in coronavirus-related tenders, the latest in a series of scandals that trade unions said showed the government’s failure to tackle graft.
    The probes by the Public Protector come soon after investigators launched separate inquiries into the procurement of personal protective equipment (PPE) in Gauteng province, the country’s economic heartland.
    President Cyril Ramaphosa staked his reputation on tackling graft when he replaced Jacob Zuma as head of state more than two years ago, but he is on the back foot after news reports alleging that politically connected individuals have milked the state for millions during the coronavirus pandemic.
    Ramaphosa used a weekly newsletter to the nation to promise that his government would “finally deal with the entrenched patronage networks that enable government employees to bid for state contracts through their friends and relatives.”
    “We will not allow public funds hard-earned by loyal taxpayers or donations by patriotic companies and individuals and the international community to vanish down a black hole of corruption.”
    COSATU, the country’s largest trade federation and a key ally of the governing African National Congress (ANC), said in a statement that Ramaphosa’s administration had acted feebly in the face of the recent corruption allegations.
    It called corruption the biggest threat to the economy.
    The Public Protector said it was investigating tender irregularities at least in three provinces, including over a quarantine site that is believed to be owned by a government official and PPE procurement in the KwaZulu-Natal province.
    South Africa has recorded more than a half a million cases of COVID-19, the most in Africa, with the number of infections continuing to rise rapidly.
    The main opposition party, the Democratic Alliance, over the weekend called for a snap parliamentary debate on what it described as a “feeding frenzy” by ANC-connected individuals after normal procurement rules were suspended because of the coronavirus.
    An ANC spokesman did not answer his phone when Reuters sought comment on Monday.
    Ramaphosa’s spokeswoman, Khusela Diko, and a top Gauteng health official have taken leaves of absence after a media report said that Diko’s husband won PPE contracts with the Gauteng government.
    Diko and her husband have denied wrongdoing and the health official has said he was not involved in provincial procurement processes.
    Despite Ramaphosa’s assurances, some analysts are sceptical he will make much headway tackling corruption.
    “The ANC sustains itself off state tenders,” political analyst Ralph Mathekga said.
    “The only way Ramaphosa can remain president is to act surprised and look the other way.    He created an integrity ticket for himself, and now he is failing at living up to it.”
(Additional reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

8/3/2020 Kuwaiti PM Assures Cabinet On 91-Year-Old Emir’s Health: Tweet
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah looks on as he witnesses a signing ceremony with Chinese
President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 9, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Kuwait’s prime minister assured the cabinet on Monday of the 91-year-old emir’s health which he said had remarkably improved, Kuwait’s Council of Ministers said in a tweet.
    Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is in the United States completing medical treatment following surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait.
(This story has been refiled to correct time reference in lede to Monday, not Tuesday)
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/3/2020 Israel Hits Squad That Placed Explosives Along Syria Frontier, Army Says
Israeli soldiers rest near a gate in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights
near the Israel-Syria frontier August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Israeli army on Monday said it targeted a group of four people who had planted explosives along the border fence with Syria on the Golan Heights.
    Soldiers spotted the group near a frontier outpost overnight and, backed by air support, “fired simultaneously towards the squad of four terrorists, a hit was identified,” the military said.
    No Israelis were wounded. An army spokesman said it was too soon to say if the squad belonged to any organization, but that Israel held “the Syrian regime accountable.”
    There was no immediate comment from Syria.
    Tensions have risen in recent weeks along the Israel-Syria frontier after a fighter of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah was killed in an apparent Israeli strike on the edge of Damascus.
    Israel has since boosted its forces on its northern front, where it borders Lebanon and Syria.
    The overnight encounter occurred at the same spot where until two years ago, Israel had operated a field hospital to treat Syrians who had been wounded in the Syrian civil war, Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an army spokesman, told reporters.
    The army had noticed “irregular activity” in that area for about a week and had a commando team waiting there in ambush, Conricus said.
    A search of the area was being carried out.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Dan Grebler; Editing by Robert Birsel)

8/4/2020 Crisis-Weary Lebanon Braces For Hariri Tribunal Verdict by Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri leaves the Elysee Palace following a meeting with
French President Jacques Chirac in Paris, France, February 27, 2001. REUTERS/Xavier Lhospice
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Fifteen years after a truck bomb killed Lebanon’s former Sunni leader Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, triggering regional upheaval, a U.N.-backed court trying four suspects from Shi’ite Hezbollah delivers a verdict on Friday that could shake the country again.
    The defendants, members of the powerful Iran-backed group, have been tried in absentia on charges of planning and arranging the 2005 bombing which killed the former prime minister who spearheaded Lebanon’s reconstruction after its long civil war.
    Hariri’s assassination prompted mass protests in Beirut and a wave of international pressure which forced Syria to end its 29-year military presence in Lebanon after the U.N. investigator linked it with the bombing.
    The assassination also inflamed political and sectarian tensions inside Lebanon and across the Middle East, particularly when investigators started probing potential Hezbollah links to the death of a politician who was backed by the West as well as Sunni Gulf Arab states opposed to Tehran.
    Hezbollah, which is both a political party in Lebanon’s government and a heavily armed guerrilla group, denies any role in Hariri’s killing and dismisses the Netherlands-based tribunal as politicised.
    Few expect the defendants to be handed over if convicted, but any guilty verdicts could deepen rifts unresolved since the 1975-1990 civil war, in a country already reeling from the worst economic crisis in decades and a deepening COVID-19 outbreak.
    Hariri’s supporters, including his son Saad who subsequently also served as prime minister, say they are not seeking revenge or confrontation, but that the court verdict must be respected.
    “We… look forward to August 7 being a day of truth and justice for Lebanon and a day of punishment for the criminals,” Saad Hariri said last week.
AVOIDING STRIFE
    Hariri stepped down as prime minister in October after failing to address demands of protesters demonstrating against years of corruption by a ruling elite which has driven Lebanon to its current financial crisis.
    His successor Hassan Diab, backed by Hezbollah and its allies, says the country must avoid further turmoil over the tribunal verdicts.    “Confronting strife is a priority,” Diab tweeted last week.
    In the Feb. 14, 2005 bombing, a truck laden with 3,000 kg of high-grade explosives blew up as Rafik Hariri’s motorcade passed Beirut’s waterfront Saint Georges hotel, killing him and 21 other people and leaving a huge crater in the road.
    Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi are charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack.    Ayyash is charged with committing a terrorist act, homicide and attempted homicide.
    Prosecutors said data culled from telephone networks showed that the defendants called each other from dozens of mobile phones to monitor Hariri in the months before the attack and to coordinate their movements on the day itself.
    The men have not been seen in public for years.
    Hezbollah has often questioned the tribunal’s integrity and neutrality, saying its work had been tainted by false witnesses and reliance on telephone records that Israeli spies arrested in Lebanon could have manipulated.
    “It is Hezbollah’s right to have doubts about the court, which transformed into political score-settling far from the truth,” said     Salem Zahran, an analyst with links to Hezbollah leaders.    Any verdict “has no value” to the group, he said.
    Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of Lebanon’s An-Nahar newspaper, said neither Saad Hariri nor Hezbollah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah wanted to escalate tensions.
    But he expected Hariri to call for the defendants to be handed over if found guilty – which would leave Hezbollah on the defensive politically despite its military strength.    If the group refused to surrender them it could put the government which it helped put together in difficulty.
    As it tries to tackle the deep economic crisis, a guilty verdict could also jeopardise Lebanon’s efforts, which have been supported by France, to win international aid.
    “France… will have to take a position on Hezbollah after the verdict comes out on Aug. 7,” Boumonsef said.
    Germany and Britain have designated Hezbollah a terrorist organisation.
    France hosted a donor meeting in Paris in 2018 when Beirut won more than $11 billion in pledges for infrastructure investment.    Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told Lebanese leaders in Beirut last month that Paris was ready to mobilise international support if Lebanon moved ahead with reform.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

8/4/2020 Algerian Leader Secures Fugitive Officer With Erdogan Call, Source Says by Lamine Chikhi
FILE PHOTO: Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune arrives for the opening of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State
and the Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
(This August 2 story has been refiled to remove extraneous word from paragraph 6)
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria’s president phoned his Turkish counterpart last month to secure the return of a fugitive military official who fled Algeria days after its powerful army chief died in December, a top Algerian security source said.
    Guermit Bounouira was handed over to Algerian security officials in Turkey on Thursday, accused of leaking military secrets, and will face a military judge on Monday in Blida prison southwest of Algiers, the source told Reuters.
    Turkish officials were not immediately available to comment on Sunday, which is not a working day in Turkey.    A lawyer for Bounouira was not immediately available for comment.
    Turkey’s surrender of Bounouira to Algerian authorities underscores the importance Ankara attaches to its relationship with Algeria, a powerful neighbour of Libya where Turkish forces have intervened in the civil war.
    Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune phoned Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan about a week before Islam’s Eid al-Adha holiday, which began on Friday, to request he hand Bounouira over, the source said.
    Bounouira, a top aide to the late army chief Ahmed Gaed Salah, is accused of leaking a chart showing movements of army officers including their names and codes, the source said.    The chart has circulated on social media, embarrassing the army, although it was unclear who posted it.
    Gaed Salah emerged last year as Algeria’s most powerful man when weekly mass protests succeeded in unseating the veteran president, Abdelaziz Bouteflika, and a host of other officials.
SECRETS
    However, Gaed Salah died suddenly of a heart attack on Dec. 23, weeks after a presidential election that he had pushed for, but which the street protest movement opposed as illegitimate.
    Bounouira fled to Turkey in the week after Gaed Salah died and the Algerian security source said he had subsequently leaked military secrets to activists based abroad.
    “Guermit was Gaed Salah’s closest man.    As such he was aware of military secrets,” the source said.
    Tebboune, who won the December election, is trying to stamp his own mark on Algeria’s government after Bouteflika’s two decades in office and appointed a new army chief in January, though the military remains Algeria’s most powerful institution.
    The Algerian president has pushed for Libya’s neighbours to have a bigger role in finding a solution to the conflict there, and opposes direct foreign involvement.
    Turkey directly intervened there in January in support of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) against eastern-based Libyan forces backed by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt.
    For Ankara, any direct Algerian opposition to its role in Libya could complicate a military operation far from its own shores.
    However, despite some disagreements over Libya, Algeria and Turkey have maintained good relations.    “We have worked very well with our counterparts in Turkey,” the Algerian security source said.
(Reporting by Lamine Chikhi, additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, editing by Angus McDowall and Giles Elgood)

8/4/2020 Massive Blast In Beirut Kills At Least 10, Injures Hundreds by Samia Nakhoul and Yara Abi Nader
Smoke rises in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A huge explosion near the center of Beirut killed at least 10 people, injured hundreds and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.
    The most powerful explosion to hit Beirut in years shook the ground, leaving some residents thinking an earthquake had struck.    Dazed and weeping, some of them wounded, people walked through streets checking to see if relatives were hurt.
    The blast occurred in the city’s port area.    Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored there had blown up.    Lebanon-based broadcaster Mayadeen cited the country’s customs director saying tonnes of nitrate exploded.
    Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media initially showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast that sent a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky.    Those filming the incident from high buildings in other areas of the city were thrown backwards by the shock.
    At least 10 bodies were taken to hospitals, a security source and a medical source told Reuters.    The Lebanese Red Cross said hundreds of people were taken to hospitals for treatment.
    Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account.    Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.
    The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.
    It was not immediately clear what caused the blaze that set off the blast.
Graphic: Blast rocks Lebanese port area https://graphics.reuters.com/LEBANON-SECURITY/BLAST/xklvydjjqpg/chart.png
SCREAMING AND RUNNING
    Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations.    An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast.
    The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.
    “I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut.    People were screaming and running, bleeding.    Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” said a Reuters witness.
    Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east).    For a long time after the blast, ambulance sirens sounded across the city and helicopters hovered above.
    The health minister told Reuters there was a “very high number” of injured.    Al Mayadeen TV said hundreds were wounded.
    Another Reuters witness said she saw heavy grey smoke near the port area and then heard an explosion and saw flames and black smoke: “All the downtown area windows are smashed and there are wounded people walking around. It is total chaos.”
    U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq told reporters it was not immediately clear what the cause was, and that there was no indication of any injuries to any U.N. personnel.
    “We do not have information about what has happened precisely, what has caused this, whether it’s accidental or manmade act,” he said.
    In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island lying 110 miles (180 km) northwest of Beirut, residents reported hearing two large bangs in quick succession.    One resident of the capital Nicosia said his house shook, rattling shutters.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Yara Abi Nader and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Dubai and Beirut bureau; Writing by Lisa Barrington, Ghaida Ghantous and Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones and Edmund Blair)

8/4/2020 Jordan Delays Resuming International Flights After COVID-19 Surge Abroad
FILE PHOTO: Jordanian students who were studying abroad await their luggage after returning home amid concerns over the
spread of the coronavirus, at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, May 6, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan on Tuesday postponed a resumption of international flight services that was planned for Wednesday almost five months after they were suspended due to the coronavirus outbreak, officials said.
    Civil Aviation Commission chief Haitham Misto had announced last month that Queen Alia International Airport outside the capital Amman would reopen on Aug. 5 for about 22 destinations on a so-called low risk “green” list of countries.
    Officials are worried that large numbers of people arriving by air could reverse Jordan’s success in curbing the spread of COVID-19 – the few recorded daily cases over the last six weeks have been attributed mostly to people coming from abroad.
    Concerns have been heightened in recent days by a spike in COFID-19 infections in neighbouring Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, all major travel destinations from Jordan.
    The country has recorded 1,218 cases with 11 deaths – a much smaller known toll than in many other Middle East countries.
    Government spokesman Amjad Adailah told state media the airport would however continue to operate for repatriation flights arranged for its citizens in the Gulf and Europe and also for foreigners resident in Jordan who want to leave.
    Few of the tens of thousands of Jordanian workers who have lost their jobs in the coronavirus-stricken economies of oil-rich Gulf states have returned home on repatriation flights due to expensive fares.
    The closure of Queen Alia International Airport, a major regional hub which normally processes around nine million passengers annually, has worsened the economic damage wrought by the pandemic on Jordan’s aid-dependent economy.
    Tourism is a major source of foreign currency and had been enjoying an unprecedented boom before the pandemic.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/4/2020 COVID-19 Deaths In Yemen Reach 500: Reuters Tally
FILE PHOTO: Mourners lower the body of a man, suspected to have died from the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Taiz, Yemen June 25, 2020. Picture taken June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Anees Mahyoub
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The number of people who have died in Yemen after contracting the new coronavirus has reached 500, according to a Reuters tally, although aid organisations say the death toll is probably much higher.
    About 80% of the population rely on humanitarian assistance in Yemen after years of war.    The country is divided between the Saudi-backed government based in Aden in the south and the Houthi movement based in the capital Sanaa in the north     The Saudi-backed government has declared 1,740 coronavirus cases, including 499 deaths, the Reuters tally shows.    The Houthis, who control most big urban centres, have not provided figures since May 16 when authorities said there were four cases, and one death.
    The United Nations says the virus is circulating rapidly and undetected throughout the country and infections and deaths are probably much higher.
    According to World Health Organization data, there have been 1,738 COVID-19 infections, with 500 deaths, but the count does not include figures from Houthi authorities.
    A government health ministry spokesman has said it reports figures daily and that “nothing was hidden.”    Houthi authorities have not responded to requests for comment on coronavirus numbers.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

8/4/2020 Israeli Leaders Locked In Budget Battle As Economic Crisis Deepens by Steven Scheer and Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement at the Israeli Defense Ministry in
Tel Aviv, Israel with the Alternate PM and Defence Minister Benny Gantz July 27 2020, following the high
tensions with the Lebanese militant group of Hezbollah at the Israeli-Lebanon border. Tal Shahar/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A stand-off between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main coalition partner over passage of Israel’s budget threatens to trigger its fourth election in a little over a year amid an economic crisis fuelled by the coronavirus outbreak.
    A ballot is automatically mandated if a budget is not approved by parliament by Aug. 25.    Analysts are concerned that a new election and likely protracted coalition talks afterwards would have a crippling impact on an economy already expected to contract 6% this year, with unemployment now above 21%.
    Such instability could also make prospects for any return to a long-dormant peace process with the Palestinians even more remote and complicate Netanyahu’s bid to annex, with U.S. approval, parts of the occupied West Bank.
    The budget is pivotal to a “unity” accord reached after an inconclusive March election. It calls for Defence Minister Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party to take over as premier from right-wing Likud chief Netanyahu in 2021.
    The power-sharing pact stipulated that Israel would pass a binannual budget but Netanyahu is now calling for a 2020 budget instead. Gantz insists on sticking to the deal that was to be his insurance policy for a smooth transition of power.
    Failure to resolve the dispute could provide Netanyahu with a quick way out of the deal with Gantz and enable him to remain prime minister through an election campaign, possibly as early as November or in March if a 2021 budget is not agreed.
    Some analysts point to Netanyahu’s corruption trial, which began in May, as a catalyst for the crisis.    A snap ballot could lead to a delay in proceedings, and he could opt to pursue a law to block his prosecution if he wins another term.
    “The whole issue is really mostly politics,” said former Bank of Israel governor Karnit Flug.
UNCERTAINTY
    Flug, now vice president of research at the Israel Democracy Institute, said a budget for only 2020 implied government instability, and “that really intensifies economic uncertainty.”
    Economists said that with a 2020 budget effectively covering only the last quarter, at this late stage passing a separate one for 2021 made no sense.
    Cedric Berry, associate director of sovereign ratings at Fitch Ratings, said any budget delay “would heighten concerns about Israel’s ability to implement prudent fiscal policy and erode (its) track record of debt reduction.”    He said this could pressure Israel’s ratings.
    For Netanyahu, now in his fifth term, an election with a health crisis raging would be especially risky.    But many Israeli political commentators have been sceptical from the start about his pledge to transfer power to Gantz.
    “Gantz is concerned that Netanyahu is aiming to establish the pretext to bring down the government in early 2021 … Gantz is right to be concerned,” said Henry Rome, a senior analyst at the Eurasia Group think tank.
    Flug said another election could make Israeli leaders prone to taking populist moves leading to a loss in market confidence, a rise in risk premium and damage to credit ratings.
Amid a second wave of COVID-19 infections, public trust in Netanyahu’s handling of the crisis has plummeted.    Thousands of Israelis have taken to the streets, demanding his resignation over the graft charges, which he denies.
    But opinion polls predict a weak showing for Gantz in any new ballot, with Netanyahu still backed by a large bloc in parliament.
    Denying he is pushing for an election, Netanyahu argues that an annual budget would allow the government to stream money immediately to battle the coronavirus and that a longer-term budget would include spending cuts.
    Gantz dismissed that as a “fairytale” in an interview with the Ynet website on Tuesday, saying Israel needed a long-term fiscal plan for economic and political stability.
(Additional reporting by Tova Cohen and Dedi Hayun; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

8/4/2020 Egypt To Withdraw From Latest Dam Talks For Internal Consultations: Statement
FILE PHOTO: A handout satellite image shows a view of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and the Blue Nile
River in Ethiopia June 26, 2020. Picture taken June 26, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt said on Tuesday that it has decided to withdraw from the latest round of tripartite negotiations with Ethiopia over its multi-billion dollar dam on the Blue Nile for internal consultations after Addis Ababa proposed new draft of filling guidelines.
    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built about 15 km (9 miles) from the Ethiopian border with Sudan on the Blue Nile, has become a major sticking point between the three countries.    Egypt fears the $4 billion project could lead to water shortages upstream, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety.
    The Blue Nile is a tributary of the Nile river, from which Egypt’s 100 million people get 90% of their fresh water.
    Cairo said Addis presented a proposal on Tuesday that excluded “operating guidelines” as well as “a legal mechanism to settle disputes.”
    Sudan’s irrigation ministry said the latest Ethiopian position presented in talks on Tuesday raised new fears over the track the negotiations had been on.
    “[We] stress the seriousness of the risks that the dam represents for Sudan and its people, including environmental and social risks, and for the safety of millions of residents along the banks of the Blue Nile… which reinforces the need to reach a comprehensive agreement covering both filling and operation,” the Sudanese irrigation ministry said.
    Ethiopia’s Irrigation Minister Seleshi Bekele had expressed optimism over the talks and tweeted earlier on Tuesday saying: “Ethiopia would like to sign the first filling agreement at the soonest and also continue negotiation to finalize a comprehensive agreement in subsequent periods.”
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had said earlier in July that his country had already achieved its first-year target for filling the reservoir, thanks to a heavy rainy season.
(Reporting by Momen Saeed Atallah in Cairo and Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Marguerita Choy)

8/5/2020 Horror show’: Dozens dead after enormous Beirut blast - Suspected cause is explosive material at port by Chris Woodyard, USA TODAY
    A massive explosion rocked Beirut with the force of an earthquake, followed by a shock wave that blew out windows and caused widespread damage across the Lebanese capital.    At least 60 people were killed and more than 3,000 wounded, according to Health Minister Hassan Hamad.
    Injured residents flooded hospitals, pushing them past capacity.    Medical officials pleaded for blood donations.
    The blast followed a fire that broke out in the city’s port area, based on multiple videos from the scene.
    Though the cause of the explosion was yet to be officially determined, Abbas Ibrahim, chief of Lebanese General Security, said it might have been caused by highly explosive material that was stored at the port after it was confiscated from a ship.
    Television channel LBC said the material was sodium nitrate.    Mohammed Fahmi, Lebanon’s interior minister, told Al-Jazeera news the blast appeared to have been caused by ammonium nitrate that was stored in a warehouse.    Ammonium nitrate, used in chemical fertilizer production, was a component of the explosion of the Denver FBI building.
Video captured a mushroom cloud, followed by an earth-rattling shock wave. ANWAR AMRO/AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES


8/5/2020 Beirut Reels From Huge Blast, As Death Toll Climbs To At Least 100 by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis
Smoke rises from the site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese rescue workers dug through rubble on Wednesday looking for survivors after a massive warehouse explosion sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 100 people and injuring nearly 4,000.
    Officials said the toll was expected to rise after the blast at port warehouses that stored highly explosive material.    The explosion was the most powerful ever to rip through Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections.
    President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port without safety measures.    He called it “unacceptable.”
    An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on negligence.    Ordinary Lebanese directed anger at politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance that plunged the nation into financial crisis.
    “It’s like a war zone. I’m speechless,” Beirut’s mayor, Jamal Itani, told Reuters while inspecting damage he estimated ran into billions of dollars.    “This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon.”
    The head of Lebanon’s Red Cross, George Kettani, said at least 100 people had been killed.    “We are still sweeping the area.    There could still be victims.    I hope not,” he said.
    The intensity of the blast threw victims into the sea and rescue teams were still trying to recover bodies.    Many of those killed were port and custom employees and people working in the area or driving through during rush hour.
    The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues because hospitals were overwhelmed, Kettani said.
    Facades of central Beirut buildings were ripped off, furniture was sucked into streets and roads were strewn with glass and debris.    Cars near the port were flipped over.
    People walked around in shock, with helicopters overhead and teams searching for the missing at sea.
    “This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone.    My building shuddered, I thought it was an earthquake,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.
    Like others, he blamed politicians.    “We already have a financial economic crisis, people are hungry and, these thieves and looters, will they compensate for the losses? Who will compenstate for those who lost their loved ones,” he said.
WAR MEMORIES
    Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut, said: “This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon.    I really blame the ruling class.”
    For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975 to 1990 civil war that ripped the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which had been rebuilt.    Post-war reconstruction and political corruption mired Lebanon in huge debts.
    “With this blast they took us back to the years of war … Our leaders are in a coma,” said Ali Abdulwahed, 46, a manager at Café de l’Etoile, a restaurant next to parliament.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab promised accountability for the blast at the “dangerous warehouse,” adding “those responsible will pay the price.”
    Officials did not say what caused the blaze that set off the blast.    A security source and media said it was started by welding work being carried out on a hole in the warehouse.
    The blast was heard as far away as Cyprus, a Mediterranean island about 100 miles (160 km) across the sea from Beirut.
    The port district was left a tangled wreck, disabling the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.    Lebanon has already been struggling to house and feed hundreds of thousands of refugees from Syria.
    “The blast blew me metres away.    I was in a daze and was all covered in blood.    It brought back the vision of another explosion I witnessed against the U.S. embassy in 1983,” said Huda Baroudi, a Beirut designer.
    The U.S. embassy in Beirut, which moved to another part of the city after the 1983 attack, warned residents about reports of toxic gases released by the blast, urging people to stay indoors and wear masks.
    Footage of the explosion posted on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port, followed by an enormous blast, sending a white mushroom cloud and fireball into the sky.    Those filming the incident from tower blocks as far as 2 km (one mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shockwave.
    The explosion came three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.
    Hariri was killed by a huge truck bomb on the same waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.
(GRAPHIC: Blast rocks Lebanese port area – https://graphics.reuters.com/LEBANON-SECURITY/BLAST/xklvydjjqpg/chart.png)
(Reporting by Ayat Basma, Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis; Writing by Dominic Evans, Ghaida Ghantous, Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair)

8/5/2020 Drone Footage Shows Devastation Left Behind In Beirut by OAN Newsroom
Smoke rises from the scene of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    New drone video has revealed the damage left behind by the fatal explosion in Lebanon.    The clip showed miles of flattened buildings and debris near the shipping port in Beirut.
    A warehouse containing thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate erupted on Tuesday, killing at least 135 people and injuring 5,000 more.
    This came after President Trump told reporters he had spoken to his top generals, who reportedly told him it was likely a bomb or an attack.

Extensive damage shows at the site of an explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
    Defense Secretary Mark Esper has commented on the explosion and offered humanitarian support.    On Wednesday, Esper reiterated the cause of the blast remains unclear, but noted most believe it was an accident.
    He expressed his condolences for those who were killed or injured during the incident.    He added he has been working with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to provide assistance to Lebanon.
    “We’re reaching out to the Lebanese government, have reached out.    We’re positioning ourselves to provide whatever assistance we can…to assist the people of Lebanon.    Again, it’s the right thing to do.    It’s the humanitarian thing to do in the wake of this tragedy.” – Mark Esper, Secretary of Defense
Damaged buildings are seen after a massive explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)
    The country has announced it will hold a three-day period of mourning. A two-week state of emergency has also been declared in the city.

8/5/2020 Lebanon Tribunal Postpones Verdict In Hariri Case To August 18
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri speaks during an interview with
Reuters at his home in Beirut, Lebanon, March 24, 2002. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Wednesday said it would postpone its verdict in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri to August 18, following the huge explosion in Beirut’s port on Tuesday.
    The United Nations-backed court located outside The Hague, Netherlands, was due to give a verdict in the trial of four men who are accused in the deaths of Hariri and 21 others this Friday.
    The verdict has been delayed “out of respect for the countless victims of the devastating explosion that shook Beirut on 4 August, and the three-days of public mourning in Lebanon,” the court’s registry said in a statement.
    Before the explosion that rocked Beirut on Tuesday, the country had been bracing for the verdict in the case of the men charged with planning and arranging the bombing 15 years ago.
    The four defendants, who are not in custody and are being tried in absentia, are linked to Lebanon’s Shia Islamist group Hezbollah.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/6/2020 ‘Still covered in blood’ - Lebanon launches probe into ammonium nitrate stored at port; explosion’s toll rises to 135 dead, at least 5,000 injured by Nadia Al Faour, USA TODAY
    BEIRUT – Blood stained the asphalt Wednesday as streets teemed with rescuers a day after a massive explosion killed at least 135 people and wounded about 5,000, Lebanese Health Minister Hamad Hassan said.
    The government declared a twoweek state of emergency, effectively giving the military full powers during this time, and announced an investigation into ammonium nitrate stored at the port where the blast originated.
    The explosion had the force of at least 500 tons of TNT, according to a U.S. government source who was not authorized to speak publicly.    The estimate was based on the widespread destruction, said the source who has experience with military explosives.
    Much of downtown was littered with damaged cars, mounds of debris.
Tuesday’s blast appeared to have the force of 500 tons of TNT. Some 200,000 people may be homeless. AFP VIA GETTY IMAGES

A survivor is taken out of the rubble after the explosion at Beirut’s port, the cause of which is being investigated. HASSAN AMMAR/AP

8/6/2020 Lebanon Mourns Victims Of Devastating Blast, Searches For Missing by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis
A man stands near the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon mourned on Thursday the victims of the most powerful blast to hit the country that was already being crushed by an economic crisis, as rescuers searched for those missing since the explosion that flattened Beirut port and devastated the city.
    French President Emmanuel Macron, making the first visit by a foreign leader since Tuesday’s blast which killed at least 137 people and injured 5,000, was due to arrive in Beirut later on Thursday along with specialist rescue personnel and equipment.
    Dozens are missing and up to a quarter of a million people were left without homes fit to live in after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.
    Officials expect the death toll to rise.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from Thursday for victims of the explosion, the most devastating ever to hit the city that is still scarred by civil war three decades ago and reeling from a financial meltdown and surge in coronavirus cases.
    Officials have blamed the disaster on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material held for years at the port in unsafe conditions.    The government has ordered port officials to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters.
    But Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen and benefited from decades of state corruption and bad governance.
    “They will scapegoat somebody to defer responsibility,” said Rabee Azar, a 33-year-old construction worker who came to the port on Thursday morning to try to start repairs.    “This explosion was final bullet to kill off the country.”
    “Nothing will come of the investigation.    Nobody will believe them,” said Azar, speaking near the smashed remains of a grain silo where tonnes of wheat was scattered on the ground.
‘NEGLIGENCE’
    President Michel Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years at the port after it was seized.    He promised a thorough investigation and to hold those responsible to account.
    An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence,” saying “nothing was done” to remove hazardous material.
    Some local media reported sightings of drones or planes flying in the area shortly before the explosion and some Beirut residents said they saw missiles fired. But officials have denied the incident was the result of an attack.
    A Lebanese security source said the initial blaze that sparked the explosion was caused by welding work.
    White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the U.S. government had not ruled out the possibility that Tuesday’s explosion was an attack and was still gathering intelligence.
    People who felt the explosive force said they had witnessed nothing comparable in years of conflict and upheaval in Beirut, which was devastated by the 1975-1990 civil war and since then has experienced big bomb attacks, unrest and a war with Israel.
    “First we heard one sound.    Seconds later there was a big explosion.    All hell broke loose,” said Ibrahim Zoobi, who works near the port.    “I saw people thrown five or six metres.”
    He said those in the port district “were burned or charred.”
    Health officials reported that hospitals were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured.
    Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told Al Hadath TV total losses from the blast could reach $15 billion, including losses to businesses amid the broader fallout.
    Operations have been paralysed at Beirut port, Lebanon’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people, forcing ships to be diverted to smaller ports.
    The World Bank said on Wednesday it would work with Lebanon’s partners to mobilise public and private financing for reconstruction and recovery.    But it was unclear what impact this would have on the country difficult negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Edmund Blair)

8/6/2020 Beirut Reels From Huge Blast As Death Toll Climbs To At Least 135 by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis
Smoke rises from the site of an explosion in Beirut, Lebanon August 4, 2020. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese rescue teams pulled out bodies and hunted for missing people on Wednesday from the wreckage caused by a massive warehouse explosion that sent a devastating blast wave across Beirut, killing at least 135.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab declared three days of mourning from Thursday as early investigations blamed negligence for the explosion at Beirut port, which has left tens of people missing and injured more than 5,000 others.
    Up to a quarter of a million people were left without homes fit to live in, officials said, after shockwaves smashed building facades, sucked furniture out into streets and shattered windows miles inland.
    The death toll was expected to rise from the blast, which officials blamed on a huge stockpile of highly explosive material stored for years in unsafe conditions at the port.
    The explosion was the most powerful ever in Beirut, a city still scarred by civil war that ended three decades ago and reeling from an economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus infections.    The blast rattled buildings on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, about 100 miles (160 km) away.
    “No words can describe the horror that has hit Beirut last night, turning it into a disaster-stricken city,” President Michel Aoun said in an address to the nation during an emergency cabinet session.
    Aoun said 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and bombs, was stored for six years at the port after it was seized.
    government was “determined to investigate and expose what happened as soon as possible, to hold the responsible and the negligent accountable,” he said.
    An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed the incident on “inaction and negligence,” saying “nothing was done” by committees and judges involved in the matter to order the removal of hazardous material.
    The cabinet ordered port officials involved in storing or guarding the material to be put under house arrest, ministerial sources told Reuters.
    Officials have not confirmed the origin of an initial blaze that sparked the explosion, although a security source and local media said it was started by welding work.
Graphic: Blast rocks Lebanese port area https://graphics.reuters.com/LEBANON-SECURITY/BLAST/xklvydjjqpg/chart.png
‘COLLAPSE OF LEBANON’
    For many, the blast was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which had since been rebuilt.
    Ordinary Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the country’s financial crisis, blamed politicians who have overseen decades of state corruption and bad governance.
    “This explosion seals the collapse of Lebanon.    I really blame the ruling class,” said Hassan Zaiter, 32, a manager at the heavily damaged Le Gray Hotel in downtown Beirut.
    Relatives gathered at a cordon to Beirut port seeking information on those still missing as the search continued.    Many of those killed were port and custom employees, people working in the area or those driving nearby during the Tuesday evening rush hour.    Some victims were hurled out to sea by the powerful blast.
    The Red Cross was coordinating with the Health Ministry to set up morgues as hospitals were overwhelmed.    Health officials reported that hospitals were running out of beds and equipment to attend to the injured.
    Beirut’s Clemenceau Medical Center was “like a slaughterhouse, blood covering the corridors and the lifts,” said Sara, one of its nurses.
    Beirut Governor Marwan Abboud told Al Hadath TV that collective losses from the blast might reach as high as $15 billion, including indirect losses related to business.
    “This is the killer blow for Beirut, we are a disaster zone,” said Bilal, a man in his 60s, in the downtown area.
    The World Bank Group said on Wednesday it would work with Lebanon’s partners to mobilize public and private financing for reconstruction and recovery. It was unclear what effect the disaster would have on the country’s difficult negotiations with the International Monetary Fund, however.
    Offers of international support poured in.
    Gulf Arab states, who in the past were major financial supporters of Lebanon but recently stepped back because of what they say is Iranian meddling, sent planes with medical equipment and other supplies.
    Turkey said it would send 20 doctors to help treat the injured, as well as medical and relief assistance.    Iraq pledged fuel aid, while Iran offered food and a field hospital.
    Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei tweeted: “We sympathize with the dear Lebanese citizens and stand by them in the painful tragedy of the Beirut port explosion … Patience in the face of this incident will be a golden leaf of honour for Lebanon.”
    The United States, Britain and other Western nations, which have been demanding political and economic change in Lebanon, also offered aid.    Germany, the Netherlands and Cyprus offered specialised search and rescue teams.
    Two French planes were expected to arrive on Thursday with specialist rescue personnel and equipment, and President Emmanuel Macron was due to visit on Thursday.
FOOD SECURITY
    “This is a catastrophe for Beirut and Lebanon,” Mayor Jamal Itani told Reuters while inspecting damage.
    The port district was left a tangled wreck, disabling the nation’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people.
    The country’s main grain silo at the port was destroyed in the blast and Beirut Governor Abboud said a crisis might develop without international intervention.
    Lebanon was already struggling to house and feed refugees fleeing conflict in neighbouring Syria and has no trade or other ties with its only other neighbour Israel.
    “On a scale, this explosion is scaled down from a nuclear bomb rather than up from a conventional bomb,” said Roland Alford, managing director of British explosive ordnance disposal firm Alford Technologies.    “This is huge.”
    The blast also prompted the Special Tribunal for Lebanon on Wednesday to postpone its verdict in the trial over the 2005 bombing that killed ex-Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri to Aug. 18.    The tribunal’s decision had been expected this Friday.
    The U.N.-backed court put on trial four suspects from the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah.    Hariri and 21 others were killed by a big truck bomb in another area of the Beirut waterfront, about 2 km (about one mile) from the port.
    White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the U.S. government had not totally ruled out the possibility that Tuesday’s explosion was an attack, and said it is still gathering intelligence on the blast.
(Reporting by Ayat Basma, Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis, Ghaida Ghantous, Alaa Swilam and Omar Fahmy; Additional reporting by Reuters bureaus; Writing by Tom Perry and Dominic Evans; Editing by Edmund Blair, Mark Heinrich, Sonya Hepinstall and Jane Wardell)

8/6/2020 U.S. Ready To Help Lebanon, Says White House Officials by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pauses while speaking during a news conference at the State Department
in Washington, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020.(AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais, Pool)
    According to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, new measures will be announced to help the people of Lebanon.
    “We stand ready to assist the government of Lebanon as it grapples with this horrible tragedy,” he stated.    “You’ll see the United States announce a number of things we intend to do to assist the people of Lebanon in the coming days.”
    Pompeo made those remarks during a news conference on Wednesday, though he did not specify what type of aid will be provided.
    The statement came a day after Lebanon’s capital city of Beirut suffered a massive explosion, which left hundreds of people dead and many more missing.    An estimated 300,000 people were also displaced after the blast destroyed thousands of structures throughout the city.
    In a separate news conference, Defense Secretary Mark Esper reiterated the commitment of the U.S. to help Lebanon.    He assured humanitarian aid and medical supplies would be provided to the country.
    Esper went on to say most people believed the explosion to be a cause of an accident, though he did not specifically rule out an attack.
    “Most believe it was an accident as reported and beyond that I have nothing further to report on that,” stated the defense secretary.    “It’s obviously a tragedy, you know, we mourn for the dozens if not hundreds of Lebanese possibly killed and thousands hurt.”
A soldier stands at the devastated site of the explosion in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. French President
Emmanuel Macron came in Beirut to offer French support to Lebanon after the deadly port blast. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus, Pool)
    That same day, President Trump said the White House is monitoring the situation and working with Lebanese officials.
    “We’re working very closely with the government and we’re working closely with many different agencies, including the military, and we’ll be able to figure it out,” stated the president.    “We already probably have figured it out.”
    The cause of the explosion is still under investigation, but many believe it was a result of the ignition of more than 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate.    The Lebanese government has arrested several officials who were in charge of the port where the chemical compound was stored.

8/6/2020 Macron Vows To Help Mobilize Aid For Lebanon After Devastating Blast, Warns On Reforms by Samia Nakhoul and Ellen Francis
A still image taken from a drone footage shows the damage two days after an
explosion in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday promised aid to blast-stricken Lebanon but reassured angry citizens reeling from a lethal explosion that killed 145 people that no blank cheques will be given to its leaders unless they enact reforms.
    Speaking at a news conference at the end of a dramatic visit to Beirut, Macron called for an international inquiry into the devastating explosion that generated a seismic shock felt across the region, saying it was an urgent signal to carry out anti-corruption reforms demanded by a furious population.
    Dozens are still missing after Tuesday’s explosion at the port that injured 5,000 people and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes, hammering a nation already staggering from economic meltdown and a surge in coronavirus cases.
    A security source said the death toll had reached 145, and officials said the figure was likely to rise.
    Macron, paying the first visit by a foreign leader since the explosion, promised to help organize international aid. But he said a fully transparent international investigation into the blast was needed, and that the Lebanese government must implement economic reforms and curb corruption.
    “If reforms are not carried out, Lebanon will continue to sink,” Macron said after being met at the airport by Lebanese President Michel Aoun.    “What is also needed here is political change.    This explosion should be the start of a new era.”
    He told reporters later in Beirut that an audit was needed on the Lebanese central bank, among other urgent changes, and that the World Bank and United Nations would play a role in any Lebanese reforms.
    “If there is no audit of the central bank, in a few months there will be no more imports and then there will be lack of fuel and of food,” said Macron.
    Earlier, wearing a black tie in mourning, Macron toured the blast site and Beirut’s shattered streets where angry crowds demanded an end to a “regime” of Lebanese politicians they blame for corruption and dragging Lebanon into disaster.
    “I guarantee you, this (reconstruction) aid will not go to corrupt hands,” Macron told the throngs who greeted him.
    “I see the emotion on your face, the sadness, the pain.    This is why I’m here,” he told one group, pledging to deliver “home truths” to Lebanon’s leaders.
    He told reporters later at the French ambassador’s residence, where a French general declared the creation of the state of Lebanon exactly 100 years ago, Macron said it was no longer up to France to tell Lebanese leaders what to do.
    But he said he could apply “pressure,” adding: “This morning, many people told me, ‘Bring back the mandate’.    In a way you are asking me to be the guarantor of the emergence of a democratic revolution,” he said.
    “But a revolution cannot be invited, the people will decide.    Do not ask France to not respect your sovereignty.”
MELTDOWN
    The government’s failure to tackle a runaway budget, mounting debt and endemic corruption has prompted Western donors to demand reform.    Gulf Arab states who once helped Lebanon have baulked at bailing out a nation they say is increasingly influenced by their rival Iran and its local ally Hezbollah.
    One man on the street told Macron: “We hope this aid will go to the Lebanese people not the corrupt leaders.”    Another said that, while a French president had taken time to visit them, Lebanon’s president had not.
    At the port, destroyed by Tuesday’s giant mushroom cloud and fireball, families sought news about the missing, amid mounting public anger at the authorities for allowing huge quantities of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, used in making fertilisers and bombs, to be stored there for years in unsafe conditions.
    The government has ordered some port officials be put under house arrest and promised a full investigation.
    “They will scapegoat somebody to defer responsibility,” said Rabee Azar, a 33-year-old construction worker, speaking near the smashed remains of the port’s grain silo, surrounded by other mangled masonry and flattened buildings.
    A central bank directive seen by Reuters later and confirmed by the bank said it had decided to freeze the accounts of the heads of Beirut port and Lebanese customs along with five others.
    The directive, dated Aug. 6, from the central bank special investigation commission for money laundering and anti-terrorism efforts, said the decision would be circulated to all banks and financial institutions in Lebanon, the public prosecutor in the appeals court and the head of the banking authority.
    With banks in crisis, a collapsing currency and one of the world’s biggest debt burdens, Economy Minister Raoul Nehme said Lebanon had “very limited” resources to deal with the disaster, which by some estimates may have cost the nation up to $15 billion.    He said the country needed foreign aid.
    Offers of medical and other immediate aid have poured in, as officials have said hospitals, some heavily damaged in the blast, do not have enough beds and equipment.
    Many Lebanese, who have lost jobs and watched savings evaporate in the financial crisis, say the blast is symptomatic of political cronyism and rampant graft among the ruling elite.
‘CROOKS AND LIARS’
    “Our leaders are crooks and liars.    I don’t believe any investigation they will do.    They destroyed the country and they’re still lying to the people.    Who are they kidding?” said Jean Abi Hanna, 80, a retired port worker whose home was damaged and daughter and granddaughter injured in the blast.
    Veteran politician Walid Jumblatt, leader of Lebanon’s Druze community, called for an international investigation, saying he had “no trust” in the government to find out the truth.
    An official source familiar with preliminary investigations blamed “inaction and negligence” for the blast.
    A Lebanese security source said the initial blaze that sparked the explosion was caused by welding work.
    People who felt the explosive force said they had witnessed nothing comparable in years of conflict and upheaval in Beirut, which was devastated by the 1975-1990 civil war and since then has experienced big bomb attacks, unrest and a war with Israel.
    “All hell broke loose,” said Ibrahim Zoobi, who works near the port.    “I saw people thrown five or six metres.”
    Seismic tremors from the blast were recorded in Eilat on Israel’s Red Sea coast, about 580 km (360 miles) away.
    Operations have been paralysed at Beirut port, Lebanon’s main route for imports needed to feed a nation of more than 6 million people, forcing ships to divert to smaller ports.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)

8/6/2020 Nigeria To Reopen For International Air Travel In Weeks
FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a protective face mask due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Murtala Mohammed
International airport in Lagos, Nigeria March 19, 2020. Picture taken March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria will reopen for international air travel in a matter of weeks, the aviation minister said on Thursday, without giving a specific date for the resumption after months of closure due to the global coronavirus pandemic.
    “It will be in weeks rather than in months,” Minister of Aviation Hadi Sirika told a regular briefing in the capital Abuja on coronavirus.
    Nigeria began to close its airports in March, a month after Africa’s most populous country confirmed its first coronavirus case. Domestic air travel restarted last month.
    The country has 44,890 confirmed coronavirus cases and more than 900 deaths, figures from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control show.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah; Writing by Paul Carsten; editing by Barbara Lewis)

8/6/2020 Egypt And Greece Sign Agreement On Exclusive Economic Zone
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry looks on during a joint statement with Palestinian Foreign
Minister Riyad al-Maliki in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt and Greece signed an agreement on Thursday designating an exclusive economic zone in the eastern Mediterranean between the two countries, an area containing promising oil and gas reserves, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said.
    Shoukry made the announcement at a joint press conference with his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias in Cairo.
    “This agreement allows both countries to move forward in maximizing the utilization of the resources available in the exclusive economic zone, especially promising oil and gas reserves,” Shoukry said.
    In Greece, diplomats said the deal effectively nullified an accord between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya.
    Last year, those two parties agreed to maritime boundaries in a deal Egypt and Greece decried as illegal and a violation of international law.    Greece maintains it infringed on its continental shelf and specifically that off the island of Crete.
    “The agreement with Egypt is within the framework of international law,” Dendias said.
    “It is the absolute opposite of the illegal, void and legally unfounded memorandum of understanding that was signed between Turkey and Tripoli.    Following the signing of this agreement, the non existent Turkish-Libyan memorandum has ended up where it belonged from the beginning: in the trash can.”
    His statement came hours after Greece said it is ready to start exploratory talks on the demarkation of maritime zones with Turkey as soon as this month.
    Tensions were already high between Greece and Turkey over the exploration of energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.    The NATO members are also at odds over a range of issues from overflights in the Aegean Sea to maritime zones in the eastern Mediterranean and ethnically divided Cyprus.
    Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said the exclusive zone designated in the agreement falls in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf.    It said Ankara considers the agreement null and void, adding that the deal also violates Libya’s maritime rights.
    In June, Greece and Italy signed an agreement on maritime boundaries, establishing an exclusive economic zone between the two countries.
    Earlier this month, Egypt said that part of a seismic survey planned by Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean potentially encroached on waters where Cairo claims exclusive rights.
    Egypt hopes to become a regional energy hub with the rapid growth in Egypt’s natural gas supplies.    It formed with other countries the so-called Eastern Mediterranean Gas Forum, which aims to develop the region’s gas market.
    Turkey is not a member of the forum, which also includes Greece, Cyprus, Israel, Italy and Jordan.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Additional reporting by Renee Maltezou and Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/6/2020 Container Ships Sent To Tripoli To Keep Lebanon Supply Lines Running by Jonathan Saul
Soldiers and rescue workers stand at the devastated site of the explosion at the
port of Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Leading container lines are diverting ships to Lebanon’s smaller terminal of Tripoli after the devastating explosion at Beirut’s port that killed 145 people also paralysed vital trade.
    Lebanon, which imports almost all it uses, relies on container ships to bring in everything from refrigerated food cargoes to clothing and other consumer goods.
    There is no firm date for Beirut port to re-open, and this is a strain on supply chains.
    Data from shipping intelligence platform MarineTraffic showed three container ships had arrived in Tripoli in the past 24 hours after being diverted from Beirut, with a further container vessel expected later on Thursday and another due on Saturday.
    Germany’s Hapag Lloyd said it was diverting its services to Tripoli, about 70 km (43 miles) up the Mediterranean coast from the capital, to discharge cargo bound for Beirut.
    “Lebanon is dependent on imports and exports for their needs and we will be diverting services for the moment to Tripoli, which is a smaller port,” a Hapag Lloyd spokesman said.
    The spokesman said the company’s office in Beirut had been completely destroyed but staff were unharmed.
    “Access to the port is not allowed at present so we cannot assess how many of our containers were either damaged or destroyed,” he said.
    Beirut’s container port has an annual average capacity of just over 1 million TEUs (20 foot equivalent units), compared with Tripoli’s 400,000 TEUs, which could be enlarged to 600,000 TEUs and a maximum of 750,000 TEUs if more cranes are installed, shipping data shows.
    Denmark’s AP Moller Maersk said it was working with Tripoli port to enable its vessels to call there.
    Maersk’s Beirut office was damaged and three of its staff slightly hurt.    Potential damage to its containers in the port is being assessed.
    Switzerland’s MSC said it was working on alternative cargo routings, including stops in Turkey and Greece.
    Ship insurer Gard said: “According to our correspondents, the port of Beirut is closed for a minimum period of 14 days which could be extended until port facilities have been restored.”
    The International Transport Workers’ Federation, which represents seafarers, quoted its representatives in Lebanon as saying at least 12 dockers and seven separate seafarers had been killed in the port.    The figure could not be independently confirmed.
(Editing by Veronica Brown and Timothy Heritage)

8/7/2020 Egypt’s Sex Assault Accusations Spotlight Social Stigmas by Mai Shams Eldin
FILE PHOTO: Women chant slogans as they gather to protest against sexual harassment in front of the
opera house in Cairo June 14, 2014, after a woman was sexually assaulted by a mob during the June 8 celebrations
marking the new president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi's inauguration in Tahrir square. REUTERS/Asmaa Waguih
    CAIRO (Reuters) – When dozens of Egyptians began posting accounts of sexual assault on social media last month, activists sensed a “#MeToo” moment in a nation where women have long felt disadvantaged.
    Like high-profile trials in the United States where the now global women’s rights hashtag took off, prosecutors launched charges in Egypt’s best-known recent case: a student from a wealthy background facing multiple accusations.
    To encourage victims to come forward, the government approved a bill to better protect their identity.
    Yet when the administrator of the Instagram page that attracted the first testimonies tried to expose a second high-profile case, death threats came and she suspended the account at the end of July out of fear, she said.
    Furthermore, in what activists see as a move undercutting women’s rights, prosecutors have recently charged several women for “inciting debauchery” with songs and dances in TikTok videos.
    One had posted a video saying she had been raped and blackmailed and appealing for help.
    Campaigners say there remains a deep-rooted bias in the conservative, Muslim-majority nation to place more blame on women for behaviour deemed provocative than on men for sex crimes.
    A United Nations’ survey in 2013 found that 99% of Egyptian women had experienced harassment.
    “We are always told that we are the reason for all the wrongdoing happening to us … whether it’s because of what you are wearing or the place you went to,” said Amina Salah El-Din, a 25-year-old internet content creator who says she was a victim of assault last year.
    The recent testimonies stemmed from the case of Ahmed Bassam Zaki, a former student at the American University in Cairo (AUC) in his early 20s, who was charged last month with indecent assault against at least three women.
    Allegations against Zaki were posted in previous years on a private Facebook group run by AUC students.    Authorities reacted after the accusations surfaced on an Instagram account named @assaultpolice.
    The volume of testimonies, and the fact they targeted someone from an elite background, was unusual.
    “There is this stereotype that sexual harassment only happens in certain (poorer) environments,” said Azza Solaiman, an activist and lawyer who helped document the complaints.
    Zaki has not addressed the accusations publicly but denied some of them during questioning, according to a prosecution statement. Contacted by Reuters, his father declined comment.
GROWING CASELOAD
    After Egypt’s top Sunni Muslim authority – known as Al-Azhar – and the state-run National Council for Women urged more victims to come forward, accusations surfaced against three rights activists, one of whom publicly confessed and was fired, and a Coptic Church priest who was also dismissed.
    Attention also fell on an alleged gang rape at a luxury Cairo hotel in 2014, with more testimonies on @assaultpolice, before it was taken down.    Accounts continued on other pages, however, and the public prosecutor’s office announced an investigation on Wednesday.
    Even so, judicial authorities remain ill-equipped to deal with harassment and assault crimes, according to activists, some of whom have been highlighting Egypt’s assault problems since long before #MeToo trended in the West.
    Egypt did introduce jail terms of at least six months or fines of at least 3,000 Egyptian pounds ($188) for harassment in 2014, after attacks on women near Cairo’s Tahrir Square during celebrations for President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s inauguration.
    Female police officers now patrol on public holidays or celebrations.    But the definitions of rape, assault and harassment still often let defendants get off lightly, campaigners say.
    Only forced vaginal intercourse is considered rape, with other forms defined as sexual assault.
    “The problem is largely related to the legislative environment, which makes the system unable to deal with this issue,” said Mohamed Fouad, a member of parliament who pressed for action on Zaki’s case.
    A Justice Ministry spokesman was unavailable to comment and Egypt’s state press centre and an Interior Ministry spokesman did not respond to questions.
    With their pursuit of the TikTok stars, prosecutors have called themselves “guardians of social morality” in targeting women deemed to be wearing suggestive clothes. Activists say the prosecutions violate freedom of expression.
    Salah El-Din’s case shows how women who confront social stigma by coming forward seldom have it easy.
    Chasing the man who assaulted her outside her apartment in a working-class Cairo neighbourhood, she said she had to accuse him of theft to encourage bystanders to catch him.
    She then battled to persuade police to take on the case, though the man eventually got a three-year prison sentence.
    “They see it’s rare for women to report sexual harassment and that no one follows this through to the end, so they thought it only natural that I would drop it, or file a robbery complaint instead,” she said at an interview at a friend’s home.
(Editing by Aidan Lewis and Andrew Cawthorne)
[DON'T WORRY EGYPT WE WILL SEND JOE BIDEN OVER THERE TO SAVE YOU SINCE HE IS THE EXPERT SINCE THE METOO ADVOCATES IN THE U.S. CONSIDERED HIM OKAY TO HELP YOU.].

