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

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

KING OF THE SOUTH 2020 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER


    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 NOVEMBER-DECEMBER

11/1/2020 Algerians Start Voting In Referendum On Constitutional Change by Hamid Ould Ahmed
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator stands on a street pole as he carries a national flag during a protest to push for
the removal of the current political structure, in Algiers, Algeria April 5, 2019. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Polls opened in Algeria on Sunday in a referendum on changes to the constitution pushed by President Abdelmadjid Tebboune and the powerful military as a way to turn the page on last year’s popular unrest.
    The referendum is seen as a test of strength for both Tebboune and the leaderless opposition “Hirak” protest movement that brought thousands of people onto the streets weekly to demand radical change, and which rejects the vote.
    Tebboune, who has been in hospital in Germany since last week after saying aides had tested positive for COVID-19, has pushed for a big turnout that would demonstrate popular support for his strategy of moving on from the demonstrations.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/1/2020 Israel Starts Human Trials Of COVID-19 Vaccine As Schools Slowly Reopen
Pupils, wearing protective face masks, arrive at their school as Israel reopens first to fourth grades, continuing to ease a
second nationwide coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lockdown, at a school in Rehovot, Israel November 1, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel began human trials on Sunday for its COVID-19 vaccine candidate which, if successful, could be ready for the general public by the end of next summer.
    Eighty volunteers will initially take part in the trial that will be expanded to 960 people in December.    Should those trials succeed a third stage with 30,000 volunteers is scheduled for April/May.
    “We are in the final stretch,” said Shmuel Shapira, Director General of the Israel Institute for Biological Research.
    The institute, which is overseen by the Defense Ministry, began animal trials for its “BriLife” vaccine in March and announced a week ago it had received regulatory approval to take it to the next stage.
    For a factbox on the many vaccine candidates in human trials worldwide, please click on Shmuel Yitzhaki, head of the institute’s biology division, told Reuters that if all goes well the vaccine could reach the general population by the end of next summer.
    While the first batch of volunteers received the potential vaccine, around the country elementary students returned to school as a second nationwide lockdown comes to a gradual end.
    Restrictions in Israel, with a population of 9 million, are being slowly lifted following a steady decline in the rate of daily infections.
    First through fourth graders were the first to return to school on Sunday.    Older kids are still learning from home.
    The government also approved the reopening in stages of businesses and recreational activities.
    The country reported 674 new cases on Friday – down from a peak of more than 9,000 several weeks ago.    It has reported 2,541 deaths from the pandemic.
(Reporting by Dedi Hayun and Ari Rabinovitch; editing by David Evans)

11/2/2020 Tanzania Police Arrest Main Opposition Party Leader Ahead Of Protests
FILE PHOTO: Freeman Mbowe (C), chairman of Chadema, Tanzanian main opposition party arrives
at Kisutu Magistrate Court in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Emmanuel Herman
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzanian police have arrested Freeman Mbowe, the leader of the main opposition party Chadema, according to Tundu Lissu, the party’s candidate in last week’s presidential election.
    The opposition has demanded a repeat election, citing widespread irregularities, and called for protests against the outcome, which returned President John Magufuli to office with 84% of the vote.
    Those arrested with Mbowe include former member of parliament Godbless Lema, the former mayor of Dar es Salaam, Isaya Mwita, and the former mayor of Ubungo municipality, Boniface Jacob.
    “I got a message around midnight that they had been taken in,” Lissu told Reuters on Monday.
    Mwananchi, a privately-owned daily that publishes in Swahili, quoted Dar es Salaam’s regional police commander Lazaro Mambosasa as saying they had detained Mbowe and other opposition leaders.
    The United States has said it was concerned about reports showing “systematic interference in the democratic process,” while Britain said it was “troubled by the reports of violence and heavy-handed policing in the elections.”
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Kim Coghill and Gerry Doyle)

11/2/2020 Nigerian Minister Says It’s Unclear Who Shot Protesters In Lagos by Alexis Akwagyiram
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators gather during a protest over alleged police brutality in Lagos, Nigeria October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Temilade Adelaja/File Photo
    ABUJA (Reuters) – “Hoodlums” wearing military uniforms may have shot Nigerian protesters campaigning against police brutality and it was too soon to tell if soldiers were involved, the country’s attorney general said on Monday.
    Demonstrations across the country turned violent on Oct. 20 when witnesses in Lagos said the military opened fire on peaceful protesters in the upmarket Lekki district shortly after local authorities imposed a 24-hour curfew, drawing international condemnation.
    Soldiers and police killed at least 12 people in two Lagos neighbourhoods on Oct. 20, according to witnesses and rights group Amnesty International.    The army and police have denied involvement.
    Attorney General Abubakar Malami told reporters in the capital, Abuja, the matter was being investigated and there was a need to establish whether the shooting took place, who was responsible and whether the people who were shooting were part of the military.
    “You cannot rule out the possibility of perhaps hoodlums that set in to create a scene… could equally partake in the process,” Malami said at the news conference, which was also attended by government officials including the defence minister and finance minister.
    He also said it was “pre-emptive” to conclude that there had even been a shooting.
    Lagos state has ordered an investigation into the incident.
    Last week the military said the Lagos state government asked the army to intervene to restore order, but soldiers did not shoot civilians.
    Nationwide protests against alleged human rights abuses by police sparked some of Nigeria’s worst street violence since it returned to civilian rule in 1999.    Police last week said 22 of its personnel were killed in the violence and 205 police stations were damaged.
    The unrest, which has largely died down, has posed the biggest political challenge faced by President Muhammadu Buhari since he took office in 2015.
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Susan Fenton)

11/2/2020 Ivory Coast President On Track For Election Win, Opposition Cry Foul by Aaron Ross
FILE PHOTO: Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara speaks next to his wife Dominique after casting their votes at a
polling station during the presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara edged closer to claiming a landslide election victory, partial tallies showed on Monday, though opponents said his bid for a third term was illegal and the results were skewed by an opposition boycott.
    The president has been named winner of all constituencies announced so far, most with more than 90 per cent of the vote, after a bitter presidential vote marred by deadly violence.
    Two major opposition candidates on the ballot had asked their supporters not to take part in Saturday’s election, in protest at Ouattara’s decision to run.    Their parties said whole swathes of the country had not participated.
    Ivory Coast’s constitution allows presidents to stand for two terms.    Ouattara says the approval of a new constitution in 2016 restarted his mandate, which the opposition disuptes.
    Opposition activists say his decision to seek a third term was a further blow to democracy in West Africa less than three months after a military coup in neighbouring Mali.
    The Carter Center, which monitored the election, said the political and security situation made it difficult to organise a credible vote.
    “The electoral process excluded a large number of Ivorian political forces and was boycotted by part of the population in a volatile security environment,” it said in a statement.
    The opposition candidates who boycottted the vote – former president Henri Konan Bedie and ex-prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan – have said they will not recognise a Ouattara victory.
    The country’s commercial capital Abidjan was calm during the election and the days that followed.
    Inland, however, more sporadic violence broke out Saturday as youths clashed in opposition strongholds, killing at least five people.    Cocoa farmers said they were staying away from their plantations due to insecurity.
    The electoral commission has now released about a third of the provisional results and is due to release more later on Monday.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Edward McAllister and Andrew Heavens)

11/2/2020 Israeli Minister Says Normalisation Deals Need U.S. President Tough On Iran by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Economy Minister Eli Cohen works at his office in the Knesset,
the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem November 22, 2017. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and Qatar are among countries slated to establish relations with Israel under a regional rapprochement launched by U.S. President Donald Trump, an Israeli official said on Monday.
Straying from Israel’s reticence about Tuesday’s U.S. election, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said implementing further normalisation deals could depend on the next president displaying continued “resolve” against Iran.
    Democratic presidential hopeful Joe Biden wants to rejoin the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal that the Republican incumbent quit, to the satisfaction of Israel and some Gulf Arabs.
    Trump, who has played up his Middle East policy while campaigning, was asked last week which countries might follow the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in normalising ties with Israel.    “We have five definites,” he responded.
    Cohen said Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar, Morocco and Niger were “on the agenda.”
    “These are the five countries,” he told Ynet TV.    “And if the Trump policy continues, we will be able to reach additional agreements.”
    While not explicitly favouring either U.S. candidate, Cohen argued that Trump’s policy had prompted Arab and Muslim countries to seek accommodation with Israel.
    If the next president “does not show resolve vis-a-vis Iran, then what will happen is that they will take their time, will not rush, will not choose a side,” Cohen said.    “A concessionary policy will gets the peace deals stuck.”
    Saudi Arabia, the Gulf powerhouse and Islam’s birthplace, quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain deals with Israel, signed on Sept. 15. But Riyadh has stopped short of endorsing them, and signalled it is not ready to follow suit.
    The Saudis were the architects of a 2002 Israeli-Arab peace proposal that called for Israeli withdrawal from occupied land to make way for a Palestinian state.
    Qatar, which has links to Iran and Hamas, has ruled out normalisation before Palestinians achieve statehood.
(This story has been refiled to restore dropped word “not” from paragraph 8)
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Giles Elgood)

11/2/2020 Israeli Settlers Pray For Trump Re-Election At Biblical Tomb
Israeli settlers adjust flags as they gather to show their support for U.S. President Donald Trump in the upcoming U.S. election, at the Cave of the Patriarchs,
a site sacred to Jews and Muslims, in the Palestinian city of Hebron in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 2, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    HEBRON, West Bank (Reuters) – Jewish settler leaders prayed on Monday for U.S. President Donald Trump’s re-election, citing his support for Israel, during a ceremony at a biblical tomb in the occupied West Bank that has been a flashpoint of conflict with the Palestinians.
    “We have come to bless President Trump, both for the past, to thank him, but also for the future, that he succeeds in the coming election,” Yishai Fleisher, spokesman for the Hebron settlers, said at the Cave of the Patriarchs burial site.
    One of those interred there, according to tradition, is Abraham, who is revered by Jews, Christians and Muslims.    Hoping to encourage coexistence between Jews and Palestinians, the Trump administration has named the Israeli-Arab rapprochement that it has been brokering the “Abraham Accords.”
    But Trump, a Republican running against Democratic former vice president Joe Biden in Tuesday’s election, has been shunned by Palestinians for perceived bias since he broke with global consensus by recognising Jerusalem as the Israeli capital.
    His administration has also softened U.S. disapproval of Israel’s settlements on land where the Palestinians want to establish a state, and which most world powers deem illegal.
    A rabbi officiating at Monday’s ceremony prayed for God to secure Trump “four more years,” citing the president’s “commitment to the preservation and strengthening of the people of Israel, the state of Israel and the land of Israel.”
    A Trump peace plan stirred some settler anger, however, by proposing that Palestinians get a state on 70% of the West Bank.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/3/2020 Ivory Coast President Scores Landslide Win, Opposition Cries Foul by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly
FILE PHOTO: Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara speaks next to his wife Dominique after casting their votes at
a polling station during the presidential election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast October 31, 2020. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara has provisionally won a third term in office with 94.27% of the vote, the electoral commission announced early on Tuesday, after a bitter election that sparked deadly violence and was boycotted by opposition voters.
    “Thus elected president of the republic, Alassane Ouattara,” Kuibiert-Coulibaly Ibrahime, the head of the electoral commission announced.
    He said the final turnout for the Oct. 31 election was at 53.90%.
    The results have to be validated by the country’s constitutional council which will declare the final winner after hearing any challenges or complaints of irregularities.
    Two major opposition candidates on the ballot had asked supporters not to take part in Saturday’s election, in protest at Ouattara’s decision to run.    Their parties said whole swathes of the country had not participated.
    Opposition activists say Ouattara’s decision to seek a third term was a further blow to democracy in West Africa less than three months after a military coup in neighbouring Mali, and a successful third term bid by Guinea’s President Alpha Conde.
    Ouattara, 78, received over 90% in most districts, although the opposition said his bid was an illegal attempt to hold onto power.
    The Ivorian constitution limits presidents to two terms, but Ouattara says the approval of a new constitution in 2016 allowed him to restart his mandate.
    The disagreement led to clashes in the lead up to the vote, in which at least 30 people died.    At least five more were killed on Saturday, officials said.
    The world’s top cocoa growing country was spared the widespread violence that many feared would erupt during voting, but many Ivorians fear that the country could experience longer term unrest.
    A brief civil war following a disputed election in 2010 killed over 3,000 people.
    The Carter Center, which monitored Saturday’s election, said the political and security situation made it difficult to organise a credible vote.
    “The electoral process excluded a large number of Ivorian political forces and was boycotted by part of the population in a volatile security environment,” it said in a statement.
    The opposition candidates who boycotted the vote – former President Henri Konan Bedie and ex-Prime Minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan – have said they will not recognise a Ouattara victory.
    In a joint statement on Monday evening, they announced the creation of a transitional council presided by Bedie.
    “The council will have a mission to prepare the framework for a credible and transparent presidential election.    It will name a government in the coming hours,” N’Guessan said in a news conference.
    On Monday, gunshots were heard in the upmarket Cocody neighbourhood of Abidjan, the commercial capital, shattering the tense calm that had prevailed through election day and the day after, witnesses said.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa and Loucoumane Coulibaly; Additional reporting by Aaron Ross; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Richard Chang, Christopher Cushing and Raju Gopalakrishnan)

11/3/2020 Nigerians March In Support Of President Trump by OAN Newsroom
Protesters march while holding the Nigerian national flag as they barricade the
Lagos-Ibadan expressway. (Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images)
    President Trump has received support for re-election all the way in Nigeria.
    In a recent march in Eastern Nigeria, hundreds of people gathered in support of the President as they waved American flags and Trump signs.
    One rally-goer said the President shows good leadership qualities, which sets an example for others around the world.
    “Trump’s message to Africa, to Nigeria, is: stop killing Christians,” stated Lagos resident Kingsley Nwololo.    “No other president talked, only him that gives the message.    So it gives Christians hope here.”
    This came as a Pew Research Center poll released in January showed 58 percent of Nigerians had confidence in President Trump.
    Additionally, a Gallup survey found 56 percent of Nigerians approve of U.S. leadership.

11/3/2020 Nigerians March In Support Of President Trump by OAN Newsroom
President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Kenosha Regional Airport, Monday, Nov. 2, 2020, in Kenosha, Wis. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
    A massive rally in support of President Trump recently took place in Nigeria in an unprecedented show of support.    On Tuesday, hundreds of people took to the streets of Lagos with many of them stating the Trump administration has defended religious freedom and Christianity around the world.
    The demonstrators praised President Trump for defeating the Islamic State.    They noted that Nigeria needs another four years of a Trump presidency in the U.S. to defeat Boko Haram and other Islamic terrorists across the world.
    “Trump’s message to Africa, to Nigeria is stop killing Christians,” said Kingsley Nwololo, a resident of Lagos.    “And no other president talked, only him that gives the message, so it gives Christians hope here.”
    Nigerians also said President Trump’s peacemaking efforts will defuse military tensions in Africa, which is still torn by tribal warfare and sectarian violence.
    Meanwhile, a Pew Research Center poll released in January showed 58-percent of Nigerians had confidence in President Trump.    Additionally, a Gallup survey found 56-percent of Nigerians approve of U.S. leadership.

11/4/2020 Ethiopia’s PM Accuses Tigray Of Attacking Federal Forces
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused the regional government of Tigray of attacking federal forces stationed there, adding that federal troops will use force to secure the nation.
    In September, Tigray held regional elections in defiance of the federal government, which called the vote “illegal.”
    The row between the federal government and the party that rules Tigray, TPLF, has escalated in recent days with both sides accusing each other of plotting to use military force.
    “The last point of the red line has been crossed,” Abiy said in a statement on Twitter early on Wednesday.
    Debrestion Gebremichael, the president of Tigray region, told a news conference on Monday that Abiy’s government was planning to attack the region to punish it for holding the September election.
    Tigrayans ruled Ethiopian politics since guerrilla fighters ousted a Marxist dictator in 1991, but their influence has waned under Abiy and last year, the TPLF quit his ruling coalition.
    Tigray’s population makes up 5% of Ethiopia’s 109 million people, but its history in politics means it is wealthier and more influential than many other, larger regions.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Kim Coghill)

11/4/2020 Ethiopia Sends Army Into Tigray Region, Heavy Fighting Reported by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw
A still image taken from a video shows Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed addressing the nation in
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 4, 2020. Ethiopia Broadcasting Coporation/Handout/Reuters TV via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Heavy fighting flared in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region on Wednesday, diplomatic sources said, after the prime minister launched military operations in response to what he said was an attack on federal troops.
    Tensions have been escalating since September, when Tigray held regional elections in defiance of the federal government, which called the vote “illegal.”    In recent days, both sides accused each other of plotting a military conflict.
    Early on Wednesday, the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), tried to steal artillery and other equipment from federal forces stationed there, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office said.
    “The last red line has been crossed with this morning’s attacks and the federal government is therefore forced into a military confrontation,” it said, adding that the aim was to prevent instability engulfing the country and region.
    Tigray’s population makes up 5% of Ethiopia’s more than 110 million people, but the area is wealthier and more influential than many other, larger regions and has a well-trained army.
    Abiy’s spokesman, Billene Seyoum, told Reuters later that military operations in Tigray had commenced, without elaborating.    Two diplomatic sources in Addis Ababa said heavy fighting, including artillery fire, had broken out in the northern region, which borders Eritrea.
    The prime minister’s office said the federal government had declared a six-month state of emergency in Tigray to be overseen by the chief of staff of the armed forces.
    Tigrayans’ influence has waned since Abiy came to power in 2018.    Many senior Tigrayan officials have been detained, fired or sidelined, in what the federal government describes as a clampdown on corruption but Tigrayans see as a means to quell dissent.    Last year, the TPLF quit Abiy’s ruling coalition.
DEFECTION REPORT DENIED
    Tigray’s local government said the Northern Command of the federal military, which is stationed in the region, had defected to its side, a statement that Billene described as “false information.”
    The TPLF, in a statement issued later on Wednesday, said: “We always win because arrogance, invasion, and traitorous acts in our country are not our nature.    We know war in action; it will cost lives and destroy properties," Redwan Hussein, spokesman for a newly-established State of Emergency Task Force, said the government viewed the TPLF as the real enemy, not the Tigray region.
    “This conflict is with a very small group, with narrow vested interests, which is hell-bent on destabilising the national order,” Redwan told a news briefing.
    He told Reuters the TPLF assault took place at the Northern Ethiopia Command’s base near Mekele, and in Dansha, near Humera.    Asked if negotiations were an option, he replied, “Not yet.”    There was no immediate comment from the TPLF.
    U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres called for immediate measures to de-escalate tensions and ensure a peaceful resolution to the dispute, his spokesman said in a statement, as did the U.S. Embassy in Ethiopia.
    The internet was shut down in the region, internet access monitor NetBlocks said, after earlier reports that authorities had blocked telephone and internet services.
    Ethiopia has suffered multiple outbreaks of violence since Abiy took office. At the weekend, gunmen killed 32 people and torched more than 20 houses in western Ethiopia.
(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by George Obulutsa and Alexandra Hudson)

11/4/2020 Jordan Records 62 COVID Deaths, Highest Daily Rate Since Start Of Pandemic by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
People, some wearing protective masks, walk in downtown Amman, amid fears over rising numbers
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, Jordan November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan reported 62 new deaths from COVID-19 on Wednesday, the highest daily death toll since the pandemic surfaced in the Middle Eastern kingdom nearly eight months ago.
    The health ministry also reported 4,658 new confirmed coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours – from 4,833 on Tuesday and a record 5,877 on Sunday – taking the cumulative total to 91,234 cases.
    Jordan, which stood out among its Middle Eastern neighbours for its low figures at the start of the pandemic, has seen an exponential rise in the last month and now has the highest per capita infection and death rates of Arab states.
    The government, which says there are 1,617 COVID-19 patients being treated in hospitals, has agreed to use 1,000 beds from the country’s 30 private hospitals to ease pressure on its overwhelmed public health system.
    Health Minister Nazir Obeidat has warned the country has not yet reached its peak in daily cases and blamed the spread on the lack of adherence to social distancing and not wearing masks.
    With one of the strictest lockdowns in the world, Jordan, a country of 10 million, got the contagion under control by the summer.
    However, officials say the widespread outbreak since then, which medics link to a travellers from neighbouring Syria, has been aggravated by mismanagement in the public health sector.
    The government this week extended a night curfew and imposed financial penalties on those not wearing masks in public areas.
    The authorities will impose a four-day nationwide lockdown next Wednesday, a day after parliamentary elections, which they hope will help them avoid a longer lockdown that Jordan’s aid-dependent economy can ill afford.
    The government intends to go ahead with the election despite criticism it could aggravate the health crisis.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

11/4/2020 Palestinian Officer Fires At Israeli Troops And Is Shot Dead, Army Says
Members of Israeli forces gather at the scene of an incident at the Hawara checkpoint near the
Palestinian city of Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) – A Palestinian motorist fired a pistol at Israeli soldiers in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday and was killed by them, a military spokesman said, and Palestinians identified the dead man as an officer in their security forces.
    There were no Israeli casualties in the incident at a roadside military position near the Palestinian city of Nablus.
    A Palestinian security official named the dead man as Bilal Rawajba, a Preventive Security Service officer and resident of a village outside Nablus.    Rawajba had been expected to drive from home to his workplace on Wednesday, the official said.
    Preventive Security is among Palestinian security services that have often cooperated with Israel in keeping a cap on West Bank violence that has simmered since diplomacy between the sides stalled in 2014.
    President Mahmoud Abbas called off the security coordination in May, however, in protest at Israel’s plan – since shelved – to annex parts of the West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood.
    Palestinian medical officials could not immediately retrieve Rawajba’s body.    A military spokesman said it was in Israeli custody.
(Writing by Dan Williams, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta, Editing by William Maclean)

11/5/2020 ‘Disgrace’ And A ‘Mess’: Africans Taken Aback By U.S. Election Turmoil by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Saliou Sambr>
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump speaks about early results from the 2020 U.S. presidential election
in the East Room of the White House in Washington, U.S., November 4, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria
    ABIDJAN/CONAKRY (Reuters) – For some Africans, President Donald Trump’s actions in the aftermath of the U.S. election have been a cause for dark humour, while others reacted with dismay or disbelief.
    In countries whose own recent elections were marred by accusations of cheating and violence, some expressed concern about what signal Trump’s premature declaration of victory, allegations of fraud and flurry of lawsuits might send to their own leaders.
    “Trump is setting a bad example for Africa and a country like ours.    You cannot proclaim yourself in an election where you are a candidate when justice exists,” said Mory Keïta, a car parts dealer in Guinea.
    Dozens of people were killed in protests before and after the West African country’s president won a contested third term last month.
    “It’s a total disgrace,” said Bachir Diallo, a Guinean mining executive.    “Such a mess is worthy of a banana republic.”
    As Democrat Joe Biden edged closer to victory over President Donald Trump, others felt a sharp sense of irony seeing events play out in a developed nation whose authorities regularly admonish African leaders for not respecting democratic norms.
    Trump, who during the long and rancorous campaign attacked the integrity of the American voting system, has alleged fraud without providing evidence, filed lawsuits and called for at least one recount.
    When the U.S. Embassy in Guinea’s neighbour Ivory Coast called on Wednesday for dialogue and commitment to the rule of law following another disputed presidential election, some people took umbrage.
    “I believe the playground response is ‘why you talking about yourself?'” one Twitter user wrote.
    “They tell us about democracy, it’s simply a hoax.    They don’t mean it,” said Maurice Nandasaba, as he caught up with friends near a newsstand in Kenya’s capital Nairobi.
    Some who followed the U.S. election found positives in what was happening across the Atlantic.
    “It’s calm, and there is no violence,” said Viviane Asseke, a schoolteacher in Ivory Coast, where more than 10 people have died in clashes since the president won a third term that opponents consider unconstitutional.     “It makes you want to vote.”
    But more people were disappointed.
    “You would think we’re in Africa when you see Trump’s behaviour,” said Ange Kouame, 23, a student in Ivory Coast’s main city, Abidjan.
    “It is terrifying to see this in America,” said Tito Kisiya, a sales executive in Tanzania, whose presidential election last week drew criticism from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
    In Africa’s most populous nation Nigeria, where Trump has many admirers, some were critical of his actions.
    “A soothsayer does not need to tell us that the America we are looking at as a model in everything is not even a model when it comes to electioneering,” said Agbor Elemi, a consultant in Lagos.
(Additional reporting by Edwin Waita in Nairobi and Angela Ukomadu in Lagos; Writing by Aaron Ross; editing by John Stonestreet and Mike Collett-White)
[YOU NEED TO TAKE A SECOND LOOK TRUMP IS FIGHTING FOR THE FUTURE OF THE UNITED STATES TO CONTINUE TO BE FREE FROM SOCIALISM AND WHATEVER MAY COME TO TAKE OUR FREEDOMS AND CONSTITUTION AWAY WHICH HAS BEEN WHY AMERICA HAS BEEN WHY EVERYONE WANTS TO COME TO IT TO LIVE FREE FROM OPPRESSION.].

11/5/2020 Israel Razes Most Of Palestinian Bedouin Village In West Bank On U.S. Election Day by Ali Sawafta
A Palestinian woman walks in Khirbet Humsah in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank November 5, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    JORDAN VALLEY, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel has demolished most of a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank, displacing 73 Palestinians – including 41 children – in the largest such demolition in years, residents and a United Nations official said.
    Tented homes, animal shelters, latrines and solar panels were among the structures destroyed in the village of Khirbet Humsah on Tuesday, according to the U.N. official.
    Israel’s military liaison agency with the Palestinians, COGAT, confirmed that a demolition had been carried out against what it said were illegal structures.
    By Thursday morning the residents had already moved back to the site, using tents donated by Palestinian aid groups, according to a Reuters witness.
    The remains of the demolished village lay across the hillsides, with just two of the original homes still standing some distance from the others.
    “They want to expel us from the area so that settlers can live in our place, but we will not leave from here,” said resident Harbi Abu Kabsh, referring to the roughly 430,000 Israeli settlers who live alongside three million Palestinians in the West Bank, which Israel captured in a 1967 war.
    COGAT on Wednesday issued a statement saying that an “enforcement activity” had been carried out by Israeli forces “against 7 tents and 8 pens which were illegally constructed, in a firing range located in the Jordan Valley.”
    Israel often cites a lack of building permits in demolishing Palestinian structures in the West Bank.
    Yvonne Helle, a humanitarian coordinator for the United Nations in the Palestinian territories, said that relief agencies had visited Khirbet Humsah and recorded 76 demolished structures, “more than in any other single demolition in the past decade.”
    Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said the structures included 18 tents and sheds.
    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh accused Israel of timing the demolition for election day in the United States, when the world was distracted.
    He wrote on Twitter: “As the attention is focused on #USElection2020, Israel chose this evening to commit another crime/cover it up: to demolish 70 Palestinian structures, incl. homes.”
    A COGAT spokesman on Thursday had no immediate comment on Shtayyeh’s claim.    But its statement on Wednesday said: “The enforcement was carried out in accordance with the authorities and procedures, and subject to operational considerations.”
    Some 689 structures have been demolished across the West Bank and East Jerusalem so far this year, leaving 869 Palestinians homeless, according to the United Nations.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/6/2020 Exclusive: Trump Administration Advances $2.9 Billion Drone Sale To UAE – Sources by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: A U.S. Air Force MQ-9 Reaper drone sits in a hanger at Amari Air Base, Estonia, July 1, 2020. U.S. unmanned aircraft
are deployed in Estonia to support NATO's intelligence gathering missions in the Baltics. REUTERS/Janis Laizans/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department gave Congress notification it plans to sell 18 sophisticated armed MQ-9B aerial drones to the United Arab Emirates in a deal worth as much as $2.9 billion, people briefed on the notification said.
    The move comes on the heels of last week’s notification of a potential sale of F-35 fighter jets to the middle-eastern country.
    This would mark the first armed drone export since the Trump administration reinterpreted a Cold War-era arms agreement between 34 nations to allow U.S. defense contractors to sell more drones to allies.
    Reuters has reported that UAE has long shown interest in purchasing drones from the United States and would be among the first customers in line after U.S. export policy changed this summer.    A $600 million deal to sell four unarmed but weapons-ready MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones to Taiwan was the first to be formally notified to Congress on Tuesday.
    This informal notification for the Reaper-style drones is the precursor to the State Department’s formal and public notification.
    The U.S. Senate Foreign Relations and House of Representatives Foreign Affairs committees – whose members have criticized UAE’s role in civilian deaths in Yemen’s civil war – have the ability to review and block weapons sales under an informal review process before the State Department sends its formal notification to the legislative branch.
    The U.S. State Department may wait to formally notify Congress of the sale once staff and members are briefed on the potential sale, one of the people said.    The formal notification gives Congress 30 days to object to any sales.
    A U.S. State Department spokesman told Reuters, “As a matter of policy, the United States does not confirm or comment on proposed defense sales or transfers until they are formally notified to Congress.”
    The armed MQ-9B drones will also be equipped with maritime radar and could be delivered in 2024.    The package notified to Congress is for 15 with an option for three additional drones, one of the people said.
    The UAE is also seeking a package of Boeing Co EA-18G Growlers, an electronic warfare version of the two-seat F/A-18F Super Hornet aircraft, that are capable of jamming radar and other advanced capabilities. Growlers are operated buy the U.S. and Australia.
    The United Arab Emirates, one of Washington’s closest Middle East allies, has long expressed interest in acquiring the stealthy F-35 jets and was promised a chance to buy them in a side deal made when they agreed to normalize relations with Israel.    The informal notification for 50 Lockheed Martin Co F-35 jets was made on Oct. 29.
    But any deal the U.S. makes to sell weapons in the region must satisfy decades of agreement with Israel where the U.S.-made weapon must not impair Israel’s “qualitative military edge,” guaranteeing U.S. weapons furnished to Israel are “superior in capability” to those sold to its neighbors.
(Reporting by Mike Stone and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Cynthia Osterman)

11/6/2020 U.S. To Sanction Leader Of Lebanon’s Free Patriotic Movement: WSJ
FILE PHOTO: Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic movement, speaks at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon October 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The United States is planning to sanction prominent Lebanese Christian politician Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement, which was founded by the president and is allied with Hezbollah, the Wall Street Journal reported late on Thursday.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is expected on Friday to impose the sanctions on Bassil for assisting the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, the newspaper reported https://on.wsj.com/34ZGJYm, citing sources.
    The U.S. Department of Treasury did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment outside regular working hours.
    Bassil and his office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The United States deems Iranian-backed Hezbollah to be a terrorist group. It has sanctioned several Hezbollah members.
    Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun and head of FPM, Lebanon’s largest Christian political bloc, is also a former foreign minister.
    In September, the United States blacklisted two former Lebanese government ministers it accused of enabling Hezbollah.
    It accused a former transport minister, Yusuf Finyanus, and a former finance minister, Ali Hassan Khalil, of engaging in corruption and leveraging their political power for financial gain.
    Well-armed Hezbollah has risen to become the overarching power in Lebanon, which is now grappling with a financial meltdown.
(Reporting by Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru; Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/6/2020 U.N. Chief ‘Deeply Alarmed’ By Armed Clashes In Ethiopia’s Tigray by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a street in Mekelle, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Maggie Fick/File Photo/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The head of the United Nations said he was deeply alarmed by fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where federal troops have been exchanging fire with the powerful ethnic faction that led the ruling coalition for decades.
    Prime Minister’s Abiy Ahmed’s government is mobilising troops from around the country and sending them to Tigray, after two days of clashes between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
    “The stability of Ethiopia is important for the entire Horn of Africa region.    I call for an immediate de-escalation of tensions and a peaceful resolution to the dispute,” U.N. Secretary General António Guterres said in a message on Twitter seen on Friday.
    Sporadic sounds of shelling could be heard from Aburafi town, near the Tigray-Amhara border, at 3 a.m local time (0000 GMT) on Friday, a humanitarian worker in the area told Reuters.
    The conflict has pitted government troops against the TPLF, for decades the dominant political force in the country’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition, until Abiy, a member of the Oromo ethnic group, took office two years ago.
    Abiy, who has tried to open up what has long been one of the most restrictive economic and political systems in Africa, reorganised the ruling coalition into a single party which the TPLF refused to join.
    Countries in the region fear that the crisis could escalate into all-out war under Abiy, who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for ending a decades-old conflict with neighbouring Eritrea but has failed to prevent outbreaks of ethnic unrest.
    The Tigray administration, which is led by president Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Thursday it was well equipped to deal with an attack from any direction.
    Two Ethiopian fighter jets were seen flying over Mekelle, the capital of Tigray, on Thursday afternoon, two diplomatic sources told Reuters, in what was described as a show of force by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces.
    Ethiopia closed the airspace over Tigray to all flights on Thursday, the country’s civil aviation authority said in a statement, and closed all the international and domestic flight routes that traverse its northern airspace.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by)

11/6/2020 U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Lebanese President’s Son-In-Law by Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil attends a meeting with Italian
counterpart Angelino Alfano in Rome, Italy, November 15, 2017. REUTERS/Remo Casilli
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States imposed sanctions on Friday on Gebran Bassil, the leader of Lebanon’s biggest Christian political bloc and son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, accusing him of corruption and ties to Hezbollah.
    Bassil heads the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), founded by Aoun, and has served as minister of telecoms, of energy and water and of foreign affairs.
    Bassil, who has been the target of protests that erupted last year against a political class accused of pillaging the state, said in a Twitter post that sanctions did not scare him and that he had not been “tempted” by promises.
    The sanctions could complicate efforts by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri, who is trying to navigate Lebanon’s sectarian politics to assemble a cabinet to tackle a financial meltdown, Lebanon’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
    A source familiar with the process said the move was likely to harden the FPM’s stance in negotiations on a new government needed to enact reforms demanded by foreign donors to tackle endemic corruption, waste and mismanagement to unlock aid.
    In recent months, the United States has also placed sanctions on several officials linked to Hezbollah, the armed Iran-backed Shi’ite movement that has become Lebanon’s most powerful political force, and which Washington considers a terrorist group.
    The FPM has a political alliance with Hezbollah and Bassil has defended the group as vital to the defence of Lebanon.
    The Treasury Department said Bassil was at the “forefront of corruption in Lebanon” where successive governments have failed to reduce mounting sovereign debt or address failing infrastructure and the loss-making power sector that cost state coffers billions of dollars while power cuts persisted.
    “Through his corrupt activities, Bassil has also undermined good governance and contributed to the prevailing system of corruption and political patronage that plagues Lebanon, which has aided and abetted Hizballah’s (Hezbollah) destabilizing activities,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
    A senior U.S. official said Bassil’s support for Hezbollah was “every bit of the motivation” for targeting him for sanctions.
    Bassil was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets human rights abuses and corruption around the world.    It calls for a freeze on any U.S. assets and prohibits Americans from doing business with him.
    The State Department also imposed a ban on Bassil’s travel to the United States.
    A senior U.S. official said the sanctions announcement was “not intended to impact a government formation process” in Lebanon.    The official also denied any connection between the announcement and this week’s U.S. elections, saying such sanctions packages take months to prepare.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Matt Spetalnick ; Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Samia Nakhoul; Editing by William Maclean, Peter Graff and Alison Williams)

11/7/2020 Ethiopian Air Strikes In Tigray Will Continue, Says PM, As Civil War Risks Grow by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends a signing ceremony with European Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian jets bombed the Tigray region on Friday and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed pledged more air strikes in the escalating conflict, as reports emerged that Tigrayan forces had seized control of key federal military sites and weapons.
    Civilians in the northern region should avoid “collateral damage” by not gathering outside as strikes would continue, Abiy said on Friday evening in a televised speech, defying international pleas to both sides for restraint.
    The developments signalled how fast the days-old conflict was hurtling toward civil war that experts and diplomats warn would destabilise the country of 110 million people and hurt the broader Horn of Africa.
    A simmering row between Abiy’s federal government and his former Tigrayan allies exploded on Wednesday after Abiy ordered a military campaign.    Abiy, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, accused the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of attacking a federal military base and trying to steal equipment.    He said “the last red line” had been crossed.
    The government then cut phone and internet communications to the region, according to the digital rights group Access Now, making it impossible to verify official accounts.    The government accused the TPLF of shutting down communications.
    Diplomats, regional security officers and aid workers have told Reuters that fighting is spreading in the northwestern part of the country, along Tigray’s border with the Amhara region, which is backing the federal government, and near the border with Sudan and Eritrea.
    Abiy said on Friday that government troops had seized control of the town of Dansha, near the border area, from the TPLF.
RISKS
    After toppling a Marxist dictator in 1991, the TPLF led the country’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition until Abiy took office in 2018. For those decades, Tigrayans dominated the military.    Abiy has sacked many senior generals as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption that Tigrayans complain unfairly targets them.
    Tigrayan forces are battle-hardened and possess significant stocks of military hardware, experts say.    Their regional troops and associated militias number up to 250,000 men, according to the International Crisis Group think tank.
    One of the biggest risks is that the Ethiopian army will splinter along ethnic lines, with Tigrayans defecting to the regional force.    There are indications that is already happening, experts said.
    Tigrayan forces were in control of the federal military’s Northern Command headquarters in the city of Mekelle, according to a United Nations internal security report dated Friday and seen by Reuters.
    The Northern Command is one of the four military commands of the country and controls the border with Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.
    Tigrayan forces have seized “heavy weapons” from several of the command’s depots, the report read.    It said that the command is the most heavily armed and contains “most of the military’s heavy weapons including the majority of the country’s mechanised and armoured units, artillery and air assets.”
    The government is mobilising troops from around the country and sending them to Tigray, risking a security vacuum in other parts of the country where ethnic violence is raging. More than 50 people were killed by gunmen from a rival ethnic group in western Ethiopia on Sunday, according to Amnesty international.
    Troop redeployments from near the border with Somalia will make that area “more vulnerable to possible incursions by Al Shabaab,” the al Qaeda-linked insurgency trying to overthrow the government in Somalia, the U.N. report read.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by William Mallard)

11/7/2020 Iraqi Forces Kill Protester, Wound 40 In Southern Basra: Security, Rights Sources
Iraqi demonstrators clash with Iraqi security forces during anti-government protests in Basra, Iraq November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Essam Al-Sudani
    BASRA, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraqi security forces killed at least one anti-government protester using live gunfire and wounded at least 40 others in the southern city of Basra on Friday, security sources and a rights official said.
    It was the first killing of a protester by security forces in Basra since Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi took office in May.
    Iraq’s interior ministry confirmed the death but said in a statement that no Iraqi security forces were being allowed to use weapons against demonstrators and that it was investigating the incident.
    Deadly flare-ups have been rare since protests against Iraq’s ruling elite and demanding jobs and services largely subsided earlier this year.
    During months of anti-government protests that erupted under his predecessor Adel Abdul Mahdi in October 2019, more than 500 people were killed, mostly young unarmed demonstrators.
    The Basra security sources and rights official said several dozen protesters had taken to the streets in the country’s southern oil hub on Friday demanding jobs and basic services.
    They were angry that Kadhimi had generally failed to deliver on both and that protest camps had been cleared by security force in Basra and Baghdad, the rights official said.
    Kadhimi, who visited Basra on Thursday to tour energy projects and meet provincial officials, has pledged to protect non-violent Iraqi protesters and bring justice for the families of those killed last year by security forces and unidentified gunmen.
    Security forces in Baghdad last month were ordered not to use live fire in dealing with protests to mark the anniversary of the 2019 demonstrations.
(Reporting by Aref Mohamed; Writing by John Davison in Istanbul; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/7/2020 In Israel, Biden Could Differ With Netanyahu On Iran And Settlements by Stephen Farrell and Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his face mask during a special ceremony with
the U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman to sign an extension of the Israel-U.S. scientific cooperation agreement in
“Judea, Samaria” (the biblical names for the West Bank) and the Golan Heights, at Ariel University in the
Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank October 28, 2020. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Just two weeks ago, Joe Biden was the butt of a jibe made by U.S. President Donald Trump during a conversation with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    “Do you think ‘Sleepy Joe’ could have made this deal?” Trump asked Netanyahu in a televised phone call with his closest foreign ally about a Middle East peace initiative.
    Netanyahu demurred, apparently hedging in case of a Biden victory.    It was a wise move: Declared winner of the U.S. presidential election by major television networks on Saturday, Biden is the one laughing now.
    The hawkish Israeli leader made no immediate comment after the U.S. networks called the election for the former vice president, and a picture of Netanyahu and Trump remained at the top of the Israeli prime minister’s Facebook page.
    Trump, who has made repeated claims of electoral fraud without providing proof, immediately accused Biden of “rushing to falsely pose as the winner.”
    Still, Israeli Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn – a member of Netanyahu’s ruling coalition belonging to the centrist Blue and White party – swiftly congratulated Biden.
    “Congratulations to US President-elect Joe Biden! Congratulations to Kamala Harris, the first woman to serve as vice president and congratulations to the American people on the proper democratic process,” Nissenkorn said on Twitter.
    Israeli opposition leader Yair Lapid also offered his congratulations to the Democrat on Twitter.
    “The relationship between our countries is based on deeply held values and critical shared interests which I know will be at the heart of your administration,” Lapid wrote.
    Though Biden describes himself as a Zionist and friend to nine Israeli prime ministers, friction could arise between a Biden White House and Netanyahu, who famously feuded with Biden’s ex-boss, Barack Obama.
    In what Israel would likely see as a de-facto third Obama term, Biden has pledged to restore U.S. involvement in the Iran nuclear deal and is likely to voice opposition to Israeli settlement of occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
    That promises Netanyahu a policy whiplash after four years of being in lockstep with Trump – deferred, perhaps, by the need to deal with the COVID-19 crisis and U.S. economic woes first.
(Additional reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Helen Popper)
[NETANYAHU TELL BIDEN TO MIND HIS OWN BUSINESS AND HIS ANTI-ISRAEL POLICIES HE CAN STICK IT UP WHERE THE SUN DOES NOT SHINE AND YOU BETTER BE AWARE THAT AOC+3 WHO ONE OF THEM WILL PUSH TO DEFEAT ISRAEL].

11/7/2020 Ethiopia’s PM Seeks To Regain Control Over Restive Tigray Region by Giulia Paravicini and Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends a signing ceremony with European Commission
President Ursula von der Leyen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sought to re-establish authority over the northern Tigray region on Saturday, a day after launching air strikes amid reports that Tigrayan forces had seized control of federal military sites and weapons.
    The military conflict, which has raised fears of civil war in a nation plagued by ethnic violence, broke out on Wednesday following weeks of tension over Tigray’s decision to defy Abiy by electing a regional government against his wishes.
    “Our operation aims to end the impunity that has prevailed for far too long and hold accountable individuals and groups under the laws of the land,” Abiy said on Twitter on Saturday.
    He spoke as parliament in the capital, Addis Ababa, approved the formation of an interim government for the region – a step aimed at denying the legitimacy of Tigray’s self-declared regional administration.
    In Tigray, the regional government said a number of Tigrayans serving in the federal police and army had been sacked while others were put under house arrest, according to a Facebook post by its communications office.
    Tigrayans have dominated Ethiopia’s military and political life for nearly three decades.
    After toppling a Marxist dictator in 1991, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) led the country’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition until Abiy took office in 2018.
    Abiy, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize, said he launched the air strikes after the TPLF attacked a federal military base and tried to steal equipment.
    Urging civilians to stay indoors to avoid “collateral damage,” Abiy said in a speech late on Friday that air strikes would continue.
    The escalating conflict drew international calls for restraint as political analysts and diplomats warned that a slide into civil war would not only destabilise the country of 110 million people, but hurt the broader Horn of Africa region.
    Diplomats, regional security officers and aid workers said fighting was spreading in northwestern areas along Tigray’s border with the Amhara region, which is backing the federal government, and near the border with Sudan and Eritrea.
    Sudan partially closed its border with Ethiopia due to the violence, state news agency SUNA reported on Saturday.
    Abiy said on Friday government troops had seized control of the town of Dansha, near the border area, from the TPLF.
    His government cut phone and internet communications to the region, according to the digital rights group Access Now, making it impossible to verify official accounts. Government officials accused the TPLF of shutting down communications.
BATTLE-HARDENED
    Abiy, who is from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, has sacked many senior generals as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption which Tigrayans complain unfairly targets them.
    Tigrayan forces are battle-hardened and possess significant stocks of military hardware, experts say.    Their regional troops and associated militias number up to 250,000 men, according to the International Crisis Group think-tank.
    One of the biggest risks is that Ethiopia’s army will split along ethnic lines, with Tigrayans defecting to the regional force.    There are signs that is already happening, analysts said.
    Tigrayan forces are in control of the federal military’s Northern Command headquarters in the city of Mekelle and have seized “heavy weapons” from several of its depots, according to a United Nations internal security report dated Friday and seen by Reuters.
    The Northern Command is one of Ethiopia’s four military commands and controls the border with Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea.
    As Abiy’s government mobilises troops to send to Tigray, other parts of the country roiled by ethnic violence could face a security vacuum, the U.N. report said.
    More than 50 people were killed by gunmen from a rival ethnic group in western Ethiopia on Sunday, Amnesty International said.
    Troop redeployments from near the border with Somalia will make that area “more vulnerable to possible incursions by Al Shabaab,” the al Qaeda-linked insurgency trying to overthrow the government in Somalia, according to the U.N. report.
(Additional reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by George Obulutsa and Helen Popper)

11/7/2020 Guinea Court Confirms President Conde’s Re-Election For Third Term by Saliou Samb
FILE PHOTO: Guinea's President Alpha Conde laughs as he addresses a conference in
Berlin, Germany November 19, 2019. John MacDougall/Pool via REUTERS
    CONAKRY (Reuters) – Guinea’s top court on Saturday confirmed President Alpha Conde’s victory in last month’s election, rejecting accusations of fraud and handing him a third term his opponents say is unconstitutional.
    A campaign earlier this year by Conde, 82, to change the constitution in order to circumvent a two-term limit and subsequent candidacy in the Oct. 18 election sparked violent protests that resulted in the deaths of dozens of people.
    Cellou Dalein Diallo, a former prime minister and Conde’s main rival, joined other opposition candidates in alleging irregularities in the official poll results that showed Conde with 59.5% of the vote.
    But constitutional court president Mohamed Lamine Bangoura said they had produced no evidence and declared Conde the winner.
    Conde reacted by appealing to national unity.
    “I dedicate this victory to all Guineans, whether they voted for me or not.    Beyond our differences, it’s the Republic of Guinea that we need to put above our personal ambitions,” Conde said on his Facebook page.
    Diallo condemned the court ruling but stopped short of calling for protests, as he has in the past.
    “The members of the high court of our country preferred to place themselves at the service of a man and his ambitions rather than respecting their oath and defending the law,” he said in a statement.
    Conde’s supporters celebrated in the streets of the capital Conakry, while police officers were deployed near Diallo’s house to head off possible unrest.
    In the opposition stronghold of Hamdallaye, in northwestern Guinea, security forces used tear gas to disperse Diallo supporters who had barricaded roads, a local resident said.
    Conde’s actions have raised fears about a democratic backslide in Guinea, Africa’s top bauxite producer, and West Africa more generally.
    Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner of an election last month after running for a disputed third term.
(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Jason Neely, Clelia Oziel and Mike Harrison)

11/7/2020 Lebanon’s President Seeks Evidence Behind US Sanctions On Son-In-Law
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun speaks during a news conference at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon October 21, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that Lebanon would seek evidence and documents from the United States that led Washington to impose sanctions on Gebran Bassil, a prominent Christian politician who is his son-in-law.
    The United States on Friday blacklisted Bassil, leader of Lebanon’s biggest Christian political bloc, accusing him of corruption and ties to the Iranian-backed Shi’ite Hezbollah movement that Washington deems a terrorist group.
    Aoun asked Lebanon’s caretaker foreign minister to obtain the evidence and documents that should be submitted to Lebanon’s judiciary “to take the necessary legal measures” if any data is available, said a statement tweeted by the presidency.
    Bassil heads the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) founded by Aoun and has served as minister of telecoms, of energy and water and of foreign affairs.    He said on Friday that sanctions did not scare him and that he had not been “tempted” by promises.
    Hezbollah condemned the U.S. move as blatant interference aimed at forcing “American conditions and dictates” on Lebanon.
    The sanctions could complicate efforts by Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri to navigate Lebanon’s sectarian politics and assemble a cabinet to tackle a financial meltdown, the country’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war and which is rooted in endemic corruption, waste and mismanagement.
    The U.S. Treasury Department accused Bassil of being at the “forefront of corruption in Lebanon”    A senior U.S. official said Bassil’s support for the armed group Hezbollah was “every bit of the motivation” for targeting him for sanctions.
    The FPM has a political alliance with Hezbollah, which has become Lebanon’s most powerful political force, and Bassil has defended the group as vital to the defence of Lebanon.
    Bassil was sanctioned under the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act, which targets human rights abuses and corruption around the world.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/7/2020 Ivory Coast Opposition Leader Arrested For Creating Rival Government
FILE PHOTO: Pascal Affi N'Guessan, president of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and presidential candidate, shares a laugh during
an opposition coalition news conference after the election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 1, 2020. REUTER/Luc Gnago
    ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast opposition leader and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan was under arrest on Saturday for creating a rival government after President Alassane Ouattara’s election victory, his wife and a spokeswoman said.
    Ivorian prosecutors are pursuing terrorism charges against more than a dozen opposition leaders who boycotted the Oct. 31 vote in which Ouattara won a third term in office and announced they were creating a transitional council.
    The standoff has raised fears of protracted instability in the world’s top cocoa producer, whose disputed 2010 presidential election led to a brief civil war.    More than 40 people have died in clashes before and since the latest vote.
    Affi was arrested overnight after the public prosecutor confirmed on Friday that he was being sought by the police, his wife, Angeline Kili, told Reuters.
    “I confirm that my husband was arrested during the night but I don’t know where he is right now,” she said.
Genevieve Goetzinger, a spokeswoman for Affi, said on Twitter he was arrested in the southeastern town of Akoupe while en route to his hometown of Bongouanou.
    The police were not immediately available for comment.
    Affi served as prime minister from 2000-2003 under President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara after the 2010 election sparked a civil war which killed 3,000 people.
    The opposition claims Ouattara has violated the constitution by seeking a third term.    Ouattara says approval of a new constitution in 2016 restarted his mandate and allowed him to run again.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Mike Harrison)

11/7/2020 U.S. Aid Agency To Grant $20 Million To Fund Sudan Wheat Purchases
FILE PHOTO: The wind blows across a wheat field belonging to Kibbutz Or Haner near the southern town of Sderot January 22, 2012. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The U.S. Agency for International Development said it will grant $20 million to the World Food Programme to purchase wheat for Sudan to alleviate shortages in the east African country.
    The U.S. announced in October that it will rescind Sudan’s 27-year-old listing as a state sponsor of terrorism, a status that had restricted Khartoum’s economic links and cut it off from crucial financial assistance.
    It also hampered dollar transactions for Sudanese businesses and complicated imports of some goods.
    The funding from USAID will enable the WFP to provide approximately 65,600 metric tons of wheat for Sudan, the agency said in a press release on Friday.
    “This grant represents the United States’ contribution to a $45 million commitment to provide the Government of Sudan with wheat needed to address the immediate shortage,” the agency said.
    The United Arab Emirates would match the U.S grant, which is subject to congressional approval, while Israel will provide an additional $5 million, it added.
    Under U.S. pressure, Sudan has agreed to normalize ties with Israel, making Khartoum the third Arab government after the UAE and Bahrain to establish relations with Israel in the last two months.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Mike Harrison)

11/7/2020 Arabs Doubt Biden Will Herald Change In The Middle East by Ahmed Rasheed and Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a joint press conference with Cypriot President
Nicos Anastasiades and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis after a trilateral summit between Greece, Cyprus and Egypt,
at the Presidential Palace in Nicosia, Cyprus October 21, 2020. Iakovos Hatzistavrou/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    BAGHDAD/RIYADH (Reuters) – Arab leaders congratulated Joe Biden on his election victory, but some people in the Middle East expressed cynicism over U.S. policy even if he pursues diplomacy rather than President Donald Trump’s blunt approach to the region’s myriad problems.
    “I was positive that Trump will not make it to a second term. He was too hostile almost towards everybody. He is (more) fit to be a mafia leader than a president of the United States,” said Adel Salman, 40, a high school English teacher in Baghdad.
    “Let’s wait and see with the Biden presidency.    And I’m saying to all Iraqis don’t count your chickens before they hatch.    Is Biden better for Iraq?    Let’s wait and see his acts.”
    Biden may face some of his most complex foreign policy challenges in the region: from wars in Libya and Yemen to reassuring the United States’ Gulf Arab allies that Washington can protect them from enemy Iran, even though he has said he would return to the international nuclear deal with Tehran.
    “Trump was our friend, he loved Saudi Arabia and protected it from enemies.    He handcuffed Iran.    Biden will let Iran free again and this will hurt us and the whole region,” said Mohamed Al Anaizy, a Saudi Uber driver.
HUMAN RIGHTS
    While Trump had cozy relationships with what critics say are increasingly authoritarian leaders in countries such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey, Biden has promised to take a tough line on human rights.
    Some critics of Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi expressed hope that U.S. policy would change, reposting a tweet by Biden from July in which he criticized Cairo’s crackdown on political activists, and pledged: “No more blank checks for Trump’s ‘favorite dictator.’
    Sisi’s government has denied accusations by human rights groups of widespread abuses.
    Talk show hosts on Egypt’s tightly controlled TV channels have tried to play down the impact of a Biden victory, arguing that Egypt will adjust and adapt.
    Sisi was quick to congratulate Biden. The leaders of Iraq, United Arab Emirates and Jordan also congratulated Biden.    Lebanese President Michel Aoun congratulated Biden and voiced hope for a “return to balance in American-Lebanese relations” during his term.
    Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of An-Nahar newspaper, told Reuters that the timing of the announcement of U.S. sanctions on Friday on Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, a prominent Christian politician, sent a message that Washington would continue to go after Lebanese politicians over accusations of corruption and aiding Hezbollah.
    “Biden is more flexible and rational, but I do not expect fundamental changes, though there may be an easing of pressure with respect to sanctions until Biden’s Middle East team is in place,” he said.
    Ibrahim Matraz, a Yemeni journalist, was also pessimistic about prospects for a shift in U.S. policy after years of conflict that have ravaged his country.
    “We shouldn’t forget that Biden was vice president in Obama’s administration when the war began.”
    Trump’s allegations of fraud in the election without providing evidence prompted some Arabs to say Washington had no right to preach about democracy in their countries, where leaders often win 99 percent of the vote in rigged elections.
    “These elections show the real face of America, a country where elections are a farce with the loser not conceding defeat and claiming he won,” said Adel al Natour, an industrialist in war-torn Syria, whose leaders face stringent U.S. sanctions.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Marwa Rashad; Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai, Yara Abi Nader and Issam Abdallah in Beirut, Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul, Mahmoud Mourad and Nadine Awadalla in Cairo, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman and Abdulrahman Al-Ansi in Sana’a; Writing by Michael Georgy; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

11/8/2020 Loved Or Hated, Trump Stamped His Face On The Mideast Conflict by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: Activists hold American and Israeli flags after joining a convoy to the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem to show support
for U.S. President Donald Trump, ahead of the upcoming U.S. election, in Jerusalem October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – “God Bless You Donald and Melania” read the poster hanging over an Israeli highway during the U.S. election campaign.    In nearby Palestinian areas, anti-Trump graffiti adorned walls.
    Perhaps nowhere outside his own country did President Donald Trump polarise opinion more than in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, where to many he was either hero or villain.
    Israel treasures its ties with leaders of the United States, traditionally the country’s closest ally.    But Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had an especially close public relationship.
    That bond meant Trump’s face was everywhere in Israel.    His image even adorned Netanyahu’s own election posters and featured prominently on the Israeli premier’s Facebook page.
    “Trump Heights” was the name given to a new settlement in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, after he recognised Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the plateau that was captured from Syria in a 1967 war.
    Trump’s name also adorns the wall of the U.S. Embassy he moved to Jerusalem in 2018.
    Such decisions infuriated Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as a future capital and considered Trump’s backing for Israel as undermining their own goal of statehood.    Palestinians had no political contacts with Trump for most of his presidency.
    The animosity between Trump and the Palestinian leadership made him a target of protest art.
    Huge Trump images – one of the U.S. leader embracing an Israeli watchtower – have been painted on the Israeli military wall that cuts through the occupied West Bank, joining other acerbic political graffiti sprayed on by Palestinians.
    “Dear Slim, I wrote you but you still ain’t calling,” wrote one graffiti artist, channeling U.S. rapper Eminem, above a Trump portrait in Bethlehem.    “I left my cell, my pager and the White House phone at the bottom.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Edmund Blair)

11/8/2020 In Escalating Conflict, People Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Risk Displacement, U.N. Says by Giulia Paravicini
Orthodox faithful attend the Sunday morning prayer session at the St. George church
in Bahir Dar, Amhara Region in Ethiopia, November 8, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Nine million people risk displacement from the escalating conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations said, warning that the federal government’s declaration of a state of emergency was blocking food and other aid.
    Prime Minster Abiy Ahmed is pressing ahead with a military campaign he announced on Wednesday against the northern region, despite international pleas to pursue dialogue with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).    The group led the country’s multi-ethnic ruling coalition until Abiy took office in 2018.
    On Friday he vowed air strikes in Tigray would continue.    Though the initial strikes targeted arms depots and military sites, Abiy cautioned civilians to avoid mass gatherings lest they become “collateral damage,” further raising fears.
    About 600,000 people in Tigray depend on food aid to survive, while another 1 million receive other forms of support, all of which are disrupted, the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a report released Saturday.
    Clashes between federal troops and Tigrayan forces had broken out in eight locations in the region, according to the report.
    Six combatants were killed and more than 60 wounded in fighting near the border between the Tigray and Amhara regions, a humanitarian source told Reuters on Sunday.    Both sides suffered casualties and some of the wounded were brought to hospitals in and near the town of Gondar, the source said.
    A desert locust infestation in East Africa has hit Tigray particularly hard and efforts to combat the insect swarms are feared to have stopped because of the conflict, risking further damage to crops, the U.N. report read.
    Abiy won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea.    Accepting the honour, he called war “the epitome of hell” and referenced his own time on the frontline in the 1998-2000 war that claimed more than 100,000 lives.
    He said on Twitter on Saturday that his military campaign “aims to end the impunity that has prevailed for far too long,” he said, a reference to the dominance of Tigrayans in the country’s politics before he took office.
    Animosity between Abiy and his former allies then mounted steadily.    Tigrayans complain of persecution under Abiy, an ethnic Oromo, who ordered the arrest of dozens of former senior military and political officials from the TPLF in a crackdown on corruption.    Last year, Abiy reorganised the ruling coalition into a single party that the TPLF refused to join.
MEDIATION OFFERS
    Experts and diplomats are sounding alarms of a potential civil war that could destabilize the country of 110 million people and the strategic Horn of Africa region.
    The federal military’s biggest command, and the majority of its heavy weapons, are stationed in Tigray.    One of the biggest risks is that the army will split along ethnic lines, with Tigrayans defecting to their region’s own force.    There are signs that is already happening, analysts say.
    Tigrayan forces number up to 250,000 men and have their own significant stocks of military hardware, experts say.
    “The fragmentation of Ethiopia would be the largest state collapse in modern history,” a group of former United States diplomats said in a statement published by the U.S. Institute of Peace on Thursday.    The escalation of the conflict would also kill remaining hope for the democratic reforms Abiy has promised, the statement read.
    Abiy spoke on Saturday with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who “offered his good offices.”    The U.N. chief also spoke on Saturday to the African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat and to Sudanese Primes Minster Abdalla Hamdok in his capacity as chair of the regional Africa group IGAD, according to the spokesman.
    But Abiy is not listening to requests for mediation, diplomats and security officials in the region have told Reuters.    He did not issue a statement on the call with the U.N. chief.
    Ethiopia’s parliament voted on Saturday to replace the Tigray regional government, another step to deny the legitimacy of the administration elected in September in a poll held in defiance of Abiy’s federal government.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick. Editing by Gerry Doyle)

11/8/2020 Turkey Says It Will Continue Working With New U.S. Administration
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will continue working with the new U.S. administration on issues concerning the NATO allies, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Sunday in the first Turkish comments since Joe Biden was declared the winner of the U.S. elections.
    The decades-old partnership between the NATO allies has gone through unprecedented tumult in the past five years over policy on Syria, Ankara’s closer ties with Moscow, its ambitions in the eastern Mediterranean, U.S. charges against a state-owned Turkish bank, and an erosion of human rights in Turkey.
    Speaking at an interview with broadcaster Kanal 7, Oktay said that while the friendship between President Tayyip Erdogan and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump had helped the countries tackle several of their issues, communications channels between Ankara and Washington would operate as before.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/8/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu Congratulates Biden On U.S. Election Win, Thanks Trump by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands with U.S. President Donald Trump after signing the Abraham Accords,
normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbors, in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern
countries against Iran, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Sunday, hailing a strong alliance that could be burdened by differences over policy on Iran and the Palestinians.
    “Congratulations @JoeBiden and @KamalaHarris.    Joe, we’ve had a long & warm personal relationship for nearly 40 years, and I know you as a great friend of Israel.    I look forward to working with both of you to further strengthen the special alliance between the U.S. and Israel,” Netanyahu said on his Twitter account, which still carries a photograph of him and incumbent U.S. President Donald Trump at its head.
    Having been in lockstep with Trump for four years, Netanyahu will likely be challenged by any departure by Biden from Trump’s tough policy on Iran and toward the Palestinians.    Biden has pledged to restore U.S. involvement in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which Trump had pulled out of – and a likely opposition by the White House to Israeli settlement of occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
    Netanyahu thanked Trump in a subsequent tweet:
    “Thank you @realDonaldTrump for the friendship you have shown the state of Israel and me personally, for recognizing Jerusalem and the Golan, for standing up to Iran, for the historic peace accords and for bringing the American-Israeli alliance to unprecedented heights.”
    Netanyahu’s message came hours after many world leaders had already congratulated Democrat Biden, even as Trump refused to concede and pressed ahead with legal fights against the outcome.
    A spokesman for Netanyahu did not respond to a request for comment on the relative delay. Dani Dayan, Israel’s former consul to New York said Netanyahu’s slowed response was a precautionary move.
    “There is a president in the White House who has not yet acknowledged his defeat and whose whims definitely play a major role in his decision making process and he will be sitting in the White House for another two and a half months,” Dayan told Army Radio.
    The right-wing Netanyahu’s particularly close ties with Trump followed an acrimonious relationship with his predecessor Barack Obama, which some critics have said had alienated Democrats and compromised U.S. bipartisan support for Israel.
    Michael Oren, Netanyahu’s ambassador to Washington when Obama was president, predicted warm ties with Biden.    “They will have disagreements over the peace process.    They will have disagreements certainly over the Iran nuclear deal but I think their friendship is solid.”
    Israel’s stock market responded positively to Biden’s win.    Both the blue-chip Tel Aviv 35 index and the broader TA-125 were up about 0.3% in morning trade.
    Still, among Israelis, Trump has won overwhelming popularity and many may be sad to see him go.
    “I think the problem is that Biden will not be as tough or as strong as Donald Trump,” said Aaron Morali, a student from Tel Aviv.    “He made it hard for the Iranian people to have a nuclear plan but I think with Biden they have someone very easy and I am very, very scared of what will happen.”
(Additional reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Rami Amichay; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by William Mallard, Simon Cameron-Moore and Raissa Kasolowsky)
[Netanyahu you should know that the FAKE NEWS is promoting Biden’s election so know that 50% of Americans believe that the Trump policies with you are still the correct actions instead of letting the Globalist and the DEEP STATE get involved and screw it all up, so save the Abraham Accord and do not let it become the Mohammed Accord which would lead you to the Daniel 9:27 action and finding Israelites running for their lives to the hills.].

11/8/2020 Saudi Arabia Finally Congratulates Biden On His Win by Marwa Rashad
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 10, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia finally congratulated Joe Biden on Sunday over his election victory, more than 24 hours after he defeated Donald Trump, who had close personal ties with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    The former U.S. vice president pledged in his campaign to reassess ties with the kingdom, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Riyadh’s Istanbul consulate and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Yemen war.
    As other Arab states raced to applaud the Democrat challenger, the kingdom’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman remained silent on the U.S. vote even as he sent warm words to the president of Tanzania on his re-election.
    At 1932 GMT on Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s king Salman and his son, the crown prince, congratulated Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris on winning the presidential election, state news agency SPA reported.
    “King Salman praised the distinguished, historic and close relations between the two friendly countries and their people which everyone looks to strengthen and develop at all levels,” SPA added.
    Prince Mohammed’s relationship with Trump had provided a buffer against international criticism over Riyadh’s rights record sparked by Khashoggi’s murder, Riyadh’s role in Yemen’s war and the detention of women activists.
    Those areas may now become points of friction between Biden and Saudi Arabia, a major oil exporter and buyer of U.S. arms.
    “The only thing worse than COVID-19 would be BIDEN-20,” wrote Saudi Twitter user Dr Muna, while many other Saudi users of the social media platform simply ignored the result in the initial hours after U.S. networks called the election for Biden.
    A Saudi political source played down the risk of a falling out between the kingdom and the United States, pointing to Riyadh’s historic ties with Washington.
    But Saudi Arabia’s Okaz newspaper offered a sense of the uncertainty about how the future plays out for the kingdom.    “The region is waiting … and preparing … for what happens after Biden’s victory,” it wrote in a front page article.
    The kingdom may not have to wait long.    Neil Quilliam, associate fellow at Britain’s Chatham House think-tank, said the Biden administration would likely seek to signal early on its discontent with Saudi domestic and foreign policies.
    “The Saudi leadership is concerned that a Biden administration and a hostile Congress will carry out a full review of relations, including re-evaluating defence ties and therefore will likely make positive sounds and moves towards ending the Yemen conflict,” he said.
    Saudi Arabia was an enthusiastic backer of Trump’s “maximum pressure” of tough sanctions on regional rival Iran.    But Biden has said he would return to a 2015 nuclear pact between world powers and Tehran, a deal negotiated when Biden was vice president in Barack Obama’s administration.
    Abu Zaid, a cashier at a supermarket in Riyadh, said he hoped Biden would take a different approach.    “I am not happy with the Biden win, but I hope he learns from Obama’s mistakes and realises that Iran is a common enemy,” he said.
    A Saudi political source said the kingdom had “the ability to deal with any president because the U.S. is a country of institutions and there is a lot of institutional work between Saudi Arabia and the United States.”
    “Saudi-U.S. relations are deep, sustainable, and strategic and not prone to change because a president changes,” he said.
    Prince Mohammed had denied ordering Khashoggi’s killing but in 2019 he acknowledged some personal accountability by saying that it happened on his watch.    Riyadh has jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years in the case.
(Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Writing by Michael Georgy; Editing by Edmund Blair and Philippa Fletcher)

11/8/2020 Palestinians Congratulate Biden, Indicate End To Boycott Of U.S. by Ali Sawafta
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas enters a news conference with former Israeli Prime Minister
Ehud Olmert (not seen) at the Grand Hyatt hotel in New York, U.S., February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Yana Paskova/File photo
    RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday congratulated U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in a statement that indicated he will drop his three-year political boycott of the White House.
    Abbas had ended all political dealings with President Donald Trump’s administration after the U.S. leader’s 2017 decisions to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and to move the U.S. Embassy there.
    “I congratulate President-elect Joe Biden on his victory as President of the United States of America for the coming period,” Abbas said in a statement issued from his office in the West Bank city of Ramallah.
    “I look forward to working with the President-elect and his administration to strengthen the Palestinian-American relations and to achieve freedom, independence, justice and dignity for our people,” the statement continued.
    Trump’s moves, which broke with decades of U.S. policy, had delighted Israel but infuriated the Palestinians, who claim east Jerusalem as a future capital and considered Trump’s backing for Israel as undermining their own goal of statehood.
    Abbas’s boycott was popular among Palestinians, who celebrated Trump’s defeat on Sunday on the streets.
    But, even as security contacts with Washington continued behind the scenes, the Palestinian leadership felt increasingly isolated, especially after Israel signed agreements with Gulf Arab states to normalise ties.
    In the days before the election Abbas’s inner circle met to discuss whether they should resume political contacts with the White House if Biden won, a Palestinian official told Reuters.
    Bassam Al-Salhe, a senior member of the Abbas-led Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Sunday the boycott was primarily linked to what he called “the hostile policy” of Trump’s administration.
    “When Biden announces that this is going to change – and he announced that during his election campaign – there will be no reason for the boycott,” he said.
BIDEN HOPES
    Biden has said he would restore funding to the West Bank and Gaza that Trump had cut, including assistance delivered through the U.S. Agency for International Development and U.N. agencies.
    He has also in the past opposed Israeli settlement construction in the occupied West Bank, and voiced support for a two-state solution to the conflict, a formula that would see a future state of Palestine co-existing alongside Israel.
    But he is not likely to reverse the Jerusalem and embassy decisions and Biden has welcomed Israel’s rapprochements with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, even as Palestinians condemned those moves.
    Among the Palestinians hit hardest by Trump were refugees, following his 2018 decision to cut off all U.S. funding – more than $300 million annually – to UNRWA, the United Nations agency.
    “Trump’s losing is a gain for us, for the Palestinian people, because he had sold out the Palestinian cause,” said Anwar Abu Amira, 38, a refugee in Gaza’s Beach Camp.
    “Since he took office until he lost, he has been trying to wipe out the Palestinian identity,” Abu Amira said.
    Gaza political analyst Hani Habib said the Biden win would encourage Abbas to re-engage in negotiations with Israel, a move the international community has long called for.
    He said this might complicate Abbas’s efforts to reconcile with his principal domestic rivals, the Islamist movement Hamas, although Habib said Biden would not address the issue soon.
    “When it comes to foreign policy, Biden has far more important and immediate issues than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict such as Iran, NATO and the alliance with Europe.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza. Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Edmund Blair)

11/9/2020 Concern Of Outright War In Ethiopia Grows As PM Presses Military Offensive by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends a signing ceremony with European Commission
President Ursula von der Leyen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister stepped up a military offensive in the northern region of Tigray on Sunday with air strikes as part of what he called a “law enforcement operation,” increasing fears of outright civil war in Africa’s second-most populous country.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has defied calls from the United Nations and allies in the region to negotiate with leaders in Tigray, home of the ethnic group that dominated the federal government before he took power in 2018.
    Abiy last week launched a military campaign in the province, saying forces loyal to leaders there had attacked a military base and attempted to steal equipment.
    Abiy accuses the leaders of Tigray of undermining his democratic reforms.
    Government fighter jets have since been bombing targets in the region, which borders Sudan and Eritrea.    Aid workers on Sunday reported heavy fighting in several parts of the region, with at least six dead and dozens wounded.
    Also on Sunday, Abiy named a new chief of the army, a new intelligence chief and a new federal police commissioner and foreign minister, changes that analysts said brought close allies into top posts as the conflict escalates.
    The premier won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and for introducing democratic reforms in one of Africa’s most repressive countries.
    But the democratic transition he promised is endangered by the Tigray conflict, the International Crisis Group think-tank warned last week.
    In a televised address on Sunday, Abiy urged the international community “to understand the context and the consistent transgressions” by the Tigrayan leaders which led the government to undertake “this law enforcement operation.”
    Tigrayans complain that Abiy, who is from the Oromo ethnic group, Ethiopia’s largest, has unfairly targeted them as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption.
    Forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region, are battle-hardened and possess significant stocks of military hardware, experts say.
    They and militia allies number up to 250,000 men, according to the International Crisis Group.
    One of the biggest risks is that Ethiopia’s army will split along ethnic lines, with Tigrayans defecting to the regional force. There are signs that is already happening, analysts said.
    The United Nations raised concerns of reprisals against ethnic Tigrayans amid heightened tension in the diverse country in a confidential report dated Sunday and seen by Reuters.
    Addis Ababa Police Commissioner Getu Aregaw said Sunday that the government had arrested 162 people in possession of firearms and ammunition, on suspicion of supporting the Tigrayan forces.
    The suspects were “under investigation,” he said in a statement. He did not identify their ethnicity.     The mayor of the capital, Adanech Abiebie, said on Saturday several TPLF members working in her administration had been arrested on suspicion of planning to disrupt the peace.
    As Abiy’s government mobilises troops to send to Tigray, other parts of the country roiled by ethnic violence could face a security vacuum, analysts say.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Robert Birsel)

11/9/2020 In Nigeria, Looters Target Government Warehouses Stocked With COVID-19 Relief by Percy Dabang and Angela Ukomadu
Damaged items left behind at the NEMA warehouse are seen on the ground after the warehouse was looted
following the Endsars protest in Abuja, Nigeria November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    YOLA/LAGOS (Reuters) – Looters have been targeting state warehouses across Nigeria stocked with COVID-19 relief supplies which they say should already have gone to the poor and hungry.
    Authorities denied accusations of food hoarding or plans to sell the supplies.    The National Governors Forum (NGF), which brings together the heads of Nigeria’s 36 states, said some of the looted items were a “strategic reserve ahead of a projected second wave of COVID-19.”
    But stores of so-called “palliatives,” some rotting, months after COVID-19 lockdowns ended, provoked outrage in a nation reeling from spiralling food prices, high unemployment and anti-police brutality protests that turned violent in October, eroding trust in government.
    James, 29, in Yola, the capital of Adamawa state in northeastern Nigeria, said he was tired of unfulfilled government promises to help.
    “I was really shocked when I got to the warehouse and I saw the quantity of stuff,” he said.    “Most of the stuff were out of date and I was like…why are we not getting it?
    He took seven cartons of noodles, two bags of sugar and a bag of rice.
    Videos showing dozens of similar raids, from northern Kaduna state to western Kwara and Lagos in the south, have filled social media since late October.
    At some warehouses, guard were overrun by looters, while state or local officials sent armed men to others to chase the looters away.
    Many of the raids happened in the chaotic days following the shooting of protesters in Lagos on Oct. 20, when some areas in Nigeria, mostly in southern states such as Lagos and Cross River became engulfed by lawlessness and there was widespread looting.     Minister of Humanitarian Affairs Sadiya Umar Farouk’s office said distributing palliatives was the responsibility of state governors, not the federal government.    The NGF did not return a request for comment.
    With Nigerians spending 60% of income on food, according to analysts SBM Intelligence, and trust in government low, some support the looters.
    “That is not stealing,” Opeyemi Elegbede, a payment recovery officer for food vendors in Lagos, told Reuters.    “They went for their rights.”
    Senior SBM analyst Glory Etim said few believe official explanations.
    “If these things were not distributed at that time, it means there were other motives behind it,” she said.    “It’s this motive that they’ve been trying to explain, and it doesn’t really make sense.”
    Nigeria has had 63,790 confirmed coronavirus cases and 1,154 deaths.
(Additional reporting by Seun Sanni and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/9/2020 Ivory Coast Opposition Leader Arrested For Creating Rival Government
FILE PHOTO: Pascal Affi N'Guessan, president of Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) and presidential candidate, shares a laugh during
an opposition coalition news conference after the election in Abidjan, Ivory Coast November 1, 2020. REUTER/Luc Gnago
    ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast opposition leader and former prime minister Pascal Affi N’Guessan was under arrest on Saturday for creating a rival government after President Alassane Ouattara’s election victory, his wife and a spokeswoman said.
    Ivorian prosecutors are pursuing terrorism charges against more than a dozen opposition leaders who boycotted the Oct. 31 vote in which Ouattara won a third term in office and announced they were creating a transitional council.
    The standoff has raised fears of protracted instability in the world’s top cocoa producer, whose disputed 2010 presidential election led to a brief civil war.    More than 40 people have died in clashes before and since the latest vote.
    Affi was arrested overnight after the public prosecutor confirmed on Friday that he was being sought by the police, his wife, Angeline Kili, told Reuters.
    “I confirm that my husband was arrested during the night but I don’t know where he is right now,” she said.
    Genevieve Goetzinger, a spokeswoman for Affi, said on Twitter he was arrested in the southeastern town of Akoupe while en route to his hometown of Bongouanou.
    The police were not immediately available for comment.
    Affi served as prime minister from 2000-2003 under President Laurent Gbagbo, whose refusal to concede defeat to Ouattara after the 2010 election sparked a civil war which killed 3,000 people.
    The opposition claims Ouattara has violated the constitution by seeking a third term.    Ouattara says approval of a new constitution in 2016 restarted his mandate and allowed him to run again.
(Reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Mike Harrison)

11/9/2020 Hundreds Dead In Worsening Ethiopian Conflict, Sources Say by Giulia Paravicini
A man holds an umbrella as he walks past closed shops in Sanja, Amhara region near
a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    DANSHA, Ethiopia (Reuters) – An escalating conflict in Ethiopia’s restive Tigray region has killed hundreds of people, sources on the government side said, even as the prime minister sought on Monday to reassure the world his nation was not sliding into civil war.
    The flare-up in the northern area bordering Eritrea and Sudan threatens to destabilise Africa’s second most populous nation, where ethnic conflict has already killed hundreds since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over in 2018.
    Reuters reporters travelling in Tigray and the neighbouring Amhara region saw trucks packed with armed militia and pickups with mounted machine-guns rushing to the front line in support of the federal government push.
    Some militia members waved the Ethiopian national flag.
    Abiy, the continent’s youngest leader at 44, won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea.    But last week the prime minister, who is from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, launched a campaign against forces loyal to Tigrayan leaders whom he accused of attacking a military base in the town of Dansha.
    “Concerns that Ethiopia will descend into chaos are unfounded and a result of not understanding our context deeply,” he tweeted on Monday.    “Our rule of law operation is aimed at guaranteeing peace and stability.”
    Abiy has said that government jets have been bombing arms depots and other targets.    Aid workers and security sources have reported heavy fighting on the ground.
    A military official in Amhara, on the side of the federal troops, told Reuters that clashes with Tigrayan forces in Kirakir had killed nearly 500 on the Tigrayan side.
    Three security sources in Amhara working with federal troops said the Ethiopian army had also lost hundreds in the original battle in Dansha.
    Reuters has been unable to verify numbers, though a diplomat also said hundreds were believed to have died.
BATTLE-HARDENED TIGRAYANS
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region, is battle-hardened from both the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea and the guerrilla war to topple dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.    TPLF forces and militia allies number up to 250,000 men and possess significant hardware, experts say.
    Tigrayans account for just 5% of Ethiopians but had, before Abiy’s rule, dominated politics since rebels from their ethnic group toppled Marxist military rule in 1991.
    They say Abiy’s government has unfairly targeted them as part of a crackdown on past rights abuses and corruption.
    “These fascists have demonstrated they will show no mercy in destroying Tigrayans by launching more than 10 air strike attempts in Tigrayan cities,” the TPLF said via Facebook.
    Billene Seyoum, spokeswoman for the prime minister’s office, said she was not authorised to comment in response to statements by the TPLF, and that information on the military campaign needed to be corroborated with the Ethiopian army.
    The army said it was intensifying attacks and that large numbers of Tigrayan special forces and militia were surrendering.    It denied a TPLF claim of downing a jet.
    The army spokesman did not respond to phone calls seeking further comment.
‘AN EMPIRE CRUMBLING’
    Journalists including from Reuters were turned away from the Dansha base on Monday by soldiers citing safety concerns.
    Outside the base, SUVs and pickups were filled with soldiers and a black metal sign read: “Let’s build one democratic country together.”    Military helicopters flew northward.
    On a road into Dansha from the neighbouring Amhara region – which supports the federal government – huts in a string of villages appeared abandoned.
    In some parts, men in plain clothes with AK-47 assault rifles stood guard.
    A senior diplomat working on the Ethiopia crisis said Abiy had increasingly fallen back on support from Amhara – raising the risk of more ethnic violence – after parts of the military’s Northern Command went over to Tigrayan control.
    “Ethiopia is like an empire crumbling before our own eyes,” the diplomat told Reuters.
    Will Davison, senior analyst at the International Crisis Group thinktank, said the TPLF might be capable of a strong counter-offensive.    “The path to making the Tigrayan leadership surrender appears arduous,” he said.
    Amid growing international concern, the TPLF has sought mediation by the African Union, according to a letter seen by Reuters.    The United     Nations wants Abiy – a former soldier who fought alongside Tigrayans against Eritrea – to start dialogue.
    One diplomat told Reuters Abiy had already rebuffed calls for calm from the regional African group IGAD over the weekend.    “He is about to take the country to a very dangerous situation.    He is not listening to anyone,” the diplomat said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The prime minister’s office did not immediately reply on Monday evening to a request for comment on the diplomat’s remarks.
    There are fears of reprisals against Tigrayans elsewhere, with 162 people including a journalist arrested in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa on suspicion of supporting Tigrayan forces.
    All-out war would damage the economy after years of steady growth in the nation of 110 million people.    It could also add to the hundreds of thousands displaced in the last two years.
    But analysts do not believe the clashes will reawaken the conflict with Eritrea given that President Isaias Afwerki and Abiy both see the Tigrayan leadership as enemies.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by Duncan Miriri, David Lewis, Omar Mohammed and Maggie Fick in Nairobi; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Nick Macfie, Mark Heinrich and William Maclean)