8/7/2020 Death Toll From Beirut Port Blast Rises To 154, Says Lebanon State News Agency
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The death toll from the Beirut port explosion has risen to 154, state news agency NNA cited Lebanon’s health minister as saying on Friday.
    Minister Hamad Hasan said one in five of the some 5,000 people injured in Tuesday’s blast had required hospitalisation, and 120 were in critical condition, NNA reported.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/7/2020 The World Comes To The Aid Of Beirut by OAN Newsroom
People remove debris from a house damaged by Tuesday’s explosion in the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Friday,
Aug. 7, 2020. Rescue teams were still searching the rubble of Beirut’s port for bodies on Friday, nearly three days
after the massive explosion sent a wave of destruction through Lebanon’s capital. (AP Photo/Felipe Dana)
    Thousands of volunteers are cleaning up the streets of Beirut after Tuesday’s massive explosion.    French, Russian and Greek volunteer along with many others arrived in the capitol of Lebanon to assist in the rescue and cleanup efforts.
    According to reports, more than 154 have been killed and close to 5,000 were injured after a warehouse containing thousands of barrels of the highly volatile ammonium nitrate exploded.    It sent shock-waves for hundreds of miles.
    “They lost their homes, they lost families and as you can see there are some people who lost their business,” said Fouad Mikati, a Lebanese citizen.    “…these people, they need help or else they can’t do anything, they don’t have any money anymore and we should help them.”
    Rescue teams have continued to find survivors and victims within the rubble.    Many residents are blaming the negligence and corruption in the Lebanese government for the explosion.
The Christ the Redeemer statue is lit up with an image depicting the Lebanon national flag in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil,
Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020, in solidarity for the victims of Tuesday’s explosion in Beirut. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)
    Meanwhile, support for the country is being seen overseas as well.    Brazil’s Christ the Redeemer statue has been lit up with the flag of Lebanon.
    In Rio de Janeiro on Thursday evening, church members gathered near the base of the statue for a memorial service dedicated to the victims of the Beirut blast.
    Rio joined a growing number of cities around the world who have lit up their landmarks as a show of solidarity for the devastated Lebanese city.
    “The sadness is not just in Lebanon, it is not just in Beirut, the sadness is across the world,” said Theodore Ghandour, bishop of the Antiochian Orthodox Church.    “This catastrophe that happened in Beirut is a catastrophe that touched the hearts of the entire world.”
    The explosion has displaced an estimated 250,000 people in a city already burdened with poverty and COVID-19.

8/7/2020 Palestinian Woman Killed In West Bank As Israelis, Palestinians Clash
Relatives of Palestinian woman Dalia Smoudi, 23, mourn during her funeral in Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JENIN, West Bank (Reuters) – A Palestinian women was shot dead in the West Bank where Israeli soldiers clashed with Palestinians on Friday, Palestinian medical officials said.br>     Palestinian officials said Israeli troops had shot the 23-year-old.
    An Israeli army spokesman said soldiers did not use live fire during the clash, and that Palestinians had opened fire and hurled explosives.
    The woman’s family said she was shot while trying to close the window to her house in the town of Jenin because of tear gas outside.br>     An Israeli army spokesman said a riot erupted while troops were operating in Jenin.
    “Palestinians fired live fire, hurled rocks and explosive devices towards the troops.    The troops responded with riot dispersal means,” the spokesman said, denying that the soldiers had used live ammunition.
    Local residents said Palestinians had not used guns.    They said people were throwing stones at Israeli forces that raided the area.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/7/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey Restarted Energy Exploration In East Mediterranean
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with German
Chancellor Angela Merkel in Istanbul, Turkey, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey had resumed energy exploration work in the eastern Mediterranean as Greece had not kept its promises regarding such activities in the region.
    NATO members Turkey and Greece have long been at loggerheads over overlapping claims for hydrocarbon resources and tensions flared up last month, prompting German Chancellor Angela Merkel to hold talks with the country’s leaders to ease tensions.
    “We have started drilling work again,” Erdogan told reporters after participating in Friday prayers at the Hagia Sophia mosque.    “We don’t feel obliged to talk with those who do not have rights in maritime jurisdiction zones.”
    He said Turkey’s Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa, a seismic survey vessel, had been sent to the region to carry out its duties.    The ship moved into waters off Cyprus in late July and remains in that region.
    Erdogan made the comments when asked about an accord signed by Egypt and Greece on Thursday designating an exclusive economic zone between the two nations in the east Mediterranean.
    Diplomats in Greece said their agreement nullified an accord reached last year between Turkey and the internationally recognised government of Libya.
    However, Erdogan said the Egypt-Greece accord was of no value and that Turkey would sustain its agreement with Libya “decisively.”    The Turkish Foreign Ministry has said the Egypt-Greece zone falls in the area of Turkey’s continental shelf.
    Turkey and Greece are also at odds over a range of issues from flights over each other’s territory in the Aegean Sea to ethnically divided Cyprus.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Susan Fenton)

8/8/2020 Blast Rocks Military Base In Somali Capital, At Least Eight Dead by Abdi Sheikh
An ambulance is seen near a blast site that rocked a military base in Mogadishu, Somalia August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – A huge blast rocked a military base in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu near a stadium on Saturday, killing at least eight people and injuring 14, emergency workers said.
    Soldiers opened fire after the explosion which sent clouds of smoke into the sky, said Halima Abdisalan, a mother of three who lives near the area.
    “We ran indoors in fear,” she told Reuters.    “Soon I could see a military pickup speeding and carrying many soldiers covered with blood.    I do not know if they were all dead or injured.”
    Army officer Major Abdullahi Mohamud said it was an attack.    “It must be a suicide car bomb, I am now transporting casualties,” he said.
    No group immediately claimed responsibility.
    “So far we carried eight dead people and 14 others injured,” Aamin ambulance service head Abdikadir Abdirahman told Reuters by phone.
    Somalia has been embroiled in deadly violence since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew leader Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
    Since 2008, the militant group al Shabaab has been fighting to overthrow the internationally-recognised central government and establish its rule based on its own interpretation of Islam’s sharia law.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)

8/8/2020 Furious Lebanese Count Their Losses From Blast, Plan Demonstration by Michael Georgy
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – As Beirut mourns its dead and grapples with the scale of rebuilding after this week’s massive blast, some Lebanese activists planned to demonstrate in the city on Saturday, angered by the government’s response to the disaster.
    Tuesday’s port explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history, killed 154 people, injured 5,000 and destroyed a swathe of the city.
    Some residents, struggling to clean up shattered homes, complain the state they see as corrupt – there had been months of protests against the government’s handling of a deep economic crisis before this week’s disaster – has let them down again.
    The demonstration was planned for Saturday afternoon.
    “The people are doing your work, shame,” someone wrote on the dust covering a car window, referring to Lebanese leaders.
    The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.
    President Michel Aoun said on Friday an investigation would also examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference.    Aoun said the investigation would also weigh if the blast was due to negligence or an accident.    Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.
‘WE CAN’T AFFORD TO REBUILD’
    Some residents wondered how they would ever rebuild their lives.
    Tearing up, Bilal Hassan used his bare hands to try to remove debris from his home located a few hundred meters from where the port blast hit.    He has been sleeping on a dusty couch besides pieces of splintered glass.
    When his three wounded teenage children ran for their lives they left blood stains on the staircase and walls.
    “There is really nothing we can do.    We can’t afford to rebuild and no one is helping us,” he said, standing beside a large teddy bear that was blown across his home, and a damaged photograph of him and his wife.
    Bulldozers plowed through the wreckage of mangled homes and long rows of flattened cars as soldiers stood by.
    Volunteers with shovels streamed through streets.
    Danielle Chemaly said her charity organization, whose headquarters was destroyed, had provided assistance to 70 families who were left homeless by the explosion.
    “We have given people initial help but we don’t know what we can do for families in the future.    It requires major projects,” she said.
    Officials have said the blast could have caused losses amounting to $15 billion.    That is a bill that Lebanon cannot pay after already defaulting on a mountain of debt – exceeding 150% of economic output – and with talks stalled on a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund.
AID FROM ABROAD
    France and other countries have rushed emergency aid to Lebanon, including doctors, and tons of health equipment and food.    The blast destroyed Lebanon’s only major grain silo and U.N. agencies are helping provide emergency food and medical aid.
    U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday he would join a conference call with Lebanon’s president and other world leaders on Sunday to discuss aid to the country.
    For ordinary Lebanese, the scale of destruction is overwhelming.
    “It felt like a mini atomic bomb,” said George Rohana, sitting beside a supermarket that was demolished.
    A few onions were left in the debris of the blast that tore a huge hole through the shop into an adjacent apartment.
    “Now we have a situation where people are stealing metals and other items from the destruction,” said Rohana.    “The other day someone walked away with a broken toaster.”
(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/8/2020 Backstory: Covering The Beirut Blast, Bruised And Bloodied by Alessandra Galloni
    (Reuters) – Imagine what it’s like to be flung to the floor by a gigantic explosion, dodge a falling wardrobe in your home, be cut in the forehead by flying glass – and then brush off the blood and start filming the news.
    Reuters senior television producer Ayat Basma provided the world with some of the first images of the damage caused when 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stored at the Beirut port, ignited and caused a blast that would end up killing at least 150 people and destroying a swathe of the city.
    “I was lying on the ground, and all I could hear was the sirens of the car alarms,” said Basma, who had taken a day off work on Tuesday.    “I thought, I don’t want to die.”
    “Then the adrenaline kicked in.”
    Bleeding from a gash in her head, with wet hair and hastily dressed, Basma rushed into the street and began filming with the only camera she had at hand – her smartphone.
    Around her, bleeding and stunned residents clambered over glass and debris.    Some people carried injured relatives and begged drivers in nearby cars to take them to the hospital.
    In the building adjoining hers, the roof had blown off.    Those who had looked up described a fireball in the distance that turned the sky into an orange and white mushroom cloud.
    “Everything was down, the neighbours were shouting, the kids were crying,” said Basma.    “All you could hear was the sound of cars driving on smashed glass.”
    But I just kept saying to myself, “Film and send.    Film and send.”
    As journalists, we typically document and observe through a lens or behind a notebook.    But this week, our colleagues in the Reuters Beirut bureau, our regional headquarters, were catapulted into the news even as they rushed to cover it.    Several spent hours on the streets, while their families at home were injured and in shock.
    Television producer Yara Abi Nader was driving when the blast happened. She had rolled down her car window to get some evening air, which helped her avoid getting shattered glass in her face.    A shard sliced into her forehead, but she too immediately shot video on her phone to send to colleagues.
    “I was focused on just one thing: getting my footage out,” said Abi Nader.    “It was a form of denial – I didn’t really want to look at my face.”
    Photographer Mohamed Azakir thought it was an earthquake when he first felt the ground shaking.    When he reached the port area, there were bodies everywhere.    He saw a man pinned from the torso downwards under a car, covered in dirt and blood.    Azakir thought the man was dead, but he opened his eyes and waved his arms when the photographer approached.
    Azakir called over some rescuers and helped them move the car to free the man.    See his photos here: https://reut.rs/2EZUrzL
RAZED TO THE GROUND
    Even before Tuesday’s explosion, the once elegant and beautiful Beirut city centre had already been ravaged by months of protests, and a crippling economic downturn. The blast delivered the final blow, smashing store windows long barricaded and forlorn.
    Reuters downtown offices were also destroyed.    Senior correspondent Ellen Francis hid under her desk as chunks of the ceiling crashed to the ground and window glass rocketed into computers.
    Francis took out her phone to tell colleagues to send a news alert, or a “snap” in Reuters lingo.    “I tried sending the message ‘Big Explosion’ and ‘Please Snap,’ but the letters came out jumbled because I was shaking so hard.”
    “Are you OK?” screamed Bureau Chief Tom Perry, who had also sought refuge under the desk.    He too tried alerting editors, and calling his wife and son.    “We need to get out of here.”
    Outside the office, Perry and Francis noticed a woman running towards them with open arms and blood streaming down her face.    It was Abi Nader trying to get to the office.
    “There is no office,” Francis said, as Perry led them to his apartment, where they worked throughout the night amid debris and bashed in walls.
    Reuters Middle East Editor Samia Nakhoul has covered the Lebanese civil war, the invasion of Iraq, in which she was severely wounded, and the Arab Spring.    When the explosion struck, she was in the car with her two teenage children.
    With instincts from years of war reporting kicking in, Nakhoul told her kids to duck down and then left the car and ran for cover.    “As long as I live I will never forget the trauma and the terror in the eyes of my children and the fear that gripped me of seeing them harmed.    This tragedy rekindled memories I spent my life trying to forget.”
    Nakhoul and her children ran home.    She switched on her laptop.
    You can see Reuters coverage of the day of the blast: https://reut.rs/2DHzIQD
Graphic-Beirut reels after deadly explosion: https://tmsnrt.rs/2PACt9a
Wider Image-Capturing a Beirut rescue: https://reut.rs/2EZUrzL)
(Additional reporting by Yann Tessier and Rosalba O’Brien; Editing by Tiffany Wu)

8/8/2020 Arab League Says Ready To Mobilise Arab Efforts To Help Lebanon; Turkey Ready To Rebuild Port
Members of forensic team walk near rubble at the site of Tuesday's blast, at Beirut's port area, Lebanon, August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit said on Saturday he would seek to mobilise Arab efforts to provide support to Lebanon after this week’s catastrophic explosion in Beirut destroyed parts of the capital.
    Speaking to reporters after a meeting with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, he also said the Cairo-based league of Arab states was ready to assist the investigation into the blast.
    “We are ready to help with all our means,” he said, adding that he would take part in an international conference call to be organised by France on Sunday to discuss aid for Lebanon.
    Also speaking after meeting Aoun, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said his country is ready to help rebuild the port.
    Turkey’s Mersin port, on the Mediterreanean, is ready to help Lebanon with customs clearance and warehousing services of large shipments until the Beirut Port is reconstructed, he added.
    “We have said the goods could be transported with smaller ships and other means of transportation from Mersin to Lebanon,” he said.
    The explosion killed more than 150 people, injured 5,000 and left up to 250,000 without habitable homes.    The blast occured at a port warehouse containing 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in fertilisers and explosives.
    Oktay also said in a speech that Turkish air ambulances could transport injured Lebanese to Turkey for treatment.    Turkish authorities have sent a medical team and supplies as well as a search and rescue team.
    The disaster struck as Lebanon is struggling with a deep economic crisis.
    Oil-rich Gulf Arab states, which have long channelled funds into Lebanon’s fragile economy, had refrained this time from providing financial assistance, alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah, a powerful group backed by their arch-rival Iran.
    “The recent, dangerous, painful events prove that there is no alternative (for Lebanon) to preserving the bridges with the Arab environment,” the Emirati minister of state for foreign affairs, Anwar Gargash, said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Laila Bassam and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

8/8/2020 Children Walk Back To School In Gaza After Five-Month Shutdown by Nidal al-Mughrabi
    JABALIA, Gaza Strip (Reuters) – Hundreds of thousands of children walked through the streets of the Gaza Strip on Saturday to return to classes after five months of shutdown – though authorities said they were ready to close schools again if coronavirus cases spike.
    Pupils mingled freely before heading into playgrounds for roll call and filing into classrooms.    At one school in the northern Jabalia refugee camp, teachers wearing face masks welcomed children and offered to sanitise their hands.
    Gaza, mostly cut off from the world by an Israeli-led blockade, has not recorded any COVID-19 cases in the towns and refugee camps where around two million Palestinians live.
    Just 78 infections and one death have been recorded in quarantine centres.    But, fearing any outbreak would overwhelm the health system, the territory’s Islamist Hamas-run education ministry shut down schools in March and students completed the remainder of the school year online.
    “We want everyone to realise that education amid (the) corona pandemic is different, and things don’t proceed as they normally would,” said Farid Abu-Athra, an education official with the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) in Gaza.
    “So far in Gaza the situation is better, and it allows us to open schools normally,” he told Reuters.
    Health workers will sanitise Gaza’s 751 schools twice a day, officials said. Children do not have to wear masks but must bring their own lunch and outdoor breaks are banned.
    Plans were already in place to halt classes should the virus spread into Gaza’s densely-populated towns, Abu-Athra said.
    About 40 km (25 miles) away in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, which has reported a spike in COVID-19 cases, high school classes began this week but elementary schools remain closed.
    West Bank health officials have reported 94 deaths and 13,600 cases, most of them in the last two months.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

8/8/2020 Turkey Says It Is Ready To Help Rebuild Port Of Beirut
Lebanese army member stands at the site of Tuesday's blast, at Beirut's port area, Lebanon, August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to help rebuild the port of Beirut, which was destroyed by a massive blast on Tuesday, Turkish Vice-President Fuat Oktay said during a visit to Lebanon on Saturday.
    Turkey’s port of Mersin, on the Mediterranean, is ready to assist the port of Beirut, he said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/8/2020 Lebanon Sees Possible ‘External Interference’ In Port Blast by Michael Georgy and Ellen Francis
Lebanese soldiers are seen near the site of Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s president said on Friday its investigation into the biggest blast in Beirut’s history would examine whether it was caused by a bomb or other external interference, as residents sought to rebuild shattered homes and lives.
    Rescuers sifted rubble in a race to find anyone still alive after Tuesday’s port explosion that killed 154 people, injured 5,000, destroyed a swathe of the Mediterranean city and sent seismic shockwaves around the region.
    “The cause has not been determined yet.    There is a possibility of external interference through a rocket or bomb or other act,” President Michel Aoun told local media.
    Aoun, who had previously said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port, said the investigation would also weigh if the blast was due to negligence or an accident.    Twenty people had been detained so far, he added.
    One source said an initial probe blamed negligence.
    While the United States has said it did not rule out an attack, Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, has denied any role.    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said the cause was unclear, but compared the blast to a 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri.
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Lebanon’s powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah, denied what he said were “preconceived” comments both domestically and abroad that the Iran-backed group had arms stored at the port.
    He called for a fair investigation and strict accountability for anyone responsible without any political cover.
    “Even if a plane struck, or if it was an intentional act, if it turns out this nitrate had been at the port for years in this way, it means part of the case is absolutely negligence and corruption,” he said.
    The customs director and a predecessor were arrested later on Friday.
    At Beirut’s Mohammad Al-Amin mosque, next to Hariri’s grave, chief cleric Amin Al Kurdi told worshippers in a Friday sermon that Lebanese leaders bore responsibility.
    “Who is the criminal, who is the killer behind the Beirut explosion?” he said.    “Only God can protect, not the corrupt … The army only protects the leaders.”
    Security forces fired tear gas at a crowd in Beirut on Thursday, as anger boiled over at the ruling elite, who have presided over an economic collapse.    The small crowd, some hurling stones, marked a return to the kind of protests that had become a feature of life as Lebanese watched their savings evaporate and currency disintegrate, while government decision-making floundered.
‘WHERE IS THE STATE?’
    “There is no way we can rebuild this house.    Where is the state?” said Tony Abdou, an unemployed 60-year-old.
    His family home is in Gemmayze, a district a few hundred metres from the warehouses where 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate were stored for years near a densely populated area.
    A security source and local media previously said the fire that caused the blast was ignited by welding work.
    Volunteers swept up debris from the streets of Beirut, which still bears scars from a 1975-1990 civil war.
    “Do we actually have a government here?” said taxi driver Nassim Abiaad, 66, whose cab was crushed by wreckage as he was about to get in.    “There is no way to make money anymore.”
    For many, the explosion was symptomatic of years of neglect and corruption.    “The problem is this government and all governments before it,” said Dr. Mohammed Kalifa, 31.
    Officials have said the blast, whose impact was recorded hundreds of miles (kms) away, might have caused losses amounting to $15 billion.    That is a bill Lebanon cannot pay after already defaulting on a mountain of debt – exceeding 150% of economic output – and with talks stalled on a lifeline from the International Monetary Fund.
    Hospitals, many heavily damaged as shockwaves ripped out windows and ceilings, have been overwhelmed.
    “I lived through part of the civil war. I saw people being shot in front of me.    But never has there been such a horror,” said Dr. Assem Al Hajj at Beirut’s Clemenceau hospital, which he said had treated 400 victims.
HUNTING THE MISSING
    As exhausted rescuers combed wreckage to find any survivors, grieving families camped outside the port where their loved ones were last seen.    Some victims were hurled into the sea because of the explosive force.
    “We would like to go inside the port to look for my son but we can’t get permission,” said Elias Marouni, describing his son George, a 30-year-old army officer.
    One weeping mother called a prime-time TV programme to plead with authorities to find her son, Joe. He was found hours later: dead.
    Dozens are still unaccounted for.
    In Beirut’s Karantina district, a Polish rescue team took a break near a once three-storey building that was completely flattened.    One woman and her two teenage daughters were killed, a neighbour said.
    Charbel Abreeni, who trained port employees, showed Reuters pictures on his phone of killed colleagues.    He was sitting in a church where the head of a Virgin Mary statue was blown off.
    “I know 30 port employees who died, two of them are my close friends and a third is missing,” said the 62-year-old, whose home was wrecked and his shin wrapped in a bandage.
    “I have nowhere to go except my wife’s family,” he said.    “How can you survive here? The economy is zero.”
    After the blast destroyed Lebanon’s only major grain silo, U.N. agencies helped provide emergency food and medical aid.
    Aid offers have also poured in from Arab states, Western nations, the Vatican and beyond.    But none, so far, addresses the bigger challenges facing a bankrupt nation.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy, Ellen Francis and Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Nick Macfie and Matthew Lewis)

8/8/2020 ‘Your Time Is Up’: Thousands Protest Against Netanyahu Over COVID-19 And Alleged Corruption
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement at the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv,
Israel with the Alternate PM and Defence Minister Benny Gantz July 27 2020, following the high tensions
with the Lebanese militant group of Hezbollah at the Israeli-Lebanon border. Tal Shahar/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis rallied outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence in Jerusalem on Saturday as anger mounted over corruption allegations and his handling of the coronavirus crisis.
    “Your time is up,” read the giant letters projected on to a building at the protest site, as demonstrators waved Israeli flags and called on Netanyahu to resign over what they say is his failure to protect jobs and businesses affected by the pandemic.
    The protest movement has intensified in recent weeks, with critics accusing Netanyahu of being distracted by a corruption case against him.    He denies wrongdoing.
    Netanyahu, who was sworn in for a fifth term in May after a closely fought election, has accused the protesters of trampling democracy and the Israeli media of encouraging dissent.
    Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party on Saturday called the protests “left-wing riots” and accused Israel’s popular Channel 12 news of “doing everything it can to encourage the far-left demonstrations” of the premier’s opponents.
    “Netanyahu is fighting to get Israel’s economy back to normal and to trasnfer funds and grants to Israeli citizens,” Likud said in a statement posted to Netanyahu’s Twitter page.
    Protests have stretched beyond Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem, with many Israelis gathering on bridges and highway junctions across the country.
    On a busy highway overpass north of Israel’s commercial hub of Tel Aviv, demonstrators waved black flags and chanted slogans while cars honked their horns from the road below.
    One protester, Yael, said she had lost her job at a Tel Aviv restaurant and that government aid has been slow to come.
    “You’d think that a once-in-a-lifetime crisis like this would push Netanyahu to act, and it hasn’t.    Enough is enough,” she said, declining to give her last name.
    Israel in May lifted a partial lockdown that had flattened an infection curve.    But a second surge of COVID-19 cases and ensuing restrictions have seen Netanyahu’s approval ratings plunge to under 30%.
    Many restrictions have since been lifted to revive business activity, but unemployment hovers at 21.5% and the economy is expected to contract 6% in 2020.
    (Reporting by Suheir Sheikh in Jerusalem and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Editing by Christina Fincher and Nick Macfie)

8/8/2020 Lebanese Protesters Storm Ministry Buildings As Anger Over Beirut Blast Grows
Demonstrators run away from tear gas fired by riot police during a protest following Tuesday's blast, in Beirut, Lebanon August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

8/8/2020 Lebanese Prime Minister Requests Early Polls For Parliament by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by the Lebanese Government, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, gives a speech at the
Government House in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, March. 7, 2020. (Dalati Nohra/Lebanese Government via AP)
    The prime minister of Lebanon recently announced he will request parliamentary elections to take place early.    According to Hassan Diab, the country will be unable to get out of its political crisis without early elections.
    His request followed this week’s massive explosion at the Beirut seaport.
    Citizens have since taken to the streets to protest the government’s handling of the incident.

An anti-government protester chants slogans inside the Lebanese foreign ministry in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    Reports claimed police fired tear gas after demonstrators become violent and attempted to enter the city’s parliament building.

Lebanese soldiers stand among tear gas during clashes with protesters as part of a protest against
the political elites and the government after this week’s deadly explosion at Beirut port which
devastated large parts of the capital in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 8, 2020. (AP Photo/Thibault Camus)
    In the meantime, Diab has stated he will propose a draft bill advocating for early parliamentary polls next week.
    “We are in an emergency, not only because of the disaster and the manner of handling it, but the state of emergency I’m speaking about is related to the fate of the country and its future.    That is why I call upon all the political parties to agree on the next phase.    They don’t have a lot of time.    I am ready to take on this responsibility for a period of two months so they could reach an agreement.” – Hassan Diab, Prime Minister of Lebanon
    Although the Lebanese government has suggested they will hold anyone involved in the explosion accountable, many are not convinced.
Riot police advance to push back anti-government protesters, during a protest against the political elites
who have ruled the country for decades, in Beirut, Lebanon, Friday, Aug. 7, 2020. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

8/9/2020 Beirut Police Fire Tear Gas As Protesters, Furious Over Explosion, Regather by Michael Georgy
A demonstrator holds the Lebanese flag in Martyrs' Square where protests are held
following Tuesday's blast in Beirut, Lebanon August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese police fired tear gas to try to disperse rock-throwing protesters blocking a road near parliament in Beirut on Sunday in a second day of anti-government demonstrations triggered by last week’s devastating explosion.
    Fire broke out at an entrance to Parliament Square as demonstrators tried to break into a cordoned-off area, TV footage showed.    Protesters also broke into the housing and transport ministry offices.
    Tuesday’s blast of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, compounding months of political and economic collapse and prompting furious calls for the government to quit.
    Riot police wearing body armour and carrying batons clashed with demonstrators as thousands converged on Parliament Square and nearby Martyrs’ Square, a Reuters correspondent said.
    “We gave these leaders so many chances to help us and they always failed. We want them all out, especially Hezbollah, because it’s a militia and just intimidates people with its weapons,” Walid Jamal, an unemployed demonstrator, said, referring to the country’s most influential Iran-backed armed grouping that has ministers in the government.
    The country’s top Christian Maronite cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, said the cabinet should resign as it cannot “change the way it governs.”
    “The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough … the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said she was resigning on Sunday, citing the explosion and the failure of the government to carry out reforms.
    Anger boiled over into violent scenes in central Beirut on Saturday.    Those protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.
    About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament.    Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.
    One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured in clashes.
‘CHANGE THE GOVERNMENT’
    “The police fired at me. But that won’t stop us from demonstrating until we change the government from top to bottom,” Younis Flayti, 55, a retired army officer, said on Sunday.
    Nearby, mechanic Sabir Jamali sat beside a noose attached to a wooden frame in Martyrs’ Square, intended as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders to resign or face hanging.
    “Every leader who oppresses us should be hanged,” he said, adding he will protest again.
    Lawyer Maya Habli surveyed the demolished port.
    “People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls,” she said.
    The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.
    The government has said it will hold those responsible to account.
    World powers agreed at an emergency donor conference on Sunday to provide “major resources” to help Beirut recover, pledging not to fail Lebanon’s people.
    Some 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, used in making fertilisers and bombs, exploded on Tuesday, hitting a city already reeling from the economic crisis and the coronavirus pandemic.
    For many it was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which has since been rebuilt.
    “I worked in Kuwait for 15 years in sanitation to save money and build a gift shop in Lebanon and it was destroyed by the explosion,” said Maroun Shehadi.
    “Nothing will change until our leaders just leave.”
(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)

8/9/2020 Donors Pledge ‘Major’ Emergency Aid For Blast-Stricken Lebanon by Yiming Woo
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech during a news conference, following Tuesday's
blast in Beirut's port area, in Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS
    FORT BREGANCON, France (Reuters) – World powers agreed at an emergency donor conference on Sunday to provide “major resources” to help Beirut recover from the massive explosion that destroyed swathes of the city, pledging not to fail Lebanon’s people.
    Lebanon was already mired in political and financial crisis before Tuesday’s port explosion that killed 158 people.
    Foreign countries demanded transparency over how the aid is used, wary of writing blank cheques to a government viewed by its own people as deeply corrupt.    Some are concerned about the influence of Iran through the Shi’ite group Hezbollah.
    The “assistance should be timely, sufficient and consistent with the needs of the Lebanese people … and directly delivered to the Lebanese population, with utmost efficiency and transparency,” the final communique stated.
    The communique did not give a figure for the pledges made.
    French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Beirut on Thursday, hosted the conference by video-link and in his opening remarks urged participating nations to put aside their differences and support the Lebanese people.
    The international response should be coordinated by the United Nations in Lebanon, he added.
    The offer of assistance included support for an impartial, credible and independent inquiry into the blast.    Public anger over the explosion has prompted some Lebanese to call for a revolt to topple their political leaders.
    “Our role is to be by their side,” Macron said from his summer retreat on the French Riviera.
REFORMS
    President Donald Trump told the conference the United States was ready to continue providing aid to help the Lebanese, the White House said.
    “The President called for calm in Lebanon and acknowledged the legitimate calls of peaceful protesters for transparency, reform and accountability,” a White House statement said.
    The explosion gutted entire neighbourhoods, leaving 250,000 people homeless, razing businesses and destroying critical grain supplies.
    Rebuilding Beirut will likely run into the billions of dollars. Economists forecast the blast could wipe up to 25% off of the country’s GDP.
    Despite an outpouring of sympathy and the offers of immediate humanitarian support such as rescue teams and medical supplies, financial aid commitments have been scarce.
    In a sign of the mistrust between Beirut and donors before the blast, debt default talks between the Lebanese government and International Monetary Fund had stalled in the absence of reforms.
    The communique said Lebanon’s partners were ready to support the country’s longer-term economic recovery if leaders committed fully to the changes expected by the Lebanese.
    Many Lebanese say the blast, blamed on a huge store of ammonium nitrate, highlighted the negligence of a corrupt political elite.    Protesters stormed government ministries in Beirut on Saturday and demonstrations erupted again on Sunday.
    A Macron aide had declined on Saturday to set a target for the conference.    Emergency aid was needed for reconstruction, food aid, medical equipment and schools and hospitals, the official said.
($1 = 0.8485 euros)
(Reporting by Yiming Woo in Fort Bregancon and Richard Lough and Michel Rose in Paris; Writing by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry, Philippa Fletcher and Nick Macfie)

8/9/2020 Demonstrators Hurl Stones At Police In Second Day Of Protests
A demonstrator waves a flag on the Martyrs' Monument at Martyrs' Square ahead of a protest
following Tuesday's blast, in Beirut, Lebanon August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Protesters hurled rocks at security forces blocking a road near Lebanon’s parliament on Sunday in a second day of protests against the government after a huge explosion last Tuesday killed dozens of people and injured thousands.
    A Reuters correspondent said hundreds were converging on a main square where thousands of Lebanese protested on Saturday against a political elite they blame for the country’s economic and political woes.
    “We want to destroy and kill the government.    They gave us no jobs nor rights,” said Nissan Ghrawi, a 19-year old unemployed demonstrator.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy, Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

8/9/2020 CanSino To Start Phase III Trial Of COVID-19 Vaccine In Saudi
FILE PHOTO: Chinese vaccine maker CanSino Biologics' sign is pictured on
its building in Tianjin, China November 20, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will soon begin Phase III clinical trials on around 5,000 people for a COVID-19 vaccine developed by China’s CanSino Biologics Inc, a Saudi health ministry spokesman said on Sunday.
    Last month, CanSino’s co-founder said the company was in talks with Russia, Brazil, Chile and Saudi Arabia to launch a Phase III trial of the vaccine candidate, Ad5-nCOV.
    The vaccine uses a harmless cold virus known as adenovirus type-5 (Ad5) to carry genetic material from the coronavirus into the body.
    Researchers said last month that CanSino’s vaccine, co-developed with China’s military research unit, appeared to be safe and induced immune responses in most subjects.
    Saudi Arabia plans to test the vaccine alongside a placebo on 5,000 volunteers and is currently preparing trials in the cities of Riyadh, Dammam and Mecca, Saudi state news agency SPA said on Saturday.
    No COVID-19 vaccine has been approved for commercial use.
    CanSino’s candidate became the first in China to move into human testing in March but other potential vaccines developed by Sinovac Biotech and a unit of China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) have already been approved for Phase III trials overseas.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Yousef Saba; editing by David Evans)

8/10/2020 Beirut Police Fire Tear Gas As Protesters Regroup And Two Ministers Quit by Michael Georgy
A demonstrator holds the Lebanese flag in Martyrs' Square where protests are held following
Tuesday's blast in Beirut, Lebanon August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese police fired tear gas to try to disperse rock-throwing protesters blocking a road near parliament in Beirut on Sunday in a second day of anti-government demonstrations triggered by last week’s devastating explosion.
    Fire broke out at an entrance to Parliament Square as demonstrators tried to break into a cordoned-off area, TV footage showed.    Protesters also broke into the housing and transport ministry offices.
    Two government ministers resigned amid the political fallout of the blast and months of economic crisis, saying the government had failed to reform.
    Tuesday’s explosion of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed 158 people and injured more than 6,000, compounding months of political and economic collapse and prompting furious calls for the government to quit.
    Riot police wearing body armour and carrying batons clashed with demonstrators as thousands converged on Parliament Square and nearby Martyrs’ Square, a Reuters correspondent said.
    “We gave these leaders so many chances to help us and they always failed.    We want them all out, especially Hezbollah, because it’s a militia and just intimidates people with its weapons,” Walid Jamal, an unemployed demonstrator, said, referring to the country’s most influential Iran-backed armed grouping that has ministers in the government.
    The country’s top Christian Maronite cleric, Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai, said the cabinet should resign as it cannot “change the way it governs.”
    “The resignation of an MP or a minister is not enough … the whole government should resign as it is unable to help the country recover,” he said in his Sunday sermon.
    Lebanon’s environment minister resigned on Sunday, saying the government had lost a number of opportunities to reform, a statement said.
    Damianos Kattar’s departure follows the resignation of Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad earlier on Sunday in the wake of the explosion.
    Anger boiled over into violent scenes in central Beirut on Saturday.    Those protests were the biggest since October when thousands of people took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, bad governance and mismanagement.
    About 10,000 people gathered at Martyrs’ Square, which was transformed into a battle zone in the evening between police and protesters who tried to break down a barrier along a road leading to parliament.    Some demonstrators stormed government ministries and the Association of Lebanese Banks.
    One policeman was killed and the Red Cross said more than 170 people were injured in clashes.
‘CHANGE THE GOVERNMENT’
    “The police fired at me. But that won’t stop us from demonstrating until we change the government from top to bottom,” Younis Flayti, 55, a retired army officer, said on Sunday.
    Nearby, mechanic Sabir Jamali sat beside a noose attached to a wooden frame in Martyrs’ Square, intended as a symbolic warning to Lebanese leaders to resign or face hanging.
    “Every leader who oppresses us should be hanged,” he said, adding he will protest again.
    Lawyer Maya Habli surveyed the demolished port.
    “People should sleep in the streets and demonstrate against the government until it falls,” she said.
    The prime minister and presidency have said 2,750 tonnes of highly explosive ammonium nitrate, which is used in making fertilisers and bombs, had been stored for six years without safety measures at the port warehouse.
    The government has said it will hold those responsible to account.
    An emergency donor conference in France raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief, the French presidency said.
    For many, the blast was a dreadful reminder of the 1975-1990 civil war that tore the nation apart and destroyed swathes of Beirut, much of which has since been rebuilt.
    “I worked in Kuwait for 15 years in sanitation to save money and build a gift shop in Lebanon and it was destroyed by the explosion,” said Maroun Shehadi.
    “Nothing will change until our leaders just leave.”
(Additional reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)

8/10/2020 Yemen’s UNESCO-Listed Old Sanaa Houses Collapse In Heavy Rains
Workers demolish a building damaged by rain in the UNESCO World Heritage site of
the old city of Sanaa, Yemen August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA (Reuters) – Houses in Yemen’s UNESCO-listed Old City of Sanaa are collapsing under heavy rains, as months of floods and storms assail a country already reeling from war, food shortages and disease.
    The distinctive brown and white mud brick houses of Sanaa’s historic neighbourhoods, which date from before the 11th century, have long been under threat from conflict and neglect.
    Muhammad Ali al-Talhi’s house partially collapsed on Friday as heavy rain battered Sanaa, leaving the six women and six children of his family homeless.
    “Everything we had is buried,” he said surrounded by ancient debris and mud, appealing for help to find shelter.
    Aqeel Saleh Nassar, deputy head of the Historic Cities Preservation Authority, said citizens today do not maintain these old buildings as in the past, leading to cracks and weakness.
    Around 5,000 of the towering buildings in the old city have leaky roofs and 107 have partially collapsed roofs, he said. The authority has been working with UNESCO and other funds to preserve some.
    This year’s exceptionally heavy rains, which began mid-April and last into early September, have added to what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
    Five years of war have killed more than 100,000 people, and left 80% of the population reliant on aid and millions on the brink of famine.
    On top of the new coronavirus, which is believed to be spreading largely undetected, heavy rains spread diseases like cholera, dengue fever and malaria.
    The Iran-aligned Houthi authorities who have controlled Sanaa since ousting the internationally recognised Saudi-backed Yemeni government in late 2014, appealed this week to UNESCO to save the city’s heritage.
    They said around 111 houses had partly or completely collapsed in recent weeks.
    Sanaa resident Adel San’ani on Saturday told Reuters he saw five houses severely damaged this weekend.
    “The families have no shelter.    A local bank launched a campaign to distribute plastic sheeting to act as roofs,” he said.
(Reporting by Yemen team; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/10/2020 ‘They Are Not Just Numbers’: Missing Beirut Silo Worker’s Family Clings To Hope by Yara Abi Nader
A photograph of the missing silo employee Ghassan Hasrouty pictured with his wife Ibtissam in the family home,
following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon, August 9, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Before he went missing on Aug. 4, Ghassan Hasrouty, an employee of Beirut’s giant grain silos for 38 years, thought he was working in the safest place in the city.
    The reinforced concrete walls and underground rooms were his shelter for many days during Lebanon’s 1975-1990 civil war.
    He used to tell his family that he was more worried for them than himself when he set out to work each morning.
    At 1730 on Tuesday, Hasrouty called his wife, Ibtissam, saying he would be sleeping at the silos that night because a shipment of grains was arriving and he could not leave.
    He told her to send him a blanket and pillow.
    She has not heard from him since.
    Tuesday’s explosion in the port of Beirut, the biggest ever to hit the city, destroyed the silos, killed at least 158 people and injured more than 6,000.    It left an estimated 300,000 Lebanese effectively homeless as shockwaves ripped miles inland.
    The health ministry on Saturday said 21 people were still missing.
    Officials have said the blast was caused by 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate, a substance used in manufacturing fertilizers and bombs, which had been stored for six years in a nearby warehouse without adequate safety measures.
    The government has promised to hold those responsible to account, but residents are seething with anger.
    Hasrouty’s family believe that he and six of his colleagues are somewhere under the silos and they are holding out hope that they are alive.
    They say the rescue response has been too slow and disorganised and that whatever chance there was for finding them alive is being lost.
    The family says that despite giving the authorities the exact location of where he was believed to have been at the time of the explosion, the rescue effort did not start until 40 hours later.
    At their home in Beirut, the family has gathered every day, anxiously awaiting information.
    “These people who are missing are not just numbers,” says Elie, 35, Hasrouty’s son.
    “We need to highlight the mediocrity of management of this disaster, of this situation, how bad it is managed… not to repeat such a horrible disaster and horrible management.”
    Hasrouty, whose own father worked at the same silos for 40 years, was dedicated to his job, his family says.
    His daughter Tatiana, 19, flits between resignation and hope.
    “We did not even get a chance to say goodbye,” she says.    “But we are still waiting for them… to all come back.”
(Writing by Ayat Basma; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/10/2020 Special Report: Lebanon’s Power Struggle – Why A Failing State Can’t Get The Lights On
FILE PHOTO: Samira Hanna,70, walks in her kitchen as she holds a candle due to a power cut, in Beirut,
Lebanon July 6, 2020. To match Special Report LEBANON-CRISIS/POWER REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir

8/10/2020 Lebanon Government Quits Amid Outrage Over Beirut Blast by Michael Georgy and Ellen Francis
Demonstrators take part in a protest following the blast in Beirut, Lebanon, August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s prime minister announced the government’s resignation on Monday, saying a huge explosion that devastated Beirut and triggered public outrage was the result of endemic corruption.
    The Aug. 4 detonation at a port warehouse of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate killed at least 163 people, injured more than 6,000 and destroyed swathes of the Mediterranean capital, compounding months of political and economic meltdown.
    “Today we follow the will of the people in their demand to hold accountable those responsible for the disaster that has been in hiding for seven years, and their desire for real change,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a speech announcing the resignation.
    President Michel Aoun accepted the resignation and asked Diab’s government – formed in January with the backing of Iran’s powerful Hezbollah group and its allies – to stay as a caretaker until a new cabinet is formed, a televised announcement said.
    Ahead of Diab’s announcement, demonstrations broke out for a third day in central Beirut, with some protesters hurling rocks at security forces guarding an entrance leading to the parliament building, who responded with tear gas.
    For many ordinary Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional governance, and they have taken to the streets demanding root-and-branch change.
    “The entire regime needs to change.    It will make no difference if there is a new government,” Joe Haddad, a Beirut engineer, told Reuters.    “We need quick elections.”
    The system of government requires Aoun to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and he is obliged to designate the candidate with the greatest level of support among parliamentarians.
    Diab’s government was under severe pressure to step down.    Some ministers had already resigned over the weekend and Monday while others, including the finance minister, were set to follow suit, ministerial and political sources said.
    Diab said on Saturday he would request early parliamentary elections.
ACCOUNTABILITY
    Aoun has said explosive material was stored unsafely for years at the port.    In later comments, he said the investigation would consider whether the cause was external interference as well as negligence or an accident.
    The cabinet decided to refer the investigation of the blast to the judicial council, the highest legal authority whose rulings cannot be appealed, a ministerial source and state news agency NNA said. The council usually handles top security cases.
    Lebanese, meanwhile, are struggling to come to terms with the scale of losses after the blast wrecked entire areas.
    “The economy was already a disaster and now I have no way of making money again,” said Eli Abi Hanna, whose house and car repair shop were destroyed.    “It was easier to make money during the civil war.    The politicians and the economic disaster have ruined everything.”
    The Lebanese army said on Monday that another five bodies were pulled from the rubble, raising the death toll to 163. Search and rescue operations continued.
    Anti-government protests in the past two days have been the biggest since October, when angry demonstrations spread over an economic crisis rooted in pervasive graft, mismanagement and high-level unaccountability.
    An international donor conference on Sunday raised pledges worth nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate humanitarian relief, but foreign countries are demanding transparency over how the aid is used.
    Some Lebanese doubt change is possible in a country where sectarian politicians have dominated since the 1975-90 conflict.
    “It won’t work, it’s just the same people.    It’s a mafia,” said Antoinette Baaklini, an employee of an electricity company that was demolished in the blast.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

8/11/2020 Lebanese Demand Change After Government Quits Over Beirut Blast
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Angry Lebanese said the government’s resignation on Monday did not come near to addressing the tragedy of last week’s Beirut explosion and demanded the removal of what they see as a corrupt ruling class to blame for the country’s woes.
    A protest with the slogan “Bury the authorities first” was planned near the port, where highly explosive material stored for years detonated on Aug. 4, killing at least 163 people, injuring 6,000 and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab, announcing his cabinet’s resignation, blamed endemic graft for the explosion, the biggest in Beirut’s history and which compounded a deep financial crisis that has collapsed the currency, paralysed the banking system and forced up prices.
    “I said before that corruption is rooted in every juncture of the state but I have discovered that corruption is greater than the state,” he said, blaming the political elite for blocking reforms.
    Talks with the International Monetary Fund have stalled amid a row between the government, banks and politicians over the scale of vast financial losses.
    “It does not end with the government’s resignation,” said the protest flyer circulating on social media.    “There is still (President Michel) Aoun, (Parliament Speaker Nabih) Berri and the entire system.”
    For many Lebanese, the explosion was the last straw in a protracted crisis over the collapse of the economy, corruption, waste and dysfunctional government.
    The Beirut port mirrors the sectarian power system in which the same politicians have dominated the country since the 1975-90 civil war.    Each factions has its quota of directors at the port, the nation’s main trade artery.
    “It’s a good thing that the government resigned.    But we need new blood or it won’t work,” silversmith Avedis Anserlian told Reuters in front of his demolished shop.
    Aoun is required to consult with parliamentary blocs on who should be the next prime minister, and is obliged to designate the candidate with the most support.
    Forming a government amid factional rifts has been daunting in the past.    Now with growing public discontent and the crushing financial crisis, it could be difficult to find someone willing to be prime minister.
    Meanwhile, residents of Beirut continued to pick up the pieces as search operations for those still missing went on.    Officials have said the blast could have caused losses of $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay.
    Ihsan Mokdad, a contractor, surveyed a gutted building in Gemmayze, a district a few hundreds metres from the port.
    “As the prime minister said, the corruption is bigger than the state.    They’re all a bunch of crooks.    I didn’t see one MP visit this area.    MPs should have come here in large numbers to raise morale,” he said.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/11/2020 Israel Closes Gaza Crossing After Palestinians Launch Incendiary Balloons
A Palestinian member of Hamas security forces stands outside the main commercial crossing with
Gaza, Kerem Shalom, in the southern Gaza strip August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Tuesday closed one of its main border crossings with the Gaza Strip after Palestinians launched incendiary balloons that set fire to areas on the Israeli frontier.
    Israeli media reported that more than 30 fires were set around border communities by balloons carrying incendiary devices launched from Gaza.
    “Kerem Shalom Crossing will be closed for the passage of all goods, with the exception of the entry of essential humanitarian equipment and fuel,” Israel’s Defence Ministry said in a statement.
    Kerem Shalom is one of three main Gaza border crossings with Israel and Egypt, but it is where most goods pass through daily.
    Palestinian officials said the closure in particular affected construction materials.
    Gaza is run by Hamas, an Islamist group that Israel and the West designate a terrorist organization.    Citing security concerns, Israel maintains tight control over its land and sea borders. Egypt also restricts movement in and out of Gaza.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

8/11/2020 Egyptians Vote For Newly Created Senate
A security force member stands guard while people arrive to cast their vote, outside a school used as a polling
station during Egypt's senate elections in Cairo, Egypt, August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Polls opened in Egypt on Tuesday for a two-day election to choose members of a newly created second chamber of parliament, with restrictive measures in place aimed at curbing a resurgence of coronavirus infections.
    The Council of Senators will be an advisory body without legislative powers.    It will include 200 publicly elected members and 100 appointed by the president.
    Nearly 63 million out of a total population of more than 100 million Egyptians are eligible to vote, according to state news agency MENA.    Polling stations will be open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. local time.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Catherine Evans)

8/11/2020 Exclusive: Lebanon’s Leaders Were Warned In July About Explosives At Port – Documents by Samia Nakhoul and Laila Bassam
Debris are seen in the port area after a blast in Beirut, Lebanon, August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese security officials warned the prime minister and president last month that 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored in Beirut’s port posed a security risk and could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters and senior security sources.
    Just over two weeks later, the industrial chemicals went up in a massive blast that obliterated most of the port and swathes of the capital, killed at least 163 people, injured 6,000 and destroyed 6,000 buildings, according to municipal authorities.
    A report by the General Directorate of State Security on events leading up to the explosion included a reference to a private letter sent to President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister Hassan Diab on July 20.
    While the content of the letter was not in the report seen by Reuters, a senior security official said it summed up the findings of a judicial investigation launched in January which concluded the chemicals needed to be secured immediately.
    The state security report, which confirmed the correspondence to the president and the prime minister, has not previously been reported.
    “There was a danger that this material, if stolen, could be used in a terrorist attack,” the official told Reuters.
    “At the end of the investigation, Prosecutor General (Ghassan) Oweidat prepared a final report which was sent to the authorities,” he said, referring to the letter sent to the prime minister and president by the General Directorate of State Security, which oversees port security.
    “I warned them that this could destroy Beirut if it exploded,” said the official, who was involved in writing the letter and declined to be named.
    Reuters could not independently confirm his description of the letter.
    The presidency did not respond to requests for comment about the July 20 letter.
    A representative for Diab, whose government resigned on Monday following the blast, said the PM received the letter on July 20 and it was sent to the Supreme Defence Council for advice within 48 hours.    “The current cabinet received the file 14 days prior to the explosion and acted on it in a matter of days.    Previous administrations had over six years and did nothing.”
    The prosecutor general did not respond to requests for comment.
‘DO WHAT IS NECESSARY’
    The correspondence could fuel further criticism and public fury that the explosion is just the latest, if not most dramatic, example of the government negligence and corruption that have already pushed Lebanon to economic collapse.
    As protests over the blast raged in Lebanon on Monday, Diab’s government resigned, though it will remain as a caretaker administration until a new cabinet is formed.
    The rebuilding of Beirut alone is expected to cost up to $15 billion, in a country already effectively bankrupt with total banking system losses exceeding $100 billion.
    Aoun confirmed last week that he had been informed about the material. He told reporters he had directed the secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council, an umbrella group of security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary.”
    “(The state security service) said it is dangerous.    I am not responsible!    I don’t know where it was put and I didn’t know how dangerous it was.    I have no authority to deal with the port directly.    There is a hierarchy and all those who knew should have known their duties to do the necessary,” Aoun said.
    Many questions remain over why the shipment of ammonium nitrate docked in Beirut in late 2013.    Even more baffling is why such a huge stash of dangerous material, used in bombs and fertilisers, was allowed to remain there for so long.
    The letter sent to Lebanon’s president and prime minister followed a string of memos and letters sent to the country’s courts over the previous six years by port, customs and security officials, repeatedly urging judges to order the removal of the ammonium nitrate from its position so close to the city centre.
    The General Directorate of State Security’s report seen by Reuters said many requests had been submitted, without giving an exact number.    It said the port’s manifest department sent several written requests to the customs directorate up until 2016 asking them to call on a judge to order the material be re-exported immediately.
    “But until now, no decision has been issued over this matter.    After consulting one of our chemical specialists, the expert confirmed that this material is dangerous and is used to produce explosives,” the General Directorate of State Security report said.
HAZARDOUS MATERIAL
    The road to last week’s tragedy began seven years ago, when the Rhosus, a Russian-chartered, Moldovan-flagged vessel carrying ammonium nitrate from Georgia to Mozambique, docked in Beirut to try to take on extra cargo to cover the fees for passage through the Suez Canal, according to the ship’s captain.
    Port authorities impounded the Rhosus in December 2013 by judicial order 2013/1031 due to outstanding debts owed to two companies that filed claims in Beirut courts, the state security report showed.
    In May 2014, the ship was deemed unseaworthy and its cargo was unloaded in October 2014 and warehoused in what was known as Hangar 12.    The ship sank near the port’s breakwater on Feb. 18, 2018, the security report showed.
    Moldova lists the owner of the ship as Panama-based Briarwood Corp.    Briarwood could not immediately be reached for comment.
    In February 2015, Nadim Zwain, a judge from the Summary Affairs Court, which deals with urgent issues, appointed an expert to inspect the cargo, according to the security report.
    The report said the expert concluded that the material was hazardous and, through the port authorities, requested it be transferred to the army.    Reuters could not independently confirm the expert’s account.
    Lebanese army command rejected the request and recommended the chemicals be transferred or sold to the privately owned Lebanese Explosives Company, the state security report said.
    The report did not say why the army had refused to accept the cargo.    A security official told Reuters it was because they didn’t need it.    The army declined to comment.
    The explosives company’s management told Reuters it had not been interested in purchasing confiscated material and the firm had its own suppliers and government import licences.
    From then on, customs and security officials wrote to judges roughly every six months asking for the removal of the material, according to the requests seen by Reuters.
    Judges and customs officials contacted by Reuters declined to comment.
    A number of customs and port officials have since been detained as part of the investigation into the blast.
‘BAD STORAGE AND BAD JUDGMENT’
    In January 2020, a judge launched an official investigation after it was discovered that Hangar 12 was unguarded, had a hole in its southern wall and one of its doors dislodged, meaning the hazardous material was at risk of being stolen.
    In his final report following the investigation, Prosecutor General Oweidat “gave orders immediately” to ensure hangar doors and holes were repaired and security provided, a second high-ranking security official who also requested anonymity said.
    On June 4, based on those orders, state security instructed port authorities to provide guards at Hangar 12, appoint a director for the warehouse and secure all the doors and repair the hole in the southern wall, according to the state security report and security officials.
    The port authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    “The maintenance started and (port authorities) sent a team of Syrian workers (but) there was no one supervising them when they entered to fix the holes,” the security official said.
    During the work, sparks from welding took hold and fire started to spread, the official said.
    “Given that there were fireworks stored in the same hangar, after an hour a big fire was set off by the fireworks and that spread to the material that exploded when the temperature exceeded 210 degrees,” the high-ranking security official said.
    The official blamed port authorities for not supervising the repair crew and for storing fireworks alongside a vast deposit of high explosives.
    Reuters could not determine what happened to the workers repairing the hangar.
    “Only because the hangar faces the sea, the impact of the explosion was reduced.    Otherwise all of Beirut would have been destroyed,” he said.    “The issue is all about negligence, irresponsibility, bad storage and bad judgment.”
(This story refiles to amend headline, updates dateline)
(Additional reporting by Nadia El Gowely and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by David Clarke and Giles Elgood)

8/11/2020 ‘Dream Destination’ Cafes Offer Taste Of Paradise In Blockaded Gaza Strip by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinians sit at a beachfront cafe in Gaza City August 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Mediterranean waves crash below patrons snacking on freshly-caught fish at the “Maldive Gaza” cafe, offering a glimpse of paradise to Palestinians confined to the blockaded strip.
    The new three-storey restaurant, protruding 15 metres over the rocky shoreline, also features the tropical juice drinks typical of the distant Indian ocean island after which it is named.
    Many of Gaza’s 2 million Palestinians have never left the 360 sq km (140 sq mile) enclave, which Israel and Egypt have largely blockaded for years citing security concerns over its Islamist rulers Hamas.
    “The people of Gaza can’t go to the Maldives, so we said to ourselves: Why don’t we bring the Maldives to them?” said Emad Al-Bayya, co-owner of the cafe, which seats 1,200 and which he hopes to expand.
    It is one of several new seaside cafes bearing the names of dream travel destinations, Marbella, Dubai and Sharm el-Sheikh among them.
    They offer a brief window onto a more exotic life to people “who have been subject to wars, pressures and blockades,” said Rola Al-Agha, one of hundreds of patrons packed into “Maldive Gaza” on a pleasantly breezy evening last week.
    Gaza has had no COVID-19 cases among the general public, and there are few curbs on social interactions.
(Editing by Rami Ayyub; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/11/2020 Prime Minister Netanyahu: Israel Repelled ‘Provocation’ At Syria Border by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this June 7, 2020 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, both wearing protective mask due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic
during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem. (Menahem Kahana/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed tough retaliation against anyone who attempts to attack the Jewish state.
    While speaking to reporters on Monday, the prime minister said four suspects had attempted to plant explosives at the Syrian border, but were repelled by Israeli soldiers.    He did not specify the allegiance of the attackers, but reports blamed Islamic terror group Hezbollah.
    This came after some terror groups accused Israel of destroying the Hezbollah warehouse in Beirut last week. Netanyahu is now warning against any attacks on Israeli troops.
    “You saw that the IDF thwarted an attempted sabotage on the Syrian front, we acted yesterday against the Gaza Strip, against rogue fire and of course the issue with Lebanon is still in the air,” he stated.    “We will harm anyone who tries to harm us and anyone who harms us — this principle stands.”
    According to reports, Hezbollah may be ramping-up its terror activities in retaliation for the recent explosion in Beirut.

8/11/2020 Who Owned The Chemicals That Blew Up Beirut? No One Will Say
FILE PHOTO: Boris Prokoshev (R), captain of cargo vessel Rhosus, and boatswain Boris Musinchak pose next
to a freight hold loaded with ammonium nitrate in the port of Beirut, Lebanon, in a summer 2014 photograph.
Picture taken in summer 2014. REUTERS/Personal archives of Boris Musinchak/File Photo

8/11/2020 Yemen President Hadi To Head To U.S. For Medical Treatment, Sources Say
    ADEN (Reuters) – Yemen’s President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi will leave Saudi Arabia and head to the United States for medical treatment early on Wednesday, two sources close to the matter told Reuters on Tuesday.
    The head of the country’s internationally-recognised government, who has lived in exile in Riyadh since the Iranian-aligned Houthi group captured the Yemeni capital Sanaa in 2015, has been treated for a heart condition since 2011.
    He is set to return in a week, the sources said.
    Hadi has been on several trips for medical checks and treatment to the United States, most recently in June 2019.
    Yemen’s conflict has killed more than 100,000 people since a Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 to try to restore Hadi’s government, an ally of Riyadh.    The war is largely seen regionally as a proxy struggle between Riyadh and Tehran.
    The sources said the trip would not delay talks between Hadi’s administration and the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) around the formation of a new government.
    Riyadh is seeking to end a conflict between the separatists and the Saudi-backed government, which has been based in Aden for five years after the Houthis ousted it from Sanaa.
    The government and the STC, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, are the main Yemeni forces in the Saudi-led anti-Houthi coalition.    But the two Yemeni allies have been at loggerheads since last August when the STC took over Aden.
    In July, Saudi Arabia presented a framework to expedite a stalled November deal in Yemen’s south designed to end the dispute.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari, writing by Marwa Rashad; Editing by William Maclean)

8/11/2020 Lebanon Registers Record Number Of Daily COVID-19 Cases
FILE PHOTO: People walk as they wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon on Tuesday announced a record daily number of over 300 COVID-19 infections and seven deaths from the virus as the country grapples with the aftermath of the Beirut port explosion that rocked the capital and overwhelmed hospitals.
    The country’s tally now stands at 7,121 COVID-19 cases and 87 deaths since February, according to health ministry data. Even before the blast there had been a recent surge in infections.
    The Aug. 4 explosion killed at least 171 people, injured some 6,000 and damaged swathes of the capital, leaving some 300,000 without habitable housing. Hospitals, many of which were damaged and their staff injured, were flooded with wounded.
    World Health Organization spokesman Tarik Jarasevic told a United Nations briefing in Geneva on Tuesday that the displacement of so many people risks accelerating the spread of COVID-19.
    The WHO on Aug. 7 issued an appeal for $15 million to cover emergency health needs in Lebanon, where the healthcare sector had already been strained by shortages of medical supplies and medicine due to a deep financial crisis.
    “The emergency in Beirut has caused many COVID-19 precautionary measures to be relaxed, raising the prospects of even higher transmission rates and a large caseload in coming weeks,” the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in an Aug. 10 report.
    It said at least 15 medical facilities, including three major hospitals, sustained partial or heavy structural damage from the blast.    An assessment of 55 primary healthcare centres in Beirut showed only 47% could still provide full routine services.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/11/2020 Turkey To Issue Mediterranean Exploration Licences, Raising Tensions With Greece by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Renee Maltezou
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference in
Ankara, Turkey August 11, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA/ATHENS (Reuters) – Turkey will issue gas exploration and drilling licences in the eastern Mediterranean this month, its foreign minister said on Tuesday, further raising tensions with Greece, which said it would seek an emergency EU meeting to address the issue.
    The two NATO allies vehemently disagree about their overlapping claims on hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean, based on conflicting views of how far their continental shelves extend in waters dotted with islands.
    On Monday, Turkey sent an exploration vessel into a disputed area, ending a brief period of calm brokered by Germany.    Ankara said a maritime deal Greece signed with Egypt last week showed it could not trust Athens, and vowed to continue surveying waters that are also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Ankara would issue new seismic exploration and drilling licenses by the end of August.    “Our determination is unfaltering here,” he told reporters.    “We will not compromise in any way from this.”
    Backing up Cavusoglu’s unyielding tone, Turkey’s communications director Fahrettin Altun tweeted video footage of Turkish fighter jets, warships and exploration vessels deployed at sea.
    “Every drop of our blue homeland is sacred,” Altun tweeted, referring to a doctrine championed by recent Turkish naval commanders calling for Ankara to adopt a more muscular approach in its coastal waters.
    Turkey says it has the longest coastline in the eastern Mediterranean but that it is penned in to a narrow strip of coastal water by the presence of numerous small Greek islands close to its shore.    Greece and other regional states cite a United Nations accord to support their maritime demarcations.
ATHENS SEEKS EMERGENCY EU MEETING
    Greece will request an emergency meeting of the European Union foreign affairs council, the prime minister’s office said, while Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias urged Turkey to “immediately leave the Greek continental shelf.”    Athens would defend its rights, he said.
    In a video call with military commanders, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey had completed preparations to protect Turkish interests.
    The European Union, which has imposed an entry ban and asset freeze on two Turkish energy executives over previous Turkish exploration in disputed waters, called for dialogue.    “The latest developments are extremely worrying,” European Commission foreign affairs spokesman Peter Stano said.
    The United States also appealed for a resumption of direct talks between Turkey and Greece, which Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said had been under way for two months until they were broken off last week.
    The contacts had led to “an understanding” between them, which was then scuppered by Thursday’s announcement of the Greek-Egyptian deal, he said.
    “The moment the accord with Egypt was announced, we received very clear orders from our president.    ‘Stop the talks’,” Kalin told broadcaster CNN Turk at the weekend.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler in Istanbul, Angeliki Koutantou in Athens, Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Susan Fenton)

8/12/2020 Egyptians Vote For Newly Created Senate by Mahmoud Mourad
People wait to cast their votes outside a school used as a polling station during Egypt's senate
elections in Cairo, Egypt, August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptians began voting on Tuesday for members of a newly created second chamber of parliament, with restrictive measures in place to curb a resurgence of novel coronavirus infections.
    The Council of Senators will be an advisory body without legislative powers.    It will include 200 elected members and 100 presidential appointees.
    As in Egypt’s main parliamentary chamber, supporters of President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi are expected to dominate.
    Officials say the Senate will enhance political participation.    But the build-up to the elections was low key, which commentators attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of awareness about the new chamber, and apathy.
    Reuters reporters saw sparse turnout at at least five polling stations in the Cairo area, although there was a queue at one of the stations where media were allowed to film.
    Election Commission and government officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
    In Shubra al-Khaima, on Cairo’s outskirts, a man who arrived at a polling station on a company bus said the firm’s owner had urged him and fellow employees to vote.    At another polling station in Giza, a group of elderly voters said they had come because of a promise of grocery boxes or money.
    Sisi was elected president in 2014 with 97% of the vote, and re-elected four years later with the same percentage.
    Last year, a referendum approved constitutional changes that could allow him to stay in office until 2030, widening his powers over the judiciary and establishing the Senate.
    One hundred Senate members will be elected as individual candidates and 100 from a closed list system, where people vote for parties.
    The only closed list to be submitted is led by the strongly pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party, though it included two parties from a coalition that opposed last year’s constitutional changes.
    “Of course, the government is using us to beautify the picture,” by giving the impression of political competition, Mohamed Anwar al-Sadat, who heads the opposition Reform and Development Party, told Reuters.
    Nearly 63 million people out of a total population of more than 100 million are eligible to vote, according to state news agency MENA.
    Polling stations opened at 9 a.m. (0700 GMT) and will close at 9 p.m., over two days of voting.    Results are due on Aug. 19.
    Anti-coronavirus measures include sterilisation and nurses at polling stations, and free masks for those not wearing them.
    Officially confirmed cases of the virus in Egypt have rebounded slightly after a sharp fall, with some officials and doctors warning of a second wave of infections.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Catherine Evans and Nick Tattersall)

8/12/2020 Syria’s Assad Says New U.S. Sanctions Are Part Of Drive To ‘Choke’ Syrians by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Syria's President Bashar al-Assad addresses the new members of parliament in Damascus,
Syria in this handout released by SANA on August 12, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al Assad said on Wednesday that sweeping new U.S. sanctions amounted to a new stage of economic warfare against his government and were part of long-standing U.S. efforts to “choke” the living standards of Syrians.
    In a speech to deputies at the presidential palace, Assad also blamed the sanctions, known as the Caesar Act, for a fall in Syria’s currency to new record lows, with panic buying of dollars by Syrians worried about their economic situation.
    Assad urged his subjects to support the currency, which has lost around almost two thirds of its value since the start of Syria’s nearly decade-old conflict that has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made millions refugees.
    “Our support of the pound is a source of our strength,” Assad said, criticizing a scramble by ordinary Syrians to buy foreign currencies as a safe haven to cushion themselves from skyrocketing inflation.
    The pound touched a record low of 3,000 to the dollar in June as many feared the new sanctions would tighten the noose around Assad and worsen Syria’s dire economic plight.
    It traded at 47 to the dollar before protests against Assad’s rule erupted in March 2011.
    The collapse of the currency has driven up inflation and aggravated hardship as Syrians struggle to afford food, power and other basics.
    Assad said Western adversaries were waging a long-term economic war that Syria could withstand by raising its food self-sufficiency and by cracking down on corruption, which he said was wasting public funds needed to raise living standards.
    “The Caesar Act is not a separate case, it is another phase in stages of sanctions that preceded it for years and which have caused huge damage,” he told the deputies.
    Washington says the goal of the new sanctions is to hold Damascus to account for war crimes and deter it from further pursuing the war.    The sanctions exempt humanitarian aid.
    Earlier, state media had flashed that Assad had suffered low blood pressure for a few minutes while delivering a speech to parliament, before resuming normally, and that it would broadcast it later in the evening.
    Assad was shown in a pre-recorded speech asking for a chair to rest after he stopped the address, and in the edited footage he reappeared on television in front of the deputies.
    “Doctors are the worst patients, in truth I have not had anything to eat since yesterday.    I had some sugar and salt,” the 55-year-old former eye doctor said, without elaborating.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi with additional reporting by Kinda Makieh in Damascus; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2020 Lebanon Must Fight Corruption After Beirut Blast, Says German Foreign Minister by Andreas Rinke and Michael Georgy
People look at the damaged port area, following a massive explosion, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Germany’s foreign minister said on Wednesday that Lebanon needed a government able to fight corruption and enact reforms as he toured Beirut port, scene of the devastating explosion that has kindled protests and led the government to resign.
    The Aug. 4 blast at a warehouse storing highly explosive material killed at least 172 people, injured some 6,000, left around 300,000 without habitable housing and wrecked swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep economic and financial crisis.
    “It is impossible that things go on as before,” Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.    “The international community is ready to invest but needs securities for these investments.    It is important to have a government that fights the corruption.
    “Many in Europe have a lot of interest for this country.    They want to know that there are economic reforms and good governance,” Maas added.
    The resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government has deepened uncertainty.    His cabinet’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had already stalled over internal differences about the scale of financial losses.
    Forming a new government could be daunting amid factional rifts and growing public discontent with a ruling class that many Lebanese brand as responsible for the country’s woes.
    The foreign ministers of Russia and Saudi Arabia agreed on Wednesday on the importance of creating “beneficial external conditions” for the formation of a new Lebanese government, the Russian foreign ministry said.
    Humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not provide funds to help pull Lebanon from economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms to tackle systemic graft, waste, mismanagement and negligence.
INVESTIGATION
    Some 30-40 people are still missing more than a week after the blast.    The Lebanese army said on Wednesday that rescue teams pulled another body from the wreckage of a silo in the port.
    Aoun has promised a swift investigation into the detonation of what authorities say was more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored at the port for years without safety measures.
    Reuters reported that the president and prime minister were warned in July about the warehoused ammonium nitrate, according to documents and senior security sources.
    The presidency said on Wednesday that as soon as Aoun received a state security report on the ammonium nitrate on July 20, the president’s military consultant instructed the secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council to “do the necessary
    He later tweeted estimated losses from the blast exceed $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay given its financial crisis.
    Sitting amid the debris, Lebanese said the state had abandoned them.
    “Who knows what will happen.    How will we get back to business?” said Antoinne Matta, 74, whose safe and lock store was heavily damaged by the blast.    Five employees were wounded.
    A donor conference raised pledges of nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) for immediate relief.    Maas gave a cheque for more than 1 million euros to the Lebanese Red Cross, part of 20 million euros in humanitarian aid from Germany.
EVERYTHING IS GONE
    The central bank has instructed local banks to extend interest-free dollar loans to individuals and businesses for essential repairs, and said it would in turn provide those financial institutions with the funding.
    Bandali Gharabi, whose photo studio was destroyed, said local authorities had only given him a compensation sheet to fill out.    “Everything is gone,” he said.    “I just want someone to rebuild my shop.”
    Volunteers and construction workers with bulldozers were still clearing wreckage from neighbourhoods, where rows of cars were flattened.
    Nagy Massoud, 70, was sitting on the balcony when the blast gutted his apartment.    His pension is frozen in a bank account he cannot access due to controls prompted by the economic crisis.
    “Where is the government?” he said, looking around his shattered apartment.
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous Editing by Alison Williams and Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2020 WHO Seeking $76 Million For Lebanon After Beirut Blast, Concerned About Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: A view shows damaged buildings near the site of the blast at the
Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The World Health Organization (WHO) said on Wednesday it had appealed for $76 million in aid for Lebanon after last week’s massive explosion in Beirut destroyed or damaged hospitals, clinics and medical supplies.
    Lebanon was already struggling with a financial crisis and a rise in the number of new coronavirus cases before the Aug. 4 explosion in the capital’s port area that left at least 171 dead and injured some 6,000.
    The blast put three hospitals out of operation and has left three others working at partial capacity, reducing the number of beds in public and private hospitals by 500-600, WHO officials told an online press conference.
    “A week after the blast, the World Health Organization is still concerned about the health and wellbeing of people who were injured, lost loved ones, or became homeless, and it’s expected (that) recovery from the psychological pain from the blast will last much longer,” said Rana Hajjeh, WHO’s regional programme director.
    “In particular, we are concerned about the return of COVID-19 in Lebanon.    We have launched an appeal for $76 million, and ask the international community to support the Lebanese people and show solidarity with them in every way possible.”
    The loss of hospital beds had “clear implications for the management of COVID as well as other medical conditions,” said Richard Brennan, WHO’s regional emergency director.
    Initial results from an assessment of 55 primary healthcare clinics and centres across Beirut showed just over half are not functioning, with the remainder functioning at varying levels, Brennan said.
    The WHO has so far brought in 25 tonnes of personal protective equipment (PPE), distributed trauma and surgical supplies to 2,000 patients at 10 hospitals, and is working with at least 11 emergency medical teams that have arrived from overseas, officials said.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis and Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/12/2020 Mali Protests Resume As Thousands Call For President To Resign
Supporters of the Imam Mahmoud Dicko and other opposition political parties attend a mass protest demanding the
resignation of Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Bamako, Mali August 11, 2020. REUTERS/Rey Byhre
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Thousands of people took to the streets of Mali’s rainy capital Bamako on Tuesday renewing calls for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita to step down despite international mediation efforts to resolve a political crisis.
    Protests led by an opposition coalition called M5-RFP have raged since June, caused by contested local elections and perceived government corruption and incompetence.
    Tensions escalated in July when police shot dead at least 11 demonstrators.
    Regional powers are worried that prolonged unrest could derail the fight against Islamist extremists in the region, many of whom are centered in Mali.    Their presence has rendered large areas of the center and north of Mali ungovernable.
    Keita had hoped that concessions to opponents, and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissafection.
    But the majority of protestors appeared unmoved as they filed into Bamako’s heaving Independence Square in their thousands on Tuesday, shouting “Keita step down” and “listen to your people.”
    “M5-Rfp demands purely and simply the resignation of Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and his regime to allow for a democratic transition,” prominent M5-RFP member Ibrahim Maiga told the cheering crowd.
(Reporting By Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Edward McAllister. Editing by Jane Merriman)

8/12/2020 Israel Says It Thwarted Foreign Cyber Attack On Defence Industry by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: A man is reflected in a monitor as he takes part in a training session at Cybergym, a cyber-warfare training
facility backed by the Israel Electric Corporation, at their training center in Hadera, Israel July 8, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel said on Wednesday it thwarted a cyber attack on its defence industry by a hacking group known as Lazarus, which the United States says is run by North Korean intelligence.
    Israel’s Defence Ministry said hackers posing as potential employers sent job offers to defence workers trying to infiltrate their networks and gather sensitive information.
    The group built fake profiles on the LinkedIn network to disguise its hackers and separately attempted to hack Israeli defence firms via their websites, the ministry statement said.
    The attacks were identified in real time and thwarted with no disruption to the companies’ networks, it added, without identifying the firms or saying when the incidents took place.
    Israel said the group was backed by a foreign country, but did not name it. Washington has said Lazarus operates for the RGB, North Korea’s primary intelligence bureau.
    U.S. prosecutors have accused the group of orchestrating the leak of emails from Sony Pictures in 2014 and stealing tens of millions of dollars from the Central Bank of Bangladesh in 2016.
    North Korea’s mission to the United Nations in New York did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Pyongyang has in the past denied allegations of cyber-attacks and accused the United States of spreading rumours.
    Since the start of the year, Israel has reported attempted cyber attacks on power stations and water utilities, with officials pointing the finger at Iran or Iranian-backed groups.
    A fire last month at Iran’s Natanz nuclear site prompted some Iranian officials to say it was the result of cyber sabotage.    Israel’s defence minister said his country was not “necessarily” behind every mysterious incident in Iran.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Additional reporting by Jack Stubbs in London and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Andrew Cawthorne)

8/12/2020 Reports: U.S. May Defund UN Mission To Lebanon by OAN Newsroom
Mark Lowcock, the U.N. Humanitarian Affairs Emergency and Relief Coordinator, address United Nations
Security Council with a report on Yemen, Tuesday Oct. 23, 2018 at U.N. headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
    The Trump administration may veto a United Nations resolution to extend an international peacekeeping mission in Lebanon.    According to reports, Israeli and U.S. diplomats have insisted the mission do more to curb Iran’s influence in the country.
    The U.S. is the main sponsor of the $250 million UN mission to Lebanon.    The U.S. and Israel claimed Iranian backed terror group Hezbollah has been controlling the Lebanese government and blocking access by UN peacekeepers.
    However, the UN has called to ramp up its assistance to Lebanon, regardless of its domestic politics.
In this Thursday, Dec. 13, 2018 photo, UN peacekeepers hold their flag while standing next to Hezbollah and Lebanese flags, at
the site where Israeli excavators are working, near the southern border village of Mays al-Jabal, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)
    “The humanitarian response has been swift and wide-ranging.    It is just the first phase in what will be three elements of the needed response.    The second, recovery and reconstruction, will cost billions of dollars and require a mix of public and private finance.    The third element is responding to Lebanon’s preexisting socioeconomic crisis.” – Mark Lowcock, Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs, United Nations
    U.S. diplomats have suggested American taxpayers should foot the bill to rebuild Lebanon, especially in the face of Hezbollah’s obstruction efforts.

8/13/2020 Lebanese MPs Meet For First Time Since Blast, U.S. Envoy Due In Beirut by Issam Abdallah and Maher Chmaytelli
A security officer stands guard outside UNESCO Palace where Lebanon's parliament is expectedbr> to meet, after a massive explosion in Beirut August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese security forces deployed heavily in Beirut on Thursday, stopping protesters from reaching a conference centre where MPs began meeting for the first time since the catastrophic chemicals explosion last week that killed 172 people.
    Senior U.S. official David Hale is expected in Beirut later on Thursday to stress the urgent need for financial and governance reforms, ending endemic corruption and bringing transparency, among other messages, the U.S. Embassy said.
    The Aug. 4 blast at a warehouse storing highly-explosive material in Beirut port injured some 6,000, left around 300,000 without habitable housing and wrecked swathes of the city, which was already in a deep financial crisis.
    The authorities say the blast was caused by more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate stored for years without safety measures.
    Roads to the UNESCO Palace on the southern outskirts of the capital, where parliament has met during the COVID-19 pandemic, were blocked with metal gates in anticipation of the protest by demonstrators furious at a political elite they blame for the blast.
    “They are all criminals, they are who caused this catastrophe, this explosion,” said Lina Boubess, 60, a protester who was trying to reach UNESCO Palace.
    “Isn’t it enough that they stole our money, our lives, our dreams and the dreams of our children?    What more do we have to lose.    They are criminals, all of them means all of them.”
    As two cars with tinted windows passed through one of the barricades towards the UNESCO Palace, a small group of protesters hit the vehicles with Lebanese flags.
    Others angry at the lawmakers said they had stayed away from the building in anticipation of the security cordon.
    Some 30-40 people are still missing more than a week after the blast.
    Outrage at the explosion has fuelled protests in which hundreds of people have been injured in confrontations between security forces and demonstrators.    The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab resigned earlier this week.
    The parliamentary session started with a minute of silence.
    The agenda includes a discussion of a state of emergency declared by the government, said a senior political source. The resignation of eight MPs who quit after the blast are also expected to be confirmed.
    But Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a pillar of the sectarian elite, also “wants to give a political message – that the parliament exists – despite all this talk about early elections and the resignations of MPs,” said the source.
    Humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign countries have made clear they will not provide funds to help pull Lebanon from economic collapse without action on long-demanded reforms to tackle systemic graft, waste, mismanagement and negligence.
    Authorities have estimated losses at $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay: it defaulted on its enormous sovereign debt in March, citing critically low foreign currency reserves.
    The government’s talks with the International Monetary Fund for a bailout had stalled.
    Politicians are in early consultations over forming a new cabinet, a complicated process in a country riven by political divisions and governed by a sectarian power-sharing system.
    The government, which stays on in a caretaker capacity, came to office in January with backing from parties including the heavily armed, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful party.    Together with its allies, they have a majority of seats in parliament.
    The United States proscribes Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
    U.S. Under Secretary for Political Affairs Hale “will underscore America’s willingness to support any government that reflects the will of the people and is genuinely committed to and acting upon such a reform agenda,” the U.S. Embassy said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Issam Abdallah; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

8/13/2020 Amid Tensions With Turkey, Greece In Joint Manoeuvres With France
FILE PHOTO: Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ATHENS (Reuters) – The French military conducted training exercises with Greek forces off the southern island of Crete on Thursday, defence sources said, as tension persisted with Turkey over disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
    Thursday’s exercise was the first manifestation of French President Emmanuel Macron’s commitment to temporarily reinforce his country’s presence in the eastern Mediterranean. France has called on Turkey to halt oil and gas exploration in disputed waters.
    Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis discussed the situation in the region with Macron by telephone on Wednesday.
    On Thursday, the French armed forces ministry said it was sending two Rafale fighter jets and the naval frigate ‘Lafayette’ to the eastern Mediterranean.
    The frigate and the jets had arrived in Crete earlier on Thursday and carried out joint manoeuvres with Greek forces, the Greek defence sources said.
    “Emmanuel Macron is a true friend of Greece and a fervent defender of European values and international law,” Mitsotakis tweeted, in French, after the call with Macron.
    Tensions have simmered between NATO allies Greece and Turkey in recent days over overlapping claims to hydrocarbon resources in Mediterranean waters.
    A Turkish seismic vessel, the Oruc Reis, has been sailing between Crete and Cyprus since Monday, despatched by Ankara days after Greece signed a maritime deal with Egypt designating an exclusive economic zone between the two nations.
    Turkey says it plans to open up some of the area for potential hydrocarbon exploration, and a precursor to that is collecting seismic data it can process and sell to potential bidders. Both countries lay claim to the area.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Alex Richardson)

8/13/2020 Israel Halts Fuel Shipments To Gaza Over Fire Balloons by Rami Ayyub and Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian worker fills a motorbike with fuel at a petrol station in Gaza City August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    TEL AVIV/GAZA (Reuters) – Israel said on Thursday it would stop shipments of fuel into Gaza in response to Palestinians in the enclave launching incendiary balloons that have torched tracts of farmland on the Israeli frontier.
    Palestinians in Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza have launched dozens of helium balloons laden with incendiary material in recent days to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of the territory.
    Fuel shipments were stopped “in light of the continued launching of incendiary balloons from the Strip toward (Israel) and of the undermining of security stability,” a defence ministry statement said.
    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum called the measure a “grave act of aggression” that would deepen Gaza’s economic hardship.
    The halt in fuel shipments could shut down Gaza’s sole power plant and lead to further electricity cuts, said Mohammad Thabet, an official with Gaza’s main power distribution company.
    Gaza relies on Israel for most of its energy needs.    Its population of two million currently receives around six hours of electricity followed by a 10 hour power cut.
    Overnight, Israeli warplanes and tanks struck what the military said were Hamas facilities, calling it a response to the balloons.    Israel had earlier shut down Gaza’s main commercial crossing and reduced the area where it permits Palestinians to fish.
    In Gaza City, a school run by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) was damaged by one of the strikes, Gaza’s interior ministry said.
    The school was empty at the time and there were no reports of casualties.    “Apparently the device did not explode,” an UNRWA statement said.
    An Israeli military spokeswoman said the report was being checked.
    Israel and Hamas have fought three wars since 2008 and have traded blows in the past few years.    Citing security concerns, Israel keeps tight control of its border crossings with Gaza and imposes a naval blockade.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Robert Birsel and Gareth Jones)

8/13/2020 Israel Successfully Tests Arrow-2 Missile Interceptor, Says U.S. Missile Agency
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel successfully tested its Arrow-2 ballistic missile interceptor on Wednesday, the U.S. Missile Defense Agency (MDA) said.
    “The Arrow-2 interceptor successfully performed its planned trajectory and destroyed the target,” the Pentagon agency said in a statement.
    The Arrow-2 and a newer generation system, Arrow-3, serve as the top tier of an integrated Israeli shield built up with U.S. backing to withstand various potential missile salvoes.
    “MDA remains committed to assisting the government of Israel as it upgrades its national missile defense capability against current and emerging threats,” said the agency’s director, Vice Admiral Jon Hill.
    The test was conducted at a test range in central Israel and over the Mediterranean Sea, MDA said.
(Reporting by Eric Beech, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

8/13/2020 Nigerian Lawyers Fight Back Against Police Brutality, Graft by Nneka Chile
Citizens' Gavel associate lawyer Isaac Aghi checks a Podus app on a computer at the Gavel office
in Lagos, Nigeria August 3, 2020. Picture taken August 3, 2020. REUTERS/Nneka Chile
    LAGOS (Reuters) – When Divine Umukoro refused to pay police a bribe after breaking Lagos state’s night-time curfew, she says they slapped her, slashed her car tyres and threatened violence.
    A video of the incident went viral on Nigerian blogging sites, and Citizens’ Gavel, a non-profit organisation that fights against police misconduct, stepped in, helping her to recover her seized car within three days.
    The police have declined to comment on the incident.
    “When the whole thing started with the hitting, with the slapping of my face, pushing my friend – I felt so angry,” Umukoro, 25, said of the July 11 incident, when she acknowledged she was out past a 10 pm curfew instituted to combat the spread of the coronavirus.     Citizens’ Gavel, founded in 2017, and the Headfort Foundation, founded last year, aim to help marginalised Nigerians get fair treatment from the police and the courts.
    The two NGOs have handled nearly 400 cases in total so far.
    International organisations such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have long accused Nigerian police of extortion, physical attacks and other abuses, charges they deny.
    Lagos police spokesman Bala Elkana said police were already accountable, pointing to a dedicated unit that investigates brutality accusations.    He said 10 officers had been dismissed and more than 70 punished this year alone.
    But Oluyemi Orija, chief executive of the Headfort Foundation, said that without help, poor clients can spend months in jail for offences such as driving without a licence because they cannot afford to pay bail or bribe the police.    They can also be coerced to confess to crimes they did not commit.
    “Things can land poor people in jail for months, but a rich person will walk into the police station, pay them and get away with it,” said Orija, a lawyer.    “It is so unfortunate that young people don’t even know their rights.”
(Reporting By Nneka Chile, writing by Libby George; Editing by Gareth Jones)

[THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS ACKNOWLEGING THAT “THE DEAL OF THE CENTURY” IS BEGINNING TO SHOW THAT IT IS IN PROCESS AS THE ARAB NATIONS ARE READY TO GET THEIR COUNTRIES TO GET BACK INTO ECONOMIC BEGINNINGS AND THEY WILL PURSUE THAT THE PALESTINIANS WILL BE FORCED TO CONSIDERED THE NEW STATE OF PALESTINE WITH ISRAEL IN THAT BUT WHO WILL BE THE ONE WHO WILL CONFIRM IT AND THERE WILL BE A UNITED NATIONS SECURITY COUNCIL MEETING IN NEW YORK IN SEPTEMBER THAT MAY DEAL WITH THAT ISSUE TO GET IT IMPLEMENTED TO BRING PEACE TO THE MIDEAST.].
8/13/2020 Israel, UAE To Normalize Relations In Shift In Mideast Politics, West Bank Annexation On Hold by Maha El Dahan, Jeffrey Heller and Steve Holland
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner listens as U.S. President Donald Trump announces that Israel and the United Arab Emirates
have reached a peace deal that will lead to full normalization of diplomatic relations between the two Middle Eastern nations in
an agreement that U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker at White House in Washington, U.S., August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    DUBAI/JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced on Thursday that they will normalise diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship, a move that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to Iran.
    Under the accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel has agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank.    The agreement also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the conflict-riven Middle East.
    Israel had signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.    But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, did not recognise Israel and had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it until now.    The UAE becomes the first Gulf Arab country to reach such a deal with the Jewish state.
    The agreement was the product of lengthy discussions between Israel, the UAE and the United States that accelerated recently, White House officials said.
    A joint statement said Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed had “agreed to the full normalisation of relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates.”
    “This historic diplomatic breakthrough will advance peace in the Middle East region and is a testament to the bold diplomacy and vision of the three leaders and the courage of the United Arab Emirates and Israel to chart a new path that will unlock the great potential in the region,” the statement said.
    In a separate statement, the crown prince stressed that the agreement would stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories, which Israel has said had been awaiting a green light from Washington.
    The agreement, to be known as the Abraham Accords, also gives Trump a foreign policy accomplishment as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.
    “HUGE breakthrough today! Historic Peace Agreement between our two GREAT friends, Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Trump wrote on Twitter.
    In the White House Oval Office, Trump said similar deals are being discussed with other countries in the region.
    The UAE said it would remain a strong supporter of the Palestinian people and that the agreement maintained the viability of a two-state solution to the longstanding Israel-Palestinian conflict.    There was no immediate reaction from the Palestinians, who hope to create an independent state in the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
    Netanyahu said the agreement represented a “historic day” for his country.    It could also be a personal boost to Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption and whose domestic popularity has dropped over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
    A senior Israeli official said applying Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank was still on the agenda, adding, “The Trump administration asked us to temporarily suspend the (sovereignty) announcement so that the historic peace agreement with the UAE can be implemented.”
‘NIGHTMARE’ FOR IRAN
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is on a trip to Central European countries, said: “This is an enormous, historic step forward. Peace is the right path forward.”
    Trump’s special envoy Brian Hook called the deal a “nightmare” for Iran.
    There was no immediate response from the Iranian government but the Tasnim news agency, affiliated with Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guards, called the accord “shameful.”
    Iran and Israel are arch foes.    Israel is particularly concerned about suspected Iranian efforts to develop nuclear weapons, which Tehran denies.    Iran is also involved in proxy wars from Syria to Yemen, where the UAE has been a leading member of the Saudi-led coalition opposing Iran-aligned forces there.
    With a population of less than 10 million but the Arab world’s second-largest economy thanks to oil, the UAE has exerted growing commercial and military clout in the Gulf and the wider region over the past two decades, much of it aimed at confronting Islamist militants and the influence of Iran.
    U.S. lawmakers have tried to rein in Trump administration plans for arms sales, particularly to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates for use in the war in Yemen.
MORE DEALS IN PIPELINE?
    Delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates will meet in the coming weeks to sign agreements regarding investment, tourism, direct flights, security, telecommunications and other issues, the statement said.
    The two countries, which agreed in June to cooperate in the fight against the coronavirus in a sign of closer ties, are expected soon to exchange ambassadors and embassies.
    The joint statement said that “as a result of this diplomatic breakthrough and at the request of President Trump with the support of the United Arab Emirates, Israel will suspend declaring sovereignty” over areas of the West Bank that were envisioned in a U.S. plan announced by Trump in January.
    A signing ceremony including delegations from Israel and the United Arab Emirates is due to be held at the White House in the coming weeks.
    “Everybody said this would be impossible,” Trump said.    “After 49 years, Israel and the United Arab Emirates will fully normalise their diplomatic relations.”
    Trump added, “This deal is a significant step towards building a more peaceful, secure and prosperous Middle East.    Now that the ice has been broken, I expect more Arab and Muslim countries will follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead.”
    This was already being discussed with other states, he said.
    The agreement envisions giving Muslims greater access to the Al-Aqsa Mosque in the Old City of Jerusalem by allowing them to fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv, White House officials said.
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed “any initiative that can promote peace and security in the Middle East region,” a U.N. spokesman said.
    Guterres had urged Israel in June to abandon plans to annex settlements in the West Bank, warning that this threatened prospects for peace with the Palestinians.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Lisa Barrington, Steve Holland in Washington; Jeff Heller in Jerusalem, Writing by Angus MacSwan; Editing by Will Dunham)

8/13/2020 FBI To Join Beirut Blast Probe by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale speaks to journalists as he visits the main gathering point for NGO volunteers,
near the site of last week’s explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, Pool)
    The FBI said they will join Lebanese and international investigators to get to the bottom of the Beirut explosion.
    Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale confirmed the news Thursday.    He said the FBI decided to involve themselves at the invitation of the Lebanese government.
    Hale went on to say the public wants to know the truth behind the negligence that led to the explosion.
    “If that same spirit of unity and collaboration and of focus on getting things done could not only be tapped to rebuilt Beirut, but to undertake the necessary reforms that will bring the kind of transformation that is necessary for Lebanon to make sure things like this never happen again,” he stated.
    The blast left roughly 6,000 people injured and 300,000 without housing.

8/13/2020 U.S. Envoy: FBI To Join Beirut Blast Probe, Lebanon Must End ’Empty Promises’ by Issam Abdallah and Ellen Francis
A security officer stands guard outside UNESCO Palace where Lebanon's parliament is expected
to meet, after a massive explosion in Beirut August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A top U.S. diplomat said on Thursday the FBI would join a probe of the massive Beirut explosion that killed at least 172 people, urging change in Lebanon to “make sure something like this never happens again.”
    On a tour of a demolished Beirut neighbourhood, U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale said Lebanon needed “economic and fiscal reforms, an end to dysfunctional governance and to empty promises.”
    The explosion at Beirut port injured 6,000 people and forced around 300,000 out of their homes in the city, which was already sinking deep into financial crisis.    Some 30-40 people remain missing.
    Authorities have blamed the Aug. 4 blast on a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate stored for years at the port without safety measures.
    “The FBI will soon join Lebanese and international investigators at the invitation of the Lebanese to help answer questions about the circumstances that led up to this explosion,” Hale said on Thursday.
    Lebanese President Michel Aoun has said the investigation will look into whether the cause was negligence, an accident or possibly “external interference.”
    Aoun has asked France for satellite imagery for the probe.    A UK Royal Navy vessel was also deployed to Beirut to survey the site.
    An Israeli seismological expert said on Thursday the explosion was preceded by a series of blasts, the last of which was combustion of fireworks.
FACTIONAL RIFTS
    Authorities have estimated losses from the blast at $15 billion, a bill Lebanon cannot pay: it already defaulted on its enormous sovereign debt in March and IMF talks had stalled.
    Humanitarian aid has poured in. But foreign countries that once helped have made clear they will not give funds to help Lebanon out of economic collapse without reforms to tackle state corruption and waste.
    Hale, the No. 3 U.S. diplomat, said Washington would back any new government that “reflects the will of the people” and enacts reforms.    The fallout from the explosion forced the cabinet to resign this week.
    But agreement on a new one could be daunting in a country with factional rifts and a sectarian power-sharing system.    Public anger has grown at a political elite in power for decades, which many blame for the country’s woes.
    The now-caretaker government came to office in January with backing from various political parties, including the heavily armed Shi’ite Muslim Hezbollah.    Together with its allies, they have a majority of seats in parliament.
    The United States classifies Hezbollah, which is backed by Tehran, as terrorist.    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif landed in Beirut on Thursday evening, local media said.
    Security forces were heavily deployed in Beirut on Thursday, stopping protesters from reaching a legislative session.
    “They are all criminals, they are the ones who caused this catastrophe, this explosion,” said protester Lina Boubess, 60.
    “Isn’t it enough that they stole our money, our lives, our dreams and the dreams of our children? What more do we have to lose?
    Parliament approved an earlier government decision declaring a state of emergency, which activists criticized as an attempt to suppress dissent.    It also confirmed the resignations of eight MPs who quit after the blast.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Issam Abdallah, Ellen Francis and Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich, Dan Grebler and Giles Elgood)

8/13/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey Will Exact ‘High Price’ For Any Attack On Vessel
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in Ankara, Turkey, August 13, 2020. Presidential
Press Office/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE.
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday that any attack on a Turkish ship exploring for oil and gas in disputed Mediterranean waters would incur a “high price” and suggested Turkey had already acted on that warning.
    Tensions in the eastern Mediterranean have risen sharply this week after Turkey sent a survey vessel to the region, escorted by warships, in a move Greece decried as illegal.
    “We said that if you attack our Oruc Reis you will pay a high price, and they got their first answer today,” Erdogan said in a speech in Ankara without giving details.
    The Oruc Reis set out on Monday with its military escort to survey waters between Crete and Cyprus.
    In response, President Emmanuel Macron said France would increase its military presence in the region and called on Ankara to stop its exploration work.    French and Greek forces held military training exercises off Crete on Thursday.
    EU foreign ministers, who have already imposed sanctions on two Turkish energy executives over Turkey’s operations in the eastern Mediterranean, will discuss the situation on Friday.
    Erdogan spoke by phone with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and EU Council President Charles Michel on Thursday.    He “reiterated his commitment to defend Turkey’s rights against attempts to disregard them,” Erdogan’s office said of the call with Michel.
    Both Turkey and Greece said this week that they were willing to resolve the dispute over their overlapping maritime claims, but vowed to protect their interests and blamed the other side for the stand-off.
    “The path to a solution in the eastern Mediterranean is via dialogue and negotiation,” Erdogan said earlier on Thursday.
    “If we act with common sense and reason, we can find a win-win solution that meets everyone’s interests.    We are not chasing any unnecessary adventures or seeking tensions.”
    In apparent reference to France, Erdogan also said Greece was being pushed into taking “wrong steps” in the region by “a country that doesn’t even have a coast in the eastern Mediterranean.”
    “Nobody should think too highly of themselves.    Let me be very clear: Don’t try to put on a show,” Erdogan said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ali Kucukgocmen and Daren Butler; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/13/2020 Seismic Data Suggests String Of Blasts Preceded Beirut Explosion: Israeli Analyst by Dan Williams
Boaz Hayoun, of Israel's Tamar Group and an Israeli seismological and munitions expert, looks on near his
car before an interview with Reuters in Herzliya, Israel August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Seismological data suggests that six blasts preceded the Beirut port explosion, the last of them a combustion of fireworks that apparently set off a warehouse full of ammonium nitrate, an Israeli analyst said on Thursday.
    The six blasts were at 11-second intervals during the Aug. 4 incident, with the main explosion following the last by around 43 seconds, Boaz Hayoun of Israel’s Tamar Group told Reuters.
    Hayoun, a former military engineering officer whose current roles include overseeing safety standards for explosives use in Israel, said his analysis was based on data from seismological sensors stationed across the region.
    “I cannot say categorically what caused this, but I can say these blasts were at the same location,” he told Reuters.
    Among the sensors cited by Hayoun was an array installed about 70 km (43 miles) off Lebanon’s coast by the international geological project IRIS – which cast doubt on his conclusions.
    IRIS said its sensors picked up more than five “small bursts” at intervals of around 11 seconds before the main Beirut explosion, a sequence that continued after the incident.
    “I do not believe that they are associated with the large explosion in Beirut,” Jerry Carter, director of IRIS data services, told Reuters.
    “They could be from a seismic survey,” he added, referring to geologists carrying out airgun bursts for underwater mapping.
    Lebanese officials have blamed the explosion, which killed at least 172 people and left much of the capital in ruins, on a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate catching fire after being stored unsafely at the port for years.
    President Michel Aoun has said investigators would also look into the possibility of “external interference” such as a bomb, as well as negligence or an accident as causes.
    Hayoun assessed that the Beirut incident involved underground explosions.    The 43-metre (140-foot) deep crater at the port could not have been left by the explosion of the amount of ammonium nitrate reported by Lebanese authorities, he said:
    “It would have been shallower, maximum 25 or 30 metres.”
    The main explosion, of the ammonium nitrate warehouse, was preceded by a nearby fire.
    Hayoun said that having seen footage of that fire he was convinced it was caused by the combustion of fireworks – and that this would have been sufficient to set off the ammonium nitrate.
    Israel Defense, a leading private online journal with close ties to the Israeli military establishment and which first reported Hayoun’s findings, described his analysis of a possible blast sequence as consistent with munitions detonations.
    Such a sequence could be consistent with “weapons systems that are activated in a chain” and which might have been stored in the port and set off accidentally or deliberately, said Israel Defense.
    However, it did not provide evidence to suggest sabotage.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jon Boyle and Frances Kerry)

8/13/2020 Israel Hails UAE Deal But Palestinians – And Settlers – Dismayed by Stephen Farrell
A television screen shows U.S. President Donald Trump as Palestinians follow the news on UAE 's agreement with Israel
on normalising relations, in Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel talked of “history” and Palestinians of “betrayal” after Thursday’s surprise announcement of a deal to normalise relations between the Jewish state and the United Arab Emirates.
    In a nationwide televised address, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal would lead to “full and formal peace” with the Gulf Arab state and voiced hope that other countries in the region would follow the UAE’s example.
    Netanyahu said it also entailed acceding to a request from U.S. President Donald Trump to “temporarily wait” on implementing the Israeli leader’s pledge to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
    “It’s an incomparably exciting moment, a historic moment for peace in the Middle East,” Netanyahu said.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose officials seemed to be taken by surprise, issued an unusually strong condemnation of a regional Arab neighbour and instructed the Palestinian ambassador to the UAE to return immediately.
    “The Palestinian leadership rejects and denounces the UAE, Israeli and U.S. trilateral, surprising, announcement,” said Abbas’s spokesman Nabil Abu Rudeineh in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank.
    Reading a statement on Palestinian television, Abu Rudeineh said the leadership regarded the UAE’s move as “a betrayal.”
    The statement urged the Arab League and the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation to assemble to “reject” the deal, adding “neither the UAE nor any other party has the right to speak in the name of the Palestinian people.”
    The deal provides a diplomatic achievement for Netanyahu after weeks of domestic criticism over his handling of the coronavirus pandemic and the economy, but also angered right-wing Israeli settlers who want to annex the West Bank.
    Netanyahu said that while he had promised to apply Israeli sovereignty to areas, including Jewish settlements, in the territory, which Palestinians seek for a future state, he had made clear he first needed a green light from Washington.
    “He deceived us.    He has deceived half a million residents of the area and hundreds of thousands of voters,” said David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council of settlers.
PRO-ISRAEL STANCE
    Abbas, who heads the Palestinian Authority and the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization, has refused all political dealings with the Trump administration for more than two years, accusing it of taking a consistently pro-Israel stance.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a veteran Palestinian negotiator, told Reuters: “We were blindsided.    Their secret dealings are now completely out in the open.    It is a complete sell-out.”
    Much use was made of the word “normalisation” – a term that has very different connotations on either side.
    For Israel and the White House it signified a welcome rapprochement with a key Gulf player in a region from which Israel has long been isolated, aside from two peace treaties with its immediate neighbours Egypt and Jordan.
    But for many Palestinians and Arabs in other countries, the word has overwhelmingly negative connotations.
    In Gaza, Fawzi Barhoum, a spokesman for Hamas, told Reuters: “Normalisation is a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause, and it serves only the Israeli occupation.”
    In a rare show of unity, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh spoke to Abbas by phone to convey his “absolute rejection” of the deal, Hamas officials said.
    There was no official reaction or media coverage in Saudi Arabia, but some Saudis tweeted under hashtags “normalization is treason,” “UAE” and “Israel.”
    Mohammed Ali al-Houthi, the head of Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group’s Supreme Revolutionary Committee, said the deal was a betrayal of the Palestinian cause and of pan-Arabism.
(Writing by Stephen Farrell; Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem, Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Marwa Rashad in Riyadh and Lisa Barrington in Dubai.; Editing by Sonya Hepinstall)