11/10/2020 Ethiopia PM Not Rebuffing Calls For Calm, Says Spokeswoman, As Clashes Intensify
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends a signing ceremony with European Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is not rebuffing international calls for calm, his office’s spokeswoman said on Tuesday, amid an escalating conflict in the Tigray region that many fear is sliding toward civil war.
    “There is no rebuffing of anyone by the prime minister.    He had acknowledged and given gratitude for the concerns shown,” the spokeswoman, Billene Seyoum, said in a response to a request for comment on a diplomat’s assertion that Abiy was “not listening to anyone.”
    “Nevertheless, Ethiopia is a sovereign nation and its government will ultimately make decisions in the long-term interest of the country and its people.”
    The violence in the northern area bordering Eritrea and Sudan threatens to destabilise Africa’s second most populous country.    Ethnic conflict in the region has simmered since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took over in 2018.
    Abiy, the continent’s youngest leader at 44, won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea.
    But last week the prime minister, who is from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, launched a campaign against forces loyal to ethnic Tigrayan leaders in the northern region.    He accused them of attacking a military base.
    Hundreds of people have been killed in the latest conflict, sources on the government side said on Monday.
    But Abiy said fears of chaos were unfounded: “Our rule of law operation is aimed at guaranteeing peace and stability.”
    The United Nations wants Abiy – a former soldier who once fought alongside Tigrayans against Eritrea – to start dialogue.
    Diplomats have told Reuters Abiy intended to press ahead with the military campaign, which he believes he can win against a battle-hardened group with substantial military equipment and supplies of their own.
(This story has been refiled to correct headline)
(Reporting By Maggie Fick; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman, Robert Birsel)

11/10/2020 Palestinian Negotiator Erekat Dies After Contracting COVID-19 by Stephen Farrell, Rami Ayyub and Ali Sawafta
FILE PHOTO: Chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat looks on during a news conference following his meeting
with foreign diplomats, in Ramallah, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 30, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman/File Photo
    JERUSALEM/RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Saeb Erekat, one of the most experienced and high-profile advocates for the Palestinian cause over decades of dispute with Israel, died on Tuesday after contracting COVID-19. He was 65.
    Having sat down with Israeli and U.S. leaders in the 1990s and 2000s, in recent years Erekat was the principal face of a war of words with President Donald Trump’s administration over a Middle East plan that envisaged leaving Israel in control of Jewish settlements and large parts of the occupied West Bank.
    But after peace talks collapsed in 2014 he remained a firm backer of the negotiated creation of a future Palestinian state co-existing alongside Israel even if, in his own words, it took 50 years.
    Erekat, the secretary general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said on Oct. 8 he had contracted the coronavirus.    Three years earlier he had undergone a lung transplant in the United States that left his immune system compromised.
    He died following multiple organ failure after being hospitalised for three weeks in Jerusalem’s Hadassah Medical Center, a spokeswoman for the Israeli hospital said.    He had required ventilation and specialised drug treatment, she added.
    “Saeb has shown an extraordinary patience and resilience, with the same determination that has characterized his career to achieve freedom for Palestine and a just and lasting peace in our region,” his daughter Dalal posted on Twitter.
    His funeral is expected to be held on Wednesday in the West Bank city of Jericho.
DEEP SORROW
    Fluent in English as well as his native Arabic, Erekat was a spokesman for Palestinian leaders such as Yasser Arafat and Mahmoud Abbas, though never a serious candidate to succeed them.
    One of the youngest members of the Palestinian leadership, Erekat was unusual in not having spent decades in exile with Arafat and Abbas, the older generation of his Fatah faction, which dominates the PLO.
    Abbas declared three days of mourning, calling his death “a big loss for Palestine and our people.”
    “We feel deep sorrow for losing him, especially at such difficult times the Palestinian cause is living through,” Abbas’ office in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank said.
    Tzipi Livni, a former Israeli foreign minister, said he had dedicated his life to his people.    “Reaching peace is my destiny he used to say.    Being sick, he texted me: ‘I’m not finished with what I was born to do’.    My deepest condolences to the Palestinians and his family.    He will be missed,” she wrote on Twitter.
    Well-known in diplomatic circles across the world, he regularly featured in the international media.
    But a younger generation of Palestinians disillusioned with a long-stagnant peace process increasingly questioned whether Erekat’s favoured vision of a two-state solution was even possible any more.
    Some instead advocated a “one-state solution” of Israelis and Palestinians living side-by-side with equal rights, in a single country.
    But having sat opposite Israeli leaders, Erekat regarded the one-state concept as unworkable, aware that Israel would reject it as a demographic liability undermining its ability to be both a Jewish and a democratic state.    He maintained a two-state outcome was the solution.
    “If not this year, in five years, 10 years, 50 years. But the unfortunate thing is the longer it takes, the more victims, the more people will be killed, the more violence, the more extremism.    Saving lives is about going the path of two states, and it is doable,” he told Reuters in July 2019.
JERICHO TO CAMP DAVID
    When he was born in 1955, his family was living in Abu Dis, a village on the outskirts of Jerusalem.    When he was young they moved to Jericho in the Jordan Valley, and he was 12 when Israel captured the territory along with the rest of the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.
    He left the West Bank in the 1970s to go to college.
    After studying political science and international relations at San Francisco State University and gaining a doctorate in peace studies at Bradford in Britain, he worked as a lecturer in the West Bank city of Nablus before becoming a journalist.
    Erekat first gained international recognition in 1991 when he was appointed vice-chair of the Palestinian negotiating team at the Madrid Peace Conference during the U.S. presidency of George H.W. Bush.
    After Arafat returned from exile in the mid-1990s following interim peace agreements, Erekat oversaw preparations for elections under the newly created Palestinian Authority, and was himself elected to parliament.
    He became increasingly prominent as a negotiator, taking part in the Camp David summit hosted by U.S. President Bill Clinton in 2000.
    But those talks failed and the second Palestinian uprising broke out three months later, leading to five years of bloodshed and marginalising advocates of a negotiated two-state solution.
    In 2006 Erekat’s Fatah faction was weakened when it lost elections to its increasingly powerful domestic rival, the Islamist militant group Hamas, which rejects peace with Israel.
    A year later, Hamas took over the Gaza Strip by force, dealing a further blow to Fatah’s credibility.
    With Israel in control of East Jerusalem and Hamas in Gaza, Fatah was left with just limited self-rule in parts of the West Bank, among scores of Israeli settlements.
    The Palestinians also found themselves increasingly isolated after Israeli voters from 2009 elected successive right-wing governments headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – long a critic of the Palestinian leadership.
    Another challenge came with the election of President Donald Trump in 2016 – a year later the Palestinians stopped dealing with Trump, accusing him of pro-Israel bias.
    In the last three months of Erekat’s life, the Palestinians faced shifting regional priorities when two Gulf Arab states suddenly signed diplomatic deals with Israel, reflecting shared fears of Iran and hopes of increased trade.
    Asked a year before his death if there was a danger of the middle ground of Palestinian politics disappearing, Erekat told Reuters: “It’s happening.    These are my sons and daughters and grandchildren.    And they look at me in the eye and they say, ‘You did not deliver. Let the struggle change’.”
(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Angus MacSwan and Alison Williams)

11/10/2020 Ethiopia’s Tigray Conflict Worsens, Refugees Flee To Sudan
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends a signing ceremony with European Commission President
Ursula von der Leyen in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia December 7, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Refugees fled to Sudan on Tuesday and the African Union appealed for a ceasefire in a north Ethiopian region where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed is waging a military offensive against local leaders defiant of his authority.
    About 2,500 Ethiopians have escaped across the border to Sudan from fighting in the restive Tigray region, with the exodus likely to swell fast, an official said.
    Hundreds have died in air strikes and fighting amid fears that Ethiopia could slide into civil war given deep animosity between the Tigrayans and Abiy, who comes from the largest Oromo ethnic group.
    With access blocked to Tigray and communications largely down, it was hard to verify the state of the conflict.
    State media said federal forces had captured Humera airport, near the borders with Sudan and Eritrea, along with a road leading from the town.    The Ethiopian Press Agency posted photos that it said showed federal soldiers, backed by forces from the neighbouring Amhara region, at the airport.
    However, Humera residents were going about their lives normally, according to a communications office of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the state of more than 5 million people.
    State affiliated broadcaster FANA said Ethiopia had arrested 17 military officers for disrupting communications systems used by federal forces in Tigray, exposing them to potential harm.
    Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, ordered air strikes and sent troops into Tigray last week after accusing the TPLF of attacking a military base.    Tigrayans say Abiy’s government oppresses and discriminates against them and behaved autocratically in postponing a national election.
ERITREA ALLEGATION
    In a potential major escalation, Tigray leader Debretsion Gebremichael said the Eritrean government of President Isaias Afwerki had sent troops across the border to attack local forces in support of the federal push.
    But he gave no proof and Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied it.    “We are not part of the conflict,” he told Reuters.
    Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace deal two years ago, but Afwerki’s government remains hostile to the Tigrayan leadership after its role in a devastating 1998-2000 war.
    Reuters reporters on Monday travelling in Tigray and Amhara saw trucks packed with militia fighters and pickups with mounted machine-guns rushing to the frontline for the federal government.
    Warplanes have bombed arms depots and other targets, both sides say, while aid workers and security sources have reported heavy fighting on the ground.
    Military and security sources in Amhara, on the side of the federal troops, have spoken of 500 deaths on the Tigrayan side and hundreds also from the national military.
    The state-affiliated Fana broadcaster said federal troops had killed 550 Tigrayan “extremists” while another 29 members of local special forces and militia had surrendered.
    The AU bloc called for peace talks and an end to hostilities. But Ethiopia said mediation was only possible if military hardware in Tigrayan hands was destroyed, federal officials were freed from custody and regional leaders arrested.
WAR FEARS
    The 44-year-old Abiy is Africa’s youngest leader and won his Nobel prize for democratic reforms and for making peace with Eritrea.    But his militancy against Tigray has alarmed diplomats and a full-scale war could further damage an economy already reeling from the coronavirus crisis.
    A former soldier who once fought alongside Tigrayans against Eritrea, Abiy took over in 2018 after a Tigrayan-led government had dominated politics since rebels from their region toppled Marxist military rule in 1991.
    But his attempts to open up a repressive political climate also led to an explosion of ethnic problems, with hundreds killed and hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes in clashes over the last two years.
    Abiy believes he can quell the Tigrayan leadership militarily, diplomats told Reuters, though they are a battle-hardened group from the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea and the defeat of dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in 1991.
    TPLF forces and militia allies number up to 250,000 men and possess significant hardware, experts say.
    “Operations will cease as soon as the criminal junta is disarmed, legitimate administration in the region restored, and fugitives apprehended & brought to justice — all of them rapidly coming within reach,” Abiy tweeted on Tuesday.
    The TPLF has called him “merciless” with air strikes.
    Redwan Hussein, spokesman of a newly-established State of Emergency Task Force for the Tigray conflict, said federal soldiers had been forced to retreat over the border to Eritrea before regrouping and returning to fight local forces.
    He acknowledged that Tigrayan troops had control of a compound of the Ethiopian military’s powerful Northern Command in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom, Khalid Abedelaziz in Khartoum; Writing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

11/10/2020 Jordan Extends Voting By Two Hours In Contentious Poll by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
A man has his finger stained after casting his vote during parliamentary elections, amid fears over rising number
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, in Amman, Jordan November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan extended voting by two hours on Tuesday in elections set to keep parliament in the hands of tribal and pro-government deputies, and which have been criticised by the Islamist and liberal opposition for failing to reflect their true level of support.
    Officials said turnout was 27.4% so far among the 4.64 million eligible to vote.    The poll coincides with deep public discontent as Jordan grapples with its worst economic crisis in many years, and unemployment and poverty aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Across the country, banners of around 1,700 candidates appealed to voters on mostly tribal and family loyalties.
    Politicians urged Jordanians to vote amid widespread apathy and calls for a boycott of what many see as an almost toothless assembly packed with government loyalists powerless to make change.
    “Our society is tribal but we have to encourage people to vote.    I appeal to them to head to ballot boxes to make change,” Faisal al Fayez, a prominent politician and former premier and royal court chief, told state owned al-Mamlaka television.
    The government has maintained an electoral system that under-represents densely-populated cities that are Islamist and Palestinian strongholds.
    Constituencies are structured so that urban areas have far fewer MPs per voter than the countryside, whereas sparsely-populated tribal and provincial cities which form a bedrock of support for the kingdom’s Hashemite monarchy, send the majority of deputies to parliament.
    Tribalism has been on the rise as a political element in Jordan, blunting the emergence of national parties and curbing the influence of Islamists.
    The Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s main opposition group, say they are participating in the polls even though the electoral law keeps them marginalised to avoid being in the political wilderness and to ensure they can deliver vocal opposition to the pro-Western government.
    The Middle Eastern country reported 91 new deaths from COVID-19 on Tuesday, the highest daily figure since the pandemic surfaced in March.    A five-day lockdown will begin an hour after polls close in a return to tougher mobility restrictions.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, editing by Ed Osmond and Alexandra Hudson)

11/10/2020 Killing Of Libyan Dissident Underscores Stakes In Peace Talks
FILE PHOTO: Women protest against what they is lack of government support after losing their husbands or children in
the fighting, in Misrata, Libya November 7, 2020. Picture taken November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman Al-Sahili
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Gunmen shot dead a prominent dissident in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Tuesday, a stark reminder of the country’s violence as sides in a civil war sought to implement a ceasefire and political talks focused on a roadmap towards elections.
    Hanan al-Barassi, a lawyer and outspoken critic of abuses in areas controlled by eastern military leader Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA), was shot dead in public, rights groups said.
    “Barassi has been publicly vocal about cases of alleged assault and rape of women in Benghazi in which she implicated members of the armed groups in Benghazi, and she also alleged financial fraud,” said Hanan Salah, senior Libya researcher for New York-based Human Rights Watch.
    Amnesty International said Barassi and her daughter had received death threats.    It noted that her social media page had said on Monday she planned to release video exposing corruption within Haftar’s family.
    The LNA said in a statement it had summoned security chiefs in Benghazi and ordered them to investigate the assassination.
    The U.S. embassy in Libya expressed shock over the killing.    “The era of missing and murdered civilians must come to an end now,” it said in a statement.
    Libya has been split since 2014 between the LNA and an internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli in the west.    Turkey supports the GNA, while the United Arab Emirates, Russia and Egypt back the LNA.
    In June the GNA repelled a 14-month LNA assault on Tripoli, and front lines have solidified near Sirte on Libya’s central Mediterranean coast.
    Last month the United Nations brokered a ceasefire and on Tuesday a joint military commission from both sides met at a new Sirte headquarters to detail ways to implement it.
    The progress in military talks comes as the United Nations presses political talks in neighbouring Tunisia involving 75 representatives, to discuss a path to elections and the formation of a new unified transitional government.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/10/2020 Israeli Parliament Approves Deal Establishing Ties With Bahrain
The flags of Israel and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s parliament on Tuesday approved a U.S.-brokered deal establishing formal relations with Bahrain, by a vote of 62 lawmakers in favour and 14 opposed.
    The Middle East countries signed a joint communique on Oct. 18 to formalise their nascent ties.    Bahrain is one of three Arab countries – along with the United Arab Emirates and Sudan – to set aside hostilities with Israel in recent months.
    Israel’s deals with Gulf Arab states Bahrain and the UAE were forged in part over shared fears of Iran.    But they angered the Palestinians, who have long demanded statehood before any such regional rapprochement.
    “The Knesset (parliament) plenum approved the joint announcement regarding the establishment of diplomatic relations, peace and friendship between the State of Israel and the Kingdom of Bahrain,” a Knesset spokesman said in a statement.
    Speaking at parliament ahead of the vote, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu predicted more regional countries would move to open relations with Israel.
    “(The) buds of normalisation are already out there, waiting to blossom.    If we pursue the policy I crafted, I am convinced that the flowering will be witnessed in the open,” Netanyahu said.
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alison Williams, Jonathan Oatis and Tom Brown)

11/10/2020 Israel To Send First Delegation To Sudan On Sunday To Firm Up Normalisation – Source
A bird flies over the convergence between the White Nile river and Blue Nile river in Khartoum, Sudan, February 17, 2020.
REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra SEARCH "BENSEMRA NILE" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel plans to send its first delegation to Sudan on Sunday to firm up the countries’ U.S.-brokered announcement on Oct. 23 that they would normalise relations, a source briefed on the provisional itinerary said.
    The source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality, spoke to Reuters on Tuesday.    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office, which has spearheaded outreach to Khartoum, had no immediate comment.    Nor did Sudanese officials.
    Sudan followed the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in agreeing to establish formal ties with Israel under a diplomatic drive dubbed “The Abraham Accords” by the Trump administration.
    The administration’s decision last month to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of terrorism sponsors helped pave the way.
    Israel and Sudan have said they planned to begin by opening economic and trade links, with an initial focus on agriculture.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alex Richardson)

11/11/2020 Israel, Lebanon Resume Talks On Disputed Maritime Border
A poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is seen in Naqoura,
near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    NAQOURA, Lebanon (Reuters) – Israel and Lebanon resumed U.S.-mediated talks on Wednesday over their disputed Mediterranean Sea border, that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area, a source and Lebanon’s state news agency said.
    The longtime foes held three rounds of talks last month hosted by the United Nations at a peacekeeper base in southern Lebanon which the U.N. and the United States had described as “productive.”
    But sources had said that gaps between the sides remain large after they each presented contrasting maps outlining proposed borders that actually increased the size of the disputed area.
    Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields but Lebanon, which has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters, is desperate for cash from foreign donors as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
    The meetings are the culmination of three years of diplomacy by Washington, and follow a series of deals under which three Arab nations – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – agreed to establish full relations with Israel.
    Lebanon has said its talks are strictly limited to their disputed boundary.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/11/2020 Syria’s Assad Says U.S. Pressure, Sanctions Obstructing Return Of Refugees
FILE PHOTO: 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 on Wednesday blamed U.S. sanctions and pressure on the United Nations and Syria’s neighbours for the reticence of more than 5 million refugees who fled the conflict there to return.
    “There are many hurdles,” Assad said, citing U.S. sanctions at the opening of a conference in Damascus, co-hosted by Moscow, that has been boycotted by Washington, the European Union and most of Syria’s neighbours that host the bulk of its 5.6 million refugees.
    Of Syria’s 17 million people, 5.5 million are living as refugees in the region, mostly in Turkey, and a further six million are uprooted within their own country.
    Assad said millions of refugees were being forced to stay in host countries by “pressure or intimidation” and that host states were enticing them financially while benefiting from international aid for them.
    Western countries and all of Syria’s neighbours with the exception of Lebanon say conditions are not safe for the voluntary return of refugees, many of whom fled from Russian and Syrian government bombing of their towns during the course of the decade-old conflict.
    EU policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement on Tuesday that the body had turned down an invitation to attend as “the priority at present is real action to create conditions for safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of refugees and internally displaced persons to their areas of origin.”
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

11/11/2020 Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalifa, World’s Longest Serving Prime Minister, Dies
FILE PHOTO: Bahrain's Prime Minister Prince Khalifa Bin Salman al-Khalifa attends a meeting during the Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD)
summit at the Foreign Ministry in Bangkok, Thailand, October 10, 2016. REUTERS/Athit Perawongmetha/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman al Khalifa, the world’s longest serving prime minister and a staunch ally of neighbouring Saudi Arabia and the United States, has died, the royal palace announced on Wednesday.
    Sheikh Khalifa, a dominant figure in the Gulf island’s politics for much of his near half century in power, passed away on Wednesday morning at Mayo Clinic hospital in the United States, Bahrain’s state news agency said.
    Khalifa, 84, the uncle of King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, had served as prime minister since the Sunni Muslim-led island kingdom declared independence from Britain in 1971, almost half a century.    The al-Khalifa family has ruled since 1783.
    His stern response to pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011 — and criticism of similar unrest across the Arab world — underlined what for many was the defining characteristic of his career, namely a stalwart defence of dynastic rule.
    In August, Sheikh Kahlifa left the kingdom for what official media called at the time “a private visit abroad
    Earlier this year he spent time in Germany for unspecified medical treatment, returning to Bahrain in March.
    The burial ceremony will take place upon the repatriation of his body and the funeral will be limited to a specific number of relatives, Bahrain’s state news agency said.
    Official mourning has been declared for a week and government ministries and departments will close for three days starting Thursday.
    Bahrain is the home base of the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Maha El Dahan; Editing by William Maclean)

11/11/2020 Bahrain’s Sheikh Khalifa Quelled Opposition Unrest, Defended Dynastic Rule
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain’s veteran prime minister Sheikh Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa quashed repeated opposition unrest in almost half a century in office and was a fierce critic of the Arab Spring, saying it had brought Arabs only “death, chaos and destruction.”
    The world’s longest-serving prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa died on Wednesday in Mayo Clinic hospital in the United States, Bahrain’s state news agency said.
    Running Bahrain day-to-day since 1971, Sheikh Khalifa was seen for decades as the dominant personality in the government, a foe of Iran, friend of Saudi Arabia and defender of the state’s Al Khalifa dynasty.
    Reviled by the mainly Shi’ite Muslim opposition as a leading barrier to reform in the Sunni-ruled kingdom, Sheikh Khalifa advocated a tough response to public protest that saw thousands of opposition activists jailed.    Critics say many were tortured or mistreated in detention, a charge Bahrain strongly denies.
    Prime Minister since Bahrain’s independence from Britain, Sheikh Khalifa, 84, the uncle of King Hamad, routinely dismissed the opposition’s description of him as the man most responsible for recurrent deadlock in political reform efforts.
    He told Germany’s Der Spiegel in 2012: “Believe me, if my position alone were the reason for the unrest, then I would have already stepped down from my office last year.    But this is just a further excuse from the opposition.”
    In response to a remark that he had served an unusually long time, he told the magazine: “So what?    Democratic systems are very different …     Why can’t we also be different?
    Bahrain, an ally of fellow Sunni monarchy Saudi Arabia and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has seen periodic unrest since mostly Shi’ite demonstrators took to the streets in February 2011 to call for greater democracy.    Many also called for Sheikh Khalifa’s resignation.
STERN RESPONSE TO UNREST
    Authorities quelled the 2011 protests and accused Shi’ite Gulf power Iran of stirring up the unrest — a charge Tehran and the opposition deny.    Sheikh Khalifa said those who called for violence in Bahrain were terrorists backed by Iran and Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah, charges they denied.
    The Bahrain opposition complains of discrimination against Shi’ites in areas such as work and public services, and demands a constitutional monarchy with a government chosen from within a democratically-elected parliament.
    The government denies discrimination.
    Sheikh Khalifa’s supporters say he did more than anyone to turn Bahrain from virtual dependence on oil as a major source of income into a banking and financial centre and one of the Middle East’s biggest aluminium producers.
    But his stern response to pro-democracy protests in Bahrain in 2011 — and criticism of similar unrest across the Arab world — underlined what for many was the defining characteristic of his career, namely a stalwart defence of dynastic rule.
    “Do you think I am happy to see what has happened in all these countries?” he told Der Spiegel.    “This is not an ‘Arab spring.’    Spring is connected with flowers, happy people and love — not death, chaos and destruction.”
    An international inquiry said in November 2011 that 35 people died in Bahrain’s revolt.    The dead were mainly protesters but included five security personnel and seven foreigners.
    Following the uprising, mass trials became commonplace and scores of people were imprisoned including leading opposition figures and human rights activists.    Many others fled abroad.
‘SYSTEMATIC’ ABUSE
    Critics said the prime minister bore some responsibility for security force abuses in 2011 alleged by rights groups, because these appeared to be systematic behaviour by the state.
    Reconciliation talks between the authorities and the opposition failed to defuse tensions, and mistrust between the opposition and the Al Khalifa remains high.
    In 2016 a court dissolved the main Shi’ite opposition group al-Wefaq, accusing it of helping to foster violence and terrorism, in an escalation of a crackdown on dissent.
    A turning point in Sheikh Khalifa’s career came with Iran’s 1979 revolution, led by Shi’ite clerics seen by Bahrain and other Gulf states as expansionist firebrands out to weaken rival Sunni powers, in particular Bahrain with its Shi’ite majority.
    But in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, Bahrain maintained good ties with both countries despite the discovery of what Bahrain said a pro-Iranian coup attempt in 1981, and another in 1986.
    As prime minister, Sheikh Khalifa ran daily affairs of state under the late Emir Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, who died in 1999, and under his successor King Hamad.
    He stood firm against a four-year bout of unrest by Shi’ites in 1994, sending thousands of activists to jails.    The protests, demanding political and economic reforms, abated in 1998.
    He also cultivated good ties with Arab states.    But in June 2017 Bahrain, along with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, cut diplomatic and trade links with Qatar, accusing it of backing terrorism.    Qatar denies the charge and accuses its neighbours of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.
    In May 2019, Sheikh Khalifa telephoned Qatar’s emir to mark the first day of Ramadan in a rare interaction between the feuding group of nations, although the government in Manama signalled no change in political stance.
    Sheikh Khalifa suffered a serious heart attack in 1985.    After a second heart attack in July 1988, he underwent a triple by-pass operation in the Saudi capital Riyadh.
    He received medical treatment in Germany several times in 2020.
(Editing by William Maclean)

11/12/2020 Hundreds Of Disillusioned Doctors Leave Lebanon, In Blow To Healthcare by Samia Nakhoul and Issam Abdallah
FILE PHOTO: Dr. Fouad Boulos, Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the American University of Beirut (AUB)
pushes a baby cart near his wife and children, at Beirut International airport, in Beirut, Lebanon November 6, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Fouad Boulos returned to Beirut in 2007 from the United States having trained there in pathology and laboratory medicine.    He was so confident that Lebanon was the right place to be that he gave up his American residence green card.
    Fourteen years later he is leaving his homeland with his wife and five children and returning to the United States to try his luck starting from scratch.
    In the past year, Lebanon has been through a popular uprising against its political leaders, the bankruptcy of the state and banking system, a COVID-19 pandemic and, in August, a huge explosion at the port that destroyed swathes of Beirut.
    Some of those who can leave the country have done so, and an increasing number of them are doctors and surgeons, many at the top of their profession.        With them goes Beirut’s proud reputation as the medical capital of the Middle East.
    “This is a mass exodus,” said Boulos, Associate Professor of Clinical Pathology and Laboratory Medicine at the American University of Beirut (AUB).
    “It will keep on going,” he told Reuters.    “If I had hope I would have stayed but I have no hope – not in the near nor in the intermediate future – for Lebanon.”
    As he spoke at his mountain residence in Beit Mery, a forested area with sweeping views over Beirut, his wife helped pack up their last possessions, ready to return to the United States.
    Suitcases lined the hallway, and one of his daughters was online saying final farewells to school friends and her teacher.
    “It breaks my heart.    It was the hardest decision I ever had to make, leaving everything behind,” Boulos added.
    Many highly qualified physicians, who were in demand across the United States and Europe before they returned to Lebanon after the 1975-90 civil war, are throwing in the towel, having lost hope in its future.
    They are not only seeing wages fall, but also face shortages of equipment, staff and even some basic supplies in their hospitals as Lebanon runs out of hard currency to pay for imports.
BLEEDING TALENT
    Sharaf Abou Sharaf, head of the doctors’ syndicate, said the departure of 400 doctors so far this year creates a major problem, especially for university hospitals where they both practise and teach.
    “This bleeding of talent does not bode well, especially if the situation lasts long and there are others who are preparing to leave,” he said.
    Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hassan agreed.
    “Their expertise was built over many years and is very hard to lose overnight.    We will need many years to return the medical sector to its former glory,” he told Reuters.
    Protests that erupted last year and brought down the government had raised hopes that politicians, selected by a system in which leaders of Christian and Muslim sects shared the top jobs, could be pushed aside.
    Then came the Aug. 4 blast, when large amounts of poorly stored ammonium nitrate exploded, killing 200 people, injuring 6,000, making 300,000 people homeless and destroying large parts of the capital Beirut including several hospitals.
    “The explosion was the final nail in the coffin,” Boulos said.
    “It crystallised all the fears, all the pain and all the difficulties that we were living through,” added the medic, who trained at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee.
‘CORRUPT TO THE CORE’
    Boulos said he had lost faith in the country’s leadership, after years of instability caused by political bickering.
    “Lebanon is corrupt to the core,” he said, echoing the chants of thousands of protesters who packed city streets during the last year.
    The country has also had to deal with the influx of more than a million Syrians fleeing civil war, an economy that has buckled under the weight of debt, mass unemployment, poverty, and, more recently, the coronavirus pandemic.
    On Tuesday, Lebanon ordered a nationwide lockdown for around two weeks to stem the spread of the virus, as intensive care units reached critical capacity.
    Hassan, the caretaker health minister, has said an agreement was reached with the central bank to allocate funds for private hospitals to set up COVID-19 wings and that the state would pay hospital dues for the first six months of 2020.
    The government had for years owed hospitals arrears and their unpaid bills are mounting.
    Ghazi Zaatari, Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Chair of the Department of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine at AUB, said he feared the exodus would accelerate.
    “For the past 10 years we put a lot of effort into recruiting around 220 faculty members, and now it is very disheartening to see that many of those we hired are leaving again.”
    Doctors in Lebanon, although relatively well paid, generally earn less than they did abroad.
    Over the past year they have seen real incomes drop due to the 80% devaluation in the currency.
    The caretaker health minister said the state was seeking international help to prop up depreciated salaries of doctors to slow the exodus.
    But both Boulos and Zaatari said money was not the main problem.
    “Money is an issue, but this lack of trust and confidence in the political leadership (for) a safe, secure and successful future is a huge factor,” Zaatari said.
    “I am one of those who came back in the mid-90s believing that there was a promise of a better future and a reconstruction plan, only to find that 20 years later everything is collapsing and the promises were false promises. We were robbed big time.”
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam, Imad Creidi and Nancy Mahfouz; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/12/2020 Turkey Again Calls For Joint U.S. Study On Russian S-400 Systems
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting
at the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to discuss U.S. concerns about the technical compatibility of Russian S-400 defences and U.S.-made F-35 jets, Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said Thursday, repeating Ankara’s proposal for a joint working group with Washington on the issue.
    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is expected to be tougher on Turkey than was Donald Trump, particularly over its foreign and defence policies, and domestic human rights record.
    Biden could back U.S. congressional efforts to sanction Ankara over its purchase of the Russian S-400s missiles.
    Ties between NATO allies were badly strained last year when Ankara acquired of the advanced air-defense system, prompting Washington to remove Turkey from its F-35 jet program.
    Washington says use of S-400 systems could compromise NATO defenses.    Turkey says the S-400s would not be integrated into NATO systems and would not pose a threat.    Ankara has repeatedly complained that a U.S. refusal to sell it Patriot missiles led it to seek other sellers.
    “We are ready to address the U.S. concerns over the compatibility of the S-400s and F-35s,” Akar said.
    “The safety of the F-35 technology is as important for Turkey as it is for the United States,” he said, adding the joint working group proposal was still on the table.
    Akar said Ankara continued the preparations and tests of the S-400 systems, which he said “will be used the same way as the (Russian) S-300 system is used by some other members of the NATO alliance.”
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)
[The Abraham Accords countries are getting them because they are not aligned with Russia and using their weapons so make a choice or lose out and why don't you join the Accord, which is tough for an extremist Islamic nation which has an issue with Israel.].

11/12/2020 Ethiopia Claims ‘Liberation’ Of West Tigray, Humanitarian Crisis Looms by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Girls carry laundry in Soroka town in Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s military has defeated local forces in the west of Tigray state, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, accusing his foes of atrocities during a week of fighting that threatens to destabilise the Horn of Africa.
    Air strikes and ground combat have killed hundreds, sent refugees flooding into Sudan, stirred Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and raised questions over the credentials of Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader who won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
    “The western region of Tigray has been liberated,” tweeted Abiy, 44, who comes from the largest ethnic group the Oromo and once fought with the Tigrayans against neighbouring Eritrea.
    “The army is now providing humanitarian assistance and services.    It is also feeding the people,” he added.
    With communications down, transport blocked and media barred, independent verification of the status of the conflict was impossible.    There was no immediate response from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules the mountainous northern state of more than 5 million people.
    Abiy accuses the TPLF of starting the conflict by attacking a federal military base and defying his authority, while the Tigrayans say his two-year rule has persecuted them.
    Abiy said some of his soldiers had been found dead in the town of Sheraro, shot with their legs and arms tied behind their back.    “This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking,” he said.
    The prime minister did not say how many bodies were found or provide proof.    Reuters could not verify his allegation and there was no immediate response from the TPLF, which has accused federal troops of being “merciless” in bombing Tigrayans.
    More than 10,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire.    Even before the conflict, 600,000 people there were reliant on food aid.
    The United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said aid agencies were unable to restock food, health and other emergency supplies due to lack of access.
    “Shortages of basic commodities are reportedly appearing, impacting the most vulnerable first and the most,” it said.
ARRESTS AND PROTESTS
    The United Nations’ refugee agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Ann Encontre, told Reuters negotiations were underway with both sides for humanitarian corridors to be opened.
    A “major emergency” may be brewing with so many people escaping to Sudan, she warned.    About two dozen vehicles of non-essential U.N. and other workers were pulling out of Tigray and returning to the capital Addis Ababa in convoy.
    Abiy has so far resisted calls by the United Nations, the African Union and others for a ceasefire and talks.
    His army chief of staff Birhanu Jula was quoted by state-affiliated Fana broadcaster as saying that the federal troops’ Northern Command had survived a five-day siege and was recapturing places including Dansha, Humera airport and Baeker.
    “I would like to thank these members of the army for being a model of our heroic defence force and their persistent battle, though deprived of food and water for four or five days,” he said, accusing the TPLF of using people as a human shield.
    There was no immediate response to that accusation.
    Defence Minister Kenea Yadeta was quoted by state media as saying transitional rule would be set up in parts controlled by federal troops.    He urged local forces to surrender or fight the Tigrayan leadership whom he said would fall in “no time.”
    Ethiopia’s parliament stripped 39 members, including the Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael, of immunity from prosecution, the state news agency reported.
    The government’s newly-formed State of Emergency task force for Tigray said about 150 “criminal” operatives for the TPLF had been arrested in the capital Addis Ababa and elsewhere on suspicion of planning “terror attacks.”
    There are fears of reprisals against Tigrayans living around Ethiopia.    Thousands marched in anti-TPLF protests in the Oromia, Somali and Afar regions, Fana reported, in what appeared to be a government-backed attempt to win the propaganda war over Tigray.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini in Addis Ababa, Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi; Writing by Duncan Miriri and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by William Maclean)

11/12/2020 Nowhere To Go: Displaced Iraqis Desperate As Camps Close by Abdullah Rashid
A displaced Iraqi man dismantles his tent as he prepares to be evacuated, at Hammam Al-Alil camp,
south of Mosul, Iraq, November 10, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullah Rashid
    MOSUL (Reuters) – Iraq has started closing camps housing tens of thousands of people, including many who fled their homes during the final battle against Islamic State, but aid groups warn this could create a second wave of displacement with dire consequences.
    Among those having to leave are 50-year-old Umm Ahmed and her two sons, who have lived at the Hammam al-Alil camp since 2017 when their house in Mosul was destroyed in an air strike by the U.S.-led coalition as it battled to retake the city from Islamic State.
    “I don’t have any income, no one provides for us. The camp became our home,” said Umm Ahmed, who cannot take on manual work due to a disability.    She says her sons both have mental health problems.
    Islamic State upended the lives of millions of Iraqis when they took swathes of the country in 2014 and imposed a brutal rule that in some places like Mosul would last three years.
    “Before ISIS, my son used to clean the streets and we would survive with whatever income he managed to get. But now, he is too ill to work,” said Umm Ahmed.
    Hammam al-Alil, 25 kilometres (15 miles) south of Mosul, is one of several camps due to shut this month. The operation had been scheduled for earlier this year but was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic, according to Khalid Abdul Karim, who heads the displacement and migration office in Mosul.
    Each family would receive 1.5 million dinars ($1,263.03) in aid during the first year and the authorities are coordinating with international aid organisations to ensure they receive assistance once they settle elsewhere, Abdul Karim said.
    But aid organisations say it will be harder to reach the most vulnerable if spread across the country, and some could face violence and arrest on returning home if they have relatives who were affiliated with armed groups, including ISIS.
    Around 100,000 people are at risk of becoming homeless as the closures were not properly planned and coordinated, the Head of Support for Iraq at the humanitarian organisation Norwegian Refugee Council, Ahmad Azzam, told Reuters.
    Packed up her belongings, an Iraqi woman from the province of Baji says she has no relatives to take care of her and her children.    Her husband died during the war and she has been living in the camp since.
    Her children, like thousands of others born under Islamic State rule, have no identification papers, without which they will struggle to access basic services, including education.
    “Whether they give us support money or not depends on their conscience,” Umm Ahmed said as she watched her neighbours load their things onto a pickup truck and set off towards an uncertain future.
(Reporting by Abdullah Rashid; Additional reporting by Amina Ismail; Writing by Charlotte Bruneau; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/12/2020 Amnesty Reports Massacre In Ethiopia’s Tigray As Conflict Rages by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Girls carry laundry in Soroka town in Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Scores and possibly hundreds of labourers were stabbed and hacked to death in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, rights group Amnesty International said on Thursday, as federal troops claimed major advances in their offensive against local forces.
    “This is a horrific tragedy,” Amnesty said in a statement, citing witnesses as blaming local rulers, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), for the killings, which it said took place two days ago.
    Earlier, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had accused his foes of committing atrocities during a week of fighting that threatened to destabilise the Horn of Africa.    Abiy said the Ethiopia military had defeated local forces in the west of the state.
    Air strikes and ground combat have killed hundreds, sent refugees flooding into Sudan, stirred Ethiopia’s ethnic divisions and raised questions over the credentials of Abiy, 44, Africa’s youngest leader and winner of a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019.
    With communications down and media barred, independent verification of the status of the conflict was impossible.
    Amnesty said in a gruesome report that the killings had taken place in the town of Mai Kadra in Tigray’s southwest, and that witnesses described bodies with gaping wounds that appeared to have been inflicted with knives or machetes.
    “Amnesty International has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the TPLF were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF forces,” it said.
    There was no immediate response from the Ethiopian government or Tigray’s local leaders.
REFUGEES FLEE
    There are fears the conflict may suck in Eritrea, whose government signed a peace pact with Abiy two years ago but remains hostile to the Tigrayan leadership.    It may also weaken Ethiopia’s role in an African Union force opposing Islamist militants in Somalia.
    Major conflict could also hinder foreign investment in Ethiopia’s economy, which had clocked nearly double-digit annual growth for years before the coronavirus hit and is liberalizing, with multinationals particularly eyeing the telecoms sector.
    The TPLF, which rules the mountainous northern state of more than 5 million people, announced a state of emergency against what it termed an “invasion
    Abiy accuses the TPLF of starting the conflict by attacking a federal military base and defying his authority, while the Tigrayans say they have been persecuted during his two-year rule.
    “The western region of Tigray has been liberated,” tweeted Abiy, who comes from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, the Oromo, and once fought with the Tigrayans against neighbouring Eritrea.
    The prime minister said some of his soldiers had been found dead in the town of Sheraro, shot with their legs and arms tied behind their back.    “This kind of cruelty is heartbreaking,” he said.
    He did not say how many bodies were found or provide proof.    Reuters could not verify his allegation and there was no immediate response from the TPLF, which has accused federal troops of being “merciless” in bombing Tigrayans.
    More than 11,000 Ethiopian refugees have crossed into Sudan since fighting started and aid agencies say the situation in Tigray is becoming dire.    Even before the conflict, 600,000 people there were reliant on food aid.
ARRESTS AND PROTESTS
    The U.N. refugee agency’s representative in Ethiopia, Ann Encontre, told Reuters negotiations were under way with both sides for humanitarian corridors.
    A “major emergency” may be brewing with so many people escaping to Sudan, she warned.    Half of the refugees were children and some were wounded.
    After taking office in 2018, Abiy was applauded for opening up a repressive political system, including freeing activists from jail and lifting bans on opposition political parties. He won his Nobel prize for the peace accord with Eritrea.
    But his democratic transition was already waning even before the push on Tigray, experts say, including jailing a prominent opposition member and restricting media.
    Abiy has so far resisted calls by the United Nations, the African Union and others for a ceasefire and talks.
    The army said transitional rule would be set up in parts of Tigray and urged local forces to surrender.
    In a wider push against the TPLF, Ethiopia’s parliament stripped 39 members, including Tigray regional president Debretsion Gebremichael, of immunity from prosecution.
    Police said they had arrested 242 TPLF activists suspected of plotting attacks in Addis Ababa.    Weapons including bombs and bullets were also confiscated, the city’s police chief said.
    Also in the capital, volunteers lined up at a stadium to donate blood for injured armed forces members.    Some waved the Ethiopian national flag.
    And in what seemed to be a government-backed attempt to win the propaganda war over Tigray, thousands marched in anti-TPLF protests in the Oromia, Somali and Afar regions, Fana reported.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini and Kumerra Gumechu in Addis Ababa, Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum, Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi; Writing by Maggie Fick, Andrew Cawthorne and Alex Richardson; Editing by William Maclean and Steve Orlofsky)

11/12/2020 Saudi Will Strike Those Who Threaten Its Security, Crown Prince Warns
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 40th Summit
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 10, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia will strike those who threaten the kingdom’s security and stability with an “iron fist,” the crown prince said on Thursday, one day after an attack on a Remembrance Day ceremony injured two in the kingdom.
    Islamic State claimed Wednesday’s attack on a non-Muslim cemetery in the Saudi Red Sea city of Jeddah during a World War One remembrance ceremony involving French and other embassies.    The group provided no evidence for the claim.
    “We will continue to hit with an iron fist against anyone who thinks of threatening our security and stability,” Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, said in a speech carried by Saudi state news agency SPA.
    Wednesday’s attack occurred two weeks after a Saudi man wounded a security guard at the French consulate in Jeddah with what has been described as a “sharp tool” and after recent Islamist militant attacks in France and Austria.
    Prince Mohammed said Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, is committed to confronting extremism, and rejects and condemns all terrorist acts.
    He said actual terror attacks in the kingdom, the world’s top oil exporter and a key U.S. ally, had “fallen to near zero” following a restructuring of the interior ministry and reforming of the security sector that began in mid-2017.
    Prince Mohammed became heir to the throne following a palace coup in 2017 that ousted the then-crown prince.
    The prince also said the kingdom would continue to combat corruption after the state recovered 247 billion riyals ($65.86 billion) in settlements in addition to assets worth tens of billions of riyals in the past three years. [L1N2HY2L6]
    In January 2019 Saudi Arabia ended a sweeping anti-corruption campaign in which many members of the kingdom’s economic and political elite were detained.
    Critics saw the crackdown as a power grab by the crown prince, who has moved to sideline any rivals to his eventual succession to the throne.    Prince Mohammed has defended the campaign as “shock therapy” as he tries to overhaul the economy.
($1 = 3.7504 riyals)
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad and Alaa Swilam, writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Hugh Lawson, Alexandra Hudson)

11/12/2020 Eight Peacekeepers, Including Six Americans, Killed In Sinai Helicopter Crash by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Military forces are seen in North Sinai, Egypt, December 1, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A helicopter with the U.S.-led Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) in the Egyptian Sinai crashed on Thursday near the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, killing eight members of the peacekeeper force, the MFO said.
    Those killed were six Americans, a French national and a Czech national, all of them military service members, the MFO said in a statement.    It added that one American MFO member survived and was medically evacuated.
    The Israeli military said it evacuated the injured peacekeeper to a hospital in Israel.
    An official briefed on the incident, and who could not be identified by name or nationality, told Reuters it was an accident caused by mechanical failure.
    The Czech Defence Ministry released a statement confirming a Czech army member was among those killed in the helicopter crash.    The statement said the cause of the crash was a technical fault.
    Acting U.S. Defence Secretary Christopher Miller confirmed that six Americans had been killed and said on Twitter that he was saddened by the deaths.
    The MFO was installed to monitor the demilitarization of the Sinai under the 1979 Egyptian-Israeli peace accord.    It has decreased in size in recent years as the neighbouring countries tightened security cooperation against Islamist-led Sinai insurgents.
    However both Israel and Egypt have, in the past, opposed proposals by Washington to reduce U.S. participation in the MFO, whose website lists some 452 Americans among the force’s 1,154 military personnel.
    Cairo sees the MFO as part of a relationship with Israel that, while unpopular with many Egyptians, has brought it billions of dollars in U.S. defence aid, sweetening the foreign-enforced demilitarisation of its sovereign Sinai territory.
    For Israel, the MFO offers strategic reassurance in a region where allegiances can shift.    In a statement of condolence, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi described the MFO as “extremely important … to maintaining security and stability.”
    The MFO statement said the helicopter was on a “routine” mission when it crashed.    The Israeli military said in a statement it had offered to send a rescue team to the scene.
    According to its website, the MFO draws personnel from 13 countries and covers an area of more than 10,000 square kilometres (3,860 square miles) in the Sinai.
(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub, Phil Stewart in Washington, and Jason Hovet in Prague); Editing by Toby Chopra, Gareth Jones, Frances Kerry, Alexandra Hudson)

11/12/2020 Report: 6 American Troops Dead In Helicopter Crash by OAN Newsroom
A Black Hawk UH-60 helicopter flys by while participating in the Saber Junction 20 military exercises at the
Hohenfels training grounds on August 10, 2020 near Hohenfels, Germany. (Photo by Lennart Preiss/Getty Images)
    Eight military members, including six American troops from a peacekeeping force, are dead after a helicopter crash in Egypt.     According to reports, the Black Hawk helicopter was on a supplying mission when it went down in the southern Sinai Peninsula Thursday morning. One American survived the crash.
    Officials from the group, the Multinational Force and Observers, said the crash was caused by technical issues and there was no evidence of malicious activity.    An investigation is underway.

11/12/2020 Egyptian Transgender Woman Faces Uphill Battle Against Stigma
Egyptian transgender man Mohamed Fathallah sits on a motorcycle in Cairo, Egypt, October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Rania Gomaa
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Farida Aly spent decades performing blood tests, brain scans and personality tests before doctors issued the needed medical reports to allow her to undergo gender reassignment surgery.
    Born Mohamed Ramadan Aly, the transgender woman is one of the few in the conservative Muslim country able to confront what doctors diagnosed as gender dysphoria.
    “I had a life, and I lost it completely.    But I made my decision to be the person I wanted to be,” said Aly, 50.
    While the gender reassignment procedure is legal, it is a long and complicated process that is highly stigmatized.
    Discrimination against LGBT+ groups is rife in Egypt, with gay and transgender people facing instances of assault and torture, according to Human Rights Watch.
    The issue was brought to public attention earlier this year when a prominent Egyptian actor revealed on a TV talk show that his son was transgender, and expressed support for him.
    Aly, however, was abandoned by her family and left jobless after extended medical leave, and has had to move to a new town where only a handful of people know about her past.
    “Our society will never accept my situation, or won’t accept it easily.    Society can accept the opposite of my situation but never my own, I have no idea why.    It’s just this rule engraved in their minds,” she said.
    The former teacher now tutors children in the neighbourhood to earn a living, but her dream is to one day get married and have a child.
    “I had a dream that I had a girl and I raised her, brushed her hair and changed her clothes.    I named her Alaa, and until this day I am referred to as Um Alaa (mother of Alaa)."
    “Nobody in the neighbourhood calls me by my (first) name, they call me Um Alaa,” she said.
(Reporting by Hanaa Habeib; Writing by Seham Eloraby and Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Mike Collett-White)

11/13/2020 Ethiopians Fleeing To Sudan Describe Air Strikes And Machete Killings In Tigray by Khalid Abdelaziz and El Tayeb Siddig
Ethiopian women, who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, are seen at the al-Fashqa refugee camp in the Sudan-Ethiopia
border town of al-Fashqa, in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 13, 2020. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig
    AL-FASHQA, Sudan (Reuters) – Civilians fleeing fighting in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region described bombing by government warplanes, shooting on the streets and killings by machete, as they joined thousands of refugees crossing into neighbouring Sudan.
    Speaking to Reuters on Friday in the Sudanese border town of al-Fashqa, where more than 7,000 refugees have sought safety, witnesses gave first hand accounts of the escalating conflict in Tigray, where government forces are battling fighters loyal to rebellious local leaders.
    Reuters spoke to a dozen refugees.    Many of them described seeing dead bodies strewn alongside the roads as they fled under cover of darkness, fearing they would be found and killed.
    “I saw the bodies of people who had been slain thrown in the streets. Others who were injured were dragged with a rope tied to a rickshaw.    What happened is frightening and terrible, and the Tigrayans are being killed and chased down. Anything is looted, and our area was attacked with tanks,” said Araqi Naqashi, 48.
    Refugees said they expected many more Ethiopians to join them in Sudan in the coming days.
    Barhat, 52, said she fled from Moya Khadra after people from the Amhara region, which borders Tigray and whose rulers back Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, attacked them.
    “They killed anyone who said they were Tigrayan.    They stole our money, our cattle, and our crops from our homes and we ran with just the clothing on our backs,” she said.
    Elias, a 48-year-old farmer from the same town, said he was horrified by what happened there: “I saw gunmen killing and slaughtering people in the streets… and I fled on foot until I got here two days ago.”
    Local Sudanese residents said they could hear the Ethiopian government air strikes in Tigray until Tuesday. Witnesses said some of the refugees were injured and transferred to a local medical facility.
    “The bombing has demolished buildings and killed people.    I escaped, part running on foot and part in a car.    I’m afraid.    Civilians are being killed,” said Hayali Kassi, a 33-year-old driver from Humera, a town near Ethiopia’s borders with Sudan and Eritrea.
FIGHTS OVER FOOD
    Abiy has said government warplanes were bombing military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment controlled by the Tigrayan forces.
    Kassi and four other refugees said they had seen Eritrean soldiers fighting alongside the Ethiopian army against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). Reuters could not independently confirm this.
    Tigray’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops across the border in support of Ethiopian government forces but provided no evidence.
    Eritreans Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this, telling Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.”    The Eritrean foreign ministry did not immediately respond to calls for further comment on the refugees’ claims.
    Sudanese security sources told Reuters that some armed individuals in military uniform had crossed into Sudan from Ethiopia. Reuters could not determine which side they belonged to.
    The border between Sudan’s al-Qadarif state and Ethiopia is rugged land 5 km east of the banks of the Tekeze River.    The area lacks electricity and clean water.
    Empty structures of cement dotted along the dirt roads and fields shelter families from the sweltering sun with up to 15 people sharing the confined space.
    A Reuters witness said many of those who fled to al-Fashqa were women and children.    People formed long lines for water and quarrels broke out over food provided by the Sudanese army.
    “Hunger rules here, and international organizations have not yet provided assistance…large numbers flowed across the border over the last three days and their numbers are far bigger than the government had estimated,” said a local security official in al-Fashqa.
    The U.N. refugee agency said on Friday that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 14,500 people to flee into Sudan so far.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz and El Tayeb Siddig; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Jon Boyle)

11/14/2020 Israeli Operatives Killed Al Qaeda’s No. 2 Leader In Iran In August: New York Times
FILE PHOTO: A notice placed in the Pakistani daily newspaper Jang by the U.S. embassy August 22, 2005 shows militants including
al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden. The notice offers rewards for any information which could lead to the capture of the men.
(Top row L-R) Osama bin Laden $25 million, Ayman al-Zawarhiri $25 million, Mullah Omar $10 million, Abderraouf Ben Habib Jdy, Faker Ben Abdalaziz Boussora,
Midhat Mursi al Sayyid Umar, all $5 million. (Middle row L to R) Adnan G. El Shukrijumah, Mustafa Setmariam Nasar, Saif al Adel, Ali Sayyid Mustafa al Bakri, Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, all $5 million.
(Bottom row L to R) Mustafa Mohammed Fazul, Anas al Liby, Ahmed Mohammed Hamed Ali, Sheikh Ahmed Salem Swedan and Muhsin Moosa Matwalli Atwah, all $5 million. REUTERS/Zahid Hussein
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Al Qaeda’s second-in-command, accused of helping to mastermind the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa, was killed in Iran in August by Israeli operatives acting at the behest of the United States, the New York Times reported, citing intelligence officials.
    Abdullah Ahmed Abdullah, who went by the nom de guerre Abu Muhammad al-Masri, was gunned down by two men on a motorcycle in the streets of Tehran on Aug. 7, the Times reported on Friday.
    The killing of Masri, who was seen as a likely successor to al Qaeda’s current leader, Ayman al-Zawahiri, was kept secret until now, the newspaper said.
    A senior Afghan security source told Reuters in October that Masri, who has long been on the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Most Wanted Terrorists list, had been killed in the Pasdaran area of Tehran.    Reuters had been unable to corroborate that information.
    It was unclear what, if any, role the United States had in the killing of the Egyptian-born militant, the Times said.    U.S. authorities had been tracking Masri and other al Qaeda operatives in Iran for years, it said.
    Al Qaeda has not announced his death, Iranian officials have covered it up and no government has publicly claimed responsibility, the Times said.
    Iran on Saturday denied the report, saying there were no al Qaeda “terrorists” on its soil.
    Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said in a statement that the United States and Israel sometimes “try to tie Iran to such groups by lying and leaking false information to the media in order to avoid responsibility for the criminal activities of this group and other terrorist groups in the region.”
    The administration of President Donald Trump’s “scare-mongering tactic against Iran has become routine,” Khatibzadeh said.br>     A U.S. official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, declined to confirm any details of the Times story or say whether there was any U.S. involvement.    The White House National Security Council did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The Israeli prime minister’s office said it was not commenting on the report.
    Israel has said in the past that its intelligence services have penetrated Iran in recent years, including saying in 2018 that it had smuggled out an alleged archive of Iranian nuclear secrets.
    Masri, one of al Qaeda’s founding leaders, was killed along with his daughter, the Times reported.    She was the widow of former al Qaeda chief Osama bin Laden’s son.
    Osama bin Laden orchestrated the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the United States and was killed in a U.S. raid in Pakistan in 2011.
    Shi’ite Iran and al Qaeda, a Sunni Muslim militant organization, have long been enemies.
    Masri had been in Iran’s “custody” since 2003 but had been living freely in an upscale suburb of Tehran since 2015, the Times cited unnamed U.S. intelligence officials as saying.
    U.S. counterterrorism officials believe Iran, also a U.S. enemy, may have let him live there to conduct operations against U.S. targets, the Times said.
    It was not immediately known what, if any, impact Masri’s death has had on al Qaeda’s activities.    Even as it has lost senior leaders in the nearly two decades since the attacks on New York and Washington, it has maintained active affiliates from the Middle East to Afghanistan to West Africa.
    The report of al-Masri’s killing comes weeks after the killing of two other senior al Qaeda leaders in Afghanistan by local security forces.
    In October, Afghan security forces killed Abu Muhsin al-Masri, another person on the FBI’s terrorist list, while the Afghan government this month announced that it had killed yet another senior al Qaeda commander.
(Reporting by Matt Spetalnick and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi in Kabul and by the Dubai newsroom; Editing by Leslie Adler, Sonya Hepinstall and Frances Kerry)

11/14/2020 Lebanese Security Chief Visited Syria In Efforts To Free U.S. Captive
FILE PHOTO: Major General Abbas Ibrahim, head of Lebanon's Directorate of General Security speaks to reporters after a meeting with
relatives of Lebanese soldiers, who were captured by Islamist militants in Beirut, Lebanon August 27, 2017. REUTERS/ Mohamed Azakir
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Lebanese Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim visited Damascus after a trip to Washington as part of efforts to free U.S. citizen Austin Tice, who is thought to be held in Syria, Lebanese broadcaster al Jadid reported on Saturday.
    Ibrahim told al Jadid he went on a two day visit to Damascus and was in regular contact with Tice’s mother to tell her that he would continue to work on her son’s “file
    “I won’t stop working on this subject and I promised Tice’s mother whom I met in Washington and am in daily touch with on the phone,” he told the broadcaster.
    U.S. President Donald Trump has adopted the case of the freelance journalist and former U.S. Marine officer who disappeared while reporting in Syria in 2012.
    Abbas said the trip to Damascus came after he visited Washington last month where he met with national security adviser Robert O’Brien.
    A Trump administration official on Oct.18 confirmed a newspaper report that a White House official travelled to Damascus earlier this year for secret meetings with the Syrian government seeking the release of Tice and another U.S. citizen.
    The trip was the first time such a high-level U.S. official had met in Syria with the isolated government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in more than a decade.
    Syria erupted into civil war nearly a decade ago after Assad in 2011 began a brutal crackdown on protesters calling for an end to his family’s rule.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut, Editing by Mark Potter and Christina Fincher)

11/14/2020 Airports Near Ethiopia’s Tigray State Attacked With Rockets, Government Says by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to the mission to face the Tigray People's
Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri//File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Two airports in Ethiopia’s Amhara state which neighbours Tigray where federal troops are fighting local forces were targeted by rocket fire late on Friday, the government said.
    One of the rockets hit the airport in Gondar and partially damaged it late on Friday, said Awoke Worku, spokesperson for Gondar central zone, while a second one fired simultaneously landed just outside of the airport at Bahir Dar.
    The government blamed the ruling party in Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
    “The TPLF junta is utilising the last of the weaponry within its arsenals,” the government’s emergency task force wrote on Twitter.
    Debretsion Gebremichael, chairman of the TPLF and the state’s president, said the airports were legitimate targets.
    “Any airport used to attack Tigray will be a legitimate target, not cities of Amhara,” he told Reuters in a text message.
    Hundreds of people have been killed in the 11-day-old war.    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the national defence force on an offensive against local troops in Tigray last week, after accusing them of attacking federal troops.
    An Ethiopian Airlines worker who did not wish to be identified said flights to both Gondar and Bahir Dar airports had been cancelled after the attacks.
    Yohannes Ayele, a resident of Gondar, said he heard a loud explosion in the Azezo neighbourhood of the city at 10:30 p.m.
    Another resident of the area said the rocket had damaged the airport terminal building.    The area was sealed off and firefighting vehicles were parked outside, the resident added.
    The Amhara regional state’s forces have been fighting alongside their federal counterparts against Tigray’s fighters.
    The United Nations, the African Union and others are concerned that the fighting could spread to other parts of Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, and destabilise the wider Horn of Africa region.
    More than 14,500 people have fled into neighbouring Sudan, with the speed of new arrivals “overwhelming the current capacity to provide aid,” the U.N. refugee agency said on Friday.
    Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, appointed by the government but independent, said it was sending a team of investigators to the town of Mai Kadra in Tigray, where Amnesty International this week reported what it said was evidence of mass killings.
    The commission will investigate any human rights violations in the conflict, it said in a statement.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jason Neely)

11/14/2020 Fleeing Tigray War, Ethiopians Cross River Into Sudan by Khaled Abdelaziz and El Tayeb Siddig
Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region prepare to cross the Setit River on the Sudan-Ethiopia
border in Hamdait village in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 14, 2020. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig
    HAMDAYAT, Sudan (Reuters) – Ethiopians fleeing war in the northern Tigray region crossed a border river into neighbouring Sudan on Saturday, some in boats, some swimming or wading through the water.
    Speaking to Reuters in the Sudanese border town of Hamdayat, they gave accounts of the escalating conflict in Tigray state, where government forces are battling fighters loyal to rebellious local leaders.
    The small town is home to a camp hosting 8,000 refugees.    Several hundred arrived on Saturday morning with hundreds more crowded onto the rocky bank of the Tekeze river.
    Refugees told stories of artillery attacks and shooting in the streets, with fighting spilling over into neighbouring Amhara state.
    With access blocked to Tigray and communications largely down, it was impossible to verify the state of the conflict or to corroborate the refugees’ accounts.
    “We are hungry and we’re afraid that they will kill us,” said an old woman, referring to government troops battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
    She spoke moments after paying the owner of a small boat 30 Ethiopian Biir (about 80 U.S. cents) to bring her across the river, while women and children were seen swimming. Refugees said one person drowned while trying to cross the night before.
    Niqisti, 42, said her brother was shot dead by government-allied militiamen in front of their home in Humera in Tigray state and her small restaurant was looted.    It was not possible to verify her account.
    Sudanese officials were registering refugees.
    “People are hungry and the flow of refugees is continuing but we have little to offer,” said Salah Ramadan, head of the border town’s administration.
    Mubarak Abdallah, a 28-year old Sudanese farmer, said supplies in the local food market were dwindling.
ERITREA
    Hundreds of people have been killed since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent the national defence force on an offensive against local troops in Tigray last week, accusing them of attacking federal troops.
    Abiy has said government jets were bombing military targets in Tigray, including arms depots and equipment controlled by the Tigrayan forces.
    But several refugees said their areas had been shelled by artillery from neighbouring Eritrea to support the Ethiopian army. Reuters could not independently verify this.
    Tigray’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops across the border in support of Ethiopian government forces but provided no evidence.
    Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this on Friday.
    “We were shelled by artillery volleys from across the Eritrean border,” said Naksiam Guru, a 22-year refugee who lives near the border.    “I saw people dying in the streets.”
    Burhani Abraham, 31, who arrived four days ago with his wife and three-year-old child also reported shelling from Eritrea.
    “I’m very hungry,” he said, sitting in the crowded makeshift camp.

11/14/2020 Egypt Showcases Scores Of 2,500-Year-Old Coffins
Sarcophaguses that are around 2,500 years old, from the newly discovered burial site near Egypt's Saqqara
necropolis, are seen during a presentation in Giza, Egypt November 14, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    SAQQARA, Egypt (Reuters) – Egypt on Saturday showcased more than 100 coffins dating back 2,500 years, the latest and largest find this year in the vast burial ground of the Saqqara Necropolis.
    The 6th Dynasty coffins – sealed, finely painted and well-preserved – were of a higher quality than previous finds there, said the secretary-general of the supreme council of antiquities, Mostafa Waziri, suggesting they belonged to higher ranking families.
    Fifty-nine coffins were unearthed in August at the same UNESCO world heritage site.    More treasures are expected to be found there, said Waziri.
    The newly-discovered coffins, plus associated mummies and artefacts, will go on display at the Grand Egyptian Museum, which is expected to open next year.
(Reporting by Sherif Fahmy; Writing by Nadeen Ebrahim; Editing by Ulf Laessing and John Stonestreet)

11/14/2020 Polisario Leader Says Western Sahara Ceasefire With Morocco Is Over
FILE PHOTO: The word Polisario is seen on the ground in Tifariti, Western Sahara, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    ALGIERS/RABAT (Reuters) – The leader of the Polisario Front, Western Sahara’s independence movement, said on Saturday the group had ended a 29-year ceasefire with Morocco to resume its armed struggle following a border confrontation.
    A collapse of the truce, which Morocco has said it intends to stick with, could reignite a long-dormant guerrilla war in the remote desert region and aggravate decades of friction between Morocco and neighbouring Algeria, which hosts the Polisario.
    Polisario leader Ibrahim Ghali said he had signed a decree announcing the end of the group’s commitment to abide by the truce, and blamed Morocco for breaking it.
    His statement was carried by the group’s official news agency, which also said Polisario fighters had attacked Moroccan positions along different parts of the frontline, which stretches hundreds of miles across the desert.
    Rabat did not say its forces had been attacked.
    Morocco’s army on Friday entered a buffer zone at the south of the territory to open a road blocked by Polisario supporters backed by armed fighters, an act the independence movement characterised as igniting war.
    The Polisario representative in Europe, Oubi Bechraya, told Reuters on Friday that the group had “declared a return to the armed struggle
    A diplomat familiar with the situation said on Friday that heavy weapons fire was audible near the buffer zone from the direction of a Moroccan military build-up.    Rabat said it had fired “warning shots.”
    The road at the Guerguerat crossing to Mauritania represents the main land link between Morocco and the rest of Africa.    Polisario supporters, who call it an illegal crossing point, had been blocking it since October 21.
    The Moroccan army said it had reopened the road to traffic.
    Morocco has held Western Sahara since Spain quit it in 1975 and regards it as part of its territory.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed in Algiers and Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat, writing by Angus McDowall, editing by John Stonestreet)

11/15/2020 Forces From Ethiopia’s Tigray Region Bombed Eritrean Capital, Tigray Leader Says by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray Regional President, attends the funeral ceremony of Ethiopia's Army
Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen in Mekele, Tigray Region, Ethiopia June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Rebellious forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region fired rockets at the airport in Eritrea’s capital Asmara on Saturday evening, their leader said on Sunday, confirming earlier reports of a major escalation in a 12-day old conflict in Ethiopia.
    “Fighting is still continuing on several fronts” in Ethiopia, Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message.
    Five regional diplomats told Reuters shortly after the attack that at least three rockets were fired at Eritrea’s capital from Ethiopia on Saturday night.    At least two of the rockets hit Asmara airport, three of the diplomats said.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive in the restive Tigray northern region on Nov.4, after accusing Tigrayan forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern region, which borders Eritrea and Sudan.
    His government says the Ethiopian military has been carrying out air strikes in an attempt to destroy equipment including arms depots controlled by the insurgents.
    The Tigrayan leader Debretsion, communicating by text message, also said that his forces have been fighting “16 divisions” of the Eritrean army “on several fronts” for the past few days.    He did not give an estimate for how many troops he believes Eritrea has deployed.    Eritrea has a vast standing army which the United States’ CIA puts at 200,000 personnel.
    He said Eritrean forces have crossed into Ethiopia at Badme, Rama and Zalambessa, three border towns in the restive northern region.
    “Our country is attacking us with a foreign country, Eritrea.    Treason!” he told Reuters in a text message.
    There was no immediate comment from the Ethiopian government on Debretsion’s claim of the strikes on Eritrea or other comments.
    Eritrea’s government has denied involvement in the conflict.
    Officials in Asmara were not immediately reachable after the strikes.
    Debretsion said on Tuesday that Eritrea had sent troops over the border in support of Abiy’s government, but provided no evidence.
    Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed denied this at the time, telling Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.”
    Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating 1998-2000 war.    The two countries signed a peace deal two years ago, but Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki’s government remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their role in that war.
    Abiy accuses the TPLF, which rules the mountainous region of more than five million people, of treason and terrorism and says his military campaign will restore order.    He won a Nobel Peace Prize for the 2018 peace pact with Eritrea.
    The United Nations refugee agency said on Friday that the fighting in Ethiopia had prompted more than 14,500 people to flee into Sudan so far.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Kim Coghill and Frances Kerry)

11/15/2020 UAE Widens 10-Year Residency ‘Golden’ Visa Eligibility
FILE PHOTO: General view of Dubai from Burj Khalifa in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, July 17, 2019. Picture taken July 17, 2019. REUTERS/ Hamad I Mohammed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates will extend its “golden” visa system – which grants 10-year residency in the Gulf state – to certain professionals, specialised degree-holders and others, the UAE’s vice president said on Sunday.
    Foreigners in the UAE usually have renewable visas valid for only a few years tied to employment.    The government in the past couple of years has made its visa policy more flexible, offering longer residencies for certain types of investors, students and professionals.
    All holders of doctorate degrees, medical doctors and also computer, electronics, programming, electrical and biotechnology engineers are eligible, UAE Vice President and the ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum said in a statement.
    Also eligible are those with specialised degrees in artificial intelligence, big data and epidemiology, as well as high school students living in the UAE who rank top in the country and students from certain universities with a GPA of 3.8 or higher.
    After first announcing a long-term visa plan in 2018, the UAE in 2019 started granting 5- and 10-year renewable visas to certain foreign investors, entrepreneurs, chief executives, scientists and outstanding students.
    The emirate of Dubai, a Middle East trade and tourism hub, in September said it would grant visas renewable every five years to wealthy foreign retirees.
    An oil and gas producer, the UAE’s economy has been hit by the coronavirus pandemic and low oil prices, prompting many expatriates to leave.
(Reporting by Yousef Saba and Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alexander Smith and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

11/15/2020 In Escalation Of Ethiopia War, Tigray Leader Says His Forces Fired Rockets At Eritrea by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray Regional President, attends the funeral ceremony of Ethiopia's Army
Chief of Staff Seare Mekonnen in Mekele, Tigray Region, Ethiopia June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The leader of Ethiopia’s rebellious Tigray region confirmed on Sunday that his forces had fired rockets at the airport in Eritrea’s capital, a major escalation that raises fears of a wider war in the Horn of Africa region.
    Accusing neighbouring Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of troops into Tigray in support of an Ethiopian government offensive, Debretsion Gebremichael said his forces were under attack “on several fronts.”
    “Our country is attacking us with a foreign country, Eritrea.    Treason!,” Debretsion said in text messages to Reuters, without providing further details or evidence of his claims.
    With access restricted and most communications down in Tigray, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides about the 12-day conflict.
    Government officials in Eritrea and the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa could not be reached for comment.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tweeted Sunday that Ethiopia was more than capable of achieving its objectives in Tigray “by itself” but did not specifically address Debretsion’s claims.
    Last week, Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed told Reuters: “We are not part of the conflict.”
    The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for Africa, Tibor Nagy, denounced the attacks by Tigrayan forces on Eritrea and condemned what he called their “efforts to internationalize the conflict in Tigray.”
    Abiy launched the campaign in Tigray on Nov. 4 after accusing local forces of attacking federal troops based in the northern state, which borders Eritrea and Sudan and is home to some 5 million people.
    The government accuses Tigray’s leaders of treason and says its military operations are aimed at restoring the rule of law.    Tigrayans dominated the governing coalition before Abiy, an Oromo, came to power in 2018. They say he has marginalised them since, which Abiy denies.
    The conflict has killed hundreds on both sides and threatens to destabilize other parts of Ethiopia and the Horn of Africa. At least 20,000 Ethiopians have fled into Sudan, the United Nations said on Sunday.
    The International Crisis Group, a think-tank, warned on Nov. 5 that any involvement by Eritrea in the conflict could in turn draw in Sudan.
    Egypt and Sudan launched a joint military exercise on Saturday, according to Egypt’s defence ministry.    The neighbours are deepening their ties amid a dispute with Ethiopia over the giant dam that Ethiopia is building on the Blue Nile.
    Mehari Taddele Maru, a professor at the European University Institute, said the conflict would “turn the Horn of Africa into an international theatre of war” and that by drawing in rival regional forces it would “change the nature and terms of the proxy wars already being fought in Yemen, North Africa and the Middle East.”
DEVASTATING WAR
    Eritrea and Ethiopia fought a devastating 1998-2000 war. Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Ethiopia’s neighbour, but Eritrea’s government remains hostile to the Tigray leadership after their leading role in that war.
    Five regional diplomats told Reuters that at least three rockets were fired at Eritrea’s capital from Ethiopia on Saturday night.
    Debretsion told Reuters that Eritrea had sent 16 divisions to Ethiopia but did not provide specific troop numbers.    Eritrea has a vast standing army which the United States’ CIA puts at 200,000 personnel.
    Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) also accused Ethiopia of deploying drones from a military base in Eritrea belonging to the United Arab Emirates.
    “Abiy is now enlisting the support of UAE drones based in Assab in his devastating war against the people of Tigray,” party spokesman Getachew Reda said in a tweet on Sunday.
    Reuters could not independently confirm that and UAE officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    Several Ethiopian refugees arriving in the Sudanese town of Hamdayat told Reuters on Saturday that their areas had been shelled from Eritrea.    Reuters could not independently verify this.
    Fighting has spilled into Ethiopia’s Amhara state, whose local forces are fighting with federal troops in Tigray. Late on Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes.
    The government says the strikes aim to destroy equipment controlled by insurgent Tigray forces, who experts say possess significant military hardware.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Additional reporting by David Lewis and Omar Mohammed in Nairobi, Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Additional reporting and writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Frances Kerry)

11/15/2020 Erdogan Visits Northern Cyprus, Calls For Two-State Solution For Island by Irem Koca and Jonathan Spicer
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar attend a ceremony marking the 37th anniversary of
the Declaration of Independence of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, a breakway state recognized only by Turkey,
in northern Nicosia, Cyprus November 15, 2020. Mustafa Oztartan/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called for an equal “two-state” solution in Cyprus during a visit on Sunday to the breakaway Turkish Cypriot north of the island, drawing a rebuke from the internationally recognised government in the south.
    Erdogan also said Turkey and Northern Cyprus would no longer tolerate what he called “diplomacy games” in an international dispute over rights to offshore resources in the Eastern Mediterranean.
    Cyprus has been split along ethnic lines since a Turkish invasion in 1974 triggered by a brief Greek-inspired coup.    Only Ankara recognises Northern Cyprus as an independent state and it has no diplomatic relations with the government of Cyprus, which is a member of the European Union.
    “Our priority is to ensure a fair, lasting and sustainable solution” in Cyprus that ensures Turkish Cypriots have security and legal rights, Erdogan told an audience after his arrival.
    “A two-state solution must be negotiated on the basis of sovereign equality,” he added.
    United Nations-mediated peace talks on Cyprus broke down in 2017.
    Erdogan was visiting Northern Cyprus after Ersin Tatar, who also supports a two-state solution, won last month’s presidential election.    Tatar’s predecessor had backed reunification of the island.
    Cyprus called Erdogan’s visit “provocative and illegal.”
    “Ankara has absolutely no respect for international law, European principles and values, and its obligations towards the EU,” the Cypriot presidency said in a statement.
MUSCLE-FLEXING
    Erdogan later visited Varosha, a beach town that has been fenced-off and abandoned in no-man’s land since 1974.
    Ankara backed the partial re-opening of Varosha just before last month’s election in a move criticised by the United States, Greece and Greek Cypriots.
    Turkey has increasingly flexed its military muscle in the region, including by backing Azerbaijan in its renewed conflict with Armenia over the past few weeks.
    Erdogan alluded to Turkey’s dispute with EU members Greece and Cyprus and with other neighbours over territorial waters in the eastern Mediterranean.
    The EU has threatened to impose sanctions on Turkey next month over illegal exploration at sea.
    “Neither we nor Northern Cyprus can tolerate diplomacy games (in the region) anymore,” Erdogan said.
    He added that Tatar would soon visit Azerbaijan – which does not recognise Northern Cyprus – to “make the situation better”, without elaborating.
    Tatar backed Erdogan’s calls for a two-state solution and offshore rights.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Irem Koca; Additional reporting by Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/15/2020 Pro-Sisi Party In Commanding Position In Egypt’s Parliamentary Polls
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a joint news conference with Greek Prime Minister
Kyriakos Mitsotakis at Maximos Mansion in Athens, Greece, November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt’s Mostaqbal Watn (Nation’s Future) Party took a commanding lead in parliamentary polls on Sunday as the election commission announced results from a second round of voting.
    Pre-selected lists headed by the party, which strongly supports Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, won all 284 seats allocated for the 596-seat chamber through a winner-takes-all system.
    Its candidates also won 59 of the 73 seats contested by individual candidates that have so far been declared by the commission.
    Remaining individual seats will be decided in run-offs later this month and in early December. Sisi can appoint 28 legislators directly.
    Turnout in the two rounds of voting in an election that began on Oct. 24 was 29% so far, according to the election commission.
    Many candidates and parties filed legal complaints to the commission alleging electoral fraud, but all have so far been dismissed.    Some have also taken complaints to the courts.
    The commission’s head, Lasheen Ibrahim, appealed to Egyptians to participate in the run-offs, urging them not to listen to rumours spread by “enemies of the homeland.”
    Parliament was already controlled by Sisi supporters, but Nation’s Future has emerged as a dominant force and won nearly 75% of contested seats for Egypt’s newly recreated Senate in August.
    Sisi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on political dissent since leading the removal in 2013 of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi, who was freely elected in 2012 before mass protests engulfed his rule.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/16/2020 Ethiopia Says Tigray Town Seized, War Embroils Eritrea by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to the mission to face the Tigray People's
Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said on Monday it had captured another town in the northern Tigray region after nearly two weeks of fighting in a conflict already spilling into Eritrea and destabilising the wider Horn of Africa.
    Hundreds have died, at least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Abiy ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s rulers for defying his authority.
    The conflict could jeopardise a recent economic opening, stir up ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa’s second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea.
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which governs the region of more than 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of soldiers over the border to support Ethiopian federal troops. Asmara denies that.
    Tigray forces fired rockets into Eritrea at the weekend.
    A task force set up by Abiy to handle the government’s response to the crisis, said troops had “liberated” the town of Alamata from the TPLF.    “They fled, taking along around 10,000 prisoners,” it added, without specifying where those were from.
    With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides.
    There was no immediate comment from Tigray’s leaders on events in Alamata, near the border with Amhara state, about 120 km (75 miles) from Tigray’s capital Mekelle.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael urged the United Nations and African Union to condemn Ethiopia’s federal troops, accusing them of using of high-tech weaponry including drones in attacks he said smashed a dam and a sugar factory.
    “Abiy Ahmed is waging this war on the people of Tigray and he is responsible for the purposeful infliction of human suffering on the people and destruction of major infrastructure projects,” he said.
    “We are not the initiators of this conflict and it is evident that Abiy Ahmed conducted this war as an attempt to consolidate his personal power,” he added, warning that Ethiopia could become a failed state or disintegrate.br> FIGHTING SPREADS
    The fighting has spread beyond Tigray into Amhara, whose local forces are allied with Abiy’s forces. On Friday, rockets were fired at two airports in Amhara in what the TPLF said was retaliation for government air strikes.
    Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, who is from the largest Oromo ethnic group and Africa’s youngest leader, of persecuting them and purging them from government and security forces over the last two years. He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base.
    Amnesty International has denounced the killing of scores and possibly hundreds of civilian labourers in a massacre that both sides have blamed on each other.
    The Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) has around 140,000 personnel and plenty of experience from fighting Islamist militants in Somalia and rebel groups in border regions, plus a two-decade border standoff with Eritrea.
    But many senior officers were Tigrayan, much of its most powerful weaponry is there and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command’s headquarters in Mekelle.
    There are reports of defections of Tigrayan members of the ENDF. And the TPLF itself has a formidable history, spearheading the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bearing the brunt of a 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands.
    Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki – a long-time foe of the Tigrayan leaders – controls a vast standing army which the United States’ CIA puts at 200,000 personnel.
    Abiy once fought alongside the Tigrayans and was a partner in government with them until 2018 when he took office, winning early plaudits for pursuing peace with Eritrea, starting to liberalise the economy and opening a repressive political system.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini, Addis Ababa newsroom, Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Duncan Miriri, Raissa Kasolowsky)