8/14/2020 As UAE Hails Israel Accord, Silence From Saudi Arabia by Maha El Dahan and Marwa Rashad
Palestinians take part in a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise
relations, in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    DUBAI/RIYADH (Reuters) – As media and people in the United Arab Emirates hailed the Gulf state’s deal to normalise relations with Israel as a diplomatic victory that helps the Palestinians, silence reigned in Saudi Arabia, longtime figurehead of regional policy towards Israel.br>     Analysts see the surprise UAE-Israel agreement announced on Thursday as a strategic boost for the UAE’s regional and global standing that could put it ahead of its powerful Saudi neighbour and ally, especially in critical relations with Washington.
    Saudi Arabia is the Gulf’s largest economy and the world’s biggest oil exporter, but the UAE has in recent years become increasingly assertive in its own foreign policy, especially in regional hot spots such as Libya, Sudan and Yemen.
    In July last year the UAE said it was withdrawing its troops from Yemen where it had jointly with Saudi Arabia led a Western-backed coalition fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis since 2015.
    The accord was a rare triumph for U.S. President Donald Trump in Middle East diplomacy ahead of his Nov. 3 re-election bid.    But, should he be defeated by Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the UAE could gain an advantage over Riyadh in relations with the United States.
    “The move positions the UAE nicely should Biden win, as it will help smooth things over with (the U.S.) Congress and, by doing so, leave Saudi Arabia outflanked and more exposed than ever before,” said Neil Quilliam, associate fellow with Chatham House and managing director of Azure Strategy.
    “This must be the real concern for the Saudi leadership right now – and the lead calculation on how to respond to the UAE-Israel move.”
    Last year Congress passed legislation to block sales of some weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE in an attempt to pressure the Gulf states over civilian casualties in the Yemen war.    The legislation was vetoed by President Donald Trump.
    While there has been no official comment from the Saudis on the UAE-Israel pact so far, Twitter users in the kingdom shared pictures of the late King Faisal, who during the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war led an oil embargo that aimed to punish the United States and other countries for their support of Israel.
    Users shared a quote from one of Faisal’s speeches: “If all Arabs agreed to accept the existence of Israel and dividing Palestine, we will never join them.”
GULF IS AGAINST NORMALISATION
    On Thursday morning, the Arabic hashtag “Gulfis_Against_Normalisation” was trending in third place in Saudi Arabia.
    Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally, has been ruled by 84-year-old King Salman since 2015.    He has overseen bold changes at home and abroad led by Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, or MbS as he is widely referred to, Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and next in line to the throne.
    Both Saudi Arabia and Israel view Iran as the major threat to the Middle East.    Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fuelled speculation that shared interests may push the Saudis and Israel to work together, and there have been signs in recent years of some thawing between the two.
    However, King Salman’s position as custodian of Islam’s holiest sites makes it harder or the kingdom to take the same step as the UAE while the status of Jerusalem remains unresolved and an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal remains elusive.
    “To do so would risk losing public support at a time of significant economic crisis and would give a boon to Iran at such a delicate time,” said Quilliam.
    Palestinians seek a state on land occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war, with East Jerusalem, also captured then by Israel, as their capital.    Israel deems Jerusalem to be its eternal, indivisible capital.
    Israel agreed as part of the accord with the UAE to suspend plans to annex parts of the occupied territories, but Palestinians said they were blindsided by the announcement and rejected it, calling it a “betrayal.”
    The UAE-Israel deal appeared at odds with a 2002 Arab League peace proposal, moribund for many years, that would have required Israel to withdraw from all occupied territories in exchange for normal relations with Arab states.
    White House adviser Jared Kushner hinted on Thursday that other Arab states would follow the UAE’s path.    Bahrain, a close Saudi ally, and Oman, which hosted Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018, have both released statements in support of the UAE opening to Israel.
    There has been no official comment from Kuwait, nor from Qatar, which has been in a sharp political dispute with the Saudis, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt for three years.
    “Everyone in the UAE is so happy and satisfied with the decision…The negativity you see is only coming from outside,” said Emirati Twitter user Hassan Sajwani, who describes himself as an Emirati writer on current affairs and counter-terrorism with over 60,000 followers.
    He tweeted a flag of Israel with a heart emoji and wrote “Visit Israel.”
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Marwa Rashad with additional reporting by Dahlia Nehme; Writing by Lisa Barrington and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/14/2020 State Of Collapse: Can Lebanon’s Troubled Leadership Save The Country? by Samia Nakhoul and Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Speaker of the Parliament Nabih Berri, French President Emmanuel Macron, Lebanese President
Michel Aoun and Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, pose for a picture during their meeting following Tuesday's blast
in Beirut's port area, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Beirut’s seismic explosion propelled the scarred Lebanese capital 30 years back in time with a violence scarcely imaginable even to a country that has endured so many wars, invasions, occupations, air strikes, car bombs and assassinations.
    The city that took 15 years to rebuild after a devastating 1975-90 civil war lies now with its port wrecked and districts in ruins, just like three decades ago.    Then, the Lebanese could justifiably hope for a rebirth.    Now, hope is all but gone.
    This old Mediterranean city picked itself up and rose from the rubble after the war.    Beirut was rebuilt as a glamorous metropolis with much of its old splendour. Most of its highly educated expatriates – academics, doctors, engineers, economists, lawyers and artists – returned to take part in rebuilding their country.
    Billions of dollars poured in: from Western and Gulf Arab countries, and from the far-flung Lebanese diaspora thought to be at least three times the size of the population.
    Beirut regularly figured in publications such as Conde Nast Traveller as an exciting destination, a melting pot party-town, friendly and bursting with energy, spirit, charm and diversity.
    Its lures included a wild nightlife, international festivals in Graeco-Roman and Ottoman settings such as Baalbek, with its temples of Jupiter and Bacchus, and tempting food and wines.    Tourists strolled its waterfront, or ventured a short distance to ski on slopes or hike in lush mountains overlooking the city.
    But the cataclysm that sent up a mushroom cloud over Beirut — said by experts to be roughly a 10th the force of the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima 75 years ago to end World War Two — may finally have broken the fabled resilience of the Lebanese.
    “The situation is such a disaster with the country down on it knees,” Jan Kubis, U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon, told Reuters.    “The country is broken and the people are broke and broken.”
    The government resigned after waves of public indignation at the negligence that led to the blast, caused when it said 2,750 tonnes of highly combustible ammonium nitrate – used in fertiliser but also for explosives – was left unsecured at a port which is a local byword for corruption and warlord control.
    President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Hassan Diab and a host of officials had documents warning an explosion of the material could destroy Beirut.    Aoun and Diab insisted they had referred the warning to the appropriate authorities.
    The president announced an investigation.    But diplomats who track Lebanon’s sectarian power sharing politics suspect the probe may end up concealing more evidence than it reveals.
    For traditional elites – warlords, dynastic leaders of the main Christian and Muslim sects, and their oligarch allies – the aftermath of the blast has been business as usual, just as it has been during the past year of worsening economic crisis.
    “Unfortunately, what I see is the political figures, leaders still operating in the usual way,” Kubis said.    “Of course they understand that perhaps the country has reached the limit, but I don’t see any changes in the behaviour.”
    They are already busy selecting another prime minister, who will have to agree to follow their policies, preserve their patronage networks and avoid reforms demanded by the IMF to extend aid, diplomats, officials and analysts say.
    When French President Emmanuel Macron visited after the blast, he toured ground zero and walked in demolished districts, comforting the bereaved and listening to people’s fury.
    Not one of Lebanon’s purported rulers has shown his face at the stricken scene.    When Macron met Aoun, Diab, and parliament speaker Nabih Berri, residents said, it spoke volumes that only Macron wore a black tie out of respect for the dead.
RULERS’ IMPUNITY
    At root, Lebanon’s many crises boil down to one problem: its rulers and their impunity, diplomats and analysts say.
    At the end of the war, the militia leaders put on suits, shook hands and – with the exception of the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah group – disarmed.    But they remained in charge, and mostly under foreign patronage: the Sunnis and their Christian partners to the west and the Gulf, the Shi’ite and their Christian allies to Syria and Iran.     Syria, which stationed troops in Lebanon in 1976 for 29 years until its army was forced out after the 2005 assassination of prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri, deliberately preserved and refined the confessional system to divide and rule the sects.
    Israel, which occupied parts of south Lebanon for 22 years, furnished apparent justification for Hezbollah to retain its arms and drive out the Israeli army in 2000.
    Since then, Hezbollah has become Iran’s spearhead in Lebanon and the region and a force more powerful than the state at home.    A power structure based on sectarian barons suits Hezbollah so long as none of them question its predominance.
    “This is a country with deeply entrenched culture of impunity, this is the most striking element of Lebanon,” said one foreign observer.    “This port blast has cost 170 lives (yet) there are no strong demands for accountability at the highest level.”
    Lebanese commentator Sarkis Naoum said the former warlords took off their military fatigues and put on suits, but still run the country with the “militia mentality of corruption, tyranny, of sectarianism.”
    “We have become a failed state,” he said. “They are directly responsible for turning this country into a dysfunctional state because of their divisions and hatred to each other.    Each one tied himself to a foreign nation and allied himself to those abroad.”
    Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, agreed that deep reforms under the current political class were unlikely.
    “They are not ready to give up this quickly the old order, which enables them to finance their parties and lavish lifestyles,” he said, noting that the country’s dollar reserves were drying up.    “Time is running out … There is the IMF or there is chaos.”
    Ordinary Lebanese have seen the value of their savings evaporate in local banks that shut them out of their own accounts.    Lebanon’s rulers and bankers, in contrast, continue living comfortably.
    Politics in Lebanon is so lucrative, Lebanese say, that it is studded with billionaires.    Political barons pad the payrolls of ministries with their followers, siphon off government funds and award themselves inflated public contracts, they say.
    There is a consensus among diplomats that the outgoing government came up with a reasonable reform plan in talks with the IMF, but nothing happened, mainly because they had no political support from the forces that nominated them.
    “Those who stand to lose from the (IMF) deal are the pillars of the Lebanese state.    They thought they could get $10bn-20bn from the IMF and then go back to their old tricks,” said Naoum.
    Amid the chaos, a new exodus of the professional classes is under way – just like during the civil war.
    “This blast has brought Lebanon back to its knees,” said one diplomat.    “What Lebanon needs now is a modern system of governance.”
(Writing by Samia Nakhoul, Editing by William Maclean)

8/14/2020 World Must Not Play Politics With Lebanon’s Pain, Iran Says by Maher Chmaytelli
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 14, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The global community should help Lebanon rather than impose its will on the country, Iran’s foreign minister said in Beirut on Friday, following the catastrophic blast at the city’s port that killed 172 people and forced the government to resign.
    Iran backs Lebanon’s powerful armed movement Hezbollah, which along with its allies helped form the outgoing government.    The United States classifies Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
    Mohammed Javad Zarif was speaking after meeting President Michel Aoun, who had earlier met U.S. and French officials in a flurry of Western diplomacy that has focused on urging Lebanon to fight corruption and enact long-delayed reforms to unlock foreign financial aid to tackle its economic crisis.
    “There should be international efforts to help Lebanon, not to impose anything on it,” Zarif said in televised comments.
    “It is not humane to exploit the pain and suffering of the people for political goals,” he said, adding that the Lebanese and their representatives should decide on the country’s future.
    Iran is seen as a major player in Lebanon through backing, arming and funding Hezbollah, established by the Revolutionary Guards in 1982.    The most powerful group in Lebanon, Hezbollah exercises major sway over government.    Its role has led U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states in recent years to end financial support for Lebanon.
    Visiting U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale said in televised comments later on Friday that Lebanon needs a government that “genuinely commits to and acts for real change.”
    He said concerted efforts were needed to root out corruption, enact financial and economic reforms, establish state control over ports and borders and revamp the power sector.
    Lebanese had been staging angry protests against a political elite blamed for the country’s many woes even before the Aug. 4. blast, which injured 6,000, damaged swathes of the city and left 300,000 homeless.    Some 30 people remain missing.
    French Defence Minister Florence Parly, who also met Aoun, called for the formation of a government capable of taking “courageous decisions.”
    International humanitarian aid has poured in but foreign states have linked financial assistance to reform of the Lebanese state, which has defaulted on its huge sovereign debts.
    Zarif said Tehran and private Iranian firms were ready to help with rebuilding and rehabilitating the electricity sector.
    The explosion sharpened anger at the authorities.
    “We can’t live like this.    The West has to pressure our leaders to save us,” said Iyaam Ghanem, a Beirut pharmacist.
CALLS FOR JUSTICE
    Hale has said the FBI will join a probe into the blast at a hangar in the port where Lebanese authorities say more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that detonated had been stored for years without safety measures.
    Aoun told Hale on Friday that Beirut needed help to “understand the circumstances” under which the nitrate shipment came into the port and was unloaded, an official statement said.
    The president has said the probe will look into whether the cause was negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
    Victims and their representatives told reporters that only an independent probe would deliver justice, appealing to the U.N. Security Council for an international investigation.
    “Is it acceptable that people find their homes shattered, their families killed, their hopes and their dreams killed, with no justice,” said Paul Najjar, whose three-year-old daughter Alexandra died in the blast.
    State news agency NNA said questioning of some ministers due on Friday had been postponed as the judge appointed for the task said he did not have authority to question government ministers.
    The cabinet resignation has fuelled uncertainty.    Agreement on a new government will likely be very difficult in a country with deep factional rifts and a sectarian power-sharing system.
    Senior Christian cleric Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, without naming countries, said a new Lebanon was being “cooked in (foreign) kitchens” to serve politicians’ interests.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli, Michael Georgy and Beirut and Dubai bureaux; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

8/14/2020 U.N. Chief Urges Yemen’s Houthis To Grant Access To Decaying Oil Tanker
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Yemen’s Houthi group to allow an assessment team to travel to a decaying oil tanker that is threatening to spill 1.1 million barrels of crude oil off the war-torn country’s coast.
    More then a month ago Houthi officials said they would agree to allow a U.N. mission to conduct a technical assessment and whatever initial repairs might be feasible on the Safer tanker.    But the United Nations is still waiting for formal authorization.
    Guterres is “deeply concerned” about the condition of the oil tanker, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday.    The United Nations has warned that the Safer could spill four times as much oil as the 1989 Exxon Valdez disaster off Alaska.
    “He specifically calls for granting independent technical experts unconditional access to the tanker to assess its condition and conduct any possible initial repairs,” Dujarric said.    “This … will provide crucial scientific evidence for next steps to be taken in order to avert catastrophe.”
    The Safer tanker has been stranded off Yemen’s Red Sea oil terminal of Ras Issa for more than five years.    The U.N. Security Council has also called on the Houthis to facilitate unconditional access as soon as possible.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

8/14/2020 UAE’s Israel Deal Met With Arab Dismay But Quiet Welcome In Gulf by Rami Ayyub
People tear a picture depicting Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan during a protest against the
United Arab Emirates, in front of the Dome of the Rock, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – From cries of “betrayal” to fears about “falling dominoes,” the deal making the United Arab Emirates the third Arab state to forge ties with Israel stirred anger and dismay around the Middle East, but a cautious welcome from the UAE’s Gulf allies.
    The mixed response highlighted new fault lines in a region where fear and distrust of Iran – shared by Israel and some Arab states – has challenged a decades-old allegiance to the Palestinian issue as a major driver of Arab policy.
    Palestinians, who want to establish a state on West Bank territory captured by Israel in 1967, denounced the agreement as a betrayal of the long-held Arab stance that peace should be conditional on Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory.
    The agreement, which is set to make the UAE only the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to make peace with Israel, calls for a temporary suspension of Israel’s planned annexation of occupied West Bank territory, but not withdrawal.
    The deal, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped to broker with support of senior adviser Jared Kushner, forms a new axis with the UAE aligning itself with Israel in confronting Shi’ite Muslim Iran and Sunni Islamist radicals in the region.
    This is likely to heighten tensions in the Gulf, which in the past two years has seen attacks on tankers and energy installations that the United States and Saudi Arabia have blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
‘FALL LIKE DOMINOES’
    Some worshippers at Al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem, where Palestinians want to establish the capital of a future state, carried pictures of UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed with the word “traitor” underneath his image.
    “Just like Egypt, Jordan and now Abu Dhabi, the whole Arab world will start to fall like dominoes,” said Mohammad al-Sharif, 45, a member of Israel’s Arab minority.    “That Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and his dirty dogs look out for themselves and their interests and the rest of us can go to hell.”
    Palestine Liberation Organization Secretary General Saeb Erekat spelled out the potential consequences for his people if a united Arab front splintered.
    “The whole thing that we based our strategy on as Arabs is that the (2002) Arab peace initiative specified that once Israel withdraws, there will be peace between Arabs and Israelis."
    “Netanyahu came determined, with Kushner, Trump… to change the formula, that they want Arab recognition of Israel while they continue with the occupation, and the United Arab Emirates yesterday stamped the green light for this,” Erekat said.
    Meanwhile Lebanon’s leading Druze politician Walid Jumblatt dismissed it as an pre-election manoeuvre by Trump.
    “I hope Arabs realise the danger of the situation before it is too late and all of Palestine is lost,” he said on Twitter.
TURKEY MAY SHUT EMBASSY
    Iran lambasted the deal.    “The shameful measure of Abu Dhabi to reach an agreement with the fake Zionist regime (Israel) is a dangerous move and the UAE and other states that backed it will be responsible for its consequences,” the Foreign Ministry said.
    Turkey, a powerful regional rival of the UAE, said history would not forgive the Gulf Arab country for making a deal which undercut the 2002 Arab peace plan, which had proposed peace in return for Israeli withdrawal from all occupied territory.
    “We may also take a step in the direction of suspending diplomatic ties with the Abu Dhabi leadership or pulling back our ambassador,” President Tayyip Erdogan said after Friday prayers, adding that he could close Turkey’s embassy.
    But, in a region beset with other challenges including civil wars, poverty and economic crisis, some people appeared to have other concerns.
    At Istanbul’s landmark Hagia Sophia, converted by Erdogan to a mosque last month in a move which he portrayed as a step towards restoring “freedom” to Al Aqsa in Jerusalem, worshippers who spoke to Reuters were unaware of the announcement.
INCENTIVE FOR PEACE
    Egypt and Jordan, which signed peace deals with Israel in 1979 and 1994 respectively and enjoy close ties with the UAE, both welcomed the agreement.    Jordan said the pact could make a beneficial impact if it spurred Israel to accept a Palestinian state on land it took in the 1967 Middle East war.
    “If Israel deals with it as an incentive to end occupation…, it will move the region towards a just peace,” Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said.
    Oman and Bahrain also praised the accord but Saudi Arabia, which has in the past helped guide Arab policy towards Israel and hosts Islam’s two holiest sites, has remained silent, as have Kuwait and Qatar. [L8N2FG22C]
    Jordan’s former foreign minister, Marwan al-Muasher, said it was possible other Gulf states could follow Abu Dhabi’s lead in opening relations with Israel.    But none of those could address the root problem.
    “In the end it’s not the Gulf states who are living under occupation, it’s the Palestinians.    And until you reach a solution with the Palestinians, it does not matter how many peace deals you make with Arab states,” he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta, Ali Kucukgocmen, Ghaida Ghantous, Suleiman al-Khalidi and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/14/2020 Palestinians Warn Israel-UAE Deal Imperils Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque by Rami Ayyub
A Muslim man walks in front of the Dome of the Rock on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary
and to Jews as Temple Mount, in Jerusalem's Old City, August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Angry Palestinians in Jerusalem accused the United Arab Emirates of collaborating with Israel and endangering Al-Aqsa mosque – Islam’s third-holiest site – as they gathered for Friday prayers the day after the Gulf state’s deal with Israel.
    Under an agreement brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump, Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday that they will normalise diplomatic ties, brought together by a confluence of interests against Iran.
    The deal also envisions giving Muslims greater access to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque by allowing them to directly fly from Abu Dhabi to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.
    This was greeted with dismay by Palestinian worshippers filing into the tree-lined hilltop compound in Jerusalem’s walled Old City known to Muslims as al-Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) and to Jews as the Temple Mount.
    “Our brothers in the Emirates put our blessed mosque in the grip of death,” said Kamal Attoun, 60, an East Jerusalem Palestinian and Old City merchant.
    Asked if he would welcome Muslims from the Emirates or the Gulf under such circumstances, Attoun said: “You’ve seen how collaborators from Saudi Arabia have been received in the past.    The same fate awaits the Emiratis.”
    He was referring to a pro-Israel Saudi internet influencer who was reportedly taunted as he walked through the Old City compound last year.
    Palestinians have long sought East Jerusalem, where the Old City is located, as capital of a future state and have looked to Arab nations to defend that stance. If they normalise ties with Israel, Palestinians fear losing any chance of future sovereignty in the city and guaranteed access to Al Aqsa mosque.
    Mohammad al-Sharif, 45, a member of Israel’s Arab minority, said he would not hold it against ordinary Muslims from the Gulf “because their rulers made a mistake.”
    But he was scathing about their leaders.
    “Collaboration with the UAE is worse, a hundred times worse than collaborating with Israel.    That Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed and his dirty dogs look out for themselves and their interests and the rest of us can go to hell,” he said, referring to Abu Dhabi’s crown prince.
    The top Islamic official in Jerusalem, Sheikh Abdul-Azim Salhab of the Islamic Waqf, told Reuters he does “not accept the blessed Al-Aqsa mosque to be the subject of political bickering.    It is higher than this tug-of-war.”
    Condemnation also came from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, whose spokesman on Thursday read out a statement from the leadership on Palestinian television calling the deal a “betrayal of Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa and the Palestinian cause.”
    Palestinians across Gaza and the occupied West Bank rallied on Friday against the deal.    Protesters in the city of Nablus burned effigies of Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed.
ISRAELIS DELIGHTED
    Meanwhile, Israel embraced the deal, with the country’s biggest-selling daily, Yedioth Ahronoth, calling it a “bold breakthrough
    Some analysts said Netanyahu risked angering his supporters by walking back pledges to annex land in the West Bank – territory sought by Palestinians for a state – so as to do a deal with an Arab Gulf country.
    “He gained a few points with the centre-left, which loves agreements with Arabs, but he lost many more points with his base of right-wing voters,” wrote Ben Caspit in Maariv.
    Netanyahu, dogged by an ongoing corruption trial and criticised for his handling of the coronavirus pandemic, has hailed the agreement as a personal success in integrating Israel in the Middle East.
    On his Arabic-language Twitter account he credited Israel’s foreign intelligence service Mossad with helping to clinch the deal.
    Under spy chief Yossi Cohen, Netanyahu said, the Mossad helped develop Israel’s relations with the Gulf and “ripen the peace agreement with the Emirates.”
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/14/2020 Libya Sovereign Fund To Ask UN For Freedom To Invest Billions by Tom Arnold
FILE PHOTO: People wave Libyan flags as they gather during celebrations commemorating the 9th anniversary
of the revolution at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli Libya February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    LONDON (Reuters) – Libya’s sovereign wealth fund head plans to ask the United Nations to allow it to invest billions of dollars sitting idle in its accounts, after missing out on some $4.1 billion in potential equity returns during nearly a decade of sanctions.
    The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) was blacklisted in March 2011 because it was then controlled by the family of toppled ruler Muammar Gaddafi.    Its assets were valued at $67 billion in 2012, but LIA plans to update that in October after a review by its financial adviser Deloitte.
    Sanctions have had a heavy toll on the LIA, with investment curbs meaning it had missed out on around $4.1 billion in potential returns if it had invested in line with the market average, chairman Ali Mahmoud Hassan Mohamed told Reuters.
    The LIA also wanted to avoid negative interest rate charges, which had cost it around $23 million since 2011, he said.
    “We have billions of cash in our accounts not invested,” Mohamed said in an interview this week.    “It would be much better to take advantage of the market situation and invest at this moment.”
    Libya had previously asked the U.N. Security Council to approve a sanctions exemption for the LIA in 2016, but this request was turned down as the U.N. wanted to see a stable government in place before doing so.
    Although the LIA is not pushing for a full rollback, it is aiming to apply to the U.N. Sanctions Committee for adjustments to enable it to invest, via a custodian, some of the $12.7 billion frozen cash held by its investment managers.
    This includes some of the proceeds from 796 bond holdings, with a value of $4.8 billion, that have matured since 2011.
    Any investments the LIA tried to make at present were hampered by a lengthy process that required it to gain approval from the sanctions committee as well as within Libya.
    “It is time consuming and investment decisions are time sensitive,” Mohamed said.
    Market volatility during the coronavirus crisis has hit the LIA, cutting the value of its stock holdings by about 5% and prompting a potential debt restructuring for some of its hundreds of subsidiaries.
    Libya slipped into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of Gaddafi and has been split since 2014, with an internationally recognised government controlling the capital Tripoli and the northwest of the country, while military leader Khalifa Haftar in Benghazi rules the east.
    “We are an independent sovereign wealth fund and have nothing to do with political conflicts within the country right now,” he said.    “This fund is owned by all Libyans and we work for all Libyans.”
    The government supervises the LIA through the board of trustees, he said.    It aims to improve its governance in line with other sovereign funds by the end of 2020, including complying with the Santiago Principles and appointing an external auditor to review its financial results, he added.
(Editing by Alexander Smith)

8/14/2020 In Beirut, Iran’s Zarif Says Up To Lebanon To Decide Future Government
Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif walks with Lebanon's caretaker foreign
minister Charbel Wehbe in Beirut, Lebanon August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese should be the only party who should decide their future government, Iran’s Foreign Minster Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Friday in Beirut.
    Speaking after a meeting with his Lebanese counterpart, he said Iran and private Iranian companies are ready to help Lebanon with reconstruction after the catastrophic explosion at the port of Beirut last week, and with the rehabilitation of the electricity sector.
    The government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which had the support of the Iranian-aligned Hezbollah, resigned in the wake of the explosion.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/15/2020 Lebanese President Says Beirut Aid Should Go Where Needed by Michael Georgy and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that international aid pledged following a massive explosion in Beirut last week that killed 178 people and made 300,000 homeless should go where it is needed.
    In an interview with French news channel BFM TV, Aoun said all hypotheses remained open in the investigation into the blast at the port of Beirut that wrecked huge swathes of the capital.
    “I have asked that aid sent by foreign countries be given exactly where it is needed,” he said, adding that he had not considered resigning, after the government quit earlier in the week.
    The United Nations has launched a $565 million aid appeal, whose priorities include stabilising the grain supply after the explosion destroyed a huge grain silo at the port.
    Six hospitals and more than 20 clinics were damaged and more than 120 schools destroyed, the UN says.
    “We would like to be able to rebuild the three hospitals that were completely destroyed,” U.N. humanitarian coordinator Najat Rochdi said earlier.
    The United States called for a transparent and credible investigation into the disaster.
    The Aug. 4 blast, which authorities say was caused by more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that had been unsafely stored at the port for years.
    “We can never go back to an era in which anything goes at the port or the borders of Lebanon that had to contribute to this situation,” said David Hale, U.S. Under-Secretary of State for Political Affairs, after visiting the port.
    He said FBI agents would arrive this weekend, at the invitation of Lebanon, to help investigate what led to the explosion.
ANGER
    The blast has fuelled anger at Lebanon’s ruling politicians who were already facing criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency, demolished the value of savings and left depositors unable to withdraw their money.
    Some Lebanese doubt the authorities can carry out a proper investigation and say foreign countries should intervene.
    “We can’t trust this government.    They will lie to us.    They should form an international committee to investigate this,” said businessman Jimmy Iskandar.
    Aoun has said a probe will look into whether the blast was caused by negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
    He said in his interview that the investigation would not be as quick as he had hoped because it was complex and would involve an independent magistrate.
    Asked why he did not want an international investigation, he said foreign experts, including from France and the FBI, were helping with the Lebanese probe.
    “They won’t do a thing in an investigation and the whole world knows that,” said painter Mohammed Khodr, as he helped repair a restaurant damaged in the blast.
    The heavily armed, Iranian-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist organisation by the United States, said on Friday it would wait for results of the official Lebanese investigation into the blast.
    But if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by neighbouring Israel then it would “pay an equal price,” Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in a televised address.    Israel has denied any role in the explosion.
    Nasrallah said his group was against an international investigation because its first purpose would be to “distance Israel from any responsibility for this explosion, if it had responsibility.”    He said the participation of the FBI in an investigation would serve the same purpose.
    The explosion has pitched Lebanon into a political vacuum since the resignation of the government, which had formed in January with backing of Hezbollah and its allies, including Aoun.
(Additional reporting by Issam Abdallah and Gus Trompiz; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Frances Kerry, Ros Russell and Giles Elgood)

8/15/2020 Turkey Slams Biden’s Past Call For U.S. To Back Erdogan Opponents by Jonathan Spicer
FILE PHOTO: Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden looks on at a campaign event,
on his first joint appearance with vice presidential candidate Senator Kamala Harris after being named his running mate,
at Alexis Dupont High School in Wilmington, Delaware, U.S., August 12, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey on Saturday condemned as “interventionist” comments that U.S. Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden had made in December when he advocated a new U.S. approach to the “autocrat” President Tayyip Erdogan and support for opposition parties.
    Biden’s comments to New York Times editors resurfaced in a video that made him the most popular topic on Twitter in Turkey, where Erdogan has governed for 17 years and has good relations with U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Biden, the former U.S. vice president, says in the video he is “very concerned” about Erdogan’s approach to Kurds in Turkey, his partial military cooperation with Russia, and access to U.S. airfields in the country, a NATO ally.
    “What I think we should be doing is taking a very different approach to him now, making it clear that we support opposition leadership,” Biden said in the video and verified by a transcript published in January by the Times.
    “He has to pay a price,” Biden said at the time, adding Washington should embolden Turkish opposition leaders “to be able to take on and defeat Erdogan.    Not by a coup, not by a coup, but by the electoral process.”
    In response, the Turkish president’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said the comments “reflect games and an interventionist approach towards Turkey” and are inconsistent with current diplomatic relations.
    “Nobody can attack our nation’s will and democracy or question the legitimacy of our President, who was elected by popular vote,” Altun said on Twitter, noting the failed coup in Turkey in 2016.
    “We believe that these unbecoming statements which have no place in diplomacy by a presidential candidate from our NATO ally, the United States, are unacceptable to the current administration too,” he added.
    There was no immediate response from the Biden campaign.
    While Trump and Erdogan speak regularly, diplomatic relations have been strained over Ankara’s purchase of Russian air defences, policy in Syria and over U.S. charges against a Turkish state bank for allegedly helping Iran evade sanctions.
    Turkey’s main opposition party won a handful of big city elections last year in a stinging defeat for Erdogan and his ruling AK Party, which polls show still has the most support nationwide.
    Biden made the comments on Dec. 16 2019, before he emerged as the Democratic candidate.
(Additional reporting by Irem Koca; Editing by Ros Russell)

8/15/2020 Israel Condemns U.N. Decision Not To Extend Iran Arms Embargo
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi looks on during his meeting with his
Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto in Jerusalem July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council’s decision not to extend an arms embargo on Iran will lead to further Middle East instability, Israel’s foreign minister said on Saturday.
    “The extremist regime in Iran doesn’t just finance terrorism: it takes an active part in terrorism through its branches around the world and uses it as a political tool.    This behaviour represents a danger to regional and international stability,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said in a statement.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/15/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey ‘Will Not Back Down’ In East Med Standoff
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media after attending Friday prayers
at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday Turkey will not back down to threats of sanctions nor to incursions on its claimed territory in the Mediterranean Sea, where it is in a standoff with EU-member Greece over oil and gas exploration rights.
    European Union foreign ministers on Friday said Ankara’s actions were antagonistic and dangerous after a meeting requested by Athens.
    Tensions between NATO members Greece and Turkey have risen in the past week after Turkey sent the Oruc Reis survey vessel, escorted by warships, to map out possible oil and gas drilling in territory over which both countries claim jurisdiction.
    “We will never bow to banditry on our continental shelf.    We will not back down against the language of sanctions and threats,” Erdogan said in the northeastern city of Rize.
    The Oruc Reis, which is between Cyprus and the Greek island of Crete, will continue work until Aug. 23, he added.    The vessel has been shadowed by Greek frigates and on Wednesday warships from the two sides were involved in a mild collision.
    EU foreign ministers met via video conference on Friday and said Turkey’s naval movements would lead to a “heightened risk of dangerous incidents
    They said a deterioration in the relationship with Turkey was having far-reaching strategic consequences for the entire European Union, well beyond the eastern Mediterranean.
    Relations between Greece and Turkey have long been fraught with tension.    Disputes have ranged from boundaries of offshore continental shelves and airspace to the ethnically split island of Cyprus.    In 1996 they almost went to war over ownership of uninhabited islets in the Aegean Sea.
(Reporting by Irem Koca and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Ros Russell)

8/15/2020 Pope Calls For Dialogue Between Egypt, Ethiopia And Sudan Over Nile Dam
FILE PHOTO: Pope Francis speaks during the weekly general audience, held virtually due
to COVID-19 at the Vatican August 12, 2020. Vatican Media/Handout via REUTERS
    VATICAN CITY (Reuters) – Pope Francis called for dialogue between Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan on Saturday, urging them not to let a dispute over a dam on the Nile lead to conflict.
    The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, which is being built some 15 km (9 miles) from Ethiopia’s border with Sudan, has become a major source of discord between the three countries.
    “I invite all parties involved to continue on the path of dialogue so that the eternal river will continue to be a source of life, which unites and does not divide, which nurtures friendship, prosperity and fraternity and not enmity, misunderstanding and conflict,” the pontiff said.
    He was giving his Angelus message for Assumption Day, the most important Catholic feast dedicated to the Virgin Mary.
    Egypt, which fears the dam project could lead to water shortages upstream, has threatened to withdraw from the latest round of discussions.    Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti; Editing by Christina Fincher)

8/16/2020 Israel Says It Expects Bahrain And Oman To Follow UAE In Formalising Ties
FILE PHOTO: Palestinians take part in a protest against the United Arab Emirates' deal with Israel to normalise
relations, in Nablus in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Bahrain and Oman could be the next Gulf countries to follow the United Arab Emirates in formalising ties with Israel, Israel’s intelligence minister said on Sunday.
    Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday that they will normalise diplomatic relations, reshaping Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.
    “In the wake of this agreement will come additional agreements, both with more Gulf countries and with Muslim countries in Africa,” Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Army Radio.
    “I think that Bahrain and Oman are definitely on the agenda.    In addition, in my assessment, there is a chance that already in the coming year there will be a peace deal with additional countries in Africa, chief among them, Sudan,” he said.
    Both Bahrain and Oman praised the U.S.-sponsored accord, but neither have commented on their own prospects for normalised relations or responded to requests for comment on the subject.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has met with Omani and Sudanese leaders in the past two years, including a visit to Oman in October 2018.
    “I expect more countries will be joining us in the peace circle,” Netanyahu told cabinet ministers on Sunday, according to a statement from his office.
    “This is a historic change which advances peace with the Arab world and will eventually advance a real, sober and secure peace with the Palestinians,” he said.
    The UAE-Israel deal firms up opposition to regional power Iran.    The Palestinians denounced the deal as a betrayal.
[nL1N2FG1OR]
    UAE and Israeli foreign ministers held their first publicly-acknowledged call on Sunday after the Gulf state opened telephone lines to Israel.
    Israel signed peace agreements with Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994.    But the UAE, along with most other Arab nations, has had no formal diplomatic or economic relations with it.
    Oman maintains friendly ties with both the United States and Iran and has previously been a go-between for the two feuding countries.
    A close ally of Saudi Arabia – which has not yet commented on the UAE-Israel accord – Bahrain hosted a senior Israeli official at a security conference in 2019 as well as a U.S-led conference on boosting the Palestinian economy as part U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace initiative.
    Government sources in Kuwait said its position towards Israel is unchanged, and it will be the last country to normalise relations, local newspaper al-Qabas reported.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Alexander Cornwell and Lisa Barrington in Dubai; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Toby Chopra)

8/16/2020 Lebanon Faces ‘Biggest Danger’, Needs Elections, Says Patriarch by Laila Bassam
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai speaks after meeting with Lebanon's President
Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon July 15, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s top Christian cleric called on Sunday for early parliamentary elections and a government formed to rescue the country rather than the ruling “political class” after the vast explosion in Beirut’s port threw the nation into turmoil.
    The now-caretaker cabinet resigned amid protests over the Aug. 4 blast that killed more than 172 people, injured 6,000, left 300,000 homeless and destroyed swathes of the Mediterranean city, compounding a deep financial crisis.
    Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, who holds sway in Lebanon as head of the Maronite church from which the head of state must be drawn under sectarian power-sharing, warned that Lebanon was today facing “its biggest danger.”
    “We will not allow for Lebanon to become a compromise card between nations that want to rebuild ties amongst themselves,” Al-Rai said in a Sunday sermon, without naming any countries.
    “We must start immediately with change and quickly hold early parliamentary elections without the distraction of discussing a new election law and to form a new government.”
    Several MPs submitted their resignations over the port explosion but not in the number needed to dissolve parliament.
    Under the constitution, President Michel Aoun is required to designate a candidate for prime minister with the most support from parliamentary blocs.    The presidency has yet to say when consultations will take place.
    There has been a flurry of Western and regional diplomacy after the blast, which fuelled public anger at politicians already accused of corruption and mismanagement.    A financial meltdown has ravaged the currency and froze depositors out of their savings.
    Senior French and U.S. officials have linked any foreign financial aid with implementation of long-demanded reforms, including state control over the port and Lebanese borders.
    Iran, seen as a major player in Lebanon through backing the powerful Shi’ite movement Hezbollah that helped form the outgoing cabinet, has said the international community should not take advantage of Lebanon’s pain to exert its will.
    Al-Rai said Lebanese want a government that would reverse “national, moral and material” corruption, enact reforms and “rescue Lebanon, not the leadership and political class.”
EXPLOSION ‘MYSTERY’
    Aoun has said the investigation is looking into whether negligence, an accident or “external interference” caused the detonation of more than 2,000 tonnes of ammonium nitrate warehoused for years without safety measures.
    Aoun’s influential son-in-law Gebran Bassil, who heads the largest Christian political bloc, said probing negligence should be quick as it was “known and documented,” but that the blast itself “is a mystery that requires deep investigation.”
    Bassil, whose party is allied with Hezbollah, also said in a televised speech on Sunday that threats of further Western sanctions would “drown Lebanon in chaos and discord.”
    His party would not “betray or backstab a Lebanese or act with those abroad against domestic interests,” he said.
    The United States has imposed sanctions on Hezbollah, which it classifies as a terrorist group.    U.S. officials have said those sanctions could be extended beyond direct affiliates of the heavily armed movement to its allies.
    During a visit to Beirut after the blast, French President Emmanuel Macron raised the prospect of sanctions as a last resort to spur Lebanese action on reform.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Philippa Fletcher and Frances Kerry)

8/16/2020 Turkey Draws Another EU Rebuke For Latest Plans At Sea
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks through binoculars as Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea,
in this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on August 13, 2020. Greek Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey drew another rebuke from the European Union on Sunday when it said its Yavuz energy drill ship would extend operations in disputed Mediterranean waters off Cyprus until mid-September.
    Yavuz will be accompanied by three other Turkish ships according to a maritime notice that added “all vessels are strongly advised not to enter” the area.
    A standoff has intensified in recent weeks between Turkey and EU-member Greece over oil and gas exploration rights at sea, and even involved a minor collision between their frigates last week.
    Turkey’s renewed drilling plan covers a zone delineated by Cyprus and Egypt and raises tensions, said EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who called for an immediate halt to Turkey’s activities and the beginning of dialogue.
    “This action runs counter and undermines efforts to resume dialogue and negotiations, and to pursue immediate de-escalation,” he said in a statement.
    Cairo and Athens signed a territorial zoning deal earlier this month.    While Paris has stepped in to criticise what it calls Turkey’s provocations, Ankara says it will not back down from defending its legal rights.
President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday “the language of sanctions and threats” will not deter Turkey.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Francesco Guarascio; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

8/16/2020 Mideast Peace Talks Remain Priority, Macron Says After Call With Abbas
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas (R) welcomes French President Emmanuel Macron at
his headquarters in Ramallah in the West Bank, January 22, 2020. Abbas Momani/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – The resumption of peace negotiations remain a priority to reach a just solution in the Middle East, French President Emmanuel Macron said on Twitter on Sunday.
    Macron said he had spoken with Mahmoud Abbas, president of the Palestinian Authority.    “I told him of my determination to work for peace in the Middle East,” Macron said.
(Reporting by Gus Trompiz; Editing by David Goodman)

8/16/2020 U.S. Financial Aid To Lebanon Depends On Reforms by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale, center right, and U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea,
center left, visit the site of the Aug. 4 explosion in Beirut, Lebanon, Saturday, Aug. 15, 2020. (Nabil Monzer/Pool Photo via AP)
    According to the under secretary for Political Affairs, Lebanon will not receive financial support without serious reforms.    On     Saturday, David Hale reiterated the U.S. will only offer support if the leaders of Lebanon respond to their citizens’ demands to end corruption.
    The nation’s government resigned following the deadly blast earlier this month in Beirut, which was caused by unsafely stored ammonium nitrate.
    Hale went on to say the tragedy was a symptom of the country’s much needed reforms.
FILE – In this Aug. 13, 2020 file photo, NGO volunteers hold up placards against Lebanese politicians, as they protest
during the visit of U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale to the main gathering point for volunteers,
near the site of last week’s explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla, File)
    “In some ways, this tragic event was just a symptom of much deeper ills in Lebanon, ills which have gone on for far too long and for which nearly everyone in authority bears a measure of responsibility,” he stated.    “I’m talking about the decades of mismanagement, corruption and the repeated failure of Lebanese leaders to undertake meaningful, sustained reforms.”
    In the meantime, the U.S. has urged the country to start a transparent investigation into the blast in Beirut.

8/17/2020 UAE Minister Says UAE-Israel Agreement Not Directed At Iran
FILE PHOTO: UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash is seen during preparatory meeting
for the GCC, Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    DUBAI (Reuters) – United Arab Emirate’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Monday the UAE reaching an agreement to normalise ties with Israel was a “sovereign decision” that was not directed at Iran.
    The UAE on Sunday said it had summoned Iran’s charge d’affaires in Abu Dhabi in response to a speech by Iranian President Hassan Rouhani — in which he called the agreement a betrayal — that the foreign ministry described as “unacceptable.”
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

8/17/2020 Lebanon Needs Two-Week Lockdown After ‘Shocking’ COVID-19 Rise, Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Health workers take swab samples from passengers who arrived at Beirut international airport on its re-opening
day following the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Beirut, Lebanon July 1, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon must shut down for two weeks after a surge in coronavirus infections, the caretaker health minister said on Monday, as the country reels from the massive Beirut port blast.
    “We declare today a state of general alert and we need a brave decision to close (the country) for two weeks,” Hamad Hassan told Voice of Lebanon radio.
    Lebanon on Sunday registered a record 439 new infections and six more deaths from the virus in 24 hours.
    The country, already deep in financial crisis, was struggling with a COVID-19 spike before the Aug. 4 blast that killed at least 178 people, wrecked swathes of the capital and pushed the government to resign.
    The warehouse explosion damaged many hospitals and overwhelmed them with more than 6,000 wounded.    It put about half of 55 medical centres across Beirut out of service, the World Health Organization (WHO) said last week.
    “We are all facing a real challenge and the numbers that were recorded in the last period are shocking,” Hassan said.    “The matter requires decisive measures.”    Intensive care beds at state and private hospitals were now full, he added.
    In comments to Reuters, Hassan said authorities would not close the country’s airport so far, with the rise stemming mostly from within the country.
    “The real danger is the spread within society,” he said.    “Everyone must be on high alert and take the strictest prevention measures.”
    Still, after the blast uprooted nearly a quarter of a million people, the risk of the virus spreading has grown, the WHO has said.     The country’s tally now stands at 8,881 cases and 103 deaths since February, according to health ministry data.
(Writing by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis; Editing by David Goodman, William Maclean)

8/17/2020 Death Toll From Attack On Mogadishu Hotel Rises To 16
FILE PHOTO: Paramedics and civilians carry an injured person on a stretcher at Madina hospital after a blast at
the Elite Hotel in Lido beach in Mogadishu, Somalia August 16, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – At least 16 people were killed in an attack on Sunday by the Islamist group al Shabaab on a seaside hotel in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, according to government spokesman Ismail Mukhtar Omar.
    The toll includes 11 victims and five assailants, Omar said in a Tweet late on Sunday.
    “Security forces lost one, 18 people were injured,” Omar said.
    Militants stormed the high-end Elite Hotel in Lido beach, detonated a car bomb and then opened fire with assault rifles, the latest attack by al Shabaab, which has been battling the country’s central government since 2008.
    The hotel is owned by Abdullahi Mohamed Nor, a lawmaker and former finance minister, and is frequented by government officials and members of the Somali diaspora.
    Dr Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of AAMIN ambulance services, told Reuters on Monday they had transported to hospitals at least 43 people injured in the attack.
    Al Shabaab wants to topple the central government and establish its own rule based on its own strict interpretation of Islamic sharia law.
    Over the years the group has waged its war through bombings and gun assaults both on military and civilian targets like hotels and busy intersections in Mogadishu and across Somalia.
    Al Shabaab has also carried out attacks in neighbouring Kenya and Uganda as revenge for their military deployments in Somalia as part of a regional peace keeping mission.
    Somalia has been embroiled in violence since 1991, when clan warlords overthrew leader Mohamed Siad Barre and then turned on each other.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Giles Elgood)

8/17/2020 U.S. Won’t Approve Israeli Annexations For ‘Some Time’, Kushner Says by Dan Williams and Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, U.S. President Donald Trump's son-in-law, speaks during
a discussion on "Inside the Trump Administration's Middle East Peace Effort" at a dinner symposium of
the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) in Washington, U.S., May 2, 2019. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    JERUSALEM/DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States will not consent to Israeli annexations in the occupied West Bank for “some time,” preferring to focus on the Israel-UAE normalisation deal and wider regional peacemaking, senior White House adviser Jared Kushner said on Monday.
    The United Arab Emirates has said that its move to formalise relations with Israel, announced on Thursday, put paid to an annexation plan that angered Palestinians – who want the West Bank for a future state – and worried some world powers.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts the annexation plan – already dogged by disputes within his governing coalition – as temporarily on hold. But he has also said he wants approval from Israel’s main ally first.
    “Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent.    We do not plan to give our consent for some time,” Kushner told reporters in a telephone briefing.
    “Right now the focus has to be on, you know, getting this new peace agreement implemented."
    “We really want to get as much interchange between Israel and the United Arab Emirates as possible and we want Israel to focus on creating new relationships and new alliances.”
    The U.S.-UAE-Israel joint statement on the normalisation deal said Israel had agreed to “suspend” the annexation plan.
    “What you’re saying as suspension, we’re seeing as stopping,” UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash told reporters shortly after the deal was announced.
    Palestinians, feeling sidelined six years after their own peace talks with Israel stalled, have condemned the Gulf power.
    Dismissing such censure as “noise,” Kushner said the onus was on the Palestinians, who are boycotting U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration for perceived pro-Israel bias, to come around to a new peace proposal it unveiled in January.
    Kushner said Washington was not pressuring other Gulf Arab states to recognise Israel.    Kuwait, he said, was “out there taking a very radical view on the conflict to date in favour of the Palestinians and obviously that hasn’t been very constructive.”
    After the 1991 Gulf war, Kuwait deported Palestinians for their leadership’s siding with Iraq.    Eli Avidar, a former Israeli diplomatic emissary in the Gulf turned opposition lawmaker, invoked such a scenario for Palestinians in the UAE.
    “Emirati citizens are different to Israelis and Americans.    They won’t forget,” he said in an Arabic speech.    “Your brothers who reside in the UAE will be expelled due to your attitudes.”
(Writing by Dan Williams and Alexander Cornwell; additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/17/2020 Israel’s President Invites UAE’s De Facto Leader To Jerusalem by Jeffrey Heller
The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates flutter along a highway following the agreement
to formalize ties between the two countries, in Netanya, Israel August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s president on Monday invited the United Arab Emirates’ de facto leader to visit Jerusalem, praising his role in achieving a “noble and courageous” deal to normalise relations between Israel and the UAE.
    Both countries announced on Thursday they would forge formal ties under a U.S.-sponsored deal whose implementation could recast Middle East politics ranging from the Palestinian issue to dealing with Iran, the common foe of Israel and Gulf Arabs.
    The deal drew anger and dismay in much of the Arab world and Iran but a quiet welcome in the Gulf.
    “In these fateful days, leadership is measured by its courage and ability to be groundbreaking and far-sighted,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin wrote in a letter to Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi.
    “I have no doubt that future generations will appreciate the way you, the brave and wise leaders, have restarted the discourse on peace, trust, dialogue between peoples and religions, cooperation and a promising future,” Rivlin wrote.
    “On behalf of the people of Israel and (me) personally, I take this opportunity to extend an invitation to Your Highness to visit Israel and Jerusalem and be our honoured guest,” Rivlin said in the letter, which his spokesman released publicly.
    The Palestinians have called the deal a “betrayal” by an Arab country that they have long looked to for support in establishing a state in Gaza, East Jerusalem and the occupied West Bank, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    “I am hopeful,” Rivlin’s letter went on, “that this step will help build and strengthen the trust between us and the peoples of the region, a trust that will promote understanding between us all."
    “Such trust, as demonstrated in the noble and courageous act, will set our region forward, bring economic well-being and provide prosperity and stability to the people of the Middle East as a whole.”
    Palestine Liberation Organization official Wassel Abu Youssef condemned Rivlin’s invitation, saying “the visit of any Arab official to Jerusalem through the gate of normalisation is rejected.”
    Any such top-level Arab visit could be politically explosive given Jerusalem’s internationally disputed status.
    Israel seized the eastern part of the city in 1967 and annexed it in a move that has not won world recognition.    It considers all of Jerusalem its capital.    Palestinians want East Jerusalem to be the capital of the state they seek.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller with additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/17/2020 On Eve Of Hariri Verdict, Lebanese Grapple With New Ordeal by Tom Perry and Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Syrian President Hafez al-Assad's son Bashar meets former Lebanese prime minister
Rafik al-Hariri in Damascus, Syria June 11, 2000. REUTERS/STRINGER/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – More than 15 years since Lebanon’s Rafik al-Hariri was killed by a massive bomb blast in Beirut, the verdict of a U.N.-backed tribunal into his assassination is due on Tuesday as the country reels from the aftermath of an even bigger explosion.
    The Aug. 4 port blast, which killed 178 people, has overshadowed the long-awaited verdict.    It was the biggest explosion in Lebanon’s history and more powerful than the bomb that killed Hariri and 21 others on Beirut’s seafront corniche in 2005.
    Hariri, a Sunni billionaire seen as a threat to Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, had close ties with the United States, Western and Sunni Gulf Arab allies opposed to Iran’s expanding role in Lebanon and the region.
    Four members of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah have been on trial in absentia over the killing of Saudi-backed Hariri, Lebanon’s main Sunni Muslim leader.    Hezbollah denies any role in the killing, which set the stage for years of confrontation, culminating in a brief civil war in 2008.
    The verdict comes as new divisions emerge over demands for an international inquiry and political accountability for the port blast, caused by a huge amount of unsafely stored chemicals.
    It may further complicate an already tumultuous situation following the explosion and the resignation of the government backed by Hezbollah and its allies.
    “We’re scared.    The country is unsettled,” said Ebtisam Salam, a woman in her 60s, from Beirut’s Tariq al-Jadida neighbourhood, a political stronghold of the Hariri’s Future Movement which has been led by his son Saad son his death.
    She plans to watch the verdict on TV.    “Hopefully the truth will come out,” she said.
    The U.N.-backed tribunal was a first for Lebanon.    For its supporters, it held out hope that – for once – the truth could be uncovered in one of Lebanon’s many assassinations.
    Hezbollah has always dismissed it as a tool in the hands of its adversaries.    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, its leader, said on Friday, the group was not concerned with the verdict and insisted on the innocence of its members.
    Hariri’s supporters, including his son Saad who like his father served as prime minister, say they are not seeking revenge or confrontation, but that the court verdict must be respected.
    “A lot of people are waiting for this decision for closure.    This tribunal has cost not only money but blood,” Basem Shaab, Saad al-Hariri’s diplomatic adviser, told Reuters.
    “It will have consequences, I do not expect turmoil in the streets.    I think Prime Minister Hariri was wise enough to make sure this does not turn into a sectarian issue,” he said.
THEY ASSASSINATED A CITY
    But Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said there was the possibility of increased tensions.
    “While the Future Movement and Hezbollah seem to be on alert and trying to avoid any repercussions, some other actors might jump in and react given the current level of tensions,” he said.
    The Aug. 4 blast has fuelled anger at ruling politicians who were already facing criticism over a financial meltdown that has sunk the currency and demolished the value of savings.
    Many Lebanese doubt the authorities can carry out a proper investigation into the blast.    Some want foreign intervention. Others, notably Hezbollah, do not.
    Agents with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation arrived over the weekend to help at the authorities’ request but have yet to visit the port, Lebanese sources said.
    Hezbollah, which is listed as a terrorist group by the United States, opposes the FBI’s involvement and any international inquiry, saying this would aim to cover up any involvement by Israel – if it was involved.
    Israel has denied any role.
    President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, has said a probe will look into whether the blast was caused by negligence, an accident or “external interference.”
    Many worry the sectarian elite will escape accountability.
    Ziad Sahyouni, 55, questioned the importance of the verdict set against the port blast.    “They assassinated a capital, a city. Let’s hope they do something about it.”
(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