11/16/2020 Qatar FM: Normalisation With Israel Undermines Palestinian Statehood Efforts
FILE PHOTO: Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is seen during
talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister said on Monday Arab states that establish ties with Israel undermine efforts for Palestinian statehood, but it was in their own sovereign right to do so.
    Three Arab countries – the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan – set aside hostilities with Israel in recent months to agree to formal relations in deals brokered by U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration.
    Palestinian leaders have accused them of betrayal, while U.S. and Israeli officials have said more Arab states could soon follow.
    “I think it’s better to have a united (Arab) front to put the interests of the Palestinians (first) to end the (Israeli) occupation,” Qatar Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani told the online Global Security Forum.
    He said division was not in the interest of concerted Arab efforts to get the Israelis to negotiate with the Palestinians and resolve the decades-long conflict between the sides.
    However, for the states who established ties, “it is up to them at the end of the day to decide what is best for their countries,” he said.
    The UAE, Bahrain and Sudan broke with decades of Arab policy that had demanded Israel first cede land to the Palestinians to form their own state before establishing relations.
    UAE officials have said the Gulf state remains committed to Palestinian statehood, and that its deal with Israel had stopped further annexation of lands Palestinians seek for a state.
    Until this year, Israel had only current formal relations with just two Arab states – its neighbours Egypt and Jordan – established under peace deals reached decades ago.
    Qatar has been tipped by Israeli officials as among Arab and other Muslim-majority countries that could establish formal ties with Israel.
    Sheikh Mohammed said Doha maintains some relations with Israel, though only on matters concerning the Palestinians such as humanitarian needs or development projects.
    Qatar, which also has relations with two of Israel’s bitter enemies, Iran and Palestinian militant group Hamas, supports a two-state solution with East Jerusalem as the capital of a Palestinian state, a stance the foreign minister reiterated.
(Writing by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/16/2020 Ethiopia Resists Mediation As It Bombs Tigray Capital by Giulia Paravicini and David Lewis
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to the mission to face the Tigray People's
Liberation Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia resisted international pressure for mediation in a war in the country’s north on Monday as its air force bombed the Tigrayan capital Mekelle, according to diplomatic and military sources.
    Hundreds have died, 25,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there have been reports of atrocities since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 against Tigray’s local rulers for defying his authority.
    But Africa’s youngest leader, who won a Nobel Peace Prize last year, has so far resisted pressure for talks to end a conflict that has spilled into neighbouring Eritrea and threatened to destabilise the wider Horn of Africa.
    “We are saying ‘Give us time’.    It’s not going to take until eternity … it will be a short-lived operation,” Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s Tigray crisis task force, told reporters.
    “We have never asked Uganda or any other country to mediate,” Redwan added, after Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni met Ethiopia’s foreign minister and appealed for negotiations.
    Ethiopia’s air force dropped bombs in and around Mekelle on Monday, four diplomatic and military sources told Reuters. They had no word on casualties or damage and there was no immediate information from the Ethiopian government.
    Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), said at least two civilians had been killed and a number wounded.    He said in a text message to Reuters that while Mekelle had been bombed, the town of Alamata in southern Tigray had been hit by a drone attack.
    Ethiopia’s task force said earlier that federal troops had “liberated” Alamata from the TPLF.
    The Tigray flare-up could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia’s economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around Africa’s second most populous nation, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy, 44, who won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea.
    The TPLF, which governs the region of 5 million people, has accused Eritrea of sending tanks and soldiers over the border against it.
    Eritrea denies that.
    Tigray forces fired rockets into Eritrea at the weekend.
    With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides.
‘INFLICTING SUFFERING’
    There was no immediate comment from Tigray’s leaders about Alamata, about 120 km (75 miles) from Mekelle.
    Debretsion urged the United Nations and African Union to condemn Ethiopia’s federal troops, accusing them of using high-tech weaponry including drones in attacks he said destroyed a dam and a sugar factory.
    “Abiy Ahmed is waging this war on the people of Tigray and is responsible for the purposeful infliction of human suffering,” he said.
    The government has denied targeting the dam or civilian locations, but has not commented on the sugar factory.
    Tigray leaders accuse Abiy, from the largest Oromo ethnic group, of persecuting them and purging them from government and security forces over the last two years.    He says they rose up against him by attacking a military base.
    Amnesty International has denounced the killing of scores and possibly hundreds of civilian labourers in a massacre that both sides have blamed on each other.
    Museveni tweeted that he met Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s foreign minister and deputy prime minister, in Uganda.
    “There should be negotiations and the conflict stopped, lest it leads to unnecessary loss of lives and cripples the economy,” he said in a tweet later deleted.
REGIONAL EXHORTATIONS
    Demeke went on to Kenya afterwards.
    “Everybody is encouraging talks, it’s very urgent,” said Mahboub Maalim, a Kenyan diplomat who heads the Nairobi-based regional think-tank Sahan.    “We should focus on a ceasefire.”
    Kenya and Djibouti urged a peaceful resolution and the opening of humanitarian corridors, while Nigeria’s former president Olusegun Obasanjo went to Ethiopia.
    European nations were also weighing in, diplomats said, with Norway planning to send a special envoy.
    One diplomat said Ethiopia’s army was reporting it had retaken 60% of Tigray and was planning a multi-pronged offensive on Mekelle, aiming to reach it in three days.
    The Ethiopian National Defence Force has around 140,000 personnel and plenty of experience from fighting Somali militants, rebels in border regions, and Eritrea.
    But many senior officers were Tigrayan, much of its most powerful weaponry is there and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command’s headquarters in Mekelle.
    The TPLF itself has a formidable history, spearheading the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bearing the brunt of the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini, Addis Ababa newsroom, Katharine Houreld, Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Jon Boyle and Alex Richardson)

11/17/2020 Ethiopia To Push On Tigray’s Capital As Surrender Deadline Passes by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s prime minister warned on Tuesday that a deadline for rebel northern forces to lay down arms had expired, paving the way for a final push on the Tigray region’s capital in a two-week conflict destabilising the Horn of Africa.
    “The three-day ultimatum given to Tigray Special Forces and the militia to surrender … has ended today,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Facebook.    “The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days.”
    Africa’s youngest leader and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, Abiy launched air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 after accusing the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of armed mutiny against his authority.
    Tigrayan leaders say Abiy, 44, who comes from the largest ethnic group the Oromo, has persecuted and purged them from government and security positions since taking office in 2018.
    Tigrayan forces fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea this weekend, widening a conflict which has already killed hundreds – one diplomatic source said thousands – of combatants and civilians, and sent 25,000 refugees into Sudan.
    With communications mainly down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by any side.
    Abiy’s warning came after his forces struck unspecified TPLF targets outside the Tigray capital Mekelle, a government emergency task-force said.
    “The Ethiopian National Defense Forces indeed undertook precision-led and surgical air operations outside of Mekelle city,” it said, adding that civilian areas were avoided.
    There was no immediate response from Tigray’s leaders, though they have accused federal forces of knocking out a dam and a sugar factory as well as “mercilessly” attacking people in the region of more than 5 million.
‘HEAVIER FIGHTING LIKELY’
    Tigrayan forces might seek to dig in as the military advances into the more mountainous terrain towards Mekelle, said Matt Bryden, founder of Nairobi-based regional think-tank Sahan.
    “I would guess as they (the Ethiopian army) enter the highlands, heavier fighting is likely to start,” he said.
    With hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans dependent on food aid even before the conflict, suffering is worsening fast even as United Nations and aid agency staff are scaling back for security reasons.
    A convoy of four buses and several cars, carrying about 400 foreigners from Mekelle, was expected to arrive in the capital Addis Ababa on Wednesday, five diplomatic sources said.
    Another convoy of about 200 people, mainly workers for international organisations, reached the capital on Monday.
    The United Nations and governments around Europe and Africa are pressing for talks, but Abiy has resisted, saying he will only negotiate when rule of law is restored in Tigray.
    On Monday, Abiy’s foreign minister went to Uganda and Kenya, while a Nigerian former president flew to Addis Ababa.
    Diplomats described a growing push for negotiations, but Ethiopia said it was simply explaining an internal conflict to outsiders.
    Ethiopia, Africa’s second-most populous country, has long been a diplomatic and economic heavyweight and Western ally in a region of conflict, poverty and Islamist militancy.
    Abiy has appealed for refugees to come home as his government promises the war will end quickly, though experts fear a protracted conflict given considerable military muscle on both sides.
    The fighting could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia’s economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around the vast nation of 115 million people, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy who won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea.
    The federal forces comprise around 140,000 personnel and are battle-hardened from fighting Somali militants, rebels in border regions and Eritrea in the past.    But many senior officers were Tigrayan, much powerful weaponry is there, and the TPLF has seized the powerful Northern Command’s headquarters in Mekelle.
    The TPLF itself is a formidable rival also with a proud history: it spearheaded the rebel march to Addis Ababa that ousted a Marxist dictatorship in 1991 and bore the brunt of the 1998-2000 war with Eritrea that killed hundreds of thousands.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Writing by Duncan Miriri and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Katharine Houreld and William Maclean)

11/17/2020 Ethiopia Says Its Troops Marching On Tigrayan Capital by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia said its troops were marching on the capital of the Tigray region on Tuesday after a deadline for rebel forces to surrender passed in a two-week conflict shaking the Horn of Africa and alarming the world.
    “The final critical act of law enforcement will be done in the coming days,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said.
    Later on Tuesday, Abiy’s special task force on the Tigray conflict accused rebel forces of destroying bridges connecting the regional capital Mekelle with the rest of the country in attempts to hold back federal government forces.
    “Anxious about (our) advance, the junta has destroyed four bridges that lead to Mekelle,” it said, adding that the TPLF had also destroyed the section of a main road eastwards to Mekelle between the towns of Shire and Axum.    Shire was under federal control, the task force reported earlier in the day.
    “The TPLF junta will soon be held accountable for destroying this infrastructure and for crimes it has committed so far.”
    There was no immediate TPLF comment on the accusations.
    Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader and the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, launched air strikes and a ground offensive on Nov. 4 after accusing ex-comrades and the local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of armed revolt.
    Tigrayan leaders say Abiy, 44, who comes from Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group the Oromo, has persecuted and purged them from government and security posts since taking office in 2018.
    Tigrayan forces have fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, accusing Eritrean forces of helping the Ethiopian government side, an allegation denied by Asmara.
.     But the rocket fire has escalated a conflict which has already killed hundreds – one diplomatic source said thousands – and sent about 30,000 refugees into Sudan.
    “How could they kill their own brothers and sisters?    This is not our custom,” Addis Ababa resident Fitawrari Million said of the Tigrayan leaders during a rally to honour federal soldiers.
    The United Nations said a “full-scale humanitarian crisis” was unfolding.    With communications largely down and media barred, Reuters could not independently verify assertions by either side nor the situation on the ground.
    “People are coming out of Ethiopia really scared, afraid, with stories saying they have been fleeing heavy fighting and there’s no sign of the fighting stopping,” said Babar Baloch, spokesman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
    With hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans dependent on food aid even before the conflict, suffering is worsening as hundreds of humanitarian workers are pulling out for their own safety.
    Mark Lowcock, U.N. Undersecretary General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, said the United Nations was pressing Abiy’s government to assure immediate and safe access to displaced people.    “Humanitarian workers must be able to deliver assistance without fear of attack,” he said.
    Locator Map: https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/yzdvxkyewpx/ethiopia-tigray-conflict.jpg
‘BRING JUNTA TO JUSTICE’
    Abiy’s air force struck unspecified TPLF targets outside Mekelle on Monday.     Earlier on Tuesday, his task force said federal forces had “liberated” the Raya, Chercher, Gugufto and Mehoni localities on the eastern front, and Shire on the conflict’s western front.     Federal forces had also destroyed TPLF military bases in both areas and were now heading towards Mekelle, the statement said.    “The force of the junta is now retreating, and the army is marching to bring the TPLF junta to justice.”
    Tigray’s leaders have accused federal forces of knocking out a dam and a sugar factory as well as “mercilessly” attacking people in the region of more than 5 million.
    The government denies targeting civilians.
    In a sign the push towards Mekelle may not be going entirely to plan, TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters battles were still ongoing around the southern town of Alamata that federal troops said they seized the previous day.
    After Amnesty International reported a massacre of scores of labourers, where it cited witnesses blaming TPLF forces, the United Nations human rights chief said war crimes may have been committed.
REGIONAL CLAMOUR
    Governments around Europe and Africa are clamouring for talks and even the Nobel committee voiced concern in rare comment on a past laureate’s actions.
    But Abiy has said he will only negotiate when rule of law is restored in Tigray, whose leaders are former military comrades whom he also partnered in government until 2018.
    On Monday, his foreign minister went to Uganda and Kenya, while a Nigerian former president flew to Addis Ababa. Diplomats described a growing push for negotiations, but Ethiopia said it was simply explaining an internal conflict to outsiders.
    The fighting could jeopardise the recent opening up of Ethiopia’s economy, stir ethnic bloodshed elsewhere around the vast nation of 115 million people, and tarnish the reputation of Abiy.    He won his Nobel for pursuing peace with Eritrea and had drawn praise for opening up a repressive political system, though arrests and media curbs have tainted that of late.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis, George Obulutsa, Katharine Houreld and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

11/17/2020 Netanyahu Has ‘Warm’ Talk With Biden, 10 Days After Democrat Declares Victory by Jeffrey Heller
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had a “warm conversation” with U.S. President-elect Joe Biden on Tuesday, Netanyahu’s office said, in a delayed and clear acknowledgement of Biden’s election defeat of the Israeli leader’s ally Donald Trump.
    “The two agreed to meet soon to discuss the many issues that are pending and reaffirmed the need to continue to strengthen the strong alliance between the United States and Israel,” the Israeli statement said.
    In a statement Biden’s transition team said: “The president-elect thanked the prime minister for his congratulations and reiterated his steadfast support for Israel’s security and its future as a Jewish and democratic state.”
    Netanyahu had congratulated Biden and running mate Kamala Harris on Twitter on Nov. 8, a day after the Democrat declared victory in the U.S. election.    On Twitter, right-winger Netanyahu also thanked Trump for his friendship towards Israel.
    In those messages and in subsequent public remarks, Netanyahu refrained from referring to Biden as “president-elect,” in what was widely seen as an attempt to avoid angering Trump, who has challenged his rival’s victory.
    But the statement issued after Netanyahu and Biden spoke used that term and said they had “a warm conversation” in which the president-elect “reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security.”
    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, whose post is largely ceremonial, also spoke to Biden on Tuesday, congratulating him on his election and calling him a “long-standing friend” of Israel, Rivlin’s spokesman said.
    In a statement later directed at Rivlin, the Biden transition team said the president-elect “looks forward to working with Israel to build an ever stronger partnership between our two countries.”
    Having been in lockstep with Trump for four years, Netanyahu will likely be challenged by any Biden departure from Trump’s tough policy on Iran and towards the Palestinians.
    Biden has pledged to restore U.S. involvement in the 2015 Iran nuclear deal – which Trump had pulled out of – and likely opposition by the White House to Israeli settlement of occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
    Earlier on Tuesday, Netanyahu, who heads the right-wing Likud party, was non-committal when asked in an interview on Galei Israel radio who he believed won the U.S. election.
    “Why do I have to express an opinion?” he replied.    “They have an internal process – the Electoral College. I think everybody more or less understands what … is apparently going to happen officially.”
(Additional reporting by Mike Stone in Washington, D.C., Editing by Giles Elgood and Howard Goller)
[NETANYAHU YOU NEED TO NOT BELIEVE THE MAINSTREAM U.S. NEWS THEY ARE CONNING THE WORLD THAT BEIGING BIDEN IS PRESIDENT AND BY THE WAY HE IS NOT PRESIDENT ELECT SINCE THEY ARE GOING TO DO RECOUNTS ON 6 STATES WHICH HE DOES NOT HAVE THE ELECTORIAL VOTES FOR THOSE STATES YET.].

11/17/2020 Turkish Parliament Approves Troop Observer Deployment To Karabakh
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech at the old parliament building in Ankara, Turkey July 13, 2018. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament on Tuesday approved the deployment of troops to join Russian forces at an observation post in Nagorno-Karabakh after Armenia and Azerbaijan signed a Russian-brokered ceasefire deal to end fighting over the enclave.
    The mandate will allow Turkish troops to be stationed at the centre for one year as part of an accord between Ankara and Moscow to monitor the implementation of the ceasefire, which locked in territorial gains by Azerbaijan.    Some 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are now also deploying to the region.
    In a letter to parliament asking for the mandate’s approval, President Tayyip Erdogan said the presence of Turkish troops and, “if needed, civilian personnel from our country, (will) be to the benefit of the peace and prosperity of the regional people, and necessary for our national interests.”
    The ceasefire signed on Nov. 10 halted military action in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians, after the worst fighting in the region since the 1990s.
    Turkey has accused Armenia of occupying Azeri lands and pledged solidarity with its ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan.
    Ankara has blamed the Minsk group – formed to mediate the conflict and led by Russia, France and the United States – of freezing the issue for nearly 30 years.
    A Russian military delegation held talks in Turkey last week to discuss the parameters of the Turkish-Russian centre.    Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday Ankara and Moscow’s cooperation would continue.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/17/2020 Saudi Arabia Concerned Over Israeli Moves In East Jerusalem: Statement
FILE PHOTO: A general view picture shows part of "Givat Hamatos", an area near East Jerusalem November 15, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Tuesday voiced “deep concern” over the Israeli authorities’ decision to invite contractor bids to build 1,257 new settlements near East Jerusalem and said it contravened international resolutions.
    “The ministry affirms the Kingdom’s condemnation and rejection of the move, which contravenes international resolutions,” it said in a statement.
    Israel moved ahead on Sunday with a settler housing plan in the area, a step critics said aimed to shore up the project before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office. [nL1N2I10DW]
    The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan earlier this year signed agreements toward normalizing relations with Israel in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran.
    Riyadh has quietly acquiesced to the UAE and Bahrain deals – though it has stopped short of endorsing them – and has signaled it is not ready to take action itself.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; editing by Barbara Lewis)

11/17/2020 Analysis: ‘No Free Lunch’ For Lebanon Any More, Donor States Warn by Samia Nakhoul and John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damages following Tuesday's blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo
    BEIRUT/PARIS (Reuters) – Western powers seeking to rescue Lebanon’s teetering economy have given the country’s leaders an ultimatum: there will be no bailout unless they form a credible government to overhaul a bankrupt state – and do it quickly.
    France, the United States and other donors who repeatedly came to Lebanon’s aid since the 1975-90 civil war are losing patience with its politicians, many of them familiar faces in charge during the country’s descent into economic crisis.
    Huge protests erupted against the ruling elite last year as people blamed them for looking after vested interests while national debts mounted.    The pandemic further strained resources and a huge port blast in August destroyed large areas of Beirut.
    As dollars run low, basic goods including some medicines are in short supply and more people in Lebanon are falling below the poverty line.
    French President Emmanuel Macron, a natural ally given Lebanon is a former French colony, rushed to the city after the explosion and tried to convince politicians to introduce at least partial reforms to confront the emergency.
    But rival factions are still mired in turf wars, and Lebanon has not formed a new government since the last one was brought down by the blast and its aftermath.    As in previous deadlocks, each side blames the other.
    In talks in Beirut last week, Patrick Durel, an adviser to Macron on the Middle East and North Africa, made clear that while Paris remains committed, “we will not bail them out unless there are reforms,” according to two sources who were present.
    “Those times have changed,” he said.
    A Western diplomat said France was still trying to host a planned conference on rebuilding Beirut by the end of November, but doubts remained.
    “There are no developments,” the diplomat said.    “The Lebanese politicians are back to their way of doing business and what’s worrying is the complete disregard for the population.”
‘NO FREE LUNCH’
    Dorothy Shea, the U.S. ambassador to Lebanon, speaking to an online conference of the CSIS think-tank in Washington on Friday, said the United States “gets that Lebanon matters” and that “avoiding state failure…has to be first and foremost.”
    But she added: “We can’t really want it more than they do.”
    Shea said there would be no bailout without reforms.
    “We got smart,” she said, adding there would be “a step-by-step approach and no free lunch.”
    Saad al-Hariri, the Sunni prime minister-designate under the country’s sectarian power-sharing agreement, is struggling to form a cabinet.
    Some sources say efforts have been complicated by recent U.S. sanctions against Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun who heads the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM), Lebanon’s largest Christian party.
    Bassil was sanctioned on corruption charges and ties with the Iran-backed Shi’ite paramilitary group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s most powerful party and a strike-force for Tehran across the region, which Washington deems a terrorist organisation.
    He denies the corruption charges.
    The main sticking point, official sources say, is Aoun and Bassil’s insistence on nominating Christian ministers in an 18-member government.    Hariri wants all ministers to be specialists and not affiliated to political parties.
    A source close to the talks said some involved identified Bassil as the main obstacle to a cabinet being formed.    Bassil denies the accusations, saying that since others were able to nominate ministers, his party was entitled to the same.
    A source familiar with Hezbollah’s thinking said that Durel asked the group to try to persuade Bassil, a close ally, to soften his stand, but that Hezbollah was reluctant to exert further pressure on him as it could weaken him further.
HARDENED POSITIONS
    Several sources said the current standoff was suicidal for the country, which is running through its foreign reserves fast.    They are estimated at just $17.9 billion.
    Because of the sanctions, which U.S. ambassador Shea acknowledged were part of the outgoing Donald Trump administration’s “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran, Tehran and allies are opting to wait until Trump leaves office.
    But some officials in Lebanon warned against playing the waiting game.
    “The message from the French now is clear: no government, no reform, then au revoir, merci,” said a senior political source familiar with the talks.
    “And if the French wash their hands of this, then who will still look at us?    The Gulf?    The U.S.?    Nobody."
    “At the end of the day, they don’t know how to deal with exceptional times and challenges…We’re still dealing with government formation as if these are normal days.”
    Shea said donors had to “stick to their guns,” otherwise the political elite would not take them seriously.
    “If they don’t feel the sense of urgency to form a government how can we keep the pressure on them?” she said.    “They look at us and say ‘try to make us reform – It’ll be fun watching you’.”
(Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous, Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/18/2020 Ethiopia Pushes For Tigray Capital, Denies ‘Ethnic Bias’ by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian forces pushed towards the capital of the rebel Tigray region on Wednesday, ignoring international appeals for talks to end the conflict and denying it was targeting any ethnic group.
    Federal troops are locked in a two-week conflict against Tigray’s forces, which has killed hundreds on both sides, rocked the Horn of Africa, stirred ethnic frictions elsewhere in Ethiopia and sent 30,000 refugees fleeing into Sudan.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has billed the offensive as a campaign to restore rule of law in the northern state of more than 5 million people, saying victory would come in days.
    He launched the offensive on Nov. 4 after accusing Tigrayan forces of an attack on a government base in the region.
    Tigrayans who have fled to Sudan have told Reuters that militias from Amhara, the neighbouring state, attacked them because of their ethnicity and that government airstrikes were killing civilians.    Abiy’s government denies that.
    “The federal government… denounces, in the strongest of terms, mischaracterization that this operation has an ethnic or other bias,” its task force on the crisis said in a statement on Wednesday.
    Aiby, 44, is from the largest ethnic group the Oromo and is both a former military comrade of the Tigrayans.    He also served in government with them until he took office in 2018.
    With access restricted to the mountainous region and most communications down, Reuters could not independently verify assertions made by all sides.
‘SHIFTED DEFENCE LINE’
    Tigrayans represent about 5% of Africa’s second most populous country.    Their ethnic group dominated political leadership between 1991 and 2018.
    On Tuesday, the government accused rebel forces of destroying bridges connecting the regional capital Mekelle with the rest of the country in attempts to hold back federal troops.
    Forces loyal to Tigray’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), also destroyed the section of a main road eastwards to Mekelle between the towns of Shire and Axum.    Shire was under federal control, the task force said.
    Debretsion Gebremichael, elected Tigrayan president in polls that Ethiopia does not recognise, told Reuters in a text message that his forces had fallen back but denied they destroyed bridges.
    “We have shifted our defence line and as a result they get into some towns of South Tigray,” he wrote.
    “No bridge is blown.”
    On Tuesday, Abiy warned that a three-day deadline for Tigrayan troops to surrender had expired, paving the way for a military push against Mekelle.    The war has killed hundreds of people – possibly thousands – and exacerbated suffering in a region where many already depended on food aid.
(Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Jon Boyle and Andrew Cawthorne)

11/18/2020 Bahrain Delegation Heads To Israel On Gulf Air Flight
FILE PHOTO: The flags of Israel and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain’s first official government delegation to Israel set off on Wednesday on the first Gulf Air commercial flight to Tel Aviv, as the two countries look to broaden cooperation after establishing formal ties in September in a U.S.-brokered accord.
    Gulf Air flight GF972 – a reference to Israel’s telephone country code – took off from Manama airport in the morning bound for Tel Aviv, according to flight tracking website FlightRadar24.
    Bahrain’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, is leading the delegation.
    President Donald Trump’s Middle East envoy, Avi Berkowitz, is also on the flight and is leading a U.S. delegation to Bahrain and Israel, he said on Twitter.
    Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates established formal ties with Israel in a U.S.-brokered deal signed at the White House on Sept. 15.    Sudan has since said it would also formalise relations with Israel, a former foe.
    The foreign minister’s trip to Israel will coincide with a visit there by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.    They will hold a three-way meeting with Netanyahu, two diplomats briefed on the planning said.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tom Hogue, Robert Birsel)

11/18/2020 Rockets Fall Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, Child Killed: Military by Ahmed Rasheed and Amina Ismail
A burning rocket launcher found by the Iraqi Army in Baghdad, Iraq, is seen in this undated
picture provided by Iraqi Media Security Cell. Iraqi Media Security Cell/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Four Katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone and security officials said the attack targeted the U.S. embassy, Iraqi police and security sources said on Tuesday.
    Sirens blared from the embassy inside the zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions.    One security source said at least four rockets were fired and some of them landed nearby.

11/18/2020 Palestinians To Restart Diplomatic Relations With Israel by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a new coronavirus lab at Ben-Gurion International
Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel Monday, Nov. 9, 2020. (Ohad Zwigenberg/Pool via AP)
    Israel and the Palestinian Authority are set to renew their diplomatic relationship, which is a small victory in one of the most contentious conflicts in the Middle East.
    Officials within the Palestinian Authority confirmed Tuesday they had received a letter from the Israeli government promising to abide by all former signed agreements between the two parties.
    “In my opinion, this letter, which some would consider what I am saying as an exaggeration, but whoever reads history would understand the importance of this letter,” stated Hussein al-Sheikh, Civil Affairs Minister for the Palestinian Authority.    “This is the first letter to be sent in all of (Benjamin) Netanyahu’s era.”
    Relations were suspended in May after Israel announced a plan to annex portions of the West Bank.
    “There is an historical opportunity that there wasn’t since 1948 to apply sovereignty wisely,” said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “And as a political step and a sovereign step of the State of Israel in Judea and Samaria, it’s a big opportunity and we won’t let it pass.”
    While the conflict between Palestinians and Israel has been a constant since the official formation of Israel in 1948, the two have maintained diplomatic relations over recent years in the hopes of establishing some sort of peace agreement.
    The decision to resume ties will likely mean the Palestinian Authority will begin accepting the nearly $900 million in tax transfers the Israeli government has been trying to pay.
    “We will resume contacts with the Israelis on financial issues, on health issues, on political issues, on anything that Israel is ready for,” noted Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh.    “The most important thing is that now Israel is saying that they are ready to commit themselves to the signed agreements.”
    An Israeli official has confirmed negotiations are set to begin as soon as possible and noted the parties are “very close” to renewing their relationship.

11/18/2020 Ethiopian Troops Push For Regional Capital, Rebels Promise ‘Hell’ by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the Elysee Palace
in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia predicted swift victory but northern rebels promised them “hell” on Wednesday in a two-week war threatening the vast nation’s unity and further destabilising the Horn of Africa.
    The war has killed hundreds, sent 30,000 refugees into Sudan, and called into question whether Africa’s youngest leader can hold together Ethiopia’s myriad fractious ethnic groups.
    Rebuffing appeals for talks, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government says its forces are marching on Tigray’s capital Mekelle and will soon triumph over the local ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which he accuses of revolt.
    The rebels say they have captured tanks and artillery and held off the offensive despite being massively outnumbered.
    “Tigray is now a hell to its enemies,” they said in a statement.
    The TPLF says Abiy, their ex-military comrade and one-time political partner, has removed Tigrayans from senior security and government posts since he took office in 2018 and now wants to dominate them completely.
    Abiy’s government has put former officials – many Tigrayan – on trial for crimes like torture, murder and corruption, but denies any attempt at ethnic domination.
    “The federal government… denounces, in the strongest of terms, mischaracterization that this operation has an ethnic or other bias,” the government said.
    Debretsion Gebremichael, elected Tigrayan president in polls that Ethiopia does not recognise, told Reuters by text that his forces had fallen back but denied government allegations they destroyed bridges and a road leading to the capital.
    “We have shifted our defence line and as a result they get into some towns of South Tigray,” he added.
    Ethiopian federal forces are trying to advance along long main roads from the south and the northwest of Mekelle and had got within around 200 km (124 miles) of the Tigrayan capital, a diplomat monitoring the conflict said.
    The Tigrayan leaders accused federal forces of targeting civilians, churches and homes.    The government says it is only hitting TPLF targets and has accused Tigrayan forces of using civilians as human shields.
    Map of region: https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/yzdvxkyewpx/ethiopia-tigray-conflict.jpg
CUT OFF
    The northern state is largely cut off as media are barred, most communications are down and aid workers are pulling out, meaning Reuters could not verify assertions from either side.
    Hundreds of thousands have been uprooted from homes, while internet, electricity and banking services have been blocked.
    Some refugees have said militias from Amhara, the neighbouring state, attacked them because of ethnicity.    There have also been reports of Tigrayans losing jobs and facing discrimination elsewhere.
    Abiy’s government has repeatedly denied an ethnic undertone, saying it is pursuing criminals and guaranteeing national unity.
    Aiby’s parents are from the Oromo and Amharic ethnic groups – the largest and second largest respectively.
    Tigrayans represent about 5% of the 115 million people in Africa’s second most populous country.
    They dominated national leadership before Abiy took the premiership and began opening up the economy and a repressive political system that had jailed tens of thousands of political prisoners.
    Now 44, he won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea.    In a rare comment on activities of a laureate, the Nobel committee in Oslo expressed deep concern this week and urged peaceful resolution of the Tigray conflict.
‘DEVASTATING HUMANITARIAN CRISIS’
    The TPLF has also fired rockets into neighbouring Eritrea, escalating the war beyond national borders.    It has a long-standing enmity with President Isaias Afwerki’s government, which has denied sending troops into Tigray against the rebels.
    Ethiopia’s army is one of Africa’s strongest, but many officers were Tigrayan and much of its heavy weaponry was based in Tigray, on the front line of the standoff with Eritrea after a 1998-2000 war.
    The Tigrayans are also a battle-hardened force with experience of fighting against Eritrea and spearheading the ouster of a Marxist dictatorship in 1991.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said healthcare facilities in Tigray and Amhara were short of supplies and assistance for many wounded.
    “We are seeing a devastating humanitarian crisis unfold,” ICRC delegation head Katia Sorin said, adding that a telecommunications blackout was distressing families.
    One hospital in the city of Gondar in Amhara had treated more than 400 people injured in the conflict while also handling 14 COVID-19 patients, the ICRC said.    Three Ethiopia Red Cross ambulances were attacked last week.
    With ramifications of the conflict all over the region, Ethiopian peacekeepers helping curb Islamist militants in Somalia removed weapons from 200-300 of their Tigrayan soldier colleagues in the past week, four sources told Reuters.
    That was due to concerns over loyalty, not their ethnicity, the government said.
    Ethiopia dispatched its foreign minister on a regional tour this week to explain the need for its Tigray offensive, which Addis Ababa has termed “law enforcement.”
    Two diplomats briefed on the meetings said regional leaders told him talks would be needed to stop the security and humanitarian crisis spilling over more borders if fighting persisted.
    Trying to tighten its squeeze, Ethiopia issued arrest warrants for 76 senior military officers on treason charges for their links to Tigrayan leaders, state-affiliated Fana TV said.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravacini in Addis Ababa, Duncan Miriri, Katharine Houreld and David Lewis in Nairobi; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Jon Boyle and Philippa Fletcher)

11/18/2020 Israel, Bahrain Cement New Ties With Pledges Of Embassies And Visas by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: The flags of Israel and Bahrain flutter along a road in Netanya, Israel September 14, 2020. REUTERS/Nir Elias/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Bahrain and Israel said on Wednesday they would open embassies, establish online visa systems and launch weekly flights between the countries soon, in a broadened cooperation promoted by Washington as an economic boon and means of isolating Iran.
    On the first official visit by Bahraini officials to Israel, the Gulf kingdom’s foreign minister, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, said a Sept. 15 deal normalising relations spelled “a warm peace that will deliver clear benefits to our peoples.”
    The United Arab Emirates, which has also normalised ties with Israel, sent a delegation last month that did not leave Ben Gurion Airport in what was described as a coronavirus precaution.
    The Bahraini envoys went on to Jerusalem, which Israel, with U.S. backing, considers its capital.    Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem for a state, have been outraged by the Arab countries’ engagement with Israel while their own goals are unmet.
    In a possible sign of a rethink, a senior Palestinian official told Reuters that Palestinian ambassadors would return to Abu Dhabi and Manama after having been recalled in protest.
    Al-Zayani’s trip coincided with a visit to Israel by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who hailed the regional rapprochement brokered by the Trump administration as it presses sanctions against Iran.
    The normalisation deals “tell malign actors like the Islamic Republic of Iran that their influence in the region is waning and that they are ever more isolated and shall forever be until they change their direction,” Pompeo said alongside his Bahraini counterpart and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    Al-Zayani announced that, as of Dec. 1, Bahrainis and Israelis will be able to apply online for entry visas. He also submitted a request to open a Bahraini embassy in Israel and said an Israeli embassy had been approved for Manama.
    Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Askenazi, who is due to visit Manama next month, said he hoped opening ceremonies for the embassies would be held by the end of 2020.
    The Bahraini delegation travelled on Gulf Air flight GF972 – a reference to Israel’s telephone country code – in what was the airline’s first flight to Tel Aviv.    Al-Zayani predicted 14 such flights weekly starting next year, as well as flights to the smaller     Israeli destinations of Haifa and Eilat.
    Sudan followed Bahrain and UAE in announcing last month it would move towards ties with Israel.    Further such developments appear unlikely before U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office.    Israel was due to send a first delegation to Sudan on Sunday, officials told Reuters, but the trip was postponed over what they described as logistical issues.
    Speaking on Israel’s Army Radio, Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said a commitment towards a tough policy on Iran by Biden would determine whether other countries would opt for normalisation deals with Israel.
(Additional reporting by Lisa Barrington, Dan Williams, Ali Sawafta and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Robert Birsel, Gareth Jones, Timothy Heritage and Tom Brown)

11/18/2020 Iraq-Saudi Arabia Border Crossing Opens For Trade, First Time Since 1990
Saudi Governor of the Northern Borders Region, Prince Faisal bin Khalid bin Sultan, speaks during the Saudi and Iraqi border
opening ceremony at Arar Border check post, Saudi Arabia, November 18, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    AL-NUKHAIB, Iraq (Reuters) – Iraq and Saudi Arabia opened the Arar border crossing for trade for the first time in three decades, the Iraqi border ports commission said on Wednesday.
    Arar has been closed since 1990 after the two countries cut ties following Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.
    Iraqi and Saudi officials including the Saudi ambassador to Iraq toured the site on Wednesday.
    Riyadh has been wooing Baghdad as part of an effort to stem the growing regional influence of Iran, while Iraq is seeking economic benefits from closer ties with its southern neighbour.
    The Saudi-Iraqi rapprochement extends back to 2015, when Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy in Baghdad following a 25-year break.
    In July Saudi Arabia and Iraq signed investment agreements on energy and sports.
    “The Saudi-Iraq relations have been cut for about 27 years, and now we celebrate an accomplishment that suits the Saudi-Iraqi relations,” Saudi Ambassador Abdulaziz Alshamri said.
    “We welcome all Iraqi products to be exported to Saudi and through this border, there will be an exchange of visits between the two countries…,” he added.
(This story corrects Saudi Ambassador’s name in paragraph 7 to Abdulaziz (not Abdulah) Alshamri)
(Reporting by Kamal Namaa and Amina Ismail; Editing by Catherine Evans, Editing by William Maclean)

11/18/2020 Israel Strikes Widely In Syria, Sending Signal Of Aggressive Post-Trump Posture by Jeffrey Heller and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
An Iron Dome anti-missile system is seen near the border area between Israel and Syria,
in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hamad Almakt
    JERUSALEM/AMMAN (Reuters) – Israel launched air raids against what it called a wide range of Syrian and Iranian targets in Syria on Wednesday, sending a signal that it will pursue its policy of striking across the border despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s election defeat.
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, said at least 10 people were killed.    Syria’s state news agency reported three military personnel killed and one wounded.
    The Observatory said the dead included five Iranians from the elite Quds Force and at least two Lebanese or Iraqi Shi’ite militiamen.    A commander of pro-Damascus forces denied Iranians or Lebanese were among the casualties.
    Israel has regularly attacked what it says are Iranian-linked targets in Syria in recent years, and stepped up such strikes this year in what Western intelligence sources describe as a shadow war to reduce Iran’s influence.
    But Wednesday’s attacks struck a far wider range of targets than usual, and the Israeli military was more forthcoming about the details than in the past, suggesting a clear aim to send a public message about Iranian involvement in Syria.
    Trump, who lost his re-election bid on Nov. 3, has been a strong backer of Israeli military intervention against Iranian forces in Syria.    President-elect Joe Biden has said he will try to revive a nuclear agreement with Iran that Trump abandoned.
    “Biden has to ask himself, exactly what is Iran after in Syria?” Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen said on Army Radio after the Israeli strikes.
    Israel said it was retaliating for what it called an Iranian-sponsored operation in which Syrians planted explosives near an Israeli military base in the occupied Golan Heights.
    Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said eight targets were hit, belonging to the Syrian army or the Quds Force, in areas stretching from the Syrian-controlled side of the Golan Heights to the Damascus periphery.
    They included an Iranian headquarters at Damascus international airport, a “secret military site” that hosted Iranian military delegations, and the 7th Division of the Syrian armed forces, he said.    Syrian surface-to-air defences were also hit after firing at Israeli planes and missiles, Conricus said.
    A former Syrian military commander told Reuters the attacks also targeted bases of the Iranian-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah in Syria.    Conricus made no mention of Hezbollah.
    Western countries say the Quds Force of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards is responsible for supporting Tehran’s allies in proxy conflicts across the Middle East, coordinating Shi’ite militia fighters from Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s government has never publicly acknowledged that there are Iranian forces operating on his behalf in Syria’s civil war, only that Tehran has sent military advisors.
    Western intelligence sources say Israeli strikes this year have undermined Iran’s extensive military power in Syria without triggering a major increase in hostilities.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Suleiman al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Laila Bassam in Beirut and Hashem Abdul Khalek in Cairo, Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)

11/19/2020 Ethiopian Government Says Rebels Have Committed ‘Atrocities’ During Two-Week Tigray Conflict by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: Militia members from Ethiopia's Amhara region ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People's Liberation Front
(TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri//File Photo/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s government on Thursday said rebels have committed “serious crimes” after conflict broke out this month in the northern Tigray region, as U.S. President-elect Joe Biden’s foreign policy adviser called for greater protection of civilians.
    The conflict has killed hundreds, sent 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, and called into question whether Africa’s youngest leader Abiy Ahmed can hold together the fractious ethnic groups in Africa’s second most populous nation ahead of national elections next year.
    The Ethiopian government statement referenced reports of ethnic killings in the town of Mai Kadra, documented by human rights group Amnesty International this week.
    Survivors of the reported attack told Amnesty researchers that militias affiliated to the local Tigray government killed scores or even hundreds of civilians, some of whom were ethnic Amharas.
    Information from all sides has been impossible to verify because internet and phone connections to Tigray have been suspended and the government has restricted access to the area.
    “As we enter the final phase of law enforcement operations against this group, we would like to remind the leaders of this group that the atrocities that have been committed by their forces and loyalists in places like Maykadra constitute serious crimes both under Ethiopian and international law,” the statement said, using an alternative spelling.
    There was no immediate response from the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is leading the rebellion.
    On Thursday, Antony Blinken, the foreign policy advisor to U.S. president Joe Biden, called for more protection for civilians.
    “Deeply concerned about the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia, reports of targeted ethnic violence, and the risk to regional peace and security.    The TPLF and Ethiopian authorities should take urgent steps to end the conflict, enable humanitarian access, and protect civilians,” he tweeted.
    The Ethiopian government statement came a day after arrest warrants were issued for 76 military officials that the government said were affiliated with the Tigray leadership.
    Ethiopian federal forces are trying to advance along main roads from the south and the northwest of Mekelle and had got to within around 200 km (124 miles) of the Tigrayan capital, a diplomat monitoring the conflict said.
    The conflict has also embroiled Ethiopia’s neighbours.    The TPLF fired rockets at neighbouring Eritrea last weekend and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed into Sudan.     Tigray civilians in Sudan last week told Reuters that they were targeted by government-affiliated militia because of their ethnicity. Their claims were also impossible to verify.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Michael Perry)

11/19/2020 Pompeo, On Visit To Israel, Says He Will Go To Golan Heights
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo looks on as he delivers joint statements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and
Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani during their meeting in Jerusalem November 18, 2020. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would visit the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights on Thursday, marking the Trump administration’s break with previous U.S. policy on the strategic plateau.
    Washington in 2019 recognised Israel’s claim of sovereignty over the parts of the Golan that Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and later annexed in a move not recognised by the United Nations and most of the international community.
    “Today I’ll have the chance to visit the Golan Heights. The simple recognition of this as part of Israel, too, was a decision President Trump made that is historically important and simply a recognition of reality,” Pompeo said in Jerusalem.
    Israel says the Golan – which overlooks northern Israel, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan – is a bulwark against Syria and Iranian forces based there.    On Wednesday, Israel launched air raids against what it called a wide range of Syrian and Iraniantargets in Syria in retaliation for what it said was an attempted bomb attack.
    Nabil Abu Rudeineh, a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, said of the proposed Golan visit: “Pompeo’s visit to occupied land is an active partnership in this occupation.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Pompeo and Trump for their Middle East policy.
    Pompeo, who announced new U.S. sanctions on Iran while in Israel, said Washington would also step up action against pro-Palestinian efforts to isolate Israel economically and diplomatically.
    I want you to know that we will immediately take steps to identify organisations that engage in hateful BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) conduct and withdraw U.S. government support,” he said during their meeting in Jerusalem.
    “We will regard the global anti-Israel BDS campaign as anti-Semitic,” Pompeo said.    Supporters of BDS dispute that designation, saying they are against all forms of racism.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Maayan Lubell and Timothy Heritage)

11/20/2020 In Burkina Faso, Voters Left Voiceless Amid Escalating Violence by Edward McAllister and Henry Wilkins
Women who fled from attacks of armed militants in Sahel region of Soum sit at a courtyard of the house in
an informal camp for displaced people on the outskirts of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Djeneba Sawadogo was making a cake when she heard a noise she did not recognise – a series of sharp cracks that rang across the village of Tongomayel in northern Burkina Faso in June 2019.
    A dozen gunmen had opened fire, killing her friends and neighbours and forcing the survivors to flee south.    In the rush, Sawadogo left behind her identity card, which would have allowed her to vote in Sunday’s legislative and presidential elections.
    “My papers are at home.    There is no one there to get them,” said the 20-year-old as she comforted her crying baby     Eighteen months on, she is stranded on a vast moonscape at the edge of the capital Ouagadougou, where thousands of displaced people scrape by without electricity or water, and children crack rocks to turn into gravel to sell to construction workers for a pittance.
    She and thousands of others there will have no say over who will run the former French colony for the next five years.
    Once a pocket of calm in a turbulent region, landlocked Burkina Faso has been sucked into a security crisis that has overwhelmed much of West Africa in recent years.
    Islamist insurgents with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed over 2,000 people this year, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence.    That is up from around 300 killed in 2018.
    Ethnic and religious tensions have increased, pulling at the seams of once-peaceful communities.    Over one million people – one in 20 – have been displaced.
    At least 400,000 people, or nearly 7% of the electorate, will be unable to cast their votes on Sunday, official data show, because they cannot access voting locations.    Polling stations will not open in hundreds of villages because of the threat of violence.    In addition, an unknown number of people like Sawadogo who do not have identity documents will also have no vote.
    President Roch Marc Kabore is seeking a second term but analysts say it will be tight.    He promised development and prosperity, but violence reigns.
    In the capital, where jihadists have carried out attacks in recent years, the army presence has increased in the lead-up to the vote. Armed soldiers patrol busy intersections on foot.
    “I cannot vote for the president,” said Tapsoba Ali, 33.    “It is under his regime that there have been all these problems. We want someone who can lead better.”
STRUGGLE TO VOTE
    In a crowded field of 13 candidates, two opponents stand out: former Finance Minister Zephirin Diabre, who came runner-up in 2015 and who has a lot of young support; and Eddie Komboigo who runs the party of ousted former President Blaise Campaore and enjoys the large funding network that brings.
    Both have sought to exploit the security situation, which could hurt the president.    Much of his votes come from the countryside where so many have fled.
    “Traditionally, cities are not favourable to the standing president.    The current situation could reduce Kabore’s chances of winning,” said     Siaka Coulibaly from the Center for Public Policy Monitoring by Citizens in Ouagadougou.
    On the dusty plain outside Ouagadougou, a rare few did make sure their vote would count.
    Yompoco Ilboudo, 73, fled her home in the northern Soum province last year when gunmen raided her village, killing many of her cousins.    She walked for five days to find safety in the nearest city.
    She took her birth certificate with her when she left, which allowed her to register.    On Sunday she plans to take the short walk to a polling station on the edge of town.
    “It is important for us to vote,” she said.    “I want this country to sort itself out.”
(Reporting by Edward McAllister and Henry Wilkins; Additional reporting by Anne Mimault; Editing by Bate Felix and Cynthia Osterman)

11/20/2020 COVID Deals Blow To Saudi Arabia’s G20 Summit Ambitions by Marwa Rashad and Raya Jalabi
FILE PHOTO: FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC)
40th Summit in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 10, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    RIYADH/BEIRUT (Reuters) – When Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter and a leading U.S. ally, took over the G20 presidency in December 2019, hopes in the kingdom were high.
    A global summit would help rehabilitate the country on the international stage and turn the world’s attentions to key reforms launched by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to open up the kingdom and diversify the economy.
    But instead of hoped-for photo ops in opulent palaces, this year’s summit is mostly virtual due to COVID-19, dealing a blow to the prince’s ambitions in a year of global economic downturn.
    Though circumstances are far from ideal, “the show must go on, and Saudis have to make the most of the meeting,” said Robert Mogielnicki, a resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
    Top of the Group of 20 major economies’ agenda is a COVID-19 action plan and measures to stem the pandemic’s impact on global economies, including debt relief for the poorest countries.
    Saudi Arabia’s reputation has been battered since 2018, with a global furore over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, the war in Yemen and the continued detention of women’s rights activists arrested that year.
    Foreign direct investment, a linchpin of the crown prince’s economic reform plans, was also lacklustre, with Investment Minister Khalid al Falih saying he expected a slowdown this year due to the pandemic.
    This weekend’s Leaders Summit was seen as a chance to showcase the kingdom’s budding tourism and entertainment industries: VIP trips were planned to tourism landmarks, including the $500 billion Neom city of the future mega-project, two foreign diplomats in the region told Reuters.
    Discussions about an in-person summit were still being held in late September, and Saudi and foreign leaders confirmed their physical attendance, the diplomats said.    The announcement days later that the summit, chaired by King Salman who had surgery in July, would be held virtually took many by surprise.
    The king has hailed the kingdom’s G20 presidency as proof of its key role in the global economy.    On Thursday, the media minister said that managing the G20 and achieving great results during the pandemic was a source of pride.
DISRUPTIONS
    The event’s virtual nature does at least align with Saudi Arabia’s ambitious digital agendas and technology-focused initiatives, “one bright spot amid the coronavirus-related disruptions,” Mogielnicki said.     The kingdom promoted the event at home with a robust media campaign, and on billboards throughout its cities.     Against this backdrop is a flurry of activity by human rights groups and western lawmakers who have called on G20 capitals to boycott the event, renewing global attention on Saudi Arabia’s rights record.     Dozens of lawmakers in Britain, the European Union and the United States have called on their governments to press Saudi Arabia on human rights ahead of the summit, or to withdraw.    The mayors of London, Paris, New York and Los Angeles have boycotted the event.
    Leading human rights groups will hold a G20 counter-summit on Friday focused on “human rights violations in the kingdom,” with U.S. lawmakers, Khashoggi’s fiancé Hatice Cengiz, and the families of imprisoned activists, including Loujain al-Hathloul, who is more than three weeks into a hunger strike to protest her conditions in detention.
    “Instead of signalling its concern for Saudi Arabia’s serious abuses, the G20 is bolstering the Saudi government’s well-funded publicity efforts to portray the country as ‘reforming’ despite a significant increase in repression since 2017,” said Michael Page, deputy Middle East director at Human Rights Watch.
    Few charges against Hathloul and the other activists have been made public, but they include contacting foreign journalists, diplomats and rights groups.
    Earlier this month, the Saudi ambassador to Britain said the kingdom was considering clemency for some of the jailed women’s rights activists.    But the embassy subsequently walked back the comments, which were dismissed by rights groups as a “PR stunt” ahead of the summit.
    Saudi Arabia jailed eight people for between seven and 20 years for Khashoggi’s killing.    Saudi officials denied Prince Mohammed played a role, but in 2019 he indicated some personal accountability, saying “it happened under my watch.”
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad in Riyadh and Raya Jalabi in Beirut; additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia; editing by Giles Elgood)

11/20/2020 Ethiopia’s Tigray Forces Fire Rockets At Neighbouring Region’s Capital
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People's Liberation Front
(TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Forces from Ethiopia’s rebel Tigray region fired rockets on Friday at the distant capital of the neighbouring Amhara region, Amhara authorities said, raising worries the conflict could spill into a wider war.
    Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have fled from two weeks of fighting in Tigray, raising questions of whether Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed can hold his ethnically diverse nation together.
    “The illegal TPLF group have launched a rocket attack around 1:40 a.m. in Bahir Dar,” the Amhara government’s communications office said on its Facebook page, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.    It said the rockets caused no damage.
    Bahir Dar, the lakeside Amhara regional capital, is located hundreds of miles from the fighting in Tigray.    Tigrayan refugees have told Reuters the Amhara militia is fighting on the government side, and the two regions have a border dispute.
    A local journalist and another resident in Bahir Dar both told Reuters they had heard two explosions and had been told by people in the area that at least one of the missiles landed near the airport.
    Ethiopia, a federation of 10 ethnic regions, was dominated for decades by Tigrayans in a TPLF-led ruling coalition, until Abiy, who is of     Amhara and Oromo descent, took power two years ago.    He says he aims to share authority more fairly in the country; the TPLF accuses him of pursuing a vendetta against former officials and restricting regional rights.
    The conflict erupted two weeks ago after what the government called a TPLF attack on army forces stationed in the region.
    A week ago, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in Amhara. They have also fired at rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, which has a long-running enmity with the TPLF leadership and made peace with Ethiopia in 2018, earning Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Reports of ethnically motivated killings have emerged during the conflict.    Rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians, many of whom appeared to be Amhara, by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10, which the Tigray authorities denied.    Refugees fleeing the conflict into Sudan have said they were targeted for being Tigrayan.
    Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital of Mekelle on Thursday.    There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are only attacking military targets.
    It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began.
    On Thursday, Ethiopia said it was closing in on Mekelle, which the rebels have said they are fighting to defend.
    Since taking power, Abiy has freed political prisoners and loosened what was once one of the most repressive political and economic systems in Africa.    But the new freedoms have also been accompanied by bouts of violence as regional bosses vie with each other and the government for power, money and land.
    Mountainous Tigray accounts for only about 5% of the population, but has a long history of dominating the security services.    Tigrayans are proud of a long history of guerrilla warfare, having spearheaded a conflict that toppled a Communist regime in 1991.
(Graphic: Violent clashes in Ethiopia kill hundreds, https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/gjnvwbbgjpw/ethiopia-conflict_clashes.jpg)
(Graphic: Refugees flee escalating violence in Ethiopia, https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/oakvexxgxpr/ethiopia-conflict_refugees.jpg)
(Writing by George Obulutsa and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Robert Birsel, Clarence Fernandez and Peter Graff)

11/20/2020 Mekelle: Conflict Returns To Ethiopian City Steeped In Legacy Of War by Maggie Fick
FILE PHOTO: A plane flies next to Tigray Martyrs monument during the funeral ceremony of Ethiopia's Army Chief of Staff
Seare Mekonnen in Mekele, Tigray Region, Ethiopia June 26, 2019. Picture taken June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Mekelle, a city nestled in the arid, mountainous Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, is steeped in the lore of its guerrilla fighters, who marched in sandals to Addis Ababa to topple a Communist dictatorship in 1991.
    Now, war is returning to a place where rusting tanks, small airplanes, and military equipment are displayed outside the museum, and the Tigrayan legacy of armed struggle is never far away.
    Towering monuments all over town honour martyrs and sacrifices Tigrayans endured through an uprising that lasted longer than a decade.    It was to be followed by an even worse 1998-2000 war against the neighbouring nation of Eritrea over a border dispute.    Thousands of young Tigrayans and conscripts from all over the country died in trenches and minefields.
    Though Tigrayans make up just 5% of Ethiopia’s population, their leading role in the 1991 revolution gave them sway over the country in the decades that followed, until Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy took power two years ago.
    Two weeks ago the central government launched an assault on Tigray to capture its leaders, after what Addis Ababa called a surprise attack by regional forces on army troops stationed in the region.    After two weeks of fighting, the government says its forces are now advancing towards Mekelle.
    Since the fighting erupted, a communications blackout has made it impossible for most media to reach Mekelle or speak with civilians there.
    When Reuters visited the region two years ago, Mekelle’s streets bustled with yellow three-wheeled motorized tuk-tuks and cars.    People sipped Ethiopian coffee in outdoor cafes, speakers blaring songs in the local Tigrinya language.
    But there was already a sense of defiance in the air.    Abiy had ordered the arrest of Tigrayan former officials accused of corruption and human rights abuses.    Residents, who would discuss politics mainly on condition of anonymity in a country with a long history of repression, said Tigrayans would not accept “humiliation.”
    “Nobody will kneel down here,” a tour guide said.
    On Thursday, Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in Mekelle.    There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are only attacking military targets.
    The government says it blames the region’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front leadership for the conflict, and not Tigrayans, or even the TPLF more generally.
    “There could be members of TPLF that are innocent, also the special forces, the young population,” said Mulu Nega, named head of an interim government for the region by the federal authorities this week.
DEFIANT CITY
    Mekelle’s wide boulevards and electricity lines stretching into the rural countryside are testament to the TPLF’s power when the party led     Ethiopia’s ruling coalition from 1991 until Abiy took power in 2018. The town has some of the best infrastructure of any Ethiopian city outside Addis Ababa.
    Though most Tigrayans are subsistence farmers, Mekelle has a handful of upmarket hotels with gaudy chandeliers, and a modern airport, normally with several flights per day to the capital.
    In a statement this week, the TPLF said hardships are part of life in wartime.    It promised to give Ethiopian troops “hell” on its home turf.
    When Tigray held regional elections in September in defiance of the federal government, the TPLF won by a landslide.
    Journalists were not permitted to travel there, but voters contacted remotely expressed pride in the TPLF’s role ending the Communist dictatorship of the 1980s and putting Ethiopia on a path to economic prosperity and stability in the decades since.
    The TPLF is celebrated in Mekelle as liberators and war heroes, and billboards keep decades-old memories fresh.    Abiy’s face, ubiquitous on posters and bumper stickers in many parts of Ethiopia during the heady beginning of his premiership, never became a prominent fixture there.
    The government acknowledges the difficulty it would have in winning over a population that has so long revered the TPLF.
    “To separate this people from this party we need to conduct more communications and public relations work, because the people should understand the reality,” Mulu said.
(Reporting and writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Peter Graff)

11/20/2020 At Least 37 Killed In Uganda Protests After Presidential Candidate Wine’s Arrest by Elias Biryabarema
People ride motorcycles as smoke rises from burning objects in a street in Kampala, Uganda November 18, 2020 in this screen grab obtained by Reuters from
a social media video on November 20, 2020. THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES.
    KAMPALA (Reuters) – At least 37 people have died and hundreds have been detained in unrest in Uganda triggered by the arrest of presidential candidate and pop star Bobi Wine, police said on Friday, as the East African country gears up for elections in January.
    Authorities have deployed the military across the capital Kampala and surrounding areas to help police forces disperse protesters.    They have used live bullets, tear gas and water cannon in efforts to quell the unrest.
    Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, was arrested on Wednesday while campaigning in eastern Uganda for allegedly holding mass rallies in violation of restrictions on gatherings imposed by the government to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
    “Thirty-seven bodies have been counted so far,” police pathologist Moses Byaruhanga told Reuters.
    Police spokesman Fred Enanga said detained protesters were involved in violence including targeting members of the public who do not support Wine’s National Unity Platform (NUP) party.
    “What we have seen in the last few days, that is violence, vandalism, looting, intimidation and threats, are crimes that were being committed (against) people who are not pro-NUP. This is not something that we can toleratez.”
    Wine, 38, was due to appear in court on Friday to be formally charged, judicial officials said.
    Uganda, a nation of 42 million people, is due to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Jan. 14, with Wine emerging as a serious threat to veteran President Yoweri Museveni, 76, who aims to extend his rule to at least 40 years.
    Wine has amassed a large following among Ugandan youth, attracted by his bold criticism of the government, often in his song lyrics.
    His arrest triggered immediate protests in Kampala and other major towns across the East African country.    Youths have burnt tyres and other material on roads and erected barriers to block traffic, demanding his release.
(Reporting by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/20/2020 U.N. Chief Says Yemen In Imminent Danger Of Famine, Warns Against Unilateral Moves by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a camp for internally displaced people (IDPs) in Marib, Yemen October 2, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Owidha
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Friday that war-torn Yemen is in “imminent danger of the worst famine the world has seen for decades,” warning against any unilateral moves as the United States threatens to blacklist Yemen’s Iran-allied Houthi group.
    Aid workers have raised fears that if Washington designates the Houthis a Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO), it could prevent life-saving aid reaching the country.
    “In this very fragile situation in relation to famine and in this hopeful moment in relation to conversations, we believe that any other unilateral initiative will probably not be positive.    I don’t think we should rock the boat at the present moment,” Guterres told reporters when asked about U.S. plans.
    A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthi group.    U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country’s suffering is also worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “In the absence of immediate action, millions of lives may be lost,” Guterres said in a statement earlier on Friday.
    The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its population in need of help.
    A senior Western diplomat said an FTO designation of the Houthis by the United States “would certainly not contribute to progress on Yemen.”
    “It’s likely that they want to do whatever it takes to increase the pressure on Iran,” said the diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock has said the United Nations has received less than half of what was needed this year – about $1.5 billion – for its humanitarian operations in Yemen. Last year it received $3 billion.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Alistair Bell and Dan Grebler)

11/20/2020 Ethiopian Government Says Troops Take Two Towns From Tigray Fighters
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People's Liberation
Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia/UM RAKUBA, Sudan (Reuters) – Government forces captured two towns from rebel forces in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, the government said on Friday, and Tigrayan fighters fired rockets at an airport in a neighbouring region.
    The rocket attack on Bahir Dar, capital of Asmara region, raised concerns that the two-week-old conflict between the Tigrayan rebels and the central government could spiral into a wider war.
    The United Nations meanwhile said it was making plans for as many as 200,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring Sudan.
    Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people have been killed and tens of thousands of refugees have already fled from fighting in Tigray as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed tries to hold his ethnically diverse nation together.
    Ethiopian government forces are fighting their way towards Mekelle, the Tigrayan capital, from several directions.
    In the north, Ethiopian troops took the towns of Axum and Adwa, a government statement said. They are now advancing toward the town of Adigrat, about 120 km (80 miles) north of Mekelle, the regional capital of Tigray and home to about half a million people.
    “Many fighters of the junta have surrendered,” the statement said, referring to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
    Tigrayan forces were not available for comment but in a televised address, spokesman Getachew Reda said their fighters have inflicted “increasing causalties” in Raya, to the south of Mekelle.
    Tigrayan fighters also “eliminated enemy forces” from Mehoni in the south and Zalambessa to the northeast, Tigrayan TV said.
    A government spokesman did not return calls seeking comment.
    It has been impossible to verify assertions on all sides because telephone lines and internet links to Tigray have been severed since the conflict began.
    Reda’s address also claimed responsibility for a rocket attack in the early hours of Friday on the airport in Bahir Dar, which Amhara authorities had announced earlier in the day.
    He said it was in retaliation for bombing raids launched from there.    “We will continue to target whichever airport has been used to stage an attack on Tigray,” he said.
    The Amhara government’s communications office said the rockets caused no damage.
    Bahir Dar, Amhara’s lakeside capital, is located hundreds of miles from the fighting in Tigray.    Tigrayan refugees have told Reuters that Amhara militiamen are fighting on the government side.    The two regions also have a border dispute.
HUMANITARIAN EMERGENCY
    At the Um Rakuba settlement in Sudan, where aid workers are setting up a camp in the scrubland for 10,000 mainly Tigrayan refugees, those who arrived queued up for cornflour porridge and put up makeshift shelters.
    Yohannes Gor, 28, arrived by foot after fleeing the Ethiopian town of Humera, close to the border, 10 days ago with only the clothes he was wearing.
    “I live under this tree and sleep on the dirt,” he said.    “I lost all trace of my family and I don’t know what happened to them.”
    Aid agencies fear a humanitarian emergency in Tigray, where hundreds of thousands of people depended on relief aid even before the conflict.    Refugees have crowded into boats to cross a river to Sudan, overwhelming aid groups on the other side.
    Axel Bisschop of the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR told a briefing in Geneva that 31,000 refugees had already reached Sudan, surpassing a contingency plan for 20,000.    “The new planning figure is around 200,000.”
    UNICEF’s Sudan-based representative Abdullah Fadil worried about the impact on Sudan, already hosting 1 million refugees from other African wars.
Our serious concern is if we do not act quickly with the resources needed…this could unravel not only Ethiopia but also Sudan,” he told the same briefing.
    Ethiopia, a federation of 10 ethnic regions, was dominated for decades by Tigrayans in a TPLF-led ruling coalition, until Abiy, who is of Amhara and Oromo descent, took power two years ago. He says he aims to share authority more fairly.    The TPLF accuses him of pursuing a vendetta against former officials.
    The conflict erupted two weeks ago after what the government called a TPLF attack on army forces stationed in the region.
    On Thursday, Tigray forces accused the government of bombing a university in the Tigray capital Mekelle.    There was no immediate response from the government, although officials have said they are attacking only military targets.
    A week ago, Tigray forces fired rockets at two airports in Amhara.    They have also fired rockets into the neighbouring nation of Eritrea, which has a long-running enmity with the TPLF leadership. Eritrea made peace with Ethiopia in 2018, earning Abiy the Nobel Peace Prize.
    Reports of ethnically motivated killings have emerged.    Rights group Amnesty International documented a mass killing of civilians, many of whom appeared to be Amhara, by what it says were Tigrayan forces on Nov. 9-10. The Tigray authorities have denied this.
    Refugees fleeing into Sudan have said they were targeted for being Tigrayan.
    Since taking power, Abiy has freed political prisoners and loosened what was once one of Africa’s most repressive political and economic systems.    But the new freedoms have been accompanied by violence as regional bosses vie for power, money and land.
(Writing by George Obulutsa, Katharine Houreld and Peter Graff; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

11/21/2020 Ethiopia Denies Talks On Conflict After African Union Names Envoys
An overview of Dansha airport and destroyed buildings in Dansha, Ethiopia, is seen in this satellite image
taken November 18, 2020 and supplied by Maxar Technologies. ©2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS
    NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia denied on Saturday that talks on the growing conflict in its northern Tigray region were imminent, just hours after three African former presidents were named to help mediate the two-week-old crisis.
    Ethiopian troops are taking towns and advancing on the Tigrayan capital Mekelle despite resistance from regional forces who have used bulldozers to plough up roads and are putting up resistance, the Addis Ababa government said late on Friday.
    Tigrayan forces were not immediately available for comment.    They said in a broadcast on Friday they were making progress on the southern and northern fronts.
    Assertions on all sides have been difficult to verify because internet and phone links to the region have been down since the conflict broke out on Nov. 4.
    A hint of the devastation can be seen in satellite images provided to Reuters by commercial space company Maxar Technologies. Destroyed buildings lined the main road in the town of Dansha, where the conflict broke out, the images showed.
    Hundreds, possibly thousands of people have been killed, more than 30,000 refugees have fled into Sudan, and Tigrayan forces have fired rockets at Ethiopia’s Amhara region and the neighbouring nation of Eritrea.
    The African Union announced late on Friday the appointment of former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys.
    “The primary task of the Special Envoys is to engage all sides to the conflict with a view to ending hostilities, creating conditions for an inclusive national dialogue to resolve all issues that led to the conflict, and restoring peace and stability to Ethiopia,” the AU said in a statement.
    The Ethiopian government has repeatedly said it will not engage in talks with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which it regards as a renegade administration, pointing to what the government says was a surprise attack the group launched on federal troops in Dansha, sparking the conflict.
    “News circulating that the envoys will be travelling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,” a government taskforce on Tigray tweeted on Saturday morning.
    On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told reporters that Ethiopia was not interested in external mediation.
    “Until now, there has not been acceptance by the Ethiopian authorities of any form of external mediation,” he said.
    The government has appointed an alternative interim government to run Tigray when troops take Mekelle.    Its new head gave a glimpse of government strategy this week when he hinted at forgiveness for TPLF rank and file – the political party has not been outlawed – and a public relations campaign against the TPLF.
    The TPLF is extremely popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took power in 2018.
(Additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by William Mallard)

11/21/2020 More Than 60 Prisoners Escape Lebanese Jail, Say Security Sources
Members of the Lebanese police gather outside Baabda prison, Lebanon, November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – More than 60 prisoners broke out of a Lebanese jail on Saturday and five of them were killed when their car hit a tree while under pursuit, security sources and the state news agency said.
    They fled from Baabda district prison at dawn after breaking open cell doors, state news agency NNA said, adding security forces had cordoned off surrounding areas.
    Security forces told Reuters that some 69 prisoners had escaped and that eight had been caught.    Five of the prisoners died after a car they seized crashed into a tree, they said.
    Authorities have launched an investigation into the jail break, NNA said.
    In April, Amnesty International said there had been riots inside Lebanese jails and families’ sit-in protests calling for the release of prisoners over concerns about the spread of COVID-19 in overcrowded prisons.
    It said that while the Lebanese government had taken several measures, including some releases, the authorities should prioritise releasing prisoners who had served their sentences and expedite its review of pre-trial detainees.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Potter)

11/21/2020 Saudi Arabia Confident Biden Administration Will Pursue Regional Stability
FILE PHOTO: 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/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Saturday he was confident that Democrat Joe Biden’s incoming U.S. administration would pursue policies that help regional stability and that any discussions with it would lead to strong cooperation.
    Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud also told Reuters in a virtual interview on the sidelines of the G20 Leaders Summit that he did not see any indication of any threat to regional security during the transitional period.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad in Riyadh and Raya Jalabi in Beirut; Editing by Kevin Liffey)
[I HAVE THE FEELING THAT THE ARAB NATIONS ARE ONLY GETTING THE FAKE NEWS SERVICES TO KNOW WHAT IS REALLY HAPPENING IN THE U.S. ELECTITONS SINCE THEY ARE NOT PROVIDING ALL THE NEWS AND THEY NEED TO GO TO NEWSMAX AND DOWNLOAD THE FREE APP TO GET MORE TRUTH AND IF YOU DO THEN HELP DONALD TRUMP TO DEFEAT THEIR ONSLAUGHT TO OVERTHROW OF AMERICAS CONSTITUTION AND THE PEOPLE MAY HAVE TO STAND UP AND TAKE AMERICA BACK FROM THEM.].

11/21/2020 Israel Welcomes End To Convicted U.S. Spy Pollard’s Travel Ban
FILE PHOTO: Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer convicted of spying for Israel, exits following a
hearing at the Manhattan Federal Courthouse in New York City, U.S., May 17, 2017. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli leaders on Saturday welcomed the U.S. decision to end parole restrictions on Jonathan Pollard, a former U.S. Navy intelligence officer who served 30 years in prison after being convicted of spying for Israel.
    The U.S. Justice Department’s parole commission decided on Friday to allow a travel ban on Pollard to expire. The move was seen by some as a parting gift from the Trump administration to its ally Israel.
    “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes the lifting of the restrictions on Jonathan Pollard,” a statement from the Israeli leader’s office said.
    “The Prime Minister thanked Israeli Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer for responsibly and sensitively leading the contacts with the administration. The Prime Minister hopes to see Jonathan Pollard in Israel soon,” the statement said.
    Pollard pleaded guilty in 1986 to conspiracy to commit espionage in connection with providing Israeli contacts with hundreds of classified documents he had obtained as a naval intelligence specialist in exchange for thousands of dollars.
    He was sentenced in 1987 to life in prison.    After serving 30 years, which included time in custody following his 1985 arrest, he was released on parole in 2015 under terms which dictated he remain in the U.S. for five years.
    Pollard, 66, has sought to move to Israel, which granted him citizenship while in prison and had long pushed for his release.    The espionage affair strained U.S.-Israel relations for decades.
    Netanyahu’s statement was echoed by other Israeli ministers and by President Ruvi Rivlin.
    “Over the years we have shared in Jonathan Pollard’s pain, and felt a responsibility and commitment to bring about his release.    Now we will be able to welcome him and his family home,” Rivlin said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mike Harrison)

11/21/2020 Ethiopia Rejects African Mediation, Pushes Toward Rebel-Held Tigray Capital
An overview of Dansha airport and destroyed buildings in Dansha, Ethiopia, is seen in this satellite image
taken November 18, 2020 and supplied by Maxar Technologies. ©2020 MAXAR TECHNOLOGIES/Handout via REUTERS
    NAIROBI/ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The Ethiopian government rebuffed an African effort to mediate on Saturday, saying its troops had seized another town in their march towards the rebel-held capital of northern Tigray region.
    More than two weeks into Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s offensive, the government says Tigrayan forces are bulldozing roads and destroyed bridges to hold up the advance on regional capital Mekelle, home to about half a million people.
    The Tigrayans have promised “hell” for their advancing enemies.    They have denied destroying bridges but were not reachable for comment about ploughing up roads.
    Hundreds, possibly thousands, have died and more than 30,000 refugees have fled to Sudan since the conflict erupted on Nov. 4.    The fighting has spread beyond Tigray, whose forces have fired rockets at the neighbouring Amhara region and the nation of Eritrea, spurring concern of a wider war and the splintering of multi-ethnic Ethiopia.
    Abiy’s government has said it will soon reach Mekelle after taking various surrounding towns.    On Saturday it said Adigrat had also fallen, about 116 km (72 miles) north of Mekelle.
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels said nine civilians had died among heavy casualties in artillery hits on Adigrat.
    The government could not immediately be reached for comment, but has previously repeatedly denied targeting civilians.
    Assertions on all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet connections have been down since the beginning of the conflict and media are largely barred.
    Eritrea denies TPLF allegations it has sent soldiers over the border to back Abiy’s offensive against the Tigrayan forces, who are also an old foe of Eritrea’s.
    Graphic: Map of region – https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/gjnvwbbgjpw/ethiopia-conflict_clashes.jpg
AFRICAN ENVOYS
    On Friday, the African Union bloc appointed former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa as special envoys to seek a ceasefire and mediation talks.
    Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace pact with Eritrea, aims to capture TPLF leaders before talking.
    News circulating that the envoys will be travelling to Ethiopia to mediate between the Federal Government and TPLF’s criminal element is fake,” the government tweeted on Saturday.
    Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha.    The rebels say Abiy’s government has marginalised and persecuted Tigrayans since taking office two years ago.
    Abiy denies that, saying he is seeking only to restore law and order and preserve the unity of Ethiopia and its 115 million people.
    Aid workers say the conflict is creating a humanitarian crisis in Tigray, where many among the more than 5 million population were already displaced and relying on food aid even before the conflict.
    Satellite images from U.S.-based space company Maxar Technologies showed destroyed buildings lining the main road near Dansha airport, where the government says there was a Nov. 4 surprise attack on federal troops.
    The TPLF is popular in its home region and dominated national politics from 1991 until Abiy took office.    Abiy’s parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara ethnic groups.
    “We will do all that is necessary to ensure stability prevails in the Tigray region and that our citizens are free from harm and want,” the prime minister tweeted on Saturday.
    Over the border with Sudan, the United Nations is planning for the possible arrival of 200,000 refugees.
    “The situation is very dire,” said Jens Hesemann, emergency response coordinator for the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR, from the Hamdayet crossing point, appealing for urgent donor aid as he stood before tents and crowds of recently-arrived Ethiopians.
    Thousands of refugees in Hamdayet and another crossing point, Luqdi, have been lining up for jerry cans and helpings of cornflour porridge, and putting up makeshift tents under scrubland trees. Many had crowded into boats to cross a river into Sudan.

11/21/2020 Turkey Extends Seismic Survey Work In Disputed Mediterranean Area To November 29
FILE PHOTO: Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey said it was extending the seismic survey work of its Oruc Reis ship in a disputed area of the eastern Mediterranean until Nov. 29, in a move that could add to tensions in the region.
    NATO members Turkey and Greece are locked in a dispute over the extent of their continental shelves and conflicting claims to hydrocarbon resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
    The row erupted in August when Turkey sent Oruc Reis into waters also claimed by Greece and Cyprus.
    Along with two other ships, the Ataman and Cengiz Han, Oruc Reis will continue work in an area west of Cyprus, a Turkish naval maritime notice said on Saturday.
    Ankara pulled the vessel out in September to allow for diplomacy with Greece, but then sent it back to the area, prompting an angry reaction from Greece, France and Germany.
    The ship had been expected to finish its work by Nov. 23.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Mark Potter)

11/22/2020 ‘Save Yourselves’, Ethiopia Tells Tigrayans As It Moves On Rebel-Held Capital
FILE PHOTO: An Ethiopian woman who fled war in Tigray region, receives treatment at the Fashaga camp on the
Sudan-Ethiopia border in Al-Qadarif state, Sudan November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s army plans to surround the rebel-held capital of Tigray region with tanks and may use artillery on the city to try to end a nearly three-week war, a military spokesman said on Sunday, urging civilians to save themselves.
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which is refusing to surrender its rule of the northern region, said its forces were digging trenches and standing firm.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal troops have taken a string of towns during aerial bombardments and ground fighting, and are now aiming for Mekelle, a highland city of about 500,000 people where the rebels are based.
    The war has killed hundreds, possibly thousands, sent more than 30,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, and seen rockets fired by rebels into neighbouring Amhara region and across the border into the nation of Eritrea.
    Countries around Africa and Europe have urged a truce, but Abiy has so far rebuffed that.
    “The next phases are the decisive part of the operation, which is to encircle Mekelle using tanks,” military spokesman Colonel Dejene Tsegaye told Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation.
    “We want to send a message to the public in Mekelle to save yourselves from any artillery attacks and free yourselves from the junta … After that, there will be no mercy.”
‘WAVES AFTER WAVES’
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters by text message that his forces were resisting a push from south of Mekelle while also fighting near the northern town of Adigrat after it had fallen to federal troops.
    “Encircling Mekelle is their plan but yet they couldn’t,” he said.    “On south front, they couldn’t move an inch for more than one week.    They (are) sending waves after waves but to no avail.”
    Reuters could not verify the latest statements on the war.    Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down since fighting began on Nov. 4.
    Abiy accuses the Tigrayan leaders of revolting against central authority and attacking federal troops in the town of Dansha on Nov. 4.    The rebels say his government has marginalised and persecuted Tigrayans since taking office two years ago.
    The prime minister drew plaudits for opening up Ethiopia’s closed economy and repressive political system after taking office.    He won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for a peace agreement with Eritrea.
    International rights groups say his government has carried out mass arrests after outbreaks of violence and detained journalists this year.    The Nobel Peace Prize committee urged peace after his offensive against the Tigrayan leaders began.
    Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s task force on Tigray, said there was still time for the TPLF leadership to surrender.    “The government will take maximum restraint not to cause major risks for civilians,” he added.
    He said that while many Tigrayan special forces and militia fighters had surrendered or scattered around Adigrat, resistance was stronger on the southern front, where rebels have dug up roads, destroyed bridges and booby-trapped roads with explosives.    He said government troops had taken high ground there and were moving forward.
    Aid agencies fear a humanitarian disaster in a region where hundreds of thousands relied on food aid and were displaced even before fighting began.
(Writing by Katharine Houreld and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/22/2020 Palestinian Rocket Fire Draws Israeli Air Strikes In Gaza
Smoke rises following an Israeli air strike in the southern of Gaza Strip November 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian militants fired a rocket into Israel, drawing Israeli air strikes in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military said on Sunday.
    There were no casualties reported on either side of the border. Israeli police said the Gaza rocket fired on Saturday night damaged a factory in the southern city of Ashkelon.
    The Israeli military said its aircraft struck in response against several military sites belonging to Hamas, the Islamist armed group that controls Gaza.
    Reuters witnesses said the pre-dawn strikes hit targets in Gaza City and the southern Gaza cities of Rafah and Khan Younis, where flames and plumes of smoke could be seen rising from some sites.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility from any of Gaza’s military groups for firing the rocket.    Israel and Hamas last fought a war in 2014 and have exchanged fire several times since, though the border has been largely quiet in recent months.
    “The Hamas terror organization is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip and emanating from it, and will bear the consequences for terror activity against Israeli civilians,” the military said in a statement.
    In Gaza Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum blamed the new escalation on Israel.
    “The Israeli occupation is the prime responsible for everything that happens in Gaza as it continues to blockade it and carry out attacks.    The resistance is only acting in self-defence,” Barhoum told Reuters.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Lincoln Feast)
[The Arab nations need to stand up and tell Hamas to get out of Palestinians politics so that they can promote and pass Abraham Accord Peace Plan to improve all lives in the Middle East.].