8/17/2020 Lebanese Leaders’ Response To Reform Calls ‘Disappointing’, Says U.N. by Ghaida Ghantous and Ellen Francis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Warnings by Western officials over the need for reforms in Lebanon had often been met with disappointing responses by the country’s political leaders, a senior United Nations official said on Monday following this month’s Beirut port explosion.
    U.S. and French officials visiting the city after the Aug. 4 blast that killed 178 people said they had made clear they would not extend a financial lifeline to the country if its leaders did not tackle corruption and mismanagement.
    The officials were representing the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon which includes the United Nations, the United States, France and Britain.
    “With grave concerns ISG Ambassadors today discussed the deepening overall crisis in Lebanon,” tweeted Jan Kubis, U.N. special coordinator for Lebanon.
    He said tough warnings had been delivered to the authorities and political leaders and their responses had often been rather disappointing.
    “Expectations of the international community are well known – without urgent reforms that require broad political support Lebanon cannot count on any bailout,” he tweeted.
    The call echoes others from Western powers, including French President Emmanuel Macron and U.S. Undersecretary for Political Affairs David Hale, who both visited Beirut. Hale said Lebanon needed “economic and fiscal reforms, an end to dysfunctional governance and to empty promises.”
    The detonation of highly-explosive material stored unsafely for years at the port injured 6,000, left 300,000 homeless and destroyed whole neighbourhoods.
    The now-caretaker cabinet on Monday extended a state of emergency in the capital until Sept. 18.
    The government resigned amid renewed protests against ruling politicians blamed for a financial crisis that developed even before the blast, that ravaged the currency, saw banks freeze depositors out of their savings and sent unemployment soaring.
    Analysts estimate that after the explosion that wrecked the port, a main trade artery, Lebanon’s external financing needs swelled to more than $30 billion from $24 billion.
    The outgoing government, which took office in January with the backing of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its allies, had not made progress in talks with the International Monetary Fund launched after Lebanon defaulted on foreign currency debt.
    Forming a new government is likely to be complicated due to factional rifts in the country’s sectarian power-sharing system.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Ellen Francis; Editing by David Holmes)

8/17/2020 Nigeria To Reopen Airports For International Flights From August 29
FILE PHOTO: A woman wears a protective face mask due to the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at the Murtala
Mohammed International airport in Lagos, Nigeria March 19, 2020. Picture taken March 19, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria will reopen its airports for international flights from Aug. 29, its aviation minister said on Monday.
    The airports have been closed since March 23 to all but essential international flights as part of the country’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Aviation Minister Hadi Sirika said four flights would begin landing daily in Lagos, and four in Abuja, with strict protocols.
    “It is safe to fly, if we observe all those protocols in place,” Sirika said at a briefing in Abuja.
    Africa’s most populous nation, which recorded its first confirmed coronavirus case in late February, now has 49,068 confirmed cases and 975 deaths.
    It resumed domestic flights on July 8, and Sirika said there had been no confirmed virus transmissions on flights.
(Reporting by Paul Carsten and Libby George; writing by Libby George; editing by Chris Reese and Mark Potter)

8/17/2020 Kuwaiti Emir’s Health Continues To Improve: Cabinet Tweet Quotes PM
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Emir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al- Jaber Al-Sabah looks on as he witnesses a signing ceremony with Chinese
President Xi Jinping at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 9, 2018. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Kuwait’s prime minister told the cabinet on Monday the health of the 91-year old emir was continuing to improve, according to a cabinet tweet.
    Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah is in the United States completing medical treatment following surgery for an unspecified condition in Kuwait.
    “The prime minister reassured the cabinet of the continuous improvement of the Emir’s health,” the cabinet said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/17/2020 Pandemic Starts To Surge In Conflict-Hit Libya
A nurse prepares sterilising fluid at the Benghazi Medical Centre during the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Benghazi, Libya August 6, 2020. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    TRIPOLI/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – As coronavirus cases surge in Libya, medics and officials working with a health system wrecked by years of division and war are warning that the pandemic could be slipping out of their control.
    The conflict has also restricted movement within Libya, and confirmed cases remained low during the first months of the outbreak.    Now, infections are jumping by up to several hundred per day to reach a total of nearly 8,200, including more than 150 deaths.
    Hotspots include the capital Tripoli and the large port city of Misrata in the west, and the city of Sabha in the south.
    Medics say the virus is spreading because people have carried on attending large gatherings including weddings and funerals, and are not practising physical distancing.
    Ahmed al-Hasi, spokesman for the state medical committee responsible for countering the virus in eastern Libya, said the public needed to take precautions, or else medical staff with limited resources would become overwhelmed.
    “They need to know that the virus is real, the casualties are real, the deaths are real,” Hasi said.
    In Hay al-Andalus, an upscale suburb of Tripoli, Mayor Mohamed al-Fataisi told reporters the situation had become “dangerous,” adding: “We are unable to contain the disease.”
    Night-time curfews across the country are often not respected, and there is a requirement to wear face masks in public spaces in western Libya but not in the east.    The two parts of the country are run by separate administrations.
    A sharp fall in living standards has anyway left many struggling to afford even minor expenses, including masks.
    “People are asked to wear masks and use (santitising) alcohol, but no one knows that they have not been paid salaries,” said Abduladeem Mohamed, a Tripoli taxi driver.    “I prefer to buy bread for my children.”
    Libya’s National Centre for Disease Control, which operates across the country, could not be reached for comment.
CONFLICT’S TOLL
    Libya’s health facilities have long been weak.    But a stop-start conflict that has split the country into rival camps has destroyed or damaged some medical facilities and left others struggling to function.    Frequent power cuts during summer months add to the challenges.
    Rick Brennan, the World Health Organization’s regional emergency director in the Middle East, said the agency had faced serious logistical constraints in Libya, including “major challenges bringing the PPE in, the testing kits.”
    “I think there’s a reasonable understanding of what’s needed, it’s just having the capacities to deliver that’s the problem,” he said.
    Marwa Abdulkader Alhudhairy, a resident of Sabha, said her 70-year-old father started developing coronavirus symptoms on July 8, but was only able to find a PCR swab test on July 23.
    Despite suffering from heart problems, he self-treated at home because “he is well aware of the lack of protective equipment and means available to deal with coronavirus,” she said.
    Though he eventually recovered, “we went through very difficult moments as we almost lost him,” Alhudhairy said.
    In eastern Libya, controlled by rival authorities to the internationally recognised government in Tripoli, officials fear they will be unable to cope with a surge in serious cases.
    “We worry that there will come a time, and that time is not far away, when the healthcare system is unable to receive patients that need ventilators,” said Fadi Farag al-Fortas, a doctor at the Benghazi Medical Centre.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli and Tripoli bureau; Additional reporting and writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/17/2020 Netanyahu Says Israel Preparing For Direct Flights To UAE Over Saudi Arabia
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his mask while standing next to Israeli Transportation Minister Miri Regev, as he
gives a statement at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 17, 2020. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday that Israel is preparing for direct flights, over Saudi Arabia, to the United Arab Emirates as part of its normalisation deal with the UAE.
    Israel and the UAE announced on Thursday that they will normalise diplomatic relations under a U.S.-sponsored deal whose implementation could reshape Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.    The UAE would only be third Arab state in more than 70 years to establish relations with Israel.
    Netanyahu, briefed at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport on plans for expanding flight activity curtailed by the coronavirus pandemic, gave no time frame for the opening of an air link with the Gulf Arab country.
    “We are currently working on enabling direct flights, over Saudi Arabia, between Tel Aviv and Dubai and Abu Dhabi,” Netanyahu told reporters, estimating flight time at “about three hours, just like to Rome
    Saudi Arabia does not recognise Israel and its air space is closed to Israeli airliners.    But in what was seen in Israel as a harbinger of warmer relations with Riyadh, Air India was allowed in 2018 to begin flying over Saudi territory on its New Delhi-Tel Aviv route.
    At Ben-Gurion airport, Netanyahu said he saw “tremendous scope for bilateral tourism and gigantic scope for investment” with the UAE.
    A delegation from Israel is expected to travel to the UAE within weeks to work out the modalities of normalised relations, but any swift opening of a commercial air route could be complicated by coronavirus restrictions.
    On Sunday, the UAE opened telephone lines to Israel, a link inaugurated in a conversation between the two countries’ foreign ministers.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/17/2020 Factbox: The Assassination Of Lebanon’s Hariri And Its Aftermath
FILE PHOTO: A crowd of Lebanese people pack Martyrs' Square to mark the first anniversary of the assassination of
former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2006. REUTERS/Jamal Saidi/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Rafik al-Hariri was assassinated in 2005.    Here are some details about him, his death, and its impact ahead of a verdict by a U.N. backed tribunal on Tuesday:
WHO WAS RAFIK AL-HARIRI?
    Hariri served as prime minister of Lebanon five times following the 1975-90 civil war.    A multi-billionaire who made his fortune in construction in Saudi Arabia, he was the dominant Sunni Muslim politician in Lebanon’s sectarian system.
    He became prime minister for the first time in 1992, a rare case of a Lebanese leader who had not fought in the war. He led efforts to rebuild Beirut, particularly the downtown area.
    A close friend of the late French president Jacques Chirac, Hariri was known for his international contacts.    He was a Saudi passport holder and seen as a symbol of Saudi influence in the post-war years during which Lebanon was dominated by Syria.
THE ASSASSINATION
    On Feb. 14, 2005, Hariri got into his car after visiting the Café de l’Etoile by parliament, where he served as an MP.    As his motorcade passed along the seafront corniche, a truck bomb tore through his vehicle, leaving a massive crater and ripping the facades of the surrounding buildings.
    Twenty-one people were killed in addition to Hariri by the blast outside the St. George Hotel.    Those killed included Hariri’s bodyguards, pedestrians and the former economy minister Bassil Fleihan.
TENSIONS AHEAD OF HIS DEATH
    In the year before his assassination, Hariri had been embroiled in a row over the extension of the term of pro-Syria President Emile Lahoud. Under Syrian pressure, the constitution was amended to allow the three-year extension.    Hariri had opposed the move but eventually signed the amendment.
    In September, 2004, a U.N. Security Council resolution put pressure on Syria over its role in Lebanon.    It called for a free and fair presidential election, the withdrawal of all foreign forces, and for the disbandment of armed groups in the country, which included the pro-Damascus Hezbollah.
    In October, Hariri quit as prime minister.
    The turmoil in Lebanon was set against a backdrop of upheaval in the region, where the power balance had been turned on its head by the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
    This set the stage for an escalation of rivalry between Shi’ite Iran and its allies on the one hand, including Syria, and U.S.-allied, Sunni-led Gulf Arab states on the other.
THE IMPACT
    His assassination ignited the “Cedar Revolution” mass protests against the Syrian presence in Lebanon.    Under growing international pressure, Syria withdrew its troops in April.
    Lebanon was reshaped.
    Hariri’s son, Saad, led a coalition of anti-Syrian parties known as March 14, which was backed by Western states and Saudi Arabia.    Syria’s Lebanese allies, including the Shi’ite Hezbollah, gathered into a rival alliance called March 8.    A sectarian divide emerged between Sunnis and Shi’ites.
    Lebanon’s two main Christian Maronite leaders, Michel Aoun and Samir Geagea, both returned to political life: Aoun returned from exile and Geagea was released from jail.
    The March 14 alliance won a parliamentary majority in June.
    Several years of political conflict ensued between March 14 and March 8, much of it focused on the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons.    The tribunal into the Hariri killing was also a point of conflict.
    The tension culminated in a brief eruption of civil conflict in 2008 during which Hezbollah took over Beirut.
THE INVESTIGATION
    Initially headed by German prosecutor Detlev Mehlis, an international investigation got underway in June, 2005.    By October, it had issued a report implicating high-ranking Syrian and Lebanese officials. Syria always denied any involvement.
    In August, four Lebanese generals who were pillars of the Syrian-dominated order were arrested at the request of Mehlis.    They were released nearly four years later without charge after the tribunal said there was not sufficient evidence to indict them.    They always denied any role.
    Mehlis was replaced in early 2006.    The investigation moved slowly.    Several key personnel resigned.
    Saad al-Hariri, who had blamed Syria for his father’s death, retracted his accusation against Damascus in 2010.
    In 2011, the tribunal named four Hezbollah members wanted over the killing.    The indictment said they were linked to the attack largely by circumstantial evidence gleaned from phone records.    A fifth member of Hezbollah was indicted in 2012.
    Hezbollah dismissed the indictment, saying it contained no proof of what it said were fabricated accusations.    One of the original four suspects, senior Hezbollah commander Mustafa Badreddine, was killed in Syria in 2016.
(Writing by Tom Perry; editing by Philippa Fletcher, William Maclean)

8/17/2020 Factbox: The Lebanon Tribunal: The Case, Suspects And Evidence
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator flashes a V sign during an anti-government protest in
downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Judges at The Special Tribunal for Lebanon are due to give their verdict on Tuesday in the trial of four men accused over the 2005 Beirut bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.
    Hariri, a Sunni Muslim billionaire seen as a threat to Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon, had close ties with the United States, Western and Sunni Gulf Arab allies opposed to Iran’s expanding role in Lebanon and the region.
    Here is a look at the tribunal and the defendants.
TRIBUNAL
    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is an international court set up jointly by the United Nations and Lebanon to try suspects in the 2005 bombing and other political killings in Lebanon around the same time.    Tuesday’s verdict will be the first since its creation.
DEFENDANTS
    The defendants, being tried in absentia, are Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi.    All are members of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group.    All are charged with conspiracy to commit a terrorist attack, while Ayyash is charged with committing a terrorist act, the homicide of 22 people, and the attempted homicide of 226.    The others are charged as accomplices.    Hezbollah denies involvement in killing Hariri, a Sunni.
UNKNOWN WHEREABOUTS
    The defendants’ whereabouts are not known.    They are not in custody and have not participated in their trial, though judges ruled they are aware of the charges against them.    The defendants have not appeared or spoken in public since the trial started, nor communicated with the court-appointed lawyers representing them.    If they do show up at any time during the case they have the right to a retrial or appeal.
PROSECUTORS
    Prosecutors, led by Canadian Norman Farrell, allege that Ayyash was central to the planning and the execution of the assassination.    The men are also accused of preparing a false claim of responsibility to deflect blame.    Prosecutors say the men, as Hezbollah supporters, may have been motivated by a desire for Syrian involvement in Lebanon to continue, a policy “which Hariri threatened.”
EVIDENCE
    During the 2014-2018 trial judges heard from 297 witness.    Prosecutors presented what they call a “mosaic of evidence” mostly based on mobile phone records.    Prosecutors say the pattern of phone calls shows the men were observing Hariri in the months before his assassination, and that they helped to coordinate and time the attack.
DEFENCE
    Lawyers for the accused men say there is no direct evidence linking their clients to the mobile phones identified by the prosecution.    They have asked for acquittal.
VERDICT
    Tuesday’s ruling will decide only whether the four accused have been proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.    If they are convicted, sentencing hearings would be held later.    They could face a maximum sentence of life.
HAGUE COURT
    In 2009 the U.N. established the court in Leidschendam, a suburb of The Hague, Netherlands, which houses numerous international courts, to ensure it could operate securely and independently.    The “hybrid” court’s rules are based on Lebanese criminal law and international law, and judges are a mix of Lebanese and international magistrates.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg, Editing by William Maclean)

8/17/2020 Cyprus: EU ‘Appeasement’ Of Turkey In Exploration Row Will Go Nowhere
FILE PHOTO: The Turkish drilling vessel Yavuz is seen being escorted by a Turkish Navy frigate
in the eastern Mediterranean off Cyprus, August 6, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus on Monday criticised European Union partners over what it said was diffidence amounting to “a policy of appeasement” in dealing with Turkey, locked in a stand-off with Cyprus and Greece over energy exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.
    The Cypriot comments came after Greece failed to secure a strong commitment from fellow EU nations for sanctions against Turkey for carrying out offshore natural gas surveys in areas where both countries claim jurisdiction.
    Two Turkish survey ships are in two areas of the disputed maritime region – one that Greece says is on its continental shelf, and the other claimed by the island state of Cyprus. In both cases, Turkey says it has jurisdiction.
    “Unfortunately we are observing a diffidence from the European Union in taking on a substantive role and adopting policies of deterrence,” Cypriot government spokesman Kyriakos Koushios said in remarks to reporters.
    He said Nicosia welcomed expressions of support from EU partners but this was not enough.    “The policy of appeasement and the messages of support are not enough to discourage Turkey from its illegal actions.”
    The EU, he said, needed to have a “more intense” presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
    Turkey drew another EU rebuke on Sunday when it said its Yavuz energy drill ship would extend operations in disputed Mediterranean waters off Cyprus until mid-September.
    Cyprus’s internationally-recognised Greek Cypriot government has long been at loggerheads with Turkey.    The island was split after a 1974 Turkish invasion spurred by a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.    A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.
    Turkey questions Cyprus’s right to explore in the seas around the island because it maintains that the Nicosia administration does not represent the interests of Turkish Cypriots – an argument dismissed by Cyprus, which is legally recognised as representing the entire island.
    In Turkey’s dispute with Greece, the two countries are at odds over the delimitation of their continental shelves.
(Reporting by Michele Kambas; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/17/2020 Sudan Security Forces Fire Tear Gas At Protesters On Anniversary Of Political Power-Sharing Deal
Sudanese protesters march in a demonstration to mark the anniversary of a transitional power-sharing deal with
demands for quicker political reforms in Khartoum, Sudan August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese security forces fired tear gas to disperse thousands of protesters, some burning car tyres, who gathered to mark the anniversary on Monday of a transitional power-sharing deal with demands for quicker political reform.
    The agreement set up a precarious alliance of civilian technocrats and military officials following the April 2019 ouster of long-time ruler Omar al-Bashir, with elections due to be held after 39 months.
    The government says it is pushing ahead with reforms, but many people want swifter and deeper change.
    Protesters from neighbourhood-based “resistance committees” gathered outside Cabinet headquarters in downtown Khartoum to voice their demands amid a heavy security presence.
    The Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA), which spearheaded anti-Bashir protests and helped strike the deal with the military, said on Twitter that security forces violently dispersed protesters after they demanded to meet Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and refused an envoy sent in his place.
    A Reuters witness saw tear gas being fired.
    The police said in a statement late on Monday that officers’ use of tear gas during the demonstration was lawful and according to their evaluation of the situation on the ground but has lead to “some random injuries” among protesters and security forces.
    Khartoum’s governor Ayman Khalid expressed his “deepest apologies” and called the force used on Monday “excessive” and “contradictory to [our approach] in the era of freedom, peace and justice.”
    Khalid also called on the general prosecutor to investigate.
    The neighbourhood committees say they want to see the long-delayed formation of a transitional legislature, the reorganisation of the civilian Forces of Freedom and Change coalition and a civilian takeover of military-run companies.
    Hamdok on Monday called for political and popular support for reform.
    “The state apparatus needs to be rebuilt, the legacy of (the old regime) needs to be dismantled and the civil service needs to be modernized and developed to become unbiased between citizens, as well as effective,” he said in a statement.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Nadine Awadalla, Nafisa Eltahir and Aidan Lewis; editing by Nick Macfie and Grant McCool)

8/18/2020 Netanyahu Says UAE Deal Did Not Change Israeli Policy On U.S. Arms Sales by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces a peace agreement to establish diplomatic ties, between Israel and the United Arab
Emirates, during a news conference at the prime minster office in Jerusalem, August 13, 2020. Abir Sultan /Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has not softened its opposition to any U.S. arms sales to the United Arab Emirates that could diminish its military superiority as part of the U.S.-brokered normalisation of their ties, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said on Tuesday.
    The statement followed a report in Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper that the Trump administration planned a “giant” sale of advanced F-35 jets to United Arab Emirates as part of the Gulf country’s move last week to normalise ties with Israel.
    The U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem and representatives of the UAE government did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Under understandings dating back decades, Washington has refrained from Middle East arms sales that could blunt Israel’s “qualitative military edge” (QME).    This has applied to the F-35, denied to Arab states, while Israel has bought and deployed it.
    “In the talks (on the UAE normalisation deal), Israel did not change its consistent positions against the sale to any country in the Middle East of weapons and defence technologies that could tip the (military) balance,” Netanyahu’s office said.
    The Trump administration has signalled that UAE could clinch unspecified new U.S. arms sales after last Thursday’s normalisation announcement.
    Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen, an observer in Netanyahu’s security cabinet, said the decision-making forum had held no discussion about any changes to QME policy and that Israel had not agreed to any changes by the United States.     “Israel has not given its consent to coming along and changing the arrangement,” Cohen told public radio station Kan.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

8/18/2020 Lebanon Braces As U.N. Tribunal Starts Reading Verdict In Hariri Killing Case by Toby Sterling
FILE PHOTO: Workers prepare a giant poster depicting Lebanon's assassinated former prime minister
Rafik al-Hariri, in downtown Beirut, Lebanon February 12, 2010. REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    Leidschendam, NETHERLANDS (Reuters) – The U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon began reading a verdict on Tuesday in the case of four Hezbollah members charged with conspiracy to carry out the 2005 bombing that killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 others.
    Hariri, a Sunni Muslim billionaire, had close ties with the United States, Western and Sunni Gulf Arab allies, and was seen as a threat to Iranian and Syrian influence in Lebanon.    He led efforts to rebuild Beirut following the 1975-1990 civil war.
    The verdict comes as Lebanese are still reeling from the aftermath of a huge explosion that killed 178 people this month and from an economic meltdown that has shattered their lives.
    Hariri’s assassination plunged Lebanon into what was then its worst crisis since the war, setting the stage for years of confrontation between rival political forces.
    The Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the Feb. 14, 2005 bombing.
    ‘International Justice Defeats Intimidation’ read a headline in Lebanon’s an-Nahar daily with a caricature of the slain Hariri’s face looking at a mushroom cloud over the devastated city, with a caption: “May you also (get justice),” referring to an investigation that could unveil the cause of the blast.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday that if any members of the movement were convicted, the group would stand by their innocence.
    But views of the case are mixed.
    Beirut tour guide Nada Nammour, 54, speaking before the reading of the verdict began, said that the 2005 bombing was a crime that should be punished.    “Lebanon needs to see law and justice … We were born in war, we lived in war and will die in it, but our children deserve a future.”
    The verdict in The Hague may further polarise the already divided country and complicate an already tumultuous situation after the Aug 4 blast at Beirut port, where authorities say ammonium nitrate stored unsafely detonated, fuelling public outrage and leading to the government’s resignation.
    Harri’s killing removed a powerful Sunni leader and allowed the further political expansion of Shi’ite power led by Hezbollah and its allies in Lebanon.
JUSTICE 15 YEARS ON
    The judgment had initially been expected earlier this month, but was delayed after the port explosion.
    The investigation and trial in absentia of the four Hezbollah members has taken 15 years and cost roughly $1 billion.    It could result in a guilty verdict and later sentencing of up to life imprisonment, or acquittal.
    DNA evidence showed that the blast that killed Hariri was carried out by a male suicide bomber who was never identified.
    Prosecutors used cell phone records to argue the men on trial, Salim Jamil Ayyash, Hassan Habib Merhi, Assad Hassan Sabra and Hussein Hassan Oneissi, carefully monitored Hariri’s movements in the months leading up to the attack to time it and to put forward a fake claim of responsibility as a diversion.
    Court-appointed lawyers said there is no physical evidence linking the four to the crime and they should be acquitted.
    The reading of the verdict is set to last several hours.
    Hariri’s son Saad, who took his father’s mantle and has served as premier three times, is expected to attend.    He has said he was not seeking revenge, but that justice must prevail.
    Some Lebanese say they are now more concerned with finding out the truth behind the Beirut port blast.
    “I do want to know what the verdict is … but what matters now is who did this (port blast) to us because this touched more people,” said Francois, a volunteer helping victims in a ruined district.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Additional reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by William Maclean and Samia Nakhoul)

8/18/2020 ‘Impossible’ That Beirut Port Blast Was Caused By Hezbollah Arms, Says President
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun delivers a speech at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    ROME (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun dismissed as “impossible” the chance that a vast explosion in Beirut’s port this month was caused by a blast from a deposit of Hezbollah arms, but said that all possibilities would be investigated.
    Lebanese authorities are probing what caused massive amounts of ammonium nitrate warehoused unsafely for years at the port to denotate in a mushroom cloud on Aug. 4, killing 178 people, injuring 6,000 and destroying swathes of the city.
    Aoun, an ally of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, told Italian daily Corriere della Sera in an interview published on Tuesday that the group did not store weapons at the port, echoing comments by Hezbollah’s leader earlier this month.
    “Impossible, but serious events like these light up spirits and imagination,” Aoun said when asked about people advancing the hypothesis, but added that “even this lead will be investigated.”
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has denied accusations that his heavily armed movement had weaponry warehoused at Beirut port.    He has said that the group would wait for results of the investigation but if it turns out to be an act of sabotage by Israel then it would “pay an equal price.”
    Hezbollah, which exercises sway over government in Lebanon, has fought several wars with Israel and is classified by the United States as a terrorist group.
    Israel has denied any involvement in the blast.
    Aoun has said the probe is looking into whether neglect, an accident or “external interference” caused the blast.
    “Although it seems that (it) has been an accident, I want to avoid being accused of not having listened to every voice,” Aoun told the Italian daily.
    He said that many people claimed seeing airplanes fly by the port just before the blast and, although “not very credible,” they should be listened to.
(Reporting by Giulia Segreti, editing by Ghaida Ghantous, William Maclean)

8/18/2020 Abbas Says Palestinians Not Worried About ‘Nonsense’ Israel-UAE Deal by Ali Sawafta
President Mahmoud Abbas gestures during a meeting with the Palestinian leadership to discuss the United Arab Emirates' deal
with Israel to normalize relations, in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/Pool
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said on Tuesday that Palestinians were not concerned about the normalisation deal between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, referring to the accord as “nonsense.”
    In his first public remarks since the U.S.-sponsored deal was announced last week, Abbas accused the Gulf Arab state of turning its back on Palestinians living under occupation in the West Bank and an Israeli-led blockade in Gaza.
    However, Abbas said: “We aren’t worried about the nonsense that happens here and there and especially in recent days, when a trilateral agreement between the Emirates, Israel and America was announced.”
    Israel, long shunned by most Arab and Muslim countries in the region, on Thursday agreed with the UAE to forge full relations, angering Palestinians who have long looked to oil-rich Gulf states for support in their quest for statehood.
    “They (the UAE) have turned their backs on everything: the rights of the Palestinian people, the Palestinian state, the two-state solution, and the holy city of Jerusalem,” Abbas said during a meeting of factions in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    Abbas, 84, accused the UAE of trying to justify the deal by arguing it helped stop Israeli annexations in the West Bank, a move which the United States says it will not consent to for “some time” in order to focus on implementing the agreement. [nL8N2FJ3Z8]
    In a rare sign of unity, Abbas’s meeting at his presidential compound was attended by rival groups including the Islamist group Hamas, which rules Gaza and from which Abbas’s Fatah party, which dominates the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, has long been estranged.
    Although senior Palestinian officials have called for an urgent meeting of the Arab League over the deal, few countries have come to the Palestinians’ defence in wake of the agreement.
    Kuwait said its position towards Israel is unchanged, while Saudi Arabia and Qatar have remained silent.
    Others, like Bahrain and Oman, have welcomed the deal, stirring speculation that the two Gulf states could follow in formalising ties with Israel. [nL8N2FI0GR]
    The Palestinians seek a state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, territory Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by David Holmes)

8/18/2020 Mutinying Soldiers Detain Mali President And PM, Deepening Crisis by Tiemoko Diallo
FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel summit
in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and top government officials were detained on Tuesday by mutinying soldiers in the capital Bamako on Tuesday, plunging a country already facing a jihadist insurgency and mass protests deeper into crisis.
    Keita’s detention at his residence in southwestern Bamako followed hours of uncertainty after soldiers mutinied in the morning at the Kati military base outside Bamako and rounded up a number of senior civilian officials and military officers.
    Prime Minister Boubou Cisse had earlier appealed for dialogue and urged mutineers to stand down, before dropping from view.    Two security sources later told Reuters Keita had been seized and the African Union said Cisse was also in detention.
    Mali’s state broadcaster went offline after the spate of detentions, before coming back on air in the early evening with pre-recorded programming.
    It was not immediately clear who was leading the mutineers, who would govern in Keita’s absence or what the mutineers’ motivations were.    A military spokesman said he had no information.
    Rumours earlier in the day that the mutineers had detained Keita prompted hundreds of anti-government protesters to pour into a central square to celebrate and chant that it was time for him to resign.
    Since June, tens of thousands of people in Bamako have taken to the streets to demand Keita’s departure, blaming him for corruption and worsening security in the north and centre of the West African country where Islamist militants are active.
    A mutiny in 2012 at the same Kati base led to a military coup that toppled then-President Amadou Toumani Toure and hastened the fall of Mali’s north to jihadist militants.
    French forces intervened the following year to beat them back.    But the militants have since regrouped and expanded their influence into neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, attacking soldiers, local civilians and Western tourists.
REGIONAL FEARS
    France and other international powers as well as the African Union, fearful that the fall of Keita could further destabilise Mali – a former French colony – and West Africa’s entire Sahel region, denounced the mutiny.
    “I energetically condemn the arrest of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, the prime minister and other members of the Malian government and call for their immediate liberation,” African Union chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Twitter.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said France “condemns in the strongest terms this grave event.”    The U.S. envoy to the Sahel, J. Peter Pham, said on Twitter that “the U.S. is opposed to all extra-constitutional changes of government.”
    The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) called on the Mali soldiers to return to their barracks and United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged Malians to protect democratic institutions.
    At least 14 people were killed in July in the demonstrations that were called for by a coalition of Keita’s political opponents, religious leaders and civil society activists.
    Keita had hoped concessions to opponents and recommendations from a mediating delegation of regional leaders would help stem the tide of dissatisfaction, but the protest leaders have rejected proposals to join a power-sharing government.
    “Whether he’s been arrested or not, what is certain is that his end is near.    God is granting our prayers.    IBK is finished,” Haidara Assetou Cisse, a teacher, said earlier in the day, referring to Keita by his initials.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako and David Lewis in London; Additional reporting by Paul Lorgerie in Bamako, Paul Carsten in Abuja, Tangi Salaün in Paris, Bate Felix in Paris, Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/18/2020 Gaza’s Lone Power Plant Shuts Down Amid Tension With Israel by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A view shows Gaza's power plant after it was shutdown according to Palestinian officials,
in the central Gaza Strip August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Gaza’s lone power plant shut down on Tuesday, less than a week after Israel suspended fuel shipments to the Palestinian enclave over the launching of incendiary balloons that have caused brush fires in southern Israel.
    Gaza, run by Hamas Islamists, relies on Israel for most of its energy needs.    Its population of two million currently receives around six hours of electricity followed by a 10-hour power cut.
    “The power feed may now decline to only four hours (per day),” said Mohammad Thabet, an official at Gaza’s main power distribution company, after fuel ran out at the plant.
    Gaza homes and businesses rely on generators to make up for the lengthy power cuts, increasing the financial pressure on its largely impoverished people.
    Officials in Gaza said the power plant’s closure would cause disruptions at vital facilities such as hospitals, which are also equipped with generators.
    Dozens of helium balloons carrying incendiary material have been launched from Gaza in recent days, in what political sources described as a bid to pressure Israel to ease its blockade and allow more Arab and international investment.br>     Israel cites security concerns in imposing restrictions.
    The political sources said the balloons were part of efforts to persuade Qatar to increase its cash aid to Hamas as the Gulf state attempts to lower Gaza border tensions.
    Israel has carried out air strikes over the past week against positions held by Hamas and other factions, saying it would not tolerate the balloon incidents.
    Anticipating Israeli attacks after balloon or rocket launchings, Hamas routinely evacuates personnel from outposts.
    With tensions high, Israel has closed its lone commercial crossing with Gaza and banned sea access, effectively shutting down commercial fishing.
    Egyptian mediators on Monday held talks in Israel and Gaza on restoring calm.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Ed Osmond)

8/18/2020 Hezbollah Has ‘Taken Hostage’ The Lebanese People’s Future: Israeli Statement On Hariri Verdict
Members of security forces stand guard near a billboard depicting Lebanon's former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri,
who was killed in a 2005 suicide bombing, in Sidon, southern Lebanon, Lebanon August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s foreign ministry reacted to the verdict in the case of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri’s assassination by saying Hezbollah had “taken hostage” the future of the Lebanese people.
    “The ruling of the tribunal that investigated the murder of Prime Minister Hariri and which was made public today is unequivocal.    The Hezbollah terrorist group and its personnel were involved in the murder and in obstructing the investigation,” an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in a statement.
    “Hezbollah has taken hostage the future of the Lebanese in the service of foreign interests."    The countries of the world must take action against this terrorist group in order to assist Lebanon in liberating itself from this menace.
    “Hezbollah’s military build-up, its efforts to set up a precision-guided missile arsenal, and its actions endanger the entire region.”
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Stephen Farrell)

8/18/2020 Lebanon Tribunal Judge: No Evidence Of Involvement By Hezbollah Leadership In Hariri’s Killing
Judge David Re, Presiding Judge, Judge Janet Nosworthy and Judge Micheline Braidy attend a session of the United Nations-backed
Lebanon Tribunal handing down a judgement in the case of four men being tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing that killed former
Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people, in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw/Pool
    Leidschendam, NETHERLANDS (Reuters) – There is no evidence that the leadership of the Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim group Hezbollah, or the Syrian government, were involved in the 2005 bombing that killed former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, a judge said on Tuesday.
    The Special Tribunal for Lebanon is reading the verdict in the trial of four Hezbollah members charged with conspiracy to kill Hariri and 21 others.
    “The trial chamber is of the view that Syria and Hezbollah may have had motives to eliminate Mr Hariri and his political allies, however there is no evidence that the Hezbollah leadership had any involvement in Mr. Hariri’s murder and there is no direct evidence of Syrian involvement,” said Judge David Re, reading a summary of the court’s 2,600 page decision.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling; Writing by Anthony Deutsch)

8/18/2020 Ethiopia PM Fires Defence Minister, A One-Time Ally, In Major Reshuffle by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed poses for a photograph during the opening of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the
Heads of State and the Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday replaced the defence minister, his former ally Lemma Megersa, as part of a reshuffle ahead of elections in the heavily divided nation next year.
    Lemma was replaced by Kenea Yadeta, the former security chief of Oromiya region, Abiy’s office said on Twitter.    Nine other top officials were also replaced, including the attorney general, his deputy and the mining minister.
    Abiy has promised to hold the first free and fair elections in Africa’s second most populous nation next year, but his democratic reforms have also unleashed ethnic divisions that frequently spill into violence.
    Lemma was once a trusted ally of Abiy but relations soured in November after he publicly criticised Abiy’s decision to consolidate the ethnically based-parties in the ruling coalition into one political party, the Prosperity Party. Last week, Prosperity Party suspended Lemma’s membership.
    Abiy’s father and Lemma both come from Oromiya, the most populous of Ethiopia’s 10 regions.    Oromiya is a political weathervane: the region spearheaded the bloody street protests that propelled Abiy to power in 2018.
    But Abiy’s support there is being eroded.    Bloody protests sparked by assassination of a popular singer killed more than 178 people there last month, triggering mass arrests.
    International rights groups have also criticised the military for abuses during operations against an insurgency in western Oromiya.
    Lemma’s removal may further whittle away support for Abiy, said political analyst Mohamed Olad.
    “Lemma enjoys wider support and approval in Oromia than Abiy,” he said.    “Whether he will activate that reservoir of goodwill depends on two things.    First, whether he will be free to exercise his political rights …(and) whether he is willing to play an active role in politics.”
    Lemma’s criticism joined a growing swell of voices – some from Oromiya – who accuse Abiy of trying to centralise power and of rolling back his democratic reforms.
    Kjetil Tronvoll, professor of peace and conflict studies at Bjørknes University in Oslo, told Reuters that the debate whether to centralise or devolve power was at the heart of Ethiopia’s fractious politics.
    “This is the key controversy in all federal arrangements – the power balance between the federal and regional states,” he said.
    If the Oromo youth who helped Abiy to power turn against him, it could pose a problem during the elections, Tronvoll said.
    Unrest in Oromiya not Abiy’s only worry.    The northern Tigray region, whose people dominated the last administration, has announced it will hold regional elections this month in defiance of a government decision to postpone polls across the nation due to the outbreak of the coronavirus.
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld; editing by John Stonestreet)

8/18/2020 Cyprus Says Willing To Engage On Defining Maritime Zones
Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides speaks next to Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias during a
news conference at the Foreign Ministry in Nicosia, Cyprus, August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Yiannis Kourtoglou
    NICOSIA (Reuters) – Cyprus said on Tuesday it was willing to engage with all its neighbours on defining maritime boundaries, amid a tense stand-off with Turkey in the eastern Mediterranean over jurisdiction in the energy-rich waters.
    Greece and Cyprus are locked in a dispute with Turkey over overlapping claims to areas thought to be rich in natural gas.    Two Turkish survey vessels are in areas claimed by Greece and Cyprus.    Turkey says it has rights over the areas in question.
    While not referring to Turkey directly, Cypriot Foreign Minister Nikos Christodoulides said the island had maritime deals with Egypt, Israel and Lebanon “and was ready to discuss with other neighbouring states on establishing sea zones.”
    Turkey is its closest neighbour and the only country it does not have a deal with, bar war-ravaged Syria.
    “This would be on the basis of international law and the 1982 Law of the Sea,” Christodoulides said, referring to a United Nations treaty.
    Turkey does not recognise the Republic of Cyprus, so any take-up of Nicosia’s offer would be unlikely.
    Christodoulides was speaking in Nicosia following talks with Nikos Dendias, his Greek counterpart.    Dendias said he expected EU foreign ministers to discuss a list of sanctions against Turkey next week.
    “This escalation of Turkish aggression is directed against the European Union, and consequently, there should be an escalation of the European reaction to counter it,” Dendias said.
    Cyprus was split after a 1974 Turkish invasion spurred by a brief coup engineered by the military then ruling Greece.    A breakaway Turkish Cypriot state in north Cyprus is recognised only by Ankara.
    Turkey questions Cyprus’s right to explore in the seas around the island because it maintains that the Nicosia administration does not represent the interests of Turkish Cypriots – an argument dismissed by Cyprus.
    In Turkey’s dispute with Greece, the two countries are at odds over the delimitation of their continental shelves.
(Reporting By Michele Kambas; Editing by Gareth Jones)

8/18/2020 Israel To Establish Flights To UAE by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Transportation Minister Miri Regev tour Ben-Gurion Airport and are briefed
on preparations for the resumption of flights, 20 km (12 mi) southeast of Tel Aviv, Israel. (Emil Salman/Haaretz Pool via AP)
    Israel announced a plan to establish flight routes to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the initiative at Ben Gurion International Airport on Monday.
    The prime minister said direct flights will be introduced between the cities of Tel Aviv, Dubai and Abu Dhabi.    It will take about three hours each way.
    The new flight plans come amid warming relations between Israel and the UAE, following a peace treaty brokered by the United States.
    “It will transform Israeli aviation and the Israeli economy with tremendous scope for tourism for both sides and gigantic scope for investment,” said Netanyahu.    “The people in the Emirates are extremely interested in massive investment in Israel, in technology.”
    The planned flights will fly over Saudi Arabia, a country which does not recognize Israel and has barred Israeli airplanes from entering its airspace in the past.    It’s still unclear when the new flight routes will become operational.

8/19/2020 Saudi Arabia’s King Salman Chairs Virtual Cabinet Meeting: SPA
Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz attends during a virtual cabinet meeting in Neom, Saudi
Arabia August 18, 2020. Picture taken August 18, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Tuesday chaired a virtual cabinet meeting after leaving hospital last month following successful surgery, state new agency (SPA) said on twitter.
    SPA had reported that King Salman arrived in the NEOM economic zone on Wednesday for a period of rest and relaxation.
    The 84-year-old king had been released from hospital on July 30 after undergoing surgery to remove his gall bladder.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Omar Fahmy; Editing by Sandra Maler)

8/19/2020 Supporters Of Egypt’s Sisi Set To Dominate Newly Created Senate by Mahmoud Mourad
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Supporters of Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi won all but a handful of declared seats in a newly created second chamber of parliament, official first round results and media reports showed on Wednesday.
    Only about eight million of the more than 62 million registered voters turned up on Aug. 11-12 to cast their ballots in the election for the Senate, giving a voter turnout of 14.23%, Lasheen Ibrahim, head of the National Election Authority, said in a televised news conference.
    Results also showed that the strongly pro-government Mostaqbal Watan Party was set to be the biggest party in the Senate, an advisory body without legislative powers established through a constitutional amendment approved last year.
    The Senate will include 200 elected members and 100 presidential appointees.
    One hundred members will be elected as individual candidates and 100 more from a closed-list system, where people vote for parties rather than individuals.
    A 100-member closed electoral list dominated by supporters of Sisi and led by Mostaqbal Watan won a third of the seats, Ibrahim said.
    It was the only closed list submitted, although it included six members of two parties from an opposition coalition that opposed last year’s constitutional changes.
    The list got the support of more than 5% of voters across the country, the legal percentage needed to declare that it had won by acclamation, Ibrahim said.
    Ibrahim on Wednesday announced the names of 74 candidates who won individual seats and said a runoff vote would take place on Sept. 8-9 to determine the winners of the remaining 26 individual seats.
    Local media cited an election authority document showing that Mostaqbal Watan won 68 of the 74 determined individual seats.    The party confirmed the number on its official Facebook page.
    The Republican People’s Party, another pro-government party, secured five individual seats and only one seat went to an independent candidate, the document said.
    Egypt’s House of Representatives, the main parliamentary chamber, is also dominated by Sisi supporters.
    Officials say the Senate will enhance political participation.    But the build-up to the election was low key, which commentators attributed to the coronavirus pandemic, a lack of awareness about the new chamber, and voter apathy.
(Additional reporting Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Gareth Jones)

8/19/2020 U.N. Tribunal Verdict Does Not Concern Hezbollah, Says MP
FILE PHOTO: Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah talks in Beirut, Lebanon November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah movement is not concerned with and will not “evaluate” the verdict of a U.N.-backed tribunal that convicted a member of the group of the 2005 killing of former premier Rafik al-Hariri, Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah said on Wednesday.
    Fadlallah, in the first comments by a Hezbollah official after Tuesday’s verdict, told Al Mayadeen TV that the group has never recognised the court and this stance has only strengthened.
    The Iran-backed Hezbollah has denied any involvement in the bombing that killed 21 others.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Michael Georgy and Sandra Maler)

8/19/2020 U.S. Imposes Iran-Related Sanctions On UAE-Based Companies by Daphne Psaledakis and Moira Warburton
FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A340-600 airplane of Mahan Air is seen at Simon Bolivar International
Airport outside Caracas, Venezuela April 8, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Wednesday imposed sanctions on two United Arab Emirates-based companies, the U.S. Treasury Department said, accusing them of providing material support to Iranian airline Mahan Air.
    The Treasury in a statement said Parthia Cargo and Delta Parts Supply FZC provided key parts and logistics services for Mahan Air, which is blacklisted under U.S. measures to fight terrorism and proliferators of weapons of mass destruction.
    The Treasury also slapped sanctions on Amin Mahdavi, a UAE-based Iranian national, for owning or controlling Parthia Cargo.
    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump plans this week to push for a reimposition of all United Nations sanctions on Iran, after the U.N. Security Council rejected Washington’s earlier bid to extend an arms embargo on the country.
    “The Iranian regime uses Mahan Air as a tool to spread its destabilizing agenda around the world, including to the corrupt regimes in Syria and Venezuela,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said.
    “The United States will continue to take action against those supporting this airline,” he added.
    Wednesday’s action freezes any U.S. assets of those blacklisted and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
    The Treasury said services provided by the two blacklisted companies help Mahan Air sustain its fleet and allow it to carry out activities in support of Tehran.    These include transporting “terrorists and lethal cargo to Syria” in support of President Bashar al-Assad and recently transporting Iranian technicians and technical equipment to Venezuela, the department said.
    Separately, criminal charges were filed against Parthia Cargo and Mahdavi on Monday by the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Columbia.    The charges relate to the alleged unlicensed re-export of U.S.-export controlled aircraft parts to Iran, the Treasury said.
    An affidavit filed in court by an FBI agent to support the criminal charges alleges that Mahdavi, managing director of Parthia Cargo, in 2017 acknowledged to U.S. officials that he knew a U.S. government license was needed to ship U.S. aircraft parts to Iran.
    But Mahdavi went ahead and shipped an aircraft part to an Iranian air transport company without obtaining a license, the Justice Department said.    It accused Mahdavi and Parthia Cargo of criminally conspiring with companies and individuals outside the United States, and falsely telling a U.S. parts supplier goods would not be shipped to Iran without U.S. government permission.
    Tensions between Washington and Tehran have spiked since Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018 from the Iran nuclear deal struck by his predecessor, Barack Obama, and began reimposing sanctions that had been eased under the accord.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Moira Warburton; additional reporting by Mark Hosenball; Editing by Tim Ahmann, Alistair Bell and Tom Brown)

8/19/2020 Lebanon’s Hezbollah ‘Got Power But Lost The Country’ by Samia Nakhoul and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows the damaged port area in the aftermath of a massive explosion
in Beirut, Lebanon, August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Fifteen years after the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, Hezbollah has risen to become the overarching power in a country that is now collapsing under its feet amid a series of devastating crises.
    A U.N.-backed tribunal on Tuesday convicted a member of the Iranian-backed group of conspiring to kill Hariri in a 2005 bombing and acquitted three others.
    The verdict came at a time when Lebanon’s economy has collapsed.    Institutions from the security services to the presidency, occupied by a Hezbollah ally, have been found wanting, and people are struggling with the aftermath of the massive explosion that shredded central Beirut this month.
    Added to this, there is no functioning government and there is a spike in the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has denied that the group has ever controlled Lebanese governments or that it has a majority that would allow it to act on its own.
    But Lebanon is slipping from Hezbollah’s hands, said a political source familiar with the thinking among the group’s Christian allies.
    “By getting the majority (in parliamentary elections) and a president on their side, they thought they controlled the country, but what happened now with Hezbollah and its allies is that they got power but they lost the country and the people.”
    Hezbollah has faced growing criticism for its perceived failure to deliver on promised reforms since winning a parliamentary majority with its allies in 2018.
    The government – nominated by Hezbollah and its allies after the previous administration led by Saad al-Hariri, son of the slain PM, was toppled by a civic uprising last October – resigned over the Aug. 4 blast.
    It had tried to negotiate a rescue package with the International Monetary Fund, but was blocked by the very powerbrokers who appointed it.
    “There are so many problems internally apart from the port explosion,” says Magnus Ranstorp, a Hezbollah expert.    “The country is breaking under their feet.”
    Fawaz Gerges, Middle East expert at the London School of Economics, adds: “This is one of the most fundamental challenges facing Lebanon since its independence from (France) in 1943 as you have now multiple crises facing Lebanon and Hezbollah.”
    “I fear this (the tribunal verdict) could provide a trigger.    The country, which is already divided, will become more polarised along sectarian lines as opposed to political and ideological lines.”
    Western donors say they will not bail out Lebanon without fundamental reforms to a corrupt system.
    Mohanad Hage Ali, fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said Hezbollah had “failed miserably” to keep its election promise to fight corruption.    “They literally delivered nothing on this promise.    In fact, their anti-corruption campaign is now a popular joke.”
    “As is the case with most of this political class, Hezbollah hasn’t been in a weaker position than they are right now,” he said.
    The Shi’ite movement, which has acted as a spearhead for Tehran in Syria’s civil war and across the region, is also facing public anger over the explosion in the Beirut port that has traumatised the country.
    The detonation of what authorities say was 2,700 tonnes of unsafely stored ammonium nitrate fuelled outrage over government negligence, incompetence and inaction.
    Hezbollah is not only the predominant power in Lebanon but is seen as protecting a corrupt political class that has driven Lebanon into the ground.
    “What Hezbollah doesn’t understand about the port explosion, the outcry, the protests, is that people view it as the latest manifestation of the corrupt elite and they hold Hezbollah responsible for safeguarding this elite,” said Gerges.
    “Hezbollah is losing the narrative inside Lebanon,” he said.
    Many Lebanese, including some Christians who once supported Hezbollah, have turned against the group even though it is not responsible for an economic crisis that had piled up for years under previous governments.
DIFFERENT PRIORITIES
    The mood changed after Nasrallah gave a televised address denying responsibility for the blast and warning protesters that any more attacks on the system and its leaders would meet a robust response.
    “You would have expected him to have reached out to the public by saying he would do anything to find out what has happened, that ‘we are with the people’,” Gerges said.
    But Hezbollah’s priorities are geo-strategic rather than Lebanon-centric.
    It fears change in Lebanon might undermine its ability to influence a political system that allows it to maintain its weapons and fighters, analysts say.
    As a result, Hezbollah has become bogged down in Lebanon.
    “They want to maintain their powerful position in the country, they want to maintain their weapons, they want to maintain a veto in the decision-making process while at the same time they want to tell people they are against corruption and they are different from the corrupt ruling elite.    These contradictions have caught up with Hezbollah,” Gerges said.
    Khalil Gebara, Senior Policy Fellow at Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs, said: “After the blast, it is clear that the political system is also close to collapse … Hezbollah’s objective today is to extend the life of the Lebanese political system.”
    Although the court found no evidence of direct involvement by the leadership of Hezbollah, the judges said Hariri’s killing was clearly a politically motivated act of terrorism.
    The verdict, analysts say, is likely to exacerbate the difficulties of Hezbollah, already designated by the United States and several others as a terrorist group.
    “More and more countries will likely view Hezbollah as a paramilitary terrorist organisation,” Gerges said.
    Ranstorp says even before the Hariri verdict the mood in Europe and Washington had swung against a Hezbollah-dominated Lebanon, because of the axis of Shi’ite power Iran has built across Iraq, Syria and Lebanon.
    The challenge to Hezbollah comes as it and its forces in Syria are being regularly attacked by Israeli warplanes, and powerful allied militias in Iraq are under pressure.
    Most analysts say Hezbollah will sit tight, hoping that time will work in its favour, either through a new U.S. president or a possible new understanding between Tehran and the Trump administration ahead of the November election.
    “They want to preserve the (Lebanese) state as it stands today.    They don’t want a strong state.    But they don’t want a fragmented weak one because that means more headaches, more challenges for them,” Hage Ali said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Giles Elgood)

8/19/2020 West Bank Settlers Say Netanyahu Duped Them With Annexation Backtrack by Eli Berlzon
The Israeli national flag flutters as apartments are seen in the background in the Israeli settlement of Maale
Adumim in the Israeli-occupied West Bank August 16, 2020. Picture taken August 16, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    MASSUA SETTLEMENT, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel’s settler leaders say Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has defrauded them of their long-held dream of annexing the occupied West Bank as part of the country’s normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates.
    Their anger could be a problem for right-wing Netanyahu, whom they accuse of repeatedly floating the idea of annexation only to cave in to international pressure when the terms of the UAE deal required him to walk back his promises.
    “He deceived us, defrauded us, duped us,” said David Elhayani, head of the Yesha Council, the settlers’ main umbrella organisation.
    “It’s a major disappointment.    It was a once in a lifetime opportunity, a golden opportunity that the prime minister missed because he lacked the courage,” said Elhayani.    “He’s lost it.    He needs to go.”
    Israel’s West Bank settlements – which range in size from a few hilltop caravans to sprawling commuter towns – were built by successive governments on land captured in a 1967 war.
    Around 450,000 Jewish settlers now live among 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, with a further 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem.    Most countries view the settlements as illegal, a view that Israel and the United States dispute.
    When Netanyahu promised during recent elections to apply Israeli sovereignty to areas of the West Bank, including Jewish settlements, he said he first needed a green light from Washington.
    That green light appeared to have been given by President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan released in January, which envisaged Israel applying sovereignty – de facto annexation – to its 120 settlements in almost a third of the West Bank.     But when Trump announced the UAE deal this month, he said annexation was now “off the table.”
SOVEREIGNTY
    Polls have shown wide support in Israel for the UAE deal.    But the ideological settler leadership has significant political clout, and has long been a bastion of Netanyahu’s support.     Aware that he might lose their backing to parties even more hawkish than his own, Netanyahu sought to keep settler hopes alive.
    “Sovereignty is not off the agenda, I was the one who brought it to the Trump plan with American consent.    We will apply sovereignty,” he told Israel Army Radio, saying the White House had merely asked for a suspension.
    But many settler leaders are unconvinced.    Bezalel Smotrich, a settler with the ultranationalist opposition Yemina party, said Netanyahu “has been deceiving right-wing voters for many years with great success.”
    Palestinians, who seek a state of their own in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem, have vigorously opposed the policies of Trump and his senior adviser Jared Kushner, including their Middle East plan and UAE deal.
    They accuse Trump, Kushner and Netanyahu of drawing up blueprints that would leave them only an unviable Palestinian state of separate enclaves scattered across the West Bank.
    But the Trump vision of limited Palestinian statehood has created strange bedfellows.
    The Palestinians say it gives them too little.    But for the most hardline Israeli settlers it gives the Palestinians too much.    For these settlers, any Palestinian state is anathema.
    In the hilltop settlement of Kedumim, veteran settler leader Daniella Weiss said: “I don’t think the Jewish nation needs to give up any of its treasures, any part … of our homeland, for a peace treaty.”
    “I am a pioneer that established an outpost, then my children did it, now my grandchildren are doing it.    This is the dream and this is the plan and this is what our movement does.”
(Reporting by Rami Amichay, Eli Berlzon and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Stephen Farrell and Alison Williams)

8/19/2020 Saudi Remains Committed To Arab Peace Initiative For Israel Peace, Foreign Minister Says
Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al-Saud attends a joint news conference with
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas in Berlin, Germany August 19, 2020. John Macdougall/Pool
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia remains committed to peace with Israel on the basis of the longstanding Arab Peace Initiative, its foreign minister said on Wednesday in the first official comment since the United Arab Emirates agreed to normalise relations with Israel.
    Israel and the UAE said on Thursday they would normalise diplomatic relations under a U.S.-sponsored deal whose implementation could reshape Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.
    The Arab Peace Initiative was drawn up by Saudi Arabia in 2002, in which Arab nations offered Israel normalised ties in return for a statehood deal with the Palestinians and full Israeli withdrawal from territory captured in 1967.
    “The kingdom considers any Israeli unilateral measures to annex Palestinian land as undermining the two state solution,” Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said in an event in Berlin on Wednesday, in comments reported on Saudi’s foreign affairs ministry Twitter page.
    Saudi Arabia, birthplace of Islam and site of its holiest shrines, does not recognise Israel and its air space is closed to Israeli airliners.
    The Kingdom, a close U.S. ally, has been ruled by 84-year-old King Salman since 2015, who has over the years repeatedly reassured Arab allies it will not endorse any Middle East peace plan that fails to address Jerusalem’s status or refugees’ right of return.
    Saudi officials have repeatedly denied any difference between King Salman, and his son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler and next in line to the throne, who has shaken up long-held policies on many issues and told a U.S. magazine in April that Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land.
    Both Saudi Arabia and Israel view Iran as the major threat to the Middle East. Increased tension between Tehran and Riyadh has fuelled speculation that shared interests may push the Saudis and Israel to work together, and there have been signs in recent years of some thawing between the two.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai and Marwa Rashad in Riyadh, writing by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/19/2020 Keeper Of Beirut’s Past Looks To Architectural Future After Blast
People walk past destroyed traditional Lebanese houses, following a massive explosion at the port area,
in Beirut, Lebanon, August 14, 2020. Picture taken August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Standing in front of the rubble of a house destroyed in Beirut’s port blast, Henry Loussian brushes off the dust and dirt from fragments of its architecture all but lost among a tangle of scaffolding obscuring a grand ceiling and elaborate chandelier.
    Such heritage houses were once commonplace, but many were razed during the 1975-1990 civil war and then decades of high-rise redevelopment.
    Now the 42-year-old is doing what he can to ensure the spirit of those damaged or destroyed on Aug. 4 lives on.
    “This is my love, this is what I love, the ornaments of the house.    Look at the balcony, the iron, it’s still as it is,” he said.
    Loussian has spent years salvaging items from houses before they were bulldozed and then building a home, an hour outside Beirut, to accommodate the pieces and become a showroom of treasures from the city’s past.
    Since the huge explosion that left 300,000 people homeless, injured thousands and killed 178, he has been offering help and advice to those whose traditional homes were damaged.
    “There were a few (listed) homes, now they’re gone. We were proud of ourselves, that we were able to protect these homes before the explosion.    Now they’re gone, they’re exploded, it’s unbelievable,” said Loussian, a collector and jewellery shop owner.
    A mixture of Mediterranean, Ottoman and French-mandate era elements made the city’s traditional houses unique.    Features include red tile roofs, high painted ceilings, marble columns and stained glass.
    He and wife Rita hope eventually to open their home as a museum to show others the beauty of the city’s history.
    “I’m definitely proud to be living in this house, first of all because it reflects Lebanon’s true heritage, secondly, because it encompasses many homes in Beirut that are now gone, thirdly, it now stands as tribute to the homes that were damaged,” she said.
    Loussian added: “Beirut has always faced wars, explosions, political stuff that change the face of Beirut.    The most important thing however is for us not to forget Beirut, that it is not forgotten.    I love this city, it makes me proud, proud to be Lebanese, Beiruti.”
(Reporting by Charlotte Bruneau; Editing by Alison Williams)

8/20/2020 Uproar After Somali Lawmaker Presents Bill To Legalise Child Marriage by Abdi Sheikh
Nurta Mohamed, 13, a Somali girl sits inside her mother's makeshift shelter after she ran away from
a suspected forced marriage at the Alafuuto camp for internally displaced persons in Garasbaaley district
of Mogadishu, Somalia August 14, 2020. Picture taken August 14, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Hafsa was married off at 13 by her father to a man who paid $100.    She and her mother say she was beaten and raped for two years before they convinced him to divorce her.
    “The man just slept with me, beating me always,” she said, sitting by her mother, who clutches her daughter tightly.    “I regretted I was born.”
    There is no law mandating a minimum age for marriage in Somalia.    A bill introduced in parliament this month by a presidential ally caused a storm of criticism from lawmakers when they realised it would legalise marriage at puberty – as early as 10 for some girls.
    Data from a government survey this year shows that nearly a third of girls are married before their 18th birthday – just under half of those before the age of 15.
    “Some families marry off their daughters to reduce their economic burden or earn income.    Others may do so because they believe it will secure their daughters’ futures or protect them,” said Dheepa Pandian, a spokeswoman from UNICEF, the United Nations’ Children’s Fund.
    Political turmoil in Somalia – the prime minister was sacked last month and elections due this year will likely be delayed – means it is unclear when parliament might vote on the bill.    The Horn of Africa nation is also battling an Islamist insurgency.
    Many lawmakers, like legislator and human rights activist Sahra Omar Malin, reject the bill.
    “Our constitution is based on Islam.    It says the age of maturity is 18, this is the right age for voting or for a girl to marry,” she said.
    Deputy speaker Abdiweli Mudeey, who presented the bill, did not return calls seeking comment but told lawmakers that it had been reviewed by clerics and “this bill … is the correct one based on Islam.”
    Nadifa Hussein, who runs three camps in the capital for families fleeing violence, shelters many abused and abandoned child brides.
    “Most women here were married at 13 and are divorced by the time they are 20,” Hussein said.    “They have no one to feed them.”
    Among them is Sirad, a shy 16-year-old with two children.    Her husband has left, but if he comes back she must welcome him, she said sadly.
    “Who else wants me?” she asked, covering her face.    “If you are thrown into a well and can’t come out, the only option is to try to swim.”
(Writing by Omar Mohammed and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

8/20/2020 Regional Delegation To Visit Mali To Try To Reverse Coup As Junta, Opposition Close Ranks by Tiemoko Diallo and David Lewis
FILE PHOTO: A Malian army soldier is seen outside the private house of president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita who resigned
overnight after the military mutinied and arrested him, in Bamako, Mali August 19, 2020. REUTERS/ Idrissa Sangare
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – West African countries will send a delegation to Mali in an effort to reverse a military coup, presidents from the region said, as an opposition coalition there joined the junta in rejecting foreign interference.
    Leaders of the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) convened over the crisis on Thursday, after it suspended Mali, shut off borders and halted financial flows in response to Tuesday’s overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.
    The coup, which has rocked a country already in the grip of a growing insurgency by Islamist militants and civil unrest, has been met with almost universal condemnation abroad.
    At the end of the meeting, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, the acting ECOWAS president, issued a statement saying the heads of state demanded that Keita be returned to power and would “immediately” dispatch a high-level delegation to Mali.
    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari said the delegation would be led by his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, who had been mediating between Keita and his opponents prior to the coup, and Jean-Claude Brou, president of the ECOWAS commission.
    Diplomatic sources had said earlier that the delegation would be led by four heads of state.
    In Mali, the M5-RFP coalition of opposition groups that spearheaded protests against Keita before the coup and has since embraced the mutineers rejected ECOWAS’s position.
    “If they want to come, they can come but we are not going to move,” Cheick Oumar Sissoko, a coalition leader, told reporters.    “We are going to cross ECOWAS’s red line.”
    Opposition leaders said they would hold a rally in Bamako on Friday to celebrate what they described as their “victory.”
    Bamako residents expressed widespread support for the coup.    The capital was calm for the second straight day, as people appeared to heed earlier calls from junta spokesman Colonel Ismael Wague to return to work and go about their daily lives.
    Banks re-opened after closing the past two days and clients said they had no problems withdrawing money.
    “The ECOWAS sanctions are legitimate but reckless,” said Brema Soumare, a 35-year-old architect, standing outside a bank.    “This coup is a liberation… Organisations like ECOWAS should support the people and not heads of state.”
COUP LEADERS
    Colonel Assimi Goita, a special forces commander, presented himself late on Wednesday as the junta’s leader.
    Marc-Andre Boisvert, an independent researcher on the Malian security forces, said the senior mutineers were all respected army colonels who had fought in the north, where affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State are active.
    “It was a coup led by combat-experienced, not personality-driven? officers,” he said.    “I expect they were selected to be the image of the coup as they are respected and close to the (ordinary) soldiers.”
    Nevertheless, the officers’ actions have raised fears of a repeat of 2012, when the chaotic aftermath of a coup helped hasten the fall of northern Mali to al Qaeda-linked militants.
    France intervened the following year to push them back, but the militants have since regrouped and extended their influence into central Mali and countries in West Africa’s Sahel region.
    Some apparent supporters of the al Qaeda-affiliated militants celebrated the coup on social media, saying it represented an opportunity for the group to exploit.
    France’s armed forces minister said on Thursday that its forces would continue their Mali-based military operations against Islamist fighters.
    Heads of state in West Africa have reacted with alarm to the coup, fearful of the precedent it could set in the region.
    In his statement, Niger’s President Issoufou called for the ramping-up of ECOWAS’s standby military force in response to the coup, but it was not clear whether any military action was being contemplated.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and David Lewis, Additional reporting by Paul Lorgerie; Writing by Aaron Ross and Alessandra Prentice; editing by John Stonestreet and Nick Macfie)

8/20/2020 Israel Deal Should Remove Any Hurdle To F-35 Sale, UAE Official Says
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter hovers in an aerial display during a
media preview of the Singapore Airshow in Singapore February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Edgar Su
    DUBAI/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates’ accord to normalise ties with Israel should remove “any hurdle” for the United States to sell the F-35 stealth fighter jet to the Gulf Arab state, a senior Emirati official said on Thursday.
    The United States has sold the F-35 to allies, including Turkey, South Korea, Japan and Israel, but sales to the Gulf require a deeper review due to U.S. policy for Israel to maintain a military advantage in the Middle East.
    “We have legitimate requests that are there. We ought to get them … the whole idea of a state of belligerency or war with Israel no longer exists,” Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in an online interview with the Atlantic Council.
    However, he said the UAE had not made any new requests to the Americans since the deal with Israel.
    The Gulf state, one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the fighter jet made by Lockheed Martin Corp, which Israel has used in combat.
    An industry insider has told Reuters the United States is eyeing the sale of F-35s to the UAE in a side agreement to the UAE-Israel deal.
    However, any F-35 sale could take years to negotiate and deliver, while Israel’s prime minister has said his country would oppose any sale, citing a need to maintain Israeli military superiority in the region.
    Ellen Lord, the Pentagon’s undersecretary of defence for acquisition and sustainment and a leader in the U.S. weapons export process, told reporters on Thursday that in general, the United States aims to reach a letter of agreement for new F-35 sales in about 6 months.    She referred questions on the UAE deal to the State Department.
    A State Department spokesman deferred to Trump’s comments from a news conference on Wednesday in which he said, “They’d like to buy F-35s, we’ll see what happens, it’s under review.”
    Poland, the most recent F-35 customer, purchased 32 of the jets in January, but will not receive its first delivery until 2024.    Any sale would also need congressional approval.
    Washington guarantees that Israel receives more advanced American weapons than Arab states, giving it what is labelled a “Qualitative Military Edge” over its neighbours.
    “The UAE expects that its requirements will be accepted and we feel that with the signing of this peace treaty in the coming weeks or months … that any hurdle towards this should no longer be there,” Gargash said.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Mike Stone in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Toby Chopra, Mark Potter and Dan Grebler)

8/21/2020 U.N. Team Meets Detained Mali President As Coup Supporters Plan To Rally
FILE PHOTO: Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita poses for a picture during the G5 Sahel
summit in Nouakchott, Mauritania June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – U.N. human rights officials met overnight with Mali’s ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and other officials who have been held by mutineers since a military coup earlier this week, the U.N. mission there said on Friday.
    There has been no word from Keita since Tuesday, when he dissolved parliament and then resigned after being detained at gunpoint, deepening the crisis facing a country struggling to fend off an insurgency by Islamist militants.
    The human rights team was given access to Keita and other detainees, the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINUSMA, said on Twitter.    It provided no details on what was said or on the condition of the captives.
    The streets of the capital Bamako were calm for the third straight day on Friday ahead of a mass rally planned by an opposition coalition that led protests against Keita before the coup and has since embraced the mutineers.
    Junta leaders have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.    But the military overthrow has dismayed international and regional powers, who fear it could further destabilise the former French colony and West Africa’s entire Sahel region.
    A coup in 2012 helped hasten a takeover of northern Mali by al Qaeda-linked militants, and al Qaeda and Islamic State affiliates are active in the north and centre of the country.
    A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is expected to arrive soon in Bamako, after the bloc held an emergency summit on Thursday aimed at reversing the coup.
    The mission, led by former Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan, intends “to negotiate the immediate release of the president and also ensure the restoration of constitutional government,” Jonathan’s spokesman said, adding that the timing of the visit is not yet confirmed.
    ECOWAS has already suspended Mali’s membership, shut off borders and halted financial flows to the country.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Toby Chopra)
[Members: Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’ Ivoire, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Senegal and Togo]

8/21/2020 Saudi Price For Ties With Israel Is Palestinian State: Saudi Royal
FILE PHOTO: Former Head of Saudi intelligence and current Saudi King Faisal Center for Research and
Islamic Studies Chairman Prince Turki Al Faisal Al Saud attends a close session meeting at the
IISS Regional Security Summit - The Manama Dialogue in Manama, December 8, 2013. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s price for normalising relations with Israel is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, a senior member of the Saudi royal family reaffirmed on Friday.
    Prince Turki al-Faisal was apparently responding to U.S. President Donald Trump who said on Wednesday he expected Saudi Arabia to join a deal announced last week by Israel and the United Arab Emirates to normalise diplomatic ties.
    The UAE is only the third Arab state in more than 70 years to forge full relations with Israel.    Under the U.S.-brokered deal, Israel shelved plans to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank, which Palestinians seek as part of a future state.
    The UAE said Israel’s commitment had kept alive the possibility of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Israel hitherto had no formal ties with Gulf Arab states but shared concerns with the UAE about Iran’s regional influence and actions, along with the UAE’s role as a regional business hub, led to a limited thaw and discreet contacts in recent years.
    The deal raised speculation that other U.S.-backed Gulf Arab countries might follow.    But Prince Turki said Saudi Arabia, the biggest Gulf Arab power which has traditionally guided policy towards Israel, expected a higher return from Israel.
    “Any Arab state that is considering following the UAE should demand in return a price, and it should be an expensive price,” he wrote in the Saudi newspaper Asharq al-Awsat.
    “The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has set a price for concluding peace between Israel and the Arabs – it is the creation of a sovereign Palestinian state with Jerusalem as capital, as provided for by the initiative of the late King Abdullah.”
    That 2002 Arab League plan offered Israel normalised ties in return for Israeli withdrawal from all territories – the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem – captured in the 1967 Middle East war, and a Palestinian state there.
    But Prince Turki also voiced understanding for the UAE’s decision, noting that Riyadh’s close ally had secured a key condition – a halt to Israeli annexation plans.
    In the first Saudi reaction to the UAE-Israeli deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan said on Wednesday Riyadh remained committed to the Arab peace initiative.
    Prince Turki, a former ambassador to Washington and ex-intelligence chief, holds no government office now but remains influential as current chairman of the King Faisal Center for Research and Islamic Studies.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/21/2020 After Hagia Sophia, Turkey’s Historic Chora Church Also Switched To Mosque
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan reconverted the historic Chora church, one of Istanbul’s most celebrated Byzantine buildings, into a mosque on Friday, a month after opening the famed Hagia Sophia to Muslim worship.
    The mediaeval Church of the Holy Saviour in Chora, built near the ancient city walls of Constantinople, contains 14th century Byzantine mosaics and frescoes showing scenes from biblical stories.
    They were plastered over after the city was conquered by the Muslim Ottomans in 1453, but brought to light again when – like Hagia Sophia – the building was converted to a museum by Turkey’s secular republic more than 70 years ago.
    Erdogan, whose AK Party is rooted in political Islam, has positioned himself as a champion of Turkey’s pious Muslims and last month joined tens of thousands of worshippers in the first prayers at Hagia Sophia in 86 years.
    The move was sharply criticised by church leaders and some Western countries, who said that reconverting Hagia Sophia exclusively for Muslim worship risked deepening religious rifts.
    Last year a Turkish court annulled a 1945 government decision converting Chora – known as Kariye in Turkish – into a museum run by the Education Ministry.
    On Friday, an edict signed by Erdogan and published in Turkey’s official gazette declared “the management of the Kariye Mosque be transferred to the Religious Affairs Directorate, and (the mosque) opened to worship.”
    A church was first built at the site in the 4th century, but most of the existing building dates to an 11th century church that was partly rebuilt 200 years later following an earthquake.
    Erdogan’s edict on Friday did not say when the first Muslim prayers would be held at Chora, or what arrangements would be made for the Christian artworks there.
    At Hagia Sophia, curtains have been drawn in front of an image facing worshippers of Mary and the infant Jesus.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans/Mark Heinrich)

8/21/2020 Gaza-Israel Violence Prompts Stepped-Up Mediation Efforts by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Rami Ayyub
Smoke and flame are seen following an Israeli air strike in the southern Gaza Strip August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA/TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Gaza militants fired rockets towards Israel, which responded with air strikes overnight, the Israeli military said, in the most serious escalation of cross-border violence in months, prompting mediators to step up de-escalation efforts.
    There were no reports of injuries on either side.    An Israeli military spokeswoman said its Iron Dome system intercepted nine of 12 rockets.
    Anticipating Israeli retaliation, Hamas, Gaza’s Islamist ruler, routinely evacuates personnel from its sites.
    Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow more investment, in part by permitting Palestinians to launch helium balloons carrying incendiary material that have torched tracts of Israeli farmland in recent weeks.
    “The Egyptians, the Qataris and (U.N. Middle East envoy) Nickolay Mladenov have stepped up their efforts in order to restore calm, but calm can only come if Israel agrees to demands presented by Hamas and other factions,” a Palestinian official told Reuters.
    Mladenov’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
    With tensions high, Israel has closed its only commercial crossing with Gaza, banned sea access and halted fuel imports into the coastal strip, causing its only power plant to shut down earlier this week.
    Egyptian mediators held talks in Gaza on Monday to restore calm but left without striking an agreement, Palestinian political sources said.
    Gaza’s Joint Command of armed factions, of which Hamas is a part, claimed responsibility for the rocket fire overnight, saying it would “respond to every attack by the enemy against its positions and against our people.”
    Buildings and vehicles in the southern Israeli city of Sderot were damaged, police said, and some Gaza commercial buildings and homes near the sites of Israeli air strikes on Hamas facilities were damaged.
    Later on Friday, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the military “will attack the attackers in turn, inflicting serious damage.”
    “The people of Gaza suffer because of Hamas and we will continue to protect the residents of the south and the citizens of Israel,” Gantz said following a meeting with military chiefs.
    Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum accused Israel of tightening restrictions on Gaza, which Israel has blockaded since 2007 citing security concerns from Hamas.
    Israel “undermines the life of (Gaza’s) people and bombs resistance positions, and therefore they have to bear responsibility and pay the price,” Barhoum said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv; Editing by Nick Macfie and Giles Elgood)

8/21/2020 Israel Commends U.S. Decision To Impose Iran Sanctions by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Thursday, Aug. 13, 2020 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces that full diplomatic ties will be established
with the United Arab Emirates in a U.S.-brokered deal, during a news conference, in Jerusalem. (Abir Sultan/Pool Photo via AP, File)
    Israel has praised the U.S. for its decision to reimpose sanctions on Iran.    On Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu commended the U.S. for imposing snap-back sanctions on the Ayatollah regime, while also stating that the president made the right decision.
    Netanyahu argued if Iran wants to be treated like a normal country then they must “start acting like a normal country.”    He went on to call on all world powers to offer their support for Washington.
    “Responsible countries should support the United States in seeking a real solution, one that will prevent Iran from building nuclear weapons,” stated the prime minister.    “Israel stands proudly and firmly with the United States, as do governments across the Middle East who opposed the JCPOA quietly, and now support the restoration of sanctions publicly.”
    The White House has argued Iran is in violation of the 2015 nuclear deal, which led to the process of restoring sanctions.

8/21/2020 Libya’s Tripoli-Based Government And Rival Parliament Take Steps To End Hostilities
Fayez Mustafa al-Sarraj, Libya's internationally recognised Prime Minister, speaks during
a news conference in Tripoli, Libya February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libya’s internationally recognised government in Tripoli announced a ceasefire on Friday and the leader of a rival parliament in eastern Libya also appealed for a halt to hostilities.
    The statements offered hope for a deescalation of a regionalised conflict that has wracked the country since a 2011 uprising, displacing hundreds of thousands, slashing oil production and opening space for migrant smugglers and militants.
    However, previous efforts to secure lasting truces and political settlements have stalled, and political leaders hold limited sway over armed groups in two broad factions that have been split between western and eastern Libya since 2014.
    The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA) faces east-Libyan based forces led by veteran commander Khalifa Haftar, who launched a 14-month offensive on Tripoli before Turkish military support for the GNA forced him to retreat in June.
    Both sides and their foreign backers have been mobilising around the central city of Sirte, though there has been little fighting in recent weeks.
    Following international calls for a ceasefire and a demilitarised zone around Sirte, on Friday the GNA said its head Fayez al-Sarraj had “issued instructions to all military forces to immediately cease fire and all combat operations in all Libyan territories.”
    There was no immediate comment from Haftar or his Libyan National Army (LNA), but the head of an eastern-based parliament aligned with Haftar issued a statement appealing for an end to hostilities across the country.
    The GNA and eastern parliament speaker Aguila Saleh both cited the spread of coronavirus as a reason for backing a ceasefire.
    Saleh is seen to have gained influence compared to Haftar since the LNA’s retreat from Tripoli.
    International involvement has often swung the course of Libya’s conflict since 2011, and has deepened since the LNA, which is backed by the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Russia, began its offensive on Tripoli in April 2019.
    Regional powers have long voiced support for a political solution while routinely violating an arms embargo on Libya, according to U.N. experts.
    On Friday, many welcomed the ceasefire push, including Egypt, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia.    Qatar, which is aligned with Turkey and the GNA, also praised the move.
    The GNA called for the lifting of a seven-month blockade on oil facilities that has all but stopped the country’s output, saying revenue should be held in a special account and only be released after a political deal was reached.
    The state-run National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it backed that proposal, but military forces should be withdrawn from oil facilities before any resumption of exports.
    Distribution of oil revenue has been a key source of tension between the two sides.    The acting U.N. envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams, said she “warmly welcomed the points of agreement” in the statements by Sarraj and Saleh, including calls for resuming oil production.
    U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “hopes the calls for a ceasefire will be respected immediately by armed forces from both sides.”
    The United Nations has been coordinating international efforts for military, political and economic deals in Libya following an international summit in January in Berlin.
(Reporting by Tripoli bureau; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams, Frances Kerry, Diane Craft and Cynthia Osterman)

8/22/2020 Erdogan Announces Biggest Turkish Gas Find In Black Sea by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the nation in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey announced its biggest natural gas discovery on Friday, a 320 billion cubic metre (11.3 trillion cubic feet) Black Sea field which President Tayyip Erdogan said was part of even bigger reserves and could come onstream as soon as 2023.
    If the gas can be commercially extracted, the discovery could transform Turkey’s dependence on Russia, Iran and Azerbaijan for energy imports.    Erdogan said his country was determined ultimately to become a net energy exporter.
    “Turkey has realised the biggest natural gas find of its history in the Black Sea,” he said in a widely anticipated televised address from an Ottoman palace in Istanbul, linked by video to a drill ship in the western Black Sea.
    The ship made the discovery about 100 nautical miles north of the Turkish coast.
    “This reserve is actually part of a much bigger source. God willing, much more will come,” Erdogan said.    “There will be no stopping until we become a net exporter in energy.”
    Analysts said it was not clear whether the 320 billion cubic metres he announced referred to total gas estimates or amounts that could be extracted, but that either way it represented a major discovery.
    “This is Turkey’s biggest-ever find by a wide margin, and one of the largest global discoveries of 2020,” said Thomas Purdie of consultancy Wood Mackenzie.
ECONOMIC BOOST
    Any reduction in Turkey’s energy import bill, which stood at $41 billion last year, would boost government finances and help ease a chronic current account deficit which has helped drive the lira to record lows against the dollar.
    “We will remove the current account deficit from the agenda of our country,” Finance Minister Berat Albayrak said, speaking from the deck of the Fatih drill ship.
    The lira has strengthened since Erdogan first told energy executives on Wednesday that he had “good news” to announce.    It slid as he detailed the find and was down 0.6% at 1500 GMT.
    Many officials and analysts have cautioned that it could take up to a decade for gas from the Black Sea find to come online, and would need billions of dollars of investment to build up the infrastructure for production and supply.
    But Sohbet Karbuz, director of hydrocarbons at the Paris-based Mediterranean Observatory for Energy, said Turkey may move ahead swiftly with investment decisions.
    “The process will move very quickly, in terms of financing, time and procedures.    Help will probably be needed from foreign companies from a technical and technological perspective but I see 2023 as a reasonable target,” Karbuz said.
    The gas find is located in waters 2,100 metres deep, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said, with drilling extending another 1,400 metres below the sea bed.    “We will go down a further 1,000 metres … and data shows we will probably reach gas there too.”
    In a later interview with broadcaster TRT Haber, Donmez said the operation of the gas in the field will be handled by state owned companies.
    A Turkish source told Reuters on Thursday that the discovery contains expected reserves of 800 billion cubic metres.
    As well as the Black Sea, Turkey has been exploring for hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean, where its survey operations in disputed waters have drawn protests from Greece and Cyprus.    Greek and Turkish warships shadowing a Turkish survey vessel collided there last week.
    Erdogan said operations in the Mediterranean would accelerate.
(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans, Nick Tattersall and Grant McCool)

8/22/2020 Israeli Protesters, Decrying Corruption, Keep Pressure On Netanyahu
People protest against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's alleged corruption and economic hardship stemming from
lockdown during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) crisis, near his residence in Jerusalem August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Thousands of Israelis protested in Jerusalem on Saturday against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and the summer outcry denouncing alleged corruption and the government’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic showed little signs of abating.
    A large crowd marched in the streets outside Netanyahu’s official residence, waving signs and flags and calling for his resignation.    Some protesters clashed with police, who arrested at least seven people.    One police officer was injured.
    The protest movement has gained traction in the summer months, with critics accusing Netanyahu of being distracted by a corruption case against him while COVID-19 cases have spiked. He denies wrongdoing.
    On Friday Israel passed 100,000 reported coronavirus cases.    It has recorded 809 COVID-19 deaths among its 9 million population. The country is in a recession and unemployment hovers above 20%.
    Netanyahu has condemned the demonstrations against him, accusing protesters of trampling democracy and the Israeli media of encouraging them.    He has argued that Israel’s economy is better positioned than many developed countries hit by the global pandemic.
    Saturday’s protest comes just days before an Aug. 25 deadline for the government to pass a state budget.    A failure to do so will lead to general elections.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Andrea Ricci)

8/22/2020 Mali’s Coup Leaders Meet Mediators Seeking Return To Civilian Rule
FILE PHOTO: A screenshot shows a teleconference during the extraordinary Summit of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) Authority
of Heads of State and Government on the Socio-Political Situation in Mali August 20, 2020. ECOWAS/Handout via REUTERS
    BAMAKO/LONDON (Reuters) – A key meeting on Saturday between Mali’s coup leaders and mediators from West Africa’s regional bloc seeking a return to civilian rule ended after just 20 minutes.
    Tuesday’s overthrow of Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita has been condemned abroad, but celebrated by many in a country battling an Islamist insurgency and months of political unrest.
    A delegation from the 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) earlier arrived in the capital, Bamako, for talks aimed at reversing the overthrow of Keita.
    The bloc has taken a hard line on the coup, shutting borders and halting financial flows – a move diplomats said was as much about warning opponents at home as stabilising Mali.
    Ahead of a series of meetings with the mutineers and other groups, the head of the delegation, Nigeria’s former President Goodluck Jonathan, sounded optimistic.
    “I believe at the end of the day we will come up with something that is best for the people and is good for ECOWAS and the international community,” he told journalists.
    The most-anticipated meeting was held in the defence ministry, where ECOWAS mediators in face masks sat at a long table opposite junta leader Assimi Goita, who wore a desert camouflage uniform and was flanked by other military officers in berets and fatigues, photos on Twitter showed.
    The talks were set to last 90 minutes, according to a provisional ECOWAS schedule, seen by Reuters.    But the meeting ended after just 20 minutes, a Reuters reporter said.
    It was not clear if the schedule had been changed or talks were cut short.    ECOWAS and the coup leaders, who call themselves the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP), have yet to comment on the discussions.
    The CNSP has controlled the country since Tuesday, when the mutineers detained Keita at gunpoint and forced him to resign. They have promised to oversee a transition to elections within a “reasonable” amount of time.
    The ouster of Keita, known as IBK, has been welcomed by many in Mali, which was rocked by months of protests calling for his resignation over alleged corruption and worsening security in areas where affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State are active.
TEAR GAS
    The presidents of Ivory Coast and Guinea are among those pushing for the tough ECOWAS response, one diplomat said, as both have faced violent public protests to their third-term bids and want the bloc to show it will not allow power grabs in its own backyard.
    “They cannot tolerate this taking place.    They are taking it very personally.    It is on their doorstep and they think they are next,” a second regional diplomat said.
    After three days of post-coup calm in the capital Bamako, police used tear gas earlier on Saturday when a scuffle broke out between a group of 50 pro-Keita protesters and local residents who threw stones, an eyewitness told Reuters.
    “Reinstating IBK is out of the question. The only thing they (the delegation) can achieve is the transition.    Under the rules of ECOWAS, ECOWAS should midwife the transition,” one of the diplomats said, referring to the outcome of the delegation’s visit.
    On Friday, thousands of the coup’s supporters gathered in a central square in Bamako to celebrate the takeover.    There is no outward sign ECOWAS’s suspension of financial relations is yet being felt.
(Reporting by Paul Lorgerie and David Lewis; Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo and Idrissa Sangare; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by James Drummond and Mark Potter)

8/22/2020 Sudan’s Hamdok Says Government Ready To Cooperate With ICC Over Darfur
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok and German Chancellor Angela Merkel (not pictured) address
the media at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s government is ready to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) for those accused of war crimes to appear before the court, Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Saturday, a list that includes ousted President Omar al-Bashir.
    The country has also come a long way towards being removed from the U.S. state sponsors of terror list, Hamdok said in a televised address he gave on the anniversary of his ascent to office.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Nadine Awadalla and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Editing by David Clarke)

8/23/2020 U.S.-Led Troops Withdraw From Iraq’s Taji Base by Maher Nazeh and Thaier Al-Sudani
Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, shakes
hand with Brigadier General Salah Abdullah during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition
troops to Iraqi security forces, in the base north of Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Reuters) – United States-led international coalition troops withdrew from Iraq’s Taji military base on Sunday and handed it over to Iraqi security forces, Reuters witnesses and the coalition said.
    The base, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, had been the site of frequent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias targeting U.S.-led troops in recent months.
    “The movement of coalition military personnel is part of a long-range plan coordinated with the government of Iraq,” the coalition said in a statement, adding that Camp Taji has historically held up to 2,000 coalition members, most of whom have departed this summer.
    Remaining coalition troops will depart in the coming days after finalising the handing over of equipment to Iraqi security forces, it added.
    This was the eighth transfer of a coalition portion of an Iraqi base back to Iraqi forces, it said.
    The withdrawal came days after U.S. President Donald Trump redoubled his promise to withdraw the few U.S. troops still in the country.    The United States has had about 5,000 troops stationed in the country and coalition allies a further 2,500.
    Iraq’s parliament had voted this year for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq and U.S. and other coalition troops have been leaving as part of a drawdown.
    The vote came after a U.S. air strike on Baghdad airport killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
(Reporting by Maher Nazeh and Thaier al-Sudani; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Goodman)

8/23/2020 U.S. Secretary Of State Pompeo To Visit Sudan In Coming Days, Official Says
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the
U.N. Security Council about Iran's alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of
sanctions against Iran at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Pool
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to visit Sudan in the coming days, a Sudanese government official said on Sunday.
    Sudan has been normalising relations with the United States since the overthrow of former leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019 but is still seeking removal from a list of countries the U.S. considers as state sponsors of terrorism.
    Pompeo is also due to visit Israel and the United Arab Emirates on Monday and Tuesday following an accord between the two countries this month to forge full relations.
    The Sudanese official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, declined to give details of Pompeo’s visit.
    Ending the terrorism listing is a top priority for Sudan’s transitional military-civilian ruling council and the government of technocrats that serves under it.
    The listing dates to 1993 and makes Sudan, struggling with a deep economic crisis, technically ineligible for debt relief and financing from international lenders.
    A senior government source told Reuters last week that significant progress was expected on the issue in the coming weeks.
    In February, the head of Sudan’s ruling council met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but cast doubt on any rapid normalisation of ties.
    Sudan sacked its foreign ministry spokesman this week after he called the UAE’s decision to become the third Arab country to normalise relations with Israel “a brave and bold step.”
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/23/2020 Pompeo To Visit Israel And UAE With Peace, Iran And China On Agenda, Sources Say
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the
U.N. Security Council about Iran's alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of
sanctions against Iran at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will visit Israel on Monday and the United Arab Emirates a day later to discuss the countries’ normalisation deal, two sources briefed on his itinerary said.
    Also on Pompeo’s agenda will be the security challenges posed by Iran and China in the region, said the sources, who declined to be identified by name or nationality.
    Israel and the UAE announced earlier this month that they would normalise diplomatic ties and forge a broad new relationship.
    Under the accord, which U.S. President Donald Trump helped broker, Israel agreed to suspend its planned annexation of areas of the occupied West Bank.
    The deal also firms up opposition to regional power Iran, which the UAE, Israel and the United States view as the main threat in the conflict-riven Middle East.
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, is expected to travel to Israel and the UAE in early September, and may stop in other countries as well, an administration official said.    Kushner will be accompanied by Avi Berkowitz, Trump’s Middle East envoy, the official said.
    Kushner and Berkowitz will thank Israel and the UAE for completing the deal, the official said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams, Steve Holland, and Jan Wolfe; Editing by David Clarke and Daniel Wallis)

8/23/2020 Airplane Mode And Prepaid SIMs: Some Israelis Dodge COVID-19 Tracking by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A passenger wearing a protective mask is seen through a window as she travels on the light rail in
Jerusalem amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s cellphone surveillance for coronavirus contact-tracing may have overcome challenges by privacy watchdogs, but the state tracking policy is hard put to deal with low-tech evasion methods seemingly lifted from TV cop shows.
    Some Israelis, fearing a quarantine order after unwittingly being near a coronavirus carrier, are rendering themselves untraceable while in public by switching their cellphones to “airplane mode” or using prepaid “burner” SIM cards instead.
    Such actions are not illegal and, although there is only anecdotal evidence for their prevalence, they drew remonstration from Communication Minister Yoaz Hendel on Sunday.
    “This is a problem,” he told Ynet TV.    “Ultimately, we are not a police state.    We will not manage to compel the citizens of the State of Israel to keep to the health regulations.”
    The surveillance, initially instituted without parliamentary oversight by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been anchored in legislation at the behest of Israel’s Supreme Court after it heard challenges by civil liberties groups who worry the mass-surveillance is ripe for abuse.
    Modeled on a counter-terrorism technology and in force since March, the system back-tracks movements of people who have tested positive for the virus to determine who came within 2 metres (yards) of them for more than 15 minutes while they were infectious.
    Having been identified by their own cellphone locations, these potential new carriers are then ordered over SMS to self-isolate for a period of 14 days from the moment of exposure.
    Around 80,000 people per week have received such notifications since July 1, according to officials – an economic drag for a country of 9 million.
    Officials say the surveillance has detected some 30% of coronavirus cases in Israel.    They also acknowledge a false-positive rate of around 16%, sometimes due to a vertical blind-spot in the technology which risks flagging people above or below a coronavirus carrier in a multi-storey building.
    Such instances may be overturned on appeal – a process that can take several days, during which the quarantine is in force.
    Israel offers a voluntary coronavirus app, HaMagen, whose latest upgrade includes Bluetooth contact-tracing for greater precision.    But with users complaining about battery drainage, its market penetration has been far below the 60% required for the state surveillance technology to be dropped, officials say.
    Israel has recorded 102,380 coronavirus cases and 834 deaths.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry)

8/23/2020 Sanctions In Focus As West African Mediators Meet Mali Coup Leaders
Colonel Ismael Wague, the junta's spokesman of the National Committee for the Salvation of the People (CNSP)
which overthrew Mali's President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, walks out after the meeting with Economic
Community of West African States (ECOWAS) mediators in Bamako, Mali August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mamadou Keita
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Talks between Mali’s military junta and mediators from West Africa’s regional bloc were underway in Bamako on Sunday in an ongoing effort to return the country to civilian rule.
    The delegation from the Economic Community of West African States, led by Nigeria’s former president Goodluck Jonathan, met junta leaders led by Colonel Assimi Goita behind closed doors for several hours on Sunday morning, before adjourning for lunch.
    A senior officer close to the junta told Reuters that the morning’s discussion had focused on the bloc’s sanctions on Mali following the military coup.
    The two sides also met briefly, for about 20 minutes on Saturday.
    “The discussions are going very well,” Jonathan told journalists as he stepped out during Sunday’s break, without offering any further details.
    Another officer close to the junta said the West Africa delegation had made proposals which would be examined.
    The 15-nation Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), weary of prolonged instability in Mali and the potential for similar power grabs in the region, have taken a hard line on the coup.
    It suspended Mali from its decision-making institutions, shut borders and halted financial flows with the country.
    The overthrow of Mali President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Tuesday has been condemned abroad, but celebrated by many in a country battling an Islamist insurgency and months of political unrest following a disputed legislative election in March.
    While the delegation arrived in Bamako on Saturday with the aim of reversing the coup, a diplomat told Reuters that reinstating Keita – who is being held by the junta – was out of the question, adding that the only thing it could achieve was a transition.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo, Paul Lorgerie and Idrissa Sangare in Bamako; Writing Bate Felix; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

8/23/2020 Turkey Extends Work Of Mediterranean Exploration Ship Through August 27
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks through binoculars as Greek and French vessels sail in formation during a joint military exercise in Mediterranean sea,
in this undated handout image obtained by Reuters on August 13, 2020. Greek Ministry of Defence/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Sunday that its Oruc Reis exploration vessel will now carry out seismic surveys in a disputed part of the eastern Mediterranean until Aug. 27, in a move likely to stoke tensions in the region.
    Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, vehemently disagree over claims to hydrocarbon resources in the area based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands.
    Earlier this month, Turkey said the Oruc Reis would conduct seismic exploration until Aug. 23 in waters claimed by Greece, Cyprus and Turkey.    Athens has called the survey illegal.
    On Sunday, the Turkish navy issued a new advisory saying that the work of the Oruc Reis and two other vessels, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, would continue until Aug. 27.
    Seismic surveys are part of preparatory work for potential hydrocarbon exploration.    Turkey and Greece are also at odds over issues such as overflights in the Aegean Sea and the ethnically divided island of Cyprus.
    Turkey has also been exploring for hydrocarbon resources in the Black Sea.    On Friday, President Tayyip Erdogan announced the discovery of a 320 billion cubic metre (11.3 trillion cubic feet) gas field, the largest such find in Turkish history.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

8/23/2020 U.S.-Led Troops Withdraw From Iraq’s Taji Base by Maher Nazeh and Thaier Al-Sudani
Maj. Gen. Kenneth P. Ekman, Deputy Commander of Combined Joint Task Force-Operation Inherent Resolve, shakes hand
with Brigadier General Salah Abdullah during a handover ceremony of Taji military base from US-led coalition
troops to Iraqi security forces, in the base north of Baghdad, Iraq August 23, 2020. REUTERS/Thaier Al-Sudani
    CAMP TAJI, Iraq (Reuters) – United States-led international coalition troops withdrew from Iraq’s Taji military base on Sunday and handed it over to Iraqi security forces, Reuters witnesses and the coalition said.
    The base, 20 km (12 miles) north of Baghdad, had been the site of frequent rocket attacks by Iran-backed militias targeting U.S.-led troops in recent months.
    “The movement of coalition military personnel is part of a long-range plan coordinated with the government of Iraq,” the coalition said in a statement, adding that Camp Taji has historically held up to 2,000 coalition members, most of whom have departed this summer.
    Remaining coalition troops will depart in the coming days after finalising the handing over of equipment to Iraqi security forces, it added.
    This was the eighth transfer of a coalition portion of an Iraqi base back to Iraqi forces, it said.
    The withdrawal came days after U.S. President Donald Trump redoubled his promise to withdraw the few U.S. troops still in the country.    The United States has had about 5,000 troops stationed in the country and coalition allies a further 2,500.
    Iraq’s parliament had voted this year for the departure of foreign troops from Iraq and U.S. and other coalition troops have been leaving as part of a drawdown.
    The vote came after a U.S. air strike on Baghdad airport killed Iranian general Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
(Reporting by Maher Nazeh and Thaier al-Sudani; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and David Goodman)

8/23/2020 Tunisia’s Incoming PM Plans Restructuring Of Economic Ministries by Tarek Amara
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's Interior Minister Hichem Mechichi takes the oath of office during the country's new government
swearing-in ceremony at the Carthage Palace outside the capital Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2020. Fethi Belaid/Pool via REUTERS
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    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s premier-designate plans to gather the ministries of finance, investment and state property into a single department to be led by economist Ali Kooli under plans to revamp government and revive the economy, political sources said.
    Hichem Mechichi, a political independent, is expected to announce his technocratic government’s 23 ministers within the next few days, the sources told Reuters on Sunday.    Kooli is CEO of Arab Banking Corporation(ABC Bank) in Tunisia.
    Mechichi was proposed by President Kais Saied last month to replace Elyes Fakhfakh, who quit over allegations of conflict of interest, deepening a political crisis at a time when international lenders are asking Tunis to make painful reforms.
    Authorities have been struggling to defuse constant protests over widespread unemployment, lack of investment for development and poor health, electricity and water services.
    Western countries have hailed Tunisia for its comparatively successful transition to democracy since the 2011 revolution that ended decades of autocratic rule.
    Many Tunisians have grown frustrated since then over economic stagnation, a decline in living standards and decay in public services while political parties often seem more focused on staying in office instead of tackling problems.
    Mechichi, 46, needs to form a government capable of winning a confidence vote in parliament by a simple majority by Wednesday or face dissolution of parliament by the president and another election, deepening instability.
    Mechichi said earlier this month his government would focus on rescuing public finances and easing social hardships, saying that while political turmoil had dragged out, “some Tunisians have not found drinking water.”
    Tunisia’s tourism-dependent economy shrank 21.6 pct in the second quarter of 2020, compared to the same period last year, due to the coronavirus crisis.
    The government said last month it had asked four creditor countries to delay debt repayments, as it announced more pessimistic economic and budget forecasts for 2020 because of the coronavirus pandemic.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/23/2020 Iraqi Prime Minister Promises Crackdown On Regional Violence by OAN Newsroom
Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi meets with President Donald Trump in the Oval Office
of the White House, Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    Iraq’s prime minister has vowed to crack down on violence in the southern region of the country.    On Saturday, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi told residents he’s seeking justice for the anti-government protesters who were killed and wounded this week.
    This came after residents set fire to the entrance of a local parliament building in protest of the government’s lack of response to the violence.
    Earlier in the day, Al-Kadhimi met with military and security personnel in the area to plan how to tackle the regional unrest.    He also recently visited the White House to discuss the future of Iraq-U.S. relations.

Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, center, speaks to journalists during his visit to Basra, Iraq, Saturday, Aug. 22, 2020. (AP Photo/Nabil al-Jurani)
    “This is a message to all criminals and killers: this is a new government that is working to establish the prerequisites of security,” stated the prime minister.    “I’d like to tell everyone who carries a weapon, contrary to the government laws, they won’t escape punishment and the killers will be brought to justice very soon.”
    Residents have claimed the previous government touted empty promises.    They are hoping Al-Kadhimi remains true to his word.