11/22/2020 Secy. Pompeo Meets With Taliban Reps. In Qatar by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Afghanistan’s State Minister for Peace Sayed Sadat Mansoor Naderi and the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan’s peace
negotiation team amid talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban, Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Doha, Qatar. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)
    The Trump administration is, once again, holding peace talks with the Taliban. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived in Doha, Qatar on     Saturday as part of an ongoing tour throughout Europe and the Middle East.
    His trip comes as the Pentagon plans to reduce the number of U.S. military personnel in Afghanistan from 4,500 to 2,500 by mid-January, which is all part of President Trump’s pledge to bring U.S troops home.
    Afghanistan’s chief peace envoy, Abdullah Abdullah, said his government respects the decision and expects talks to continue even after U.S. troops depart.
    “It will continue, the talks and the support from the United States, for the continuation of the talks will continue,” stated the Afghani chief executive officer.    “What form and what shape it will take, that remains to be seen, but they (the U.S.) will certainly push for peaceful settlement."
    Pompeo spoke with the ruler of Qatar to discuss the current climate of peace in the region and encouraged future talks of a permanent ceasefire with Afghanistan.
    Before leaving Doha, Pompeo took to Twitter to note he’s confident the U.S. can build on its efforts to bring greater security and prosperity to the region.

11/22/2020 Netanyahu Urges No Return To Iran Nuclear Deal
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens during a joint statement with U.S. Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in an apparent message to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, said on Sunday there should be no return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal abandoned by President Donald Trump.
    Biden, who takes office on Jan. 20, has said he would rejoin the accord if Tehran first resumed strict compliance, and would work with allies “to strengthen and extend it, while more effectively pushing back against Iran’s other destabilising activities.”
    The agreement, which world powers reached with Iran, sought to limit Tehran’s nuclear programme to prevent it from developing nuclear weapons in return for the easing of economic sanctions.
    But the deal, abandoned by Trump in 2018, did not restrict Iran’s ballistic missile programme nor its support for militia in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria and Yemen, which Washington sees as destabilising to the Middle East.
    “There must be no return to the previous nuclear agreement.    We must stick to an uncompromising policy to ensure that Iran does not develop nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said in a speech in southern Israel.
    He did not mention Biden directly, but his comments were widely interpreted by Israeli media as a message to the incoming president not to bring the United States back into the agreement.
    Netanyahu was a strong opponent of the 2015 accord, calling it a “very bad deal” in an address that year to the U.S. Congress that further strained his relationship with Trump’s Democratic predecessor Barack Obama.
    European powers party to the agreement, along with Russia and China, have been trying to hold the deal together despite U.S. pressure for sweeping sanctions against Iran over breaches it declared in response to Washington’s pullout.
    Iran denies that its atomic programme is aimed at developing weapons.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Barbara Lewis)

11/22/2020 Burkina Faso Holds Election Under Looming Threat Of Violence by Edward McAllister
Electoral workers transport ballot boxes on their motorcycles as they arrive to prepare a polling station ahead of
the presidential and legislative elections, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, November 21, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Polls closed in Burkina Faso on Sunday after a presidential and parliamentary election dominated by the threat of Islamist violence that prevented voting in hundreds of villages.
    President Roch Kabore is seeking a second five-year term, campaigning on achievements such as free healthcare for children under the age of five and paving some of the red dirt roads that snake across the arid West African country.
    But a surge in attacks by groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State has eclipsed everything.    The violence has cost more than 2,000 lives this year alone.
    After voting in a school in Ouagadougou, Kabore told reporters: “I call on all Burkinabe to vote, whatever their leaning.    It’s about the democracy of Burkina Faso, it’s about development, it’s about peace.”
    The election went smoothly in the capital and there were no reports of large-scale violence elsewhere during the vote.    But some polling stations in insecure eastern areas had to be closed because of threats, the electoral commission said.
    “People were threatened.    They told them: ‘those who put their fingers in the ink can say goodbye to their finger’,” the commission’s chief, Newton Ahmed Barry, said at a press conference, referring to the ink marks people are given to show they have voted.
    At least 400,000 people – nearly 7% of the electorate – are expected to have been unable to vote due to polling stations not opening for fear of violence, official data forecast ahead of the vote.
    “Before we had peace, now we have none,” said 48-year-old security guard Gilbert Alalinga at nightfall outside a polling station in Ouagadougou.
    “I didn’t hear of violence today, that was encouraging. I want to be able to travel to the north, the east, the south without problem,” he said as children raced on bicycles in a sandy field beyond.
    Election officials began counting immediately after the polls closed, chalking up each vote on school blackboards across the city.
    Kabore faces stiff opposition from former finance minister and 2015 runner-up Zephirin Diabre as well as Eddie Komboigo, head of Blaise Campaore’s party.    Campaore was president for 27 years until a 2014 revolution.
    Komboigo on Sunday joined Diabre in claiming the vote had been marred by fraud.    Both vowed to challenge the results by filing a formal complaint on Monday.    They have not provided evidence for their claims.
    Analysts expect a tight race that could go to a second round if no candidate wins more than 50% of the vote.
    Some early figures could be announced late on Sunday, but overall provisional results from the first round are expected by the middle of the week.
(Writing by Edward McAllister and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Bate Felix, Kevin Liffey, David Goodman and Frances Kerry)

11/22/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey Sees Itself A Part Of Europe
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks after a cabinet meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, November 17, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that his country, an official candidate for European Union membership, sees itself as an inseparable part of Europe but will not give in to attacks and double standards.
    “We see ourselves as an inseparable part of Europe…However this does not mean that we will bow down to overt attacks to our country and nation, veiled injustices and double standards,” Erdogan said in a speech to the members of its AK Party.
    Turkey’s drilling activities in a disputed part of the eastern Mediterranean have raised tensions with the EU as Turkey locked in a dispute with and Greece and Cyprus over the extent of their continental shelves and hydrocarbon resources.
    EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said this month that Turkey’s rhetoric on Cyprus was aggravating tensions with the EU and Ankara had to understand that its behaviour was “widening its separation” from the bloc.
    The EU will discuss Turkey’s pursuit of natural gas exploration in contested waters in the eastern Mediterranean at their next summit in December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Thursday.
    “We do not believe that we have any problems with countries or institutions that cannot be solved through politics, dialogue and negotiations,” Erdogan said.
    Erdogan, connected to the event through videolink, said that the EU should keep its promises regarding the migrants issue and making Turkey a full member of the bloc.    He was referring to a 2016 deal under which Ankara curbed migrant entries into Europe in exchange for financial help and visa-free travel in the Schengen region.
    Turkey recently extended the seismic survey work being carried out by its Oruc Reis ship in a disputed part of the eastern Mediterranean until Nov. 29, according to a naval notice.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Andrew Heavens, William Maclean)
[I REMEMBER WHEN TURKEY LET THE POPE COME TO YOUR COUNTRY AND NO ONE KILLED HIM AND THE REASON FOR THAT IS WHY THE POPE CAME BECAUSE TURKEY WAS TRYING TO BE JOINED WITH THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THAT WOULD NOT HAVE HAPPENED IF THEY KILLED HIM AND NOW AFTER ALL THIS TIME YOU ARE NOT ONE OF THE ORIGINAL 10 NATIONS THAT THEY CLAIM IS THE ORIGIN COUNTRIES MINUS GREAT BRITAIN AND ALL THE OTHER 18 NEW MEMBERS ARE ASSOCIATE COUNTRIES WHICH IS A LOWER CLASS WITH I ASSUME IS A LESSER VOTE BLOCK.].

11/23/2020 Netanyahu Met Saudi Crown Prince, Pompeo In Saudi Arabia On Sunday – Israeli Media by Dan Williams
A combination picture shows Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019
and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem February 9, 2020. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY and REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu secretly flew to Saudi Arabia on Sunday to meet Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Israel’s Kan public radio and Army Radio said on Monday.
    If confirmed, it would be the first publicly acknowledged trip by an Israeli leader to ultra-conservative Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, which has traditionally championed the Palestinian cause and shunned all official contacts with Israel.
    As U.S. President Donald Trump’s term winds down, Pompeo has been trying to coax the Gulf powerhouse to follow its neighbours, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, in establishing formal relations with Israel.
    Netanyahu’s office and the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem had no immediate comment on the reports.
    Saudi state media made no mention of any visit by Netanyahu, and the Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to Reuters queries.
    The rapprochement between Israel and the Gulf states is built largely on shared concerns about Iran – and, potentially, about whether U.S. President-elect Joe Biden will review Washington’s regional policies.
FLIGHT TRACKING DATA
    Netanyahu was joined on his Saudi trip by Mossad director Joseph (Yossi) Cohen, who has spearheaded discreet diplomatic outreach to Gulf Arab states, said the Israeli media reports, quoting unidentified Israeli officials.
    Riyadh has so far declined to normalise ties with Israel.    But since August it has allowed Israeli airliners to overfly Saudi territory to newly available Gulf destinations and Asia.
    Avi Scharf of Israel’s Haaretz newspaper published aviation tracking data showing that a business jet had made a brief trip from Tel Aviv to Neom, on Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea coast, where bin Salman and Pompeo had a scheduled meeting on Sunday.
    More publicly closing ranks with the Saudi crown prince could help the conservative Netanyahu burnish his statesman credentials as he faces domestic challenges, including a trial on corruption charges, which he denies, and a feud with centrist coalition partner Benny Gantz, Israel’s defence minister.
    “Gantz does politics while the prime minister makes peace,” Netanyahu spokesman Topaz Luk tweeted.
    Asked on Saturday whether Riyadh had changed its position on Israel, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom had supported complete normalisation of ties “for a long time,” but on condition that Israel and the Palestinians reach “a permanent and full peace deal.”
(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Gareth Jones)

11/23/2020 Ethiopia Says Axum Airport Smashed, Tigrayans Face Surrender Deadline
Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carry their belongings from a boat after crossing the Setit river on
the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Hamdayet village in eastern Kassala state, Sudan November 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Forces of Ethiopia’s Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have destroyed an airport in the ancient town of Axum, state-affiliated media said on Monday, after advancing federal troops gave them a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has told the TPLF, which had been ruling the mountainous northern zone of 5 million people, to lay down arms by Wednesday or face a final assault on the regional capital Mekelle.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters that threat was a cover for government forces to regroup after what he described as defeats on three fronts.
    There was no immediate response from either side to the other’s latest comments, and Reuters could not confirm their statements.    Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down.
    Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting and air strikes that erupted on Nov. 4, sending about 40,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan.    The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, with the TPLF firing rockets into both neighbouring Amhara region and across the border to Eritrea.
    International appeals for mediation, from the United Nations and around Africa and Europe, have so far not gained traction.
HERITAGE TOWN
    The broadcaster Fana said TPLF troops had destroyed the airport at Axum, which lies northwest of Mekelle and is a popular tourist draw and UNESCO World Heritage site.
    Axum’s history and ruins, including fourth century obelisks when the Axumite Empire was at its height, gives Ethiopia its claim to be one of the world’s oldest centres of Christianity.
    Legend says it was once home to the Queen of Sheba and Ethiopians believe an Axum church houses the Ark of the Covenant.
    The United Nations’ humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, Catherine Sozi, urged safety guarantees for aid workers, Mekelle’s more than half a million inhabitants, and their health, school and water systems.
    Abiy’s government has repeatedly said it is only pursuing TPLF leaders and facilities to restore law and order after they rose up against federal troops.    It denies hitting civilians.
    “Our women and men in uniform have shown great care to protect civilians from harm during the law enforcement operation they have carried out in Tigray so far,” its taskforce for the Tigray conflict reiterated on Monday.
    The TPLF says Abiy has “invaded” their region to dominate them and is inflicting “merciless” damage on Tigrayans.
    “We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region,” TPLF leader Debretsion added in a text message to Reuters.    Debretsion was a signals and intelligence officer for the TPLF during their war against the Communist Derg dictatorship in the 1980s and later earned a degree in electronic engineering from Addis Ababa University.
    He rose to the rank of deputy prime minister in the Ethiopian government when it was dominated by the TPLF.
ROCKET STRIKE
    The TPLF accuses accuse Abiy, a former military comrade and partner in government, of marginalising their ethnic group since becoming prime minister two years ago.    He has removed Tigrayan officials from influential roles in government and the military and detained some on rights abuse and corruption charges.
    Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic undertones, saying he is legitimately pursuing criminals and preserving national unity.
    At the weekend, the United Arab Emirates was the latest government to express concern, saying it was making contacts around Africa and the world to try to end the conflict.
    The UAE has pledged billions in aid and investment to Ethiopia since Abiy took over and it played a quiet role in the 2018 Ethiopia-Eritrea peace pact.
    In Amhara region, next to Tigray, residents reported a rocket strike around dawn on Monday.    “So far, I didn’t hear of any casualties,” said a hotel receptionist in Bahir Dar, the lakeside capital of Amhara.    “I guess now we are accustomed to it and there wasn’t much panic.”
(Writing by Omar Mohammed and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean)

11/23/2020 Ethiopia Says Tigray Capital Encircled After Surrender Ultimatum
Ethiopia's Redwan Hussein, spokesperson for the newly established State of Emergency task force and State Minister for the Foreign
Affairs, speaks during a news conference regarding the fighting between Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) and the Tigray
Regional Special Forces, at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian federal forces were encircling the Tigray region’s capital from around 50 km (30 miles) on Monday, the government said, after giving the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) a 72-hour surrender ultimatum.
    “The beginning of the end is within reach,” government spokesman Redwan Hussein said of the nearly three-week-old offensive that has destabilised Ethiopia and spilled into some Horn of Africa neighbours.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has told the TPLF, which had been ruling the mountainous northern zone of 5 million people, to lay down arms by Wednesday or face a final assault on Mekelle, a highland city of half a million people.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael denied that Mekelle was surrounded and told Reuters the ultimatum threat was a cover for government forces to regroup after what he described as defeats on three fronts.
    Reuters could not verify the latest statements.
    Claims by all sides are hard to verify because phone and internet communication has been down.
    Hundreds, possibly thousands, have been killed in fighting and air strikes that erupted on Nov. 4, sending about 40,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan, after the government accused the TPLF of ambushing a federal military base.
    The conflict has spread beyond Tigray, with the TPLF firing rockets into both the neighbouring Amhara region and across the border to Eritrea, which Tigrayans accuse of supporting government forces, something Asmara denies.
    Redwan told a news conference that the government now controlled most of Tigray and people in captured towns were handing over weapons given them by the TPLF.
    Federal forces were ringing Mekelle from about 50 km, he added in a text to Reuters.
    Tigrayan forces fired rockets on Monday at Bahir Dar, the capital of Amhara region whose authorities are supporting the federal offensive, Redwan and residents said.    He said the rockets caused no damage.
    “So far, I didn’t hear of any casualties,” said a hotel receptionist of the pre-dawn attack.    “I guess now we are accustomed to it and there wasn’t much panic.”
ANCIENT AXUM
    Addis Ababa police have arrested some 796 people suspected of plotting “terrorist attacks” in the capital for the TPLF, the state-affiliated Fana broadcaster reported.
    There was no immediate comment from Ethiopia’s government or the TPLF.
    The government said TPLF troops had destroyed the airport at the ancient town of Axum, a popular tourist draw and UNESCO World Heritage site 215 km (133 miles) northwest of Mekelle.
    The TPLF’s Debretsion denied this, saying obstacles had been put up to block advances by the Ethiopian military.     Axum’s history and ruins, including fourth-century obelisks erected when the Axumite Empire was at its height, gives Ethiopia its claim to be one of the world’s oldest centres of Christianity.
    Legend says it was home to the Queen of Sheba and Ethiopians believe a church there houses the Ark of the Covenant.     The TPLF accuses Abiy of invading their region to dominate them.    “We are people of principle and are ready to die in defence of our right to administer our region,” TPLF leader Debretsion added in a text message to Reuters.
    Debretsion was a signals and intelligence officer for the TPLF in their war against Ethiopia’s Marxist dictatorship in the 1980s and later earned a degree in electronic engineering from Addis Ababa University.
    He rose to the rank of deputy prime minister in the Ethiopian government when it was dominated by the TPLF.
    The TPLF accuses Abiy, a former military comrade and coalition partner, of marginalising their ethnic group since becoming prime minister two years ago.    He has removed Tigrayan officials from influential roles in government and the military and detained some on rights abuse and corruption charges.
    Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic undertones, saying he is legitimately pursuing criminals and preserving national unity.
    The African Union (AU) has named three envoys for potential talks over Tigray.    Redwan said Abiy would meet them and was open to all options except negotiating with the TPLF.
    Attorney General Gedion Timothewos Hessebon said TPLF actions, including attacks on the military’s Northern Command, Amhara and Eritrea, may constitute treason and terrorism.    Authorities have frozen the assets of 38 companies linked to them, he added.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and Maggie Fick in Istanbul and Addis Ababa newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by William Maclean and Mark Heinrich)

11/23/2020 Germany Angers Turkey With Attempt To Police Libya Arms Embargo
FILE PHOTO: German Navy armed personnel stand in front of the Frigate Hamburg, docked at Port Rashid, in Dubai May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah/File Photo
    BERLIN/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey protested to Germany and the EU on Monday after German forces belonging to an EU military mission boarded and tried to search a Turkish cargo ship that they suspected of taking weapons to Libya illegally.
    Soldiers from the frigate Hamburg, part of an EU mission enforcing a U.N. arms embargo, boarded the Roseline A overnight but withdrew after Turkey raised objections with the EU mission, which had ordered the search, the German Defence Ministry said.
    Turkey released footage showing armed men in military uniform marshalling sailors with their hands on their heads on the bridge of what it said was the Roseline A, at sea southwest of the Greek Peloponnese peninsula.
    The incident comes at a time of friction between Turkey and the European Union.    The EU’s foreign policy chief has said ties are reaching a “watershed moment” over Turkish oil prospecting in waters claimed by Greece and Cyprus, and that sanctions could be imposed next month.
    Ankara said the vessel was carrying humanitarian aid and that the Hamburg had violated international law by not waiting for permission from Turkish authorities to board.    It summoned the EU, German and Italian ambassadors to hear a protest.
    But Germany said that, after four hours had passed with no reply to a request to board, it was standard practice to consider this as implicit permission.    “All procedures were followed correctly,” a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said.
    The German Defence Ministry said the soldiers had not found anything suspicious by the time they were ordered off the ship.
    Turkey is backing the internationally recognised government in Libya in its fight against Russian-and-Egyptian-backed rebels in the east.
    Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Hami Aksoy said the Roseline’s captain had shared information with the Hamburg about his ship’s freight and its course.
    “Despite this, at 17:45, armed forces from the Irini Operation boarded the ship and carried out a ‘monitoring’ that lasted long hours,” he said.
    “We protest this act, which was carried out by force and without authorisation (and) retain the right to seek compensation.”
    The 16,000-tonne container ship left the Turkish port of Gemlik near Bursa last week, and was last seen heading southwest towards Libya, according to Refinitiv Eikon data.
(Reporting by Sabine Siebold, Thomas Escritt, Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alison Williams)

11/24/2020 Israel’s Netanyahu Says Will Visit Bahrain Soon
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a joint statement with U.S. Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via REUTERS

11/24/2020 Ethiopia’s Tigray Forces Claim Battle Win, Global Alarm Grows
Tents belonging to Ethiopian refugees fleeing from the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, are seen at the Um-Rakoba camp,
on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in the Al-Qadarif state, Sudan November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tigrayan forces said on Tuesday they had destroyed an Ethiopian army division in battles to control the northern region where a three-week-old war has killed hundreds and spread global alarm.
    The federal government denied that and said many Tigrayan soldiers were surrendering in line with a 72-hour ultimatum before a threatened attack on the regional capital Mekelle.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s troops launched an offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) local government on Nov. 4 and say they are closing in on Mekelle in a final push to win the conflict.
    But the battle-hardened TPLF say their troops are keeping the federal army at bay and scoring some big victories.
    Their spokesman Getachew Reda told Tigray TV a prestigious army unit – which he termed the 21st mechanised division – had been “completely destroyed” in an assault at Raya-Wahirat led by a former commander of that unit now fighting for the TPLF.
    Billene Seyoum, the prime minister’s spokeswoman, told Reuters that was not true.
    Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
    Hundreds have died, tens of thousands of refugees have fled to Sudan and there is widespread destruction and uprooting of people from homes, security and aid sources say.
The conflict has spread to Eritrea, where the TPLF has fired rockets, and also affected Somalia where Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in a peacekeeping force fighting al Qaeda-linked militants.
    ‘TRAGIC CONFLICT’
    The United States, which regards Ethiopia as a powerful ally in a turbulent region, became the latest nation to call for peace, saying it supported African Union (AU) mediation efforts “to end this tragic conflict now.”
    Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not negotiate with the TPLF though he does plan to receive AU envoys.
    He has given Tigrayan forces until Wednesday to surrender or face an assault on the highland city of Mekelle, home to about half a million people.
    A government taskforce said large numbers of Tigrayan militia and special forces had surrendered and it asked others still with the TPLF to disarm wherever they were.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has disputed the government version that Mekelle is encircled at a roughly 50km (31 mile) distance and told Reuters the ultimatum, which ends on Wednesday, was a cover for government forces to regroup after defeats.
    The U.S. embassy in Eritrea’s capital Asmara, where TPLF rockets have fallen near the airport, issued an alert saying it had reports that neighbourhood wardens advised residents to remain indoors at the instruction of local officials.
    “All U.S. Citizens in Asmara are advised to continue to exercise caution, remain in their homes, and conduct only essential travel until further notice,” the embassy said.
    France also expressed concern about the deteriorating humanitarian situation, condemned “ethnic violence” and called for protection of civilians.
    Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic overtones to his offensive against the TPLF, saying he is pursuing criminals who have revolted against the federal government and ambushed a military base.
    The TPLF says he wants to subdue Tigray to amass more personal power. Since taking office in 2018, the prime minister has removed many     Tigrayans from positions in government and the security forces and arrested some on charges of corruption and human rights abuses, even though he was their former military comrade and coalition partner.
(GRAPHIC: Refugee movements – https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/oakvexxgxpr/ethiopia-conflict_refugees.jpg)
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Omar Mohammed, Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne, Editing by William Maclean)

11/24/2020 Yemeni Houthis Say They Fired Missile At Saudi Aramco Site In Jeddah
A general view shows the damage at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station that Yemeni Houthis say they attacked, in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Nael Shyoukhi
    RIYADH/DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemeni Houthi forces fired a missile that struck a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah, a Houthi military spokesman said on Monday.
    The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen later confirmed the attack saying it targeted not only the kingdom’s national capabilities but global energy security. [nL8N2I95E4]
    The Houthi spokesman, Yahya Sarea, said foreign companies and residents in Saudi should exercise caution as “operations will continue.”
    The strike had been carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen, he said.
    He posted a satellite image with the label “north Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco.”    Google Maps shows a facility matching that image and description on the northern outskirts of Jeddah.
    An official at Saudi Arabia’s ministry of energy said that a fire broke had broken out in a fuel tank at a petroleum products distribution station in north Jeddah but that it had been put out and there were no injuries.
    Aramco’s oil production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi’s Eastern Province, more than 1,000 km (620) across the country from Jeddah.
    “The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said, adding that the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile.
    Saudi Arabia finished hosting this year’s G20 summit on Sunday.
    Yemen has been mired in conflict since the Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government ousted from power in the capital Sanaa by Iran-aligned Houthi forces in late 2014.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    Over the almost six-year-old war, Houthi forces have carried out many missile and drone strikes on civilian airports and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including on the capital Riyadh. The Saudi-led coalition says it intercepts many attacks, and has responded with air strikes on Houthi-held territory.
    Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces, who control most of north Yemen, have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired.
    The coalition said two weeks ago it intercepted two Houthi explosive-laden boats in the southern Red Sea.    An official source at the Saudi energy ministry was later quoted by official media as saying a limited fire near a floating platform belonging to the Jazan oil products terminal had taken place but was contained with no damage.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam, Rania El Gamal and Marwa Rashad; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli and Lisa Barrington, Editing by Angus MacSwan and Chizu Nomiyama)

11/2482020 Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu To Visit Bahrain To Discuss Peace by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a a joint statement with U.S. Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will visit Bahrain soon to continue peace talks.        In a nationwide address Tuesday, he announced his intent to visit the country in the coming months, following a phone call with the region’s leader.
    Bahrain has followed the United Arab Emirates in normalizing ties with Israel, following the historic peace deals brokered by the Trump administration.    The move hopes to bring in several different countries, including Sudan and Oman.
Netanyahu said both countries are excited for the opportunity to bring peace to their respective regions.
    “I just spoke with Bahraini Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa, this was our second conversation…it was very friendly,” he stated.    “Both of us are very moved by the fact that we can bring peace to our peoples and our countries in a very short time.”
    Israel notably ratified its deal to normalize relations with Bahrain this month, which will increase trade and tourism in each country.

10/24/2020 Both Sides Claim Gains In Ethiopia War, Tigrayans Accused Of Massacre
FILE PHOTO: An Ethiopian refugees fleeing from the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, holds her new born baby at the Um-Rakoba camp, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border,
in the Al-Qadarif state, Sudan November 23, 2020. Picture taken November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s state-appointed rights watchdog accused a Tigrayan youth group on Tuesday of killing hundreds of civilians as federal and local forces both claimed advances in a three-week war in the country’s mountainous north.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government said enemy soldiers were surrendering as it advanced towards the regional capital, but the Tigrayans reported they were resisting and had destroyed a prestigious army division.
    The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission published findings into a Nov. 9 attack in Mai Kadra in southwest Tigray – first reported by Amnesty International – where it said a youth group called Samri killed at least 600 people of the minority Amhara and Wolkait ethnic groups in the town.
    They were beaten to death, stabbed, set on fire and strangled with ropes, the report said, though some residents protected neighbours by hiding them in homes.    The commission accused local forces of colluding in the “massacre.”
[L1N2IA11G]
    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) was not immediately available but has previously denied involvement.
    Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
    Since fighting began on Nov. 4, hundreds have died, more than 41,000 refugees have fled to Sudan, and there has been widespread destruction and uprooting of people from homes.
    The war has spread to Eritrea, where the Tigrayans have fired rockets, and also affected Somalia where Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in a peacekeeping force fighting al Qaeda-linked militants.
    Abiy’s government said many Tigrayan combatants had responded to a 72-hour ultimatum to lay down arms before a threatened offensive against Mekelle city, with half a million inhabitants.    The deadline expires on Wednesday.
‘TRAGIC CONFLICT’
    The battle-hardened TPLF, which had ruled the region of more than 5 million people, gave a different version, saying their troops were keeping federal forces at bay and scoring victories.
    Their spokesman Getachew Reda said an important army unit – which he named as the 21st mechanised division – was destroyed in an assault at Raya-Wajirat led by a former commander of that unit now fighting for the TPLF.
    The prime minister’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum denied that.
TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael has disputed the government version that Mekelle is encircled at a roughly 50km (30 mile) distance, telling Reuters the ultimatum was a cover for government forces to regroup after defeats.
    The United States – which regards Ethiopia as a powerful ally in a turbulent region – France and Britain were the latest foreign powers to call for peace.    Washington backed African Union (AU) mediation efforts “to end this tragic conflict now,” while Paris and London warned against ethnic discrimination.
    The U.N. Security Council had been due to hold informal talks on Tuesday over Tigray, but that was postponed to give AU envoys time to travel to Ethiopia, diplomats said.
    Abiy, who won the Nobel Peace Prize last year for ending a standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not negotiate with the TPLF though he does plan to receive the AU envoys.
OFFENSIVE
    His predecessor, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, criticised mediation efforts by “well-intentioned outsiders” that he said obscured crimes by the TPLF and overestimated their importance in Ethiopian society.
    “The key problem in the international community’s approach to Ethiopia is the assumption of moral equivalence, which leads foreign governments to adopt an attitude of false balance and bothsidesism” between the federal and Tigrayan sides, he wrote in Foreign Policy magazine.
    Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amhara groups, denies any ethnic overtones to his offensive, saying he is pursuing criminals who ambushed federal forces.
    The TPLF says he wants to subdue Tigray to amass power.
    Since taking office in 2018, the prime minister has removed many Tigrayans from government and security posts and arrested some on rights abuse and corruption charges, even though he was their former military comrade and coalition partner.
    The conflict threatens to destabilise the vast nation of 115 million people from myriad ethnic groups whose struggles for greater resources and power intensified when Abiy took office.
    In Geneva, the U.N. human rights chief voiced alarm over reports of tank and artillery build-ups outside Mekelle.
    “We have seen an Ethiopian colonel come out and say there will be no mercy.    On the other side you have had the TPLF leadership say they are ready to die,” said Michelle Bachelet.
    “This is the kind of rhetoric that is extremely worrying and that may provoke or may lead to serious violations of international humanitarian law.”
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, Omar Mohammed, Nazanine Moshiri, Maggie Fick and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi, Stephanie Nebehay and Emma Farge in Geneva, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Giles Elgood and William Maclean)

11/24/2020 Two Blasts Kill Seven In Syrian Rebel-Held Northwest Near Turkish Border
Damaged cars are pictured after an explosion in al-Bab, Syria November 24, 2020
in this picture obtained from social media. MMC/SHARIF AL HALABI/via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Two bomb blasts killed at least seven people and wounded scores on Tuesday in areas of northwest Syria near the Turkish border and under heavy Turkish influence, witnesses and police sources said.
    Five people were killed and 20 wounded, some critically, in a blast that exploded at a road junction on the outskirts of the city of al Bab, north of Aleppo province, they said.
    A few hours later, at least two civilians was killed and 17 wounded in a car blast in the city of Afrin, a mainly Kurdish area which Turkish forces and their Syrian allies took from the Kurdish YPG militia in 2018.
    Videos posted on social media showed footage of mangled cars and extensive damage to an industrial area with fires burning.    Reuters could not immediately vouch for their authenticity.
    Civil defence officials said the death toll was expected to rise.
    The two cities, which Turkey administers with the help of Syrian Arab rebels it backs, have in the last year been frequently hit by bombings detonated in crowded civilian areas.
    Turkey and its rebel allies accuse the YPG of carrying out the blasts that have killed dozens in the mainly Arab populated towns near the border under their control, saying their goal is to make them ungovernable and sow fear among civilians.
    There was no immediate comment from the YPG, which has denied previous accusations of attacks on civilians.    It says it only targets Turkish soldiers and their allies in a guerrilla campaign to drive out “occupiers.”
    The YPG says Ankara wants to drive out Kurds and settle Arabs.
    Turkey regards the YPG as a terrorist group tied to the PKK inside its own borders, and has staged incursions into Syria in support of     Syrian rebels to push it from the Turkish frontier.
    Ankara now retains a large military presence in the area deploying thousands of troops in the last rebel enclave.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Nick Macfie)

11/24/2020 Saudi Cabinet Says Houthi Attacks Target Backbone Of Global Economy, Security Of Its Supplies: SPA
The debris are seen at a Saudi Aramco oil company distribution station that Yemeni Houthis say
they attacked, in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Nael Shyoukhi
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian’s cabinet said on Tuesday that Houthi attacks committed against vital installations target the backbone of the global economy and the security of its supplies, state news agency (SPA) reported.
    On Monday, a fire broke out in a fuel tank at a petroleum products distribution station in the Saudi city of Jeddah as a result of a Houthi attack, SPA had reported.
    The cabinet also stressed the importance of facing up to “such sabotage and terrorist acts and the parties behind them.”
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Raya Jalabi; Editing by Chris Reese)

11/25/2020 Ethiopia War Destabilising East Africa, Warns EU
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian refugees fleeing from the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, queue for water, at the Fashaga camp,
on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Fighting between Ethiopia’s military and regional forces from the northern Tigray region is seriously destabilising the East African and Horn region and hostilities should halt, the European Union foreign policy chief said.
    Hundreds of people have been killed since fighting began on Nov. 4, more than 41,000 refugees have fled to Sudan and there are reports of militias targeting civilians.
    “I expressed my great concern regarding increasing ethnic-targeted violence, numerous casualties and violations of human rights and of international humanitarian law,” Josep Borrell said late on Tuesday after speaking to Ethiopia’s foreign minister.
    A 72-hour government deadline for Tigray forces to surrender is due to expire on Wednesday evening.    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party spearheading the fighting, has rejected the ultimatum.
    Ethiopia has described the fighting as an internal law enforcement matter, a position Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed reiterated in a statement on Wednesday.    “We reject any interference in our internal affairs,” he said.
    Borrel signalled his support for the African Union (AU) bloc’s attempts to mediate.    “That is the only way forward to avoid further destabilisation,” he said.
    Three AU envoys – former presidents Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa – were due to arrive in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.
    With global alarm rising fast, European nations raised the conflict at a closed-doors meeting of the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, diplomats said.
    Members of the council expressed concern, diplomats said, but South Africa, Niger and Tunisia urged more time for regional mediation efforts before the council considers action.
    Map of region: https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/gjnvwbbgjpw/ethiopia-conflict_clashes.jpg
REGIONAL WAVES
    The conflict is impacting an already turbulent region.
    Tigrayans forces have fired rockets at the neighbouring country of Eritrea, and Ethiopian soldiers have been pulled from peacekeeping missions in Somalia and South Sudan.
    In Somalia, Ethiopia has disarmed several hundred Tigrayans in an AU peacekeeping force fighting al Qaeda-linked militants.    Three soldiers of Tigrayan ethnicity were also sent home from a U.N. peacekeeping force in South Sudan, a diplomatic and security source told Reuters on Wednesday.
    The U.N. mission in South Sudan said it was aware of the three soldiers’ repatriation, and that its human rights division was following up.    Although Ethiopia is ultimately responsible for the conduct and movement of the roughly 2,000 troops it had in South Sudan, the statement said, discrimination due to ethnicity could violate international law.
    “In this regard, UNMISS has requested access to any soldier who might be in need of protection under international law.”
    Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the Ethiopian prime minister’s office, told Reuters that the situation in South Sudan “would be the same” as Somalia, meaning soldiers sent home were under investigation for links to the TPLF.
    On Tuesday, Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights watchdog accused a Tigrayan youth group of killing about 600 civilians as federal and local forces both claimed advances in the war.
    Reuters has been unable to verify statements made by either side since phone and internet connections to Tigray are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
    Long lines of cars were forming in front of gas stations in Mekelle, the Tigray regional capital, according to satellite images taken on Nov. 23 and provided to Reuters by Maxar Technologies.    Petrol has been rationed in Tigray since the conflict begun.
    Images taken the same date showed Ethiopian troops in the historic town of Axum and trenches that had been dug across the runway of the local airport.
    GRAPHIC: Refugee movements – https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/oakvexxgxpr/ethiopia-conflict_refugees.jpg
(Additional reporting by Denis Dumo in South Sudan; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Katharine Houreld, Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)
[I DO NOT KNOW WHAT THE ETHIOPIANS ARE FIGHTING ABOUT BUT I CAN TELL YOU THAT THE ETHIOPIANS WILL BE INVOLVED IN THE ENDTIME PROPHECY REGARDING AS ONE OF THE NATIONS WHO JOINED IN THE ATTACK WITH OTHER NATIONS WHO END UP IN THE VALLEY OF MIGGIDO OR BETTER KNOWN AS ARMAGEDDON SO I WILL KEEP AN EYE ON WHERE THIS STARTED AND WHERE THIS GOES.
    “But he [the king of the north] shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt: and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps” (Daniel 11:43).    Why did God inspire the mentioning of Libya and Ethiopia?    Every word in God’s inspired Bible has significance.    God placed two nations in the same verse as Egypt for a definite reason.    This verse states that Libya and Ethiopia are also going to be closely allied with Iran!.
    To give you a more accurate information is that the Tigrayans are an ethnic group in the Tigray Region in Northern Ethiopia.    They speak the Tigrinya language.    In Ethiopia there are about 4.5 million Tigrayans, according to the 2007 census, most of them in the Tigray Region.    Over 90% of Tigrayans are Christians, which tells you what this mini-war is all about and I am sure that God is watching this action
.].

11/25/2020 Syrian Army: Israel Bombs Iranian Forces For Second Time In A Week by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu listens during a joint statement with U.S. Secretary
of State Mike Pompeo in Jerusalem, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, Pool)
    Israel launched its second airstrike against Iranian forces inside Syria in less than one week.    Early Wednesday morning, Syrian Army officials said a number of suspected warplanes struck areas just outside the capital of Damascus.
    Analysts have said the missiles were meant to deter Iranian forces from advancing towards Israel’s northern border. So far, no fatalities have been reported.
    The strikes follow statements from Israeli officials over the last few months, stating the country would ramp up its efforts to weaken Iran’s influence in Syria, where the Islamic Republic has gained a foothold through proxy militias.
    “This morning, air forces attacked significant Iranian military force targets and Syrian military targets in Syria…this is the clear policy that I have been leading for years,” stated Israeli Prime Minister Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.    “We will not allow Iranian military entrenchment against us in Syria and we will not tolerate any attempt to attack us from Syrian territory.”
    Israeli defense officials have previously said they intend to step up their campaign against Iran and Syria, considering the countries have recently expanded their presence in the region.

11/25/2020 Women Call For End To Domestic Violence After Lockdowns Bring More Attacks
Demonstrators are seen during a protest against femicide and violence against women,
in central Istanbul, Turkey, November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL/ROME (Reuters) – Women around the world on Wednesday marked International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, highlighting how lockdowns due to the pandemic had left many trapped with their abusers and exposed to greater danger.
    The United Nations said that since the outbreak of COVID-19, all types of violence against women and girls, particularly domestic violence, had intensified, with shelters at capacity and helplines in some places seeing a five-fold rise in calls.
    “Men’s violence against women is also a pandemic – one that pre-dates the virus and will outlive it.    It too needs our global, coordinated response and enforceable protocols.    It too affects vast populations of all ages,” said UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka in a statement.
    Last year, 243 million women and girls experienced sexual or physical violence from their partner.    This year, reports of increased domestic violence, cyberbullying, child marriages, sexual harassment and sexual violence have flooded in, she added.
    In the Turkish city of Istanbul, several hundred people gathered to protest against domestic violence against women.
    One woman taking part, who declined to give her name, said: “The law does not protect women as it should.    We are here to make our voice heard.    There are femicides happening almost every day in this country but people who are committing the crime are walking free.”
    In Italy, protesters gathered outside parliament bearing banners reading “If they touch one (of us), they touch all” and “Women are not toys.”
    Italy went through one of the world’s strictest lockdowns between March and May and last month introduced new restrictions.
    Its quarantine is creating conditions for increased murders of women by family members in the same home, according to a study by the Italian Economic and Social Research Institute.
    “We have witnessed an increase in domestic violence during confinement measures,” said protester Serena Freddi.    “This shows the home is still a place of conflict and violence for women.”
    Spain held a minute’s silence for murdered women on Wednesday and in Portugal, the OMA observatory, which monitors femicide, said so far in 2020 30 women had been murdered, half of them victims of domestic violence.
    The country’s Interior Minister Eduardo Cabrita said there was a 6% drop in the number of complaints about violence in the first 10 months of 2020 from a year ago, which he said was a worrying sign that women were struggled to access help during lockdown.
    The government launched a video campaign called #ISurvived, which warns of the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and hopes to spread the word about support available to victims of domestic violence.
    In Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel said in her weekly podcast, “statistically, every 45 minutes a woman in our country is attacked by her current or former partner.    These are the cruel facts.    Every single case tells a horrible story…We must never look the other way when girls or women are threatened with violence or attacked.”
(Reporting by Umit Bektas in Istanbul, Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Catrina Demony in Lisbon, Giselda Vagnoni in Rome and Belen Carreno in Madrid; Writing by Alexandra Hudson; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/25/2020 Turkey Announces Asymptomatic Coronavirus Case Numbers For First Time Since July
FILE PHOTO: People wearing protective masks stroll in Eminonu district, amid the spread of
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey November 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey recorded 28,351 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, including 6,814 with symptoms, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday, the first time since July Ankara has included asymptomatic cases in the total.
    The total was by far the highest reported by the government since the outbreak began. The previous daily high, which only included symptomatic cases, was 7,381, recorded on Tuesday.
    Ankara had only been reporting symptomatic cases since the summer, which critics said masked the true scale of the outbreak.
    During a news conference on Wednesday, Koca unexpectedly said Ankara would begin announcing the total numbers.
    “In line with requests from our people, we plan on including positive cases that do not show symptoms in the daily table,” he said, adding that around 80% of people who test positive were asymptomatic or lightly symptomatic.
    Health Ministry data on Wednesday showed 168 people had died due to COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, the most since the beginning of the outbreak, raising the death toll to 12,840.
    Symptomatic patients totaled 467,730 as of Wednesday, data at the ministry’s website showed.    While the case total was not announced, Koca said it would be included in the table in coming days.
    Separately, he said Turkey had signed a contract to buy 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.
    “The important thing here for us to start using vaccines which are known to be effective and reliable. … I think the vaccination calendar could start on Dec. 11,” Koca said.
    Sinovac’s experimental COVID-19 vaccine CoronaVac triggered a quick immune response, but the level of antibodies produced was lower than in people who had recovered, preliminary trial results showed.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Catherine Evans and Richard Chang)

11/25/2020 Jailed Saudi Women’s Rights Activists Given Rare Court Appearance by Raya Jalabi
FILE PHOTO: Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. Marieke Wijntjes/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Four jailed Saudi women’s rights activists were given a rare appearance in court on Wednesday, the family of one of them said, as the kingdom’s human rights record faces new scrutiny following the election defeat of U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, looked weak, her body shaking uncontrollably and her voice faint, her sister Lina told Reuters, adding that her parents had sat next to her in court.    It was her first appearance since March last year.
    The judge announced he was transferring the case from regular criminal court to a terrorism court, Lina al-Hathloul said.    Human Rights Watch denounced that decision as an attempt to escalate the case.
    Another sister, Alia al-Hathloul, tweeted that three other prominent women’s rights activists – Nassima Al-Sadah, Samar Badawi and Nouf Abdelaziz – had also appeared. Further details about their appearances were not immediately available.
    The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment.
    The four women were among more than a dozen activists rounded up in 2018, the year Saudi Arabia lifted a long-standing ban on women driving but accompanied that move with a crackdown on activists who had campaigned against the ban.
    Officials have said the arrests of women activists were made on suspicion of harming Saudi interests and offering support to hostile elements abroad.    Few charges have been made public, but those against Hathloul include communicating with foreign journalists, attempting to apply for a job at the United Nations and attending digital privacy training, her family has said.
    Rights groups say at least three of the women, including Hathloul, were held in solitary confinement for months and subjected to abuse including electric shocks, flogging and sexual assault.    Saudi officials have denied torture allegations.
    Hathloul went on hunger strike last month to protest against the conditions of her detention.    Her family said she was forced to abandon the hunger strike after two weeks because her jailers were waking her every two hours.
    “How credible is it that after more than a year of being judged in the criminal court, the judge now says he has a lack of jurisdiction and transferred her to the terrorism court?” sister Lina al-Hathloul told Reuters.
    Adam Coogle, Deputy Director of the Middle East and North Africa Division at Human Rights Watch, called the transfer of the case to terrorism court “yet another effort to stigmatize Hathloul and her activities, but no one should be fooled about what this case is really about.”
SCRUTINY AFTER TRUMP
    Saudi Arabia faces greater scrutiny over its human rights record following the Nov. 3 election defeat of Trump, a strong supporter of de facto leader Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    President-elect Joe Biden has described Saudi Arabia as a “pariah” for its human rights record and said he will take a firmer line.    Last week, the kingdom hosted a virtual G20 leaders summit, one of Trump’s final appearances in world diplomacy.
    Dozens of western lawmakers, leading human rights groups and jailed activists’ families condemned the summit.
    In a letter to the Saudi ambassador to Washington on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators called on Saudi Arabia to release the women’s rights activists.
    Under the crown prince, Riyadh has enacted reforms of strict social codes, chipping away at a system of “guardianship” that requires women to obtain a male relative’s permission to travel abroad, work outside the home or take important decisions.
    Social reforms have been accompanied by a hard line on political dissent, and the murder of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khasshoggi in the Saudi diplomatic mission in Istanbul wrecked Prince Mohammed’s international reputation.
    In an interview earlier this month, Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Britain raised the prospect of clemency for jailed women activists. Asked by Reuters on Saturday whether Saudi Arabia was considering clemency, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said this was a “non-issue” as the women were still on trial.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Peter Graff)

11/25/2020 Turkey, Russia Discuss Involving Other Countries In Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Efforts
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan shake hands during a news
conference following talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday he and Russian President Vladimir Putin had discussed the possibility of involving other countries in efforts to maintain a ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Azerbaijan and Armenia signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire on Nov. 10 that halted six weeks of clashes in the mountain enclave, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.
    Russian peacekeepers have been deployed in the enclave under the ceasefire deal, which locked in Azeri advances.    Turkey has no peacekeepers there but has signed an agreement with Russia to set up a joint centre to monitor the ceasefire.
    “We have the opportunity to develop and expand this more.    We discussed these development and expansion efforts with Mr Putin too,” Erdogan said.
    He said the process of maintaining the ceasefire could be taken “to a different level” if other countries in the region were involved but did not name any in his public comments.
    Turkey and Russia have been holding talks on the parameters of the monitoring centre, but a Turkish source told Reuters the two were at odds over Ankara’s wish to set up an independent military observation post on Azeri territory.
    Turkey has long backed its ethnic Turkic kin in Azerbaijan over Nagorno-Karabakh, and criticised the co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group of the Organization for Security and Co-operation security and rights watchdog for not resolving the conflict in decades of mediation.    The Minsk Group includes France, Russia and the United States.
    France, whose population includes between 400,000 to 600,000 people of Armenian origin, wants international supervision of the ceasefire because of concerns that Russia and Turkey may cut Western powers out of future peace talks.
    Erdogan said “discomfort” voiced over the agreement by some co-chairs of the Minsk Group “has no worth whatsoever.”
(Tuvan Gumrukcu et Ece Toksabay; version française Henri-Pierre André)

11/26/2020 Ethiopia To Begin ‘Final Phase’ Of Offensive In Tigray Region, Says PM
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Ethiopian military will begin the “final phase” of an offensive in the rebellious northern Tigray region, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday, hours after an ultimatum for Tigray forces to surrender expired.
    The government gave the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) 72 hours on Sunday to lay down their arms or face an assault on Mekelle, the regional capital city of 500,000 people.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach the TPLF forces for comment. Claims by all sides have been impossible to verify because phone and internet connections to the region are down and access to the area is tightly controlled.
    “The 72-hour period granted to the criminal TPLF clique to surrender peacefully is now over and our law enforcement campaign has reached its final stage,” Abiy tweeted, adding that civilians would be spared and that thousands of fighters had already surrendered.
    “The last peaceful gate which remained open for the TPLF clique to walk through has now been firmly closed,” Abiy said.
    Abiy called on the people of Mekelle to “disarm, stay at home and stay away from military targets.”
    “Our National Defence Forces have carefully devised a strategy to bring the TPLF criminal clique to justice without harming innocent civilians, heritage sites, places of worship, development institutions and property,” he added.
    African envoys went to Ethiopia to plead for peace on Wednesday, hours before the ultimatum was to expire.    Rights groups fear any assault could bring huge civilian casualties.
    Thousands of people are already believed to have died and there has been widespread destruction from aerial bombardment and ground fighting since the war began on Nov. 4. Around 42,000 refugees have fled over the border to Sudan.    TPLF rockets have hit neighbouring Eritrea.
    On Wednesday, Human Rights Watch said both sides must avoid putting civilians in danger.    The government’s warning did not absolve it “of its duty to take constant care to protect civilians when carrying out military operations in urban areas.”
    “We are also concerned by reports that the TPLF has deployed its forces in heavily populated areas.    They need to ensure the safety of civilians under their control,” it said.
(This story has been refiled to fix day of Human Rights Watch statement)
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Omar Mohammed; Writing by Katharine Houreld; Editing by Tom Hogue, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Giles Elgood)

11/26/2020 Exclusive: Iraq Trains U.S.-Sanctioned Militia Leader For Army Position – Sources by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Hashid Shaabi (Popular Mobilization Forces) holds a picture of late Iran's Quds Force
top commander Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis who were killed in a
U.S. airstrike during a protest in Baghdad, Iraq October 17, 2020. REUTERS/ Thaier Al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The Iraqi military is training a former member of an Iran-backed militia, who is under U.S. sanctions for killing protesters, to become a high-ranking officer in the army, according to six government, security and militia officials.
    They said that Hussein Falih Aziz, known as Abu Zainab al-Lami, had been sent to Egypt with Iraqi officers for a year-long training normally reserved for the country’s military personnel.
    A defence ministry document seen by Reuters showed his name, with the rank Major General, on a list of officers attending the training until next summer.
    Making Lami a senior officer in the army is one of the boldest moves yet by Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, a U.S. ally, to dilute the power of Iran-backed militias in Iraq, the officials said, and aligns with Washington’s stated desire to curtail Tehran’s influence across the Middle East.
    An Iraqi government spokesman and Iranian officials could not immediately be reached for comment.
    A source close to Lami confirmed his deployment to Egypt for training.
    Supporters of the plan see it as a way of weakening militias that boast tens of thousands of fighters and who hold considerable sway over Iraq’s security and economy.
    They say it will hasten the fracturing of some groups belonging to the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), the state paramilitary umbrella organisation whose security branch Lami has directed for years.
    The PMF did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    An Iraqi official, speaking on behalf of the government, declined to comment on Lami, but said there was a plan to restructure the PMF, including providing military training to its leaders.
    Some critics, however, call it a risky gambit that puts someone with a questionable human rights record and who has been close to Iran at the heart of the Iraqi military.
    They see it as another sign the prime minister is giving concessions even to some of the most hardline, Iran-aligned officials to secure support for his government.
    “The plan is to bring onside PMF leaders who are not seen as totally loyal to Iran and to ready them through this military training for positions inside the military and security apparatus,” said a security official.
    “Lami will be given a senior position when training is completed,” added the official, who declined to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue.    He did not specify what post Lami would take up.
    Egyptian military officials denied Lami was among a batch of Iraqi officers undergoing training in Egypt.    But one Egyptian security source said he had been in Egypt in October, without elaborating.
U.S. SANCTIONS
    Lami is the head of security for Iraq’s state paramilitary grouping and a one-time member of the Iran-backed Kataib Hezbollah militia.    The source close to him denied he had any formal ties to Iran or the militias it supports.
    He was put under U.S. sanctions in 2019 for his alleged role, first reported by Reuters, in ordering the use of lethal force against anti-government protesters.    Lami has since denied any role in the killing of peaceful demonstrators.
    The tenure of Kadhimi, who took office in May, has been marked by a face-off between his government and parts of the armed forces on one side, and Iran-aligned militias on the other.
    The U.S. killing of Iranian military mastermind Qassem Soleimani and the Iraqi paramilitary chief Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis in a drone strike in Baghdad in January left the militias in disarray earlier this year.
    Kadhimi has sided with the United States in efforts to weaken Iran-aligned Shi’ite Muslim groups that have grown to dominate Iraq’s economy and state institutions since the U.S.-led overthrow of Sunni dictator Saddam Hussein in 2003.
    The U.S. state department declined to comment for this article.
    Kadhimi has made security sector reform a priority, focusing on a reshuffle of top state security posts.
    Yet U.S. and Iraqi officials say the militias continue to harass the 3,000 or so remaining U.S. troops based in Iraq.
Some lesser-known militia groups said they were behind rocket attacks on the U.S. embassy in Baghdad.
    An Iraqi security official said recruiting Lami into the army was part of an attempt by Kadhimi to bring the PMF closer to his government.
    The PMF nominally reports to the prime minister, but its most dominant factions are close to Iran – something Kadhimi is trying to change.
    Sheikh Ali al-Asadi, an official in the Iran-aligned Nujaba militia group, said giving Lami full officer training was a sign of the PMF’s strength, and not something that would weaken the paramilitaries.
    “This is proof of the PMF’s success – someone being taken from the PMF to work in the army shows how strong it’s become,” he told Reuters.
(Additional reporting by Cairo bureau; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/26/2020 Analysis: Libya’s Rival Forces Have Stopped Shooting, But They’re Not Pulling Back by Ayman al-Warfali and Angus McDowall
A car is seen between destroyed buildings in Benghazi, Libya November 23, 2020.REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    SIRTE, Libya/TUNIS (Reuters) – In Libya’s frontline city of Sirte, parts of which still lie in ruins, the commission set up to oversee warring rivals’ recent ceasefire has put its name on a large downtown conference centre – an outward sign of its commitment to peace.
    So far the ceasefire is holding, and some elements of the truce have been implemented: flights between rival cities Tripoli and Benghazi have resumed and foreign fighters have left oil facilities – the keys to Libya’s economy.
    But meetings of the Joint Military Commission in northern Libya, attended by five officers each from the two sides, have yet to make progress on other key demands of a U.N.-brokered agreement, underlining its fragility.br>     The rivals in a civil war that has left thousands dead and the country in chaos have yet to withdraw troops from frontline positions, open a major coastal road linking Sirte to Misrata and rid their ranks of foreign mercenaries.
    “The danger won’t end unless the process of national reconciliation is completed,” said Mohammed Mofteh, 33, the head of a charity in Sirte, summing up widespread public scepticism about permanent peace.
    Since the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) drove Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) back from the capital Tripoli in June, the shooting has given way to political jostling.
    The U.N.-led diplomatic effort has set a roadmap to elections at the end of next year and implemented an audit of the central bank, which is split between the sides.
    The 75 participants in a U.N.-led political dialogue, which is separate from the military commission’s work, have also a Dec. 24, 2021 election date.    But they have not agreed on a unified transitional government needed to oversee the vote.
    Progress in those political talks slowed when they turned to the question of who would be on the new presidential council and the prime minister, said Hamad al-Bandaq, an eastern-based member of parliament who took part.
    “We reached a stumbling block, which is the choice of who will be in the presidential council and government,” he said.
    Beyond the GNA and LNA’s involvement in the peace process, their foreign backers – Turkey in the case of the GNA and Russia, the UAE and Egypt in the case of the LNA – also support it, though they, too, have invested heavily in the conflict.
    Some of their military and economic interests could be lost or reversed under a new unified government.
FRONTLINES
    Situated near Libya’s main oil terminals, and seen as the gateway to the OPEC producer’s “oil crescent,” Sirte – now under the control of the LNA – was a major prize in the civil war.
    Its domed Ouagadougou Conference Centre, an undamaged part of which is now the Joint Military Commission headquarters, serves as a reminder of what is at stake.
    The biggest building Muammar Gaddafi gave to his hometown, the centre hosted the 2009 African Union summit.    But it is pitted with bullet and shrapnel marks from a battle in the 2011 uprising that toppled the former leader.
    After Islamic State seized Sirte in 2015, its black flag was painted onto the centre.    Today a new banner for the commission hangs where GNA and LNA negotiators hash out details of their October ceasefire.
    They have pledged to remove foreign mercenaries from Libya by late January, pull forces back from forward positions and open the road across frontlines.
    But U.N. acting Libya envoy Stephanie Williams last week told the Security Council the GNA was still patrolling, the LNA setting up new fortifications and both sides landing cargo planes at bases they have used to resupply.
    A Western diplomat focused on Libya said the two sides had asked for only limited outside monitoring of the ceasefire – a sign they may not plan new withdrawals until the political situation is clearer.
    In Sirte, queues of up to 50 cars at petrol stations point to the hardships of life near the frontline.    Living conditions in Tripoli and the eastern centre of Benghazi this summer led to widespread protests.
    Williams has said this public frustration will aid the push for a deal.    The U.N. process helped resolve an eight-month LNA blockade of oil exports which aggravated economic problems in both east and west.
    The third strand of talks beyond the military commission and the political process is economic negotiations.    There, too, the tussle, particularly over the National Oil Company and Central Bank of Libya, continues.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Sirte and Angus McDowall in Tunis; writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

11/26/2020 Turkey Does Not Expect U.S. Sanctions Over Russian S-400s Under Biden by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) attends a bilateral meeting with Turkish President
Tayyip Erdogan in Washington March 31, 2016. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey does not expect ties with the United States to be strained under President-elect Joe Biden and does not anticipate sanctions over its purchase of Russia S-400 defence systems, a senior official in President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party said.
    Relations have been tense between Ankara and Washington over issues from policy toward Syria to the U.S. refusal to extradite a cleric Turkey blames for a 2016 coup attempt.
    Turkey has relied on the good personal ties between Erdogan and U.S. President Donald Trump to smooth over divisions, but Biden is expected to be tougher on Turkey over foreign and defence policies and Ankara’s human rights record.
    Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s, which are not compatible with NATO defences, raised the prospect of U.S. sanctions early next year if Congress approves a defence spending bill which the House of Representatives has already voted to include language requiring the president to sanction Turkey.
    In an interview with Reuters, AK Party Deputy Chairman Numan Kurtulmus played down that prospect.
    “The U.S. President will most likely watch the balance in the Middle East very carefully for U.S. interests, and will not want to continue the tense ties with Turkey,” Kurtulmus said.
    “…I believe they will take positive steps in the future.”
PROMISED REFORMS
    Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to the capabilities of its F-35 stealth fighter jets and has removed Turkey from the jet programme where it was a manufacturer and buyer.
    Ankara says the S-400s will not be integrated into NATO and has called for a joint working group to discuss U.S. concerns.    Kurtulmus repeated that Turkey would not bow to pressure to return the Russian systems, or leave them unused.
    “Sorry, but we didn’t procure these to hide them.    We got them to meet Turkey’s security needs,” he said.
    While Erdogan has downplayed the possible fallout from these sanctions and vowed counter-sanctions, he has also promised economic and judicial reforms, following an overhaul of Turkey’s economic leadership amid a plunge in the lira.
    Asked if the reforms were aimed at easing tensions with the United States and the European Union, which will also evaluate possible sanctions against Ankara next month, Kurtulmus said the government would act only for Turkey’s interest.
    “We act by thinking about what reforms we need, what steps to democratization will benefit our people and move on that path, not by thinking what act or rhetoric would please them,” he said.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans and Andrew Heavens)

11/27/2020 Analysis: How Attempts To Unify Ethiopia May Be Deepening Its Divides, Say Analysts by Katharine Houreld and Maggie Fick
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali poses with medal and diploma after receiving Nobel Peace Prize
during ceremony in Oslo City Hall, Norway December 10, 2019. NTB Scanpix/Hakon Mosvold Larsen via REUTERS
    NAIROBI/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s political slogan is “medemer” – or “coming together.”    But some analysts say reforms meant to unify Ethiopia have inflamed simmering ethnic and political divisions and risk unravelling Africa’s second most populous nation.
    Now Ethiopian unity faces its severest test yet: since Nov. 4, the military has been battling a group that once dominated the national government – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern Tigray region.
    The TPLF frames the conflict as a battle for the rights of Ethiopia’s 10 regions against a premier bent on centralising power.    They say Abiy has discriminated against Tigrayans since he came to power and have referred to his rule as an “illegal, unitarist and personalistic dictatorship
    The government denies trying to centralise control.
    Three major decisions infuriated the TPLF, which dominated the governing coalition for nearly three decades until Abiy came to power in 2018: Abiy’s rapprochement with their arch-enemy, the nation of Eritrea; his replacement of an ethnically based coalition with a new national party; and the postponement of national elections.    Each sparked bitter recriminations from the TPLF. The ensuing conflict has sent ripples through the region.
    Ethiopia, a regional heavyweight, is home to the African Union; its security forces serve in peacekeeping missions in Somalia and South Sudan and work alongside Western allies against Islamist militants.Leenco Lata, a veteran opposition leader, said the federal system is under pressure from both sides as debate polarises between supporters of closer unity or separation.    Abiy says he’s tried to work with the TPLF, but has been repeatedly rebuffed; his office published a timeline of such attempts this week.
    The government says Tigrayan forces started the conflict by attacking federal troops stationed there.    The TPLF have described the attack as a pre-emptive strike.
    Underlying the political struggle are long-standing rivalries between Ethiopia’s 80-plus ethnic groups.    Many regional leaders see Abiy’s democratic reforms as a chance to grab more power for their own group.    Zemelak Ayele, a professor at Addis Ababa University, said even though citizens resented the previous repression, the TPLF might have grudging support from some regional leaders who consider it a bulwark against a more centralised government.”    Even those who are ardent detractors of TPLF are not necessarily ardent supporters of the war (in Tigray),” he said.    “Some might feel the federal system might be in danger if the TPLF is out of the picture.”
AN OLD ENMITY AND A NEW PEACE
    The secretive, highly militarised nation of Eritrea – often nicknamed “Africa’s North Korea” – lies along Ethiopia’s northern border.     Eritrea won independence from Ethiopia in 1991 following three decades of war. Conflict over a border dispute broke out again from 1998-2000; tens of thousands died.
    The TPLF spearheaded that war.    They regard Eritrea as an arch-enemy.
    Months after Abiy came to power, he signed a peace deal with Eritrea in 2018 and was subsequently awarded the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize.    Regular visits began between Abiy and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki, drawing accusations from the TPLF that Abiy was “serving as a vehicle for Isaias’s desire to extract a pound of flesh for perceived wrongs.”
    Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokeswoman, said the TPLF was trying to “internationalise the conflict” and that intelligence reports suggested the TPLF had been manufacturing Eritrean and Ethiopian army uniforms.
    The TPLF has fired missiles at its capital Asmara and says Eritrea is now fighting alongside Ethiopian troops in Tigray, which Ethiopia denies.
    Reuters has not been able to reach the Eritrean government for comment for two weeks.
THE PROSPERITY PARTY
    After the Eritrea treaty, Abiy consolidated domestically. Last year he replaced Ethiopia’s old ruling coalition, made up of four ethnically based parties, with a single pan-Ethiopian party.    Out of the four, only the TPLF refused to join.
    Abiy underestimated the TPLF’s bitterness at losing power, said one Ethiopian academic.
    “It is a bitter divorce and Abiy did not have a plan for a peaceful exit for TPLF,” the academic said, speaking anonymously to avoid angering the government.
    Inflammatory rhetoric on both sides made Tigrayan people feel under siege, boosting support for the TPLF, he said.
    Alex de Waal, a professor at Tufts University, said launching the new party so quickly may have been a miscalculation: the old coalition had become a rare forum for negotiation in a nation where political dissent often meant prison.
    But Abiy was in a hurry.    National elections were due in August 2020 and his new party needed to compete against a plethora of new ethnically based groups.
    Then the pandemic arrived.
DELAYED ELECTIONS
    The government postponed elections.    Many opposition groups reluctantly agreed, but not the TPLF.    They held their regional elections in September anyway.    Both sides accused each other of ignoring the constitution.
    The TPLF won by a landslide.    The House of Federation, a legislative body dealing with constitutional matters, voted to cut Tigray’s budget.
    On Oct. 29, Tigrayan forces refused to let an Ethiopian general who flew into the regional airport leave to take up his command in the capital Mekelle.
    On Nov. 4, the government reported Tigrayan soldiers attacked a base in Dansha.
    The conflict had begun.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld in Nairobi and Maggie Fick in Istanbul; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Giles Elgood)

11/27/2020 Analysis: Covert Israeli-Saudi Meeting Sends Biden A Strong Message On Iran
FILE PHOTO: A combination picture shows Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman in Osaka, Japan June 29, 2019 and
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem February 9, 2020. Sputnik/Mikhail Klimentyev/Kremlin via REUTERS
    RIYADH/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A historic meeting between Israel’s prime minister and Saudi Arabia’s crown prince has sent a strong signal to allies and enemies alike that the two countries remain deeply committed to containing their common foe Iran.
    Last Sunday’s covert meeting in the Saudi city of Neom, confirmed by Israeli officials but publicly denied by Riyadh, conveyed a coordinated message to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden that Washington’s main allies in the region are closing ranks.
    It was the first publicly confirmed visit to Saudi Arabia by an Israeli leader and a meeting that was unthinkable until recently as the two countries do not have formal diplomatic relations.    But it underlines the depth of the two countries’ concerns about Iran, and shows how opposition to Tehran is bringing about a strategic realignment of countries in the Middle East.
    “It’s Iran, Iran, Iran,” Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi told Israel’s Army Radio when asked about the visit.    “It is very, very important to create the axis which isolates Iran.”
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the kingdom’s de facto ruler, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both enjoyed strong support from U.S. President Donald Trump and championed his “maximum pressure” campaign against Iran.
    They fear Biden will adopt policies on Iran similar to those adopted during Barak Obama’s U.S. presidency which strained Washington’s ties with its traditional regional allies.
    Biden has said he will rejoin the international nuclear pact with Iran that Trump quit in 2018 – and work with allies to strengthen its terms – if Tehran first resumes strict compliance.
    Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have recently ramped up rhetoric against Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Riyadh in the region.
    Iran has built a network of armed Shi’ite militias across the Arab world, from Iraq to Syria and Lebanon and down into the Gulf and Yemen.    Tehran-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen attacked Saudi oil installations last week, the latest in a string of attacks on Saudi targets.
    Israel is waging a shadow war against Iranian forces, mostly through regular air raids in Syria on Lebanese Shi’ite paramilitary group     Hezbollah, on Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, and on supplies of weapons as they are moved across the country.
SAUDI KING NOT INFORMED
    Sunday’s meeting was held in the presence of U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Israel’s spy chief, Israeli media said.
    Pompeo, who has been trying to coax Saudi Arabia to follow the lead of the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in normalising ties with Israel, declined to confirm the meeting. But diplomats in the region said U.S. envoys had privately confirmed the meeting took place.
    Netanyahu declined comment on the meeting.    He has yet to visit the UAE and Bahrain since formal ties were established, with tacit approval from Gulf powerhouse Saudi Arabia.
    On Thursday, he said he expected more countries to normalise ties with Israel in the next few months.
    There was limited talk of the meeting on Saudi social media, but some opposition figures denounced the visit.    Political analysts said the Saudi denial of the meeting could have been a way to test the waters at home.
    Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, has softened its stance on Israel in recent years, but signalled it is not yet ready to officially normalise ties, which analysts say would be a difficult move for King Salman in the absence of an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal.
    “(The meeting with Netanyahu) aimed to highlight that MbS (Mohammed bin Salman) is more willing than his father to take steps towards normalisation without first reaching a two-state solution,” said Neil Quilliam, Associate Fellow at Chatham House think tank.
    Despite this, normalisation is not expected to happen while King Salman is alive, said a well-connected Saudi source and a foreign diplomat in Riyadh.
    “Normalisation … is a carrot to get (Biden’s) focus away from other issues, especially (Saudi) human rights,” the diplomat said.
    The Saudi source and the diplomat said the Saudi king was kept in the dark about Netanyahu’s visit.
    Although the king chaired last weekend’s virtual G20 leaders’ summit, rumours of his declining health have swirled since he was admitted to hospital this summer.
    A video was leaked during the G20 summit which showed MbS correcting the confused king’s recollection, a leak which sources said was intentional.
    The Saudi government media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
ISRAELI LEAK
    The leak of Prince Mohammed’s meeting with Netanyahu may have been intentional from Israel: an executive jet was used for the direct flight from Tel Aviv, which was quickly spotted on open-source flight trackers, and Israeli censors made no efforts to quash reporting on the trip.
    The leak gave Netanyahu an opportunity to embarrass his political rival, Defence Minister Benny Gantz, who is due to take over as prime minister a year from now under a power-sharing agreement
.
    It included news that Netanyahu had not informed Gantz about the flight, in effect implying to Israeli voters that the centrist politician cannot be trusted to keep a secret, following speculation that an early election is on the cards.
    Gantz called the leak “irresponsible.”
    Netanyahu has acknowledged he also kept Gantz in the dark about secret negotiations with the UAE that led to normalisation.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad in Riyadh; Samia Nakhoul in Beirut; Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams in Jerusalem. Additional reporting by Alexander Cornwell in Dubai and Mayaan Lubell in Tel Aviv; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

11/27/2020 Three Killed In Clashes In Iraq After Cleric’s Followers Storm Protest Camp
Supporters of Iraqi Shi'ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr are seen during clashes with
anti-government protesters in Nassiriya, Iraq November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Dhahi
    NASIRIYA, Iraq (Reuters) -Supporters of Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr stormed an anti-government protest camp in the southern Iraqi city of Nasiriya on Friday, and at least three people were killed and dozens wounded in the clashes, a Reuters witness and a medical source said.
    Followers of Sadr carrying pictures of the cleric marched to the central al-Haboubi square, where anti-government protesters have held a sit-in since 2019, after Friday prayers.
    They fired gunshots and threw petrol bombs at the protesters’ tents, leading the protesters to fight back, the Reuters witness said.
    A hospital source said the protesters died from bullet wounds.    The clashes were still going on on Friday evening.
    Haboubi square, where one of the worst killings of demonstrators took place last year and the last major protest site, had been cleared on Friday night by Sadr supporters, Reuters witness said, another major blow to anti-government protests that have largely lost steam in recent months.
    “Another massacre took place today… against the peaceful protesters using live ammunition.    We ask the Sadrist movement and Sayyed Moqtada (al-Sadr) to stop this strife and stop their assaults against peaceful protesters,” anti-government protester Mohannad al-Mansour said.
    Last month Iraqi security forces cleared out sit-in tents in Baghdad’s Tahrir square, which became a symbol of anti-government protests during months-long mass unrest last year.
    Iraq’s biggest anti-government protests in decades broke out in October 2019 and continued for several months, with hundreds of thousands of Iraqis demanding jobs, services and the removal of the ruling elite, which they said was corrupt.    Nearly 500 people were killed.    The protests caused the resignation of Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.
    Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who took office in May, has pledged to hold a parliamentary election, in line with a demand of many pro-democracy activists.
    Earlier on Friday, thousands of Sadrists gathered in Tahrir Square in Baghdad and in other southern provinces to show support for the influential cleric ahead of the election scheduled for June next year.
    Sadr, who leads the largest bloc in Iraq’s parliament, said he expects his movement to win a majority of seats.
    Sadr, a long-time adversary of the United States, also opposes Iranian influence in Iraq.
(Reporting by Reuters Baghdad newsroom; writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

11/27/2020 Ethiopian Forces Capture Town, Move Toward Tigrayan Capital, Senior Armed Forces Officer Says
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed greets an African Union (AU) envoy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 27, 2020, in this picture obtained from social media.
TWITTER/@PMETHIOPIA via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES. MANDATORY CREDIT.
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Ethiopian military has seized control of the town of Wikro, 50 km (30 miles) north of the Tigrayan capital, a senior official said on Friday, a day after the government said it was beginning the “final phase” of an offensive in the northern region.
    Federal forces have captured Wikro “and will control Mekelle in a few days,” Lieutenant-General Hassan Ibrahim said in a statement.     Government troops had also taken control of several other towns, he added.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for comment, or to verify the statement.
    Claims by all sides in the three-week-old conflict between government and TPLF forces have been impossible to verify because phone and internet connections to the region are down and access to the area is tightly controlled.
    On Sunday, the government gave the TPLF until Wednesday to lay down arms or face an assault on Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people, raising fears among aid groups of extensive civilian casualties.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accuses Tigrayan leaders of starting the war by attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray on Nov. 4. The TPLF says the attack was a pre-emptive strike.
    Abiy, who announced on Thursday that the military was beginning the “final phase” of its offensive, told African peace envoys earlier on Friday that his government will protect civilians in Tigray.
    But a statement issued by the prime minister’s office after their meeting made no mention of talks with the TPLF to end fighting.
    The statement issued after Abiy met the African Union envoys – former presidents Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf of Liberia, Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique and Kgalema Motlanthe of South Africa – said the government was committed to the “protection and security of civilians.”
    The statement thanked the envoys for imparting their “wisdom, insights, and readiness to support in any way they are needed” and did not mention any plans for further discussions with them.
    The envoys had been sent to Addis Ababa to help mediate in the conflict, something that Abiy had already made clear he did not want.
    The prime minister, who won last year’s Nobel Peace Prize for ending a two-decade standoff with Eritrea, has said he will not talk to TPLF leaders until they are defeated or give up.
    Thousands of people are already believed to have been killed following air strikes and ground fighting.    The United Nations estimates 1.1 million Ethiopians will need aid as a result of the conflict.
    The bloodshed has sent shockwaves through the Horn of Africa.    More than 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan. TPLF rockets have hit the capital of neighbouring Eritrea.
    Reuters was unable to reach the TPLF for comment on Friday morning, but two diplomats said fighting raged in several areas outside Mekelle.    A resident said the city itself was quiet on Thursday night.    The United Nations says 200 aid workers are in the city.
PAMPHLETS
    Finance Minister Ahmed Shide said on Thursday the government was trying to make people in the city aware of the military operation.
    “We have made the people of Mekelle to be aware of the operation by deploying military helicopters and dropping pamphlets in Tigrinya and also in Amharic so that they protect themselves against this,” he told France24.
    Kenneth Roth, executive director of Human Rights Watch, said such efforts were not akin to protecting civilians from harm.
    He also said on Twitter that “with evidence mounting of atrocities committed by both sides in Ethiopia’s Tigray province, it’s essential to send in international investigators now.”
    Rights investigators and civilians fleeing the conflict say fighters from both sides, including civilian militias supporting more formal security forces, have carried out mass killings.    Both the government and the TPLF deny their forces were involved.
    Pope Francis renewed a call for an end to the conflict on Friday and for political dialogue to resolve it.    A Vatican statement said the pope was praying for the country and appealed to both sides for the protection of civilians.
    Abiy’s office said on Thursday that authorities were opening a humanitarian access route, but the United Nations said it had no information on that and the region was blocked to aid groups.
    Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million population, dominated the government until Abiy took power two years ago.
    Abiy pledged to unite Ethiopians and introduce freedoms after years of state repression that filled jails with tens of thousands of political prisoners. His government also put senior Tigrayan officials on trial for crimes such as corruption, torture and murder.    The region saw those trials as discrimination.
    Abiy’s reforms created more political space but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions over land and resources.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis, Katharine Houreld, Omar Mohammed, Maggie Fick, and Philip Pullella in Rome; Writing by Maggie Fick, Giles Elgood and Frances Kerry,; Editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

11/27/2020 Burkina Faso Opposition Leader Concedes Defeat In Election
FILE PHOTO: Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore looks on as he casts his vote at a polling station during
the presidential and legislative election in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, November 22, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Burkina Faso’s main opposition leader has conceded defeat in Sunday’s presidential election after initial results showed a comfortable victory for President Roch Kabore, ending a dispute in which opponents said election fraud was committed.
    Former Finance Minister Zephirin Diabre met Kabore on Friday night to congratulate him, Kabore said in a post on Twitter.    A spokesman for Diabre confirmed the concession.
    It leaves Kabore free to tackle major challenges facing the landlocked West African country, including fighting Islamist groups that have killed more than 2,000 people in attacks this year and made large areas of the North and East ungovernable.
    Kabore won 57.87% of the vote, the official tally from the electoral commission showed on Thursday.    He needed over 50% to avoid a second round.
    Opposition leaders had accused the Kabore camp of “massive fraud” before and after the vote.    However, they produced no conclusive evidence of this, and the electoral commission dismissed the claims.
(Reporting By Thiam Ndiaga; Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

11/27/2020 Saudi Arabia Has Suspended Turkish Meat Imports – Turkish Union by Ceyda Caglayan
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Saudi King Salman attend a ceremony in Ankara, Turkey April 12, 2016. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia formally suspended imports of meat, eggs and other products from Turkey earlier this month, the Turkish exporters’ union said, after a months-long informal boycott of Turkish goods over political tensions between the two regional rivals.
    Turkish exporters have reported increasing obstacles to trade in Saudi Arabia, as businessmen in the Gulf Arab state have led calls for bans on Turkish imports and as ties between the two countries deteriorated.
    Already strained by competing ambitions for regional influence, those relations plunged into crisis two years ago when Saudi agents killed prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.
    Ankara says it has been told by Riyadh that there is no formal boycott, but the exporters’ union said it had been informed by Turkey’s trade ministry that imports of some Turkish goods had been suspended earlier this month.
    “Imports from our country of red meat and products, white meat and products, water products, eggs and honey and their products, as well as milk and… alternatives to breast milk, have been suspended as of November 15,” the union told its members in an email obtained by Reuters.
    No one could be contacted at the Saudi embassy in Ankara on Friday.    Turkey’s trade ministry was not available for immediate comment.
    Turkey’s Exporters Assembly says exports to Saudi Arabia fell 16% in the first 10 months of this year to $2.23 billion.     Turkey’s Trade Minister Ruhsar Pekcan said this week that Riyadh insisted there was no official boycott of Turkish goods – something Ankara could formally challenge through the World Trade Organisation.
    “… we expect concrete steps to solve problems in our trade and economic relations,” Pekcan was quoted as saying by Sabah newspaper.    “Our counterparts told us there was no formal decision, that there were some exceptional issues.”
FEELING PAIN
    President Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s King Salman agreed in a phone call last week to “keep channels of dialogue open to improve bilateral ties and overcome issues,” the Turkish presidency said.
    Both countries have reason to calm tensions as they brace for change under a new U.S. administration.    President-elect Joe Biden, who has sharply criticised Erdogan, will face pressure from Congress to sanction Turkey for buying Russian defence equipment and has pledged to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia.
    But there has been no immediate sign of Saudi-Turkish rapprochement, and some Turkish businesses say they have been feeling the pain for some months.
    “Even though there was no official ban, we were unable to send many products to Saudi Arabia anyway, including chicken products,” said Sait Koca, general manager of a poultry company.
    Weeks of delays on arrival meant that sales of goods such as hatching eggs, which need to be moved quickly, had already collapsed, he said.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Gareth Jones)

11/27/2020 Saudi-Led Coalition Carries Out Air Raids On Houthi Barracks In Sanaa Area – Residents
Smoke billows from the sites of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen November 27, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi forces in Yemen carried out a series of air raids on barracks used by the Iran-aligned group in and around the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Friday, according to local residents.
    There was no immediate word on possible casualties.
    The reported air strikes came after a Houthi missile attack on Saudi oil facilities in the Red Sea city of Jeddah on Monday, and damage inflicted to a tanker by an explosion at a Saudi Red Sea terminal on Wednesday.
    The coalition said on Friday it had pinpointed and destroyed two mines in the south of the Red Sea, Saudi state TV reported, accusing the Houthis of laying the explosives.
    Saudi-led coalition forces intervened in Yemen’s war in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis in late 2014.
    Houthi forces have staged many missile and drone strikes on civilian airports and oil infrastructure in Saudi Arabia, including on the capital Riyadh.
    Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces, who control most of north Yemen, have escalated since late May when a ceasefire arrangement prompted by the coronavirus pandemic expired.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

11/28/2020 Ethiopian Forces Will Take Tigrayan Capital In Coming Days, Military Says
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian forces will take control of the Tigray region’s capital Mekelle in coming days, the military said late on Friday, a day after the Prime Minister announced the “final phase” of an offensive in the region.
    Federal forces seized control of Wikro, a town 50 km (30 miles) north of Mekelle and “will control Mekelle in a few days,” Lieutenant-General Hassan Ibrahim said in a statement.    Government troops had also taken control of several other towns, he said.
    Reuters was not immediately able to reach the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) for comment, or to verify the statement.
    Claims by all sides in the three-week-old conflict between government and TPLF forces have been impossible to verify because phone and internet connections to the region are down and access to the area is tightly controlled.
    On Friday evening in the neighbouring country of Eritrea, “a loud noise, possibly an explosion” was heard in the capital Asmara, the U.S. Embassy there said in a statement early on Saturday.
    Reuters has not been able to reach Eritrean government official for more than two weeks.    TPLF rockets hit neighbouring Eritrea on Nov. 14.
    The Ethiopian military has been fighting rebellious local forces in the northern region of Tigray, which borders Eritrea and Sudan.
    Thousands of people are believed to have died and there has been widespread destruction from aerial bombardment and ground fighting since the war began.    Around 43,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accuses Tigrayan leaders of starting the war by attacking federal troops at a base in Tigray on Nov. 4.    The TPLF says the attack was a pre-emptive strike.
    The government gave the TPLF an ultimatum last Sunday to lay down arms or face an assault on Mekelle, a city of 500,000 people, raising fears among aid groups of extensive civilian casualties.    The ultimatum expired on Wednesday.
    Abiy, who announced on Thursday that the military was beginning the “final phase” of its offensive, told African peace envoys on Friday that his government will protect civilians in Tigray.
    But a statement issued by the prime minister’s office after their meeting made no mention of talks with the TPLF to end fighting.    It also did not mention any plans for further discussions with them.
LETTER TO ENVOYS
    On Friday, a letter was sent to embassies in Addis Ababa warning defence attaches that they risked expulsion if they were in contact with unnamed enemies of Ethiopia.
    “Some military attaches are working with those who endangered the security of the country, identified in blacklist and sought by attorney of the court,” said the letter.    The letter was stamped by Brigadier-General Boultie Tadesse of the Defence Foreign Relations Directorate, on the copy of shown to Reuters.
    “We will expel those who do not refrain from their actions who are in contact with those extremist group.”
    A military spokesman and the head of the government’s Tigray taskforce did not respond to requests for comment.
    Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the prime minister’s office, said she could not address questions about the letter, including whether it was referring to the TPLF, without seeing the original document.
    Tigrayans, who make up about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million population, dominated the government until Abiy took power two years ago.
    Abiy pledged to unite Ethiopians and introduce freedoms after years of state repression that filled jails with tens of thousands of political prisoners.    His government also put senior Tigrayan officials on trial for crimes such as corruption, torture and murder.    The Tigrayan region saw those trials as discrimination.
    Abiy’s reforms created more political space but also lifted the lid on long-repressed tensions over land and resources.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis and Omar Mohammed; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/28/2020 Ethiopian Military Operation In Tigray Is Complete, Prime Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Amhara Special Force return to the Dansha Mechanized 5th division Military base after fighting against the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF),
in Danasha, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Saturday that military operations in the northern region of Tigray have been completed, shortly after he announced federal troops had seized full control of the regional capital Mekelle.
    “I am pleased to share that we have completed and ceased the military operations in the Tigray region,” he said in a tweet.    Less than an hour earlier, he said in a statement, “The federal government is now fully in control of the city of Mekelle
    There was no immediate comment from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces, who have been fighting Ethiopian troops for the past three weeks in a conflict that has sent shockwaves through the Horn of Africa.

11/29/2020 Ethiopia Launches Manhunt For Tigray Leaders, Saying Military Operation Is Over
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The Ethiopian government launched a manhunt on Sunday for leaders of a rebellious faction in the northern region of Tigray after announcing federal troops had taken over the regional capital Mekelle and military operations were complete.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said hospitals in Mekelle are running low on supplies such as gloves to care for the wounded, and one hospital is lacking body bags for the dead. An ICRC statement did not give any numbers for the dead and wounded, but said the situation was “quiet” on Sunday.
    The government has not said if there were casualties in its offensive to take the city.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has been trying to quell a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a powerful ethnically-based party that dominated the central government for nearly three decades before Abiy came to power in 2018.
    He said on Saturday evening federal troops had taken control of Mekelle within hours of launching an offensive there, allaying fears of protracted fighting in the city of 500,000 people.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael later told Reuters in a series of text messages that his forces were withdrawing from around the city but would fight on, raising the spectre of a drawn-out guerrilla war.
    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and nearly 44,000 have fled to neighbouring Sudan since fighting began on Nov. 4.
    The conflict has been another test for Abiy, who is trying to hold together a patchwork of ethnic groups that make up Ethiopia’s 115 million people.    The flow of refugees and attacks by the TPLF on neighbouring Eritrea have also threatened to destabilize the wider Horn of Africa region.
    Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since fighting erupted this month.     The prime minister, who refers to the three-week-old conflict as an internal law and order matter, has rebuffed international offers of mediation.    He said federal police would try to arrest TPLF “criminals” and bring them to court.
    Late on Saturday, police issued arrest warrants for 17 more military officers charged with crimes including treason and embezzlement of public properties, state-affiliated Fana TV reported.    Arrest warrants have already been issued for 117 senior officers with alleged ties to the TPLF since the conflict began.
‘STABILIZATION’
    Lieutenant General Bacha Debele told Fana TV on Sunday that the military was engaged in “stabilization activities,” including assisting people displaced by the fighting to return to their villages.
    It was not clear if any TPLF leaders had surrendered or been apprehended since Saturday.    Their whereabouts and plans were also unknown.
    Asked by Reuters on Saturday if the TPLF would continue fighting, Debretsion replied in a text message: “Certainly. This is about defending our right to self determination.”
    Ethiopian state TV broadcast footage on Sunday of federal troops in a location it did not specify clapping and cheering.    Residents in five towns in Amhara region, which has a long-running border dispute with Tigray, took to the streets to show support for the military, state-run Amhara Mass Media Agency reported.
    Regional diplomats and experts have said a rapid military victory in Mekelle might not signal the end of the conflict.
    “Tigray’s leadership has vowed to fight on and, although it’s not clear how depleted Tigrayan security forces are by the conflict, armed resistance to federal rule may well be backed by much of the regional government and party apparatus, including local militia, as well as by other Tigrayan nationalist elements,” Will Davison, a senior analyst on Ethiopia at the International Crisis Group think tank, told Reuters on Sunday.
    The TPLF has a history of guerrilla resistance. Tigray’s mountainous terrain and borders with Sudan and Eritrea helped the group during its long struggle against Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, whom it eventually toppled in 1991.
    The TPLF and Eritrean forces fought together against Mengistu and Eritrea secured its independence with his departure but relations soured soon after.    The two nations went to war over a border dispute in 1998-2000.
    Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Eritrea, but the TPLF continues to regard the country as a mortal enemy.
    The head of the United Nations refugee agency said on Sunday that he hoped the government’s promise to open humanitarian access to Tigray would happen as soon as possible.
EXPLOSIONS IN ERITREA’S CAPITAL
    Six explosions were reported in the Eritrean capital Asmara on Saturday night, the U.S. State Department said in a statement, although it was not immediately clear if they were related to the Tigray conflict.    The statement did not mention the cause or location of the explosions.
    The TPLF has accused Eritrea of sending troops into Tigray in support of the Ethiopian government and fired rockets at its capital Asmara on Nov. 14.br>     Government officials in Asmara and Addis Ababa did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the latest explosions. Tigrayan forces also could not be reached.
    Abiy’s government launched the offensive in Tigray after what it described as an attack by local forces on federal troops stationed there.     The TPLF accuses Abiy of wanting to centralise control at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions, which exercise wide-ranging powers over matters like taxation and security.    Abiy denies this.
    Tensions escalated after Tigray held a regional election in September in defiance of the federal government, which had postponed voting nationwide in August because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and which called the Tigray vote illegal.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa and Nairobi newsrooms; Writing by Katharine Houreld and Maggie Fick; Editing by Robert Birsel, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)

11/29/2020 Nigeria Buries 43 Farmers Killed By Militants, Dozens Missing by Lanre Ola
Men carry the bodies of people killed by militant attack, during a mass burial in Zabarmari, in the Jere local
government area of Borno State, in northeast Nigeria, November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Kingimi
    ZABARMARI, Nigeria (Reuters) – Villagers in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state on Sunday buried 43 farmers killed in an attack by suspected Islamist militants while security forces searched for dozens still missing.
    Around 30 of the men were beheaded in the attack, which began on Saturday morning in the village of Zabarmari, while residents said 70 people in all are feared dead.
    While there was no claim of responsibility, such massacres have been carried out in the past by Boko Haram or the Islamic State West Africa Province which are both active in the area, where Islamic militants have killed at least 30,000 people.
    Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari condemned the killings and said “the entire country is hurt.”
    In Zabarmari, dozens of mourners surrounded the bodies, which were wrapped in white burial shrouds and placed on wooden pallets, as clerics led prayers for the deceased.
    One resident and Amnesty International said 10 women were among those missing.
    United Nations humanitarian coordinator Edward Kallon said he was “outraged and horrified” by “the most violent direct attack” against civilians this year.
    The U.N. estimated that at least 110 people were killed across the Jere local government area of Borno state.
    Borno state governor Babagana Zulum, speaking at the burials, called on the federal government to recruit more soldiers, Civilian Joint Task Force members and civil defence fighters to protect farmers.
    “In one side, they stay at home they may be killed by hunger and starvation, on the other, they go out to their farmlands and risk getting killed by the insurgents,” he said.
    Food prices in Nigeria have risen dramatically over the past year, driven by flooding, border closures and insecurity in some food-producing areas.
(Additional reporting by Maiduguri newsroom and Adewale Kolawole; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Frances Kerry and Alexander Smith)

11/29/2020 Gaza Gets Vital Medical Aid As Hospitals Struggle With Rising Infections by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Abdelnaser Soboh, Emergency Health Lead in the World Health Organization's Gaza sub-office, stands next to boxes containing ventilators
delivered by the World Health Organization (WHO) and donated by Kuwait, in Gaza City November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – The World Health Organization delivered 15 ventilators to Gaza hospitals on Sunday amid a spike in COVID-19 infections that has tested the Palestinian territory’s under-developed health system.
    The donation of the intensive care devices, funded by Kuwait, came a week after local and international public health advisers said hospitals in the enclave could soon become overwhelmed.
    “These devices will help medical teams provide better service to patients, but it is not enough,” said Abdullatif Alhaj of Gaza’s health ministry.
    Alhaj said hospitals had suffered acute shortages in oxygen essential in the treatment of COVID-19 patients.
    Gaza has logged nearly 20,000 coronavirus cases and 97 deaths, mostly since August, amid concern of a wider outbreak in the densely populated enclave of 2 million people, many of whom live in poverty.
    The Gaza Health Ministry said 342 COVID-19 patients, of whom 108 are in critical condition, are being treated in the territory’s hospitals, which have been able to expand their intensive care units to 150 beds over the past week.
    It said more than half of the territory’s 150 ventilators are in use.
    “The health system right now can hold on for a few weeks after the expansion of beds,” said Abdelnaser Soboh, emergency health lead in the World Health Organization’s Gaza sub-office.
    Soboh said Gaza is also experiencing severe shortages of medications and disposable equipment needed to treat COVID-19 patients.
    Palestinians in Hamas Islamist-run Gaza say 13 years of economic sanctions by Israel and its border blockade have crippled their economy and undermined the development of medical facilities, weakening their ability to tackle a pandemic.
    Israel, which cites security concerns for the border restrictions it imposes along with neighbouring Egypt, says it has not limited the transfer of medical supplies to Gaza to fight the pandemic.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Hugh Lawson)

11/29/2020 UAE Cabinet Approves New Cybersecurity Body, Climate Change Envoy
FILE PHOTO: Prime Minister and Vice-President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Dubai Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum
attends the Global Women's Forum in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates on Sunday approved the establishment of a new national cybersecurity council, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, UAE Prime Minister and Vice-President and ruler of Dubai, said on Twitter.
    The cabinet of the UAE government also appointed Industry and Advanced Technology Minister and head of Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) Sultan al-Jaber as a special envoy for climate change.
    Al-Jaber, who holds a PhD in business and economics, is also the chairman of Abu Dhabi’s renewable energy company known as Masdar.
    An advocate for clean energy, al-Jaber has held several positions and advisory roles on issues related to energy, economics and sustainable development.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington and Rania EL Gamal; Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

11/29/2020 Sudan Inflation Soars, Raising Spectre Of Hyperinflation by Patrick Werr
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese residents shop in a bazaar in Khartoum, Sudan, May 4, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Inflation in Sudan has risen to one of the highest levels in the world, and the country risks slipping into hyperinflation unless it gets its budget deficit and money supply under control, economists say.
    The runaway prices have worsened an economic crisis for millions of ordinary Sudanese and imperilled a political transition under a military-civilian power sharing deal.
    The government has run up enormous budget deficits by subsidising the cost of fuel, then financed the deficits by printing money.
    This has debased the currency, weakening it against other currencies and driving inflation up to annual 230% in October, according to the state statistics bureau.
    The skyrocketing prices have led many consumers to spend their salaries quickly, particularly on durable items that hold their value.
    Idrees Abdelmoniem, who works in marketing at an engineering company in Khartoum, said he had snapped up car spare parts and furniture, but was not as quick with food and drink, whose prices were not increasing as fast.
    “If I have something I want to buy outside of the monthly house supplies, I buy it as soon as I get money, and I won’t even try to haggle because tomorrow it could be double the price,” he said.
    Central bank figures show the scale of money printing by the authorities with the M2 money supply measure increasing by over 50% in the year to end-September.    In September alone M2 rose by 7.13%.
    Steve Hanke, a hyperinflation specialist at Johns Hopkins University, calculated that on a monthly basis, the inflation rate has accelerated to about 24% a month, dangerously high, but still below hyperinflation, generally defined as 50% a month.
    He placed Sudan among the five countries with the highest inflation.
    “It’s pretty scary,” he said, adding that it was hard to predict what direction inflation would go from here.
SUBSIDIES
    A U.S. decision to remove Sudan from its list of state sponsors of terrorism has provided little immediate relief from the economic crisis and the country has turned to the International Monetary Fund for help.
    Sudan is counting on a reform programme drawn up with the lender to help get control of the deficit, exacerbated by decades of U.S. economic sanctions and by economic mismanagement under President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted in a popular uprising in April of last year.
    Gross domestic product (GDP) contracted by more than 2% in both 2018 and 2019 and is expected to shrink another 8.5% in 2020 after being walloped by the coronavirus pandemic, Sudan told the IMF in September.
    The one-year staff-monitored programme signed with the IMF commits the transitional government to reforming energy subsidies and reducing government borrowing from the central bank, among other reforms.
    The programme is designed to provide a track record that would qualify Sudan for debt relief from its official creditors.
    “The issue of hyperinflation is real, and it requires serious attention,” said Ibrahim Elbadawi, who stepped down as Sudan’s finance minister in July.
    “The starting point should be the subsidies, because that will have unquestionable implications for the finances of the government.”
    Fuel subsidies, which account for 71% of all subsidies, were equivalent to 10.6% of GDP in 2019, according to the IMF.
    The government this year began allowing private companies to import petrol and diesel at near market prices and has gradually reduced the number of stations where subsidised fuel is sold.
    Last month it doubled the price of locally produced petrol to 56 Sudanese pounds a litre, still among the lowest levels in the world.    It says it stopped subsidising petrol and diesel altogether as of September.
    The reforms should reduce fuel subsidies to 2.2% this year, the IMF said, but imported fuel will further stretch people’s resources as a collapsing currency pushes up its local price.
    This week one U.S. dollar bought 255 Sudanese pounds on the black market, up from about 85 pounds a year ago.    At the official rate a dollar fetches 55 pounds.
    “Because of the gas situation, I’ve literally stopped going further than a 9 kilometre radius,” said Huda Khalid, who considers herself relatively well paid as a primary school teaching assistant at a private school.    A 50% salary raise has done little to help.
    “Electricity, gas money, internet, and groceries for a week and my salary is basically gone.    For the rest, my dad sends money from Oman.”
(Additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Toby Chopra)

11/30/2020 War Not Over, Says Ethiopia’s Tigrayan Forces Leader
FILE PHOTO: Debretsion Gebremichael, Tigray Regional President in Mekele, Tigray Region,
Ethiopia June 26, 2019. Picture taken June 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The leader of Ethiopia’s rebellious northern forces said on Monday he was still fighting close to the regional capital of Mekelle after it was captured by government troops following nearly a month of battles and air strikes.
    The war in Tigray region has killed hundreds and probably thousands, sent refugees into Sudan, enmeshed Eritrea, impacted a peacekeeping mission in Somalia, and heightened frictions between Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups.
    In a text message to Reuters, Debretsion Gebremichael, who heads the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), denied reports that he had fled to South Sudan and said he was still resisting in Tigray.
    “I’m close to Mekelle in Tigray fighting the invaders,” he said.    Debretsion added that his soldiers had captured some Eritreans fighting alongside the Ethiopian federal forces.
    Billene Seyoum, the spokeswoman for the Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, told Reuters that Debretsion should be ignored.
    “The Federal government as a priority is busy governing a country and bringing stability to those affected.    Tracking and responding to the many delusions of a disintegrating criminal clique that has become irrelevant is not our focus,” she told Reuters.
    There was no immediate comment from the Eritrean government, though at the start of the conflict it had denied involvement. The TPLF has fired rocket at Eritrea’s capital Asmara.
    Claims from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray region have been largely down and access tightly controlled since the war began on Nov. 4.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa and Nairobi newsrooms; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

11/30/2020 Turkish Exploration Vessel Back In Port Ahead Of EU Summit
FILE PHOTO: Turkish seismic research vessel Oruc Reis sails in the Bosphorus in Istanbul, Turkey, October 3, 2018. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s seismic exploration vessel Oruc Reis returned to port on Monday from disputed Mediterranean waters, less than two weeks before a European Union summit where the bloc will evaluate possible sanctions against Ankara.
    NATO members Turkey and Greece have conflicting claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.    Tensions flared in August when Ankara sent Oruc Reis to map out energy drilling prospects in waters also claimed by Greece.
    Turkey withdrew Oruc Reis from contested waters ahead of a previous EU summit in October to “allow for diplomacy,” but later sent it back after what it called unsatisfactory outcomes from the summit.    Earlier this month, Turkey said Oruc Reis would operate in the region until Nov. 29.
    The energy ministry said on Monday the vessel had completed a mission which started on Aug. 10. “Our ship, which has collected 10,995 km of 2D seismic data, has returned to the Antalya port,” it said in a tweet.
    Refinitiv ship tracking data confirmed Oruc Reis was back in port in Antalya on Monday morning. The data also showed drill ship Yavuz in waters near Turkey’s southern coast, while seismic survey vessel Barbaros Hayreddin Pasa was still out at sea south of Cyprus.
    After weeks of tension, Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks over their contested maritime claims in September, ending a 4-year hiatus.    But Greece has since said it would not begin talks as long as Turkish vessels were in contested waters.
    Last week, the EU’s Parliament called for sanctions against Ankara over President Tayyip Erdogan’s visit to Northern Cyprus and Turkish operations in the eastern Mediterranean, which it called illegal.    Turkey said it fully rejected this.
    EU leaders will meet on Dec. 11-12 to discuss the sanctions, with France leading a push in the bloc to sanction Turkey.    Paris has yet to draw up sanctions, but diplomats say any measures would likely target areas of Turkey’s economy linked to hydrocarbon exploration.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; editing by Dominic Evans)

11/30/2020 Saudi Arabia Agrees To Allow Israeli Commercial Planes To Cross Its Airspace: Senior Trump Official by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and UAE Minister of State for Financial
Affairs Obaid Humaid al-Tayer are pictured at Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv, Israel October 20, 2020. WAM/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia agreed on Monday to let Israeli airliners cross its airspace en route to the United Arab Emirates after talks between Saudi officials and White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, a senior Trump administration official said.
    Kushner and Middle East envoys Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook raised the issue shortly after they arrived in Saudi Arabia for talks.    “We were able to reconcile the issue,” the official told Reuters.
    The agreement was hammered out just hours before Israel’s first commercial flight to the UAE was planned on Tuesday morning.    The Israir flight was at risk of being canceled with no overflight agreement.
    The direct flights are an offshoot of normalization deals Israel reached this year with the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
    “This should resolve any issues that should occur with Israeli carriers taking people from Israel to the UAE and back and to Bahrain,” the official said.
    Kushner and his team were to meet Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman later this week, as well as the emir of Kuwait.    One goal of the trip is to try to persuade Gulf Cooperation Council countries to end a three-year blockade of Qatar.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Dan Grebler)

11/30/2020 In Sudan Camp, A Tigray Farmer Once Displaced By Famine Now Shelters From War by Seham Eloraby and Baz Ratner
Ethiopian refugee Berhan Halie, 65, poses for a picture at the Um Rakuba refugee camp which houses refugees fleeing the
fighting in the Tigray region, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Sudan, November 29, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    UM RAKUBA CAMP, Sudan (Reuters) – Ethiopian farmer Berhan Halie came to Sudan 35 years ago to escape hunger.
    Now 65 and walking with a stick, he is back again, this time to escape the bullets and bombs of the conflict in Tigray, fleeing from his village as neighbours lay dead on the ground.
    Berhan and his family spent days walking to the border crossing with Sudan, among more than 45,000 who have fled from fighting between the Ethiopian government and rebellious Tigray forces.
    After crossing two weeks ago, he was brought by bus to the Um Rakuba camp in Sudan’s Qadarif state — the same site he came to when fleeing the famine that had ravaged northern Ethiopia in 1985.
    “The first time I came was because of famine but now it’s because of war, that’s why I feel really sad and I feel so much pain,” said Berhan, sitting in the shade against some foam matting as he rested an old leg injury.
    He recounted how dead bodies were strewn behind him as he fled amid heavy fire.    He had no chance to identify them, but is sure they were from his village, Rayan.
    “I could not manage to look back because I was thinking about my family and how to escape and how to get out of the country,” he said.
    “I wasn’t the only one walking.    So many people were walking alongside me, and mothers carrying their children on their backs, and others the same age as me.”
    Like other mainly Tigrayan refugees who have fled to Sudan, Berhan blamed the violence on government forces and allied militia.    Reuters was unable to verify his claims.
    The government denies it has killed civilians in the conflict.    Both sides have accused the other of ethnic-based killings, while denying responsibility for carrying them out.
    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed since fighting broke out in Tigray, where Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government has been trying to quell a rebellion by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.
    Assertions from all sides are difficult to verify since phone and internet links to Tigray have been down and access tightly controlled since the conflict began on Nov. 4.
    “This is inhumane, slaughtering people, stealing all their belongings, I feel the world has betrayed Tigray because people are doing nothing while people are being killed,” said Berhan.
    Conditions at Um Rakuba are harsh.    New arrivals have been sheltering under trees and tents made from sticks and plastic sheeting.    Those not yet registered as refugees get two rations of sorghum porridge a day, which some complain is making them sick.
    Some teenagers pass the time playing volleyball next to a row of white tents, while others queue for food or try to sleep.
    The war in Tigray region has heightened frictions between Ethiopia’s myriad ethnic groups.
    Ethiopian authorities said on Saturday that the military operation in Tigray was over, they controlled the regional capital Mekelle, and a hunt for the rebel leaders was under way.
    For Berhan, speaking on Sunday, the Ethiopian government had already won.
    “They made a plan on how to destroy Tigray and the plan is about to happen.    The attack is about to be accomplished,” he said.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Aidan Lewis, William Maclean)

11/30/2020 Threats, Detentions And Frozen Assets: Nigeria’s Protesters Depict Pattern Of Intimidation by Libby George and Paul Carsten
FILE PHOTO: Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari is seen at 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
    LAGOS(Reuters) – At 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday, Onomene Adene received a call from a man whose voice she did not recognise.
    The man said he knew her from church and asked for help getting a package to their pastor.    She agreed to meet him at a bank near her home in the Nigerian city of Lagos.
    But shortly after she arrived, according to Adene, three trucks pulled up filled with police armed with rifles and tear gas demanding that she take them to her brother.    Terrified, she complied.
    “It was like they were coming for war,” Adene, 34, recounted days after the Nov. 7 incident, her hands shaking and her eyes welling with tears.
    Police detained 27-year old Eromosele Adene that morning at his home, according to his sister and a bail application.    Adene said her brother took part in nationwide protests last month against police brutality in the West African nation but hadn’t committed a crime.
    Eromosele Adene is one of hundreds of demonstrators who have been detained since the protests began in early October.    A group of lawyers providing legal aid to protesters said it has logged more than 300 detentions nationwide of people they believe to be innocent but that they expect the total to be higher.    It added that many of those individuals have been released.    Lagos State – home to sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous city – said on Nov. 8 that it had released 253 people.
    The roughly two weeks of demonstrations, which called for abolishing a controversial police unit that has long been accused of violent harassment, drew thousands into the streets across Nigeria and grabbed world headlines in one of the largest movements of popular resistance to face Africa’s most populous country in years.
    The Nigerian government swiftly announced it would disband the police unit, known as the Special Anti-Robbery Squad or SARS, and ordered each state to set up judicial panels to investigate police abuse accusations.
    But interviews with 18 activists, lawyers representing protesters and human rights advocates depict a pattern of intimidation of those who took part in the protests.    In addition to detentions and the freezing of assets by the Central Bank, those interviewed by Reuters said some protesters had received threats or been subject to other harassment.    They said further that they suspect the authorities are responsible because they bear the hallmarks of tactics used by authorities in the past.    Reuters was unable to confirm who was behind the threats.
    The extent of the detentions of peaceful protesters and intimidation tactics used have not previously been reported.
    President Muhammadu Buhari, a military ruler in the 1980s before being elected president in 2015, has appealed for patience as the government attempts to meet protestors’ demands. Spokesmen for the president referred questions about the protests to the military and the police.
    Army spokesman Sagir Musa dismissed activists’ fears that they were being investigated, tracked or blocked from leaving the country as “fake news.”
    A spokesman for Nigeria’s federal police did not return requests for comment.    Police have said the protests resulted in violence such as looting, arson, attacks and killings of – including of policemen – and that they will deploy the “full weight of the law and legitimate force (if necessary) in preventing a reoccurrence.”
    Police in early November said they had arrested more than 1,500 people.    Protesters and government officials have said that the people doing the looting and vandalism are not for the most part the same people who mobilised against police brutality.
    Lawyers for police said in court that Eromosele Adene would be charged with criminal incitement, cyber stalking and provoking a breach of public peace, but haven’t filed charges.    Adene’s lawyer said his client is innocent.    Adene was released on bail after more than 10 days of detention; he is due to appear in court on Dec. 7.
DETENTIONS
    Some people who participated in the protests – a movement dominated by young people who came of age after the nation’s transition to democracy in 1999 – said they have been taken aback by what they considered to be the repressive tactics of the authorities.    But some observers said the crackdown against people associated with the demonstrations is reminiscent of the violent repression and state surveillance that characterized the country’s decades of military rule.
    “The government has basically served a notice that everyone and anyone is fair game,” said Ikemesit Effiong of Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence.    “It’s something Buhari did in the 80s when he was the military head of state, and we are just seeing that playbook being reprised in 2020.”
    The protests – organized under the name #EndSARS – broke out in early October after a video circulated allegedly showing members of the SARS police unit shooting dead a man in Delta state.    The protests evolved to encompass discontent with corruption, a floundering economy and double-digit inflation that has stretched the ability of some families to even feed themselves without taking on debt.
    It began as a largely peaceful movement, drawing the backing of business leaders and celebrities including musicians Kanye West and Beyonce.    But the protests turned violent.    On Oct. 20 police and soldiers killed at least 12 people in two Lagos neighbourhoods, including in the upmarket district of Lekki, according to witnesses and rights group Amnesty International.     The army and police deny shooting protesters.
    In the following days, angry crowds set fire to police stations and government offices.    Looters raided shopping malls and government food warehouses.
    The lawyers providing legal aid and activists said some of the protesters who have been detained have been released without charge, while others face charges such as looting, arson or disturbing the peace – allegations the lawyers contest.
    Oluwatosin Adeniji, a 28-year-old journalist, said she was documenting a protest on Nov. 6 in Abuja when police, firing tear gas and live rounds, detained her along with five protesters. Adeniji – who was released on bail and hasn’t been formally charged – had been engaged in journalism and did not do anything wrong, according to her and her lawyer.
    The police didn’t respond to a request for comment on Adeniji’s detention.
    A prominent lawyer who provided legal aid to protesters had her passport seized at the airport when she tried to leave the country on Nov. 1, but it was later returned.    The lawyer said when her passport was taken she was told her she was under military investigation.
    Spokesmen for the Nigerian Immigration Service, the Interior Ministry, the military, the president’s office and security services declined to comment about whether she was under investigation.
THREATENING MESSAGES
    Ten activists Reuters interviewed said they were aware of protesters receiving threatening phone calls and messages or being followed.    Seven of them said they had personally received threats, and one of those said they also believed they had been under surveillance.
    One text message reviewed by Reuters said the recipient would “lose your life” if they did not post a message on social media that the Lekki shooting did not happen, but would get 10 million naira (or about $26,000) if they did.    The message came from a number the recipient didn’t recognize.
    Reuters was unable to verify the other individual accounts.
    Amnesty International also said it had heard from protesters, activists and even their own staff of similar messages, typically threatening punishment for what people have said or done and visits by people believed to be working for security services.
    “We are aware of these things happening,” said Isa Sanusi, spokesman for Amnesty International.
    Amnesty’s Sanusi and activists said the efforts were having a chilling effect, forcing people into hiding or to leave the country. Four of the activists Reuters interviewed said they were in hiding and at least two others had left the country.
    One of those who had left the country said he went to the United States after friends in government warned him on Oct. 20 that security agents were tracking him for his involvement in the protests.
    “If you’re a witness in a case against the government, you cannot sleep in your house,” said the man, who asked to be identified only by his first name, Akin.
WE ARE VERY AFRAID
    Nigeria’s Central Bank has said it froze the accounts of 20 people involved in the demonstrations.    According to an Oct. 20 court filing, the central bank wanted the assets frozen while it investigated whether there were links to terrorism financing.
    Five of those who have had their accounts frozen denied involvement in terrorism financing when contacted by Reuters.
    Adewunmi Enoruwa, 30, who helped crowdfund journalists investigating police violence, said the account of his company – a public relations firm called Gatefield – was frozen on Oct. 15 – more than two weeks before the central bank obtained a court order to do so on Nov. 4.    He showed Reuters a letter from Access Bank dated Oct. 26 citing a Central Bank directive as the reason his account was frozen.
    He said he vets donations and has no links with people or organizations that could be considered terrorists.
    The Central Bank and Access Bank did not respond to requests for comment.    Access Bank has publicly apologized to some customers impacted by the freeze and said it was compelled to comply with regulatory directives.
    “We are very afraid,” said Enoruwa.
(Reporting by Libby George in Lagos and Paul Carsten in Abuja; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja and Temilade Adelaja in Lagos; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low and Alexis Akwagyiram)

11/30/2020 Islamists Attack Three French Military Bases In Mali by Tiemoko Diallo
FILE PHOTO: An armoured vehicle is parked outside the French military base at the
Malian airport in Gao, March 9, 2013. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Al Qaeda-linked Islamist fighters rocketed French military bases in Kidal, Menaka and Gao in northern Mali within the space of a few hours on Monday morning, a rare sign of coordinated raids on international forces.
    The camps were hit by “indirect fire,” although no deaths or injuries were reported, said Thomas Romiguier, a spokesman for French forces, who have more than 5,100 personnel spread across the region.
    The only damage was to a United Nations base in Kidal, which is next to the French base, Romiguier said.    The head of the U.N. mission condemned the attacks.
    In statement on Al Thabat, an affiliated media outfit, al Qaeda said: “The rocket attacks of the mujahideen, in support of Islam and Muslims, targeted the bases of the French infidel army.”
    A witness in Gao said several rockets had been fired towards the French base at around 5:30 a.m. (0530 GMT).
    The mayor of Menaka, Nanout Kotia, told Reuters he had heard explosions coming from the direction of the military camp outside town, but could not give any more details.
    French forces killed Bah ag Moussa, a military leader of al Qaeda’s North Africa wing, on Nov. 10.
    The former Malian army colonel, also known as Bamoussa Diarra, was a right-hand man of Iyad Ag Ghali, the leader of Mali’s most prominent jihadist group, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), which has repeatedly attacked soldiers and civilians in Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo, Paul Lorgerie, and Hereward Holland; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

12/1/2020 Ethiopia War May Turn Into Guerrilla Insurgency, Experts Say
A woman braids a girl's hair in the Hamdeyat refugee transit camp, which houses Ethiopian refugees fleeing the
fighting in the Tigray region, on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, Sudan, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s nearly month-long war against rebellious northern forces may be transforming into a guerrilla conflict, experts said on Tuesday, even though federal troops declared victory after capturing the Tigrayan regional capital at the weekend.
    Fighting since Nov. 4 is believed to have killed thousands of people, as well as forcing refugees into Sudan, dragging in Eritrea, and worsening hunger and suffering among Tigray’s more than 5 million people.
    Reports of clashes between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s soldiers and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were still coming out of the region, though communications remain largely cut and outside access blocked.
    Abiy accuses the TPLF of treason, specifically for attacking an army base, while the Tigrayans say their ex-military comrade and partner in government wants to dominate their ethnic group for personal power.    Both sides scoff at the other’s accusations.
    Federal forces took Tigray’s highland capital Mekelle in hours on Saturday.    TPLF leaders fled to the hills, saying they were resisting and taking prisoners.
    Asked about ongoing fighting, TPLF head Debretsion Gebremichael said in a text: “i>Yes.    On three directions.    Two around Mekelle.    One 50 km away.”
    There was no immediate response from the government.
    Reuters has been unable to verify claims from both sides.
    On Tuesday, a senior TPLF politician surrendered to federal forces, the government said.
    Keria Ibrahim was one of the TPLF’s nine executive committee leaders and had been the speaker of the House of Federation, a national body dealing with constitutional matters, until she resigned in June over the postponement of national elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
SKIRMISHES CONTINUING
    Two regionally run Tigrayan TV stations, including the TPLF’s “Dimtsi Woyane” (“Voice of the Revolution”), were still on air, although it was unclear where they were broadcasting from. Government-affiliated media have not yet broadcast any images from Mekelle.
    A United Nations aid worker in touch with people in Tigray said large areas remained outside federal control and fighting was still taking place on several fronts.    There was still scant coordination with aid workers, the source added.
    “There are skirmishes continuing in many parts of Tigray and we are seeing the hallmarks of the beginning of an insurgency,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum.
    “The terrain, geography and history suggest this will be a long, drawn-out insurgency.”
    Both the federal army and the TPLF have long military experience – from toppling a Marxist dictator in 1991 to fighting neighbouring Eritrea from 1998-2000.
    Though outnumbered and expelled from their capital, the Tigrayans can exploit their mountainous terrain and long borders with Sudan and Eritrea.
REFUGEES
    The U.N. refugee agency appealed for access to 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray, where food was thought to be running out.
    “Our extreme worry is that we hear about attacks, the fighting near the camps, we hear about abductions and forced removals,” spokesman Babar Baloch told a news briefing in Geneva.
    In a speech to parliament on Monday, Abiy urged the more than 45,000 Ethiopians who fled into Sudan to return.     One aid worker in the area said numbers crossing to Sudan at the main transit point of Hamdayet were down to a trickle.    Refugees were saying that Ethiopian militia and soldiers were trying to impede them, he said.
    “The accounts of the people are that it’s getting harder and harder to get to the border,” he said, adding that three refugees had also said there were flyers going round with messages not to speak in Tigrayan.
    There was no immediate government response to those accusations, but federal officials vehemently deny discrimination against Tigrayans or harassment of civilians.
    Though Tigrayans make up only about 6% of Ethiopia’s 115 million people, they dominated national government for nearly three decades until Abiy took office in 2018.
    Abiy, whose parents are from the larger Oromo and Amharic groups, has been removing Tigrayans from government and military posts, saying they made up more than 60% of senior ranks and that other ethnicities should also be represented.
    Last year, Abiy won the Nobel Peace Prize for ending a two-decade border standoff with Eritrea.    The TPLF has fired rockets towards Eritrea’s capital Asmara during the conflict.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis in Nairobi, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Aidan Lewis in Cairo; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Nick Macfie)

12/1/2020 Saudi Minister Rejects Iranian Accusation On Scientist’s Killing
Mourners sit next to the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, during the burial ceremony at the
shrine of Imamzadeh Saleh, in Tehran, Iran November 30, 2020. Hamed Malekpour/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s minister of state for foreign affairs on Tuesday criticised Iran’s foreign minister for implicating Riyadh in the killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
    “Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif is desperate to blame the Kingdom for anything negative that happens in Iran.    Will he blame us for the next earthquake or flood?,” minister Adel Al-Jubeir said in a tweet.
    Jubeir’s remarks appeared to be a response to comments made on Monday by Mohammad Javad Zarif which suggested a covert meeting in Saudi Arabia between Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu contributed to the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.
    “(U.S. Secretary of State Mike) Pompeo’s hurried trips to the region, the trilateral meeting in Saudi Arabia and Netanyahu’s statements all point to this conspiracy that unfortunately emerged in Friday’s cowardly terrorist act and the martyrdom of one of the country’s top executives,” Zarif wrote on Instagram.
    A senior Iranian official has said that Tehran suspects a foreign-based opposition group of complicity with Israel in the killing of Fakhrizadeh, whom Western powers see as the architect of an abandoned Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
    The group rejected the accusation.    Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.
    Both Israel and Saudi Arabia have recently ramped up rhetoric against Iran, which is locked in several proxy wars with Riyadh in the region.
    Saudi Arabia has not formally condemned the assassination, unlike the other five Gulf Cooperation Council member countries.
    Asked in an interview with Russian broadcaster RT on Tuesday to comment on the killing, Riyadh’s United Nations envoy said the kingdom “did not support the policy of assassinations at all.”
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom and Nayera Abdallah in Cairo; writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12/1/2020 Pandemic Brings Dark Times To Jerusalem’s Old City
A Palestinian youth smokes as another uses his mobile phone in an alley at night amid the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) crisis, in Jerusalem's Old City November 25, 2020. Picture taken November 25, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – As night grips Jerusalem’s walled Old City, its ancient alleyways become a ghost town of haunting shadows and light.
    Mornings used to reveal bright picture-postcard scenes of tourists from around the world stopping to buy souvenirs at Palestinian shops as they made their way to biblical sites holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
    But a modern-day plague, the coronavirus pandemic, is now keeping the visitors away from the Old City and bringing hardship and heartbreak to residents.
    “In previous years, the city used to be filled with tourists during Christmas time.    But now, at around 5 p.m. it becomes empty,” said Hisham Qweder, 40, a computer technician.
    The light from a juice bar, still open at night, is a beacon to customers along a virtually deserted pathway.
    Before the pandemic struck, overseas tourism had been booming in Jerusalem, whose Old City was captured by Israel in a 1967 war.
    Khaled Salfiti, a 70-year-old souvenir shop owner, recalls how the Old City used to be “vibrant and alive” before a series of coronavirus lockdowns.
    “Corona paralysed everything,” he lamented.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by Ed Osmond)

12/2/2020 Israel Receives Its Most Advanced Warship As Iran Tensions Rise by Dan Williams
The Saar-6 corvette, a warship dubbed "Defender", cruises near the production platform of Leviathan natural gas field
after a welcoming ceremony by the Israeli navy to mark the arrival of the warship, in the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Haifa,
northern Israel December 1, 2020. Picture taken December 1, 2020. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Ilan Rosenberg
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel received its most advanced warship on Wednesday, describing the German-made vessel dubbed “Shield” as a bulwark for vulnerable Mediterranean gas rigs as tensions with Tehran soar over the assassination of a top Iranian nuclear scientist.
    The Saar-6 corvette that docked in Haifa port, and three of the same model to follow next year, will bring to 15 the number of missile boats deployed by an Israeli navy which, while small, carries out missions as far away as the Red Sea and the Gulf.
    Israel also wants to protect off-shore natural gas fields close to Lebanon, an old foe with which it has held so far fruitless U.S.-mediated maritime border talks.
    “The welcome discovery of the gas fields off Israel’s shore made it necessary to create a plan that will provide a protective envelope,” Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said at ceremony at the port.
    The navy sees a threat to the gas rigs from Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah guerrillas, especially after Tehran vowed to retaliate for Friday’s killing of nuclear mastermind Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, which it blamed on Israel.
    “The Iranians are looking for ‘prestige’ targets like these, that can be hit with low casualties, meaning – they may hope – less chance of escalation,” an Israeli security official told Reuters.    “The question is whether Hezbollah would strike now.”
    Though Hezbollah has previously threatened the gas rigs, it said responding to Fakhrizadeh’s death was in Iran’s hands.    Beirut has urged “all parties” to show restraint.
    Israel has neither confirmed nor denied responsibility for the assassination, which came as the region weighs Iran’s changing fortunes with next month’s U.S. presidential handover from Donald Trump to the more diplomacy-minded Joe Biden.
    The Fakhrizadeh hit may have been “timed to narrow the risk of a significant Iranian offensive response in the near term, given the fears in Tehran of a severe offensive overreaction on the part of the Trump administration, and an Iranian desire to facilitate the resumption of contact with the Biden administration,” wrote Amos Yadlin and Assaf Orion of Tel Aviv University’s Institute for National Security Studies.
    Unlike earlier models of Israeli missile boats, the Saar-6 will be fitted with both electronic countermeasures for cruise missiles, which have a flat trajectory, and a maritime version of the Iron Dome system for shooting down high-angle rockets.
    These, a senior naval officer said, are precautions against Soviet-designed Yakhont cruise missiles and Iranian-made Khalij Fars rockets that Israel believes are in Hezbollah’s arsenal.
(Reporting by Dan Williams; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Jonathan Oatis)

12/2/2020 United Nations And Ethiopia Reach Aid Pact For War-Hit Tigray
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a question and answer session
with lawmakers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia and the United Nations agreed on Wednesday to channel desperately-needed humanitarian aid to the northern region of Tigray, where a month of war is believed to have killed thousands of combatants and civilians.
    Federal troops have been battling the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and have captured the regional capital Mekelle, and the pact announced by U.N. officials will allow relief into government-controlled areas of Tigray.
    The Ethiopian conflict has forced more than 45,000 refugees to flee into Sudan, displaced many more within Tigray and worsened suffering in a region where 600,000 people already depended on food aid even before hostilities broke out on Nov.4.
    As hundreds of foreign workers fled, aid agencies had appealed for urgent safe access.
    Highlighting the dangers they face, four Ethiopian employees of two foreign aid agencies were killed in a camp for Eritrean refugees in Tigray last month, a humanitarian and a diplomatic source said on Wednesday.
    It was unclear who killed them, and there was no immediate comment from Ethiopia’s government nor the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).    The agencies asked not to be named as they had not yet informed their relatives.
    Food is running out for 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray who have fled repression in their own country.
    And medics in Mekelle were short of painkillers, gloves and bodybags, the International Committee of the Red Cross said.
    U.N. humanitarian coordination agency OCHA said the deal would “ensure that humanitarians will have unimpeded, sustained and secure access…to areas under the control of the Federal Government in the Tigray Region.”
    Ethiopian government spokesman Redwan Hussein confirmed the agreement but gave no further details.
TELECOMS PARTLY RESTORED
    After phone and internet connections were largely shut down when the war began, telecoms in half a dozen towns in Tigray were partly restored, Ethio Telecom said on Wednesday, including Dansha, Humera and Mai Kadra, all controlled by the military.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory after the fall of Mekelle on Saturday, but there has has been little verifiable information from the highland city of 500,000 people since.
    TPLF leaders fled for the hills, from where they say they continue to fight.    State-run Ethiopian Press Agency published photographs on Wednesday of soldiers posing by a monument to the victory in Mekelle.
    Abiy on Wednesday shifted focus to next year’s parliamentary election, meeting with political parties and election officials about the mid-2021 vote, his office said.
    His government postponed it this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Tigray went ahead anyway and re-elected the TPLF, a guerrilla movement-turned-political party.
    That was one reason for the federal government’s offensive against TPLF leaders, a conflict that may jeopardise political reforms enacted since Abiy took office in 2018.
    Abiy, Africa’s youngest leader at 44 and who won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea, was pictured in battle fatigues meeting military officers in official photos on Wednesday.
    He took leadership after nearly three decades of a TPLF-led national government which had gradually become repressive since its 1991 overthrow of a Marxist regime.
ADDIS ABABA BLAST
    Abiy removed Tigrayans from government and security posts, saying they were over-represented for an ethnic group making up 6% of Ethiopia’s population.    The military moved into action when a federal army base was attacked in Tigray.
    The TPLF accuses their former military comrade and partner in government of dominating them in order to increase his personal grip over the nation of 115 million people, which is split into 10 regions run by different ethnic groups.
    Abiy, who hails from the larger Oromo and Amharic ethic groups, calls the Tigrayan leaders criminals opposing national unity and plotting attacks in Addis Ababa and elsewhere.
    Federal police blamed the TPLF, without proof, for a small blast in the capital on Wednesday that injured an officer lightly.    There was no immediate response from the TPLF.
    “Wars are not like taps that you turn on and then turn off.    This is going to be a very long, drawn-out process,” Horn of Africa expert Rashid Abdi told an online forum.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom, David Lewis in Nairobi, Maggie Fick in Istanbul; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne and Tim Cocks; Editing by Maggie Fick and Angus MacSwan)

12/2/2020 Berating Political Class, Macron Vows More Urgent Aid For Lebanese People by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference on the political situation in Lebanon following
Lebanon's Prime Minister-designate Moustapha Adib resignation, in Paris, France September 27, 2020. Lewis Joly/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s president said on Wednesday a fund will be set up to ensure aid is channelled directly to the Lebanese people, but warned that without a credible new government there would be no international bailout to save the beleaguered country.
    Emmanuel Macron is trying to revive a French initiative on Lebanon, but with the country’s fractious political class bickering, hopes of a breakthrough anytime soon appear slim.
    Four months after a massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and destroyed swathes of the capital city, Lebanon is no closer to forming a credible government to overhaul the bankrupt state despite French efforts to convince politicians to introduce partial reforms to confront the emergency.
    France, the United States and other donors who repeatedly came to Lebanon’s aid after the 1975-90 civil war are losing patience with its politicians, many of them familiar faces in charge during the country’s descent into economic crisis.
    “The immediate (humanitarian) needs are still not taken care of with the country falling further into crisis,” Macron said at the opening of a video conference hosting heads of state and non-governmental organisations to take stock of the humanitarian situation in the country.
    He said a fund handled by the World Bank, United Nations and European Union would be set up to work with non-governmental organisations to provide support ranging from food, healthcare, education and reconstruction of the port.
    “This support does not replace the commitment of the Lebanese authorities and institutions to form a government and put into action the reform roadmap without which the international economic help will not come,” Macron said.
    Macron, a natural ally given Lebanon is a former French colony, has invested a lot of political capital in trying to break the deadlock, vowing not to give up on the Lebanese.
    He is due to visit French troops operating as part of a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Lebanon around Dec. 20, diplomats said.
    “We will not give up on the promises we made or the demands on the reforms or the investigation on the origins of the explosion.    I will head to Lebanon in December to carry those demands,” he said.
    Officials have made it clear that Lebanon will not be bailed out without structural reforms, a full audit of the central bank and that any immediate aid will only be to help urgent recovery.
    “Lebanon will not escape this type of audit if it wants serious negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.    It is indispensable, otherwise it’s bankruptcy,” a French official said.
    A similar conference in August raised nearly 253 million euros ($298 million) in pledges.    The official said Wednesday’s conference should raise a bit more.
(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Potter)

12/2/2020 Islamist Violence Escalates In Burkina Faso, Making Widespread Hunger Worse by Edward McAllister
Habibou Sore, 22, who said she fled her village in northern Burkina Faso barefoot and heavily pregnant as suspected Islamist gunmen approached, waits for her
sixteen-month-old twins, who suffer from malnutrition, to be examined at a hospital in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    DORI, Burkina Faso (Reuters) – Habibou Sore had to pause for breath as she ran barefoot from the approaching gunmen.    She was pregnant with twins, due any day.
    Soon after arriving at a nearby town in northern Burkina Faso, her feet cut and swollen, Sore gave birth.    Then her battle with hunger began.
    Attacks by Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State have killed thousands of people this year in Africa’s Sahel region, an arid belt to the south of the Sahara Desert.
    The escalating bloodshed has worsened food shortages that threaten millions in a region already hit by climate change, poverty and the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Sixteen months after fleeing her village, Sore lives with relatives in the town of Pisilla and eats one small meal a day.
    Her twin sons Hassan and Housein each weigh 7 kg (15.5 pounds), the equivalent of a healthy 4-month-old.    Their bony legs are covered in sores, their scalps bare in patches.    They scream for the milk their mother cannot provide.
    “I am worried about them,” Sore said, as she rocked the boys on her lap in a clinic in the town of Kaya, surrounded by paintings showing mothers how to breastfeed and the foods required for a balanced diet.    “They are not doing well.”
    Over 7 million people face acute hunger in a vast area comprising landlocked Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, as armed groups cut off access to supplies and farmland, figures from the United Nations’ World Food Programme (WFP) show.
    Burkina Faso is deteriorating fastest.    Over half a million children under 5 are acutely malnourished, U.N. figures show.    WFP said in October that over 10,000 people were “one step short of famine
    “This year has been worse than anything we have seen in the last decade, a worsening situation that is obviously connected to growing conflicts LOSS’

    This summer’s rainy season was one of the heaviest in years, bringing life to the hilly northern savannah where neem, eucalyptus and acacia trees tower over a sea of waist-high golden grass.    Farmers say the conditions are perfect for crops and cattle – if only they could reach them.
    Sayouba Zabre should be harvesting 10 hectares of millet and sorghum and tending dozens of cattle near his hometown in the Soum region.    Instead he is in a camp for displaced people in the Center-North region after fleeing an attack this year.
    Camp residents collect wood and dry hibiscus pods on the roofs of their makeshift tents – anything to make money.    Zabre planted millet and peanuts, but it is not enough to feed his family.
    “This is a great loss.    There is a lot out there this year,” he said, referring to his farm.    “I should be there.”
    Many citizens rely on food from aid agencies that cannot reach some of the worst-hit areas.
    Twice this year, food deliveries were hijacked, said Antoine Renard, WFP’s country director in Burkina Faso.
    Dozens of health facilities have closed and about 200 others are operating at minimum staff levels, government figures show.
    Malnutrition is overwhelming the clinic in Kaya where Sore took her twins.    Before the crisis, it had about 30 child patients.    Now it has 500.
    “Every day we take children, every day we have severe cases,” said midwife Aminata Zabre.
    Mothers come regularly for sachets of baby food, though sometimes there is little improvement.
    “I asked one woman ‘why is your child still coming to us?’,” Zabre said.    “She told me her father-in-law was eating the child’s rations.”
(Reporting By Edward McAllister; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

12/2/2020 Lebanon Says Difficulties In Sea Border Talks Can Be Overcome
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) – Lebanon wants maritime border talks with Israel to succeed and difficulties that surfaced in the last session round can be overcome, President Michel Aoun told a U.S. mediator on Wednesday, after the latest round was postponed.
    The negotiations between the old foes were launched in October, with delegations convening at a U.N. base to try to resolve a dispute about their maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
    But a session scheduled for Wednesday was postponed with U.S. officials instead pursuing separate contact with the sides.
    Aoun told visiting U.S. official John Desrocher that Lebanon wanted the talks to succeed to strengthen stability in southern Lebanon and allow for oil and gas investment.
    “The difficulties that appeared in the last round of negotiations can be removed through in-depth research based on international law and the articles of the law of the sea,” Aoun told Desrocher, the presidency said in a statement.
    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said on Monday it had been agreed with the Americans that talks would be postponed for a few weeks.
    The talks are the culmination of three years of diplomacy by Washington.
    Disagreement over the sea border has discouraged oil and gas exploration near the disputed line.
    The Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, which fought a month-long war with Israel in 2006, has said the talks are not a sign of peace-making with Israel.    The group exercises significant influence in the state and backed the now caretaker government of Hassan Diab.
    Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/2/2020 U.N. Refugee Agency For Palestinians Pays Salaries, But Crisis Persists by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian worker stands at the entrance gate of an aid distribution center run by the United Nations Relief
and Works Agency (UNRWA), at Beach refugee camp in Gaza City November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem/File Photo
    GAZA (Reuters) – The United Nations agency for Palestinian refugees paid the salaries of 30,000 Palestinian staff across the Middle East for last month, but a funding shortfall may still hinder payment in December, officials said on Wednesday.
    UNRWA finds itself in limbo after the U.S. election – President Donald Trump ended all U.S. payments, but while Palestinians hope President-elect Joe Biden’s administration will at least partially resume payments, that could take months.
    The agency said last month it had run out of money to pay salaries after two years of funding cuts by the United States and other donors, including Arab Gulf states.
    Adnan Abu Hasna, an UNRWA spokesman in Gaza, said the November salary payments were made possible only by a $20 million loan from the United Nations, $12 million in new pledges and an advance from Sweden on its 2021 contribution.
    “The payment of December remains uncertain and we are in need of $38 million to pay the salaries of our 30,000 staff,” Abu Hasna told Reuters.
    UNRWA provides education, health and relief services to around 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees, including those in Gaza and the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem.
    Also on Wednesday, Israel handed over a backlog of billions of shekels in tax money to the Palestinian Authority.    The taxes, managed by Israel under interim peace accords from the 1990s and usually handed over monthly, make up more than half of the PA’s budget.
    The 3.77 billion shekels ($1.14 billion) transfer is the first since June, when the Palestinians snubbed the handover due to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans, currently suspended, to annex parts of the West Bank.
    The PA has been unable to pay full wages of its 130,000 employees in the past months.    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said this week it would pay full salaries once it received the tax money.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)
[The Arab nations are coming together in the Abraham Accord which will not be stopped even if Biden does get elected because they know they can now defend themselves from Iran and China and their proxies unless Biden stops the arms and fighter jets.].

12/2/2020 Israel Hands Over $1 Billion In Palestinian Tax Backlog In Sign Of Warming Ties
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel handed over a backlog of billions of shekels in tax money to the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday, both sides said, in another sign of warming ties between the sides after the U.S. presidential election victory of Joe Biden.
    The taxes, managed by Israel under interim peace accords from the 1990s and usually handed over monthly, make up more than half of the budget of the Palestinian Authority (PA), whose economy has been hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
    The 3.77 billion shekels ($1.14 billion) transfer is the first since June, when the Palestinians snubbed the handover due to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plans, currently suspended, to annex parts of the occupied West Bank.
    The Palestinians also rejected the cash several times in 2019 after Israel trimmed the sum in retaliation for funds going to the families of jailed or killed militants.    It usually amounts to about $190 million a month.
    “The #Israeli government transfers all financial dues of the clearance to the account of the #Palestinian Authority,” Palestinian Affairs minister of civil affairs Hussein al-Sheikh tweeted, giving the figure as 3.768 billion shekels.
    The Israeli Finance Ministry confirmed the details.
    The PA has been unable to pay full wages of its 130,000 employees in the past months.    Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said this week it would pay full salaries once it received the tax money.
    Israel froze its annexation plans in August as part of an agreement to forge diplomatic ties with the United Arab Emirates.    The Palestinians in     November said they were resuming civil and security cooperation with Israel suspended over the annexation.    The announcement came about two weeks after Biden beat incumbent Donald Trump in the U.S. presidential race.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has since indicated he will drop his three-year political boycott of the White House.
    “Right now we are sending clear messages not only to the Israelis, not only to the Biden administration but also to the Europeans and many others that Palestine, and the Palestinians are ready to reengage completely with Israel,” Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said in a Nov 26 video conference.
($1 = 3.2861 shekels)
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza, Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by)
[THE PALESTINIANS LEADERS HAVE ONLY LISTENED TO THE FAKE NEWS OR WOULD RATHER NOT BELIEVE THAT TRUMP IS STILL PRESIDENT UNTIL ALL THE LITIGATITONS OF ELECTION CORRUPTION IS RESOLVED.].

12/4/2020 Secy. Pompeo Speaks On Middle East Security At IISS Manama Dialogue by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media prior to meeting with Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser
Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah at the State Department, Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020 in Washington. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP)
    Secretary of State Mike Pompeo gave remarks at the IISS Manama dialogue in Bahrain.    He delivered the opening virtual address on the dialogue Friday.
    The annual event is aimed at encouraging debate about the Middle East’s most pressing security challenges and attracts policy makers from all over the world.
    Pompeo touted the U.S.’s role in fostering peace in the region, specifically their efforts in mitigating the threat posed by ISIS and Iran.    He also noted U.S. efforts to encourage other countries to pursue peace and security on their own as well.
    Pompeo went on to thank America’s allies for their assistance in U.S. efforts.    Moving forward, the secretary noted he’s confident nations in the Middle East will do what is right for a secure region and what is right for their people.

12/4/2020 Israel Signs Deal With Moderna To Triple Vaccine Doses To Country by OAN Newsroom
Medical personnel wearing protective equipment work in the intensive care ward for COVID-19 patients
at Shaare Zedek Medical Center in Jerusalem, Monday, Nov. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
    Israel recently announced a new contract with Moderna to triple the amount of coronavirus vaccines sent to the country.    The country will now reportedly receive an additional 4 million doses, upping the original shipment from 2 million doses to 6 million. This would be enough to vaccinate 3 million people.
    Moderna’s vaccine is currently under review in Israel with the first doses expected to arrive early next year.    On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he is “pleased to announce the deal.”    He made the following remarks on the matter:
    “This gives us hope.    We see the light at the end of the tunnel.    Until then we need to follow the rules.    Our mission is to bring vaccines.    Your mission is to follow the rules.    If we do this, we are going to win.    Together we will defeat the coronavirus.”
    Israel’s health minister called the new contract “great news for Israeli citizens and the economy.”
    Moderna said it’s ramping up its global manufacturing to be able to deliver around 500 million doses per year beginning in 2021.

12/4/2020 Officials In Middle East Praise Trump Admin. Over Progress In Ending Gulf Crisis by OAN Newsroom
Qatar’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohamad Bin Abdel Rahman Al-Thani delivers a speech during the opening session of the peace talks
between the Afghan government and the Taliban in the Qatari capital Doha on September 12, 2020. (Photo by KARIM JAAFAR/AFP via Getty Images)
    U.S. allies in the Middle East continue to praise the Trump administration for helping foster peace in the region.
    In a virtual diplomatic conference Friday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said significant steps were made in resolving its three-year dispute with Qatar.    The official attributed the process of normalizing diplomatic ties to President Trump.
    Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and the UAE cut ties with Qatar in 2017.    Saudi Arabia is now hopeful all countries involved in the Arab-Gulf dispute will reach a final agreement soon.
    Kuwait’s foreign minister echoed a similar message.
    “As part of the reconciliation efforts led by his majesty Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah,” Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser Al-Sabah said.    “And in continuation of the efforts by his majesty Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait and U.S. President Donald Trump to solve the crisis, fruitful discussions have taken place recently in which all sides expressed their keenness for Gulf and Arab unity and stability.”
    Qatar’s foreign minister told leaders that efforts are underway to resolve the Gulf crisis just days after White House Senior Advisor Jared Kushner visited the region.
Senior Advisor to the President Jared Kushner participates in a press briefing. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

12/5/2020 Saudi Arabia Says Resolution Of Gulf Dispute Seems Within Reach by Ghaida Ghantous and Crispian Balmer
FILE PHOTO: Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is seen during
talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar, September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari/File Photo
    DUBAI/ROME (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said on Friday a resolution to a bitter dispute with Qatar seemed "reach” after     Kuwait announced progress towards ending a row that Washington says hampers a united Gulf front against Iran.
    The United States and Kuwait have worked to end the dispute, during which Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner had held talks in Doha on Wednesday following a visit to Saudi Arabia.
    “We have made significant progress in the last few days thanks to the continuing efforts of Kuwait but also thanks to strong support from President Trump,” Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud told a Rome conference via videolink.
    “We hope this progress can lead to a final agreement which looks within reach and I can say I am somewhat optimistic that we are close to finalising an agreement between all the nations in the dispute.”
    A source in Washington familiar with the discussions said a tentative deal had been reached by the parties and that it could be signed in a few weeks.
    “They’re working towards taking what’s an agreement in principle and getting it actually signed,” the source told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah on Friday welcomed the developments, state-run news agency KUNA said.
    It quoted him as saying “this agreement has shown that all concerned parties are keen on retaining the pan-Gulf and the pan-Arab solidarity, unity, and stability.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, speaking remotely at a Bahrain summit on Friday, said the United States was “very hopeful” that the dispute would be resolved.
    All countries involved are U.S. allies. Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
    Washington has been pushing for reopening Gulf airspace for Qatari aircraft as a first step, diplomats and sources have said.
    The boycotting nations accuse Doha of supporting terrorism.    Qatar denies the charges and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.
‘AN IMPERATIVE STEP’
    Kuwait’s foreign minister, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah, said earlier on Friday that fruitful discussion had taken place recently “in which all sides expressed their keenness for Gulf and Arab unity and stability, and to reach a final agreement that realises lasting solidarity.”
    In a Twitter post, Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, welcomed the Kuwaiti statement as “an imperative step” towards resolving the rift.
    United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is encouraged by the Kuwait statement and hopes all countries involved work together to formally resolve their differences, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a Twitter post said he hoped Gulf reconciliation “contributes to stability and political and economic development for all peoples of our region.”
    The Qatari minister earlier told the Rome conference that Doha hoped “things will move in the right direction” but that any resolution should be based on mutual respect for sovereignty, including in foreign policy.
    Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran, which shares a significant gas field with Qatar.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai, Crispian Balmer in Rome, Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait, Alaa Swilam and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo, Humeyra Pamuk and Steve Holland in Washington and Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Grant McCool and Daniel Wallis)

12/5/2020 U.S. Decision To Withdraw Troops Dismays Some Somalis by Katharine Houreld
FILE PHOTO: Somali police officers tow their car from the scene of a roadside explosion in
Hodan district of Mogadishu, Somalia July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Feisal Omar/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s decision to pull U.S. troops out of Somalia in the waning days of his presidency triggered dismay on Saturday from some Somalis, who appealed to the incoming U.S. president to reverse the decision.
    “The U.S. decision to pull troops out of Somalia at this critical stage in the successful fight against al-Shabaab and their global terrorist network is extremely regrettable,” Senator Ayub Ismail Yusuf told Reuters in a statement, referring to the al Qaida-linked al Shabaab insurgency.
    “U.S. troops have made a huge contribution and had great impact on the training and operational effectiveness of Somali soldiers,” said Yusuf, a member of Somalia’s Senate Foreign Affairs Committee.
    He tagged U.S. President-elect Joe Biden in a tweet criticising the decision.
    The Somali government could not immediately be reached for comment early on Saturday to Friday’s decision to withdraw almost all the roughly 700 U.S. troops by Jan. 15.
    Somalia’s fragile internationally backed government is due to hold parliamentary elections this month and national elections in early February, a precursor to the planned drawdown of the 17,000-strong African Union peacekeeping force.
    U.S. troops have been in Somalia, mostly supporting Somali special forces known as Danab in operations against al Shabaab, whose attacks in nations like Kenya and Uganda have killed hundreds of civilians, including Americans.
SUPPORTING SOMALI FORCES
    Danab punches above its weight because regular forces are often poorly trained and equipped, frequently desert their posts or become enmeshed in power struggles between the national and regional governments.
    If the withdrawal is permanent, “it will have a huge toll on counterterrorism efforts,” said Colonel Ahmed Abdullahi Sheikh, who served for three years until 2019 as the Danab commander.
    He fought alongside U.S. forces, he said, and during his command two Americans and more than a hundred of his own men had died.    Both U.S. and Somali forces opposed the withdrawal, he said.
    The U.S. program to expand Danab to 3,000 men was supposed to continue until 2027, Sheikh said, but its future is unclear.
    Airstrikes will likely continue from bases in Kenya and Djibouti, which could also provide a launchpad for cross-border operations. Rights group Amnesty International says the airstrikes have killed at least 16 civilians in the past three years.
    The U.S. withdrawal comes at a turbulent time in the region.    Ethiopia, which is a major troop contributor to the peacekeeping forces and has thousands more troops in Somalia bilaterally, is distracted by an internal conflict that broke out last month.    It has disarmed hundreds of its peacekeepers already.
    Somalia has been riven by civil war since 1991, but the entry of the peacekeeping force in 2008 helped incubate fledgling government structures that allowed for gradual reforms of the military, such as a biometric system to pay soldiers and the formation of Danab.
    But many problems with the Somali military remain, including corruption and political interference.    Perhaps a withdrawal will force Somalia to confront them, said Sheikh.    Or perhaps it will make them worse.
(Reporting by Katharine Houreld in Addis Ababa; Editing by William Mallard)

12/5/2020 Kuwaitis Go To Polls As Economy Poses Challenge For New Emir by Ahmed Hagagy
FILE PHOTO: A worker cleans desks at a polling station ahead of parliamentary elections
in Abdullah Salem, Kuwait December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwaitis vote in legislative polls on Saturday as the Gulf state faces its worst economic crisis in decades, posing a challenge for the government’s often stormy relationship with parliament, that has hampered fiscal reform.
    Turnout is expected to be lower than in past elections due to concern over COVID-19, which along with low crude prices, has battered state finances in the wealthy oil-producing nation. Low turnout could strengthen the showing of tribal, Islamist and other candidates who can rally supporters to head to polling centres, analysts said.
    “Kuwaiti opposition who boycotted (previous) polls are moving to run and vote, and this could strengthen their presence,” said Kuwaiti political analyst Mohamad al-Dosayri.
    More than 300 candidates, including 29 women, are vying for 50 seats in the Gulf’s oldest and most outspoken assembly with legislative powers.     Critics say parliament has long stalled investment and economic and fiscal reform in the cradle-to-grave welfare state.
    Frequent clashes between the cabinet and assembly have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament.    The emir, who has final say, picks a prime minister who selects a cabinet. The current government is due to resign after the elections.
    Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah took the reins as emir in September following the death of his brother.
    Campaigning, which took place mostly on social media and local TV channels due to COVID-19 measures against gatherings, has focused on the economy, corruption and demographics in a country where foreigners make up the bulk of the workforce.
    “The issues are the same – health, education, housing – as none of these have been resolved yet,” government employee Hamad al-Otaibi, 43, told Reuters ahead of the elections.
    The nearly $140 billion economy is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year.    A priority will be overcoming legislative gridlock on a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
OPPOSITION
    Sheikh Nawaf has called for unity to face challenges at home and in a region experiencing heightened tension between Kuwait’s larger neighbours Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad in 2012 broke the hold of opposition groups on parliament by using executive powers to amend the voting system, sparking large protests.
    Under the old electoral system, voters were allowed to cast ballots for up to four candidates, which the opposition says allowed alliances that partly made up for the absence of political parties, which are officially barred.
    The system introduced in 2012 allows votes for only a single candidate, which the opposition says makes alliances difficult.
    Kuwaiti opposition figures have proposed electoral reforms and a pardon for dissidents, many in self-exile, to the new emir.
    “There have been some reforms in the judiciary and the Emiri Diwan,” or court, said a Kuwaiti politician who asked not to be named.    “We heard echoes of more reforms after elections.”
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy in Kuwait; Additional reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by William Mallard)

12/5/2020 Palestinian Teen Killed By Israeli Forces In Protest, Palestinians Say
A Palestinian demonstrator stands in front of an Israeli soldier during a protest against Jewish settlements,
in Beit Dajan in the Israeli-occupied West Bank December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers fatally shot a 15-year-old Palestinian on Friday during stone-throwing clashes in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian officials said, although the Israeli military said its forces had not used live fire.
    The teenager was hit by a live bullet in his abdomen and was taken for treatment at a hospital in the Palestinian city of Ramallah where he later died, the Palestinian Health Ministry said.
    An Israeli military spokeswoman said soldiers had used what she described as “riot dispersal means,” including the firing of rubber bullets, to confront dozens of Palestinians who were hurling stones at them and trying to roll rocks and burning tires at Israeli vehicles.
    “The reports of live-fire use during the riot are not true, and claims about a number of rioters injured and one killed are known,” she said.
    The Palestinian teenager was involved in a weekly protest against Israeli settlements at al-Mughayyir village near Ramallah, said Marzouq Abu Naeem, a village councilman.    He said protesters were throwing stones at soldiers.
    “This ugly crime is a war crime and a crime against humanity,” the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    The United Nations’ Middle East envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, said he was appalled by the killing.    “Israel must swiftly and independently investigate this shocking and unacceptable incident,” he tweeted.
    Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    The Palestinians, who have limited self-rule in the West Bank, say Israel’s settlements there will deny them a viable state and like many countries see the enclaves as an obstacle to peace and as illegal under international law.
    Israel disputes this, citing security needs as well as biblical and historical ties to the land.    Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta, Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Dan Grebler, Kirsten Donovan and Jonathan Oatis)

12/5/2020 Turkey In Weekend Lockdown With Coronavirus Cases At Record Highs
Drone footage reveals Taksim Square during a two-day curfew which was imposed to prevent the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Istanbul, Turkey, December 5, 2020. REUTERS/Mehmet Emin Caliskan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has entered its first full weekend lockdown since May as deaths from coronavirus more than doubled in less than three weeks to hit record highs, with daily infections now among the highest numbers recorded globally.
    The daily death toll https://tmsnrt.rs/35LkG8h rose to a record high of 196 on Saturday, bringing the total since the beginning of the pandemic to 14,705.    Official daily deaths were in the 70s at the end of October.
    Opposition politicians have expressed scepticism however about whether the official death toll reflects the true picture in the country of 83 million people.    They have questioned how the numbers in Istanbul could be almost as high as those reported for the whole nation.
    On Saturday Turkey recorded 31,896 new cases, including asymptomatic ones, down from Friday’s 32,736, the highest daily number reported by Ankara since the beginning of the pandemic in March.
    For four months, Turkey only reported daily symptomatic cases, but it has reported all cases since Nov. 25. Historical data for all positive cases and the cumulative total are still not available.
    Turkish television showed largely empty squares and streets on Saturday in the largest city Istanbul, the capital Ankara and the third largest city Izmir, with only a few people and vehicles out and about.
    Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu was quoted as saying by state-owned Anadolu news agency that most people were obeying the lockdown rules.
(Graphic: Turkey’s COVID-19 death toll hits new records Turkey’s COVID-19 death toll hits new records, https://graphics.reuters.com/HEALTH-CORONAVIRUS/TURKEY-DEATHS/jznvnnlwmvl/chart.png)
    Turkey now ranks fourth globally for the number of daily new cases, behind only the United States, India and Brazil – all countries with far larger populations than Turkey.
    Turkey last imposed full weekend lockdowns in large cities in May.    It announced nationwide weekend curfews last month, but the measures failed to halt the rise in new cases and deaths.
    President Tayyip Erdogan announced the full weekend lockdown on Monday, as well as a curfew on weekdays.    He said measures against the coronavirus were being taken carefully to minimise the impact on the economy.
    The lockdown and curfews exclude some sectors, including supply chains and production.
    Turkey’s economy contracted 9.9% year-on-year in the second quarter due to the coronavirus restrictions.    It rebounded in the third quarter, growing 6.7% after the restrictions were lifted.
    Economists expect the new measures to have a lesser impact on growth in the final quarter than they did in the second.
    Turkey has signed a contract to buy 50 million doses of COVID-19 vaccine from China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd.    It is expected to begin vaccinations this month, prioritising health workers.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Gareth Jones and Clelia Oziel)

12/5/2020 Fighting Flares In Ethiopia’s Tigray As Army Says Closing In On Rebellious Force
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Bombing, looting and skirmishes persisted in parts of Ethiopia’s Tigray on Saturday, a rebellious force in the northern region said after government troops declared they were within days of capturing the group’s leaders.
    A month of fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is believed to have killed thousands of people and driven some 46,000 refugees into neighbouring Sudan.
    Abiy’s government has said the conflict is winding down a week after it seized Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, but TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters in a text message on Saturday there was still fighting outside the city.
    He said federal forces bombed the town of Abbi Adi on Friday, without giving further details, while a TPLF spokesman accused government troops of looting in Mekelle.
    “(They are) looting civilian properties, hotels and damaging factories after looting,” the spokesman Getachew Reda told a TPLF-owned TV station.
    The government did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Most communications in Tigray are down and access to the area is severely restricted, making it hard to verify either side’s statements.
    Abiy used to be a political partner of the TPLF – which dominated Ethiopia’s governing coalition for nearly three decades – but he irked his former allies by putting Tigrayan officials on trial for corruption and rights abuses.
    They said the arrests were politically motivated, accusing Abiy of trying to tighten his grip over Ethiopia’s 10 semi-autonomous federal states.    Abiy denies that, and has called the TPLF leaders criminals who mutinied against federal authority.
‘HIDING IN CAVES’
    Army Colonel Shambel Beyene said late on Friday that government forces were 10 km (six miles) away from a forest in the Gore area where Debretsion, Getachew and other TPLF members were thought to be hiding.
    “We will only need a few days to get to them,” he said on state television.
    Relief agencies, meanwhile, are worried about a lack of food, fuel, medicines and even body bags in Tigray. Convoys are on standby to take aid in.
    Residents in the central town of Shire told a new government-appointed provisional administration that the cost of groceries was sky-rocketing and fuel shortages were grounding ambulances used to take patients to hospitals.
    “Residents are still staying away from their homes.    Women are hiding in caves with their children,” one man said at a meeting aired on EBC late on Friday.
    Others complained about looting in the town.
    Abiy’s government has said it will protect civilians in the northern region and ensure their needs are met.
    “Work to rebuild Tigray has commenced with teams … undertaking repair work (and) restoring services,” he said in a Tweet on Saturday.
    Abiy, who took office in 2018, won a Nobel Peace Prize the following year for making peace with neighbouring Eritrea and democratic reforms.
    He began opening up a closed economy, loosening a repressive political system, and taking action against those accused of corruption and rights abuses – some of whom were Tigrayan officials.
    His government has also jailed thousands of opponents after violent unrest, angering his rivals.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Additional reporting by Nazanine Moshiri in Nairobi; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Tim Cocks and Helen Popper)

12/5/2020 Ethiopia Sees War Ending, EU Complains Of Partisan Aid Access
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a question and answer session with
lawmakers in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 30, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia said it had captured or killed most commanders of a rebellious northern force, while Tigray’s fugitive local leader countered on Friday that civilians were protesting against looting by occupying soldiers.
    Neither side gave proof for their assertions about the month-long war in the mountainous region bordering Eritrea, where phone communications have been down and access severely restricted both for media and aid workers.
    A senior European official chided the Ethiopian government over an agreement to allow access for humanitarian aid to Tigray, saying it only covered federal-controlled areas and had onerous bureaucratic requirements.
    “There may be malnourished children on the other side also,” EU crisis commissioner Janez Lenarcic told reporters in Ethiopia.    The government did not immediately respond to his comments.
    Fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal army and forces loyal to the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), erupted on Nov. 4.
    Thousands of people are believed to have died while more than 46,000 refugees have crossed to neighbouring Sudan.
    TPLF leaders, who enjoy strong popular support in Tigray, appear to have fled to surrounding mountains and say they have begun a guerrilla-style resistance.
    TPLF No. 1 Debretsion Gebremichael, one of the most wanted men in Ethiopia, told Reuters in a text message that there were protests in the regional capital Mekelle, which is home to 500,000 people, due to looting by Eritrean soldiers.
    “Eritrean soldiers are everywhere,” he said, repeating an accusation that President Isaias Afwerki has sent soldiers over the border to back Abiy against their mutual foe.
    Both Ethiopia and Eritrea have denied that.
    Ethiopia says the TPLF wants to internationalize the conflict as a way to force the government, which appears to hold all the major towns, into international mediation.
    Debretsion, a 57-year-old former guerrilla radio operator, gave no evidence of looting or the presence of Eritreans.    A diplomatic source shared a picture of a road covered in stones, which he said was sent from a resident of Mekelle, but it was unclear where or when the picture was shot.
    On Wednesday, state TV showed images of people shopping and sitting on stools in Mekelle.    But there have been no images of security forces interacting with residents.
    Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said she would not comment on unverifiable text messages from the TPLF.
    A senior military commander, General Tesfaye Ayalew, said “almost all of the enemy,” including former federal colonels and generals who fought on the Tigrayan side, were defeated or dead.    “But the ones who made the plans and the criminals are still on the run and hiding,” he told state-affiliated Fana TV.
    Debretsion called those comments a “dream.”
‘WE HEARD BOOM’
    Relief agencies are extremely worried about lack of food, fuel, medicines and even bodybags in Tigray.
    Convoys are on standby to take aid in.
    The United Arab Emirates flew a cargo of supplies including medicines into the capital Addis Ababa, the World Health Organization (WHO) said.
    The United Nations sounded the alarm about fighting and deaths – including of aid workers, sources told Reuters – around camps for Eritrean refugees.
    Ethiopia’s government has said it will protect civilians and ensure their needs are met. Mulu Nega, appointed by Abiy as chief executive of a new Provisional Administration of Tigray, said supplies were reaching parts of west Tigray under its control.
    “Our priority in the region now is to restore peace,” the 52-year-old former academic told state-run EBC.
    In Sudan, refugees recounted horror stories of fleeing from Tigray along roads strewn with bodies and also spoke of Eritrean involvement.    Tewodros Tesera, a surgeon from the border town of Humera, said shells had come from the Eritrean side over the Tekeze River in the early days of battles.
    “The shells were falling in front of the hospital where I work,” he recalled by phone from the Hamdayet refugee camp.
    “We heard ‘boom’, then 20 seconds, then whistle, then a second heavy bombing, which struck the ground and buildings. Houses, a mosque and a church were damaged.”
    Abiy took office in 2018 after nearly three decades of TPLF-led government.
    He began opening up a closed economy and repressive political system, won a Nobel Peace Prize for a pact with Eritrea, and took action over corruption and rights abuses.
    But the trials of senior Tigrayan officials for torture, murder and corruption irked the TPLF, who said the arrests were politically motivated.    Abiy’s government has also jailed thousands of citizens following bouts of violent unrest.     At least six journalists have been arrested since the Tigray conflict begun.
    The TPLF accuses Abiy, their former political partner, of trying to increase personal power over Ethiopia’s 10 regions.    Abiy denies that, calling them criminals who mutinied against federal authority, attacked a military base, and were wildly over-represented in government for a group that only accounts for 6% of the population.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Maggie Fick in Istanbul; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Maggie Fick, Andrew Heavens and Catherine Evans)