8/24/2020 Explosion On Syria Gas Pipeline A ‘Terrorist’ Attack: Minister
A view of fire from an explosion on the Arab Gas Pipeline is seen between the towns of Ad Dumayr and Adra, northwest
of the capital of Damascus, Syria, in this handout released by SANA on August 24, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – An explosion on the Arab Gas Pipeline that caused a power blackout in Syria on Monday was the result of a “terrorist” attack, state media cited the energy minister as
    Ikhbariya TV channel showed footage of a large fire after the explosion, which officials said occurred between the towns of Ad Dumayr and Adra, northwest of the capital of Damascus.    The channel later said the fire had been extinguished.
    “Assessments show that the explosion … was the result of a terrorist attack,” state news agency SANA quoted Minister of Petroleum and Mineral Resources Ali Ghanem as saying.    He did not provide further detail.
    The electricity minister earlier said that power was gradually being restored to the country’s provinces.    A resident in Damascus said power had returned in the capital.
    In 2013, much of Syria was hit by a power cut after rebel shelling hit a gas pipeline during the country’s civil war.
    The Arab Gas Pipeline system extends from Egypt into Jordan and Syria.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo and Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut; editing by Christian Schmollinger and Jason Neely)

8/24/2020 Nightmares, Flashbacks, Fatigue: Beirut Faces Mental Health Crisis After Blast by Raya Jalabi and Michael Georgy
Lourdes Fakhri, 24, poses for a picture inside her damaged house, in the aftermath of a massive explosion at the port area, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – More than two weeks after a massive explosion tore through Beirut killing 181 people and leaving entire neighbourhoods in ruins, Sandra Abinader still jumps at the slightest sound.
    “The other day, I was trying to open a jar and the popping sound made me jump back and scream.    I felt for a second I needed to run away.”
    Despite recognising the magnitude of her ordeal, Sandra, 18, said she was not interested in seeking professional help.    “We’re used to dealing with our problems on our own,” she said, stoically.
    Her attitude is common in Lebanon, a country hardened by past wars and sectarian conflict and where stigma still rules attitudes towards mental health.
    But the blast caught Lebanon at an extremely vulnerable point following months of severe economic crisis compounded by the coronavirus pandemic.
    Now practitioners are warning of a national mental health emergency as people begin to show signs of trauma from the explosion, including nightmares, flashbacks, crying, anxiety, anger and exhaustion.
    Psychologists say this is being exacerbated by the constant stream of images on Lebanese TV and social media showing the blast and its bloody aftermath.
    “Every time we say it can’t get worse in Lebanon, it somehow does,” said Jad Daou, a volunteer with Lebanese mental health NGO Embrace, who mans the phones at its crisis clinic.    “A lot of people are feeling hopeless about the entire situation here in Lebanon.”
    The explosion was a tipping point. Embrace, which usually receives between 150-200 calls a month, says more people have been reaching out since the blast.    The group has stationed volunteers in one of the affected neighbourhoods and has started home visits.
    Many mental health professionals have mobilised in the wake of the blast to offer their services and post tips on social media, but some are struggling to cope themselves.
    “I never had psychologists say, ‘we are not ready to talk at this moment.    I need time to heal for myself,'” said psychologist Warde Bou Daher.    “But the trauma affected everyone … they need to heal their own wounds before being able to help others.”
    While Sandra insists she has not cried once since it happened, her cousin cannot hold back tears as she recounts her experience of the explosion, which wounded 6,000 people and was so loud it could be heard as far as Cyprus, 100 miles (160 kms) away.
    When the blast hit, Lourdes Fakhri ran from the supermarket where she works to her home in the Karantina neighbourhood near the port, one of the worst affected, fearing that her family had been killed.
    “There was rubble everywhere, so high.    I could picture them all lying there on the floor, with our house on top of them.”
    Lourdes’ parents and six siblings survived but the feeling of terror has remained with her.
    For older Lebanese, the blast triggered memories of the 1975-1990 civil war and the 2006 war with Israel among others.
    Many have never dealt with their traumas and don’t know how to help their children, said Ola Khodor, a 25-year-old child psychologist.
    “A lot are telling their children that nothing happened, that it was a game,” Khodor said.    “The child deserves to know the truth – not the very detailed truth, but they deserve to know what exactly happened to allow them to grieve and to process the event like they need to.”
    Experts say trauma begins to set in several weeks after an event, as people progress out of a period of “acute stress.”    Unicef on Friday estimated that half of the children they have surveyed in Beirut are already showing signs.
    One father told Reuters that when his four-year-old son came back home for the first time after the explosion, he invented a game called “pretend boom” in which his playhouse was hit by an explosion and rabbits needed rescue from the broken glass.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

8/24/2020 Secretary Pompeo Makes First Stop In Israel For Middle East Tour by OAN Newsroom
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make joint
statements to the press after meeting, in Jerusalem, Monday, Aug. 24, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool via AP)
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Israel to discuss the recent peace deal with the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
    While meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv Monday, Pompeo reaffirmed America’s commitment to providing military aid for Israel.    He also ensured that the UAE would be supplied with equipment to protect their people from the same threat.

8/24/2020 Erdogan Says Greece ‘Sowing Chaos’ In Mediterranean
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media after attending Friday prayers at Hagia
Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey’s navy will not back down as Greece “sows chaos” in the eastern Mediterranean Sea, where the countries have deployed frigates in an escalating rhetorical confrontation over overlapping resource claims.
    “The ones who throw Greece in front of the Turkish navy will not stand behind them,” Erdogan said after a cabinet meeting.    He added that Athens did not have the right to broadcast maritime navigational and weather advisories, known as Navtex, in areas claimed by Ankara.
    “Greece has declared its own Navtex unlawfully and in a spoiled manner…With this approach, Greece has sown a chaos that it will not be able to escape from,” Erdogan said.
    Turkey has extended the exploration mission of its Oruc Reis survey ship in a disputed part of the eastern Mediterranean to Aug. 27, stoking tensions in the region. Athens has called the survey illegal.
    Greek government spokesman Stelios Petsas told reporters on Monday that Greece had issued a Navtex advisory also expiring on Aug. 27.
    “Greece is responding calmly and with readiness both on a diplomatic and on an operational level.    And with national confidence it does everything needed to defend its sovereign rights,” Pestas said.
    Turkey and Greece, NATO allies, vehemently disagree over claims to hydrocarbon resources in the area based on conflicting views on the extent of their continental shelves in waters dotted with mostly Greek islands.
    Separately, Turkey’s defence ministry said maritime training involving Turkish and allied navy ships would be conducted in the eastern Mediterranean on Aug. 25.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Chris Reese and Alex Richardson)

8/24/2020 Gaza Reports First COVID-19 Cases In General Population, Declares Lockdown by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: Members of Palestinian security forces loyal to Hamas take part in a simulation exercise for preventing the spread of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Gaza City July 18, 2020. Picture taken July 18, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
    GAZA (Reuters) – Gaza reported its first cases of COVID-19 in the general population on Monday, as authorities confirmed four infections in a refugee camp and security forces declared a full lockdown for 48 hours.
    The cases were from a single family in central Gaza, a government spokesman said, amid concern over the territory’s potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital capacity.
    “A full curfew will be imposed starting tonight and in all of the Gaza Strip,” said Salama Marouf, chairman of the government’s media office.
    As rumours spread, people raced to supermarkets to stock up on food and hygiene supplies.    Police vehicles toured the streets using loudspeakers to urge Gazans to abide by the curfew.
    Gaza’s health ministry said the cases were uncovered after a woman traveled to the West Bank, where she tested positive.    A health ministry spokesman urged everyone who might have visited a supermarket outside a hospital in central Gaza to quarantine themselves and report to medics immediately.
    Until Monday the 360 square-kilometre coastal strip, home to 2 million Palestinians, had reported no infections outside quarantine centres.
    Arrivals had to spend 21 days in the centres on orders from Hamas, the armed Islamist group that has controlled Gaza for over a decade.
    The 40-km-long area is flanked by Israel to the north and east and Egypt to the south.    Both countries have imposed restrictions on movement, citing security concerns over Hamas, which is considered a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States.
    As a result most Gazans have had little access to the outside world for years due to the blockade, which many compared to a permanent lockdown.
    “Having this happen on top of the existing health system challenges is a matter of concern for us,” said Dr Ayadil Saparbekov, head of the World Health Organization’s local Health Emergencies Team.
    “We have been beefing up our support before this event by providing medical equipment and personal protective equipment as well as laboratory testing equipment,” he said.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

8/25/2020 Gaza In Lockdown To Try To Contain Its First COVID-19 Outbreak by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinians ride a horse-drawn cart at an almost empty street during a lockdown after Gaza reported its first cases of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in the general population, in Gaza City August 25, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – A lockdown took hold in Gaza on Tuesday after confirmation of the first cases of COVID-19 in the general population of the Palestinian enclave, whose restricted borders have spared it from wide infection.
    Health authorities in the Hamas Islamist-run territory of two million people are concerned over the potentially disastrous combination of poverty, densely populated refugee camps and limited hospital facilities in dealing with an outbreak.
    A government spokesman said four cases of the coronavirus were confirmed in a single family in a refugee camp, the first in Gaza that did not involve people quarantined in border facilities after crossing into the coastal enclave from Egypt and Israel.
    Citing security concerns, both Egypt and Israel maintain tight restrictions at the Gaza frontier, leaving Gazans with little access to the outside world for years.
    With businesses, schools and mosques ordered closed late on Monday for at least 48 hours, Gaza’s streets were largely deserted.    But some people scrambled to stock up on essentials in groceries and bakeries, a limited number of which were allowed to remain open.
    Police vehicles used loudspeakers to urge Gazans to abide by the lockdown.
    The health crisis came amid heightened tensions along the Israel-Gaza border, where Palestinians have been launching sporadic rocket attacks and incendiary balloons that have burned fields in southern Israel.
    Israel has responded with air strikes against Hamas positions.
    “No war has ever forced the people into a strict curfew (but) a weak virus has confined two million in the Strip,” Freih Abu Middain, a Gaza-based former justice minister, wrote on social media.    “All of (Israel’s) F-16s, missiles and tanks couldn’t do that.”
    Gaza’s health ministry said the four COVID-19 cases were uncovered after a woman travelled to the West Bank, where she tested positive.    It said it was carrying out contact tracing to stem the spread of the infection.
    The ministry said there have been 110 cases of the coronavirus inside border quarantine facilities and one death since the world pandemic began.
    Last month, the Gaza director of the World Health Organization, Abdelnaser Soboh, said the territory’s health system could deal with only 500 positive cases at one time.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Angus MacSwan)

8/25/2020 Pompeo Flies To Sudan Direct From Israel As U.S. Pushes Stronger Links
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (not pictured) make joint
statements during a news conference after a meeting in Jerusalem, August 24, 2020. Debbie Hill/Pool via REUTERS
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo landed in Sudan after flying non-stop from Israel on Tuesday, on what he said was the first official direct flight between the two countries, as the United States promotes stronger Sudan-Israel ties.
    His visit is part of a regional tour following an accord between Israel and the UAE this month to forge full relations, and comes as Israel and the United States push more Arab countries to follow.
    “Happy to announce that we are on the FIRST official NONSTOP flight from Israel to Sudan!” Pompeo said on Twitter after taking off from Tel Aviv.
    Pompeo will meet Sudan’s prime minister and the head of its ruling council during a brief stopover in Khartoum to discuss U.S. support for the civilian-led government and for “deepening the Sudan-Israel relationship,” according to the State Department.
    The United States has been restoring its own ties with Sudan following the ouster of former Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir in April 2019, and is pushing to be removed from the list of countries that Washington considers state sponsors of terrorism.
    Asked if Pompeo would announce a breakthrough in Sudan like normalization of ties with Israel or a removal of U.S. sanctions, a U.S. official on board Pompeo’s flight said: “It’s possible that more history will be made.”
    The official said Sudan had offered the direct flight, dropping the requirement “that such a flight make a cosmetic stop en route.”
    Ties with Israel are a sensitive issue in Sudan, which was among the hardline Muslim foes of Israel under Bashir.
    In February, ruling council head Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, but cast doubt on any rapid normalisation of relations.
    Sudan announced on Aug. 19 it had sacked its foreign ministry spokesman after he called the UAE decision to become the third Arab country to normalise relations with Israel “a brave and bold step.”
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and Dan Williams; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alison Williams and Nick Macfie)
    This came after the peace agreement was brokered by the Trump administration and significantly reduced tensions between the two countries.    Pompeo made the following remarks on the topic:
    “The United States has a legal requirement with respect to qualitative military edge.    We will continue to honor that, but we have a 20-plus year security relationship with the United Arab Emirates as well where we have provided them with technical assistance and military assistance.    And we will now continue to review that process to continue to make sure that we are delivering them with the equipment that they need to secure and defend their own people from the same threat.”
    Pompeo is expected to visit other Middle Eastern across the UAE and Bahrain in an effort to introduce a normalization process between Israel and its regional neighbors.

8/25/2020 Sudan PM Tells Pompeo He’s Not Authorised To Normalise Ties With Israel by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudan's new Prime Minister in the transitional government Abdalla Hamdok, speaks during
a Reuters interview in Khartoum, Sudan August 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok told U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday that he was not mandated to normalise ties with Israel, and the issue should not be linked to Sudan’s removal from a U.S. state sponsors of terrorism list.
    Pompeo arrived from Israel on what he said was the first official non-stop flight between the two countries, as the United States looks to strengthen Sudan-Israel ties.
    He met Hamdok and ruling council head Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, tweeting that Sudan’s democratic transition was a “once in a generation opportunity.”    He discussed the Sudan-Israel relationship with both Hamdok and Burhan, according to State Department statements.
    The United States has been restoring relations with Sudan following the ousting of former Islamist leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019 after mass protests.    The country is one year into a 39-month political transition in which the military and civilians are sharing power.
    Its economy is in crisis and authorities have been pushing to end the U.S. terrorism listing, which prevents Sudan from accessing financing from international lenders.
    Sudan’s removal from the list “remains a critical bilateral priority for both countries,” the State Department said.
    Pompeo’s visit follows an accord between Israel and the UAE this month to forge full relations, and comes as Israel and the United States push more Arab countries to follow.
    In February, Burhan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda, a meeting condemned by Sudanese protesters.    He afterwards cast doubt on any rapid normalisation of relations, though Israeli aircraft soon began overflying Sudan.
    Ties with Israel are a sensitive issue in Sudan, which was among the hardline Muslim foes of Israel under Bashir.    The government sacked its foreign ministry spokesman last week after he called the UAE decision to normalise relations with Israel “a brave and bold step.”
    Hamdok’s transitional government “does not have a mandate … to decide on normalisation with Israel,” he told Pompeo, and the matter would be decided after all Sudan’s interim bodies had been established, according to government spokesman Faisal Saleh.
    “The Prime Minister called on the U.S. administration to separate the process of removing Sudan from the list of states sponsoring terrorism and the issue of normalisation with Israel,” Saleh said.
    A legislative body to serve alongside the ruling council and the government is yet to be formed, a step that Pompeo noted was “crucial.”
    Washington imposed sanctions on Sudan over its alleged support for militant groups and the civil war in Darfur.    Trade sanctions were lifted in 2017.
Pompeo and Hamdok also agreed that reaching a deal over the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) was “crucial to regional stability,” according to the State Department.
    Sudan discussed the issue on Tuesday with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was on a separate visit to Khartoum.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz, Dan Williams, Nadine Awadalla and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Giles Elgood and John Stonestreet)

8/25/2020 U.S. Slams Turkey’s Erdogan For Hosting Hamas
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the nation in Istanbul, Turkey, August 21, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States said on Tuesday it strongly objected to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s recent hosting of two leaders of Hamas in Istanbul.
    The State Department said the officials were Specially Designated Global Terrorists and the United States was seeking information about one for his involvement in multiple terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings.
    A Turkish government statement on Saturday said Erdogan received Ismail Haniyeh, head of the Hamas Political Bureau, and an accompanying delegation.
    The State Department said the Saturday meeting was the second time this year Erdogan had welcomed leaders of the armed Islamist group that has controlled Gaza for over a decade, after a meeting on Feb. 1.
    “President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” it said in a statement.
    “We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels.”
    Just hours earlier, U.S. President Donald Trump praised Erdogan for releasing American pastor Andrew Brunson last year after holding him for two years.
    “I have to say that, to me President Erdogan was very good,” Trump told Brunson in a meeting with Americans freed from overseas captivity that was pre-recorded for and aired on the first night of the Republican National Convention on Monday.
    “And I know they had you scheduled for a long time, and you were a very innocent person, and he, ultimately, after we had a few conversations, he agreed.    So we appreciate that, and we appreciate the people of Turkey,” Trump said.
    U.S. ties with NATO ally Turkey have been strained over issues such as Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 defense systems, which prompted Washington to suspend Turkish involvement in its F-35 jet program and threaten sanctions.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom in Washington and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Richard Chang)

8/25/2020 Nightlife In Ruins: Beirut Blast Pummels Key Industry by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: A view of the destroyed "AHM" club, in the aftermath of a massive explosion
at the port area, in Beirut, Lebanon, August 22, 2020. REUTERS/Alkis Konstantinidis
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A cosy Beirut bar, Tenno once hosted a dog’s birthday party, vinyl record nights and stand-up comedians.
    Those days are gone.    Its doors collapsed and glass shattered in the port blast this month that killed at least 180 people and turned one of Beirut’s most popular pub streets into a disaster zone.
    “We plan to rebuild…We owe it to ourselves to not let things end this way,” said Mohamed Soliman, 28, one of the owners of the bar which opened around two years ago.    Money for repairs has poured in through online crowdfunding.
    Many others will not rebuild, however, because it no longer makes sense to invest in a country where years of work can vanish in seconds.
    “We’ve been saying we’re all on the verge.    I don’t know how we made it this far.    We’re not going to last,” said Maya Bekhazi of the union of nightclub, cafe and restaurant owners.
    It is a tired cliché that the nightlife in Beirut – billed worldwide as a party destination – stands as proof of the capital’s ability to endure one crisis after another.
    So much so that Lebanese have made a joke of their fabled resilience which has portrayed them partying through wars and assassinations, when behind the glitz the reality is much grimmer.
    The past year, including Lebanon’s financial meltdown and the COVID-19 pandemic, has battered the service industry, a pillar of an economy that produces little.
    The August warehouse explosion left over 2,000 premises in tatters, putting tens of thousands more jobs at risk in a country with soaring unemployment and poverty.
    The restaurant sector alone will cost at least $1 billion to reconstruct, Bekhazi estimates.
    Even before the blast, hundreds of venues had shuttered with mass layoffs in an industry that employs a big chunk of Lebanon’s workforce.
    In response to a question about what the state has done, Bekhazi laughs.    “Nobody cares.”
    With low-wage workers hit hardest, she said, the union will help provide meals for employees for a month.
EXTRAVAGANT SOIREES
    Beirut’s nightlife has long attracted investor money and performers from abroad, spawning images of extravagant soirees in ranking lists around the world.
    Since last year, a currency crash has eroded the purchasing power of Lebanese, including among the middle class that most of these businesses cater to.    Costs skyrocketed and suppliers demanded cash as dollars grew scarce.
    Fuel shortages left city streets in pitch dark and each week brought news of another corner store closing.
    The owners of Cafe Em Nazih, who also run a hostel and rooftop bar, do not plan on rebuilding now.
    “To start from scratch, without any trust in the state, will be a loss.    We could invest again and get hit by another 20 explosions,” said manager Nazih Dirani, who suffered a dislocated shoulder when the blast ripped through the cafe.
    “This place is my life.    I know where every screw is.”
    On social media, Lebanese posted videos of bloodied faces emerging from behind bar counters.    Some spoke of a sense of loss in a city with few public spaces.
    For Jade, founder of the entertainment group Factory People, the focus now is on keeping his 170 employees.
    The blast reduced one of its clubs to a pile of twisted metal.    It cost nearly $2.5 million to launch and will need millions more to fix up.
    “We kept investing despite it all,” the DJ said.    “But now it’s like we’re in the middle of the battlefield and we ran out of ammunition.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis, editing by Ed Osmond)

8/25/2020 Sudan And Ethiopia Pledge To Push For Deal On Blue Nile Dam
FILE PHOTO: Water flows through Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam as it undergoes construction work on the river Nile in Guba
Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia, September 26, 2019. Picture taken September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister and Sudan’s leadership said on Tuesday they would make every effort to reach a deal on a giant hydropower dam on the Blue Nile that has caused a bitter dispute between Addis Ababa and Cairo over water supplies.
    Ethiopia, Egypt and Sudan failed to strike an agreement on the operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) before the reservoir behind the dam began being filled in July.    But the three countries have returned to talks under African Union mediation.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed visited Khartoum on Tuesday with a high level delegation to meet Sudanese officials, who have played an increasingly prominent role in negotiations with their two neighbours.
    “The two sides emphasised they would make every possible effort to reach a successful conclusion to the current tripartite negotiations,” a joint statement from Ethiopia and Sudan said.
    The talks should lead to a formula that makes the dam a tool for regional integration, the statement said, praising AU mediation as embodying “African solutions for African problems.”
    Negotiations have previously faltered over a demand from Egypt and Sudan that any deal should be legally binding, over the mechanism for resolving future disputes, and over how to manage the dam during periods of reduced rainfall or drought.
    Egypt says it is dependent on the Nile for more than 90% of its scarce fresh water supplies, and fears the dam could have a devastating effect on its economy.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

8/25/2020 Turkey, Greece To Hold Rival Naval Drills As Germany Aims To Cool Row
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu meets with his German counterpart Heiko Mass in
Ankara, Turkey, August 25, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey and Greece were set to hold separate naval drills in the same region of the eastern Mediterranean on Tuesday, escalating tensions over overlapping resource claims ahead of talks in Athens and Ankara by Germany’s top diplomat.
    The NATO members have traded rhetorical barbs over offshore hydrocarbon rights, drawing the European Union and nearby countries into the dispute that earlier this month involved a light collision between Turkish and Greek frigates.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas aims to cool temperatures in separate talks with his Greek and Turkish counterparts on Tuesday.    A ministry spokesman said Germany regrets Turkey’s decision to extend its exploration work at sea.
    Tensions rose after Turkey deployed its Oruc Reis survey vessel to waters Ankara claims in a move Athens called illegal.
    On Sunday, Turkey issued an advisory known as a Navtex to extend the vessel’s operations until Aug. 27.    Greece then issued its own advisory that it will hold military exercises in the same area, off the Greek island of Crete.
    In response, Turkey President Tayyip Erdogan on Monday accused Greece of “sowing chaos” and warned it would be left alone against Turkey’s navy.    Another Navtex said Turkey will hold military exercises in the same area off Crete.
    A senior Turkish defence ministry official told Reuters the Greek Navtex was issued without coordination and threatened to “place at risk all sailors in the area.”
    Government spokesman Stelios Petsas has said Greece is “responding calmly and with readiness both on a diplomatic and on an operational level,” and will defend its sovereign rights.
    Germany intervened in the row last month, prompting Ankara to pause operations for talks with Athens.    After Greece and Egypt agreed a maritime demarcation deal, however, Turkey resumed.
    Greece has repeatedly called for EU sanctions on Turkey for its activities, while Turkey has urged the EU to stop “pampering” Greece and push dialogue.
    On Tuesday, the Oruc Reis was located between Cyprus and Crete, according to Eikon data.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Ed Osmond)

8/25/2020 Germany Urges Greece-Turkey Talks To Avoid ‘Catastrophe’ In East Med
FILE PHOTO: German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas pauses as he meets with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos
Mitsotakis at the Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, July 21, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    ATHENS/ANKARA (Reuters) – Germany warned on Tuesday that Greece and Turkey risked a military clash unless they turn to dialogue to solve a row over energy resources in the Mediterranean Sea, where the NATO allies geared for rival naval drills in disputed waters.
    Ankara and Athens have traded rhetorical barbs over offshore hydrocarbon rights, drawing the European Union and nearby countries into the dispute, which earlier this month involved a light collision between Turkish and Greek frigates.
    German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who visited Athens ahead of a trip to Ankara, sought to de-escalate tensions but said Germany and the EU stood with member Greece.
    “The current situation in the eastern Mediterranean is equivalent to playing with fire,” Maas said after meeting his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.    “Every little spark can lead to catastrophe.”
    Greece and Turkey vehemently disagree over the extent of their continental shelves.    Tensions escalated after Turkey deployed its Oruc Reis survey vessel to disputed waters this month, in a move Athens called illegal.
    Greece on Monday issued an advisory, known as a Navtex, that it will hold naval exercises in an area off the Greek island of Crete, after Turkey had said on Sunday that Oruc Reis will operate in the same area until Aug. 27.    Greece’s advisory then prompted a rival Navtex from Turkey that it would also hold drills there on Tuesday.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday that Greece was “sowing chaos” in the Mediterranean, and warned Athens that it would find itself having to face the Turkish navy on its own.
    After meeting Maas, Dendias said Greece wanted to talk with Turkey but it would not do so “under threats” and Athens stood ready to defend its rights, adding the dispute was an issue for the entire EU and its security.
    A senior Turkish official said Turkey expected Maas to come with a concrete proposal after talks in Greece, and that Athens did not reciprocate Ankara’s willingness to start dialogue.
    “The German visit will surely have positive contributions and results, but it is not realistic to just expect Turkey alone to make concessions,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
    Germany also intervened last month, prompting Ankara to pause operations for talks with Athens.    After Greece and Egypt agreed a maritime demarcation deal, however, Turkey resumed operations.
    EU foreign ministers are scheduled to meet in Berlin on Aug. 27-28 and will discuss the issue.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas and Angeliki Koutantou in Athens, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Joseph Nasr in Berlin; Editing by David Evans, Jonathan Spicer and Susan Fenton)

8/26/2020 Lebanon Coronavirus Tally Concerning, Hospital Capacity Must Be Increased: Health Minister
FILE PHOTO: People walk as they wear face masks to prevent the spread of the coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) in Beirut, Lebanon July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The health minister for Lebanon’s caretaker government was cited as saying on Wednesday that the tally of coronavirus cases in Lebanon was “concerning,” an official of the Supreme Defense Council said on television, reading out a statement by the council.
    Hamad Hassan added that hospital capacity needed to be increased to help combat the spike in cases, the official said.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/26/2020 Pompeo In Bahrain Discusses Regional Stability, Unity
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed regional stability and Gulf unity with the crown prince of Bahrain on Wednesday, as part of a Middle East tour following an accord between Israel and the United Arab Emirates on normalising relations.
    On his arrival on Tuesday night, Pompeo had said it was vital to seize the momentum of the U.S.-brokered deal announced on Aug. 13.
    We discussed the importance of building regional peace and stability, including the importance of Gulf unity and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” he wrote on Twitter following the meeting with Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa.
    Israel and the United States have said they are pushing more Arab countries to follow the UAE’s path.    Israel’s intelligence minister has mentioned Bahrain as a possible candidate.
    Pompeo said he also met the king of Bahrain.
    Pompeo first visited Jerusalem and Sudan, and is now traveling to the UAE.
(Reporting by Maher Chmeytelli, Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Hugh Lawson, William Maclean)

8/26/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey To Get Rights In Seas Around It: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media after attending Friday prayers
at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey is determined to do whatever is necessary to obtain its rights in the Black Sea, Aegean and Mediterranean, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
    Speaking at an event commemorating the 11th century military victory by Seljuk Turks over the Byzantine empire at Malazgirt, Erdogan also called on Ankara’s counterparts to avoid mistakes that he said would bring their destruction.
    “We will not compromise what is ours… We are determined to do whatever is necessary,” Erdogan said.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Dominic Evans)

8/26/2020 After Port Blast, Rudderless Lebanon Drifts Towards The Rocks by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Lebanese army walk near the damaged grain silo during a joint effort with
the French military to clear the rubble from port of Beirut following the explosion, as part of a tour
organized for media and journalists in Beirut, Lebanon August 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Three weeks after the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon is drifting towards even more trouble as its politicians fail to agree a new government that can arrest a financial meltdown.
    As Lebanon grapples with the aftermath of the blast that killed 180 people, its politicians have been locked in fruitless talks to agree on a new prime minister who might be able to restart International Monetary Fund talks and enact reforms.
    Even before the Aug. 4 port explosion, caused by unsafely stored chemicals, the financial collapse had devastated lives across Lebanon, fuelling hyperinflation and poverty and demolishing the value of savings in a now zombie banking system.
    An intervention by French President Emmanuel Macron, who is due to visit again Lebanon on Sept. 1, has been unable to break the impasse among the sectarian leaders responsible for steering Lebanon into crisis.
    All-too-familiar personal rivalries and factional interests are getting in the way.
    Now, barring a course correction, Lebanon is at risk of even deeper chaos, in the assessment of three senior sources from different parties.
    The central bank has warned it can only subsidise imports of basic goods for three more months, an official source said, raising concern that prices of fuel, wheat and medicine will spiral later this year.
    “It is very dangerous now.    We were at a crossroads: either the right path or continuing going down the road to no IMF, no international aid, no money.    This is pushing Lebanon towards chaos, complete collapse,” said one senior political source.
    A senior European diplomat said: “The speed of politics does not reflect the urgency of the situation.    Does August 4 not show things need to change?
    France’s foreign minister said on Tuesday Lebanon’s leaders should not use the explosion as an excuse to hide the reality that the country was on the edge of a precipice.
    “We hope that this moment will be the moment which allows the Lebanese authorities, the Lebanese officials, to take the necessary leap for a government with a mission to initiate the essential reforms that everyone knows (are needed),” Jean-Yves Le Drian said.
    The financial collapse is the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Donor states want to see reforms to curb waste and corruption that are the root causes of the collapse.    But three cabinets have failed to make progress on reform since donors pledged more than $11 billion to Lebanon in 2018.
    The currency has sunk by as much as 80% since October.
WE DON’T KNOW WHO IS IN CHARGE
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab quit on Aug. 10 over the port blast.    Nominated by the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its allies in January using their parliamentary majority, Diab stays on as caretaker until a new government is formed.
    The prime minister must be a Sunni Muslim in Lebanon’s sectarian power-sharing system.
    Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally Amal are pressing for the return of Saad al-Hariri, seeing him as well placed to galvanise foreign support.
    But this has hit resistance from several parties, each for their own reasons.
    The opponents include Hezbollah’s ally the Maronite Christian President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, Free Patriotic Movement leader Gebran Bassil, who have been at loggerheads with Hariri since last year.
    At the other end of the spectrum, neither the Christian Lebanese Forces Party, seen as close to Saudi Arabia, nor Druze leader Walid Jumblatt want him back in the job for now.
    “If it isn’t Saad al-Hariri, we will remain with a caretaker government” until the end of Aoun’s term in 2022, said a senior politician familiar with the thinking of Hezbollah and Amal.
    “We are currently in a state of chaos,” the politician said.    Without a deal on a new government, “we will go to even more chaos in the street.”
    Hariri announced on Tuesday he was not a candidate for the job.    He has insisted he will only become prime minister of a cabinet of non-aligned experts with public sector experience able to drive through reform.
    The Saudi ambassador to Lebanon, Waleed Bukhari, told Reuters reforming Lebanon was more important than the identity of the next prime minister.
    “What matters to the international community is the next government’s programme and its … policies to meet the expectations of the Lebanese people and restore trust,” he said.
    Unless a compromise can be reached on Hariri, the choice now for Hezbollah, Aoun and Lebanon’s powerful parliament speaker and head of the Shi’ite Amal movement Nabih Berri is whether to seek out another Sunni or leave Diab in a caretaker capacity.
    Hezbollah and Amal do not want anyone but Hariri, the politician familiar with their thinking said.
    “Now, after three weeks, there has been nothing; we don’t know who is in charge,” said a former government minister.
    “Not one of the current elite has moved one inch” in addressing demands for a government that implements political and economic reforms.    “No one is asking ‘what is it that we have to do?’ No one is proposing anything.”
    The ruling majority in the political establishment could lean on the central bank to access the gold reserves to finance subsidies for a while longer to stave off chaos, said a senior opposition official familiar with the Lebanese Forces’ position, referring to reserves valued at $18 billion as of Aug. 15.
    But he added: “I can’t see any compromise government being able to conduct any reforms and I can’t see them agreeing on an independent government.    This is pushing the country into further chaos either way.”
(This story has been refiled to identify role and position of Berri)
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Samia Nakhoul, Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

8/26/2020 Pompeo Discusses Libyan Conflict, Iran With UAE Counterpart
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to reporters following a meeting with members of the
U.N. Security Council about Iran's alleged non-compliance with a nuclear deal and calling for the restoration of
sanctions against Iran at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., August 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar/Pool
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed the Libyan conflict and countering Iranian regional influence with his Emirati counterpart during a brief visit to the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday.
    The visit followed a U.S. brokered-accord this month, which saw the UAE become just the third Arab state to agree to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel.
    Pompeo, who this week also visited Jerusalem, Sudan and Bahrain, sought to build on the momentum of the agreement for regional peace, he said in a tweet after arriving in the UAE.
    Pompeo and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan spoke about support for “de-escalation and a lasting ceasefire in Libya, Gulf unity and countering Iran’s malign influence in the region,” the state department said.
    The United States, UAE and Israel see Iran as the main threat to the Middle East, though the UAE has said forging diplomatic ties with Israel was not directed at Tehran.
    Top UAE and Israeli defence officials pledged defence cooperation this week, but this came amid Israeli dissent at the prospect that the deal could grant the Gulf power access to advanced weaponry previously denied to it, such as F-35 stealth fighter jets.
    A senior U.S. State Department official said on Wednesday talks between Israel and the UAE were continuing and there was no backtracking.
    UAE’s state news agency WAM on Wednesday cited Morgan Ortagus, spokeswoman for the U.S. State Department, saying there were “incredibly positive conversations going on” between the United States, Israel and UAE with regard to selling F-35 warplanes to the Gulf country.
    The UAE, along with Russia and Egypt, supports the eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) of Khalifa Haftar, which is fighting Libya’s internationally recognised government for control of the war-torn North African state.
    The UAE, Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Bahrain cut ties with fellow U.S. ally Qatar in mid-2017, over accusations Doha supports Islamic militant groups. Qatar denies the charges and says the bloc is attempting to infringe its sovereignty.
    Washington, which wants a united Gulf Arab front against Iran, has tried to mediate an end to the dispute.
    UAE National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed al-Nahyan also attended the meeting in Abu Dhabi, the State Department said.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington and Alexander Cornwell; Editing by William Maclean and Rosalba O’Brien)

8/26/2020 Hezbollah Says South Lebanon Incident A ‘Sensitive’ Matter
FILE PHOTO: Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah gives a televised speech following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's
port area, Lebanon August 7, 2020 in this still picture taken from a video. AL-MANAR/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said what happened in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, an apparent reference to Israeli strikes overnight, was an “important and sensitive” matter.
    Speaking in a televised speech on Al-Manar TV on Wednesday, Nasrallah said he had nothing further to say on the incident at present, but planned to comment later, without giving further details.
    The Israeli military said it had struck posts belonging to Hezbollah early on Wednesday after shots were fired from the other side of the border towards its troops.

8/26/2020 Israel Strikes Hezbollah Posts In Lebanon After Shots Fired At Troops, Military Says
A view shows the remains of an exploded shell in Houla village near the Lebanese-Israeli
border, in southern Lebanon, August 26, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – The Israeli military struck what it said were posts belonging to Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah group on Wednesday after shots were fired at troops in Israel, in a flareup that added to already high tensions along the frontier.
    Lebanon’s Supreme Defence Council denounced what it called “an Israeli assault” and said a complaint would be filed to the United Nations.
    The Israeli military said a Hezbollah squad in southern Lebanon fired at Israeli forces late on Tuesday, causing no casualties, and accused the group of deliberately operating near a U.N. peacekeeping post and putting personnel inside at risk.
    “In response, overnight, IDF attack helicopters and aircraft struck observation posts belonging to the Hezbollah terror organisation in the border area,” the military said in a statement, referring to the Israel Defense Forces.
    The Lebanese army said on its Twitter account that Israeli helicopters had fired missiles at centres of a local environmental group.
    No casualties were reported on either side of the frontier.    On Wednesday morning, the Israeli military told Israelis living near the border, who had been initially instructed to remain indoors, that they could resume normal activities.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said what happened in southern Lebanon on Tuesday, an apparent reference to the Israeli strikes, was an “important and sensitive” matter.
    Speaking in a televised speech on Al-Manar TV on Wednesday, Nasrallah said he had nothing further to say on the incident, but planned to comment later, without giving further details.
    Israel and Iranian-backed Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006, and border tensions have been running high in recent weeks.
    Last month, Israel said Hezbollah had carried out an infiltration attempt, which the group denied.
    The killing of a Hezbollah fighter in an Israeli air strike in July in Syria, where it operates in support of President Bashar al-Assad, has raised Israeli concern about retaliation.
    Briefing reporters on the latest flareup, Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said: “It is our assessment that the choice of location by Hezbollah (for the sniping attack) was not accidental … probably in order to (draw) Israeli retaliation towards a U.N. position or near it.”
    Witnesses in south Lebanon said Israel had fired scores of flares at border villages during the night-time incident.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Rami Ayyub in Tel Aviv, Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem, Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Robert Birsel, William Maclean)

8/27/2020 French Minister Heads To Iraq Amid Islamic State Resurgence
    PARIS (Reuters) – French armed forces minister Florence Parly began a trip to Iraq on Thursday that the ministry said formed part of the country’s ongoing commitment to the fight against terrorism and its support for Iraq’s sovereignty.
    “The minister for the armed forces is insistent upon the fact that Islamic State remains a serious challenge which we must continue to face up to. French airstrikes against isolated pockets of Islamic State have picked up in recent months,” the French armed forces ministry said in a statement.
    Ministry officials said Paris was concerned by a resurgence in Iraq of the group, which is profiting from political uncertainty in the country and rivalries between Iran and the United States in the region.
(Reporting by Jean-Philippe Lefief and John Irish; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

8/27/2020 Lebanon Risks Disappearing Without New Government, Reforms: French Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Affair Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference
at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that Lebanon risked disappearing due to the inaction of its political elite who needed to quickly implement a new government to implement crucial reforms for the country.
    “The international community will not sign a blank cheque if the they (Lebanese authorities) don’t put in place the reforms.    They must do it quickly…because the risk today is the disappearance of Lebanon,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
(Reporting by John Irish. Editing by Jane Merriman)

8/27/2020 Mali Transition Must Be Quick, French Military Action To Continue, French Foreign Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian leaves the Elysee Presidential Palace after a weekly cabinet meeting, in Paris, France
May 27, 2020 as France eases lockdown measures taken to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease COVID-19. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s foreign minister said on Thursday that the transition in Mali needs to be quick, but that the coup d’etat in the country would not stop French military operations targeting Islamist militants.
    The leaders of the military coup that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali on Aug. 18 have told a delegation of West African mediators that they want to stay in power for a three-year transition period, Nigeria said on Wednesday.
    “The transition must be done quickly, power returned to civilians and that there is a political agenda put in place to allow this country to find a political stability,” Jean-Yves Le Drian told RTL radio.
    He said the West African mediation had to be concluded quickly to restore some stability because it that was indispensable to continue the fight against Islamist militants.
    Former colonial power France has some 5,100 troops in the Sahel region with a large portion operating from Mali, where it intervened in 2013 to stop an Islamist militant advance on the capital Bamako.
    “(The French operation) will continue,” Le Drian said.    “This battle continues.    The Junta say the same thing.”
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/27/2020 U.S. Secretary Of State Pompeo Arrives In Oman
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks by video feed from Jerusalem during the largely virtual 2020 Republican
National Convention broadcast from Washington, U.S. August 25, 2020. 2020 Republican National Convention/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Oman on Thursday as part of a Middle East tour following a U.S.-brokered deal on normalising relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates announced on Aug. 13.
    He is expected to meet Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said, who took power in January after Sultan Qaboos bin Said died after a half century at the helm of the Gulf country.
    Before arriving in Oman, Pompeo visited Jerusalem, Sudan, Bahrain, and the UAE.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/27/2020 Israeli Tech’s ‘Thirst’ For UAE Cash Must Overcome Old Enmity by Hadeel Al Sayegh and Steven Scheer
FILE PHOTO: A 3D printer prints what Israeli scientists from Tel Aviv University say is the world’s first 3D-printed, vascularised
engineered heart, during a demonstration at a laboratory in the university, Tel Aviv, Israel April 15, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    DUBAI/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A thaw in relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has raised expectations of an influx of funding in ‘Silicon Wadi’, Israel’s answer to Silicon Valley.
    “The UAE has excess amounts of money, but not enough places to invest it in the Middle East,” said Eldad Tamir, founder and CEO of the Tamir Fishman investment house, one of Israel’s top investment funds.
    “The high tech sector here is thirsty for money and having new investors from the UAE will help us diversify a bit from our usual Chinese and American investor.”
    But deep-seated animosity towards Israel among some investors could cap inflows, according to investment bankers and fund managers in the UAE, the Middle East’s financial hub.
    “The emotional part is definitely a roller-coaster ride and will take a substantial time to overcome,” according to one UAE-based capital markets investor, who declined to be named.
    Currently, UAE investors typically remove Israel when investing in global or regional share indexes, but that should change given this month’s agreement to normalise diplomatic ties, according to Citi Israel head Neil Corney.
    “If asset managers were following some kind of global index, Israel would get its relevant or relative weight for those investments,” Corney told Reuters.
    Regional investment funds, many of which are headquartered in the UAE, however, may not get the green light to invest in Israel if their investors come from Arab countries that don’t recognise the country, according to two fund managers.
    The accord, which makes the UAE only the third Arab state after Egypt and Jordan to have official relations with Israel, has stirred dismay in parts of the Middle East although it prompted a cautious welcome from some of the UAE’s Gulf allies.
A GOOD FIT
    With the UAE economy and real estate sector in the doldrums due to the coronavirus, Israel, with its strong tech focus, is an appealing investment alternative for the oil-rich conglomeration of city-states.
    “It’s more likely you are going to see UAE money investing in Israeli technology more than anything else,” said Corney.
    “I’m sure that some Israeli companies would look to try to attract investment as well from the UAE, particularly in the energy sector,” he said.    “UAE-Israeli joint ventures would be a good fit.”
    The healthcare and information technology sectors, which have thrived during the global pandemic, make up about 36% of the Israeli stock market, with the Tel Aviv Technology index <.TATECH> up 32% and the TA-Biomed index <.BIOMED> up 27% so far in 2020, versus a 16% decline in the bluechip index <.TA35>.    Dubai’s benchmark index <.DFMGI> is down nearly 18% year-to-date and Abu Dhabi’s <.ADI> is 11% weaker.
TECH SECTOR
    The Israeli tech sector, comprising thousands of startups, has been a magnet for investors even during the pandemic with venture capital funding rising by more than a third to $5.25 billion in the first half of 2020 from a year ago, data from the Israel Venture Capital Research Center and ZAG law firm showed.
    Israeli software firm Jfrog on Monday filed for a share offering on the U.S. tech-heavy Nasdaq of up to $100 million, while medical imaging company Nanox last week raised $165 million on Nasdaq.
    Abu Dhabi’s state investor Mubadala, which manages around $230 billion in assets, is a big tech investor and Ibrahim Ajami, head of ventures at Mubadala, tweeted “Big day for humanity and for all us in technology!” after the deal with Israel was announced.
    Mubadala already has indirect exposure to firms backed by Israeli investors such as online insurer Lemonade via its investments in Softbank’s $100 billion Vision Fund.    Mubadala declined to comment and Ajami was not available to comment on any future Israeli investments.
    Abu Dhabi’s biggest state fund, the nearly $700 billion Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, also invests in the technology sector across asset classes and targets startups through its Private Equity team.    It declined to comment.
    Before any money can flow between the two countries, the UAE needs to scrap rules which require UAE banks to monitor and block transactions if the beneficiary is based in Israel.
    The government has not yet issued guidance to financial institutions allowing them to communicate and trade with Israeli counterparts, bankers said.
    The UAE and Israeli finance ministries declined to comment while their central banks did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub and Lisa Barrington; Writing by Saeed Azhar; Editing by Davide Barbuscia and Carmel Crimmins)

8/27/2020 From Golden Age To War And Ruin: Lebanon In Turmoil As It Hits 100 by Tom Perry and Imad Creidi
Holiday Inn Hotel is pictured on fire during clashes in Beirut, Lebanon 1975. Reuters TV via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Looking back on his childhood in the newly declared state of Lebanon nearly a century ago, Salah Tizani says the country was set on course for calamity from the start by colonial powers and sectarian overlords.
    Tizani, better known in Lebanon as Abou Salim, was one of Lebanon’s first TV celebrities.    He shot to fame in the 1960s with a weekly comedy show that offered a political and social critique of the nascent state.
    Now aged 92, he lucidly traces the crises that have beset Lebanon – wars, invasions, assassinations and, most recently, a devastating chemicals explosion – back to the days when France carved its borders out of the Ottoman Empire in 1920 and sectarian politicians known as “the zuama” emerged as its masters.
    “The mistake that nobody was aware of is that people went to bed one day thinking they were Syrians or Ottomans, let’s say, and the next day they woke up to find themselves in the Lebanese state,” Tizani said.    “Lebanon was just thrown together.”
    Lebanon’s latest ordeal, the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion that killed some 180 people, injured 6,000 and devastated a swathe of the city, has triggered new reflection on its troubled history and deepened worry for the future.
    For many, the catastrophe is a continuation of the past, caused in one way or another by the same sectarian elite that has led the country from crisis to crisis since its inception, putting factions and self-interest ahead of state and nation.
    And it comes amid economic upheaval.    An unprecedented financial meltdown has devastated the economy, fuelling poverty and a new wave of emigration from a country whose heyday in the 1960s is a distant memory.
    The blast also presages a historic milestone: Sept. 1 is the centenary of the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon, proclaimed by France in an imperial carve-up with Britain after World War One.
    For Lebanon’s biggest Christian community, the Maronites, the proclamation of Greater Lebanon by French General Henri Gouraud was a welcome step towards independence.
    But many Muslims who found themselves cut off from Syria and Palestine were dismayed by the new borders.    Growing up in the northern city of Tripoli, Tizani saw the divisions first hand.
    As a young boy, he remembers being ordered home by the police to be registered in a census in 1932, the last Lebanon conducted.    His neighbours refused to take part.
    “They told them ‘we don’t want to be Lebanese’,” he said.
    Tizani can still recite the Turkish oath of allegiance to the Sultan, as taught to his father under Ottoman rule.    He can sing La Marseillaise, taught to him by the French, from start to finish.    But he freely admits to not knowing all of Lebanon’s national anthem.    Nobody spoke about patriotism.
    “The country moved ahead on the basis we were a unified nation but without internal foundations.    Lebanon was made superficially, and it continued superficially.”
    From the earliest days, people were forced into the arms of politicians of one sectarian stripe or another if they needed a job, to get their children into school, or if they ran into trouble with the law.
    “Our curse is our zuama,” Tizani said.
POINTING TO CATASTROPHE
    When Lebanon declared independence in 1943, the French tried to thwart the move by incarcerating its new government, provoking an uprising that proved to be a rare moment of national unity.
    Under Lebanon’s National Pact, it was agreed the president must be a Maronite, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of parliament a Shi’ite Muslim.
    The post-independence years brought signs of promise.
    Women gained suffrage in 1952. Salim Haidar, a minister at the time, took pride in the fact that Lebanon was only a few years behind France in granting women the right to vote, his son, Hayyan, recalls.
    Salim Haidar, with a doctorate from the Sorbonne, drafted Lebanon’s first anti-corruption law in 1953.
    “This was the mentality … that Lebanon is really leading the way, even in the legal and constitutional matters.    But then he didn’t know that all of these laws that he worked on would not be properly applied, or would not be applied at all, like the anti-corruption law,” Hayyan Haidar said.
    The 1960s are widely seen as a golden age.    Tourism boomed, much of it from the Arab world.    A cultural scene of theatre, poetry, cinema and music flourished.    Famous visitors included Brigitte Bardot.    The Baalbeck International Festival, set amid ancient ruins in the Bekaa Valley, was in its heyday.
    Casino du Liban hosted the Miss Europe beauty pageant in 1964. Water skiers showed off their skills in the bay by Beirut’s Saint George Hotel.
    Visitors left with “a misleadingly idyllic picture of the city, deaf to the antagonisms that now rumbled beneath the surface and blind to the dangers that were beginning to gather on the horizon,” Samir Kassir, the late historian and journalist, wrote in his book “Beirut.”
    Kassir was assassinated in a car bomb in Beirut in 2005.
    For all the glitz and glamour, sectarian politics left many parts of Lebanon marginalised and impoverished, providing fertile ground for the 1975-90 civil war, said Nadya Sbaiti, assistant professor of Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut.
    “The other side of the 1960s is not just Hollywood actors and Baalbeck festivals, but includes guerrilla training in rural parts of the country,” she said.
    Lebanon was also buffeted by the aftershocks of Israel’s creation in 1948, which sent some 100,000 Palestinian refugees fleeing over the border.
    In 1968, Israeli commandos destroyed a dozen passenger planes at Beirut airport, a response to an attack on an Israeli airliner by a Lebanon-based Palestinian group.
    The attack “showed us we are not a state.    We are an international playground,” Salim Haidar, serving as an MP, said in an address to parliament at the time.    Lebanon had not moved on in a quarter of a century, he said.
    “We gathered, Christians and Muslims, around the table of independent Lebanon, distributed by sect.    We are still Christians and Muslims … distributed by sect.”
    To build a state, necessary steps included the “abolition of political sectarianism, the mother of all problems,” said Haidar, who died in 1980.
TICKING TIME BOMB
    Lebanon’s brewing troubles were reflected in its art.
    A 1970 play, “Carte Blanche,” portrayed the country as a brothel run by government ministers and ended with the lights off and the sound of a ticking bomb.
    Nidal Al Achkar, the co-director, recalls the Beirut of her youth as a vibrant melting pot that never slept.
    A pioneer of Lebanese theatre, Achkar graduated in the 1950s from one of a handful of Lebanese schools founded on a secular rather than religious basis, Ahliah, in the city’s former Jewish quarter.    Beirut was in the 1960s a city of “little secrets … full of cinemas, full of theatres,” she said.
    “Beside people coming from the West, you had people coming from all over the Arab world, from Iraq, from Jordan, from Syria, from Palestine meeting in these cafes, living here, feeling free,” she recalled.    “But in our activity as artists … all our plays were pointing to a catastrophe.”
    It came in 1975 with the eruption of the civil war that began as a conflict between Christian militias and Palestinian groups allied with Lebanese Muslim factions.
    Known as the “two year war,” it was followed by many other conflicts.    Some of those were fought among Christian groups and among Muslim groups.
    The United States, Russia and Syria were drawn in.    Israel invaded twice and occupied Beirut in 1982.    Lebanon was splintered.    Hundreds of thousands of people were uprooted.
    The guns fell silent in 1990 with some 150,000 dead and more than 17,000 people missing.
    The Taif peace agreement diluted Maronite power in government. Militia leaders turned in their weapons and took seats in government.    Hayyan Haidar, a civil engineer and close aide to Selim Hoss, prime minister at the end of the war, expressed his concern.
    “My comment was they are going to become the state and we are on our way out,” he said.
    In the post-war period, Rafik al-Hariri took the lead in rebuilding Beirut’s devastated city centre, though many feel its old character was lost in the process, including its traditional souks.
    A Saudi-backed billionaire, Hariri was one of the only Lebanese post-war leaders who had not fought in the conflict.
    A general amnesty covered all political crimes perpetrated before 1991.
    “What happened is they imposed amnesia on us,” said Nayla Hamadeh, president of the Lebanese Association for History.    “They meant it.    Prime Minister Hariri was one of those who advanced this idea … ‘Let’s forget and move (on)’.”
‘I LOST HOPE’
    The Taif agreement called for “national belonging” to be strengthened through new education curricula, including a unified history textbook.    Issued in the 1940s, the existing syllabus ends in 1943 with independence. Attempts to agree a new one failed.    The last effort, a decade ago, provoked rows in parliament and street protests.
    “They think that they should use history to brainwash students,” Hamadeh said.    For the most part, history continues to be learnt at home, on the street and through hearsay.
    “This is (promoting) conflict in our society,” she added.
    Old faultlines persisted and new ones emerged.
    Sunni and Shi’ite Muslims fell out following the 2005 assassination of Hariri. A U.N.-backed tribunal recently convicted a member of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah of conspiring to kill Hariri.
    Hezbollah denies any role, but the trial was another reminder of Lebanon’s violent past – the last 15 years have been punctuated by political slayings, a war between Hezbollah and Israel and a brush with civil conflict in 2008.
    To some, the civil war never really ended.
    Political conflict persists in government even at a time when people are desperate for solutions to the financial crisis and support in the aftermath of the port explosion.
    Many feel the victims have not been mourned properly on a national level, reflecting divisions.    Some refuse to lose faith in a better Lebanon.    For others, the blast was the final straw.    Some are leaving or planning to.
    “You live between a war and another, and you rebuild and then everything is destroyed and then you rebuild again,” said theatre director Achkar.    “That’s why I lost hope.”
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