12/5/2020 Bahrain Says It Won’t Allow Imports From Israeli Settlements
FILE PHOTO: Bahrain's Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister, Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani speaks
during the Gateway Gulf at Manama, Bahrain May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Bahrain will not allow the import of Israeli goods produced in settlements in occupied Palestinian territory, state news agency BNA reported, disavowing comments made by the Gulf state’s trade minister earlier this week.
    Bahrain’s Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani had voiced openness to settlement imports, adding that Manama would make no distinction between products produced in Israel or in the occupied West Bank and Golan Heights.
    “The minister’s statement was misinterpreted and that the ministry is committed to the Bahraini government’s unwavering stance regarding adherence to the resolutions of the United Nations,” BNA said late on Friday, quoting an official source from the ministry of industry, commerce and tourism.
    Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates formalised ties with Israel on Sept. 15, in a U.S.-sponsored deal billed by the Gulf states as being made possible by Israel’s shelving of a plan to annex West Bank settlements.    Most world powers deem them illegal.
    Under European Union guidelines, settlement products should be clearly labelled as such when exported to EU member countries.    The Trump administration last month removed U.S. customs distinctions between goods made within Israel and in settlements.
    Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki said his Bahraini counterpart, Abdullatif Al-Zayani, also denied the industry minister’s comments in a phone call.
    “The alleged comments … totally contradicted his country’s (Bahrain) supportive position of the Palestinian cause,” a statement from Maliki’s office said.
    Palestinians want to establish an independent state in the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital, but the issue of Jewish settlements on land captured by Israel in 1967 has long been a stumbling block in the peace process, which is now in stalemate.
    The administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has made it even more difficult for Palestianians by providing full support to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and moving the U.S. embassy in Israel to Jerusalem.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai and Nidal Al Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/3/2020 Insecurity Holds Up Aid To Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, Aid Workers Say
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region is too volatile for aid to reach hundreds of thousands of civilians in need, humanitarian workers said on Sunday, amid reports of persistent fighting, looting and lawlessness.
    Aid agencies have warned of a lack of food, medication and body bags in Tigray, where 600,000 people were already receiving food aid before a month of fighting began between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and a rebellious regional force.
    Abiy declared victory over the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) after federal troops captured the regional capital Mekelle eight days ago, saying not a single civilian had been killed in the offensive.
    However, a doctor reached in the city on Sunday told Reuters that at least 27 people – including a 4-year-old, a 78-year-old and a family of four – had died in the offensive. Two others were killed and four seriously wounded when residents blocked roads to protest looting by government forces in Mekelle, the doctor said.
    Medical services in the city were at breaking point, he said.
    “No light, no fuel for back up generator, no gloves, no anti-pain (medication), no antibiotics, no meals for patients and staff, no bank access – even our ambulance was taken by the soldiers,” the doctor said in a text message, asking that he and his hospital not be named for fear of reprisals.
    Government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.    Claims by all sides have been difficult to verify because most communications are down, and the government has tightly controlled media and humanitarian access since the conflict began on Nov. 4.
REPORTS OF CLASHES
    Abiy’s rapid declaration of victory came as his government sought to soothe concerns at home and abroad that the conflict could destabilise Africa’s second most populous country and the wider Horn of Africa region.    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and around 46,000 have fled to Ethiopia’s western neighbour, Sudan.
    The TPLF said it had pulled out of Mekelle to avoid destroying the city but has vowed to keep fighting.
    Sporadic clashes persist in areas outside the city, according to residents, diplomats and the TPLF.
    On Friday, residents also reported looting and protests within Mekelle.
    Government officials have declined to comment on what they describe as unverified accounts of continued conflict.    However, an emergency taskforce on Tigray said federal forces “are not looting their own people.”
    “Considering the initial security gap until the provisional administration [was] set up, there were indications of individuals engaged in looting using the transition as a cover,” the taskforce said in a statement to Reuters on Sunday.
    “Some of the criminal group’s foot soldiers are also hiding in Mekelle,” the statement continued, referring to the TPLF.
CIVILIANS IN NEED
    Ethiopia and the United Nations reached an agreement last week to allow desperately needed relief into government-controlled areas of Tigray.
    However, two senior aid officials told Reuters on Sunday that looting and lawlessness meant the region was still too volatile to dispatch convoys.    Some U.N. staff in Mekelle have faced harassment from security forces, they said.
    Families turning up at an aid agency office in the central town of Shire had to be turned away because there was nothing to give them, the two officials said.
    “The shortage of basic commodities including food, water fuel, cash, is affecting everyone, including humanitarians,” Saviano Abreu, the regional head for the U.N.’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, told Reuters.
    The TPLF dominated Ethiopia’s government for nearly three decades, until Abiy took power in 2018 and speeded up democratic reforms.
    The party accuses Abiy of seeking to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions and says Tigrayan officials were unfairly targeted in a crackdown on corruption and rights abuses.
    Tensions escalated when Tigray held a regional election in September in defiance of the government, which postponed voting nationwide due to COVID-19.
    The government rejects the TPLF’s accusations and has accused TPLF leaders of treason for attacking federal forces stationed in Tigray.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Additional reporting by Nazanine Moshiri and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Katharine Houreld and Alexandra Zavis. Editing by Jane Merriman)

12/6/2020 Kuwaiti Opposition Make Gains In First Parliamentary Vote Under New Emir by Ahmed Hagagy
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's new Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah attends a parliament session, in
Kuwait City, Kuwait October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Opposition candidates made gains in a parliamentary vote in Kuwait in which two thirds of MPs lost their seats and no women were elected, a result which analysts said could hamper government reform efforts to address a severe liquidity crunch.
    Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who took the reins in September following the death of his brother, had raised hopes of a detente between the ruling family and their critics in the perpetually deadlocked and fractious parliament.
    The final count carried on state media on Sunday showed that 31 new lawmakers had been elected to the 50-seat assembly, which is unusually outspoken for the highly authoritarian Gulf region.    None of the 29 female candidates who stood in the election were successful.
    There was no official figure for turnout but local media said it was higher than expected given concerns about COVID-19, which along with low oil prices have battered state finances in the wealthy OPEC member state.
    The results have strengthened the hand of tribal and Islamist candidates.    Kuwaiti opposition figures have proposed electoral reforms and a pardon for dissidents, many in self-exile, to the new emir.
    “The results achieved by opposition were bigger than expected.    There was a will to turn the table on those allied with the government,” said political analyst Mohamad al-Dosayri.
    Another Kuwaiti analyst, Nasser al-Abdali, said the new make-up of parliament would likely lead to squabbling over issues such as a debt law that has long-faced legislative gridlock and election laws.
    Many may oppose any austerity measures in the cradle-to-grave welfare state, needed to slash heavy deficits, or raising the government’s debt ceilings, the two analysts said.
    Frequent rows and deadlocks between cabinet and parliament have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform.
    Kuwait’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year. A government priority is to pass a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
    The new assembly is due to meet on Dec. 15, state news agency KUNA reported.
    Emir Sheikh Nawaf on Sunday accepted the resignation of the cabinet of Prime Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah in a routine procedure following the elections.    The emir will appoint a premier to select a new cabinet.
    Late ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad broke the hold of opposition groups on parliament in 2012 by using executive powers to amend the voting system, sparking large protests.
    Under the old electoral system, voters were allowed to cast ballots for up to four candidates, which the opposition says allowed alliances that partly made up for the absence of political parties, which are officially barred.
    The system introduced in 2012 allows votes for only a single candidate, which the opposition says makes alliances difficult.
(Reporting by Ahmed Hagagy; Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

12/6/2020 UAE Target Of Cyber Attacks After Israel Deal, Official Says
FILE PHOTO: A man types on a computer keyboard in Warsaw in this February 28, 2013 illustration file picture. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/Files
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates was the target of cyber attacks after establishing formal ties with Israel, the Gulf Arab state’s cyber security head said on Sunday.
    The UAE in August broke with decades of Arab policy when it agreed to forge ties with Israel in a move that angered Palestinians and some Muslim states and communities. Bahrain and Sudan have followed suit.
    “Our relationship, for example, with the normalisation with Israel really opened a whole huge attacks from some other activists against the UAE,” Mohamed Hamad al-Kuwaiti said during an onstage interview at a conference in Dubai.
    Kuwaiti said the financial sector was targeted but did not elaborate.    He did not say if any of the attacks were sucessful or provide details on who the perpetrators were.     He also told the conference that the number of cyber attacks in the UAE increased sharply after the start of the coronavirus pandemic.    Kuwaiti said traditionally many attacks in the region originate from Iran, without specifying who is behind them.
    Iran has also said that it has been a victim of hacking.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

12/6/2020 Cameroon Holds First Ever Regional Elections, Separatists Vow Disruption by Josiane Kouagheu
FILE PHOTO: Cameroon President Paul Biya attends the Paris Peace Forum, France, November 12, 2019. REUTERS/Charles Platiau/File Photo
    YAOUNDE (Reuters) – Cameroon holds its first ever regional election on Sunday, which the government says hands more power to the provinces but opponents fear only maintains President Paul Biya’s long hold on power.
    Biya hopes the vote will appease critics who say he has long neglected the Central African country’s 10 regions, and end a four-year separatist insurgency in the English-speaking west which has become the greatest threat to his near 40-year rule.
    Separatist fighters have vowed to disrupt the vote in the Northwest and Southwest regions.
    Local representatives will vote to appoint councils in all 10 regions made up of regional delegates and traditional rulers, putting into action a 1996 law that promised decentralised government but was never enacted.
    The councils will have a say over development, including infrastructure such as roads, but they will not be able to alter laws enacted by the national assembly and the senate in Yaounde.
    Opponents say the vote offers only the semblance of regional autonomy, and comes too late to fix the conflict.    Officials voting in the election are overwhelmingly Biya supporters and will help enforce his will on the regions, they say.
    “It is not because we will have regional delegates that gunshots will stop and everything will be all right,” said Cameroonian political analyst Stephane Akoa.
    Separatist fighters said they will arrest anyone participating.    There were no early reports of disruptions, but gunfire was heard around the Northwest city of Kumbo, a local official said.
    The separatist conflict has killed more than 3,000 people and forced 500,000 from their homes.    It started in 2016 when the police cracked down on peaceful protests in the west by lawyers and teachers demanding they be allowed to work in English.
    The movement became radicalised and militias began fighting for the creation of a breakaway state.
(Editing by Edward McAllister; editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

12/6/2020 Kuwait Emir Accepts Post-Election Government Resignation: KUNA
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid Al-Sabah attends the Arab League's foreign ministers meeting to
discuss unannounced U.S. blueprint for Israeli-Palestinian peace, in Cairo, Egypt April 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s prime minister submitted his government’s resignation on Sunday in a routine procedure after parliamentary elections that took place on Saturday, state news agency KUNA said.
    Kuwait’s emir accepted the resignation of Prime Minister Sabah Al Khalid Al Sabah and asked the cabinet to stay on in a caretaker capacity until a new government is appointed.
    Kuwaitis voted in legislative polls on Saturday, with the Gulf state’s worst economic crisis in decades posing a challenge for the government’s often stormy relationship with a parliament blamed for blocking reforms.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by David Goodman)

12/7/2020 Ethiopia’s Abiy Denies Guerrilla War Emerging In Tigray
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed denied on Monday that a rebellious northern force his troops have battled for over a month would have the capacity to mount a guerrilla war from the mountains of Tigray.
    Federal troops have captured the regional capital Mekelle from the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and declared an end to their offensive.
    But TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts around Mekelle.    Ethiopia experts fear a drawn-out insurgency with a destabilising impact around east Africa.
    “The criminal clique pushed a patently false narrative that its fighters and supporters are battle-hardened and well-armed, posing the risk of protracted insurgency in the rugged mountains of Tigray,” Abiy said in a statement.
    “It also claimed that it has managed to undertake strategic retreat with all its capability and regional government apparatus intact.    The reality is the criminal clique is thoroughly defeated and in disarray, with insignificant capability to mount a protracted insurgency.”
    There was no immediate TPLF response.
    With communications largely down and access for humanitarian workers and media restricted, Reuters has not been able to verify claims from all sides on the state of fighting.
AID NEEDED FAST
    The conflict, which has its roots in Abiy’s pushback against Tigrayans’ past dominance of federal government and military posts, is thought to have killed thousands of people.
    It has also sent nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan, seen TPLF rockets fired into Eritrea, stirred ethnic divisions, and led to the disarming of Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s peacekeeping contingency combating al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.
    The United Nations and aid agencies are pressing for safe access to Tigray, which is home to more than 5 million people and where 600,000 relied on food aid even before the war.
    However, two senior aid officials told Reuters over the weekend that looting and lawlessness meant the region was still too dangerous to dispatch convoys.
    The government says that with peace restored, its priorities are the welfare of Tigrayans and return of refugees.    However, some residents, diplomats and the TPLF say clashes persist, with protests and looting also reported in Mekelle on Friday.
    The TPLF dominated government for nearly three decades, until Abiy took power in 2018 and began democratic reforms.
    The party accuses him of seeking to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions and says Tigrayan officials were unfairly targeted in a crackdown on corruption and rights abuses.    The government denies that and accuses TPLF leaders of treason for attacking federal forces in early November.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick and Nairobi Newsroom; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/7/2020 Ghana Votes As Candidates Pitch Route Out Of Economic Crisis by Christian Akorlie
A staff member works during Ghana's presidential and parliamentary elections in Kyebi, Ghana December 7, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
    ACCRA (Reuters) – Ghanaians started voting in elections on Monday in which President Nana Akufo-Addo and his main rival, former president John Mahama, are each offering plans to help the economy rebound from its first quarterly contraction in nearly 40 years.
    Eyes are on the West African economic powerhouse to see if it can maintain its standing as a bastion of democracy in the unstable region where election disputes this year have fanned fears of a slide back into authoritarianism.
    There are 12 presidential candidates, but most voters are likely to choose between Akufo-Addo and his New Patriotic Party, and Mahama’s National Democratic Congress, which have alternated in power since 1992.    A new parliament will also be elected.
    Last year Ghana emerged from a three-year lending programme with the International Monetary Fund only for the new coronavirus to knock demand for its key exports of oil and cocoa.
    If re-elected for a second four-year term, Akufo-Addo is promising to push ahead with a $17 billion recovery programme to boost jobs, while Mahama’s keystone pledge is a $10 billion infrastructure plan.
    A long line of voters stretched out of a polling station and down the road in Tema West district of the capital Accra.
    First-time voter Efua Opoku-Ware, 18, said she was voting “for a better leader who will address the unemployment situation and give hope to the youth for a better future,” declining to say which candidate she had picked.
    The race is expected to be tight, though commentators say Akufo-Addo has a slight lead based on his performance during the pandemic, in which his administration provided free water and subsidised electricity to households.
    “He has brought hope to many Ghanaians through his social interventions.    It’s been a difficult year,” said 45-year-old businesswoman Evelyn Amey.
    The two sides agreed on Friday to resolve any electoral disputes in court, after fears that unofficial security groups hired by politicians could disrupt the vote.
    Polls opened at 7 a.m. (0700 GMT) and close at 5 p.m. Results are expected no later than Dec. 10, but will likely come sooner.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Edward McAllister, Raissa Kasolowsky and Catherine Evans)

12/7/2020 EU To Consider Making Good On Sanctions Threat Against Turkey by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President
Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU foreign ministers will evaluate grounds for sanctions against Turkey over a Mediterranean gas dispute on Monday before the bloc’s leaders decide whether to make good on their threat to impose punitive measures.
    Ministers will not take decisions at their meeting on Monday, leaving that to Thursday’s summit of EU leaders, who in October told Turkey to stop exploring in disputed waters in the eastern Mediterranean or face consequences.
    Turkey’s move in late November to return a seismic exploration vessel to port has calmed tension, but EU officials and diplomats said broader issues – over Libya, Syria, Russia and authoritarianism in Turkey – have hardened EU positions.
    “I’m not aware of any EU government challenging the view that the situation is worse than October and that leaders should consider the consequences,” said a senior EU official.    “We have been requesting a change that has not come.”
    The European Union says Turkish drill and survey ships have continued to work in waters contested by Greece and Cyprus, which Greece says makes formal talks with Turkey over maritime claims impossible.
    European Council President Charles Michel, who chairs EU summits, called on Turkey last week to stop playing a “cat-and-mouse” game by offering concessions only to reverse them.
    Germany, current holder of the EU’s six-month presidency, holds the key to whether sanctions go ahead.    It had hoped to mediate between Athens and Ankara, but was angered when Turkey resumed exploration for gas off Cyprus in October after a pause.
    “Putting the (Oruc Reis) exploration ship back to sea straight after the (October) summit was not taken kindly by member states that put a lot of effort in with Turkey and Greece.    There are limits even to German patience,” said a EU diplomat familiar with the preparations for the summit.
    France and the European Parliament say it is time to punish Turkey, a NATO ally and candidate to join the EU that is seen in Brussels as fuelling the gas dispute for domestic politics.
    Turkey rejects EU talk of sanctions, saying it is not constructive.
    The EU parliament called for sanctions on Nov. 26, but the return of the Oruc Reis to port and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s call for dialogue may give the EU reasons to hold off for now.
    “Sanctions are on the table, but they’re not automatic,” the EU diplomat said.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by Nick Macfie)

12/7/2020 Alongside Sisi, Macron Says France Will Sell Arms To Egypt Irrespective Of Rights by John Irish
French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at the Elysee Palace
in Paris during his official visit to France, December 7, 2020. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he would not condition the sale of weapons to Egypt on human rights because he did not want to weaken Cairo’s ability to counter terrorism in the region, a comment likely to draw the ire of critics.
    Both states – which share concerns about instability across the Sahel, threats from jihadist groups in Egypt and the political vacuum in Libya – have cultivated closer economic and military ties during President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s rise to power.
    But 17 French and international human rights groups issued a statement ahead of a visit by Sisi to France, accusing Macron of turning a blind eye to what they say are increasing violations of freedoms by Sisi’s government.
    “I will not condition matters of defence and economic cooperation on these disagreements (over human rights),” Macron said during a joint press conference with Sisi after the two leaders held talks in the Elysee Palace.
    “It is more effective to have a policy of demanding dialogue than a boycott which would only reduce the effectiveness of one our partners in the fight against terrorism,” he added.
    French officials have dismissed criticism, saying the government had a policy of avoiding public declarations about other countries’ rights records and instead raises concerns in private.
    Drums rolled and trumpets blared as the French Republican Guard cavalry earlier escorted Sisi through the centre of the capital and across the Seine over the Pont des Invalides.    A masked Macron welcomed him at the Elysee Palace.
    Nevertheless, even within French officialdom there are doubts about the close embrace of Sisi, who has presided while thousands of opponents have been jailed.
    “I don’t know what we gain from this visit.    It’s business as usual,” said one French diplomat, deploring Macron’s position.
    Between 2013-2017, France was the main weapons supplier to Egypt.    Those contracts have dried up, including deals for more Rafale fighter jets and warships that had been at an advanced stage.    Diplomats say that is as much to do with financing issues as with France’s response to human rights concerns.
    Sisi dismissed the accusations of human rights abuses.
    “It is not appropriate for you to present the Egyptian state and everything it does for its people and for the stability of the region, as an oppressive regime,” Sisi said.
    “We do not have anything to be afraid of or embarrassed about it, we are a nation that is striving to build a future for its people in extremely harsh conditions in a region of great turmoil.”
    Macron said the release of members of the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR) was an opening and that he gave Sisi a list of individuals who should be released.
    “Emmanuel Macron is effectively giving a blank check to the ruthless repression carried out by Sisi against civil society and is turning his back on his own commitments,” said Benedicte Jeannerod, France Director at Human Rights Watch, in response to Macron’s comments.
(Additional reporting by Richard Lough and Dominique Vidalon in Paris and Mahmoud Mourad and Ulf Laessing in Cairo; Editing by Peter Graff)

12/7/2020 Ethiopia Scorns Guerrilla War Fears, U.N. Team Shot At In Tigray
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed speaks during a media conference at the
Elysee Palace in Paris, France, October 29, 2018. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
    ADDIS ABABA/NAIROBI (Reuters) -Ethiopia’s government denied on Monday that northern forces whom its troops have fought for a month would be able to mount a guerrilla insurgency, while diplomats said a United Nations team was shot at while trying to visit a refugee camp.
    Federal troops have seized the regional capital Mekelle from the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and declared an end to their month-long offensive.
    But TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts around Mekelle.    Ethiopia experts fear a drawn-out insurgency with a destabilising impact around east Africa.
    “The criminal clique pushed a patently false narrative that its fighters and supporters are battle-hardened and well-armed, posing the risk of protracted insurgency in the rugged mountains of Tigray,” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said in a statement.
    “It also claimed that it has managed to undertake strategic retreat with all its capability and regional government apparatus intact.    The reality is the criminal clique is thoroughly defeated and in disarray, with insignificant capability to mount a protracted insurgency.”
    There was no immediate TPLF response.
    With communications largely down and access for humanitarian workers and media restricted, Reuters has not been able to verify claims from all sides on the state of fighting.
    A U.N. security team seeking to access Shimelba refugee camp, one of four for Eritrean refugees in Tigray, was blocked and fired at on Sunday, two diplomatic sources said.
    The sources declined to give more details, saying the full circumstances were unclear.    There was no immediate comment from the government or the TPLF.
    In New York, U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters he was aware of the reports about a team being shot at, but “for a variety of reasons I’d rather not comment at this point.”
AID NEEDED FAST
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he was very concerned about the situation in Tigray and had discussed it with Abiy and other regional leaders on Monday.    He called for the rapid restoration of the rule of law, full respect for human rights and a guarantee of unfettered humanitarian access.
    The conflict, which came after Abiy had pushed back against the TPLF’s past dominance of federal government and accused them of abuses, is thought to have killed thousands of people.
    It has also sent nearly 50,000 refugees fleeing to Sudan, seen TPLF rockets fired into Eritrea, stirred ethnic divisions, and led to the disarming of Tigrayans in Ethiopia’s peacekeeping contingency combating al Qaeda-linked militants in Somalia.
    The United Nations and aid agencies are pressing for safe access to Tigray, which is home to more than 5 million people and where 600,000 relied on food aid even before the war.
    The government says that with peace restored, its priorities are the welfare of Tigrayans and return of refugees.    But some residents, diplomats and the TPLF say clashes persist, with protests and looting also reported in Mekelle on Friday.
    The Ethiopian government issued arrest warrants for 10 senior police officers in Addis Ababa on Monday, saying they had committed treason and rights abuses by accepting unspecified missions for the TPLF, according to state-controlled media.
    The TPLF dominated government for nearly three decades, until Abiy took office in 2018 and began democratic reforms.
    The party accuses him of seeking to centralise power at the expense of Ethiopia’s 10 regions and says Tigrayan officials were unfairly targeted in a crackdown on corruption and rights abuses.    The government denies that and accuses TPLF leaders of treason for attacking federal forces in early November.
    Senior TPLF leaders including its head, Debretsion Gebremichael, are hiding in mountains where troops were closing in on them,
the military has said.    State-affiliated broadcaster Fana said the army captured more than 40 vehicles after TPLF leaders fled on foot.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Additional reporting by Maggie Fick, Nairobi Newsroom and Michelle Nichols in New York;Writing by Andrew Cawthorne;Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

12/7/2020 Turkey’s Actions Worsen Gas Dispute Ahead Of Summit, EU Says by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President Charles
Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union foreign ministers said on Monday that Turkey had failed to help resolve a dispute over natural gas resources in the eastern Mediterranean, but they left any decision on retaliatory sanctions for an EU summit on Thursday.
    The 27 ministers, who were tasked to evaluate the grounds for economic sanctions on Ankara, did not go beyond agreeing Turkey had aggravated tensions since October, when EU leaders voiced a threat to impose punitive measures in December.
    “Unhappily, we haven’t seen much progress or improvement since the last European Council,” the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell told reporters, referring to the Oct. 1-2 summit, when EU leaders gave Ankara time to find a diplomatic solution.
    “We have not seen a fundamental change of direction in Turkey’s behaviour.    On the contrary, in several aspects the situation has worsened,” said Borrell, who chaired the meeting.
    NATO ally and EU candidate Turkey claims gas resources also contested by Greece and Cyprus, a dispute that has fanned territorial rows over the divided island of Cyprus, maritime boundaries with Greece and Turkey’s broader foreign policy.
    EU states cite Turkish exploration in contested waters, a decision to re-open part of a town in disputed territory in Cyprus and a row with Germany over a U.N. arms embargo on Libya as evidence that Turkey is no longer a reliable partner.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said his country would not “bow down to threats and blackmail” but repeated his call for negotiations over the conflicting claims to continental shelves and rights to potential energy resources.
    Greek Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias said on Twitter that “Turkey’s stance is a challenge to the Union as a whole,” appearing to challenge comments earlier on Monday by his Turkish counterpart that Greece and Cyprus were manipulating the EU to act against Turkey.
    Tensions flared in August when Turkey sent a survey vessel to map out energy-drilling prospects in waters claimed by Greece.
    Germany, current holder of the EU’s six-month presidency, holds the key to whether sanctions go ahead.    It had hoped to mediate between Athens and Ankara, but was angered when Turkey resumed its gas exploration off Cyprus in October after a pause.
    “There will be a decision at the summit,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said after the meeting.    “There have been repeated Turkish provocations.    So the EU summit will have to decide how to handle this.”
    The Turkish vessel at the centre of the dispute, Oruc Reis, returned to port again last week, which was welcomed by the EU and NATO.    But European Council President Charles Michel warned Turkey not to play “cat and mouse” by returning exploration ships to port just before EU summits, only to redeploy them after they had finished.
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold in Berlin, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Michele Kambas in Athens; Editing by Gareth Jones and Barbara Lewis)

12/7/2020 As Lebanon Subsidy Crunch Looms, U.N. Agencies Warn Of Social Catastrophe
A vendor wearing a face mask arranges bread for sale inside a bakery in Beirut, Lebanon December 7, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The removal of subsidies in Lebanon without guarantees to protect the vulnerable would amount to a social catastrophe, two U.N. agencies said on Monday, warning there is no parachute to soften the blow.
    With Lebanon deep in financial crisis, the central bank has been subsidising basic goods by providing hard currency to importers at the old exchange rate of 1,500 Lebanese pounds to the dollar even as the currency fell by 80% from the peg.
Central bank governor Riad Salameh said last week the subsidies could be kept for only two more months, urging the state should come up with a plan.
    Though Lebanon faces the gravest crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, policymaking has been crippled by old rivalries between fractious politicians.    Saad al-Hariri was nominated to form a new government in October but one has yet to be agreed.
    “The impact of removing price subsidies on the country’s most vulnerable households will be tremendous and yet there is almost nothing in place to help soften the fall,” the UNICEF’S Lebanon country representative and the ILO’s regional director wrote in an op-ed.
    “It is critical to realise that for Lebanon to fly off another cliff now, without first putting in place an inclusive system of social guarantees, would be to inflict a social catastrophe on the country’s most vulnerable people, sacrificing their wellbeing, and that of the country as a whole, for many years to come,” they wrote.
    The universal way in which Lebanon has been subsidising basic goods including fuel, wheat and medicine has been widely criticised, including by senior politicians from ruling parties, because it does not target those most in need.
    A rough analysis shows up to 80% of the subsidies may actually be benefiting the wealthiest 50% with only 20% going to the poorer half, UNICEF Representative Yukie Mokuo and ILO Regional Director Ruba Jaradat wrote in their op-ed.
    The caretaker government is due to meet Salameh on Monday to discuss the subsidies.
    The World Bank has said poverty is likely to continue to worsen and engulf more than half the population by 2021.
(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

12/8/2020 Exclusive: U.S. Thinks Eritrea Has Joined Ethiopian War, Diplomats Say by Phil Stewart and David Lewis
Trenches can be seen across the runway of Aksum Airport, Ethiopia November 23, 2020. Satellite image ©2020 Maxar Technologies/via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/NAIROBI (Reuters) – The United States believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia to help Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government battle a rebellious northern force, despite denials from both nations, a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats said.
    Abiy and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace pact ending two decades of hostilities in 2018 and now regard the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a mutual foe.
    The U.S. assessment creates a potential policy predicament as Washington views Ethiopia as a major ally in the volatile Horn of Africa but accuses Eritrea of severe rights abuses.
    Evidence of Eritrean involvement cited in the U.S. view of the month-long war includes satellite images, intercepted communications and anecdotal reports from Tigray region, five diplomats and a security source all briefed on the U.S. assessment told Reuters.
    A U.S. government source confirmed Washington’s growing consensus, which has not previously been reported but matches accounts by some residents, refugees and TPLF leaders.
    “There doesn’t appear to be a doubt anymore.    It’s being discussed by U.S. officials on calls – that the Eritreans are in Tigray – but they aren’t saying it publicly,” the U.S. government source, who has been privy to the internal calls, told Reuters.
    A senior diplomat from another country concurred, saying “thousands” of Eritrean soldiers were believed to be engaged.
    The U.S. State Department did not confirm the U.S. conclusions, though a spokesman said it would view any proven Eritrean involvement with great concern and that its embassy in Asmara was urging restraint to officials.
    Contacted by Reuters on Saturday, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed said: “We are not involved.    It’s propaganda.”
    Ethiopia has denied its old foe entered the conflict, though Abiy did say last week some government troops retreated into Eritrea early in the conflict and were given assistance. His spokeswoman told Reuters queries should be directed to Eritrea.
    Claims by all sides are near-impossible to verify because most communications to Tigray are down, and the government tightly controls access.
    Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Eritrea, but the presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil would alarm Western allies.    Ethiopia hosts the African Union, its security services work with Western allies, and its troops serve in peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Somalia.
    Eritrea has for years faced accusations of large scale rights abuses, including jailing opponents and forcing citizens into lengthy military or government service.    It accuses Western powers of smear campaigns and luring Eritreans abroad, which they deny. [L8N2ID2YQ]
POLICY CONUNDRUM
    Ethiopia-Eritrea ties were mostly icy under the TPLF-dominated government that ruled Ethiopia for nearly three decades in increasingly autocratic fashion before Abiy took office in 2018.
    Cameron Hudson, a former CIA officer and director for African affairs at the National Security Council, said the U.S. government was divided about speaking publicly over Eritrea.
    “That is, I think, due to a divide within the State Department between those seeking to maintain access to Abiy and those willing to call his own abuses,” said Hudson, now senior fellow at the Africa Center at the Atlantic Council think tank.
    The TPLF claims to have killed and captured large numbers of Eritrean troops in the last month, but has provided no evidence.    It has fired rockets into Eritrea at least four times, the U.S. State Department says.
    Eritrean troops are believed to have entered Ethiopia in mid-November through three northern border towns: Zalambessa, Rama and Badme, two of the diplomats told Reuters.
    The diplomatic sources and the U.S. government source did not have information on the numbers Washington believes have crossed, nor their weapons or role in the war.
    Mesfin Hagos, a former Eritrean defence minister who broke with Isaias, said in an article for online publication African Arguments that the Eritreans sent in four mechanised divisions, seven infantry divisions and a commando brigade, citing sources in the defence ministry, opposition and personal contacts.
    Some Ethiopian refugees in Sudan told Reuters they saw Eritrean soldiers in the north of Tigray, and that the border town of Humera had been hit last month by rocket or artillery fire from the Eritrean side of the border.
    “People died, and they were scattered,” said a barber from Humera, adding that he saw about 40 bodies after one barrage and helped bury some of them.
    Soldiers suspected to be Eritreans were also spotted in the regional capital Mekelle, said a resident and two diplomats in touch with inhabitants.    Some were reported to be in Eritrean uniforms, one of the diplomats said.    Others wore Ethiopian uniforms, but spoke Tigrinya with an Eritrean accent and drove trucks without license plates, the resident said.
    The United Nations has expressed concern about reported violence against 96,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers had raided two camps and abducted some residents but provided no evidence.
    Eritrea’s Osman denied that, saying: “We are not repatriating Eritrean refugees.    If Eritreans want to come back, they can.”
    A U.N. security team trying to visit one of the camps on Sunday encountered uniformed Eritrean troops, two diplomatic sources told Reuters.    The team – including two international staff – was denied access, shot at and detained, they said.
    U.N. officials declined to comment.    Eritrea did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    But Redwan Hussein, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government’s task force for the Tigray crisis, told reporters the U.N. team had broken through two checkpoints.    “When they were about to break the third one they were shot at and detained,” he said.
    Ethiopian officials have accused the TPLF of manufacturing fake Eritrean uniforms to bolster their claims and increase pressure on the government to accept international mediation.
    The TPLF denies this.
(Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)

12/8/2020 UAE Official Lauds Efforts To Strengthen Gulf Unity
FILE PHOTO: Minister of State for Foreign Affairs for the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, speaks
at an event at Chatham House in London, Britain July 17, 2017. REUTERS/Neil Hall
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates appreciates efforts by Kuwait and the United States to strengthen Gulf Arab unity, a senior Emirati official said on Tuesday in a reference to a row with Qatar that Washington says hampers a united Gulf front against Iran.
    Kuwait and Saudi Arabia said last Friday that progress had been made towards resolving the dispute that has seen Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt sever diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar since mid-2017.
    In the first public comment by the UAE on the matter, Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash in a Twitter post also praised Riyadh’s “good endeavours on behalf of the four states” and said the UAE looked forward to a “successful” Gulf Arab summit, which is due to take place this month.
    Qatar’s emir has not attended the annual summit of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) since 2017 although his premier was present at last year’s gathering, that made no public mention of the dispute.
    All countries involved are U.S. allies.    Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
    Kuwait and Saudi Arabia did not provide specific details on the progress, but a source in Washington, which along with Kuwait has worked to end the rift, told Reuters a tentative deal was reached by the parties and that it could be signed in a few weeks.
    An Egyptian foreign ministry spokesman said in a statement on Tuesday that Cairo hoped the efforts would result in a “comprehensive solution that addresses all causes behind the crisis and guarantees serious and strict commitment.”
    The boycotting nations accuse Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar, which denies the charge, says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty and that any resolution should be based on mutual respect.
    Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Dubai and Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Gareth Jones)

12/8/2020 Kuwait Emir Reappoints Sheikh Sabah Al-Khalid As PM: State Media
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al Khalid Al Sabah attends a meeting for the
GCC, Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah reappointed Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as prime minister on Tuesday following parliamentary polls in the Gulf Arab state, which faces its worst economic crisis in decades.
    Sheikh Nawaf has asked Sheikh Sabah to nominate members of a new cabinet for approval, state media said.
    While the emir has the final say in state matters, the prime minister traditionally helps navigate the often tense relationship between government and parliament, where opposition candidates made gains in Saturday’s legislative vote.
    Analysts said the makeup of the new assembly could hamper government reform efforts to address a severe liquidity crunch in the OPEC member state caused by low oil prices and the novel coronavirus outbreak.
    Sheikh Sabah, who had been foreign minister since 2011 before being elevated to the post of premier in late 2019, faces the urgent task of overcoming legislative gridlock on a debt law that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets in order to plug a growing budget deficit.
    Frequent rows and deadlocks between cabinet and the assembly, the Gulf region’s oldest and most outspoken, have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform in the cradle-to-grave welfare state.
    The oil policy of the OPEC producer, which is set by a supreme petroleum council, and foreign policy, which is steered by the emir, are unlikely to change under the new government.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Catherine Evans and Philippa Fletcher)

12/9/2020 Ethiopia’s War Risks Leaving Manufacturing Dreams In Tatters by Ruma Paul, Anna Ringstrom and Joe Bavier
FILE PHOTO: Workers sew clothes inside the Indochine Apparel textile factory in Hawassa Industrial Park in Southern
Nations, Nationalities and Peoples region, Ethiopia November 17, 2017. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – When Bangladeshi textile firm DBL set up shop in Ethiopia two years ago, the African nation was the garment industry’s bright new frontier, boasting abundant cheap labour and a government keen to woo companies with tax breaks and cheap loans.
    Last month, as fighting raged in the northern Tigray region, DBL’s compound was rocked by an explosion that blasted out the factory’s windows, radically altering its business calculus.
    “All we could do was to pray out loud,” said Adbul Waseq, an official at the company, which makes clothes mainly for Swedish fashion giant H&M and is one of at least three foreign garment makers to have suspended operations in Tigray.
    “We could have died,” Waseq told Reuters.
    For over a decade, Ethiopia has invested billions of dollars in infrastructure such as hydro-electric dams, railways, roads as well as industrial parks in an ambitious bid to transform the poor, mainly agrarian nation into a manufacturing powerhouse.
    By 2017, it was the world’s fastest growing economy.
    A year later, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed took office, pledging to loosen the state’s grip on an economy with over 100 million people and liberalise sectors such as telecoms, fuelling something akin to glasnost-era headiness among investors.
    But for two years Ethiopia has been pummelled by challenges: ethnic clashes, floods, locust swarms and coronavirus lockdowns.
    Now, fighting which erupted on Nov. 4 between the army and forces loyal to Tigray’s former ruling party, and fears it could signal a period of prolonged unrest, have served investors with a harsh reality check.
    Any hesitation by investors could spell trouble as the country’s manufacturing export push isn’t yet generating enough foreign currency either to pay for all the country’s imports or keep pace with rising debt service costs.    Even before the pandemic, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had warned that Ethiopia was at high risk of debt distress.
    Abiy’s government said that, amid the crises it’s facing, Ethiopia was pushing ahead with reforms that will build the foundations for a modern economy.
    “Despite the unprecedented shock from COVID and continued insecurity in different parts of the country, the Ethiopian economy showed remarkable resilience,” Mamo Mihretu, senior policy adviser in the prime minister’s office, told Reuters.
    For a graphic on Ethiopia’s rising debt payments: https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/DASHED-PROMISE/nmovabmbxpa/chart.png
PRODUCTION SUSPENDED
    Ethiopia is a relatively small textiles producer with exports in 2016 of just $94 million compared with $29 billion for Vietnam and $253 billion for China in the same year, World Bank trade data showed.    Its top exports are agricultural, such as coffee, tea, spices, oil seeds, plants and flowers.
    But Ethiopia’s push into the textile industry over the past 10 years has been emblematic of its manufacturing ambitions.
    As fighting neared Tigray’s regional capital, Mekelle, textile companies began shutting down and pulling out staff.
    “It seemed that the conflict was getting closer to the city, and our worry was that we wouldn’t be able to leave,” Cristiano Frati, an electrician evacuated from a factory run by Italian hosiery chain Calzedonia, told an Italian newspaper.
    Calzedonia said on Nov. 13 it had suspended operations at the plant, which employs about 2,000 people, due to the conflict.    It has declined to comment further.
    DBL, meanwhile, has flown its foreign staff out of Ethiopia.
    “Everything has become uncertain,” its managing director M.A. Jabbar said.    “When will the war end?
    Another foreign company, Velocity Apparelz Companies – a supplier to H&M and Children’s Place – has also temporarily shut down, a company official told Reuters.
    H&M said it was “very concerned” and was closely monitoring the situation.
    “We have three suppliers in Tigray, and the production there has come to a halt,” the company told Reuters, emphasising that it would continue to source from Ethiopia where it has about 10 suppliers in total.
    Indochine Apparel, a Chinese firm that supplies Levi Strauss & Co, said its operations in the Hawassa industrial park in the south of the country were unaffected.
    Levi Strauss said it was monitoring the situation and confirmed there had been no impact on its supply chain so far.
‘NOT A PRETTY PICTURE’
    Ethiopia’s apparel sector was struggling even before the fighting in Tigray because of the economic fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic.    Some facilities did not survive the collapse in orders while others slashed wages or laid off staff.
    The malaise has not been limited to the garment sector.
    Even before the conflict, insurance companies underwriting political risk had stopped providing cover beyond Ethiopia’s northern Amhara region and the federal capital Addis Ababa, a risk consultant who advises corporate clients said.
    “Ethiopia is not a pretty picture right now,” he said.
    Like most sources contacted by Reuters, the consultant asked not to be named, fearing a backlash from government authorities.
    Abiy’s efforts to ease a repressive political climate had already uncorked ethnic clashes before the war in Tigray.    Violence in other parts of the country which intensified in 2019 had disrupted projects, notably in agriculture.
    “The fighting started around the time we were going to start planting,” said the head of an agri-industry project that was forced to delay its investment last year.
    Swedish furniture giant IKEA opened a purchasing office in Ethiopia last year.    However, it closed it down in September after shelving plans to source from the country due to the political and social situation, COVID-19 and changes to the cotton market in Africa, the company told Reuters.
    Meanwhile, Coca-Cola Beverages Africa, a bottling partner of the Coca-Cola Company, told Reuters that the fighting in Tigray, which accounts for about 20% of its sales volumes in Ethiopia, had halted business there.
    That comes on the heels of delays in the construction of two new bottling plants – part of a $300 million five-year investment plan announced last year – due to the pandemic and an excise tax increase.
    For a graphic on Investment slipping:
https://graphics.reuters.com/ETHIOPIA-CONFLICT/DASHED-PROMISE/gjnpwkgzepw/chart.png
‘FEW WAYS OUT’
    With the fall of Mekelle at the end of last month, Abiy declared victory over Tigray’s former ruling party (TPLF).
    “The swift, decisive, and determined completion of the active phase of the military operation means any lingering concerns about political uncertainty by the investment community will be effectively settled,” Abiy’s adviser Mamo said.
    The TPLF has vowed to fight on.
    For the government, there is little margin for error. Ethiopia’s external debt has ballooned five-fold over the past decade as the government borrowed heavily – notably from China – to pay for infrastructure and industrial parks.
    Foreign direct investment inflows, meanwhile, have declined steadily since a 2016 peak of more than $4 billion, slipping to about $500 million for the first quarter of this fiscal year.
    Inflation is hovering around 20%.
    “There are very few ways out of this.    They aren’t going to get more money from the IMF.    They can’t go to the markets.    Their best bet is a global economic recovery next year,” said Menzi Ndhlovu, senior country and political risk analyst at Signal Risk, an Africa-focused business consultancy.
    Still, Ethiopia passed a landmark investment law earlier this year and implemented currency reforms.
    And the government is pushing ahead its plans to open up the telecommunications sector.    It opened tendering for two new telecoms licences at the end of November and plans to sell off a minority stake in state-owned Ethio Telecom.
    Sources following the process, which should provide the beleaguered economy with a hefty injection of dollars, said interested companies were not deterred by the current unrest.
    But for now, Ethiopia’s grand manufacturing dreams have been dealt a setback.
    “Who will go there in this situation?” asked DBL’s Waseq, who has returned to Bangladesh.    “No one.”
(Reporting by the Addis Ababa newsroom, Ruma Paul in Dhaka, Anna Ringstrom in Stockholm and Joe Bavier in Johannesburg; Additional reporting by Sonya Dowsett in Madrid, Maggie Fick in Istanbul, Silvia Aloisi in Milan, Sophie Yu in Beijing and Martinne Geller in London; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and David Clarke)

12/9/2020 Ethiopia Shifts Focus From War To Economy, U.N. Worries About Tigray by Jackson Njehia and Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Members of Amhara region militias ride on their truck as they head to face the Tigray People's Liberation
Front (TPLF), in Sanja, Amhara region near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    NAIROBI/GENEVA (Reuters) -Ethiopia’s prime minister shifted focus away from war on Wednesday, opening a cross-border highway to Kenya at the opposite end of his country, while the United Nations voiced alarm at continuing fighting in the northern Tigray region.
    Abiy Ahmed cut the ribbon on a mega-highway linking south Ethiopia with Kenya’s Indian Ocean port of Mombasa, alongside Kenyan counterpart President Uhuru Kenyatta, reflecting Ethiopian aspirations to become a regional powerhouse.
    “Just like the infrastructure, we should work on peace and security,” he said at the border town of Moyale, refraining from mentioning Tigray.    “Peace is a foundation for everything we are aspiring to transform (in) the life our people.”
    War since Nov. 4 between Ethiopia’s federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is thought to have killed thousands and displaced more than 950,000 people, according to U.N. estimates, some 50,000 of them into Sudan.
    The United Nations agreed a deal with the government last week for safe access to Tigray, home to more than 5 million people, of whom 600,000 needed food aid even before the war.
    But the shooting at, and then detention of, a U.N. security team on its way to a refugee camp by Ethiopian federal forces on Sunday highlighted difficulties implementing that deal.    The government said the U.N. team had defied two checkpoints.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres acknowledged the problems and said Ethiopia and the United Nations had now agreed on joint missions to assess humanitarian needs.
    He said the aim was “to make sure that there is full access to the whole of the territory and full capacity to start a humanitarian operation based on real needs, and without any kind of discrimination.”
    The conflict may also hurt an economy that had been soaring, albeit from a low base, becoming the world’s fastest growing in 2017, driven by agricultural exports and heavy infrastructure spending it hoped would drive a manufacturing boom.
    Ethiopia was for years trying to position itself as an emerging industrial hub that would draw its 115 million population – the second largest in Africa – off subsistence farms and into factories.
    For more than a decade, the government poured billions of dollars into hydro-electric dams, industrial parks, railways and highways.    Then when Abiy took power in 2018, he began opening up sectors like telecoms to private investment.
    Those aspirations are now at risk. Instability that began even before the Tigray conflict – due to ethnic clashes and other problems – may scare off investors already skittish about the impact of COVID-19 and rapidly-rising Ethiopian government debt.    Foreign textiles firms worry about existing investments.
‘WORRYING, VOLATILE’
    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in Geneva that events in Tigray were still “worrying and volatile” and called for civilians to be protected.
    “Fighting continues between federal forces and the TPLF, and affiliated militias on both sides,” she told reporters, citing clashes near the towns of Mekelle, Sherero, Axum and Abiy Addi.
    A government spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    TPLF leaders could not be reached.
    Guterres said the United Nations had information about “sporadic fighting in different areas of the country,” but also that in the past few days there had been “an increase of security and control.”    He said he could not “fully confirm” the information.
    Abiy declared victory after capturing the regional capital Mekelle, but TPLF leaders say their combat continues from surrounding hills.
    About 1,000 federal soldiers held by the TPLF, some of whom were abducted on Nov. 3, the day before the war erupted, were freed in an operation by the federal army and police, state-controlled media said late on Wednesday, without elaborating.
    Both sides’ claims are difficult to check, as most communications in Tigray are down and access is severely restricted.    Journalists need a permit to travel outside the capital Addis Ababa.
    The United States believes Eritrean soldiers have crossed into Ethiopia to help Abiy’s government, despite denials from both nations, a U.S. government source and five regional diplomats told Reuters.
    Abiy and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace pact ending two decades of hostilities in 2018 and now regard the TPLF as a mutual foe.
    “We have no proof of the presence of Eritrean troops inside Ethiopia,” said Guterres.    “I confronted the prime minister with that question, and he guaranteed to me that they have not entered Tigrayan territory.”
(Reporting by Jackson Njehia and Duncan Miriri in Nairobi, Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Michelle Nichols in New York, Addis Ababa newsroomWriting by Tim CocksEditing by Andrew Cawthorne, Mark Heinrich and Catherine Evans)

12/9/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan To Discuss U.S. Strains When Biden Takes Office
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, November 30, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said he would discuss strained U.S. relations with President-elect Joe Biden when he takes office, playing down the possibility of sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian missile defence systems.
    Bilateral ties have been hit by Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems, differences in policy on Syria and the detention of U.S. consulate employees and citizens in Turkey.
    “We don’t find the statements they (the U.S. administration) make and the actions they take regarding our arms procurements to be nice.    We especially don’t find their approach in northern Syria to be right,” Erdogan said.
    Speaking to reporters before traveling to Azerbaijan, he said that it was too early to comment on the incoming U.S. administration under Biden, who has criticised Erdogan’s policies.
    “Let Mr Biden take office.    Once he assumes office, we will surely sit down and discuss certain things with Mr Biden.    Just like we sat and talked in the United States or Turkey in the past, we will discuss these again,” he said.
    Ankara’s purchase last year of the S-400s from Moscow raised the prospect of U.S. sanctions early next year if Congress approves a defence spending bill including language requiring the president to sanction Turkey.    The House of Representatives passed the bill on Tuesday.
    “In diplomacy, a path is found to these issues by talking and meeting. (…) I believe we will manage this period very differently with the United States,” Erdogan said, playing down the prospect of sanctions.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/9/2020 Turkey Says Ready To Procure Russia’s COVID-19 Vaccine If It Meets Criteria
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey, January 24, 2020. REUTERS/Cagla Durak
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey is ready to procure Russia’s coronavirus vaccine if it meets Ankara’s criteria, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said on Wednesday, after an earlier report cited him as ruling out buying the Russian vaccine.
    The Haberturk news website quoted Koca as saying Turkey had ruled out buying the Russian vaccine, as it did not meet “good laboratory practice” conditions.    It did not say which Russian vaccine it was referring to, but Turkey has been conducting Phase III for “Sputnik V,”
    Asked about procurements of vaccine at a news conference following a meeting of the government’s science team, Koca said Turkey expected to receive delivery of China’s Sinovac Biotech Ltd in the coming days, adding that it was in talks to procure other vaccines if needed, too.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay)

12/9/2020 Two Small Iraqi Oil Wells Set Ablaze In ‘Terrorist Attack’, Ministry Says
An employee walks as oil wells burn inside the Khabbaz oilfield after they were
bombed on the outskirts of Kirkuk, Iraq December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Ako Rasheed
    KIRKUK (Reuters) – Two wells in a small oilfield in northern Iraq were set ablaze by explosives on Wednesday in a “terrorist attack” but overall production from the field was not affected, the Oil Ministry and officials said Wednesday.
    The Oil Ministry gave no details about the assailants behind the explosive devices that targeted the wells in Khabbaz oilfield, 20 km (12 miles) southwest of Kirkuk.
In a statement issued through its official channel on Telegram, Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack, though it did not provide any evidence to back up its claim.
    Technical teams isolated the two burning oil wells and there was no impact on output, two sources from the state-run North Oil Company (NOC), who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.
    The field produces about 25,000 barrels per day, oil officials said.    The ministry said production from the two wells that were targeted did not exceed 2,000 bpd.
    The ministry statement said a fire erupted at the two oil wells after explosive devices were set off half an hour apart, with one going off at 1:30 a.m. (1030 GMT) and the second at 2:00 a.m (1100 GMT).
(Reporting by Mustafa Mahmoud and Ahmed Rasheed, additional reporting by Nayera Abdallah, writing by Amina Ismail, Editing by Tom Hogue and Edmund Blair)

12/9/2020 Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo Wins Re-Election With 51.59% Of Vote by Christian Akorlie and Christophe Van Der Perre
Supporters of the opposition party, the National Democratic Congress (NDC), protest outside Ghana's Electoral Commission
ahead of the official declaration of election results in Accra, Ghana December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
    ACCRA (Reuters) -Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo has won re-election with 51.59% of the vote,
beating his predecessor and old rival John Mahama, results from the election commission showed on Wednesday.
    The results follow a contentious poll that both candidates had said they were leading based on their camps’ tallies.    Five people were killed in election violence since Monday, the police said, marring what observers said was a well-organised vote.
    Akufo Addo has promised to implement a $17 billion programme to boost Ghana’s economy after the coronavirus pandemic hit the price of key oil and cocoa exports, resulting in the first quarterly contraction in nearly 40 years.
    He will be under pressure to rein in government spending that has pushed the debt-to-GDP ratio past 70% and prompted warnings from the International Monetary Fund.
(Writing by Hereward Holland and Alessandra PrenticeEditing by Edward McAllister)

12/9/2020 Lebanon’s PM-Designate Hariri Presents New Government Line-Up After Deadlock
Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri meets with Lebanese President Michel Aoun at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 9, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) -Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri gave President Michel Aoun a line-up for a new cabinet on Wednesday after months of wrangling blocked a French plan to pull the country from financial crisis.
    Without a credible government, there will be no bailout to save Lebanon, French President Emmanuel Macron has warned ahead of his visit to Beirut later this month.
    Former colonial ruler France, spearheading foreign aid efforts, had sought to rally Lebanon’s leaders but grew frustrated as it got mired in fractious sectarian politics.
    Lebanese politicians have failed to agree over portfolios, let alone enact reforms, even as the country hurtles towards what U.N. agencies have warned will be a “social catastrophe.”
    Hariri, who was named premier for a fourth time in October, said the president would examine his list of 18 “non-partisan, expert” ministers and that the “atmosphere was positive.”    Aoun’s office said the two had agreed at Wednesday’s meeting to try to bridge the gap between their proposals.
    It was the first move towards attempting to break the logjam after weeks of inaction, as foreign reserves used to subsidise basic goods dwindle, triggering alarm.
    Lebanon’s worst crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war has impoverished half the population and crashed the currency.
    A senior Lebanese political source said there had been renewed pressure from abroad for the politicians to break the deadlock but it remained unclear if that would succeed.
    The outgoing government quit after a massive explosion at Beirut port in August, which killed more than 200 people and devastated swathes of the capital.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Gareth Jones)

12/9/2020 Senior PLO Official Ashrawi To Resign, Calls For Palestinian Political Reforms
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian legislator and activist Hanan Ashrawi attends the first International Conference Of Council
for Arab and International Relations in Kuwait City February 11, 2013. REUTERS/Stephanie Mcgehee/File Photo
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Veteran Palestinian negotiator and women’s rights advocate Hanan Ashrawi said on Wednesday she would quit her senior post in the Palestine Liberation Organization at the end of 2020, and called for political reforms.
    Ashrawi, 74, did not give a reason for her resignation in a statement announcing the move.    But she said that the PLO’s Executive Committee, on which she served, had been marginalised “and [excluded] from decision-making.”
    The 15-member committee, the most senior body of the PLO, is headed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and is not often convened by the 85-year-old leader.
    “The Palestinian political system needs renewal and reinvigoration with the inclusion of youth, women and additional qualified professionals,” Ashrawi said in her statement.
    “I believe it is time to carry out the required reform and to activate the PLO in a manner that restores its standing and role.”
    Ashrawi said she had tendered her resignation to Abbas, who also heads the Palestinian Authority (PA) that administers limited self-rule in the occupied West Bank under interim peace deals with Israel.
    Ashrawi said Abbas deferred a decision on whether to accept her resignation to the PLO’s Central Council.
    Critics accuse Abbas of allowing Palestinian political institutions to stagnate.    There have been no presidential or parliamentary elections for the PA for more than a decade.
    Her negotiating days date back to the earliest public, U.S.-mediated talks with Israel in 1991 at the Madrid Conference, where as PLO spokeswoman she articulated the Palestinian quest for statehood to the world.
    Following the signing of the Oslo Accords with Israel in 1993, Ashrawi served in the cabinet of the newly-formed Palestinian Authority.
    A champion of women’s rights, Ashrawi was the first woman elected to the Executive Committee in 2009.    She was re-elected to the group in 2018 and has headed its Department of Public Diplomacy and Policy.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

12/9/2020 Saudi Crown Prince’s Lawyer Seeks Dismissal Of Ex-Spy Chief Case In U.S. Court
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a session of the Shura Council in Riyadh,
Saudi Arabia November 20, 2019. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s lawyer has asked a U.S. court to dismiss a case filed by a former top-ranking Saudi intelligence official, claiming it has no jurisdiction over the prince, according to court documents viewed by Reuters.
    The filing rejects claims that Mohammed bin Salman, also known as MbS, sent a hit squad to kill former spy chief Saad al-Jabri, and says the crown prince is immune from prosecution in the United States.
    Jabri, who currently lives in exile in Canada, in August filed a 107-page lawsuit in a U.S. court alleging the crown prince “dispatched" a “hit squad” to kill him in October 2018, but Canadian authorities foiled the attempt.
    The lawsuit against MbS and 24 others was filed in federal court in the District of Columbia.
    In filings on Monday, MbS’s lawyer Michael Kellogg dismissed the claims, describing them as “steeped in drama.” likening the crown prince to one of Shakespeare’s greatest villains.    “Regardless of its merits as literature, the Complaint fails as a legal pleading,” he wrote in an 87-page document.
    Kellogg wrote that Jabri “can say whatever he wants to the newspapers but this case does not belong in federal court.”
    Jabri was a longtime aide to Prince Mohammed bin Nayef.    Crown Prince MbS ousted Nayef as heir to the throne in a 2017 palace coup that left him the de facto ruler of Saudi Arabia, a close U.S. ally.
    Kellogg’s filing says the court lacks “personal jurisdiction” over MbS, as well as “subject-matter jurisdiction” over Jabri’s claims under the doctrine of foreign official immunity.
    “He (MbS) is entitled to status-based immunity from any suit in U.S. court.    He is also entitled to conduct-based immunity because (Jabri’s) claims arise from the Crown Prince’s alleged official acts,” Kellogg wrote.
    The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a Reuters emailed request for comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Stempel in New York; writing by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

12/10/2020 Black Lives Matter Co-Founder Urges Nigeria To Free Jailed Police Protesters by Libby George
Black Lives Matter co-founder, Opal Tometi, speaks from Los Angeles during an interview
on Zoom with Reuters in Lagos, Nigeria December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Libby George
    LAGOS (Reuters) – A group of activists and celebrities, including a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, have signed an open letter to Nigeria’s president demanding that he hold accountable security personnel accused of shooting anti-police brutality protesters.
    The letter, published in the New York Times on Thursday to mark International Human Rights Day, comes nearly two months after what witnesses and Amnesty International say was a fatal clash in Lagos between peaceful protesters and military and police.    The military and police deny shooting protesters.
    The demonstrators had called for an end to police brutality and a much-hated unit called the Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS).
    Black Lives Matter co-founder Opal Tometi, 36, an American with Nigerian parents, organized the letter after watching the protests descend into violence.    Tometi said she has friends and family in Nigeria, but said it was not difficult to get others to sign on.
    “We care about the issues of police brutality no matter where they’re occurring,” she told Reuters in an interview on Wednesday.    “The violence that people have been met with is intolerable.”
    Spokesmen for President Muhammadu Buhari did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    Police disbanded SARS on Oct. 11, and the government asked each state to form judicial panels to investigate claims of brutality.
    But protesters have outlined a campaign of harassment since the shootings, and some still do not know what happened to their missing friends and family.
    The letter, signed by supporters including climate change campaigner Greta Thunberg, also asks the government to release jailed protesters, lift a ban on protests and allow an independent human rights monitor investigation into “the actions that led to the killings at Lekki Toll Gate.”
    “People are missing and people have died as a consequence of speaking out,” Tometi said.    “We will not abide it.”
(Reporting by Libby George in Lagos; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Matthew Lewis)

12/11/2020 Analysis: Washington’s Western Sahara Pledge The Ultimate Prize For Morocco by Angus McDowall
FILE PHOTO: A Polisario fighter sits on a rock at a forward base on the outskirts
of Tifariti, Western Sahara, September 9, 2016. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Morocco’s decision to normalise ties with Israel has handed Rabat its biggest step yet towards the prize it values most – global recognition of its claim to Western Sahara.
    Washington’s support for Moroccan sovereignty over the desert territory represents the biggest policy concession the United States has made so far in its quest to win Arab recognition of Israel.
    For King Mohammed VI, that has trumped any fears of angering Moroccans who back Palestinian rights or harming his image as “defender of the faithful” among conservative Muslims by making peace with an Israeli state that has annexed East Jerusalem.
    In a news conference to announce the decision in a royal proclamation, Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita warned that “those who criticise this deal are against Morocco’s sovereignty over Sahara”
    How far that admonition was necessary is uncertain.
    “This news came as a shock to me and to the Moroccan people.    We strongly reject it,” said Khalid Soufiani, a pro-Palestinian activist.
    However, while Islamist and pan-Arab parties have opposed normalising ties with Israel, others including Berber rights activists have supported it.
    “Restoring ties with Israel is good news that serves Morocco’s supreme interests,” said Munir Kejji, an activist for the Amazigh Berber people.
    The deal comes at a key moment in the long-frozen conflict in Western Sahara between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front independence movement, which erupted again last month after three decades of truce.
    The U.S. move seems unlikely to lead other Western states – or the United Nations – to abandon their own longstanding position calling for a referendum to resolve the dispute.    The U.N. said its stance was unchanged.
    However, it adds momentum to a diplomatic campaign by Rabat that had already gathered steam this year and has so far led 17 African and Arab states to open consulates in Western Sahara.
POLISARIO VOWS TO FIGHT ON
    The Polisario, which pulled out of a 1991 ceasefire deal last month following a border incident involving its supporters and Moroccan troops, said its guerrilla struggle would continue.
    Three decades on from that truce, Morocco’s military has grown its strength and technological capabilities with U.S. help.    It is currently negotiating the purchase of new drones with Washington.
    Though the Polisario has announced constant bombardment of Moroccan frontier defences deep in the desert since quitting the truce, neither side has reported any deaths from fighting.
    Peace with Israel may be a smaller step for Morocco than for some other Arab states.
    Morocco is the ancestral home of nearly 1 million Israeli Jews and Bourita said 70,000 Israelis visited the kingdom last year alone.    It opened a liaison office in Israel in 1994, but closed it in 2002 during the second Intifada, or Palestinian uprising.
    Still, after rumours earlier this year that Morocco would agree a deal with Israel, Prime Minister Saad Dine El Otmani, head of the moderate Islamist PJD party, said Rabat rejected “any normalisation of ties with the Zionist entity.”
    King Mohammed sought to sweeten the pill by saying in his proclamation that he still backs a two state solution and regards Jerusalem as a sacred city for three religions.
    But in agreeing Thursday’s deal, he is betting that nationalist fervour over Western Sahara carries more weight than popular support for the Palestinian cause.
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Additional reporting by Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

12/11/2020 Turkey Rejects ‘Biased And Illegal’ EU Approach At Summit
FILE PHOTO: European Union (L) and Turkish flags fly outside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey rejects the European Union’s “biased and illegal” approach at its summit this week and calls on the bloc to act as an honest broker in an ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
    EU leaders agreed on Thursday to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over an energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus, postponing any harsher steps until March as countries sparred over how to handle Ankara.
    In a statement, the ministry said a proposed conference with all eastern Mediterranean countries was an opportunity to tackle maritime issues in the region, adding that Ankara was ready for talks with Greece without any pre-conditions.    It called on the EU to act “with principles, strategically and with reason.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

12/11/2020 Erdogan Says U.S. Sanctions Disrespect Ally Turkey -Anadolu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a cabinet
meeting in Ankara, Turkey, November 30, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said that U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian defence systems was disrespectful to an important ally in NATO, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported on Friday.
    After sources told Reuters that Washington was poised to impose sanctions on Turkey, Anadolu cited Erdogan as saying that Turkey will be patient and see what trend emerges after the new U.S. administration takes office next month.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/11/2020 Ethiopia Government Denies War Impeding Aid, Agencies Report Staff Deaths
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s government on Friday denied that the war in its northern Tigray region was preventing aid reaching civilians, as two foreign aid agencies confirmed some staff had been killed there and urged all sides to do more to protect non-combatants.
    Five weeks of war between Ethiopian federal forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is thought to have killed thousands and has sent more than 950,000 people fleeing, according to the United Nations, about 50,000 of them to Sudan.
    Since the army captured Tigray’s regional capitalMekelle nearly two weeks ago and declared victory, the Ethiopian government has portrayed life in Tigray as returning to normal.    But TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts.
    Accounts by all sides are impossible to verify because most phone and internet connections to the region have been down since the conflict began and the government strictly controls access. Journalists may not leave the capital, Addis Ababa, without a permit.
    Aid agencies meanwhile say blocked access, bureaucratic delays and violence against staff are hampering aid deliveries to a region that is home to more than five million people, of whom 600,000 required food aid before war broke out.
    But a statement from the prime minister’s office said that some aid had already been sent and that there were no delays due to fighting.
    “Suggestions that humanitarian assistance is impeded due to active military combat … within the Tigray region is untrue and undermines … work to stablise the region,” the statement from the Prime Minister’s office said.    “Sporadic gunfire exchanged with the retreating remnants of the militia … need not be misconstrued as active conflict.”
    The International Rescue Committee (IRC) and the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) published statements on Friday regretting the killings of their staff.
    The IRC said one staff member was killed in Hitsats camp, which housed Eritrean refugees, near the town of Shire, adding that because communications were down, they could not gather or confirm the details surrounding the death.
    The DRC said three of its staff were killed in Tigray last month, giving no further details.    They said that a lack of communications and insecurity meant they still hadn’t managed to reach their families with the news.
    “We call on all parties to the conflict to agree to an immediate ceasefire and ensure civilians, including refugees and aid workers, are protected,” the IRC said.
“GRAVE DEVELOPMENT”
    In a move likely to intensify concerns about the risk of the conflict spreading, the U.S. government said it believes reports of Eritrean military involvement in Ethiopia’s conflict are credible, despite denials of their presence by both nations.
    “We … view this as a grave development.    We urge that any such troops be withdrawn immediately,” a department spokesperson told Reuters.
    Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but both nations have previously dismissed such allegations.
    The United States sees Ethiopia as an ally in a volatile region, especially against al-Qaeda-linked Somali insurgents al-Shabaab.    That may present a policy dilemma when it comes to public criticism.
    Two U.S. senators this week called on their government to consider sanctions on any political or military personnel responsible for human rights violations in the war, after reports of civilians being targeted by all sides.
    Ethiopia hosts the African Union, its security services work with Western allies, and its troops serve in peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Somalia.
    Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Eritrea, after two decades of conflict with an increasingly authoritarian TPLF-dominated Ethiopian government.    Both states now see the TPLF as an enemy.    Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil, if true, could inflame an already volatile situation in Tigray.
    Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed on Saturday called the reports “propaganda.”    Ethiopia also denies them, although Abiy said last week some government troops retreated into Eritrea early in the conflict and were helped.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Additional reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean)

12/11/2020 Charges In Beirut Blast Inquiry Hit Political Pushback
FILE PHOTO: A view shows the site of the August 4th explosion at Beirut port, Lebanon December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah said on Friday charges brought against the prime minister and three former ministers over the Beirut port explosion smacked of “political targeting.”
    The statement from the heavily armed, Iran-backed group is part of a wider pushback by some influential parties against the charges brought by Judge Fadi Sawan on Thursday, showing the political minefield facing the investigation.
    Sawan charged caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet quit after the blast, and three former ministers with negligence over the August explosion that killed 200 people and devastated swathes of Beirut.
    The explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts on record, was caused by a massive quantity of ammonium nitrate stored unsafely at the port for years.
    Officials who were informed about the ammonium nitrate included Diab and President Michel Aoun, who were warned in July that it posed a major security risk, according to documents seen by Reuters.
    Diab, who says his conscience is clear, has accused Sawan of breaching the constitution.    So has Ali Hassan Khalil, one of the ex-ministers, a close Hezbollah ally and senior aide to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.
    While saying it supported a transparent inquiry, Hezbollah said Sawan’s measures should be far removed from politics and in line with the constitution.
    “We absolutely reject the absence of unified standards that has led to what we believe to be political targeting against some people and ignoring others,” it said.
    The other two former ministers charged alongside Khalil – Ghazi Zeaiter and Youssef Finianos – are also Hezbollah allies.
    The United States has imposed sanctions on Finianos and Khalil, accusing them of enabling Hezbollah, which Washington deems a terrorist organisation.
    There has been debate about whether ministers enjoyed immunity in the case. Melham Khalaf, head of the Beirut bar association, praised Sawan’s move, saying it showed courage.
    Najib Mikati, prime minister from 2011 to 2014, criticised Sawan’s charges.    He suggested that while Diab has been charged, President Aoun, who was informed about the presence of the dangerous material, was omitted.
    Aoun said in August he was informed about the material and had directed the secretary general of the Supreme Defence Council, a grouping of security and military agencies chaired by the president, to “do what is necessary.”
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/11/2020 EU Wants Responsible Migration Cooperation With Turkey, Michel Says
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union is ready to cooperate more with Turkey to tackle migration, European Council President Charles Michel said after a two-day meeting of EU leaders in Brussels.
    “We want responsible cooperation with Turkey,” Michel told a news conference.
    Turkey hosts thousands of Syrian migrants migrants fleeing civil war who would otherwise seek refuge in EU countries.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott, writing by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by John Chalmers)

12/11/2020 Turkey Rejects ‘Biased And Illegal’ EU Approach At Summit
FILE PHOTO: European Union (L) and Turkish flags fly outside a hotel in Istanbul, Turkey May 4, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey rejects the European Union’s “biased and illegal” approach at its summit this week and calls on the bloc to act as an honest broker in an ongoing dispute in the eastern Mediterranean, the Turkish Foreign Ministry said on Friday.
    EU leaders agreed on Thursday to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over an energy exploration dispute with Greece and Cyprus, postponing any harsher steps until March as countries sparred over how to handle Ankara.
    In a statement, the ministry said a proposed conference with all eastern Mediterranean countries was an opportunity to tackle maritime issues in the region, adding that Ankara was ready for talks with Greece without any pre-conditions.    It called on the EU to act “with principles, strategically and with reason.”