8/27/2020 Exclusive: France Outlines Reforms For Crisis-Ridden Lebanon by Laila Bassam
A member of the French military wears a face mask as he stands near the damaged grain silos during a joint
effort with the Lebanese army to clear rubble from the port of Beirut following the explosion, as part
of a tour organized for media and journalists in Beirut, Lebanon August 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron has outlined political and financial reforms Lebanese politicians need to make to unlock foreign aid and rescue the country from multiple crises, including an economic meltdown, according to a document seen by Reuters.
    The two-page “concept paper” was delivered by the French ambassador to Beirut, a Lebanese political source said.
    A source at Macron’s Elysee office said the ambassador had handed a short document to President Michel Aoun and Lebanon’s Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, but described it as informal and not a roadmap.
    The necessary measures include an audit of the central bank, appointment of an interim government capable of enacting urgent reforms, and early legislative elections within a year.
    Lebanon’s now-caretaker government, which took office in January with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its allies, failed to make progress in talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a bailout due to inaction on reforms and a dispute over the size of financial losses.
    The government resigned over this month’s huge Beirut port explosion that killed at least 180 people, injured some 6,000 and destroyed entire neighbourhoods, and renewed protests against a political elite over endemic corruption and mismanagement that has led to a deep financial crisis.
    “The priority must go to the rapid formation of a government, to avoid a power vacuum which will leave Lebanon to sink further into the crisis,” the French paper reads.
    It lists four sectors in need of immediate attention: humanitarian aid and the authorities’ response to the COVID-19 pandemic; reconstruction after the Aug. 4 blast; political and economic reforms and an early parliamentary election.
    It also called for progress in IMF talks and United Nations oversight on international humanitarian funds pledged to Lebanon in recent weeks, as well as an impartial investigation into the cause of the detonation of vast amounts of highly explosive material stored unsafely at the port for years.
    Macron visited Beirut shortly after the blast and made it clear that no blank cheques would be given to the Lebanese state if it did not enact reforms against waste, graft and negligence.
    Since then, he has held multiple phone calls with major political leaders under the country’s sectarian power-sharing system, a Lebanese political source said. Macron is due to return to Beirut on Sept. 1.
    Political rivalries and factional interests have prevented the formation of a new government able to tackle the financial crisis that has ravaged the currency, paralysed the banking system and spread poverty. [L8N2FS4PV]
    The French concept paper stresses the need for an immediate and full audit of state finances and reform of the power sector, which bleeds public funds while failing to provide adequate electricity.
    Parliament should enact laws needed to effect change in the interim period, it said.    “Factions must be engaged to vote on the key measures that the new government will take in the next few months.”
    The Elysee source said the document reiterated proposals agreed upon under the framework of a 2018 donor conference to support Lebanon and a subsequent international support group meeting.
    “This document reaffirms the availability of France to support Lebanon within this framework.    It is in no way a roadmap,” the Elysee official said.
    The concept paper could deepen France’s role in Lebanon, a former French colony.
    The paper states that Paris will play a major role in rebuilding Beirut port, bolster healthcare, send teams from its treasury and central bank to support the financial audit, and help organise early parliamentary voting, along with the European Union.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut; Additional Reporting by John Irish and Elizabeth Pinneau in Paris; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Jon Boyle)

8/27/2020 Dousing The Flames: Israel Battles Gaza Fire Balloon Blazes by Amir Cohen
A Bedouin man extinguishes a fire in an area that has seen blazes caused by fire balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave of
Gaza, near Kibbutz Be'eri on the Israeli side of the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip August 24, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    BE’ERI, Israel (Reuters) – In a burnt and blackened wheat field along the Gaza border, Israeli firefighters brave the dry summer heat to extinguish blazes caused by fire balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave.
    Palestinians have sent dozens of helium balloons laden with incendiary material across the frontier in recent weeks to push Israel to ease its blockade of the Islamist Hamas-run strip, home to two million people.
    Winds blowing inland from the Mediterranean Sea carry the balloons towards southern Israeli towns and farmland, dripping chemicals as they fly and igniting brush fires when they land.
    “To see the fields near your home burning, it’s indescribable, because it’s not happening naturally,” said Haim Yalin, a former member of Israel’s parliament who lives in Be’eri, a tiny kibbutz four km (2.5 miles) from the Gaza border.
    Local residents and Israeli troops have joined firefighters to fight the blazes.    A spokesman for Israel’s National Fire and Rescue Authority said some 460 fires so far have ravished mostly open areas, but have also damaged nature reserves.
    Regular party balloons, condoms and large plastic bags are filled with helium and used to make the fire balloons by attaching an incendiary device, some times as simple as a burning string or even a cigarette.
    Occasionally the balloons are strapped with explosives.
    In one ashy field, a soldier beat down smoke with a fire broom as another sprayed it with a hose.    Nearby, a hollowed out fox skull sat on a bed of charred leaves.
    With tensions high, Israel closed its main commercial crossing with the impoverished strip earlier this month and halted fuel imports, causing Gaza’s only power plant to shut down. Gaza authorities announced a lockdown on Monday after a coronavirus outbreak in the enclave.
    Israel has struck Hamas facilities almost nightly for the past two weeks, and on Friday the militant group fired a dozen rockets towards Israeli towns.    Mediators from the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have been working for calm.
    Some of the Palestinians who launch the balloons — they describe themselves as the “Balloon Units” — say they narrowly escaped the Israeli air strikes.
    But potential retaliation wouldn’t stop them, they said.
    “We know it is a simple tool – but it causes fires, it causes panic and it shows we will not keep silent as long as our people continue to suffer,” a Palestinian source close to the Balloon Units said.
(Additional reporting by Rinat Hirash in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

8/28/2020 Israel Strikes Hamas In Gaza Over Rockets, Fire Balloons
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in Gaza Strip August 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Shana
    TEL AVIV/GAZA (Reuters) – Israeli aircraft and tanks struck Hamas facilities in Gaza on Friday and militants fired half a dozen rockets towards southern Israel, the military said, as mediators work for calm along the volatile frontier.
    There were no reports of casualties on either side.
    Israel’s military said it struck underground infrastructure and a military post belonging to Gaza’s Islamist rulers Hamas overnight in response to incendiary balloons launched from the Palestinian enclave that have burned Israeli farmland.
    Gaza militants then fired six rockets towards Israel, the military said, drawing a second round of Israeli strikes which hit a Hamas armed training camp.
    An Israeli military spokesman said he did not have any information on where the Gaza rockets landed, but that none of them were intercepted by its Iron Dome system.
    Hamas has been trying to pressure Israel to ease its blockade of Gaza and allow more investment, in part by letting Palestinians launch dozens of helium balloons carrying incendiary material towards southern Israel in recent weeks.
    Mediators from the United Nations, Egypt and Qatar have been working to restore calm. Qatari envoy Mohammad Al-Emadi has been in Gaza since Tuesday holding talks with Hamas leaders.
    Israel has struck Hamas facilities almost nightly for the past two weeks, saying it would not tolerate the balloons.
    With tension high, Israel has closed its only commercial crossing with Gaza, banned sea access and halted fuel imports into the coastal strip, leading to its only power plant shutting down last week.
    Health officials have voiced concern that the power plant shut-down could aggravate a novel coronavirus outbreak in impoverished Gaza, which is home to 2 million Palestinians.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Stephen Coates)

8/28/2020 Lebanese Presidency To Convene Consultations On Monday To Designate New PM
FILE PHOTO: Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to the media after a session of the United Nations-backed
Lebanon Tribunal handing down a judgement in the case of four men being tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing that killed former
prime minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people, in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Eva Plevier
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Lebanese presidency will convene consultations with parliamentary blocs on Monday to designate a new prime minister, the presidency said, after the government quit earlier this month following the catastrophic explosion at Beirut port.
    Lebanon’s fractious sectarian parties have so far failed to agree on who should lead the next government.    President Michel Aoun is required to designate the candidate with the greatest level of support among MPs.
    The post of prime minister must go to a Sunni Muslim in the Lebanese sectarian system. It was not immediately clear who would emerge with the biggest support among MPs.
    Saad al-Hariri is so far the only serious name floated for the post to replace Hassan Diab, who continues in a caretaker capacity until a new government is agreed.    But Hariri said earlier this week he was not a candidate after several major parties said they did not support his return to the job.
    The consultations will take place a day before French President Emmanuel Macron visits Beirut as Paris presses Lebanese leaders to take action to save the country from a destabilising financial crisis.
    The Iran-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah and its Shi’ite ally the Amal Movement want Hariri to be prime minister again.    But Hezbollah’s main Christian ally, the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun, opposes his candidacy.
    Groups at the other end of the spectrum, notably the Christian Lebanese Forces Party and Druze leader Walid Jumblatt, also do not support Hariri’s return to the job.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

8/28/2020 Where State Is Weak, Mali Militants Broker Talks Between Rival Clans by Aaron Ross
FILE PHOTO: A dead animal is seen amidst the damage at the site of an attack on the Dogon village
of Sobane Da, Mali June 11, 2019. Picture taken June 11, 2019. REUTERS/Malick Konate
    DAKAR (Reuters) – A few weeks before military officers overthrew Mali’s government in a bloodless coup, a series of meetings in the remote centre of the country underscored how much the state’s grip on power had loosened.
    Video of one gathering in the rural commune of Sangha shows leaders from the rival Dogon and Fulani communities, whose militias have slaughtered hundreds of civilians in tit-for-tat attacks this year, sitting down together and making peace.
    Also surprising were the mediators: fighters from al Qaeda’s Mali affiliate, who can be seen squatting in the shade with rifles and ammunition belts, many of their faces obscured by turbans and dark sunglasses.
    Until recently, members of the al Qaeda-linked Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) – Mali’s most powerful militant group – had sided with the semi-nomadic Fulani herdsmen when they clashed with the Dogon people over land and resources.
    But flush with new recruits and weapons captured from overwhelmed state forces, the jihadists have turned to mediation in a bid to further entrench their local control, said Idrissa Sankare, a former member of parliament from the area.
    “They want to have a territorial presence,” he said.    “If the population is with them, they won’t denounce them to the army.”
    In the sparsely populated, semi-arid lands northeast of the capital Bamako plagued by violence and insecurity, some local people welcome the intervention, which began in July.
    Whether it is enough to end ethnic bloodshed altogether remains to be seen.
    Dozens of attacks by Dogon and Fulani militias killed more than 350 people in the first half of the year, and attacks by Islamist extremists killed dozens more, the United Nations’ human rights office in Mali said this month.
    It is the kind of violence that former colonial power France wanted to squash when its military intervened in northern Mali in 2013.    Since then al Qaeda-linked fighters have expanded into central Mali and neighbouring Niger and Burkina Faso.
    Mali’s army has been pulling out of some hotspots – part of what commanders describe as a new “operational posture” in the face of Islamist attacks – and civil administrators lack the resources to provide basic services, two officials from the central Mali region of Mopti said.
    Western and regional officials fear the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita last week could further strengthen the militants’ hand.
    After a previous coup in 2012, al Qaeda-linked insurgents took advantage of a power vacuum to seize Mali’s desert north and start advancing on the capital Bamako.
NO STATE PRESENCE
    There were no state representatives at the July 27 talks in Sangha, said a local official, who spoke on condition of anonymity for safety reasons.    The official verified the authenticity of the video, which Reuters has seen.
    In it, a village leader warmly welcomes Dogon farmers and Fulani herders, even though their longstanding rivalry over land and resources has escalated dramatically in recent years, fuelled by what the United Nations says is deliberate incitement by Islamist militants aimed at boosting recruitment.
    “I salute you and ask God to bless this meeting,” says the leader, a Dogon, drawing his hands together as he sits in the dirt opposite the militants.
    “The people of Sangha have called for reconciliation in the name of our blood bonds so that we can find peace again.”
    JNIM has not publicly commented on the meetings and any role in reconciling rival ethnic groups.
    Spokesmen for the presidency and the army did not respond to requests for comment on the jihadists’ recent intervention in rural Mali before the military takeover.
    A spokesman for the new junta said officers were not immediately available to answer questions about them.
    The meeting last month was one of several that al Qaeda-linked fighters have organised since late July in Mopti, leading to deals between rival groups that have allowed people from dozens of villages to return to fields and markets without fear of attack, four local officials told Reuters.
    The militants’ role is a reminder that, in spite of the French-backed military campaign that initially inflicted heavy casualties on groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, their influence is growing.
    “People are tired.    There’s no state,” said the official who had knowledge of the Sangha meeting.    “I prefer a bad negotiation, a bad agreement, over heading to our deaths.”
‘TIRED OF WAR’
    Informal talks between community leaders and JNIM about exploring the idea of reconciling warring clans began several months ago, the local officials said.
    The militants told villagers their problem was with the government, not civilians, according to the officials.    Feeling defenceless, villagers embraced the peace offering.
    Videos from Sangha and other meetings – some mediated by the jihadists, others not – show Fulani and Dogon men shaking hands, laughing and praying together.    Local officials confirmed the authenticity of the videos.
    “Everyone is tired of this war,” said Marcelin Guenguere, who was a senior member of the Dogon militia Dan Na Ambassagou before being elected to parliament in April.    “We think that dialogue alone is the solution.”
    Rida Lyammouri, a senior fellow at the Policy Center for the New South in Morocco, said the jihadists could be looking to bolster their negotiating position after the government said it was prepared to enter talks with JNIM.
    He also said JNIM had fought a series of battles with fighters from Islamic State, which also has an affiliate in the region, since last year, reflecting a falling out between two groups that had largely avoided confrontation until then.
Islamic State, which has imposed a brutal interpretation of Sharia in areas it controls, sees JNIM as too moderate, Lyammouri added.
    According to local officials, JNIM militants have not imposed the kind of draconian religious justice, such as cutting off the hands of suspected thieves, that gained al Qaeda fighters notoriety during their 2012 occupation of northern Mali.
    Sankare, the former member of parliament, said some militants had initially pressured people to stop listening to music and drinking alcohol, but their strategy appeared to have changed.
    “It seems they received instructions from their leadership to go preach the Sharia in the mosques and villages without coercion,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Mike Collett-White)

8/28/2020 France’s Macron To Head To Beirut To Pressure Lebanese Political Elite
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron, wearing a protective face mask, welcomes Senegal's President
Macky Sall (not seen) at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, August 26, 2020. REUTERS/Charles Platiau
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron will head to Beirut next week to pressure local politicians into pressing ahead with the creation of a government that can implement urgent reforms, a French presidential official said on Friday.
    “The president has said it he will not give up. He made a commitment to do what needs to be done and to apply the necessary pressure to put this programme in place,” the official told reporters ahead of Macron’s visit to Beirut next Monday and Tuesday.
    The official added it was time for Lebanese political parties to temporarily step aside and ensure a government of change was put into place.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Toby Chopra)

8/28/2020 Influential Libyan Interior Minister Suspended Amid Protests
FILE PHOTO: Libya's interior minister Fathi Bashagha attends an interview with Reuters in Tunis, Tunisia March 1, 2020. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – The head of Libya’s internationally recognised government suspended his powerful interior minister from his duties on Friday, saying his handling of street protests and a violent crackdown against them would be investigated.
    The move coincides with reports of growing friction between Fayez al-Sarraj, Prime Minister of the Tripoli-based Government of National Accord (GNA), and Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha, an influential figure from the port city and military power base of Misrata.
    Bashagha, who was nominated in 2018, played a central role during a 14-month offensive on Tripoli by eastern-based forces that the GNA repelled in June with military support from Turkey.
    He is well regarded by the GNA’s international backers, and had announced steps to rein in the armed groups that hold real power in Tripoli.    Loud gunfire could be heard over central Tripoli shortly after the decision was announced.
    A decree issued by Sarraj said Bashagha would be investigated by the GNA leadership within 72 hours, and his duties would be assumed by a deputy minister, Khalid Ahmad Mazen.    A separate decree assigned a regional force headed by Osama Jweili, a commander from another militarily powerful city, Zintan, to help ensure security in Tripoli.
    In a statement, Bashagha expressed readiness for an investigation, but said it should be televised to ensure transparency.
    Since Sunday protests over worsening living conditions and corruption have escalated in Tripoli.    Armed men have used gunfire to disperse demonstrators, and Serraj has imposed a 24-hour curfew for four days to counter the new coronavirus, a move seen by critics as a tactic for curbing the protests.
    The interior ministry under Bashagha said it was ready to protect peaceful protesters from armed groups.
    There have long been tensions between armed groups from Tripoli and Misrata.    Those from Misrata dominated the capital for several years after Libya split into rival factions based in the west and east of the country in 2014.    They later lost their foothold to Tripoli-rooted groups.
(Reporting by Tripoli bureau; Writing by Aidan Lewis; editing by Grant McCool)

8/28/2020 Acting Leader Of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood Arrested In Cairo
FILE PHOTO: Mahmoud Ezzat, deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, attends a news conference in Cairo May 30, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian authorities said on Friday they had arrested the acting leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mahmoud Ezzat, during a raid on an apartment in Cairo.
    The arrest is the latest blow to Egypt’s oldest and most organised Islamist movement, which has been crushed in a sweeping crackdown since it was forced from power seven years ago.
    Ezzat was an influential former deputy to Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, and was seen as a hardliner within the group. He became acting leader after Badie’s arrest in August 2013.
    An interior ministry statement said Ezzat had been arrested from an apartment used as a hide-out in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement district, and was accused of joining and leading a terrorist group and receiving illicit funds.
    Egyptian authorities accuse the Brotherhood of promoting militancy and subversion, accusations it strongly denies.
    The interior ministry said encrypted communications equipment had been seized during the arrest, and said Ezzat was suspected of overseeing several assassinations or attempted assassinations as well as a bombing since 2013.
    A Brotherhood statement denounced the arrest, saying Ezzat had been pursued on “false political charges” and that the group would “overcome such strikes and challenges.”
    Ezzat had previously been sentenced to death and to life in prison in absentia.    According to Egyptian law, he will face retrials in the cases following his arrest.
    A picture distributed by the interior ministry and published by Egyptian newspaper Al-Youm al-Sabaa showed a gaunt and frail looking Ezzat wearing a striped T-shirt.
    After then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the 2013 overthrow of former President Mohamed Mursi, a Brotherhood figure who was Egypt’s first democratically elected leader, the group has been outlawed and much of its leadership jailed.
    Other senior members of the group have left the country, with many now living in Turkey, and media reports had previously placed Ezzat abroad.
    Badie remains in prison in Cairo, where he has received several life sentences.    Mursi died after collapsing in a prison courtroom in June 2019.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Hesham Abdul Khalek; Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by William Maclean and Grant McCool)

8/29/2020 Turkey To Hold Military Exercise Off Cyprus Amid Mediterranean Tensions
FILE PHOTO: Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis is seen in Istanbul, Turkey, August 22, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said it will hold a military exercise off northwest Cyprus for the next two weeks, amid growing tension with Greece over disputed claims to exploration rights in the east Mediterranean.
    The long-running dispute between Turkey and Greece, both NATO members, flared up after the two countries agreed rival accords on their maritime boundaries with Libya and Egypt, and Turkey sent a survey vessel into contested waters this month.
    Both sides have held military exercises in the east Mediterranean, highlighting the potential for the dispute over the extent of their continental shelves to escalate into confrontation.
    Two weeks ago Greek and Turkish frigates shadowing Turkey’s Oruc Reis oil and gas survey vessel collided, and Turkey’s Defence Ministry said Turkish F-16 jets on Thursday prevented six Greek F-16s entering an area where Turkey was operating.
    On Friday night Turkey issued a Navtex notice – an advisory message to mariners – saying it would be holding a “gunnery exercise” from Saturday until Sept. 11 off northwest Cyprus.
    The European Union’s top diplomat said on Friday the bloc was preparing sanctions against Turkey that could be discussed at a summit in late September in response to Ankara’s standoff with EU member Greece.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alex Richardson)

8/29/2020 Mali’s Neighbours Tell Junta To Transfer Power To Transitional Government by Felix Onuah and Arouna Sissoko
FILE PHOTO: Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (C) walks with Mali's new President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita
(R) at the Bamako-Senou International Airport September 18, 2013. REUTERS/Thierry Gouegnon/File Photo
    ABUJA/BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali’s West African neighbours on Friday told the military junta which seized control 10 days ago that it must transfer power to a civilian-led transitional government immediately and hold elections within a year.
    In exchange, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) committed to lifting sanctions gradually as the coup leaders complied with its demands, the bloc’s chairman said.
    ECOWAS suspended Mali from its institutions, shut borders and halted financial flows with the country following the overthrow of President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Aug. 18.
    On Friday, the 15-member group reinforced its hard line because of concerns about prolonged instability in Mali and its potential to undermine the fight against Islamist militants there and in the wider Sahel region.
    It outlined four main points it wanted to see progress on before sanctions could be gradually lifted.
    Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, who currently chairs ECOWAS, said Mali’s transitional president and prime minister must be civilians, and would be banned from running in the next legislative and presidential elections.
    “No military structure should be above the transitional president,” Issoufou said.
    ECOWAS also called for the quick establishment of a government that will tackle the various challenges Mali is facing, and in particular prepare for legislative and presidential elections within 12 months.
    A spokesman for the junta, Djibrila Maiga, said its leaders were still studying the bloc’s decisions.
    The junta issued a statement on Friday evening inviting Mali’s political parties including Keita’s ruling coalition and civil society groups to a meeting on Saturday to discuss the organisation of the transition.
    Some members of Mali’s opposition coalition, the M5-RFP, which held several demonstrations calling for Keita to resign before the coup, said the regional leaders were misreading the situation.
    “ECOWAS needs to revise its position,” Clement Dembele, a member of the coalition and a former presidential candidate, said in Bamako.
    “The question, today, is that Mali needs statesmen.    Mali doesn’t need a civilian or a soldier but a statesman,” he said.
    The junta leaders said after taking power that they acted because the country was sinking into chaos, insecurity and corruption, blaming poor leadership.
    The soldiers behind the coup are anxious to get the sanctions lifted and, as a gesture of goodwill, released Keita on Thursday and allowed him to return home.
They also cut their proposed duration of a transition to democracy to two years from three.
    Mountaga Tall, another member of the M5-RFP coalition, said Mali’s needs must be identified first before fixing the deadline for a transition.
    “It would be more rational, more reassuring to establish the tasks for the transition and, relative to the immensity of these tasks, to then decide if it will be three months, two years or three years,” he said.
    Two diplomats who attended the conference said there was room for the transition to be extended for a couple of months beyond the ECOWAS deadline.
    Regional leaders are scheduled to meet again on Sept. 7 in Niger’s capital Niamey, where they will assess the situation in Mali and take other measures, if necessary, Issoufou said.
    Mali has struggled to regain stability since a Tuareg uprising in 2012 was hijacked by Islamist militants.
    A French intervention drove back the insurgents but since 2018 the country has seen a sharp increase in violence and insecurity that has driven more than half a million people from their homes.
(Reporting by Felix Onuah in Abuja and David Lewis in London and Tiemoko Diallo in Bamako; Writing by Hereward Holland and Bate Felix, Editing by John Stonestreet, Angus MacSwan and Daniel Wallis)

8/29/2020 UAE Scraps Israel Boycott In New Step Towards Normal Ties by Maher Chmaytelli
FILE PHOTO: The municipality building is lit in the United Arab Emirates national flag following the announcement of a deal
to normalise relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Tel Aviv, Israel August 13, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The president of the United Arab Emirates scrapped an economic boycott against Israel, allowing trade and financial agreements between the countries in another key step towards normal ties, the UAE’s state news agency reported on Saturday.
    Israel and the UAE said on Aug. 13 they would normalise diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump that reshapes the order of Middle East politics from the Palestinian issue to the fight against Iran.
    President Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan issued a decree abolishing a boycott law as part of “the UAE’s efforts to expand diplomatic and commercial cooperation with Israel, leading to bilateral relations by stimulating economic growth and promoting technological innovation,” the WAM news agency said.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the UAE had taken “an important step towards peace, which will yield substantial economic and commercial achievements for both people while strengthening the stability in the region.”
    The announcement came as Israeli flag carrier El Al Israel Airlines Ltd prepared to operate the country’s first direct flight between Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport and the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi.
    An Israeli government delegation and top aides to Trump, including his senior adviser Jared Kushner, are due to travel on the flight on Aug. 31, a U.S. official said.
    Before the Aug. 13 deal can be officially signed, details must be agreed on issues such as the opening of embassies, trade and travel links.
    Israel’s Channel 13 TV said bilateral trade could initially be worth $4 billion a year, a figure it said could soon be tripled or quadrupled. Government officials did not immediately confirm that estimate.
    Israeli Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster said Israel was working on potential joint projects that could help improve the oil-rich Gulf nation’s food security, such as water desalination and crop cultivation in the desert.
    “With their money and our experience, we could go a long way,” he told Tel Aviv radio station 102 FM in an interview on Friday.
    Officials from the two countries recently said they were looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, tourism and technology.
    The decree announced on Saturday means UAE citizens and businesses will be free to do business with Israel.
    The two countries do not yet have official air links, and it was unclear whether Monday’s El Al flight would be able to fly over Saudi Arabia – which has no official ties with Israel – to cut down on flight time.
    In May, an Etihad Airways plane flew from the UAE to Tel Aviv to deliver supplies to the Palestinians to help fight coronavirus, marking the first known flight by an UAE carrier to Israel.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Helen Popper and Clelia Oziel)

8/29/2020 Syrian Opposition Urges Major Powers To Back Nationwide Ceasefire by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Hadi al-Bahra, co-chair for the Syrian opposition, attends the first meeting of the new Syrian Constitutional
Committee at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, October 30, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The main Syrian opposition called on major powers on Saturday to help clinch a nationwide ceasefire in coming months to pave the way for a political transition after nearly a decade of war.
    Hadi al-Bahra, the Syrian opposition co-chair of the Syrian Constitutional Committee, was speaking to reporters in Geneva after week-long U.N.-sponsored talks.
    The 45-member committee composed of representatives of the government, opposition and civil society, has a mandate to draw up a new Constitution leading to U.N.-supervised elections.
    U.N. Special Envoy Geir Pedersen said that there were “many areas of disagreement,” but also “quite a few areas of commonalities.”    “My hope is with continued calm on the ground…we will also see some progress,” he told a briefing.
    Pedersen, referring to a ceasefire brokered by Turkey and Russia in March in the last remaining rebel-held bastion of Idlib in northwest Syria, said it was “by and large holding” despite violations.
    Bahra said that as long as there was no nationwide ceasefire, the political process would remain stalled.
    It was the responsibility of the international community and countries supporting either warring side to push for a full and permanent ceasefire, he said.
    “When we see that happen we will see the political process moving faster, because all sides they will know that there is no way for them to achieve a final victory on military terms,” he said.
    Troops from the United States, Russia, and Turkey as well as Iranian militias are present in Syria, Bahra said.
    “They will not permit any victory for any one side.    My expectation is that within the coming months we will see a complete, comprehensive ceasefire through all of Syria, that then we will see more international effort to move the political process forward to make it move faster,” he added.
    Ahmad Kuzbari, the Syrian government co-chair, did not speak to reporters.    No date was announced for the next round.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

8/30/2020 Israel Hopes For Washington Signing Ceremony On UAE Deal By Mid-September by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates flutter along a highway following the
agreement to formalize ties between the two countries, in Netanya, Israel August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel hopes to hold a signing ceremony in Washington for its normalisation deal with the United Arab Emirates by mid-September, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s cabinet said on Sunday.
    The date for such an event could be decided by senior aides to Netanyahu and to U.S. President Donald Trump when those officials fly to Abu Dhabi on Monday for talks, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis told public broadcaster Kan.
    Top Trump adviser Jared Kushner and the other U.S. delegates were due in Israel on Sunday to prepare for the UAE mission.
    “This (normalisation) agreement is expected to be signed in the month of September in the city of Washington,” Akunis said.    “That is meant to be one of the outcomes of the talks in the next 24 hours in the Emirates – setting a date for the signing.”
    Akunis added that the Netanyahu government hopes the ceremony will take place “before our Rosh Hashanah” or Jewish new year, which is on Sept. 18.
    Israel and the UAE announced on Aug. 13 that they would normalise diplomatic relations in a deal brokered by Trump.    The agreement reshapes the Middle East order, from the Palestinian issue to relations with Iran.
    On Saturday, the Gulf power announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel, allowing trade and financial agreements between the countries.
    Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.
    “We are talking about commercial deals worth $500 million in the initial stages, and this will keep rising all the time,” Akunis said.
    Such bilateral deals, he said, will give rise to “trilateral investments, in other words, in additional projects with other countries in the region.”    He did not name these countries.
    The U.S. and Israeli delegations are due to travel together to Abu Dhabi on an El Al Israel Airlines Ltd plane, Israel’s first direct flight between Tel Aviv and the UAE capital.
    El Al released pictures of the Boeing 737-900 jet that will take the delegates.    The word “peace” in English, Hebrew and Arabic is inscribed on the exterior above the cockpit windows for the occasion.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Sam Holmes and Frances Kerry)

8/30/2020 Beirut Port Blast Death Toll Rises To 190
FILE PHOTO: A view of the damaged site following the explosion at Beirut port, in Beirut, Lebanon August 26, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The death toll from this month’s Beirut port blast has risen to 190 with more than 6,500 injured and three people missing, Lebanon’s caretaker government said in a report dated Sunday.
    Lebanese authorities are probing what caused highly explosive material stored unsafely for years to detonate in a mushroom cloud, wrecking swathes of the city and fuelling anger at a political class already blamed for the country’s economic meltdown.
    The army said on Saturday that seven people were still missing – three Lebanese, three Syrians and one Egyptian.    It was not immediately clear if some had since been found.
    The Aug. 4 explosion left 300,000 people homeless and caused $15 billion in direct damage, said the report issued on Sunday by the presidency of the council of ministers.,br>     It said 50,000 houses, nine major hospitals and 178 schools had been damaged.
    The outgoing government quit over the blast.
    The presidency will talk to parliamentary blocs on Monday to designate a new prime minister, a day before French President Emmanuel Macron visits to press leaders to act to save the country from a deep financial crisis rooted in endemic corruption and mismanagement.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Nick Macfie)

8/30/2020 Hezbollah Will Avenge Slain Fighter, Leader Warns Israel
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday it was only a matter of time before the group killed an Israeli soldier to avenge the death of one its fighters in Syria and that it would not be drawn into clashes on the Lebanon-Israel frontier.
    Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006, and tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border have been running high after the Shi’ite movement said one of its members was killed in an apparent Israeli air strike in July in Syria.
    “Israel needs to understand that when they kill one of our mujahideen, we will kill one of their soldiers.    This is the equation,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
    “We will not engage in exchanges of fire … because this is what Israel wants,” he said.    “They know that we are not looking for a publicity achievement, but that we are looking for soldiers to kill and they are hiding them like rats.”
    Earlier this week the Israeli military struck what it said were Hezbollah posts after shots were fired at troops in Israel, which Nasrallah on Sunday denied.    Last month, Israel said the group carried out an infiltration attempt, a charge it denied.
    No casualties were reported on either side in the incidents.
    Nasrallah said Hezbollah would not be drawn into clashes that would “waste the blood of our martyrs and our equation.”
    After two Hezbollah members were killed in Damascus in 2019, Nasrallah vowed the group would respond if Israel killed any more Hezbollah fighters inside Syria, where they deployed as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad in a war that spiralled out of 2011 anti-government protests.
    Israel has stepped up strikes on Syria in recent months in what Western intelligence sources say is a shadow war, approved by Washington, that has undermined Iran’s military power in the region without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean and Nick Macfie)

8/30/2020 Trump Adviser Sees More Arab, Muslim Partners For Israel After UAE Deal by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: The national flags of Israel and the United Arab Emirates flutter along a highway following the agreement
to formalize ties between the two countries, in Netanya, Israel August 17, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s national security adviser said on Sunday more Arab and Muslim countries were likely to follow the United Arab Emirates in normalising relations with Israel.
    The White House official, Robert O’Brien, and Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on the eve of talks in Abu Dhabi on Monday on finalising formal Israel-UAE ties.
    Israel and the UAE announced on Aug. 13 that they would forge official ties under a deal brokered by Washington.    The diplomatic move reshapes the Middle East order, from the Palestinian issue to relations with Iran.
    “We believe that other Arab and Muslim countries will soon follow the United Arab Emirates’ lead and normalise relations with Israel,” O’Brien told reporters after talks at Netanyahu’s residence.
    He did not name the states, but Israeli officials have publicly mentioned Oman, Bahrain and Sudan.
    Palestinians have condemned the UAE’s move as abandonment of a policy of linking official relations with Israel to achievement of Palestinian statehood in territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war.
    The Trump administration has been trying to coax other Sunni Arab countries that share Israel’s concerns about Iran to join in a regional peace push.
    Kushner, speaking alongside Netanyahu and O’Brien, said the UAE deal was a “giant step forward” in the direction.
    “To have played a role in its creation, and I say this as the grandson of two Holocaust survivors, it means more to me and to my family that I can ever express,” Kushner said.
    Kushner, O’Brien and other U.S. officials will join an Israeli delegation on Monday in the first flight by an Israeli commercial airline – El Al – to the UAE.
    Speaking on Israel’s Kan public radio on Sunday, Israeli Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis said Israel hopes to hold a signing ceremony in Washington for the UAE deal by mid-September.
‘MEANINGLESS SPECTACLE’
    In the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to attend a White House signing event and give Trump a boost ahead of the Nov. 3 U.S. presidential election.
    “They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” Ashrawi said.
    On Saturday, the UAE announced it was scrapping its economic boycott against Israel.    Officials from the two countries have said they are looking at cooperation in defence, medicine, agriculture, tourism and technology.
    Netanyahu told reporters that abolishing “the anachronistic boycott” opened the door for “unbridled” trade, tourism and investment.
    Statements issued by the UAE and Israel on Sunday said the UAE minister of state and Israel’s agriculture minister spoke by phone on Friday and “pledged to collaborate on projects that address food and water security.”
    The UAE, a desert state, relies on imports for around 80% to 90% of its food, and has heavily encouraged investments in recent years in agricultural technology and farmland investments abroad.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell and Maha El Dahan in Dubai; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Sam Holmes and Frances Kerry)

8/30/2020 Hezbollah Open To Discussing New Political Order In Lebanon, Says Nasrallah
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Lebanon's Hezbollah gestures as he holds a Hezbollah flag in Marjayoun, Lebanon May 7, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher

8/30/2020 Hezbollah Will Avenge Slain Fighter, Leader Warns Israel
FILE PHOTO: A man rides a motorbike past a picture of Lebanon's Hezbollah leader
Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, near Sidon, Lebanon July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday it was only a matter of time before the group killed an Israeli soldier to avenge the death of one its fighters in Syria and that it would not be drawn into clashes on the Lebanon-Israel frontier.
    Israel and the Iranian-backed Hezbollah last fought a war in 2006, and tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border have been running high after the Shi’ite movement said one of its members was killed in an apparent Israeli air strike in July in Syria.
    “Israel needs to understand that when they kill one of our mujahideen, we will kill one of their soldiers.    This is the equation,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
    “We will not engage in exchanges of fire … because this is what Israel wants,” he said.    “They know that we are not looking for a publicity achievement, but that we are looking for soldiers to kill and they are hiding them like rats.”
    Earlier this week the Israeli military struck what it said were Hezbollah posts after shots were fired at troops in Israel, which Nasrallah on Sunday denied.    Last month, Israel said the group carried out an infiltration attempt, a charge it denied.
    No casualties were reported on either side in the incidents.
    Nasrallah said Hezbollah would not be drawn into clashes that would “waste the blood of our martyrs and our equation.”
    After two Hezbollah members were killed in Damascus in 2019, Nasrallah vowed the group would respond if Israel killed any more Hezbollah fighters inside Syria, where they deployed as part of Iranian-backed efforts to support President Bashar al-Assad in a war that spiralled out of 2011 anti-government protests.
    Israel has stepped up strikes on Syria in recent months in what Western intelligence sources say is a shadow war, approved by Washington, that has undermined Iran’s military power in the region without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean and Nick Macfie)

8/30/2020 Kushner, U.S. Officials To Tour Middle East For Peace Talks by OAN Newsroom
White House adviser Jared Kushner and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu make joint statements to the press
about the Israeli-United Arab Emirates peace accords, in Jerusalem, Sunday, Aug. 30, 2020. (Debbie Hill/Pool Photo via AP)
    White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner is set to tour the Middle East to help broker peace deals between multiple countries in the region.    On Sunday, he met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netenyahu for peace discussions, leaving the door open for the Palestinian people to possibly join.
    Kushner touted the recent Israel-UAE peace deal, which he claimed “set the stage” for countries in the area to follow suit.
    Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States all voiced optimism about the deal and are hoping to establish peace.
    “There is still much work left to accomplish, but the Abraham Accord is a giant step forward.    We will continue to pursue peace between Israel, the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, and its Arab and Muslim neighbors.    I have never been more hopeful about peace.” – Jared Kushner, White House Senior Adviser
    The adviser will soon begin traveling to other territories and countries in the Middle East to convince them to join the deal.

8/30/2020 Qatar Raises Minimum Wage, Lifts Curbs On Changing Jobs
FILE PHOTO: Workers walk towards the construction site of the Lusail stadium which will be build for the upcoming
2022 Fifa soccer World Cup during a stadium tour in Doha, Qatar, December 20, 2019. REUTERS/Kai Pfaffenbach

8/31/2020 First Official Israeli Flight To UAE Takes Off With Trump Aides Onboard
Senior U.S. Presidential Adviser Jared Kushner listens to U.S. National Security Adviser Robert O'Brien
speaking ahead of boarding the El Al's flight LY971, which will carry a U.S.-Israeli delegation from Tel Aviv
to Abu Dhabi at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 31, 2020. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – The first official Israeli flight to the United Arab Emirates took off on Monday from Tel Aviv, carrying U.S. and Israeli delegates to talks on cementing an Israel-UAE normalisation deal brokered by Washington.     Saudi Arabia, which does not have diplomatic relations with Israel, has given permission for the El Al Airlines Boeing 737 to fly over its territory en route to the UAE’s capital of Abu Dhabi, a source familiar with the flight plan said.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

8/31/2020 Israeli, U.S. Officials On Historic Flight To UAE To Formalize Normalization Deal by Dan Williams
An Israeli delegation led by National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and U.S. National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien
and U.S. President Trump's senior adviser Jared Kushner make their way to board the Israeli flag carrier El Al's airliner
as they fly to Abu Dhabi for talks meant to put final touches on the normalisation deal between the United Arab Emirates
and Israel, at Ben Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias?
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Top aides to U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a historic first flight from Tel Aviv to the United Arab Emirates on Monday to finalize a pact marking open relations between the Gulf power and Israel.
    Even before discussions start in Abu Dhabi, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.
    “That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in a 1967 war.
    Announced on Aug. 13, the normalization deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was catalyzed largely by shared fears of Iran.
    Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, worried that it would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory – and acceptance of Palestinian statehood – in return for normal relations with Arab countries. [L8N2FV09W]
    Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and national security adviser Robert O’Brien head the U.S. delegation.    The Israeli team is led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. Officials will explore bilateral cooperation in areas such as commerce and tourism, and Israeli defense envoys are due to visit the UAE separately.
    “I prayed yesterday at the (Western) Wall that Muslims and Arabs throughout the world will be watching this flight, recognizing that we are all children of God, and that the future does not have to be pre-determined by the past,” Kushner told reporters on the tarmac at Tel Aviv’s Ben-Gurion airport.
    Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a Washington signing ceremony, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
FOREIGN POLICY BOOST
    That could give Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
    The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel.    The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signaled it is not ready.
    In Abu Dhabi, several people were injured on Monday in an explosion that was likely caused by gas lines in a restaurant, police said.     Abu Dhabi-owned the National daily reported that the blast hit KFC and Hardees restaurants.    In a second incident, one person was killed when a gas cylinder exploded in a Dubai restaurant, local media reported.
    With the word “peace” printed in Arabic, English and Hebrew above a cockpit window, the El Al Boeing 737 took off for Abu Dhabi from Tel Aviv, a flight of about 3 hours and 20 minutes, the pilot announced to passengers.
    Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the U.S. Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet to guard the delegations.
    Hanan Ashrawi, a member of the Palestine Liberation Organisation’s executive committee, said Kushner and his team were “scrambling to convince as many Arab and Muslim leaders as possible” to give Trump an election boost.
    “They will be a prop at the backdrop of a meaningless spectacle for a ridiculous agreement that will not bring peace to the region,” she said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney, Toby Chopra, William Maclean)

8/31/2020 Lebanon’s Leaders Agree On New Prime Minister Before Macron Visit by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
An undated handout picture provided by Lebanese embassy in Berlin shows Lebanese ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib who was nominated to
be the next Lebanese prime minister in formal consultations on August 31, 2020. Lebanese Embassy Berlin/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s ambassador to Germany Mustapha Adib is set to be designated prime minister on Monday ahead of a visit to Beirut by the French president who will press for long-delayed reforms to steer the Middle East nation out of its deep crisis.
    Emmanuel Macron, who arrives late on Monday for his second visit in less than a month, has spearheaded international efforts to get Lebanon’s fractious leaders to tackle the root causes of a financial meltdown that devastated the economy even before the Aug. 4 port blast killed 190 people.
    With the economy on its knees, a swathe of Beirut in tatters and sectarian tensions rising, the former French protectorate is facing the biggest threat to its stability since a 1975-90 civil war.
    Senior Lebanese officials said Macron’s mediation was essential in securing agreement on a candidate in the 48 hours before consensus emerged on Adib.    Last week, they were in complete deadlock who would be the next premier.
    Adib’s name surfaced on Sunday when he was nominated by former prime ministers, including Saad al-Hariri who heads Lebanon’s biggest Sunni Muslim party. The post of prime minister must go to a Sunni under Lebanon’s sectarian system.
    Adib, who has been envoy to Berlin since 2013 and was adviser to a former prime minister, was set for an overwhelming majority of lawmakers.
    Hariri’s Future Movement, the powerful Iranian-backed Shi’ite party Hezbollah and the Progressive Socialist Party led by Druze politician Walid Jumblatt were among the first groups to nominate Adib in formal consultations hosted by President Michel Aoun on Monday.
    Aoun, a Maronite Christian, must designate the candidate with greatest support among lawmakers.    Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement will also nominate Adib.
    The Lebanese Forces, a Christian group, looked like it would be the only major party not to support him.    It backed another ambassador, Nawaf Salam, a choice strongly opposed by Hezbollah.
    On top of the economic crisis, sectarian tensions erupted last week in a deadly shootout between Sunni and Shi’ites south of Beirut.
KEEPING UP THE PRESSURE
    Macron, who meets Lebanese politicians in Beirut on Tuesday, made a series of phone calls to Lebanese leaders at the weekend that were vital to securing the consensus on Adib.
    “It was the pressure of his calls to everyone, the pressure of his coming to Lebanon, the pressure of everyone not wanting to upset him,” a senior Lebanese politician said, adding that “no one can afford a long process” to agree a new government.
    In the past, forming a new government has taken months of political horse trading.
    A French presidency source said Macron’s demands “are clear: a government of mission, clean, efficient, able to implement the necessary reforms in Lebanon and therefore able to receive strong international support.”
    With the backing of Hariri and Jumblatt, both influential players, Adib will enjoy more support than Hassan Diab who quit with his government on Aug. 10 after the port blast.    Diab was nominated by Hezbollah and its allies who together have a parliamentary majority.
    Hariri called for the quick formation of a government of specialist ministers under Adib, who has a doctorate in law and political science.
    Donor states want to see Lebanon address state corruption and waste, the root causes of the financial crisis.
    Lebanon won pledges of more than $11 billion in support at a Paris conference in 2018 conditional on reforms that it failed to carry out, such as fixing an electricity sector that bleeds state funds yet still fails supply 24-hour power.
    Once designated, the process of forming a new government will start. Until a new administration is agreed, the outgoing government continues in a caretaker capacity.
Lebanon’s financial crisis has sunk the currency by as much as 80% since October, locked savers out of their deposits in a paralysed banking system and fuelled poverty and unemployment.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam in Beirut and Elizabeth Pineau in Paris; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Michael Georgy and Edmund Blair)

8/31/2020 Israel’s Elbit Systems Wins U.S. Army Contract Worth Up To $79 Million
Logo of Israeli defence electronics firm Elbit Systems is seen at their offices in Haifa, Israel February 26, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israeli defence company Elbit Systems said on Monday its U.S. subsidiary won a contract to supply the U.S. Army with gunner hand stations, commander hand stations and circuit cards for the Bradley Infantry Fighting Vehicle.
    The contract, worth up to $79 million, will be carried out over five years.    An initial purchase order of $26 million followed by a purchase order of $12 million have been issued the contract.
    The gunner hand stations enable crew members to target and fire, and work in collaboration with the commander hand stations that drive the vehicles’ turret.    The circuit cards provide processing and power supply to the hand station units.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen, Editing by Rami Ayyub)

8/31/2020 Israeli, U.S. Officials Land In UAE, Kushner Urges Palestinians To Negotiate by Dan Williams and Lisa Barrington
The Israeli flag carrier El Al's airliner carrying Israeli and U.S. delegates lands at Abu Dhabi
International Airport, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – Senior U.S. and Israeli officials landed in the United Arab Emirates on Monday on a historic trip to finalise a pact marking open relations between Israel and the Gulf state, and they told Palestinians it was now time for them to negotiate peace.
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner also said on arrival that Washington could help maintain Israel’s military edge while advancing its ties to the UAE, the Arab world’s second largest economy and a regional power.
    Announced on Aug. 13, the normalisation deal is the first such accommodation between an Arab country and Israel in more than 20 years and was forged largely through shared fears of Iran.
    Palestinians were dismayed by the UAE’s move, seeing it as a betrayal that would weaken a long-standing pan-Arab position which calls for Israeli withdrawal from occupied territory and acceptance of Palestinian statehood in return for normal relations with Arab countries.
    Kushner said Palestinians should not be “stuck in the past.”
    “They have to come to the table. Peace will be ready for them, an opportunity will be ready for them as soon as they are ready to embrace it,” said Kushner, part of a U.S. delegation that accompanied Israeli officials on the first official Israeli flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE.
    Kushner and national security adviser Robert O’Brien headed the U.S. delegation.    The Israeli team was led by O’Brien’s counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat.
    Israel and the United Arab Emirates will discuss economic, scientific, trade and cultural cooperation on the visit. Direct flights between the two countries will also be on the agenda, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman told al Arabiya television after landing in Abu Dhabi.
    “That’s what peace for peace looks like,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted, describing a deal for formal ties with an Arab state that does not entail handover of land that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    At a news conference in Jerusalem late on Monday, Netanyahu said: “It will be a warm peace because it will be based on cooperation in the realm of economics, with an entrepreneurial economy like ours, with vast economic capabilities, with big money looking for investment channels.”
ARABIC GREETING
    Even before landing, the delegates made aviation history when the Israeli commercial airliner flew over Saudi territory on the direct flight from Tel Aviv to the UAE capital.
    Israeli officials hope the two-day trip will produce a date for a signing ceremony in Washington, perhaps as early as September, between Netanyahu and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
    That could give U.S. President Donald Trump a foreign policy boost ahead of his re-election bid in November.
    The Trump administration has tried to coax other Sunni Arab countries concerned about Iran to engage with Israel.    The most powerful of those, Saudi Arabia, while opening its airspace to the El Al flight, has signalled it is not ready.
    On board the packed airliner, passengers were welcomed in Arabic as well as English and Hebrew, a gesture marking the historic flight.
    “Wishing us all salaam, peace and shalom, have a safe flight,” the pilot, Captain Tal Becker, said on the intercom, in Arabic, English and Hebrew, using all three languages to also announce the flight number and destination.
    Like all El Al 737s, the aircraft was equipped with an anti-missile system, an Israeli spokesman said, and carried security agents of the U.S. Secret Service and the Israeli Shin Bet.
    Palestinian leaders expressed anger at a deal which they believe further erodes their struggle for an independent state.
    “Peace is not an empty word used to normalize crimes and oppression.    Peace is the outcome of justice,” politician Saeb Erekat said in a Tweet.
    “Peace is not made by denying Palestine’s right to exist and imposing an apartheid regime."    Apartheid is what Netanyahu means by “peace for peace.”
    The Islamist Hamas group, which controls the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, also condemned the UAE.
    The flight represents a “stab in the back of the Palestinian people, a prolonging of the occupation, and a betrayal of the resistance of the (Palestinian) people,” Hamas said in a statement.
    Hours before the plane landed, in apparently unrelated incidents that authorities attributed to gas malfunctions, three people were killed and several others were injured in two separate explosions in Abu Dhabi and UAE tourism hub Dubai, police and local media said.
    The Abu Dhabi government media office said two people were killed in the blast in the capital, which the National daily reported hit KFC and Hardee’s restaurants, located on a main road leading to the airport.
    In the second incident, one person was killed when a gas cylinder exploded in a Dubai restaurant, local media reported.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Ari Rabinovitch and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by William Maclean and Gareth Jones)

8/31/2020 Macron Says He Will Press For Lebanon Reform After New PM Named by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam
Mustapha Adib, talks to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister at
the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – France’s President Emmanuel Macron said he would press for reforms aimed at dragging Lebanon out of a financial abyss as he began a visit to Beirut hours after Lebanese leaders named diplomat Mustapha Adib new PM on Monday under French pressure.
    With its economy in deep crisis, a swathe of Beirut in tatters following a huge explosion on Aug. 4, and sectarian tensions rising, Lebanon is facing the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Macron was met at the airport by President Michel Aoun as the French leader made his second visit in less than a month.    “So President, it’s been a busy day, hasn’t it,” Macron told Aoun.
    Macron told reporters said he wanted to “ensure that the government that is formed will implement the necessary reforms.”
    Foreign donors say Lebanon must tackle corruption and waste before they release financial support.
    Senior Lebanese officials said Macron’s mediation was essential in securing agreement on a new prime minister in the 48 hours before consensus emerged on Adib, the former ambassador to Germany.    Politicians had been deadlocked last week.
    “The opportunity for our country is small and the mission I have accepted is based on all the political forces acknowledging that,” said Adib, who won the support of nearly all Lebanon’s main parties in consultations hosted by Aoun.
    “There is no time for talk and promises … It’s the time to work with everyone’s cooperation,” he said.
    He called for the formation of a gover