12/11/2020 Exclusive: U.S. Says Reports Of Eritrean Troops In Ethiopia’s Tigray Are ‘Credible’ by Phil Stewart
Residents carry jerrycans along a street in Dansha town in Tigray Region, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States believes reports of Eritrean military involvement in the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are “credible,” a State Department spokesperson told Reuters on Thursday, despite denials by both nations.
    The spokesperson called on any Eritrean soldiers there to pull out.
    “We are aware of credible reports of Eritrean military involvement in Tigray and view this as a grave development.    We urge that any such troops be withdrawn immediately,” the spokesperson said.
    Reuters was first to report on Tuesday that the U.S. government believed Eritrean soldiers had crossed into Ethiopian territory, effectively helping Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government battle a rebellious northern force.
    Abiy won a Nobel Peace Prize last year for making peace with Eritrea, but the presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil would alarm Western allies and risk further inflaming the conflict.
    Eritrea has for years faced accusations of large-scale rights abuses, including jailing opponents and forcing citizens into lengthy military or government service.    It accuses Western powers of smear campaigns and luring Eritreans abroad, which they deny.
    Ethiopia hosts the African Union, its security services work with Western allies, and its troops serve in peacekeeping missions in South Sudan and Somalia.
    The State Department spokesperson noted reports of human rights abuses in Tigray.
    “We are also aware of reports of human rights violations and abuses in the region.    All parties must respect human rights and international humanitarian law,” the spokesperson said.
    “We and other international partners continue to urge an independent investigation of the reports and accountability for those found responsible.”
    Ethiopia has denied Eritrea entered the conflict, though Abiy did say last week that some government troops retreated into Eritrea early in the conflict and were given assistance.    Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh has called claims it entered the conflict “propaganda.”
    Claims by all sides are near-impossible to verify because most communications to Tigray are down, and the government tightly controls access.
    Abiy and Eritrea’s President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace pact ending two decades of hostilities in 2018 and now regard the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as a mutual foe.
    The TPLF claims to have killed and captured large numbers of Eritrean troops in the last month, but has provided no evidence. It has fired rockets into Eritrea at least four times, the U.S. State Department says.
    Reuters, citing diplomatic sources, reported on Tuesday that Eritrean troops were believed to have entered Ethiopia in mid-November through three northern border towns: Zalambessa, Rama and Badme.
    Mesfin Hagos, a former Eritrean defence minister who broke with Isaias, said in an article for online publication African Arguments that the Eritreans sent in four mechanized divisions, seven infantry divisions and a commando brigade, citing sources in the defence ministry, opposition and personal contacts.
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by David Lewis; Editing by Richard Pullin and Daniel Wallis)

12/11/2020 As Israel And Moroccan Jews Celebrate New Ties, Others Are Critical by Ahmed Eljechtimi and Ari Rabinovitch
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David M. Friedman light the first Hanukkah at
the Western Wall in Jerusalem's Old City during the the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, December 10, 2020. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    RABAT/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and Moroccan Jews on Friday celebrated an agreement to normalise relations between the two countries, but the largest party in Morocco’s government faced internal wrangling over a move that some Moroccans regard as a betrayal of Palestinians.
    The U.S.-brokered deal – the fourth such “normalisation” announcement involving an Arab country and Israel in as many months – also drew criticism from Moscow.
    A core element of the deal brokered by President Donald Trump was U.S. recognition of Morocco’s claim to sovereignty over the Western Sahara.    A decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, which seeks to establish an independent state.
    Russia’s foreign ministry said the U.S. decision to recognise Moroccan sovereignty was a breach of international law, the RIA news agency reported.
    Winning global support for its claim over Western Sahara is Morocco’s most important foreign policy goal.    It has also often pursued a more open stance towards Israel and Israelis of Moroccan descent than have other Arab states.
    Moroccan Foreign Minister Nasser Bourita said on Thursday that King Mohammed VI has pursued a U.S. shift in its Western Sahara policy for three years, forging close ties with Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner.
    But while the king has the final say on foreign policy, the moderate Islamist PJD – which gained the most seats in a 2016 election – did not appear wholly united on the announcement about Israel.
    In a debate late on Thursday after the deal was announced, disagreements emerged among senior party leaders, according to one member who was present.    Nearly a full day later, on Friday, the party had still not commented on the deal, long after its main coalition partners had welcomed the move.
MOROCCAN JEWS
    Morocco was home to a large Jewish community before Israel was founded in 1948, and around 3,000 Jews still live there.
    Around 50,000 Israelis travel to Morocco each year to visit religious sites and other tourist attractions, but there are no direct flights and tourists undergo a lengthy process to obtain visas.
    Suzanne Harroch, a Moroccan Jewish singer from Rabat, said the new arrangement would bring her closer to her relatives in Israel.
    “The history of the Jews in Morocco dates back 3,000 years.    This history was intrerrupted, but now with this decision normalcy will be restored,” she said.
    Her sentiments were echoed by Israeli cabinet minister Miri Regev, whose parents were among the estimated 250,000 Jews who emigrated from Morocco to Israel.    She said older Israelis would now find it easier to go back.
    “They will visit with their grandchildren, their kids, they can be proud of the glorious heritage they brought with them,” Regev said.
    Israeli airliners said they plan to launch direct flights and tour operators expect a jump in demand for tourism.
    Davide Toledano, a businessman who heads Rabat’s small Jewish community, said he expected Israeli investment in Morocco’s agriculture and water sectors.
    Showing a photograph of himself with a former PJD head, he said relations between Moroccan Jews and Muslims were good.
    “We received congratulations from our Muslim brothers,” he added.
    But others said geopolitical considerations underlay the deal, ahead of President-elect Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House in January.
    “Morocco made a calculation that their ability to win American recognition over the Western Sahara (was) likeliest in a Trump administration,” said David Makovsky, a former U.S. Middle East negotiator at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and official Palestinian media remained silent, but former Palestinian negotiator Hanan Ashrawi said Trump was “emboldening” Israel.
    “We all know that this is extremely irresponsible because it encourages power politics and the violations of international law everywhere,” she told Reuters.
(Reporting by Ahmed Eljechtimi in Rabat and Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall, Stephen Farrell, Ali Sawafta, Zainah El-Haroun and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Frances Kerry)

12/11/2020 Erdogan Says U.S. Sanctions Would ‘Disrespect’ Turkey by Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a cabinet
meeting in Ankara, Turkey, November 30, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday U.S. sanctions over Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles would be disrespectful to a NATO ally, after sources said Washington was poised to take the step likely to further strain relations.
    The report of imminent U.S. sanctions targeting Turkey’s defence industry over missiles comes as EU leaders at a summit discussed separate sanctions against Turkish officials over gas exploration in disputed parts of the Mediterranean.br>     Both developments — examples of Erdogan’s long-strained relations with Western allies — have caused anxiety among investors.    The U.S. moves, earlier than expected and potentially wider in scope, are likely to have the greater immediate impact.
    The lira tumbled nearly 2% after Reuters cited sources saying U.S. sanctions are set to be announced as soon as Friday.    The currency later rebounded as investors weighed up the impact.
    The U.S. measures under the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act (CAATSA) would be enacted by U.S. President Donald Trump as President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office on Jan. 20.
    “For America to get up and confront Turkey with a matter like CAATSA is disrespectful to a very important NATO partner,” state-owned Anadolu agency cited Erdogan as saying.
    In a later speech to officials from his AK Party, Erdogan took a more conciliatory tone, calling on both U.S. and EU politicians to “break from the influence of anti-Turkey lobbies.”
    “There are no issues that we cannot solve with dialogue and cooperation,” he said.
    The lira, which has hit a series of record lows and is among the worst performers in emerging markets this year, weakened past 8 to the dollar for the first time in two weeks.    By 1226 GMT it had rebounded to 7.89, flat on the day.
    A 25% currency depreciation has worsened economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic this year.
    Ankara acquired the S-400 ground-to-air defences in mid-2019 and says they pose no threat to NATO allies.    Washington disagrees, and last year removed Turkey from an F-35 jet programme.
‘DEEP CRISIS’
    Two sources familiar with the matter, including a U.S. official speaking on the condition of anonymity, told Reuters Trump had given aides his blessing for the sanctions.
    He would likely need to select from a list of 12 CAATSA options ranging from mild to harsh.
    Even mild U.S. sanctions would further roil U.S.-Turkish relations that “have been in deep crisis for quite some time” over a range of other issues, said Galip Dalay, fellow at Robert Bosch Academy.    “Domestically it will increase further anti-Americanism… and it is unlikely to change Turkish policy.”
    Erdogan was quoted by Turkish media as saying he had no problems during Trump’s four years in office and that Biden also knows him well.
    A treasury desk trader at one bank said the simultaneous U.S. and EU moves were negative but would not directly harm the Turkish economy in the short term, and have only a limited market impact if they remain mild.
    The economy has slumped badly twice in as many years.    The lira rebounded from a record low of 8.58 last month after Erdogan replaced top economic policymakers and pledged a new market-friendly era.
    Timothy Ash at Blue Bay Asset Management said Trump would be expected to choose lighter sanctions and “clear the air” for Biden to reset relations.    “Surely it can only get better from here,” he said.
    In Brussels, EU leaders agreed a statement paving the way to punish individuals accused of planning or taking part in what the bloc says is unauthorised drilling off Cyprus.    They shied away from a threat in October to consider wider measures.
    Turkey, which says it is exploring for hydrocarbons in waters within its rights, called the EU approach “biased and illegal.”
(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ezgi Erkoyun in Turkey and Marc Jones in London; Writing by Daren Butler and Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

12/11/2020 Erdogan Says Caucasus Platform Can Turn New Page In Turkey-Armenia Ties - NTV
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President
Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that a regional cooperation platform in the Caucasus he had discussed with his Azeri counterpart in Baku could help turn a new page in relations with Armenia if Yerevan took “positive steps.”
    Erdogan was in the Azeri capital to review a military parade marking Azerbaijan’s victory over Armenia in a war over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave that ended last month.
    During the six-week conflict over the breakaway ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan, Turkey backed its ethnic Turkic ally Azerbaijan and accused Armenia of occupying Azeri territories.
    In Baku, Erdogan called for a change of leadership in Yerevan, while offering the country the chance to join the regional group and see its borders with Turkey reopen.
    Broadcaster NTV quoted Erdogan as telling reporters on his return flight from Baku that the regional platform – which will include Russia, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Iran and Armenia – would provide a “win-win” opportunity for all parties and that Russian President Vladimir Putin was “keen” on the idea.
    “If Armenia joins this process and takes positive steps, a new page can be turned in Turkey-Armenia ties too.    As long as new opportunities come up, there is no doubt that Armenia’s gains here will seriously increase too.    Armenia stands to win the most from this,” Erdogan was cited as saying.
    “If Armenia develops this process positively, we will open our closed borders to Armenia.    Our only concern is to contribute to regional peace,” he said.
    Armenia and Turkey signed a landmark accord in 2009 to restore ties and open their borders after a century of hostility stemming from the World War One mass killing of Armenians by Ottoman forces.    But the deal was never ratified by the two governments and relations have remained tense.
    The Nagorno-Karabakh fighting ended after a Russian-brokered ceasefire locked in Azeri gains and saw Moscow deploy peacekeepers to the region.    Under a separate deal, Russia and Turkey will also jointly monitor the ceasefire.
    Erdogan also said Turkey would play “an important role” in the reconstruction of areas taken by Azerbaijan in the conflict, saying he and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev had agreed to move on this within a year, according to NTV.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Mark Heinrich)

12/11/2020 Years After ISIS, Iraqis Forced Out Of Camps Into Uncertain Future by Amina Ismail
Taama al-Owais, carries his 3-month-old son as he stands in front of his tent in
an informal camp in the town of Balad, Iraq December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Amina Ismail
    BALAD, Iraq (Reuters) – Last month, Iraqi authorities gave families displaced by the war against Islamic State just 48 hours to pack up and leave the Al-Ishaki camp before it was closed.
    When the deadline expired, pick-up trucks and military vehicles arrived to take about 200 people back to their hometown.
    Taama al-Owaisi and others who had lived for years in the camps did not want to leave but they say they were forced to.
    An uncertain future awaits them – wrecked towns with no services, surrounded by paramilitaries who regard the returnees with suspicion for having survived life under Islamic State.
    Hundreds of thousands of people fled their homes during the conflict in northern Iraq, which started in 2014 when IS captured vast areas and imposed its own rule and ended in 2017 with the hardline Sunni Muslim group’s defeat by Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power.
    Cities, towns and villages – including Mosul, the capital of Islamic States’s self-proclaimed caliphate – were left in ruins.
    Owaisi now squats outside an abandoned railway station in Balad, about 90 km north of Bagdhad. His home is two miles away, but he dares not negotiate militia checkpoints to reach it.
    Local people blame Shi’ite paramilitaries that control the predominantly Sunni area for abducting and killing eight men in October.    Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi said then his government was chasing the perpetrators and said Iraq should avoid “sectarian rivalry.”
    But his government is determined to close camps in most Iraqi provinces by the year’s end-end, a move rights groups say could leave 100,000 people homeless with no aid.
    The migration ministry says the closures are part of a program of “safe and voluntary return” but critics say they are badly coordinated and premature while much former IS territory lies in ruins or under the control of groups hostile to those returning.
    Owaisi is one of about 23,000 people who have been moved from formal camps with basic services to informal camps since mid-October, according to the U.N. migration agency.
    Lahib Higel, senior analyst at International Crisis Group, said the government was “counting on someone else to take care of it, and by that I mean the international community
    Migration minister Ivan Jabro denied anyone had been forced to return from camps.    She told Reuters that returnees were offered help and support.
    But more than a dozen displaced people in parts of northern Iraq including Balad, Mosul, Khazer and Qayyara told Reuters they had not received any support from the government.
    When the trucks dropped Owaisi and about 40 other families off at a new site in Balad, he said there was nothing there.    The earth had not been bulldozed, rubble remained uncleared, and there was no water or electricity.
    Families set up their own tents and created their own camp, according to seven people interviewed there.
    International aid groups later arrived and provided food, and water.    There was no sanitation at the site for almost two weeks. Women went to outdoor toilets only at night because the darkness gave them some privacy.
    Mothers complained their children were becoming ill because of the cold.    They have no electricity to switch on the heaters.
EXPOSED AND SCARED
    Suspicion and resentment around those who managed to survive living under IS runs deep, including in their own communities and tribes, but especially among the Shi’ite militias that helped defeat the group and remain in those regions.
    The paramilitary groups have long denied taking any part in unlawful killings.    But Ammar Hekmat Muhsin, deputy governor of Salahuddin province, said the killings of the eight men showed why people were nervous about returning home.
    Balad’s Mayor Muhawish Muhsin said the government has done very little to prepare for the return of its inhabitants.
    The migration spokesman denied the areas displaced people have returned to are unsafe, saying that feeling safe is “a state of mind.”
    A relative of those killed in the incident in Balad said: “This is how it works in Iraq – those with muscles are the ones who survive.”
(Reporting by Amina Ismail, additional reporting by Charlotte Bruneau and Ghazwan Hassan)

12/11/2020 Exclusive-Trump Administration Moves Forward With $1 Billion Moroccan Arms Deal by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: Sign at a General Atomics office complex is shown in Rancho Bernardo, California May 12, 2016. REUTERS/Mike Blake/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump’s administration moved forward with $1 billion in sales of drones and precision-guided weapons to Morocco on Friday, sending a notice to Congress about the potential deals, according to sources familiar with the notification.
    The deal includes four MQ-9B SeaGuardian drones made by privately-held General Atomics, and Hellfire, Paveway and JDAM precision-guided munitions made by Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and Boeing, the sources said.
    Reuters was first to report on Thursday that Washington was negotiating the sale and would notify Congress shortly.br>     News of the deal came as the White House announced an agreement brokered with U.S. help for Morocco to normalize relations with Israel.
    Earlier this year the U.S. offered stealthy F-35 jet fighters to the United Arab Emirates in a side deal to the U.S.-brokered agreement between the United Arab Emirates and Israel to normalize relations.
    Congress is notified about major international weapons deals and given the opportunity to review them before they go through.    Under U.S. weapons export law, members of Congress can attempt to block such sales by offering resolutions of disapproval, but sources said that was not expected in this case.
    A deal with Morocco would be among the first drone sales after the Trump administration moved ahead with a plan to sell more drones to more countries by reinterpreting an international arms control agreement called the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR).
    This fall drone sales moved ahead to Taiwan and the United Arab Emirates.    An effort to block the UAE sale failed in the U.S. Senate on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders and Daniel Wallis)

12/11/2020 Ethiopia Returning Eritrean Refugees To Tigray Camps; U.N. Concerned Over Move
FILE PHOTO: People wait in line for food aid from the WFP, at the Um Rakuba refugee camp which houses Ethiopians
fleeing the fighting in the Tigray region, on the the border in Sudan, December 3, 2020. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    ADDIS ABABA/GENEVA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s government said on Friday it was returning Eritrean refugees to camps they had fled in the northern region of Tigray, a move that alarmed the United Nations refugee agency after a month-long conflict that is believed to have killed thousands of people.
    The United Nations and other aid agencies say they have been denied access to some 96,000 refugees in Tigray since fighting erupted on Nov. 4 between the government and a rebellious regional force.    They are concerned about food and security in the camps, which they have not been permitted to visit since the conflict broke out.
    The government says it has now defeated forces loyal to the region’s former ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and it is safe for refugees who fled to the capital Addis Ababa to return to Tigray.
    “A large number of misinformed refugees are moving out in an irregular manner,” the government said in a statement on Friday.
    “The government is safely returning those refugees to their respective camps,” the statement said, adding that food was being transported to the camps.
    TPLF leaders say they are fighting back on various fronts.    Claims by all sides in the conflict are near-impossible to verify because most communications to Tigray are down and the government tightly controls access.
FRANTIC CALLS
    Reuters received frantic calls from refugees in the capital who had been told they would be bussed back to Tigray but feared they were being taken back to Eritrea – the neighbouring country they originally fled.
    “Please come, please come, the buses are here!” one woman yelled as children wept in the background.
    Another woman said Eritreans faced mounting hostility from Tigrayans who accuse Eritrea of sending troops into Ethiopia to help Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government battle the TPLF.
    Both countries deny this, although the U.S. State Department said on Thursday it believes reports of Eritrean military involvement in the conflict in Ethiopia are “credible.”
    “Some Tigrayan people beat up my husband,” the refugee said.    “People there were saying – ‘your country is coming here and attacking us.    So you – we will kill you too.’    We were getting so scared.”
    Refugees may be facing additional dangers.
    TPLF leader Debretsion Gebremichael said in text messages to Reuters this month that Eritrean soldiers had raided two camps in Tigray and abducted some residents, but provided no evidence.    Eritrea denies this.
    The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said on Friday the agency had received similar reports.
    “Over the last month we have received an overwhelming number of disturbing reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea.    If confirmed, these actions would constitute a major violation of international law,” he said in a statement.
    The presence of Eritrean troops on Ethiopian soil would alarm Western allies and risk further inflaming the conflict.
    Eritrea has long faced accusations of large scale rights abuses.    It accuses Western powers of smear campaigns and luring Eritreans abroad, which they deny.
    France, Britain, Germany, the United States, Estonia and Belgium plan to raise the humanitarian situation in Tigray during a closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting Monday and have asked for a U.N. aid official to brief, diplomats said.
FOOD FOR REFUGEES
    There are four main camps for Eritrean refugees in Tigray – Shimelba, Hitsats, Mai-Ayni and Adi Harush.
    The UNHCR was not informed of any planned relocation of refugees in Ethiopia, Babar Baloch, a UNHCR spokesman, told reporters in Geneva.    He called the reports “alarming.”
    He added, “While we cannot speculate at this time, any refoulement would be absolutely unacceptable.”    Refoulement means forcing refugees to return to the country they fled from.
    Ato Addisu, deputy head of Ethiopia’s state-run Agency for Refugee and Returnee Affairs, said, “A return to Eritrea would never happen unless they request by themselves – this is against international law.”
    Around 580 refugees were on the buses to Tigray, he told Reuters.
    The prime minister’s office dismissed concerns that the war was preventing aid reaching civilians.
    “Suggestions that humanitarian assistance is impeded due to active military combat … within the Tigray region is untrue and undermines … work to stabilise the region,” it said in a statement on Friday.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom and Emma Farge in Geneva; Additional reporting by Nairobi newsroom and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Alexandra Zavis, William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

12/12/2020 Israel And Bhutan Establish Diplomatic Relations by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi speaks during a news conference in front of the Liebermann
Villa at the Wannsee lake in Berlin, Germany, August 27, 2020. REUTERS/Michele Tantussi/Pool/File Photo
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – Israel established relations on Saturday with Bhutan, a majority-Buddhist nation neighbouring India, as it looks to continue to expand its diplomatic links internationally.
    Israel’s accord with the Himalayan country did not appear to be related to its budding ties under U.S.-sponsored accords with Arab and Muslim countries, though Israeli officials sought to portray it as evidence of its growing acceptance abroad.
    The agreement follows several years of secret contacts between Israel and Bhutan with the aim of establishing relations, Israel’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
    “Israel’s circle of recognition is growing and expanding,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said.    “The establishment of relations between us and the Kingdom of Bhutan will serve as another milestone in deepening Israel’s ties in Asia.”
    Bhutan relied on India for guidance on its foreign and defence policy until a friendship treaty was revised in 2007.    It maintains diplomatic relations with around 53 countries.
    A signing ceremony was held between the Israeli and Bhutanese ambassadors to India on Saturday at the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, a joint press release posted on the Bhutanese foreign ministry’s website said.
    “The establishment of diplomatic relations (will) create new avenues for cooperation between the two countries in water management, technology, human resource development, agricultural sciences and other areas of mutual benefit,” it said.>br>     Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed the agreement, adding there had been contacts with other countries which wanted to establish relations.
    Israel and Morocco on Thursday agreed to normalise ties in a deal brokered with U.S. help, making it the fourth Arab country after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to set aside hostilities with Israel in the past four months.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mike Harrison and David Holmes)

12/12/2020 First NGO Aid Convoy Arrives In Capital Of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region
Ethiopian refugees who fled Tigray region, queue to receive food aid within the Um-Rakoba camp in
Al-Qadarif state, on the border, in Sudan December 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The first non-governmental aid convoy since fighting erupted last month has arrived in the capital of Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray carrying desperately needed medicines and other items, the international Red Cross said on Saturday.
    The government restricted access to the region after fighting began on Nov. 4 between the government and a rebellious regional force.    The conflict in Africa’s second-most populous nation is believed to have killed thousands of people and displaced around 950,000.
    The United Nations and other agencies have not been able to deliver aid although the government says it has sent food and other supplies.
    The convoy of seven white trucks that arrived in the city of Mekelle was organised by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Ethiopian Red Cross, the ICRC said.
    Healthcare facilities in Mekelle have been paralysed after supplies of drugs and other medical items like surgical gloves ran out, the ICRC said.    Ayder Hospital, the region’s main referral hospital, was forced to shut its intensive care unit and surgical theatre because of the shortages and an inability to run the generator.
    “Doctors and nurses have been … weeks without new supplies, running water, and electricity,” said Patrick Youssef, the ICRC’s regional director for Africa.    “This medical shipment will inject new stocks, help patients, and reduce those impossible life-or-death triage decisions.”
    The government says it has defeated forces loyal to the region’s former ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), and struck a deal with the United Nations to allow aid.
    But some aid agencies and donors say the agreement is too restrictive and security remains a problem; one U.N. security team was shot at last weekend.
    Nearly 50,000 refugees have crossed into eastern Sudan since early November. Nearly 15,000 are at Um Rakuba camp, where long lines of people waited for food with plates in their hands and new arrivals constructed shelters using tree branches.
    “We don’t have enough food or shelter here, but I am too scared to go back,” said Tewelo Gabrageres, 35-year-old trader.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Frances Kerry)

12/12/2020 Algeria Rejects Trump’s Stance On Western Sahara
FILE PHOTO: A rocket is pictured near an earth wall that separates areas controlled by Morocco
and the Polisario Front in Western Sahara, Sept. 10, 2016. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Algeria on Saturday rejected a decision by outgoing U.S. President Donald Trump to recognise Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, saying the step would undermine efforts to end the decades-long conflict over the desert territory.
    Trump’s administration said it was recognising Moroccan claims to Western Sahara as part of a deal under which Morocco agreed to normalise its relations with Israel.
    In Algiers, the Foreign Ministry said the U.S. decision “has no legal effect because it contradicts U.N. resolutions, especially U.N. Security Council resolutions on Western Sahara.”

12/13/2020 Lebanon’s Collapse Is Like The Titanic’s Sinking, Only Without The Music: Le Drian
FILE PHOTO: French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference at a meeting to discuss how to push
forward stalled Arab-Israeli peace talks, in Amman, Jordan, September 24, 2020. Khalil Mazraawi/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) – French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Lebanon’s political and economic collapse was like the sinking of the Titanic, only without the music.
    “Lebanon is the Titanic without the orchestra,” Le Drian told the daily Le Figaro in an interview published on Sunday.    “The Lebanese are in complete denial as they sink, and there isn’t even the music.”
    Le Drian’s remarks set a pessimistic tone a little over a week before President Emmanuel Macron makes his third visit to Beirut since a massive port blast destroyed swathes of the city and killed 200 people in August.
    Macron is losing patience with Lebanon’s politicians as rival politicians mired in turf battles stand in the way of sweeping reforms that donors say are imperative for badly-needed financial aid to be released.
    It is believed the Titanic’s orchestra kept playing for as long as it could as the liner went down in the Atlantic Ocean in 1912, trying to help keep passengers calm amid impending doom. All the musicians perished.
(Reporting by Richard Lough; Editing by Frances Kerry)

12/13/2020 Sudanese Prime Minister Visits Ethiopia To Discuss Tigray Fighting by Khalid Abdelaziz
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/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA/KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok visited Ethiopia briefly on Sunday with what three senior Sudanese government officials said was an offer to broker a ceasefire in its northern Tigray region, a proposal Ethiopia said was unnecessary because fighting had stopped.
    Hamdok, who was accompanied by Sudanese security officials, planned to present his concerns about threats to Sudan’s security along its border with Tigray during the visit, the officials said.    However, Hamdok returned within a few hours from what Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had earlier described as a two-day trip.
    Fighting erupted on Nov. 4 between Ethiopia’s government and the then-governing party in Tigray, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and more than 950,000 displaced, some 50,000 of them into Sudan, according to U.N. estimates.
    Abiy government declared victory over the TPLF after its forces took control of the regional capital, Mekelle, on Nov. 29.    The TPLF has said it is continuing to fight from mountains surrounding Mekelle.
    Accounts from all sides are near-impossible to verify because most communications to Tigray have been down since the conflict began.    The government has restricted access for journalists and foreign aid agencies.
    Abiy welcomed Hamdok, and later tweeted that he and the Sudanese delegation had good discussions, “during which we reached an understanding on various issues that will further augment cooperation between our two countries.”
    He made no mention of an offer from Sudan to broker a ceasefire or mediate the Tigray conflict.
    “Mediate what?” Billene Seyoum, Abiy’s spokeswoman, said when asked by Reuters for information about this offer.
    “The military altercation has ceased with the command of Mekelle … The provisional administration has [been] set up and a regional council formed in Tigray.”
    “Remnants of the criminal clique have fled,” she added, referring to the TPLF.
    Reuters has been unable to contact TPLF officials for nearly a week.
    The first non-governmental aid convoy since fighting started arrived in Mekelle on Saturday, and a government-appointed transitional administration said it would take office on Sunday.
    Sudan’s cabinet said that Hamdok and Abiy had agreed to resume negotiations within the next week about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, an issue that has caused tensions between the two countries.
    Ethiopia says electricity from the $4 billion dam will help create jobs but Sudan and Egypt worry it will restrict their access to Nile waters.
    Hamdok and Abiy also agreed to call a meeting of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development, an East African regional bloc that Hamdok currently chairs, the Sudanese cabinet said in a statement.
    Ethiopia has rebuffed previous offers to mediate in the Tigray conflict, including from the African Union.    It accuses the TPLF of leading a renegade administration that launched a surprise attack on federal troops stationed in Tigray on Nov. 4.    TPLF leaders deny they started the conflict.
    Regional experts have suggested that Sudan could use its control over key border crossings as leverage to press both sides in Ethiopia to talk.    But there are no public signs it is doing so.
(Reporting by the Addis Ababa newsroom and Khalid Abdelaziz; Additional reporting by the Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Tim Cocks, Alexandra Zavis and Frances Kerry)

12/13/2020 Nigerian Military In Firefight With Gang Who Kidnapped Students
Police members are deployed after gunmen abducted students from the all-boys Government Science school
in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina state, Nigeria December 13, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – The Nigerian military had located and exchanged fire with gunmen who kidnapped scores of secondary school students in northwestern Katsina state, according to a statement from the president on Saturday.
    The gang, armed with AK-47s, stormed the Government Science secondary school in Kankara district at about 9:40 p.m. on Friday, police and locals said.    A parent and school employee told Reuters that roughly half of the school’s 800 students were missing.
    President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement that the military had located the kidnappers in a forest and was exchanging fire with them, aided by air support.
    In the statement, Buhari condemned the attack in his home state.    Police and the military were still working to determine how many were kidnapped and missing.
    Police at the scene on Friday exchanged fire with the attackers, allowing some students to run for safety, police spokesman Gambo Isah said in a statement.
    Police said they would deploy additional forces to support the search and rescue.    One officer was shot and wounded in the exchange of fire with the gang, they said.
    Katsina is plagued by violence the government attributes to bandits – a loose term for gangs of outlaws who attack locals and kidnap for ransom.    Attacks by Islamist militants are common in northeastern parts of the country.
    Violence and insecurity across Nigeria have enraged citizens, particularly after scores of farmers were killed, some beheaded, by Islamist militants in northeast Borno state late last month.
    Buhari, who arrived on Friday for a week in his home village some 200 km (125 miles) from Kankara, was scheduled to brief the national assembly on the security situation last week, but cancelled the appearance without official explanation.
(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom; Additional reporting by Nneka Chile in Lagos and Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi; Writing by Libby George; Editing by Helen Popper and Alex Richardson)

12/13/2020 Parents Pray For Hundreds Of Students Kidnapped In Nigeria’s Katsina
The Government Science secondary school is seen in Kankara district, after it was attacked by armed
bandits, in northwestern Katsina state, Nigeria December 12, 2020. REUTERS/Abdullahi Inuwa
    KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Parents converged on a secondary school in Nigeria’s northwestern Katsina state on Sunday, begging authorities to save hundreds of boys abducted by gunmen.
    More than 300 students from the all-boys Government Science school in Kankara taken Friday night remained missing on Sunday.
    “We will not rest until we see the end of this,” state spokesman Abdul Labaran told Reuters.
    Labaran said military and intelligence chiefs were in Kankara to lead the rescue.    While 321 students were missing, he said some could have gone home to other states.
    All state schools in Katsina were ordered to close because officials did not know the attackers’ motives, the education commissioner said.
    Abubakar Lawal came from Zaria, a city 120 kilometres (75 miles) south of Kanara. Two of his three sons at the school were among the missing.
    “From yesterday I was here, praying that the almighty Allah should rescue our people,” he said outside the dusty school grounds.
    One of his missing sons, 17-year-old Buhari, was named after President Muhammadu Buhari, a native of Katsina state.
    Yahaya, 17, told Reuters he escaped on Saturday. He gave only one name for fear of reprisals.    He said he sneaked away while the kidnappers transferred students to different locations in the forest.
    “We met someone with motorcycle who brought us to a nearby village,” He said.    “From there someone bought us to Kankara.”
    He said group leaders told the men not to harm them.
    Attacks by armed gangs, widely known as bandits, are common throughout northwestern Nigeria.    The groups attack civilians, stealing or kidnapping them for ransom.    Islamist militants are more common in the northeast.
    There is growing anger with the precarious security situation in Nigeria, Africa’s most populous nation.    Late last month, Islamist militants killed scores of farmers in northeastern Borno, beheading some of them.
(Reporting By Maiduguri newsroom and Afolabi Sotunde. Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja and Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi; Writing by Libby George. Editing by Alex Richardson and Bernadette Baum)

12/13/2020 Algeria President Makes First Appearance Since Hospitalisation
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
    ALGIERS (Reuters) -Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune made his first appearance on Sunday since being flown to a hospital in Germany 47 days ago after testing positive for coronavirus, saying he is recovering and will be back home soon.
    Tebboune, 75, appeared in a video posted on Twitter and broadcast on state television. He said he is expected to make a complete recovery within three weeks at the latest.
    “I’m recovering…I will recover my physical capacities in a week, two weeks or three weeks,” he said.    “We will soon be in the country to continue building a new Algeria.”
    Elected in December last year to succeed Abdelaziz Bouteflika who resigned after mass protests, Tebboune has promised to carry out political and economic reforms in the North African country, an OPEC member.
    Early last month, Algerians approved changes to the constitution aimed at giving more powers to the parliament and prime minister as well as boosting political freedoms, although voter turnout was very low.
    Tebboune said he had asked his staff at the presidency to coordinate with the election authority to prepare for a new election law, adding this law would pave the way for the post-constitution period.
    “I have been following what is taking place in Algeria on a daily basis,” he said.
    Since taking office Tebboune has announced plans to reform the economy and diversify it away from oil and gas, seeking to ease financial pressure caused by a fall in energy revenue – which accounts for 60% of the state budget and 94% of total export revenue.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould AhmedEditing by Barbara Lewis and Frances Kerry)

12/14/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan Says Upset U.S. Went Ahead With Sanctions Process
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media following the Friday prayers
in Istanbul, Turkey, December 11, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday Turkey expects its NATO ally the United States to support it and not sanction it over its purchase of Russian S-400 missiles, and added he was upset that Washington went ahead with the sanctions process.
    Neither sanctions from the United States nor the European Union would deter Turkey from defending its rights, Erdogan added in an address after a cabinet meeting.
    Reuters, citing sources, reported last week that the United States was poised to sanction Turkey over the S-400s.    The U.S. Congress has also passed a defense spending bill including a provision for such sanctions.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

12/14/2020 Pompeo Tells Turkey Its Purchase Of S-400 Missile Defense System Will Endanger U.S. Military
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Monday the United States has made clear to Turkey that its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defense systems would endanger the security of U.S. military technology and personnel.
    Pompeo said he has urged Turkey to resolve the S-400 issue in co-ordination with the United States.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Nandita Bose in Washington; Editing by Chris Reese)

12/14/2020 Boys Escaped Through Forest After Gunmen Abducted Their Friends At Nigeria School by Ismail Abba and Afolabi Sotunde
A view shows an empty classroom at the Government Science school where gunmen abducted students,
in Kankara, in northwestern Katsina state, Nigeria December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Usama Aminu was one of the lucky ones. He managed to escape when gunman abducted more than 300 pupils from his school in northwestern Nigeria.
    “When I decided to run they brought a knife to slaughter me but I ran away quickly,” he said, sitting on a mat and speaking softly as he described how he had been in bed at the all-boys school in Kankara when he heard gunshots on Friday night.
    At first, he said, the boys thought the commotion was from soldiers trying to protect them, but the attackers, armed with AK-47s, were already inside the building, threatening groups who tried to leave their dormitories at the Government Science secondary school in an attack that has outraged Nigerians.
    “They said they would kill whoever is trying to escape then I began to run, climbing one rock to another through a forest,” Aminu said.
    Many details of the raid and its aftermath remain unknown.
    Police said on Friday they exchanged fire with the attackers, allowing some students to run for safety.    According to Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masari on Sunday, 333 students remained missing.
    The president’s office said on Monday the government was in contact with the armed men and was negotiating the release of the boys after security agencies had located them.
    “We are making progress and the outlook is positive,” Masari told reporters on Monday, after meeting President Muhammadu Buhari, who was on a week-long visit to his home state.
    The governor said the president was fully committed to the rescue of the school children, after he had been criticised in Nigerian newspapers for not visiting the school.
    It is still not clear who the gunmen were and officials do not yet know the motive of the attack.
    Attacks by armed gangs, widely known as bandits, are common throughout northwestern Nigeria.    The groups attack civilians, stealing or kidnapping them for ransom.
ANGER
    Muhammad Abubakar, 15, was another pupil who got away, trekking through farmland and a forest in the dark.    He said he was among 72 boys who had reached safety in the village of Kaikaibise where he ended up.
    “The bandits called us back.    They told us not to run.    We started to walk back to them, but as we did, we saw more people coming towards the dormitory,” he told Reuters.
    “So I and others ran again.    We jumped over the fence and ran through a forest to the nearest village.”
    Abubakar, one of eight children, said he saw a number of boys being rounded up before they were marched out of the school, which has around 800 students.    Seven of his friends are missing.
    As he was reunited with his mother, who sells firewood for a living, he said: “I never thought I would see my parents again.”
    Friday’s raid evoked memories of the 2014 kidnap of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok by Islamist group Boko Haram.
    Since then, about half of those girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos and an unknown number are believed to have died.
    Despite the measures taken to find the boys and track down the assailants, there was growing anger at the precarious security situation in the country.    On Monday, #BringBackOurBoys was trending on Twitter.
    Late last month, Islamist militants killed scores of farmers in northeastern Borno, beheading some of them.
    And in October the country was gripped by some of the worst civil unrest since its return to civilian rule in 1999, following weeks of largely peaceful protests against police brutality in which several demonstrators were shot dead.
    Oby Ezekwesili, a former government minister and campaigner who organised the Bring Back Our Girls Movement after the Chibok abductions, said the insecurity that led to the latest abduction was the product of poor governance.
    “Nothing of our government system was available to protect those children,” she told Reuters.    “What else can define poor governance.”
    The presidency declined to comment when asked for a response to the criticism.
(This story corrects spelling of state governor to Masari, not Masri, in paragraph 6)
(Reporting by Ismail Abba and Afolabi Sotunde in Kankara; Additional reporting by Nneka Chile, Seun Sanni and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/14/2020 Ethiopia’s War-Scarred Tigray Region Regains Some Services
FILE PHOTO: An Ethiopian refugee who fled Tigray region holds a child inside a courtesy bus at the Fashaga camp, as they are transferred
to Um-Rakoba camp on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 13, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia sent civil servants in Tigray back to work on Monday and ordered gun owners to disarm as Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government sought to restore normality in the northern region after weeks of war.
    Some power and telephone links were also restored in regional capital Mekelle after a virtual communications blackout since federal troops’ Nov. 4 offensive.    But there were reports of big fuel and food price hikes, plus water shortages.
    Accounts of hunger and harassment also emerged from refugees, some of whom the Ethiopian government has sent back to Tigray.    The region is still off-limits to journalists without a permit.
    Abiy has declared victory over the former local ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.    The powerful TPLF dominated federal government for nearly three decades before anti-government protests propelled Abiy to office in 2018.
    Thousands of people are believed killed and nearly a million fled their homes during air strikes and ground battles in Tigray that exposed bitter ethnic divisions around the vast nation.
    The government seized Mekelle, home to 500,000 people, on Nov. 28, and released a video last week entitled “Normalcy in the eyes of the residents” featuring interviews with Tigrayans.
    Tigray’s airspace was reopened on Monday.
    The government said mobile voice services in Mekelle and six other towns had been restored, and that electricity was also back in the regional capital.    However, of 27 calls made by Reuters to Mekelle on Monday, only 6 connected.
REFUGEES ALLEGE HARASSMENT
    There was mounting concern over 100,000 Eritrean refugees in Tigray.    Three refugees in the Adi Harush camp reached by Reuters said there was no food and little water and they were being mistreated by armed men without uniforms.    The men had raped two women, one of the refugees said.
    Reuters was unable to verify their stories or reach the Ethiopian refugee agency, which is returning hundreds of people to the camps, for comment.
    A 40-year-old driver reached by phone in Mekelle said power was back but there was little water and food was extremely expensive.    “People are going outside because they are hungry,” he told Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    He said the price of fuel had jumped nearly 14 times from 22 birr ($0.57) before the conflict to 300 birr on the black market.    A kilo of berbere, a popular spice, soared from 70 to 800 birr.    Reuters could not verify the prices.     Banks remained closed, and water is in short supply, another resident said.     The new government-appointed provisional administration for Tigray has told state employees – including rank-and-file workers from the previous administration – to return to work on Monday or be fired.
    Gun owners must hand in weapons by Tuesday or risk arrest.
    Administration head Mulu Nega said he was too busy to comment when Reuters tried to reach him on Monday.
    TPLF leaders, believed to be hiding in the mountains, have previously said they were fighting back.    Reuters has not been able to reach them for comment for more than a week.
    It has been near impossible to verify accounts from all sides due to the communications difficulties.
($1 = 38.5334 birr)
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Giles Elgood)

12/14/2020 Lebanon’s Aoun, Hariri Trade Blame Over New Government
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Lebanese political leaders to present the plan aimed at steering the country
out of a financial crisis, at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon May 6, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri traded blame on Monday over a delay in the formation of a new government, casting further doubt on whether the badly needed cabinet will be agreed soon.
    Four months since Lebanon’s last government quit in the wake of a huge explosion in Beirut port in August, the main parties have been unable to agree on a cabinet even as the country sinks deeper into a crippling financial crisis.
    Hariri, who was designated in October to form a government, gave Aoun a line-up last week, saying the atmosphere was positive.    Aoun’s office said at the time the two had agreed to try to bridge the gap between their proposals.
    But the atmosphere soured very publicly on Monday.
    In a statement prompted by criticism from an Aoun adviser, Hariri’s media office urged Aoun to set aside party interests, namely the demand that one party get a third of the ministries, or effective veto power, referring to the Free Patriotic Movement founded by Aoun.
    “This is what will never happen under any pretext,” the statement said.
    A statement from the presidency meanwhile said Aoun objected to Hariri “going it alone in naming ministers, particularly the Christians, without agreement with the president.”
    “The president never proposed names of party candidates to be ministers and did not present the prime minister-designate with a list of names,” it said.
    The most recent draft line-up proposed by Hariri differed from the previous one discussed with Aoun, it added.
    Under a sectarian power-sharing system, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim.    Aoun is an ally of the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
    The financial crisis came to a head last year after decades of corruption and bad governance, sinking the currency by some 80%, freezing savers out of their deposits and causing poverty to soar.
    Major decisions have been set to one side amid the political paralysis, notably what to do about subsidies on basic goods including fuel, which are being imported using the central bank’s dwindling foreign currency reserves.
(Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by William Maclean)

12/14/2020 United States Takes Sudan Off Terrorism List After 27 Years by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington, D.C.,
U.S., November 24, 2020. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) -A U.S. decision to remove Sudan from a list of state sponsors of terrorism came into effect on Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, eliminating a burden that had weighed on Sudan’s economy since 1993 and restricted its ability to receive aid.
    The move is a boost for the transitional authorities who took over after president Omar al-Bashir was overthrown last year, and are grappling with a deep economic crisis.
    President Donald Trump said in October that he would rehabilitate Sudan, days before announcing that Israel and Sudan intended to normalise relations.    A 45-day Congressional review period has now elapsed.
    “This achievement was made possible by the efforts of Sudan’s civilian-led transitional government to chart a bold new course away from the legacy of the Bashir regime and, in particular, to meet the statutory and policy criteria for rescission,” Pompeo said in a statement issued in Washington.
    Sudan had been engaged in talks with the United States for months, and paid a negotiated $335 million settlement to victims of al-Qaeda attacks on U.S. embassies in East Africa in 1998 who had been awarded much higher damages by U.S. courts.
    A process to release the settlement money and restore Sudan’s sovereign immunity is currently stalled in Congress, however.
LIBERATED
    “We have been liberated from the global blockade which we were forced into by the behavior of the ousted regime,” Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said in a statement.
    “This achievement … contributes to economic reforms, attracting investments and remittances through official channels, creating new job opportunities for young people, and many other positives.”
    The United States listed Sudan in 1993 on grounds that Bashir’s regime was harboring militant groups including al-Qaeda, Hamas and Hezbollah.    It cut Sudan off from financial assistance and investment, and from the global banking system.     Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Washington would now help Khartoum to seek financing from international lenders and negotiate relief on $60 bln in foreign debt.
    Sudan also hopes to gain access to equipment and software for healthcare, energy, transport, education and infrastructure, Hamdok’s office said.
    “This decision has given us hope that our circumstances could improve,” said Mohamed Hassan, a 58-year-old private sector employee in Khartoum.
(Writing and additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir in Dubai, additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Aidan Lewis, Gareth Jones and Kevin Liffey)

12/14/2020 PM Declines To Be Questioned In Beirut Blast Probe, Official Source Says
FILE PHOTO: Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab speaks after a Supreme Defense Council meeting at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon November 10, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo.
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, has declined to be questioned by the judge who charged him and three former ministers with negligence over the Beirut port blast, an official source said on Monday.
    Judge Fadi Sawan has met pushback from influential parties including Shi’ite Hezbollah and Sunni leader Saad al-Hariri, underlining the political hurdles facing the investigation.
    Lebanese are still waiting for answers four months since one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts on record.    A stockpile of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely for years, detonated in August, killing 200 people, injuring thousands and devastating entire districts.
    Some politicians accused Sawan of being selective and overstepping his powers by charging ministers.    Others, including the head of the Beirut Bar Association, said the move showed courage.
    The outgoing premier “has said everything he has to say about this file, full stop,” according to his office.    Diab, who has testified as a witness, quit after the disaster but continues to serve in a caretaker role.
    He and President Michel Aoun were warned in July that the nitrate could destroy the capital if it exploded, according to documents seen by Reuters.    Aoun has said he had no direct authority over the port.
    Sawan requested an appointment from Diab’s office but was told he would not agree to be questioned, the official source at the prime minister’s office said.
    Sawan could not immediately be reached for comment.
    The caretaker interior minister, Mohammed Fahmi, said he would not enforce any arrest warrants for Diab or the other officials if they refused to be questioned.    “And let them pursue me if they wish,” Lebanese newspaper al-Joumhouria quoted him as saying.
    After meeting with Diab on Friday, Hariri pledged not to let anyone “violate the post of prime minister” – a seat reserved for a Sunni Muslim in the sectarian power-sharing system.
    The ex-ministers charged by Sawan are members of parties allied to Hezbollah, which said the charges smacked of “political targeting.”    Two are from Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Shi’ite Amal party, which also accused the judge on Monday of breaching the constitution.
    Lebanon’s senior Christian cleric, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai, said on Sunday he hoped reactions to Sawan’s move would not obstruct the probe or cause “a national division on a sectarian basis.”
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Ellen Francis; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Angus MacSwan)

12/14/2020 Kuwait Names New Oil And Finance Ministers As Government Faces Liquidity Crunch
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's new Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah holds a paper as he takes the oath of office at
the parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee/File Photo
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s emir on Monday approved a new cabinet that included new ministers of oil and finance for the OPEC member state which is mired in its worst economic crisis in decades.
    The previous government had resigned following parliamentary polls this month in which opposition candidates made gains and around two thirds of lawmakers lost their seats.
    A priority of the new government will be to boost state coffers badly hit by the coronavirus crisis and low oil prices, including by trying to end legislative deadlock over a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
    The government communications office said Khalifa Hamade was named finance minister. He was a former undersecretary at the ministry.
    Mohammad Abdulatif al-Fares, who sits on the board of Kuwait Petroleum Corporation, was named oil, electricity and water minister.
    Kuwait’s oil policy, which is set by a supreme petroleum council, and foreign policy, which is steered by the emir, are unlikely to change under the new 15-member government.
    The Gulf Arab state’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year.
    Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who took the reins in September following the death of his brother, has reappointed Sheikh Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah as prime minister.
    Sheikh Sabah, who took the oath of office in front of the emir on Monday, called for united efforts “and especially by the National Assembly” to address challenges facing Kuwait.
    Kuwait, a U.S. ally, has the most open political system in the Gulf region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.
    Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah also retained his post in the new cabinet.
    Hamad Jaber al-Ali al-Sabah was named defense minister.    The interior ministry was given to an Al Sabah family member after having been held by a minister from outside the ruling family in the previous cabinet.
(This story adds dropped words in headline.)
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai; Editing by Raya Jalabi, Gareth Jones and Louise Heavens)

12/15/2020 Kuwait Emir Tells Parliament: Reform Needed, Stop Disputes
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruler told the new parliament, in which opposition candidates made gains, that comprehensive reform was needed to help the Gulf Arab state exit its worst economic crisis in decades and that there was no time for “fabricating conflicts.”
    Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah took the reins in September following the death of his brother at a time the wealthy OPEC member state is facing a severe liquidity crunch due to low oil prices and the coronavirus crisis.
    “Our country’s path faces serious problems and big challenges which call for putting in place a comprehensive reform programme,” Sheikh Nawaf said in Tuesday’s address at the new assembly’s first session.
    “There is no room for wasting more efforts, time and capabilities on fabricated conflicts, disputes and settling accounts which have become a source of frustration and discontent for citizens and an obstacle to any achievement.”
    This month’s parliamentary polls saw two thirds of lawmakers lose their seats as opposition candidates made gains in results that analysts say could hamper government efforts to enact fiscal reform in the cradle-to-grave welfare state and end legislative gridlock over a debt law that would help boost state coffers.
    Frequent rows and deadlocks between cabinet and parliament have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform.
    Kuwait’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year.    A government priority is to pass a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
    Kuwait, a U.S. ally, has the most open political system in the Gulf region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.
    The emir has final say in state matters.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/15/2020 Nigeria’s Boko Haram Behind Schoolboys’ Abduction – Audio Message
FILE PHOTO: The leader of one of the Boko Haram group's factions, Abubakar Shekau, holds a weapon in an unknown location in Nigeria
in this still image taken from an undated video obtained on January 15, 2018. Boko Haram Handout/Sahara Reporters via REUTERS
    MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) – A man identifying himself as the leader of Nigeria’s Boko Haram said on Tuesday the Islamist group was behind the abduction of more than 300 schoolboys, as anxious parents begged the government to secure their release.
    Pupils who escaped kidnap on Friday, by jumping over the fence of the Government Science secondary school in Katsina state in northwestern Nigeria and fleeing through a forest, said the attackers were armed with AK-47 assault rifles and rounded up their victims before marching them off.
    Boko Haram, whose name means “Western education is forbidden” in the local Hausa language, has waged an insurgency in the northeast of Nigeria since 2009 but has not previously claimed attacks in the northwest.
    The claims in the audio tape, if true, could mark a widening influence of jihadist groups operating in northeastern Nigeria, political analysts said.
    They could also signal that jihadists have formed alliances with militant groups operating in the Sahel, which could further destabilise the impoverished north of Africa’s most populous nation which plays a pivotal role in regional stability.
    Katsina state authorities said about 320 boys were missing and Nigeria’s government said it had spoken to the kidnappers, who have sought a ransom from at least one parent.
    “We’re begging the government to please try their best to get their release,” Hajiya Ummi, whose 15-year-old son Mujtaba is among those missing, said by telephone from her home in Bakori town in Katsina.
    “His friends told me he was sick in bed when the bandits struck.    He could hardly move but they dragged him out with the rest of the abducted students,” she said, her voice cracking with emotion.
    Katsina officials had ordered all state schools in close because they did not know the attackers’ motives.    Neighbouring Zamfara state on Monday also ordered its government boarding schools to close, according to a circular seen by Reuters.
AUDIO CLIP
    In an audio message which reached Reuters via a WhatsApp message, a man purporting to be Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau said: “We are behind what happened in Katsina.”
    “What happened in Katsina was done to promote Islam and discourage un-Islamic practices as Western education is not the type of education permitted by Allah and his holy prophet,” he said.
    No video footage was released of the missing boys.
    The man offered no proof for his statement.    Reuters was unable to verify the audio and Nigerian authorities did not immediately comment.
    A security source told Reuters Boko Haram was not itself involved in the abduction, but that the kidnappers could have sold the boys to the Islamist group.
    Spokesmen for the presidency, police and army did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM intelligence, said huge swathes of northwest Nigeria were ungoverned spaces where arms and people moved freely across porous borders.
    Nearby Burkina Faso has descended into chaos as Islamist groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State exploit ethnic grievances and government neglect of the arid north.
    On Monday, an attack blamed on Boko Haram killed 28 people and burned 800 homes in the southern Diffa region of Niger, which borders Nigeria to the north.
    “There is a danger that jihadists operating in the Sahel could potentially build alliances with groups that have previously remained in northeast Nigeria.    That would further destabilise the region,” Nwanze said.
    Boko Haram carried out the 2014 kidnap of more than 200 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok.    About half the girls have been found or freed, dozens have been paraded in propaganda videos, and some are believed to be dead.
    More than 30,000 people have been killed since Boko Haram began its insurgency, aimed at creating an Islamic state.
(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom; Additional reporting by Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Alexis Akwagyiram and Libby George in Lagos, Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne, Timothy Heritage and Tom Brown)

12/15/2020 Ten Years On, Anger Grows In Tunisian Town Where ‘Arab Spring’ Began by Angus McDowall and Tarek Amara
People queue as they wait to get cooking gas outside a main outlet in Sidi Bouzid,
Tunisia December 8, 2020. Picture taken December 8, 2020. REUTERS/Angus McDowall
    SIDI BOUZID, Tunisia (Reuters) – Ten years ago, a fruit seller set himself ablaze in the central Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid after an altercation with a policewoman about where he had put his cart.
    Word of Mohammed Bouazizi’s fatal act of defiance quickly spread, sparking nationwide protests that eventually toppled Tunisia’s long-serving leader and helped inspire similar uprisings across the region – the so-called “Arab Spring.”
    Huge demonstrations broke out in Egypt and Bahrain, governments fell and civil war engulfed Libya, Syria and Yemen.
    Tunisians are now free to choose their leaders and can publicly criticise the state.    Yet for all the chaos they have been through, many people look back on the events of 2010 and regret that their dreams remain unfulfilled.
    “Something went wrong in the revolution,” said Attia Athmouni, a retired philosophy teacher who helped lead the uprising after Bouazizi’s death by standing on the fruit seller’s abandoned cart to address the crowd the night he died.
    Protests have flared again in recent weeks across Tunisia’s poorer southern towns against joblessness, poor state services, inequality and shortages.
    The scramble to get enough cooking gas to provide for families underlines the hardships ordinary people face in a country where the economy has stagnated, leaving the public as angry as it was a decade ago.
    Near Sidi Bouzid last week, a crowd placed large stones across the tarmac to block a main road.    They wanted trucks taking cooking gas cylinders to the town to offload them in their village instead.
    Supplies have been in short supply in Tunisia since people living near the main state-run factory producing the gas closed the plant several weeks ago to demand more local jobs.
    Outside the main outlet for cooking gas in Sidi Bouzid, three riot police vans guarded the gate as hundreds of people waited to get their hands on full cylinders.
    A woman at the front of the crowd said she had had no gas for three days and her family had been eating only cold food.    She had queued for six and a half hours.
REVOLUTION
    Bigger demonstrations may take place in Tunisia on Thursday, the anniversary of Bouazizi’s self-immolation after his fruit cart was confiscated when he refused to move off an unlicensed pitch.
    Slimane Rouissi, another Sidi Bouzid activist and former teacher who knew Bouazizi’s family, said the young man had endured a string of disappointments before the final confrontation.
    He drenched himself in petrol and killed himself in front of the local governorate office.
    When Athmouni, the retired teacher, heard about the incident, he dismissed his class and told his students to start protesting.
    That night, as hundreds of people gathered outside the governorate and chanted slogans, he heard the words “the people want the fall of the regime” – soon to be the catch phrase of Tunisia’s revolution – for the first time.
    Over the coming weeks the protests grew. By January, 2011, thousands were marching in Tunis and President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, in power for 23 years, realised the game was up. He fled to Saudi Arabia where he died in exile last year.
    Tunisia’s revolution spread. In Egypt the crowds forced Hosni Mubarak from power after 30 years as president.    Uprisings shook Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen.
    Hope for a new democratic future soon turned to bloodshed, particularly in Syria, Yemen and Libya, where civil wars pulled in major powers fearful their regional foes would gain an advantage.
    Though Tunisia’s path to democracy has been far smoother, its economy has deteriorated and political leaders appear paralysed.
    Last year’s election delivered a bitterly fragmented parliament unable to produce a stable government, with parties bickering over cabinet seats and putting off big decisions.
    More Tunisians are trying illegally to leave the country than ever, while visions of jihad lure alienated, jobless youth.    Both dynamics were evident in the recent attack in Nice by a young Tunisian migrant who killed three people in a church.
    “There is a rupture between the politicians and the people now because the system cannot understand the demands of the street,” Athmouni said bitterly in a Sidi Bouzid cafe full of unemployed young men.
NO INVESTMENT
    In the streets near Bouazizi’s old home – a shabby single-storey building behind a dented metal gate – a group of young men stood chatting on a street corner.
    Sabri Amri, 26, laughed when asked if he had voted in any of Tunisia’s post-revolution elections.    All he and his group of friends want is to emigrate, he said.    There is no work and young people spend their time drinking or taking drugs, he added.
    “We have geniuses here – doctors, engineers.    I know a guy who is a mechanical engineer.    What does he do now?    He sells weed just to live,” said Abdullah Gammoudi, a qualified sports teacher who does not have a job.
    In Sidi Bouzid, the only tangible signs of investment since 2011 are a new building outside town to replace the governorate headquarters where Bouazizi died, and his memorial – a stone fruit cart scrawled with graffiti saying: “The people want…
    Mohammed Bouali, 37, stood behind the government offices off Sidi Bouzid’s main road, his cart full of oranges, apples and bananas.    He and Bouazizi used to work on the same street.
    Though his work – weighing out fruit for customers with a small hand-held scale – does not make enough to support his two children, he has few other options.
    “The government won’t provide anything,” he said.
    The policewoman who confiscated Bouazizi’s cart 10 years ago still patrols the same streets, moving unlicensed vendors from their pitches.
    Athmouni believes the answer is more protests.    Mass uprisings in Algeria and Sudan ousted entrenched leaders there only last year.
    “I’m convinced the revolution is continuous,” he said.    “This year the anger is bigger than in the past.”
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

12/15/2020 Congo President Tshisekedi Says Most Lawmakers Back His Vision by Stanis Bujakera
FILE PHOTO: Congo's President Felix Antoine Tshilombo Tshisekedi gestures during a news conference with German Chancellor
Angela Merkel (not pictured) at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany November 15, 2019. REUTERS/Fabrizio Bensch/File Photo
    KINSHASA (Reuters) – Congo President Felix Tshisekedi said on Monday he believed he had the cross-party support needed to push through his plans for a new government, after ending an awkward coalition with his predecessor Joseph Kabila to seek a new majority in parliament.
    Lawmakers voted on Thursday to oust a Kabila-appointed speaker, signalling a potential realignment of support that may allow Tshisekedi to nominate a more loyal cabinet.
    Political analysts say the speaker’s unpopularity helped Tshisekedi triumph by a margin of 81 votes in the 500-member lower house.
    But it is unclear whether backing from his new political bloc, known as the Sacred Union, will translate into enough support in other crucial votes, such as the appointment of a new speaker and a motion of no confidence in the prime minister.
    In a state of the nation address to parliament, Tshisekedi expressed confidence most lawmakers backed his plans, referring to “strong convergence between the vast majority of the parties consulted and myself.”
    Tshisekedi was long an opponent of Kabila but the two forged an uneasy alliance after a disputed election in 2018, with Kabila’s allies maintaining a parliamentary majority and controlling cabinet.
    The power struggle has frustrated Tshisekedi as he tries to pursue an agenda that includes addressing armed violence in the mineral-rich east, reforming the judiciary and securing financial support from the International Monetary Fund and World Bank.
    “Unfortunately … despite my best efforts, the sacrifices I have made and the humiliations I have tolerated, it has not been enough to make this coalition work smoothly,” Tshisekedi said.
    He is yet to name a facilitator who would help identify a new parliamentary majority, a move that could be subject to legal challenge in the constitutional court.
    Kabila’s allies are slowly being marginalised, said Fred Bauma from the Congo Research Group at New York University.
    “One of the biggest concerns, however, is about the willingness and the capacity of Tshisekedi’s team to implement deep reforms that are needed,” Bauma said.
(Reporting by Stanis Bujakera; additional reporting and writing by Hereward Holland, editing by Timothy Heritage)

12/15/2020 After 60 Years, East Jerusalem Palestinians Face Eviction Under Israeli Settler Rulings by Suheir Sheikh and Rami Ayyub
Palestinian Nabil Al-Kurd stands outside his home in east Jerusalem December 14, 2020. Picture taken December 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – For Nabil al-Kurd, being forced out of the East Jerusalem home he has lived in since the 1950s would be a fate worse than death.
    But the 76-year-old and his wife and children are among dozens of Palestinians under threat of eviction from two districts of the disputed city, after an Israeli court ruled their properties are built on land belonging to Jewish settlers.
    “This is my motherland.    All my memories are in this house,” Kurd told Reuters.    “I won’t leave unless it is to the cemetery.”
    The ownership claims against him and others in Sheikh Jarrah and a second neighbourhood, Batan al-Hawa, are a focal point of settler development plans in East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in a war in 1967.
    Kurd was ordered evicted in October, within 30 days.
    He has appealed to the Jerusalem District court, though Hagit Ofran, project coordinator for Israeli anti-settlement group Peace Now, says he has little chance of overturning the ruling.
    That same court has this year upheld several settler claims, based on 19th- and early 20th-century documents, drawing censure from the European Union, whose representative in Jerusalem says 77 Palestinians are at risk of forced transfer.
CITY AT THE HEART OF CONFLICT
    The status of Jerusalem, a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians, is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    Palestinians want the capital of their would-be state to be East Jerusalem, and most countries regard settlements that Israel has built there as illegal.
    Israel disputes this, citing biblical and historical links to the territory, as well as security needs and legal arguments.     Many of the Palestinians facing eviction were refugees like Kurd or their descendants, who came to the area more than half a century ago, Peace Now said.
    The settlers in Kurd’s case bought the land from two Jewish associations that claimed to have purchased it at the end of the 19th century, the group said.
    A lawyer who represented the settlers claiming Kurd’s property declined to speak with Reuters.
    Peace Now says some 14 families have been evicted from Batan al-Hawa since 2015 and 16 from Sheikh Jarrah since the late 1990s in such cases.
    Evictions are typically stayed while appeals are heard, and some of the residents have appealed their cases to Israel’s Supreme Court, but Kurd’s family is taking no chances.
    “My family has prepared luggage of the important things we need so that if they come in any second, we will be ready,” said daughter Muna al-Kurd.
    “…We have a camera at the house, four cameras that show the street, and dad stays up until two to three in the morning just watching if they are coming to evacuate us.”
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and John Stonestreet)

12/15/2020 Israel Signals Openness To Future Joint Missile Defence With Gulf Partners by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stands near the Iron Dome interceptor system during a tour of a missile
boat as part of his visit to a navy base in Haifa, Israel, February 12, 2019. Jack Guez/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel could be open to future cooperation on missile defence with Gulf Arab states that share its concerns about Iran, a senior Israeli official said on Tuesday.
    But Moshe Patel, who heads the Israeli Missile Defence Organisation that is part of the Defence Ministry, said it was still premature to pursue any such deals. He said Washington’s approval would be needed if Israeli systems developed with U.S. technology were involved.
    “Things can be done, maybe in the future,” Patel told reporters when asked whether any of the systems might be offered to Israel’s new partners in the Gulf, or synchronised with comparable systems there.
    “From an engineering point of view, of course there is a lot of advantage.    That information can be shared, like sensors that can be deployed in both countries because we have the same enemies.”
    Jitters about Iran were a driver of a U.S.-brokered pact on Sept. 15 formalising relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain for the first time.    Saudi Arabia has encouraged the rapprochement, while holding off on having its own bilateral ties with Israel for now.
    Prior to those deals, a senior Israeli official had told Reuters there would be no coordination on missile defence with Gulf countries.
    Patel’s briefing was called to announce what he said was the successful live test of a multi-tiered Israeli missile defence system that could hit targets flying at different altitudes – and allow for any targets initially missed to be re-engaged.
    The lowest tier is made up of the Iron Dome short-range rocket interceptor, which Israel said had also shot down cruise missiles and unmanned aerial vehicles.
    The U.S. Army has received one Iron Dome battery from Israel, with another one on order, Patel said.
    Israel imbricates Iron Dome with the mid-range interceptor David’s Sling, and with the Arrow system, which shoots down ballistic missiles – including in space.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

12/15/2020 Somalia Cuts Ties With Kenya, Shots Fired At Mogadishu Protests by Abdi Sheikh
FILE PHOTO: Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, President of Somalia, attends the London Somalia
Conference' at Lancaster House, May 11, 2017. REUTERS/Jack Hill/Pool/File Photo
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – Somalia cut diplomatic relations with neighbouring Kenya on Tuesday, accusing it of meddling in politics as protests and gunfire erupted in the capital Mogadishu over delayed elections.
    The dispute could undermine cooperation in the fight against the Islamist group al Shabaab in Somalia, where Kenya provides 3,600 troops to an African Union peacekeeping force.
    “Somalia calls back all its diplomats from Kenya and orders Kenyan diplomats to leave Somalia within seven days,” Somali Information Minister Osman Dube told the state news agency.
    Dube added in a statement read on Radio Mogadishu that Nairobi was interfering, but did not give more details.
    “This is an answer to the constant political violation and Kenya’s open interference in Somalia’s independence,” he said.
    The Kenyan government did not immediately respond.
    Mogadishu’s move to cut ties followed a two-day visit to Kenya by Muse Bihi Abdi, president of Somalia’s breakaway region of Somaliland, that ended on Monday.
    During the visit, Abdi and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta pledged “unwavering commitment to deepen the cordial bilateral relations” between Kenya and Somaliland, according to a Kenyan presidency statement.
    Mogadishu regards Somaliland as an integral part of Somalia.
    Last month, Somalia expelled Nairobi’s ambassador and recalled its own envoy after alleging interference in the electoral process in Jubbaland.
    Jubbaland, which borders Kenya, is one of Somalia’s five semi-autonomous states.
    Also last year, Kenya recalled its ambassador after Mogadishu decided to auction disputed oil and gas exploration blocks at sea.    Ties were restored a few months later.
GUNFIRE
    The diplomatic flare-up came as anti-government protests broke out in Mogadishu. Demonstrators denounced President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed – usually known by his nickname “Farmaajo” (cheese) – over delayed votes for both houses of parliament.
    The polls were due early this month but became snagged on disagreements over the composition of the electoral board.
    The opposition accuses the government of packing it with sympathisers, which officials deny.
    “We do not want a dictator, we do not want Farmaajo,” hundreds of protesters chanted, calling for him to quit.    Some carried placards with “Farmaajo is a curse” written on them.
    Armed men in plain clothes guarded the protesters but soon started exchanging gunfire with police, prompting the protesters to scamper for safety.    One witness, Halima, Farah told Reuters she saw two people injured.
    There was no immediate response from the government to the protests.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; Writing by Clement Uwiringiyimana/Elias Biryabarema; Editing by Omar Mohammed, Andrew Cawthorne and Angus MacSwan)

12/15/2020 Pompeo Says Russia Playing Political Games, Stalling Progress In Mediterranean
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 24, 2020. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday blasted Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov over comments that the United States is playing political games in the Mediterranean region and turned the tables to say it is Russia that is undermining stability in Syria, Libya, and other countries.
    “All of these actions clearly demonstrate that if anyone is playing political games and trying to stall progress in regional conflicts, it is Russia, which only acts to advance its own interests to the detriment of the entire region,” Pompeo said in a statement.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert, Editing by Franklin Paul)

12/15/2020 Turkey Says U.S. Sanctions Have ‘Shaken’ Values Of Alliance
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting at
the Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Tuesday U.S. sanctions over Ankara’s purchase of Russian defences had shaken all values in their alliance and he called for renewed cooperation between the NATO allies.
    On Monday, Washington imposed the sanctions targeting Turkey’s Presidency of Defence Industry (SSB), its chairman and three other employees.
    “This sanctions decision has shaken all values in our countries’ alliance,” Akar said.    “Returning to cooperation and solidarity with the United States … will provide an important contribution to regional and global peace and security.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

12/15/2020 Kuwait Emir Tells Parliament: Reform Needed, Stop Disputes
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's new Emir Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah gestures as he takes the oath of office
at the parliament, in Kuwait City, Kuwait September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Stephanie McGehee
    KUWAIT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s ruler told the new parliament, in which opposition candidates made gains, that comprehensive reform was needed to help the Gulf Arab state exit its worst economic crisis in decades and that there was no time for “fabricating conflicts.”
    Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah took the reins in September following the death of his brother at a time the wealthy OPEC member state is facing a severe liquidity crunch due to low oil prices and the coronavirus crisis.
    “Our country’s path faces serious problems and big challenges which call for putting in place a comprehensive reform programme,” Sheikh Nawaf said in Tuesday’s address at the new assembly’s first session.
    “There is no room for wasting more efforts, time and capabilities on fabricated conflicts, disputes and settling accounts which have become a source of frustration and discontent for citizens and an obstacle to any achievement.”
    This month’s parliamentary polls saw two thirds of lawmakers lose their seats as opposition candidates made gains in results that analysts say could hamper government efforts to enact fiscal reform in the cradle-to-grave welfare state and end legislative gridlock over a debt law that would help boost state coffers.
    Frequent rows and deadlocks between cabinet and parliament have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform.
    Kuwait’s economy, which is worth nearly $140 billion, is facing a deficit of $46 billion this year.    A government priority is to pass a bill that would allow Kuwait to tap international debt markets.
    Kuwait, a U.S. ally, has the most open political system in the Gulf region, with a parliament wielding power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior posts are occupied by ruling family members.
    The emir has final say in state matters.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/15/2020 Path To New Lebanese Cabinet Totally Blocked, Berri Says
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's parliament speaker Nabih Berri looks on during a news conference in Beirut, Lebanon October 1, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The path to a new Lebanese government is completely blocked, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri said in comments published on Tuesday, but he held out hope that French President Emmanuel Macron might be able to help in a forthcoming visit.
    Fractious politicians have been unable to agree on a new government since the last one quit in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving Lebanon rudderless as it sinks deeper into economic and financial crisis.
    “We have entered a tunnel and I don’t know how we will get out of it,” Berri told al-Joumhuria newspaper.    “We are in a pitiful situation.    The government situation is completely blocked.”
    Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri and President Michel Aoun aired their differences over the government in statements on Monday, each blaming the other for the delay.
    “Why this blockage?    The answer certainly lies with the president and prime minister-designate,” said Berri, an ally of the armed Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
    “God willing, the French President Emmanuel Macron will be able to do something in his coming visit.    We can only wait.”
    Macron is due to visit Lebanon later this month, his third visit since the devastating port explosion which worsened an economic crisis.    Caused by decades of corruption and bad governance, the financial meltdown is the worst crisis to hit Lebanon since its 1975-90 civil war.
    Following the blast, Macron led efforts to get Lebanese politicians to agree on a new government which could enact reforms and in turn unlock international support.
    But Lebanese leaders have delivered no reforms.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Lebanon’s political and economic collapse was like the sinking of the Titanic, only without the music which it is believed the orchestra played as the ship went down.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

12/16/2020 Families Of Kidnapped Nigerian Boys Fear Time Running Out by Afolabi Sotunde
People pray in a mosque at the Government Science school in Kankara, in northwestern
Katsina state, Nigeria December 16, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Families of more than 300 kidnapped Nigerian schoolboys worried they may be brainwashed or held for years as security forces combed a vast forest on Wednesday for armed captors possibly from the jihadist Boko Haram movement.
    According to an unverified audio clip, the Islamist group – whose name means “Western education is forbidden” – was responsible for last week’s raid on an all-boys school in the town of Kankara in northwestern Katsina state.
    Parents fear time may be running out: Boko Haram has a history of turning captives into jihadist fighters.
    “They will radicalise our children if the government does not act fast to help us rescue them,” said trader Shuaibu Kankara, crying as he spoke from home.
    His 13-year-old son Annas was among those abducted from the Government Science school on Friday night.
    Two other sons managed to escape, he added, when men on motorbikes with AK-47 assault rifles stormed the school and marched the boys into a forest.
    Though the military said it had them roughly located, some experts feared the boys could be taken over the porous border with Niger, about an hour’s drive north, or at least split into small groups to make finding them harder.
    Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, have waged a decade-long insurgency estimated to have displaced about 2 million people and killed more than 30,000. They want to create states based on their extreme interpretation of sharia (Islamic law).
    If Boko Haram carried out the kidnapping in an area where it had not previously claimed attacks, that would mark an alarming expansion beyond its northeastern base, security experts say. But it may alternatively have purchased the boys from criminal gangs in the northwest with whom it has been building ties.
CHIBOK GIRLS REMEMBERED
    Nigerian soldiers and intelligence officers were combing the Rugu forest on Friday in search of the roughly 320 missing schoolboys, Abdu Labaran, an aide to Katsina’s state governor, told Reuters. Planes have also been deployed.
    One of the largest forests in Nigeria, Rugu straddles three states and includes woodland near the school.    Labaran said earlier in the week that a “bandit” had called a parent demanding a ransom and an end to helicopter flyovers.
    The mass abduction echoes Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 girls from a school in the northeastern town of Chibok.    The attack stunned Nigerians and gave rise to a global #BringBackOurGirls campaign.
    Six years on, only about half the schoolgirls have been found or freed. Others were married off to fighters, while some are assumed to be dead.
    “We pray it’s not going to be another situation of the Chibok girls’ abduction,” said Ahmed Bakori, a farmer whose 14-year-old son Abubakar was among those taken.
    About two dozen parents came to the Government Science compound on Wednesday and prayed in the school mosque.    The compound, comprised of white single-storey buildings built on dusty red soil, was quiet.
    Abubakar Lawal, who has two children among the captives, said he did not believe Boko Haram’s claim and would wait with patience and prayers.    “The government has to do diplomacy in a way to rescue these people,” he said outside the school building.
    The attack is awkward for President Muhammadu Buhari, who comes from Katsina and arrived on a private visit hours before the kidnapping occurred.    Buhari has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.”
    A retired general and former military ruler, Buhari was elected to office in 2015 in large part due to his pledge to crush the insurgency.    Under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram grew in strength and controlled a large tract of territory in northeast Nigeria around the size of Belgium.
    Around the nation, anger and anxiety were building over the abductions, with #BringBackOurBoys trending on Twitter.
    Armed forces spokesman John Enenche said on Wednesday that troops were determined to rescue the boys alive and had no evidence any were dead.
    He gave new details of the school attack and subsequent firefight with guards.    Soldiers arrived but could only shoot in the air as the assailants used the boys as shields.
    “It is the characteristics of terrorists,” he said.
(Reporting by Afolabi Sotunde in Kankara; Additonal reporting by Garba Muhammad in Kaduna, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, Camillus Eboh in Abuja, and Maiduguri newsroom; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/16/2020 Two Ex-Ministers Snub Judge After Being Charged Over Beirut Blast by Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil attends a cabinet meeting at the government
palace in Beirut, Lebanon, May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Two former Lebanese ministers charged with negligence over a huge explosion at Beirut port in August that killed 200 people snubbed a judge on Wednesday by not turning up for questioning.
    Judge Fadi Sawan charged three former ministers and the caretaker prime minister last week, sparking fierce debate about whether he had the authority to charge the politicians in a nation still seeking answers about the devastating blast.
    The explosion, one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts in history, added further strains to a country struggling with its worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    Some leading parties rebuked the judge for his action, including Shi’ite Muslim movement Hezbollah and the Sunni group led by former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.
    Ali Hassan Khalil, a former finance minister, and Ghazi Zeaiter, a former public works minister, who were both charged, said they had not been officially informed of Wednesday’s session, which protocol demanded.
    Both are lawmakers from Amal, the Shi’ite party led by powerful long-time Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, who is allied to Hezbollah.
    State news agency NNA reported that Sawan set a new date of Jan. 4 for the politicians to be questioned after their no-show on Wednesday.    It said he heard testimony from a former top army officer, who was acting as a witness.
    Hassan Diab, the caretaker prime minister whose cabinet resigned after the explosion, declined to be questioned on Monday.    An official source said the judge set a new appointment for Friday but had yet to receive a response.    Diab says his conscience is clear over the matter.
    Families of blast victims are increasingly frustrated that details have not emerged from an investigation since the Aug. 4 explosion caused by a huge stockpile of ammonium nitrate, which was stored in unsafe conditions.
    The blast injured thousands of people and devastated several districts in the centre of the Lebanese capital.
    Many Lebanese say they have given up hope of finding out the truth about the explosion in a country where a political elite have held power for decades amid corruption and mismanagement, while few in authority have ever been held to account.
    Politicians say Sawan has been selective and overstepped his powers, while the head of the Beirut Bar Association and others say the judge has shown courage.
    Khalil said he played no role in the blast case.    The Finance Ministry, which he led from 2014 to early 2020, oversees the customs administration, which has a presence in the port and other entry points.
Zeaiter, who called the charges “a blatant violation,” ran the Public Works Ministry in 2014, soon after ship carrying the ammonium nitrate arrived at the port.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Edmund Blair and Mark Heinrich)

12/16/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan, EU’s Michel Discussed EU Summit In Call
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan answers questions during a joint news conference with U.S. President
Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan told European Council President Charles Michel in a call that Turkey wants to build its future with the EU, calling for Ankara and the bloc to move on from a “vicious cycle” in ties, the Turkish presidency said late on Tuesday.
    At a summit on Friday, EU leaders agreed to prepare limited sanctions on Turkish individuals over a row with members Greece and Cyprus over hydrocarbon exploration in the eastern Mediterranean, but postponed discussions on any harsher steps until March.
    German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after the summit that EU leaders planned to discuss weapons exports to Turkey with NATO allies following a Greek push for an arms embargo on Ankara.
    The Turkish presidency said that Erdogan urged Michel to take a more constructive approach toward Turkey.
    “During the call, President Erdogan stated that Turkey aimed to build its future with the EU, and that they considered every positive step in Turkey-EU ties as a window of opportunity,” the presidency said.
    Erdogan also reiterated that Turkey was ready to launch bilateral talks with Greece on their maritime claims, but accused Athens of “running from talks.”    He repeated a call for a regional east Mediterranean conference.
    Turkey sent a seismic exploration vessel into waters also claimed by Greece in August, stoking tensions.    The EU, led by Germany, has sought without success to resolve the dispute. Turkey has repeatedly accused the bloc of being biased.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

12/17/2020 Turkey Says Will Not Turn Back On Russian S-400S Purchase Despite Sanctions
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference in
Ankara, Turkey December 8, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will not turn back on its purchase of Russian S-400 missile defence systems and will take reciprocal steps after evaluating the U.S. sanctions imposed because of the acquisition, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
    In an interview with broadcaster Kanal 24, Cavusoglu said the sanctions’ decision was wrong legally and politically and was an attack on Turkey’s sovereign rights, adding that the measures would have no impact on Ankara.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ezgi Erkoyun)

12/17/2020 U.N. Security Council To Talk Western Sahara After Trump Policy Switch by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft speaks next to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross
during a news conference to announce the Trump administration's restoration of sanctions on Iran,
at the U.S. State Department in Washington, U.S., September 21, 2020. Patrick Semansky/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council is planning to discuss Western Sahara on Monday, diplomats said, after U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed region in return for the kingdom normalizing ties with Israel.
    Trump’s announcement last week was a departure from longstanding U.S. policy on Western Sahara.    A closed-door U.N. Security Council meeting on the situation was requested by Germany, diplomats said.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft sent a copy of Trump’s proclamation recognizing “that the entire Western Sahara territory is part of the Kingdom of Morocco” to U.N. chief Antonio Guterres and the Security Council on Tuesday.
    The United States had supported a 1991 ceasefire between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish Western Sahara as an independent state.    The ceasefire is monitored by U.N. peacekeepers.
    The region has effectively been split by an earthen wall separating an area controlled by Morocco that it claims as its southern provinces, and territory controlled by the Polisario with a U.N.-mandated buffer zone between them.
    U.N. talks have long failed to broker an agreement on how to decide on self-determination.    Morocco wants an autonomy plan under Moroccan sovereignty.    The Polisario wants a U.N.-backed referendum including on the question of independence.
    U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, due to succeed Trump on Jan. 20, will face a decision whether to accept the U.S. deal with Morocco on the Western Sahara, which no other Western country has done.    A Biden spokesman declined to comment.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “position remains unchanged,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric last week.
    “He remains convinced that a solution to the question of Western Sahara is possible, in accordance” U.N. Security Council resolutions, Dujarric said.
    In October, the 15-member Security Council extended the U.N. peacekeeping mission, known as MINURSO, for a one year, adopting a resolution that “emphasizes the need to achieve a realistic, practicable and enduring political solution to the question of Western Sahara based on compromise.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Robert Birsel)

12/17/2020 Parents React To Purported Boko Haram Video Showing Abducted Boys by Afolabi Sotunde and Ismail Abba
A demonstrator holds a sign during a protest to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted
schoolboys, in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    KATSINA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Parents of some of the more than 300 students abducted in northwest Nigeria gathered at the school after a video was circulated on Thursday that purportedly showed Boko Haram militants with some of the boys.
    The video, featuring Boko Haram’s emblem, showed a group of boys in a wood begging security forces to leave the area. Reuters was not able to immediately verify the authenticity of the footage, the boys shown, or who released it.
    Parents fear time is running out to bring the boys home.    The Islamist group Boko Haram, which has said in an unverified audio message that it was behind their abduction from the school on Dec. 11, has a history of turning captives into jihadist fighters.
    Four parents who had watched the video said they did not see their children in the clip.    But one of them, Auwal Maimanja, said someone in the video had been recognised.
    “My friend’s son who escaped said he recognised the boy who spoke on the video and gave his name as Sani,” Maimanja told Reuters in a telephone interview.
    Maimanja, whose 14-year-old son is still missing, spoke while waiting at the Government Science Secondary School in Kankara town, Katsina state, where gunmen who arrived on motorbikes carried out the raid on Friday night.
    Shuaibu Kankara, whose 13-year-old son, was among those missing, described feeling unsettled after watching the footage but also hearing reports of talks between the abductors and Nigerian authorities.
    “We were told they made a ransom demand, though we do not know how much.    We pray they resolve it with the government and release our children in good health,” he said in a phone interview, speaking from the school where he and other parents had gathered.
    Spokesmen for President Muhammadu Buhari declined to comment on the video.    Around 320 boys are still missing, the Katsina state government has said.
    If its claims are true, Boko Haram’s involvement in northwestern Nigeria marks a geographical expansion in its activities.
INSECURITY PROTEST
    Earlier on Thursday, protesters marched in the northwestern city of Katsina under a banner reading #BringBackOurBoys as pressure mounted on the government to improve security.
    The demonstration was called by the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), a civil society group that focuses on the welfare of northern Nigerians.    Some chanted “Save northern Nigeria.”
    The hashtag #BringBackOurBoys has been trending on Twitter and echoes a campaign that was launched to bring home more than 200 girls abducted by Boko Haram in 2014.
    “Northern Nigeria has been abandoned at the mercy of vicious insurgents, bandits, kidnappers, armed robbers, rapists and an assortment of hardened criminals,” said Balarabe Ruffin, CNG’s national coordinator.
    He said there was a “huge vacuum in the political will and capacity of government to challenge” the kidnappers.
FOREST HUNT
    Late on Wednesday, Katsina state Governor Aminu Bello Masari told the BBC Hausa service the missing boys were in the forests of neighbouring Zamfara state.
    An aide to Masari said soldiers and intelligence officers had been combing the vast Rugu forest in search of the boys.
    Security experts say the boys could be taken over the nearby border into Niger, which would make finding them harder.
    Armed gangs that rob and kidnap for ransom, widely referred to as “bandits,” carry out attacks on communities across the northwest, making it hard for locals to farm, travel or tap rich mineral assets in some states such as gold.
    Criminal gangs operating in the northwest have killed more than 1,100 people in the first half of 2020 alone, according to rights group Amnesty International.
    In the northeast, Boko Haram and its offshoot, Islamic State West Africa Province, have waged a decade-long insurgency estimated to have displaced about 2 million people and killed more than 30,000.    They want to create states based on their extreme interpretation of sharia law.
    The attack is awkward for Buhari, who comes from Katsina and paid a private visit last Friday hours before the kidnapping.    Buhari has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.”
    A former military ruler, Buhari was elected in 2015 in large part due to his pledge to crush the insurgency.    Under his predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, Boko Haram grew in strength and controlled territory around the size of Belgium.
(Reporting by Afolabi Sotunde and Ismail Abba in Katsina; Additional reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Garba Muhammad in Kaduna, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

12/17/2020 Inside A Military Base In Ethiopia’s Tigray: Soldiers Decry Betrayal By Former Comrades
FILE PHOTO: Members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) ride on their pickup truck as they head to mission
in Sanja, Amhara region, near a border with Tigray, Ethiopia November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Rebellious soldiers used government tanks to attack their former comrades in a military base in the first chaotic days of Ethiopia’s month-long war in the region of Tigray, according to two soldiers caught in what they described as a 10-day siege.
    Forces still loyal to Tigray’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), surrounded the Sero base near the northern border with Eritrea on Nov. 4, according to the two men.    Within days, food and water were running low, forcing those inside to ration supplies, they said.
    They said the siege reached a climax on day 10 when TPLF reinforcements arrived with tanks, anti-aircraft guns and mortars to try to seize the base.    They described a six-hour barrage in which some soldiers tried to escape from the back of the compound but were captured.
    “Even after we surrendered, they stabbed one of our members for no reason,” one of the soldiers, Takele Ambaye, said.    He said he saw the bodies of 15 comrades, some with slash wounds, others who had been shot.
    The description provided to Reuters by Takele and Molla Kassa, another soldier, supports government accounts of how the conflict started.    It is also consistent with details given by a senior military officer at a news conference broadcast by state TV on Nov. 10.
    However, the TPLF denies starting the conflict.
    “We didn’t initiate any attack,” the group’s leader, Debretsion Gebremichael, told Reuters in a text message last month, although he said some soldiers “joined us by rejecting [the] federal treatment to Tigray.”
    Reuters has been unable to reach TPLF officials for further comment.
    Reuters also could not independently verify the two soldiers’ accounts as communications to that part of Tigray are down, and the government restricts access to the region. Government and military officials did not respond to requests for comment.
    The government says its forces are now back in control of major cities and towns, and a new transitional administration is working to restore order in Tigray.
    But the experiences recounted by Molla and Takele help explain why bitter divisions remain.
    “The cruelest thing is I stayed there (in Tigray) for 21 years.    I stayed there longer than with my own mother who raised me,” said Molla.    “What kind of animals are they?
    Reuters spoke to Molla and Takele by phone this month, before an army spokesman announced a ban on soldiers speaking to the media.    The men said that after their surrender, the TPLF held them captive in several locations before they were released with around 200 other soldiers from Sero, eventually reaching the town of Sekota in the neighbouring Amhara region.
    Government officials have told Reuters that the TPLF trucked thousands of captive soldiers to the border with Amhara and released them.    The officials have not specified whether soldiers from Sero were among them.    Other soldiers were freed by federal forces as they advanced on the regional capital Mekelle, the government has said.
CONFLICT BEGINS
    The government says fighters loyal to the TPLF attacked federal military bases at multiple locations in Tigray early on Nov. 4 after jamming communications.    It says TPLF fighters took control of the headquarters of the military’s Northern Command in Mekelle and raided federal armories.
    A United Nations security report dated Nov. 6, seen by Reuters, said Tigrayan forces had seized heavy weapons from several depots.
    The fighters included members of the national defense force, who killed fellow soldiers in their beds and seized their weapons, Redwan Hussein, spokesman for the government’s emergency task force on Tigray, told Reuters previously.
    At the Nov. 10 news conference, Lt. Gen. Bacha Debele said radio communications were cut at military bases across Tigray at 10:00 p.m. on Nov. 3.    The next day, he said, a group of senior officers was kidnapped from a regular dinner with Tigrayan officials, while in other places, soldiers were surrounded.
    “Many died on both sides,” he said, without providing evidence.    “They buried their militia while they stripped our soldiers’ bodies of their uniforms and left them under the scorching sun…the dead were left to be devoured by vultures.”
BITTER DIVISIONS
    Molla and Takele said shots were fired at the Sero base, where 250-300 government troops were stationed, at around 5 a.m. on the morning of Nov. 4. Initially, the attackers retreated when government soldiers returned fire, they said.
    They said they asked local residents who was behind the attack and were told by a TPLF official that army commanders had agreed to surrender their arms to the TPLF and that soldiers inside the base should comply.
    “We said we never received such commands from above and told them that we were not going to give up the arms.    The arms belong to the nation,” Molla said.
    In the ensuing siege, as TPLF forces surrounded the base, those inside rationed food to one meal of flour at midday to preserve supplies, but after eight days, the base ran out of food, they said.
    “They ate us like a cat eats its child after giving birth,” Molla said.
    The two soldiers said the betrayal by former comrades had cemented their desire to avenge their comrades and capture the fugitive TPLF leadership.
    “We couldn’t even bury our friends and brothers.    They stopped us from burying them,” Takele said.    “I want to join my friends and fight.”
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)

12/17/2020 Top U.S. General Meets Taliban In Qatar, Calls For Reduced Violence
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mark Milley gives remarks during the 19th annual September 11
observance ceremony at the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., September 11, 2020. REUTERS/Erin Scott/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The top U.S. general met Taliban representatives this week in Qatar, urging them to reduce the level of violence and move more swiftly towards a political solution in Afghanistan, the U.S. military said on Thursday.
    The meeting in Doha with the U.S. Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, comes as negotiators representing the Afghan government and the Taliban take a break until Jan. 5 when they will continue to work on an agenda.
    Milley also met Taliban officials in June but that meeting was not publicly announced, said a U.S. official, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
    The two meetings are believed to be the first time a chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has met the Taliban, although Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the top U.S. military official in Afghanistan have met with them before.
    “The chairman discussed the need for an immediate reduction of violence and accelerate progress towards a negotiated political solution which contributes to regional stability and safeguards U.S. national interests,” a U.S. military statement said.
    During his trip, Milley also met Afghan President Ashraf Ghani in Kabul.
    President Donald Trump will reduce the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan to 2,500 from 4,500 by mid-January, stopping short of a threatened full withdrawal from America’s longest war after fierce opposition from allies at home and abroad.
    There has been a rise in violence, undermining the best hope for ending the war that has ravaged Afghanistan since 2001.
    Pompeo said this month that violence in Afghanistan was “unacceptably high” and said Washington had asked the warring parties to “stand back and indeed stand down.”
(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Alison Williams and Edmund Blair)

12/17/2020 Erdogan Ally Calls For Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish Party To Be Banned by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli delivers a speech during a protest against the recent killings of Palestinian
protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem, in Istanbul, Turkey May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s nationalist ally said Turkey’s pro-Kurdish HDP party, the country’s third biggest, should be banned for separatism – a move the HDP’s co-leader condemned on Thursday as a bid to silence six million voters.
    Nationalist Movement Party leader Devlet Bahceli has long been a fierce critic of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and, like Erdogan, accuses it of ties to militants who have fought a 36-year-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.
    “The HDP must be closed and not reopened.    No tolerance should be shown to any party organisation that takes as its reference ethnic separatism and terrorism,” Bahceli said in a tweet on Wednesday, attacking the HDP for not signing a cross-party parliament statement condemning U.S sanctions on Turkey.
    Turkish courts have banned pro-Kurdish parties in the past on charges of militant ties, drawing criticism from Turkey’s Western allies.    But moves supported by Erdogan’s AKP have since made closing parties down more difficult.
    Bahceli, whose party is the fourth biggest in parliament and whose comments in the past have appeared to influence government policy, suggested a change in the constitution, political parties law or the penal code if necessary.
    “The fight with poisonous vermin is a wonderful service to national dignity.    The fight with separatism is honourable support for our independence,” he said.
    HDP co-leader Mithat Sancar responded on Thursday in an interview with Turkish broadcaster Fox TV, saying the HDP had the support of millions of people.
    “Shutting the HDP means shutting down democracy in this country, it means silencing 6 million people,” Sancar said.
    “In the past, six of our parties were closed down and what happened?    If our party is closed we will come back stronger.”
    Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants have fought against the state in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984 in a conflict that has killed more than 40,000 people.
    Ankara, the European Union and the United States designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation.    The HDP, parliament’s third largest party, denies links to terrorism.
    The HDP, founded in 2012, won 11.7% of the vote in the 2018 parliamentary election.    It has been targeted by authorities in a crackdown in recent years under which thousands of party officials and members have been arrested and dozens of its mayors and lawmakers unseated.
(Reporting by Daren Butler. Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Potter)

12/18/2020 Analysis-U.S., Iran And Inertia, An Axis To Dampen France’s Lebanese Dreams by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: A soldier stands at the devastated site of the explosion at the port of Beirut, Lebanon August 6, 2020. Thibault Camus/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    PARIS (Reuters) -During a private dinner in Paris last month, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made clear that Washington was unhappy with France’s strategy to include Iran-backed Hezbollah in efforts to resolve the economic and political crisis in Lebanon.
    French President Emmanuel Macron has been spearheading international efforts to rescue the former French protectorate from its deepest crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.    He has travelled twice to Lebanon since a huge explosion at the Beirut port in August devastated the city.
    Macron is trying to use Paris’ historical influence to persuade squabbling Lebanese politicians to adopt a road map and form a new government tasked with rooting out corruption, a prerequisite for international donors including the IMF to unlock billions of dollars in aid.
    He had been due to return for a third visit on Dec. 22, but postponed the trip on Thursday after testing positive for coronavirus.    Army chief Francois Lecointre will replace the president to visit French troops on the ground and an official involved in organising the visit said Macron may speak by phone to Lebanese President Michel Aoun but there were no other plans for now.
    The 42-year-old French leader has from the outset faced the inertia of Lebanon’s fractious political class, which has bickered and ignored international warnings of state bankruptcy, as well as resistance to his plans from Washington.
    “The Lebanese political class is stuck in its own contradictions and is happy to play the clock,” said Nadim Khoury at the Arab Reform Initiative.
    “(Prime Minister-designate) Saad al-Hariri is not able to form a government and internationally the U.S. will not facilitate French efforts to form a government.”
    The U.S. objection to Macron’s plan is centred on Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed armed movement that wields enormous power in Lebanon and which Washington brands a terrorist group.
    Hariri, a former prime minister, was given the task of forming a government after Mustapha Adib resigned in September.    He is so far struggling to cobble together a cabinet to share power with all Lebanese parties, including Hezbollah.
    Paris was not initially keen for Hariri to take up the role, having previously failed to implement reforms, three French officials said.    But given the lack of progress in forming a credible government, Macron did not oppose the nomination.
    France says Hezbollah’s elected arm has a legitimate political role.
    The U.S. has already imposed sanctions on three leading politicians allied to Hezbollah.    During a dinner in Paris last month with eight ambassadors, including from Europe, Pompeo made clear more measures would follow if Hezbollah were part of the government, according to two people with knowledge of his visit.
    Responding to assertions that the U.S. was unhappy with French efforts, a French presidential official said President Donald Trump and Pompeo had clearly expressed support on several occasions for the French initiative to create a “government capable of receiving international aid.”
    The official added that the U.S. had participated in two donor conferences organised by France, underscoring its support.
    In a statement after Pompeo had met Macron, the State Department said the two had discussed “significant threats to global security, efforts to counter violent extremism, Iran’s destabilizing behavior, and Hezbollah’s malign influence in Lebanon.”
    The stalemate has important ramifications for all sides.
    Without U.S. backing, international organisations and donors will not give Lebanon the money it needs to claw itself out of a financial crisis which the World Bank says will likely see more than half the population engulfed in poverty by 2021.
    Macron, having vowed amid the rubble in Beirut not to abandon the Lebanese people, is scrambling to show some foreign policy success in the region after walking empty-handed from high-profile initiatives on Libya and Iran in recent years.
    For the outgoing U.S. administration, a tough stance on Hezbollah is key to demonstrating that its overall Middle East policy, including maximum pressure on Iran, has been effective.
    Three diplomats said they did not expect President-elect Joe Biden to change policy quickly given the bi-partisan nature of the U.S. stance and other priorities for the new administration.
    Biden has said he plans to scrap what he calls the “dangerous failure” of Trump’s maximum pressure policy on Iran, but people familiar with his thinking have said he will not shy away from using sanctions.
WARNING SIGNS
    The differences with Washington exacerbate what was always going to be a difficult challenge for Macron.
    When he had lunch with Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun and parliament speaker Nabih Berri on Sept. 1, his objective was to ensure Berri, head of the Shi’ite Muslim Amal Movement, committed to a deadline to form a new government.
    Macron insisted on 10-15 days, according to a person with knowledge of the meeting.    Berri, a stalwart of Lebanese politics who has in the past had a hand in picking key ministers, twice responded with “Insha’allah,” (God Willing), a polite way sometimes used in the Middle East to react to something you don’t want to do.    Macron put out his palm to say no and again emphasize his demands.
    Berri’s office did not respond to a request for comment.
    Macron’s office said: “The president continues his calls with the various political players in Lebanon as he had previously committed to.”
    A week later, although Macron said he had got all factions to back his plan, the United States blacklisted two former ministers, including one from Amal, for their ties to Hezbollah.
    “You’re right to say the sanctions policy of the American administration, done without consultation or coordination with us, has strained the game,” Macron said not long afterwards, when asked about the U.S. not being warm to his efforts.
    Since then Gebran Bassil, son-in-law of Aoun, who heads the Free Patriotic Movement, Lebanon’s largest Christian party, has been sanctioned over his ties to Hezbollah. U.S., European and regional diplomats say new sanctions are imminent.
PUNITIVE MEASURES
    Hezbollah has become the overarching power in Lebanon, with elected members of parliament and positions in government.    While its support from Iran has been hit by U.S. sanctions, the group remains a pillar of Tehran’s regional influence.
    French officials say Washington’s punitive measures have done nothing to change the situation on the ground.    A French presidential official told reporters on Dec. 2 “they did not block anything … but haven’t unlocked anything either.”
    Speaking at an online conference of the CSIS think-tank, U.S. Ambassador to Lebanon Dorothy Shea said that while avoiding state failure in Lebanon was “first and foremost,” Washington viewed Hezbollah as being “wholly in service to their Iranian masters” and said U.S. measures were having an effect.
    Israel, the closest U.S. ally in the Middle East, regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.
    Iranian officials said that Lebanese Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah was in contact with Tehran on how to handle Macron’s initiative, but they would not allow Hezbollah to be weakened.
    Macron has meanwhile been left admonishing Lebanon’s politicians for betraying their commitments.
    “As of today, these commitments have not been kept,” he said on Dec. 2.    “So far, there is nothing to show that they were more than words. I regret that.”
(Reporting by John Irish; additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Michel Rose in Paris and Parisa Hafezi in Dubai; editing by Giles Elgood and Nick Tattersall)

12/18/2020 Yemen’s President, Separatists Announce New Power-Sharing Government
FILE PHOTO: Yemeni President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi attends the Arab summit in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, May 31, 2019. REUTERS/Hamad l Mohammed/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen announced on Friday a new power-sharing cabinet that would include southern separatists in the internationally-recognised government, part of a deal to end a power struggle between the nominal allies.
    The government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi, based in the southern port of Aden, and the separatists are allies within the coalition, which has been at war against the Iran-aligned Houthis that have controlled the capital Sanaa since 2014.
    However, the separatist Southern Transitional Council (STC) declared self rule in Aden earlier this year, and the two sides have been fighting in the south, complicating U.N. efforts to forge a permanent ceasefire in the overall conflict.
    Prime Minister Maeen Abdulmalik was reappointed to head the new cabinet, which includes five ministers from Yemen’s biggest political blocs, including the STC and Islah party, a statement from Hadi’s office said.
    However, Hadi has kept his closest allies in the key ministries of defence, interior, foreign affairs and finances.
    The new government followed two weeks of separation of forces and redeployment of troops in the south that would see their return to battlefronts with the Houthis in the north and to outside Aden, the heavily disputed port city.
    The clashes within the anti-Houthi camp were one factor holding up United Nations efforts to negotiate a nationwide ceasefire to pave the way for a resumption of political negotiations, last held in December 2018, to end the wider war.
    Riyadh has struggled to prevent another front developing among its allies in Yemen’s multifaceted war, which has been locked in military stalemate for years.
    The conflict, widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has killed more than 100,000 people and caused what the United Nations says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
(Reporting by Mohammed Ghobari. Writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi. Editing by Mark Potter)

12/18/2020 Freed Nigerian Schoolboys Return Home, Tell Of Beatings And Hunger by Afolabi Sotunde
Demonstrators gather to urge authorities to rescue hundreds of abducted schoolboys,
in northwestern state of Katsina, Nigeria, December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    KATSINA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Scores of schoolboys who were rescued from kidnappers in northwest Nigeria arrived back home on Friday, many of them barefoot and wrapped in blankets after their week-long ordeal.
    The boys, dressed in dusty clothes, looked dazed and weary but otherwise well as they got off buses in the city of Katsina.
    Within hours – before many had met their waiting parents – they were whisked to a reception with President Muhammadu Buhari, who had come under mounting pressure to free them and deal with insecurity in the north.
    One boy, who did not give his name, said the captors had told him to describe them as members of the Islamist militant group Boko Haram, although he suspected they were armed bandits.
    “They beat us morning, every night.    We suffered a lot.    They only gave us food once a day and water twice a day,” he told Nigeria’s Arise television.
    Gunmen on motorbikes raided the boys’ boarding school in the town of Kankara in Katsina state a week ago and marched hundreds of them into a vast forest that spans four states.
    Authorities said security services rescued them on Thursday.    The army said it had acted on “credible intelligence” and freed all 344 kidnapped boys.
    Many details surrounding the incident remain unclear, including who was responsible, why they kidnapped the boys, whether ransom was paid and how the release was secured.
    The abduction gripped a country already incensed by widespread insecurity, and evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.
    The boys’ abduction was particularly embarrassing for Buhari, who comes from Katsina state and has repeatedly said that Boko Haram has been “technically defeated.”
    Any Boko Haram involvement in this kidnapping would mark a geographical expansion in the militant group’s activities from its base in the northeast.
TEARS OF JOY, PRAYERS OF THANKS
    Hours before the rescue of the boys was announced on Thursday, a video started circulating online purportedly showing Boko Haram militants with some of the boys.    Reuters was unable to verify the authenticity of the footage or who released it.
    The rescued boy interviewed by Arise TV was one of those who had appeared in the online video.
    “They said I should say they are Boko Haram and gangs of Abu Shekau,” he said, referring to a name used by a Boko Haram leader.    “Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram … They are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns.”
    Another of the freed boys told Reuters that the kidnappers had initially taken them to a hiding place.
    “But when they saw a jet fighter, they changed the location and hid us in a different place.    They gave us food, but it was very little,” he said.
    On Friday, the boys walked from the buses in single file, flanked by soldiers and armed police officers, and were taken to the government building to meet the governor.    They were then brought back and driven off for medical checks, and then to the presidential meeting.
    A group of parents waited to be reunited with them in a shaded parking lot in another part of town.
    Hajiya Bilikisu, in a cream-coloured veil, said she had started to lose hope that she would ever see her son, Abdullahi Abdulrazak, again.
    “I was just crying, crying with joy, when I saw them, my son” in pictures after the release, she told Reuters.
    “They have to recovery psychologically,” she said.    “They went through trauma.    We have to try to counsel them, so they can now become normal persons.”
    Hafsat Funtua, mother of 16-year-old Hamza Naziru, said she ran out of her house with joy “not knowing where to go” when she heard the news.    She later returned home to pray.
(Reporting by Ismail Abba in Katsina; Additional reporting by Maiduguri newsroom, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Garba Muhammad in Kaduna, Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja, and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Andrew Heavens; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Mike Collett-White)

12/19/2020 Invoking Bible And Moonwalk, Netanyahu Starts Israeli Vaccination Drive
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Maccabi Healthcare Services vaccine
complex for COVID-19 in Tel Aviv, Israel December 13, 2020. Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via REUTERS
    TEL HASHOMER, Israel (Reuters) – Israel kicked off a coronavirus vaccination drive on Saturday with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu invoking the Bible and the 1969 lunar landing as he got the country’s first injection.
    Shipments of the Pfizer vaccines began arriving in Israel last week.    Moderna and AstraZeneca vaccines are on order.    Israel expects to have enough doses by the year’s end for the 20% of its population most prone to COVID-19 complications.
    With polls finding that around two-third of Israelis intend to get vaccinated, officials have sought to stave off what they deem “fake news” about possibly perilous side-effects.
    Netanyahu said he was being vaccinated first in order to encourage others.    Doffing his suit jacket and rolling up a sleeve, he told reporters his was “a strong hand and an outstretched arm” – a play on the Book of Exodus’ description of God’s power.
    With the procedure at Sheba Medical Center over, Netanyahu paraphrased astronaut Neil Armstrong’s first words on the moon:     “That was a small jab for a man, a huge step for the health of us all.    May this be this successful.    Go out and get vaccinated!

    Israel, with a population of 9 million, has reported 372,401 coronavirus cases and 3,070 deaths.    It has imposed two national lockdowns and may soon order curbs on high-contagion areas.    Netanyahu has self-isolated three times after exposure to carriers.
(Writing by Dan Williams; editing by David Evans)

12/19/2020 Central African Republic Says Former President Plotting A Coup by Antoine Rolland
A general view shows part of the capital Bangui, Central African Republic,
February 16, 2016. Picture taken on February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola
    BANGUI (Reuters) – The government of Central African Republic on Saturday accused former president Francois Bozize of plotting a coup as political tension and violence rise ahead of the country’s Dec. 27 general election.
    The government said in a statement that Bozize plotted with members of his family and a number of armed groups to attack two towns near the capital Bangui after the country’s top court rejected his candidacy.
    It also said Bozize has amassed men in the outskirts of the town of Bossembele and planned to march to Bangui.    “It is manifestly an attempted coup,” Ange Maxime Kazagui, spokesman for the government said in a broadcast on national television.
    Bozize, who had previously accepted the court’s decision, could not be reached for comment on Saturday.
    The rising tension prompted the United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in the Central African Republic to deploy troops to disperse armed rebel groups that had occupied roads and towns near Bangui, and are threatening to disrupt the election.
    The mission, known as MINUSCA, said in a statement late on Friday that it had placed troops in the capital and other regions on high alert to protect civilians and secure the legislative and presidential elections.
    President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who has struggled to maintain stability, is seeking re-election.
    Bozize was ousted in 2013 by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias and plunging the Central African Republic in to a civil war.
    U.N. peacekeepers have been deployed since 2014, including over 12,800 in uniform.
    The U.N. mission said the rebel groups, some of whom had fought against one another in the civil war, had occupied two localities.
    U.N. troops dispersed the armed militia blocking a major road northeast of the capital, while in Bossangoa in the north, the peacekeepers blocked armed elements on motorcycles who tried to leave the city, the statement said.
    As the election campaign heats up, Facebook said on Tuesday that rival disinformation campaigns from the country’s former colonial master France, and Russia, seen as close to Touadera, have sought to influence the election and deceive voters.
    U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres condemned the escalating violence, disinformation, hate speech and incitement to violence in a separate statement on Friday.
(Reporting by Antoine Rolland; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Clelia Oziel and Ros Russell)

12/20/2020 Central African Republic Opposition Calls For Election Delay Due To Violence by Antoine Rolland
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows a part of the capital Bangui, Central African Republic, February 16, 2016. REUTERS/Siegfried Modola/File Photo
    BANGUI (Reuters) – Central African Republic’s main opposition coalition on Sunday demanded the Dec. 27 election be postponed due to violence by armed groups outside the capital Bangui, but the government insisted the vote would go ahead.
    On Saturday, the authorities accused former president Francois Bozize of plotting a coup after his candidacy was rejected.    United Nations peacekeepers also dispersed armed rebel groups occupying roads and towns near Bangui.
    Fighting was going on in several towns, including Mbaiki, about 100 km (62 miles) from Bangui on Sunday, according to one security source and two humanitarian sources.
    The opposition alliance, called Cod2020, which includes Bozize, said violence was preventing presidential and parliamentary candidates from campaigning and had led to the destruction of electoral material and threats in almost all provincial centres, without providing details.
    In a statement, it “noted the impossibility of pursuing an electoral campaign in current insecure conditions,” and demanded the postponement of the vote until stability is restored.
    In response, the government said it was doing everything possible to ensure the vote could take place as planned, deploying troops alongside U.N. peacekeepers to regain control of occupied towns.
    “There is no plan B, the elections will take place on December 27,” government spokesman Ange Maxime Kazagui said.
    A number of planes from Russia, an ally of President Faustin-Archange, landed in Central African Republic this weekend, the security source and a source at the airport said.
    The Russian foreign ministry did not respond to a request for comment on whether Russia had sent planes.    It has previously sent arms and security contractors to CAR, while Russian national Valery Zakharov is a security adviser to Touadera.
    In a statement on Saturday, the Russian foreign ministry said a representative had talked with CAR’s foreign minister by phone to reaffirm Russia’s support for the country and its government’s efforts to ensure security.
    Touadera, who is seeking re-election, has struggled to maintain stability.
    Bozize was ousted in 2013 by mainly Muslim Seleka rebels, prompting reprisals from mostly Christian militias and plunging the country into a civil war.
    He could not be reached for comment on the government allegations he had plotted with members of his family and a number of armed groups to attack two towns near Bangui.
(Reporting by Antoine Rolland; Additional reporting by Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Writing by Alessandra Prentice,; Editing by Louise Heavens and Angus MacSwan)

12/20/2020 ‘You Will Die In The Forest’ – Nigerian Schoolboys Describe Kidnap Ordeal by Seun Sanni and Ismail Abba
A freed Nigerian schoolboy plays football as he returns home, after he was rescued
by security forces, in Kankara, Nigeria December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Afolbabi Sotunde
    KANKARA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Annas Shuaibu says he awoke to the sound of gunshots fired by men who burst into his boarding school in northwest Nigeria in a nighttime raid.    He and hundreds of other boys were rounded up and forcibly marched out of the school and into a nearby forest.
    After several hours trekking through woodland, the gunmen ordered them to stop walking and warned them not to try to flee, Shuaibu said.    “They said even if you tried to escape, or we allowed you to run, you will go nowhere.    Rather, you will die in the forest,” he said.
    Shuaibu, 16, was among 344 students who were kidnapped from Government Science Secondary School, an all-boys boarding school, on Dec. 11 in the town of Kankara, in Katsina state.
    The boys were held for six days before security services rescued them on Thursday from Rugu forest, a vast woodland area that spans four of Nigeria’s 36 states.
    The incident stoked anger about the insecurity that has gripped much of the country, Africa’s most populous, and evoked memories of Boko Haram’s 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeastern town of Chibok.
    Dressed in a turquoise kaftan and smiling broadly while playing football with friends near his home in Kankara, Shuaibu seemed carefree a day after being reunited with his family.     But the smile left his face when he described the conditions in which he and the other boys were held.
    “I was really scared because I didn’t know where we were going,” he said, speaking softly and often looking at the ground as he described walking through the forest and the boys being beaten by their captors.
    Shuaibu, who said he did not know how many people held them, said the boys received little food, sometimes resorting to eating leaves and drinking from pools of water in the forest.
    Another freed student told Reuters, hours after the boys’ release on Friday, that the kidnappers had initially taken them to a hiding place.
    “But when they saw a jet fighter, they changed the location and hid us in a different place.    They gave us food, but it was very little,” said the student, who did not give his name.
    On Friday, with their ordeal over, the boys were taken to meet the governor and then President Muhammadu Buhari.
    Many details surrounding the incident remain unclear, including who was responsible, whether ransom was paid and how the release was secured.    The Islamist militant group Boko Haram said it was responsible for the abductions but there was no confirmation of this.
PARENTS WORRY
    The joy of being free has not worn off for 14-year-old Muhammed Bello.
    “Now that I returned back home, I’ll continue playing and do what I like,” he said, with a broad grin.    “I’m very happy.”     But the raid made parents fearful.
    Shuaibu’s father, who previously told Reuters his son was 13, said he would not send the boy back to the school unless there was “proper security.”
    Katsina Governor Aminu Bello Masari has said security will be strengthened at schools across the state.
    Parents were reunited with their children late on Friday: weeping mothers and fathers hugged their boys, and some parents knelt to kiss the ground in gratitude.
    Shuaibu recalled his fear of never seeing his family again.
    “We feel extremely happy,” he said.    “Some of us didn’t expect that we would return.”
(Reporting by Seun Sanni and Ismail Abba in Kankara; Additional reporting by Afolabi Sotunde; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Frances Kerry)

12/21/2020 Rockets Fired At U.S. Embassy Land Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, Damaging Compound by Ahmed Rasheed and Hesham Abdul Khalek
FILE PHOTO: An Iraqi security officer stands guard next to the "Arch of Victory" memorial
in the Green Zone of Baghdad, Iraq June 24, 2019. REUTERS/Khalid Al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – At least eight Katyusha rockets landed in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone in an attack targeting the U.S. Embassy, causing some minor damage on the compound on Sunday, the Iraqi military and the embassy said on Sunday.
    The Iraqi military said an “outlaw group” fired eight rockets.    Most of the missiles hit a residential complex and a security checkpoint inside the zone, damaging buildings and cars and wounding one Iraqi soldier, a military statement said.
    Sirens blared from the embassy compound inside the zone, which houses government buildings and foreign missions.
    An anti-rocket system diverted one of the rockets, said one security official whose office is inside the Green Zone.
    The U.S. Embassy condemned the attack and urged all Iraqi political and governmental leaders to take steps to prevent such attacks and to hold accountable those responsible.
    “The U.S. Embassy confirms rockets targeting the International Zone resulted in the engagement of Embassy defensive systems.    There was some minor damage on the Embassy compound but no injuries or casualties,” it said in a statement.
    In a subsequent statement, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there had been at least one Iraqi civilian casualty and wished those hurt a speedy recovery.
    U.S. officials blame Iran-backed militia for regular rocket attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, including near the embassy in Baghdad.    No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility.
    Pompeo called such militias the most serious impediment to peace and prosperity in Iraq, and added:
    “We call on all Iraqis to support their government’s efforts to reinforce Iraq’s sovereignty, to bring to justice those responsible for these reprehensible attacks and ensure that all the currently Iran-backed militias are under state control.”
    A spokesman for the Iraqi president also condemned the attack.
    An array of militia groups announced in October that they had suspended rocket attacks on U.S. forces on condition that Iraq’s government present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.
    But a rocket strike on the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 18 was a clear sign that Iranian-backed militias had decided to resume attacks on U.S. bases, according to Iraqi security officials.
    Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-aligned militias.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed and Hesham Abdul Khalek; Additional reporting by Ahmed Tolba and David Brunnstrom; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lincoln Feast.)

12/21/2020 Kushner Leads U.S. Delegation To Israel by OAN Newsroom
White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, left, listened as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
spoke during a news conference in Jerusalem, Monday, Dec. 21, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/Pool Photo via AP)
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner met with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he led a U.S. delegation to the Jewish State.     As part of his stop in the nation on Monday, Kushner and Netanyahu participated in a tree planting ceremony in Jerusalem.
    On Tuesday, Kushner will accompany Israel’s national security adviser during a meeting with the King of Morocco.    This meeting comes as Israel continues to normalize ties with the African nation.
    Kushner said that regional transformation has officially begun in the Middle East.
    First Israel made peace with the United Arab Emirates, then with the Kingdom of Bahrain, then Kosovo and Serbia, then Sudan and just recently Morocco,” he explained.    “We must continue to write new and exciting chapters and not revert to old thinking and failed ideas.    The world is now changing fast and for the better.”
    Kushner said that President Trump’s bold decisions, like moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, have led to a spike in peace deals in the Middle East.

12/21/2020 Russia, Rwanda Send Military Support To Central Africa Republic To Quell Election Violence by Antoine Rolland
FILE PHOTO: Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera addresses the 74th session of the United Nations General
Assembly at U.N. headquarters in New York City, New York, U.S., September 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlo Allegri/File Photo
    BANGUI (Reuters) – Rwanda and Russia have sent troops and supplies to the Central African Republic to help counter a surge in violence by rebel groups ahead of Sunday’s election, officials and a security source in Bangui said.
    Security forces and U.N. peacekeepers have been battling rebels who have occupied towns and roads outside the capital.
    The authorities accuse former president Francois Bozize, whose presidential candidacy was rejected by the courts, of plotting a coup with several militant groups.    A spokesman for Bozize’s KNK party has denied the accusations.
    The United Nations Security Council condemned the violence by armed groups and other militia in a statement on Monday after being briefed on the situation by U.N. peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix.
    “The members of the Security Council called on all actors to urgently cease hostile actions and work towards ensuring conditions conducive to the holding of the upcoming elections,” the council said.
    President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking re-election, came to office in 2016 after Bozize was overthrown in a rebellion three years earlier.    He has struggled to restore stability and swathes of the country remain beyond government control.
    The CAR government said on Sunday that Rwanda and Russia “took steps to provide effective support which arrived on Central African territory today
    The Rwandan Defence Ministry confirmed it had sent troops.
    Russia, which has previously sent arms and military contractors to CAR as it seeks to increase its influence in Africa, denied media reports it had sent in troops and military aid.
    “Apart from five employees of Russian defence ministry’s mission at the CAR’s defence ministry, there are no other Russian military personnel (in the country),” Russia’s ambassador to CAR, Vladimir Titorenko, was quoted as saying by Russia’s state RIA news agency.
    “But instructors who teach the CAR’s army upon its government’s request do work here.    Periodically there is a rotation of them, and this is well known to the U.N. Security Council and the world community,” Titorenko said.
    But a security source in Bangui said over the past few days, Russian planes have landed carrying military personnel and supplies.
    On Monday, presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia considered the situation in CAR “a matter of serious concern.”    Touadera has friendly ties with Moscow and has a Russian national as a security adviser.
    U.N. peacekeeping mission MINUSCA said on Monday there had been a “slight lull” near the town of Yaloke following an attack over the weekend by armed groups.    A security and humanitarian source also said the town of Mbaiki, about 100 km (60 miles) from Bangui was calmer following clashes.
    The United States, France and Russia have also accused Bozize of seeking to disrupt the election.
(Reporting by Antoine Rolland; Additional reporting by Dmitry Antonov and Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow, Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross, Alison Williams and Richard Pullin)

12/21/2020 Gunman Shot Dead After Firing At Israeli Police In Jerusalem’s Old City
A person stands near the area where a shooting incident occurred in Jerusalem's Old City, December 21, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli police shot dead a man who had fired a gun towards officers in Jerusalem’s Old City on Monday, police said.
    Palestinian and Israeli media identified the man as a Palestinian from near the city of Jenin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    There was no immediate comment from Palestinian officials.
    The man fired towards a group of officers at a security post in the walled Old City, a police spokeswoman said in a statement. Police chased the man on foot “while firing at him and (he) was neutralized,” it said.
    The incident occurred near one of the entrances to the Old City’s Al-Aqsa mosque compound, an area revered by Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary and by Jews as the Temple Mount.
    The Old City and other parts of East Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and Palestinians hope will be part of a future state, have seen sporadic Palestinian street attacks on Israelis since U.S.-sponsored peace talks broke down in 2014.
(Reporting by Roleen Tafakji and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

12/22/2020 U.N. Says Mladenov Unable To Take Up Role As U.N. Libya Envoy by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Nickolay Mladenov (on screen) United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process briefs the U.N. Security Council from Jerusalem
on the situation in the Middle East as the Council meets on Israel and Palestine at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., May 23, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -Bulgarian diplomat Nickolay Mladenov has told U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres he will be unable to take up the role as United Nations Libya envoy next year due to “personal and family reasons,” a U.N. spokesman said on Tuesday.
    Mladenov has been the U.N. Middle East envoy since 2015, charged with mediating between Israel and the Palestinians.    The U.N. Security Council last week approved Guterres’s proposal to appoint Mladenov as Libya mediator and Norwegian Tor Wennesland to succeed Mladenov as Middle East envoy.
    Mladenov told Guterres on Monday that when his current role finishes on Dec. 31 he will resign from the United Nations and “will not be able to take up the position as special envoy for Libya … for personal and family reasons,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters.
    Acting Libya envoy Stephanie Williams will continue in the role, Dujarric said.    Mladenov was due to replace Ghassan Salame, who stepped down as the U.N. Libya envoy in March due to stress.
    Libya descended into chaos after the NATO-backed overthrow of leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.    In October, the two major sides in the country’s war – the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) and Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) – agreed a ceasefire.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols. Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Mark Potter)

12/22/2020 Morocco Hosts Israeli Envoys, Kushner To Hammer Out New Ties by Ahmed Eljechtimi
Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and U.S. White House Senior Adviser Jared Kushner
arrive in Rabat, Morocco December 22, 2020. U.S. Embassy in Morocco/Handout via REUTERS
    RABAT (Reuters) – Israeli envoys arrived in Morocco on Tuesday to meet its king and hammer out an upgrade of ties that was forged by the White House in a parting foreign policy push by U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Led by National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat, the Israeli delegation was accompanied by Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and architect of pan-Arab rapprochement with Israel.
    They took El Al Israel Airlines in the first direct flight by a commercial plane from Tel Aviv to Rabat.    Both countries anticipate a surge in tourism aboard such connections, mainly among the hundreds of thousands of Israelis of Moroccan descent.
    Morocco followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moving toward normal relations with Israel.    Palestinians have censured the U.S.-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their statehood goals.
    As the Trump administration has sought to isolate Iran, the deals have been sweetened with promises of business opportunities or economic aid.    Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
    “This type of agreement (with Israel) will help have a better interaction between communities and people,” Moroccan Tourism Minister Nadia Fettah Alaoui told I24 television.
    During the visit, Ben-Shabbat and Kushner will see Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Israeli officials said.    Moroccan and Israeli officials are also scheduled to sign accords on linking up aviation and financial systems, on visas and water management.
    The delegates’ plane, painted with the Hebrew, Arabic and English words for “peace” and a Maghreb good-luck talisman, had a low-key reception at Rabat airport.    Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.
    Israel and Morocco now plan to reopen mutual “liaison offices.”    Israel hopes these will be upgraded to embassies.
    Asked if the countries might establish full diplomatic relations before Trump steps down next month, Israeli Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen told Ynet TV: “My understanding is that the likelihood is not high.”
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Mark Heinrich)

12/22/2020 European Court Of Human Rights Says Turkey Must Free Demirtas by Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO: A supporter of Turkey's main pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP) holds a portrait of their jailed former leader and
presidential candidate Selahattin Demirtas during a campaign event in Istanbul, Turkey, June 17, 2018. REUTERS/Huseyin Aldemir/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – The European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday that Turkey must immediately release prominent Kurdish politician Selahattin Demirtas, saying the justification for his four years in prison was a cover for limiting pluralism and debate.
    The Grand Chamber of the ECHR said Demirtas – who is charged with terrorism-related offences – had had his rights violated under five different categories, including freedom of expression and liberty.
    Lawyers for the former co-leader of Turkey’s main Kurdish political party called the ruling “historic” and Western allies urged Ankara to act.    But while such rulings are legally binding, Turkey has not implemented them in several past instances.
    The Grand Chamber said Demirtas’ pre-trial detention since November 2016 had sent “a dangerous message to the entire population” that sharply narrowed free democratic debate.,br>     Demirtas faces a sentence of up to 142 years in prison if convicted of being the leader of a terrorist organisation over his actions during protests in 2014 that turned violent and led to the deaths of 37 people.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    Protesters in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast that year accused the army of standing by as Islamic State militants besieged the Syrian Kurdish town Kobani, just across the border.
    The ECHR said it saw no evidence in decisions on Demirtas’ detention that linked his actions and the alleged offences.
    “The Court concluded that the reasons put forward by the authorities for the applicant’s pre-trial detention had merely been cover for an ulterior political purpose, which was a matter of indisputable gravity for democracy,” it said in its finding.
    “It has now become certain,” Demirtas said in a Twitter post responding to the ruling, “that the so-called judicial processes led against me and my friends for six years are all political, not lawful, (and) that we are innocent.”
    His lawyers said the ruling was one of the toughest judgments on rights violations in Turkey and was “final and binding.”
    Ankara accuses Demirtas’ Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) of ties to the militant Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has waged an insurgency in the southeast since 1984 and is deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.    The HDP denies having any connections with terrorism.
    The HDP, chaired by Demirtas from 2014 and 2018, has seen thousands of its officials and members arrested in recent years.
    In 2018, a chamber of the ECHR ruled that Demirtas’ right to a speedy trial had been violated.
    President Tayyip Erdogan responded at the time that Turkey would counter the ruling.    Shortly afterward an appeals court approved a jail sentence against Demirtas for disseminating terrorist propaganda in a 2013 speech, sealing his conviction.
    In 2019, a court lifted an arrest warrant related to the main case while another agreed to release Demirtas from the propaganda sentence given time already served.    But a new arrest warrant related to the same events in 2014 kept him in jail.
    The ECHR said Demirtas’ continued detention on such similar grounds “would entail a prolongation of the violation of his rights.”
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Mark Heinrich)

12/22/2020 U.S. Ready To Mediate Discussions Between Israel And Lebanon - Pompeo
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leave after making
a joint statement in Jerusalem, November 19, 2020. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Tuesday said the United States is ready to keep working with Israel and Lebanon on negotiations for a maritime boundary, as the countries struggle to come to an agreement.
    “Regrettably, despite goodwill on both sides, the parties remain far apart,” Pompeo said in a statement.    “The United States remains ready to mediate constructive discussions and urges both sides to negotiate based on the respective maritime claims both have previously deposited at the United Nations.”
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert; Editing by Alison Williams)

12/22/2020 U.N. Aims To Get Rights Team To Ethiopia’s Tigray by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region gather to receive relief aid at the Um-Rakoba camp
on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 17, 2020. Picture taken December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – The United Nations is striving to get a team on the ground to investigate alleged human rights violations including a mass killing in Ethiopia’s Tigray, described by the U.N. rights chief as one of many “appalling” human rights abuses that could amount to war crimes.
    Ethiopia’s army has been fighting rebellious forces in the northern Tigray region for over six weeks in a conflict that has displaced close to 950,000 people.    Access for humanitarian workers has until recent days been impossible and rights workers are now seeking access on the ground to verify reports.
    “If civilians were deliberately killed by a party or parties to the conflict, these killings would amount to war crimes and there needs to be, as I have stressed previously, independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations to establish accountability and ensure justice,” U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday, describing incidents there as “heart-breaking” and “appalling.”
    One of the events she mentioned was the alleged killing of several hundred people, mainly Amharans, in the northwestern town of Mai Kadra on Nov. 9.
    She also described other incidents including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting.
    U.N. rights office (OHCHR) spokeswoman Liz Throssell later told a Geneva virtual briefing that her office had been holding talks with the Ethiopian government and was aiming to prepare a team to verify rights abuses as soon as possible.
    She said that some of the incidents of individual killings of civilians were blamed on the “Fano” militia from the province of Amhara, thought to be aligned with the government.    Reuters also received similar reports from displaced Tigrayans.
    However, information obtained by the U.N. consistently pointed to violations by all parties to the conflict, she added.
    Until now, the U.N. has been monitoring the situation remotely and has obtained some of its information from refugees among the tens of thousands who have fled to neighbouring Sudan.
    Both sides deny their forces have committed atrocities, and blame other forces for the killing of civilians.    Accounts on all sides are difficult to verify because telecommunications links were down for most of the conflict and the government tightly controls access to the region.
(Additional reporting by Michael Georgy and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

12/22/2020 Envoy From Israel Arrives In Morocco To Sign U.S. Brokered Deal by OAN Newsroom
    The first flight from Israel to Morocco arrived just two weeks after the countries normalized relations.    A jet carrying an envoy, including White House advisor Jared Kushner and Ambassador David Friedman, landed in Morocco on Tuesday.
    This comes as Israel looks to seal a normalization deal with the northern African nation.    Besides normalization, officials said the deal involved agreements on health, tourism and agriculture among other issues.    Officials expect a surge in tourism between the two countries by Israelis of Moroccan decent.
    During the trip, the U.S. representatives are expected to meet with the king of Morocco and sign accords linking to the two nations.
    “With this morning’s inaugural flight by El Al Airlines nonstop from Tel Aviv to Rabat, Israel ushers in its normalization with a sixth Arab country,” stated Ambassador Friedman.    “And four, in the last four months.”
    The deal comes as Israel has agreed to several U.S.-brokered peace deals in the past year as part of the largely successful Abraham accords, which have greatly reshaped relations in the Middle East.
    Since August, the Trump administration has brokered agreements to establish diplomatic ties between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and now Morocco.
    A day prior to the trip, Kushner thanked Moroccan King Mohammed VI for working with the Trump administration to reshape the region.
    “This will bring about a whole new set of opportunities for Northern Africa and the entire Middle East as this new Middle East moves forward,” stated the White House advisor.    “I hope that all countries will focus on pursuing common interests for the benefits of their citizens instead of being held back by stale thinking and old conflicts.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also praised the U.S. for helping to establish tranquility between Israel and other Arab countries.

12/23/2020 Right-Wing Challenge To Netanyahu Builds Ahead Of Israeli Election by Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with member of the Knesset for Likud Zeev Elkin as they attend
the swearing-in ceremony of the 22nd Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A right-wing challenge to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a March Israeli election gained momentum on Wednesday with the defection of a long-time ally to an upstart rival party.
    In a letter announcing his resignation from Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party and parliament, Zeev Elkin, a minister in successive Netanyahu governments, accused Israel’s longest-serving prime minister of putting his own interests ahead of those of the country.
    “I can’t ask Israelis to vote for you (Netanyahu) and to be satisfied that you are not putting your personal interests ahead of theirs,” Elkin said in a speech broadcast live by Israeli television channels.
    The election will be Israel’s fourth in two years, and comes as Netanyahu faces criticism over his handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and battles corruption allegations, which he denies.
    Elkin will join a new party led by fellow former Likud legislator Gideon Saar, who earlier this month announced a breakaway bid aimed at defeating Netanyahu. Saar announced Elkin’s move to his party in a tweet, though Elkin made no mention of it in his speech.
    The defections pose a new challenge to Netanyahu ahead of a March 23 snap election.    Parliament’s failure to pass a national budget on Tuesday triggered the early ballot.
    Until his resignation, Elkin served as Israel’s minister of higher education and water resources.    Born in Ukraine, Elkin is fluent in Russian and has long served as Netanyahu’s interpreter and adviser in strategic talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
    Earlier on Wednesday, Sharren Heskel, a junior Likud lawmaker, also announced she was defecting to Saar’s new party, writing in a Facebook post that Netanyahu’s government “has lost the moral mandate to continue to govern.”
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Howard Goller)

12/23/2020 Dubai To Begin Inoculations With Pfizer-BioNTech Vaccine From Wednesday by Saeed Azhar
Doses of a vaccination against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) are pictured in Dubai,
United Arab Emirates December 23, 2020. Government of Dubai Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Dubai will start inoculating people with the COVID-19 vaccine produced by Pfizer and BioNTech for free from Wednesday, the government said, joining Saudi Arabia which last week became the first Arab country to begin using this vaccine.
    The move comes after the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain earlier this month rolled out a vaccine by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm) to the general public.
    The UAE’s Ministry of Health and Prevention registered the Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine for emergency use on the request of Pfizer, state news agency WAM reported, citing the ministry.
    The UAE was the first country outside China to roll out the Chinese vaccine to the public, saying earlier this month it had 86% efficacy, citing an interim analysis of late-stage clinical trials.
    China has included two candidate vaccines from Sinopharm and one from Sinovac Biotech Ltd in an emergency-use programme launched in July, targeting specific high-infection risk groups such as medical workers and border inspectors.
    Dubai’s Supreme Committee of Crisis and Disaster Management said on Twitter late Tuesday an “extensive vaccination campaign” against COVID-19 would kick off on Wednesday using Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine.
    A message on Dubai Health Authority’s (DHA) hotline said the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccine would be for citizens and Dubai residents 60 years and above, and for individuals with chronic illness over the age of 18.
    The second category would comprise front-line staff in public and private sectors, third would be vital-sector workers, and finally, the general public, WAM cited DHA as saying.
    Dubai, the financial hub of the UAE, has been hit hard by the coronavirus outbreak, which hurt its key tourism, real estate and trade sectors.
    S&P Global warned earlier this year Dubai’s economy was set to shrink 11% in 2020, almost four times the drop in GDP experienced during the global financial crisis in 2009.
    Qatar has also granted emergency use authorisation for the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, while Oman will receive its first shipment of the same vaccine on Wednesday.
    Qatar started the free vaccination drive on Wednesday, Qatari media reported.
    Kuwait received 150,000 doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine on Wednesday and expects to receive about 450,000 doses of it in the first quarter, Ghada Ibrahim, head of public relations at the ministry health, said in a video on Twitter.
    UAE has recorded 195,878 coronavirus cases and 642 deaths so far from the virus.
(Reporting by Saeed Azhar; additional reporting by Raya Jalabi, Hadeel Al Sayegh and Ahmed Hagagy; Editing by Lincoln Feast and Bernadette Baum)

12/23/2020 Top U.S. Officials Discuss Options To Protect Americans In Iraq -Senior Official by Steve Holland
FILE PHOTO: A man looks at the damage after the Iraqi military said rockets fell inside Baghdad's Green Zone, Iraq November 18, 2020. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) -Top U.S. national security officials agreed on Wednesday on a proposed range of options to present to President Donald     Trump aimed at deterring any attack on U.S. military or diplomatic personnel in Iraq, a senior administration official told Reuters.
    The meeting was spurred by an attack on Sunday in which rockets landed in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone compound targeting the U.S. Embassy and causing some minor damage, the Iraqi military and the embassy said.
    The so-called principals committee group, including acting Defense Secretary Chris Miller, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser Robert O’Brien met at the White House, said the official, who requested anonymity.
    A “range of options” would be presented soon to Trump, said the official, who would not describe the content of the options or say whether they included military action.
    “Each one is designed to be non-escalatory and to deter further attack,” the official said.
    The Iraqi military blamed Sunday’s attack on an “outlaw group.”
    Another U.S. official, also speaking on the condition of anonymity, said that while no Americans were injured in the attack, it involved roughly 21 rockets being fired, including a number of them hitting the compound.
    The official said there was increased concern and vigilance about what Iranian-backed forces might do in the lead up to the anniversary of a Jan. 3 U.S. drone strike in Iraq that killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
    U.S. officials blame Iran-backed militia for regular rocket attacks on U.S. facilities in Iraq, including near the embassy.    No known Iran-backed groups have claimed responsibility.
    The senior administration official said the aim of the White House meeting was “to develop the right set of options that we could present to the president to make sure that we deter the Iranians and Shia militias in Iraq from conducting attacks on our personnel.”
    An array of militia groups announced in October that they had suspended rocket attacks on U.S. forces on condition that Iraq’s government present a timetable for the withdrawal of American troops.
    But a rocket strike on the U.S. Embassy on Nov. 18 was a clear sign that Iranian-backed militias had decided to resume attacks on U.S. bases, according to Iraqi security officials.
    Washington, which is slowly reducing its 5,000 troops in Iraq, threatened to shut its embassy unless the Iraqi government reins in Iran-aligned militias.
(Reporting By Steve Holland. Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Grant McCool)

12/23/2020 Explainer-Why Can’t Israel Keep A Government Together? by Stephen Farrell
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset
(Israel's parliament) in Jerusalem, December 22, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – For the fourth time in two years, Israelis head to elections amid unprecedented political deadlock.
    The coalitions change but one constant remains: debate about whether Israel should continue to be led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been prime minister for nearly a fifth of the country’s 72-year-history.
    The veteran right-winger universally known as “Bibi” is the dominant political figure of his generation.    So why is he unable to hold a government together?
BUDGET
    The immediate cause was arguments over the budget – failure to pass a fiscal package by midnight on Tuesday automatically forced a poll, to be held on March 23.
    A budget was key to implementing a deal in which Netanyahu, 71, was to have handed power in November to his main rival, centrist former general Benny Gantz, switching places as “alternate prime minister.”
WEAK COALITION
    Gantz went from opposition leader to Netanyahu coalition partner after agreeing to form a unity government last May.    He argued a power-sharing deal was in the national interest after three inconclusive elections had left the country paralysed.
    But Gantz’s followers were furious, his party split and Netanyahu believed his Likud Party would benefit, picking up seats.
    Instead, Netanyahu’s own party suffered a defection earlier this month.    Gideon Saar, 52, shares many of Netanyahu’s right- wing views but said Likud had become a “personality cult.”
    An opinion poll on Israel’s Kan public TV on Tuesday showed Saar was drawing even with Netanyahu in popularity ratings.
CRIME MINISTER
    In May, Netanyahu became the first serving Israeli prime minister to go on trial, appearing in court on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    The indictment alleges that he received gifts from millionaire friends and sought regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
    Netanyahu denies all wrongdoing and his Likud Party faithful have stayed loyal, accepting his claim to be the victim of a political witch hunt.
    But he faces a series of hearings in the New Year, and protesters have refused to let the issue fade away, staging demonstrations outside his Jerusalem residence with banners saying “Crime Minister.”
    Critics believe Netanyahu only agreed to the deal with Gantz because he hoped the “alternate” premiership would stop him having to resign under rules that allow a prime minister to remain in office even if charged with a crime.
COVID-19
    Although Netanyahu gained plaudits for his early handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the spring and has secured vaccinations for Israelis, public anger has flared amid a series of national lockdowns and economic hardship for business owners.
    Critics accused him of being distracted by less pressing issues, such as legal manoeuvering, and pleasing his right-wing base with promises to annex the occupied West Bank.
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Larry King)

12/23/2020 Leaked Hamas Christmas Memo Causes Christian Dismay In Gaza by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A picture taken with a drone shows the minaret of a mosque and the exterior of the
Saint Porfirios church in Gaza City December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – A leaked Hamas memo showing Gaza’s ruling Islamist group wanted to curb Christmas celebrations among Gaza’s Muslim majority has upset the enclave’s tiny Christian community in the run-up to the holiday.
    The ministry of religious affairs document, dated Dec. 15, called for “activities by the directorate of preaching and spiritual guidance to limit interaction with Christmas.”
    The leak went public last weekend, upsetting Palestinian Christians.
    “We set an example for the world in not having any sectarian problems, therefore, we were very upset,” said Samer Tarazi, a Christian journalist in Gaza.    He said Christians just wanted life to continue “as normal.”
    Jerusalem’s Greek Orthodox Archbishop, Atallah Hanna, called the memo “inflammatory,” but said it “will not harm our unity and good relations.”
    Hamas said the reaction was exaggerated and that it only wanted to ensure Muslims marked Christian holidays in accordance with Islamic law.
    “There was never any intention to offend Christians or limit their ability to celebrate and perform their religious rituals,” said Bassem Naim, a Hamas official.
    The ministry, which is tasked with running Gaza’s mosques and looking after Muslim and Christian affairs in the coastal strip, quickly released a statement saying Christians “have the right to hold their religious celebrations and they can’t be offended or be restricted.”
    The statement added: “Just as Muslims are commanded to avoid violations of (Islamic law) on Muslim holidays, it is all the more reason for them to avoid (such violations) during the holidays of others.”
    It is rare for religious tensions in Gaza to spill over into the public domain.
    While around 1% of the population of the Palestinian Territories as a whole are Christian, the percentage is small in Gaza, where there are around 1,000 mostly Greek Orthodox Christians among nearly 2 million Muslims.
    The Christian community was already upset that celebrations will be limited because of the coronavirus pandemic.
    Gaza Christians cannot make their usual Christmas trips to Bethlehem this year due to increased COVID-19 travel restrictions imposed by Israel – which has for years imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip citing security concerns about Hamas – and Palestinian curbs on movement to prevent the spread of infection.
(Editing by Rami Ayyub, Stephen Farrell and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

12/23/2020 Qatar Minister Calls For De-Escalation Of Gulf Crisis, Gulf-Iran Dialogue
FILE PHOTO: Qatari Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani is seen during
talks between the Afghan government and Taliban insurgents in Doha, Qatar September 12, 2020. REUTERS/Ibraheem al Omari
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s foreign minister has called for a de-escalation of tension in the Gulf region and for dialogue between Arab countries and Iran, Al Jazeera reported on Wednesday.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and non-Gulf state Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar in mid-2017 over accusations that Doha it supports terrorism, charges which Qatar denies.
    Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said the Gulf crisis should be resolved by dialogue, respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of states.
    Al-Thani also told Doha-based al Jazeera that talks to resolve the crisis were under way, with Saudi Arabia representing the other parties to the dispute. Riyadh said this month a solution was within reach.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Writing by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Timothy Heritage)

12/24/2020 Ethiopia’s PM Says Forces Have Been Sent Into Benishangul-Gumuz Region
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed address the media after inspecting ongoing developments at the new 32-berth
Lamu Port in Lamu County, Kenya December 9, 2020. Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed said on Thursday he had deployed forces to the western Benishangul-Gumuz region, a day after gunmen killed more than 100 people in the area, which has seen regular ethnic violence.
    On Wednesday, the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said gunmen had killed over 100 people in a dawn attack in the village of Bekoji in Bulen county in the Metekel zone, an area where numerous ethnic groups live.
    “The massacre of civilians in Benishangul-Gumuz region is very tragic,” Abiy said on Twitter.    “The government, to solve the root causes of the problem, has deployed a necessary force.”
    Africa’s second-most populous nation has been wrestling with outbreaks of deadly violence since Abiy took office in 2018 and accelerated democratic and economic reforms that have loosened the state’s iron grip on regional rivalries.
    Residents on Wednesday described to Reuters seeing dozens of dead bodies and being chased by unknown gunmen shooting at locals.
    Abiy and senior officials had visited the region on Tuesday to call for calm after multiple deadly attacks in recent months, such as a Nov. 14 assault in which gunmen targeted a bus and killed 34 people.
    In a separate part of the country, Ethiopia’s military has been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region for more than six weeks in a conflict that has displaced close to 950,000 people.    The deployment of federal troops there has led to fears of a security vacuum in other restive regions.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Writing by Omar Mohammed; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/24/2020 Nigeria School Abductions Sparked By Cattle Feuds, Not Extremism, Officials Say by Alexis Akwagyiram
FILE PHOTO: Muhammed Bello, a rescued student, is carried by his father as his relatives celebrate
after he retuned home in Kankara, Nigeria, December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    LAGOS (Reuters) – The kidnap of 344 schoolboys in northwest Nigeria had the appearance of an Islamist militant attack.    There was even a video purporting to show some of the boys with members of Boko Haram, the extremists behind the 2014 kidnapping of more than 270 schoolgirls in the northeast.
    But four government and security officials familiar with negotiations that secured the boys’ release told Reuters the attack was a result of inter-communal feuding over cattle theft, grazing rights and water access – not spreading extremism.
    The mass abduction of children in Katsina state would mark a dramatic turn in clashes between farmers and herders that have killed thousands of people across Africa’s most populous nation in recent years, posing a challenge to authorities also battling a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast.
    Officials in Katsina and neighbouring Zamfara, where the boys were released after six days, said the attack was carried out by a gang of mostly semi-nomadic ethnic Fulanis, including former herders who turned to crime after losing their cows to cattle rustlers.
    “They have local conflicts that they want to be settled, and they decided to use this (kidnapping) as a bargaining tool,” said Ibrahim Ahmad, a security adviser to the Katsina state government who took part in the negotiations through intermediaries.
    Such groups are known more for armed robberies and small-scale kidnappings for ransom.
    Cattle herders in the northwest are mainly Fulani, whereas farmers are mostly Hausa.    For years, farmers have complained of herders letting their cows stray on to their land to graze, while herdsmen have complained their cows are being stolen.
NEGOTIATIONS
    Dozens of gunmen arrived on motorcycles at the Government Science Secondary School on Dec. 11 in the town of Kankara in Katsina.    They marched the boys into a vast forest that extends from Katsina into Zamfara.
    Officials in both states told Reuters they established contact with the kidnappers through their clan, a cattle breeders’ association and former gang members who participated in a Zamfara amnesty programme.
    The intermediaries met the kidnappers in Ruga forest on several occasions before they agreed to release the boys, according to Zamfara Governor Bello Matawalle and security sources including Ahmad.
    The gang accused vigilante groups, set up to defend farming communities against banditry, of killing Fulani herders and stealing their cows, Matawalle and Ahmad said.    They also made similar accusations against members of a Katsina state committee set up to investigate cattle theft, Ahmad added.
    He said he was not aware of any such incidents, but said a police investigation had been launched.    No ransom was paid for the boys’ release, according to officials in both states.
    Reuters could not reach the gang for comment.    A spokesman for the herders’ association, the Miyetti Allah Cattle Breeders’ Association of Nigeria, declined to discuss the negotiations.
BOKO HARAM?
    Gangs such as these have carried out attacks across the northwest, making it hard for locals to farm, travel or tap rich mineral deposits in some states.    They were responsible for more than 1,100 deaths in the first half of 2020 alone, according to rights group Amnesty International.
    Boko Haram, based in the northeast, has sought to forge alliances with some of them and released videos this year claiming to have received pledges of allegiance, said Jacob Zenn, a Nigeria expert at the U.S.-based Jamestown Foundation think tank.
    A man identifying himself as Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau claimed responsibility for the schoolboys’ kidnappings in an unverified audio recording.    Soon after, the video started circulating on social media.
    However, one boy who spoke in the video later told Nigeria’s Arise television that he did not believe the kidnappers when they told him to say he was being held by Boko Haram.
    “Sincerely speaking, they are not Boko Haram…    They are just small and tiny, tiny boys with big guns,” said the boy, who did not give his name.
    Nigerian Information Minister Lai Mohammed also dismissed Boko Haram’s claim at a Dec. 18 news conference, saying: “They just want to claim that they are still a potent force."
    “The boys were abducted by bandits, not Boko Haram,” Mohammed said.
    Independent security experts said the kidnappers appeared to have drawn inspiration from the militants and may have received advice, but most were sceptical of any direct involvement.
    Cheta Nwanze, lead partner at Lagos-based risk consultancy firm SBM Intelligence, said direct Boko Haram involvement was unlikely because of the “logistics of getting to an area that is unfamiliar” to them.
    “It’s beyond their current capabilities,” he said.    “The northwest is an ungoverned area controlled by other groups.”
SECOND KIDNAP
    Tension between farming and herding communities has been growing in the northwest, where population growth and climate change have increased competition for resources, analysts said.
    The day after the boys were returned to their families in Kankara and other towns, another gang briefly abducted some 80 students who were returning from a trip organised by an Islamic school.
    The kidnappers released the children after a gunfight with police and a local vigilante group, state police said.
    “All the bandits were Fulanis and are over 100 in number,” Abdullahi Sada, who led the vigilantes, told Reuters.
    He said some of his men were armed with bows and arrows while others had guns made by local blacksmiths.
    He denied any knowledge of attacks by vigilantes against Fulani herders, saying: “I have no idea of any such thing happening in my area.”
    Nastura Ashir Shariff, who chairs the Coalition of Northern Groups (CNG), an influential civil society group, blamed a scarcity of police for such clashes, saying communities were taking law enforcement into their own hands.
    Whoever was responsible for the Kankara kidnappings, Ummi Usman, whose 14-year-old son Mujtaba was among those captured, said she was not sure whether to send him back to school.
    “He is still in extreme fear whenever he remembers what they went through at the hands of their abductors,” she said.    “Some of them were threatening the students that they will be back.”
(Reporting by Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by the Maiduguri newsroom, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Felix Onuah in Abuja and Paul Carsten in York, England; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Macfie)

12/25/2020 Bethlehem Nativity Church: A Bare Scene by OAN Newsroom
A Palestinian National security unit is deployed in Manger Square, adjacent to the Church of the Nativity, traditionally believed by Christians to be the
birthplace of Jesus Christ, ahead of Christmas, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Wednesday, Dec. 23, 2020. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)
    Local officials in the Palestinian town of Bethlehem said they will move forward with their scaled-back Christmas celebrations despite the lack of visitors amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
    As the town is revered as the birthplace of Jesus Christ, a wooden nativity scene and large Christmas tree could be seen in the empty Manger Square on Thursday.    The town thrives on tourism and the drop in Christmas travel has shuttered local hotels as well as restaurants.
    “Actually this year is very much different than all other years,” explained Rula Ma’ayah, Palestinian Minister of Tourism.    “Last year we received tourists and patrons from all over the world, we had around 3.5 million tourists…this year we didn’t receive tourists.”
    Palestinian officials noted this year’s Christmas celebrations will be held with COVID-19 precautions in place.

12/24/2020 Pompeo Says U.S. Began Work To Set Up Consulate In Western Sahara
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks to the media prior to meeting with Kuwait's
Foreign Minister in Washington, D.C., U.S., November 24, 2020. Saul Loeb/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department said on Thursday it began the process to set up a U.S. consulate in Western Sahara, after President Donald Trump’s administration this month recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the region.
    In a departure from longstanding U.S. policy, Washington agreed to recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over the Western Sahara, a desert region where a decades-old territorial dispute has pitted Morocco against the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state.
    The recognition was part of a U.S.-brokered deal in which Morocco became the fourth Arab country after the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan to normalize ties with Israel in the past four months.
    “Effective immediately, we are inaugurating a virtual presence post for Western Sahara, with a focus on promoting economic and social development, to be followed soon by a fully functioning consulate,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
    “This virtual presence post will be managed by the U.S. Embassy in Rabat,” Pompeo said, adding that Washington would be continuing to support political negotiations to resolve the issues between Morocco and the Polisario within the framework of Morocco’s autonomy plan.
    Washington’s support for Moroccan sovereignty over the desert territory represents the biggest policy concession the United States has made so far in its quest to win Arab recognition of Israel.
    The series of normalization deals have been driven in part by U.S.-led efforts to present a united front against Iran and roll back Tehran’s regional influence.
    President-elect Joe Biden, due to succeed Trump on Jan. 20, will face a decision whether to accept the U.S. deal on the Western Sahara, which no other Western nation has done.    Western nations and the U.N. have long called for a referendum to resolve the dispute.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Richard Chang)

12/25/2020 Turkey Debates Law That Would Increase Oversight Of NGOs
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan answers questions during a joint news conference with U.S. President
Donald Trump at the White House in Washington, U.S., November 13, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament began debating a draft law on Friday that would increase oversight of non-governmental organisations and which, according to rights campaigners, risks limiting the freedoms of civil-society groups.
    The bill would allow the interior minister to replace members of organisations who are being investigated for terrorism charges.    The interior ministry could also apply to courts to halt the groups’ activities under the draft bill.
    The government says the measure, covering “foundations and associations,” aims to prevent non-profit organisations from financing terrorism and to punish those who violate the law.
    Civil-society groups, including Amnesty International and the Human Rights Association, said terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, and that the draft law would violate the presumption of innocence and punish those whose trials were not finalised.
    The bill was drafted by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party (AKP), which holds a majority in parliament with nationalist MHP allies, suggesting it is likely to pass.
    Investigations based on terrorism charges have been launched against hundreds of thousands of people under a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016.    Hundreds of foundations were also shut down with decrees following the coup attempt.
    Critics say Erdogan and the AKP have used the failed coup as pretext to quash dissent.    The government says the measures were necessary given the security threats facing Turkey.
    Under the draft law, foundations would be inspected annually by civil servants who could request any documents from them.
    Local governors or the interior minister could block online donation campaigns to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering, under the draft law.
    Fines of up to 200,000 lira ($26,200) could be levied for any group found to be engaged in illegal online donation campaigns, compared with a current maximum of 700 lira.
($1 = 7.6335 liras)
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Pravin Char)

12/25/2020 Netanyahu Speaks With Morocco’s King, Invites Him To Israel
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his protective face mask after receiving a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke on Friday with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and invited him to visit Israel, Netanyahu’s office said.
    The two leaders spoke about moving forward with a U.S.-brokered agreement announced earlier this month to normalize bilateral ties, according to the Israeli statement.
    Netanyahu also thanked King Mohammed for hosting an official Israeli delegation this week.
    King Mohammed underscored the close ties between the Moroccan Jewish community and the monarchy, the Royal Court said in a statement.
    While welcoming the resumption of relations with Israel, the King said Morocco’s position regarding Palestine remains unchanged.
    Rabat advocates the two-state solution and the unique character of Jerusalem as a city of three religions.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Ahmed ElJechtmi in Rabat; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Dan Grebler)

12/25/2020 Saudi Arabia Crown Prince Receives First Dose Of COVID-19 Vaccine - SPA
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman chairs first season of the Saudi-Bahraini Coordination Council, virtually with Bahrain's Prime Minister and Crown Prince
Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 24, 2020. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has received his first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, as part of a national COVID-19 vaccination plan being implemented by the ministry of health, state news agency SPA reported on Friday.
(This story corrects o say crown prince received his first dose of COVID-19 vaccine, not the first dose of vaccine administered in the country)
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/25/2020 Turkey Requires Negative PCR Tests For All Incoming Passengers
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Health Minister Fahrettin Koca speaks during a news conference
in Ankara, Turkey, December 24, 2020. Turkish Health Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s health minister said on Friday that as of next Monday all passengers coming into the country will have to provide proof of negative tests for coronavirus carried out within 72 hours of their arrival.
    Passengers who fail to provide a negative polymerase chain reaction (PCR) test result will not be allowed to board planes to Turkey, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca said.
    Koca also said passengers flying in from Britain, South Africa and Denmark will be subject to quarantine upon arrival, in addition to a negative test result at the time of departure.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Hugh Lawson)

12/25/2020 Erdogan Says Turkey Wants Better Ties With Israel, Talks Continue
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the
parliament?in Ankara, Turkey, December 23, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) -President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Turkey would like to have better ties with Israel and that talks at intelligence level continued between the two sides, but criticised Israeli policy toward Palestinians as “unacceptable.”
    The two countries have had a bitter falling out in recent years, despite strong commercial ties, expelling ambassadors in 2018.    Ankara has repeatedly condemned Israel’s occupation in the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians.
    Speaking to reporters after Friday prayers in Istanbul, Erdogan said Turkey had issues with “people at the top level” in Israel and that ties could have been “very different” if it were not for those issues.
    “The Palestine policy is our red line.    It is impossible for us to accept Israel’s Palestine policies.    Their merciless acts there are unacceptable,” Erdogan said.
    “If there were no issues at the top level, our ties could have been very different,” he added.    “We would like to bring our ties to a better point.”
    Turkey and Israel, former allies, expelled each other’s top diplomats in 2018 over clashes when dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces on the Gaza border. Ankara and Tel Aviv continue to trade with one another.
    In August, Israel accused Turkey of giving passports to a dozen Hamas members in Istanbul, describing the move as “a very unfriendly step” which his government would raise with Turkish officials.
    Hamas seized Gaza from forces loyal to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in 2007, and the group has fought three wars with Israel since then.    Turkey says Hamas is a legitimate political movement that was elected democratically.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali KucukgocmenEditing by Ece Toksabay)

12/25/2020 Lebanon’s Top Christian Cleric Urges Politicians To Form Government
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 urged politicians on Friday to rid themselves of external pressure and form a government to end political deadlock and help resolve a severe financial crisis.
    Fractious politicians have been unable to agree on a new administration since the last one quit in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving Lebanon rudderless as it sinks deeper into economic crisis.
    Veteran Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri was named premier for a fourth time in October promising to form a cabinet of specialists to enact reforms necessary to unlock foreign aid, but political wrangling has delayed the process.
    If the reasons for not forming government are internal than “the problem is great” because it shows lack of responsibility, but if they are external “it is greater” because it exposes loyalties beyond Lebanon, Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai said at Christmas Mass.
    His repeated calls for the nation to be free from regional influences are widely understood as references to Lebanon’s Shi’ite Hezbollah movement that is backed by Iran.
    “What conscience allows for Lebanon to be tied to struggles it has no relation to?” he added.
    Prime Minister-designate Hariri and President Michel Aoun aired their differences over the government in statements on Dec. 14.
    Under a sectarian power-sharing system, Lebanon’s president must be a Maronite Christian and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim. Aoun is an ally of Hezbollah, listed as a terrorist group by the United States.
    The financial crisis came to a head last year after decades of corruption and bad governance, sinking the currency by some 80%, freezing savers out of their deposits and causing poverty to soar.
(Reporting by Michael Georgy; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

12/26/2020 Netanyahu Expects Ties Visit By Morocco To Israel Next Week
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to Likud party MKs at the
Knesset (Israel's parliament) in Jerusalem, December 2, 2020. Yonatan Sindel/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A delegation from Morocco will travel to Israel in the coming week to advance newly-normalized relations, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday.
    Netanyahu on Friday spoke with Morocco’s King Mohammed VI and invited him to visit.    An Israeli delegation travelled to Morocco on Tuesday and the countries plan to reopen mutual liaison offices and to launch direct commercial flights.
    “We agreed that the Moroccan delegation will come here at the start of the week in order to advance it all,” Netanyahu said in a video he posted on Twitter, in which he described his conversation with the king.
    A spokesman for the Moroccan government could not be reached for comment.    A diplomatic source speaking on condition of anonymity said the timing and composition of the delegation has not been determined yet.
    Morocco has followed the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in moving to normalize relations with Israel.    Palestinians have censured the U.S.-brokered deals, seeing a betrayal of a long-standing demand that Israel first meet their demand for statehood.
    Israel’s new partners have also enjoyed bilateral benefits from Washington – in Rabat’s case, U.S. recognition of its sovereignty over the Western Sahara.
    Moroccan officials describe their deal with Israel as a restoration of mid-level ties that Rabat cooled in 2000 in solidarity with Palestinians.
    The king has reiterated his position in support of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and highlighted the monarchy’s “close ties” with Morocco’s Jewish community.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Additional reporting by Ahmed El Jechtimi in Rabat; editing by John Stonestreet)

12/26/2020 Uganda Halts Vote Campaigning In Some Areas, Opposition Cries Foul
Ugandan presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi also known as Bobi Wine sits inside
the courtroom in Iganga, eastern Uganda November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Abubaker Lubowa
    KAMPALA (Reuters) – Uganda suspended all campaigning for January’s presidential poll in the capital and 10 populous districts on Saturday, citing coronavirus risks, but critics said the real reason was the opposition’s popularity in these areas.
    The East African country is scheduled to hold a presidential election on Jan. 14.
    “The Independent Electoral Commission has suspended campaign meetings in districts and cities categorised by the Ministry of Health as having high spread of Coronavirus. From December 26, 2020, no campaign meetings will be held in Mbarara, Kabarole, Luwero, Kasese, Masaka, Wakiso, Jinja, Kalungu, Kazo, Kampala City and Tororo,” said commission spokesman Paul Bukenya in a statement.
    Uganda has reported 33,360 COVID-19infections and 245 deaths from the virus since the pandemic began.
    Candidate and pop star Bobi Wine, 38, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi, has emerged as the strongest challenger to President Yoweri Museveni, 76.    The president has been in power since 1986.
    Wine is popular among young people in the country.    Many of his supporters say they are drawn to him by the criticism of Museveni’s government woven into his lyrics.    Others say that as a young leader he is better positioned to tackle the challenges they face.
    Last month, three people died in protests that erupted after police arrested Wine while he was campaigning in the country’s east for violating anti-coronavirus measures.
    Wine said the commission’s action was “cowardly” in a tweet after the announcement, adding: “The dictatorship is in panic.    They have been surprised by the massive enthusiasm and support we have received within all parts of the country.    They just can’t imagine what would happen if they allowed our people to meet in these areas.”
    He had rallies scheduled in Kampala this coming week.
    The ruling National Resistance Movement has no problem with the suspension of campaigning because they believe the commission took the decision in order to save the lives of Ugandans, party spokesman Rogers Mulindwa told Reuters.
    The electoral commission had earlier restricted campaign rallies to no more than 200 people to avoid the spread of the virus.
(Reporting by Andrew Bagala; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Christina Fincher)

12/26/2020 Israel Expecting Moroccan Delegation Amid New Relations by OAN Newsroom
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during a press conference in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said a delegation from Morocco will be flying into the country next week.
    Netanyahu confirmed the measure Saturday as they plan to strengthen new relations between the two countries.
    This comes a day after Netanyahu invited Morocco’s King Mohammed VI to visit the Jewish state.
    “Yesterday I had a historical call with Morocco’s King, Mohammed VI,” Netanyahu said.    “We agreed that the Moroccan delegation will come here at the start of the week in order to advance it all. Opening of offices, advancing to embassies, direct flights from Israel to Morocco back and forth.”
    Morocco follows the United Arab Emirates, Sudan and Bahrain in establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

12/26/2020 Turkey Begins Requiring Negative PCR Test For Travel by OAN Newsroom
A woman wears a protective face mask while walking on Galata bridge in Istanbul,
Turkey amid the outbreak of COVID-19. (Photo by OZAN KOSE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Turkey has begun requiring proof of a negative COVID-19 test in order to board an incoming plane.    Turkey’s health minister announced the new policy Friday, which bars those who fail to comply.
    All passengers flying in from Britain, South Africa or Denmark will be required to quarantine in addition to providing a negative test result.    This is a change from Turkey’s previous policy, which only required a test for those showing symptoms.
    One traveler said her trip to Amsterdam was derailed since she couldn’t get a PCR test on such short notice.
    “Yesterday at 20 past 8 p.m., I got an email from Eurostar that if I want to go to Amsterdam, I need a PCR test,” the traveler said.    “But how can I get PCR test in the night or even in one day?
    These new international requirements are effecting travelers worldwide.    Only more changes are expected to come as countries continue to issue new policies to combat the pandemic.

12/27/2020 Turkish Parliament Passes Associations Oversight Law That Critics Say Will Stifle NGOs
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, November 30, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s parliament passed a law on Sunday that would ramp up oversight of foundations and associations and, according to rights groups including Amnesty International, risks limiting the freedoms of civil society organisations.
    The law allows the interior minister to replace members of organisations who are being investigated for terrorism charges, while the interior ministry can also apply to courts to halt the groups’ activities under the new law.    International organisations will also be included under the law and penalised accordingly.
    Parliament approved the bill – drafted by President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party, which holds a parliamentary majority with its nationalist MHP allies – early on Sunday, the assembly said on Twitter.
    Earlier this week, seven civil society organisations, including Human Rights Association and Amnesty, said in a statement that terrorism charges in Turkey were arbitrary, adding the law violates the presumption of innocence and punishes those whose trials are not finalised.
    “Given that thousands of civil society activists, journalists, politicians, members of professional organisations are investigated within the scope of (anti-terrorism law), there is no doubt that this law will target almost all opponent associations,” said the organisations.
    Investigations based on terrorism charges have been launched against hundreds of thousands of people under a crackdown following a failed coup in 2016.    Members of Amnesty and other civil society groups have been investigated and tried, while hundreds of foundations were also shut down with decrees.
    Critics say Erdogan’s government has used the coup attempt as a pretext to quash dissent.    The government says the measures are necessary given the security threats facing Turkey.
    Under the law, foundations will be inspected annually by civil servants.    Local governors or the Interior Minister can block online donation campaigns under a measure to prevent terrorism financing and money laundering.
    Fines of up to 200,000 lira ($26,500.60) can be levied, compared to a previous maximum of 700 lira, in a move the seven organisations said will “in practice lead to the closure of many associations.”
($1 = 7.5470 liras)
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

12/27/2020 Central African Republic Votes Under Threat Of Violence by Antoine Rolland
A campaign billboard of Central African Republic President Faustin Archange Touadera is seen the streets ahead
of the upcoming elections in Bangui, Central African Republic December 26, 2020. REUTERS/Antonie Rolland
    BANGUI (Reuters) -Central African Republic on Sunday voted in presidential and legislative elections being held under a cloud of violence as the government, international partners and United Nations peacekeepers seek to hold off a rebel advance.
    Militias hostile to President Faustin-Archange Touadera, who is seeking a second term, have stepped up attacks since the constitutional court this month rejected several candidates, including former President Francois Bozize.
    Touadera is considered the favourite in the field of 17 candidates.    The election will go to a second round if no candidate receives more than 50% of the vote.
    Some polling stations in the capital Bangui opened with a slight delay amid heavy security, following sporadic gunfire heard during the night.
    By 0900 GMT, long lines were forming in several polling stations after voting materials were delivered, a Reuters witness said.
    But there are concerns that a substantial number of the 1.8 million registered voters in the sparsely populated nation larger than France will not be able to vote in remote towns, some controlled by armed rebels.
    Heavy gunfire was reported early on Sunday in the town of Bouar, around 435 km (270 miles) northwest of the capital, a resident said.
    “The vote should not only take place in Bangui. I think that the elections should have been postponed. But as it is the law, it is my duty, I am coming to vote for my president,” said 31-year old Thierry Yanga who voted in the capital.     The country’s constitutional court on Saturday rejected an appeal from several opposition candidates calling for the election to be postponed.
    The government and a United Nation’s mission in the country had rejected a postponement fearing a power vacuum that could worsen the crisis.
WAVES OF VIOLENCE
    The crisis has left many in the diamond- and gold-rich nation of 4.7 million exhausted, while stirring fears of a return to the worst violence of its recent past, which includes five coups and numerous rebellions since independence from France in 1960.
    Touadera was first elected in 2016 following a rebellion three years earlier that ousted Bozize.    He has struggled to wrest control of vast swathes of the country from armed militias.
    Successive waves of violence since 2013 have killed thousands and forced more than a million from their homes.
    Touadera and the United Nations, which has over 12,800 uniformed peacekeepers in CAR, have accused Bozize of being behind the rebel offensive, which briefly seized the country’s fourth largest city last week and has led to a wave of desertions from the army.
    Bozize’s candidacy was rejected because he faces an arrest warrant and U.N. sanctions for allegedly ordering assassinations and torture while president.    Bozize has denied those charges.
    Touadera’s international security partners have responded to the latest violence by sending additional troops and equipment, including 300 Russian military instructors and 300 Rwandan peacekeepers.
(Reporting by Antoine Rolland in Bangui; Writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix; editing by Willliam Mallard and Jason Neely)

12/27/2020 Niger Votes In Search Of First Democratic Transition by Boureima Balima
FILE PHOTO: Niger's Interior Minister Mohamed Bazoum (4th from R) stands with members of his delegation at the official
presidential residence in Diffa, in southeastern Niger, June 18, 2016. Picture taken June 18, 2016. REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    NIAMEY (Reuters) -Voting began in Niger on Sunday in an election that is expected to lead to the West African nation’s first transfer of power between two democratically elected presidents.
    A smooth handover would be a rare bright spot for a country blighted by widespread poverty and Islamist violence that has killed hundred of civilians and soldiers in the last year alone.

12/27/2020 Gulf Arab Ministers Discuss Steps To Resolve Diplomatic Dispute
FILE PHOTO: Foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) arrive, ahead of an annual leaders summit
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 9, 2019. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Gulf Arab foreign ministers held a virtual meeting on Sunday ahead of a summit to discuss steps towards ending a diplomatic row that has undermined regional stability and thwarted Washington’s efforts to form a united front against Iran.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Bahrain severed diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017, accusing it of backing “terrorist” groups.    Doha denies the charge and accuses its neighbours of seeking to curtail its sovereignty.
    However, Riyadh has pushed for a resolution of the dispute as it seeks to soften criticism from U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to take a firmer stance with the kingdom than his predecessor.
    Bahrain said in a statement that the virtual meeting it hosted on Sunday of foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) will prepare the ground for the 41st session of the GCC Summit which will be held on Jan. 5.
    Foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Bahrain attended the meeting, state media reported.    Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Sultan bin Saad Al Muraikhi represented Qatar, the Foreign ministry said in a statement.
    It was unclear if an agreement has been secured.
    “Talks have been going on an eventual agreement but it is still work in progress,” a Gulf official told Reuters.
    Sources have said they expected an agreement to be reached by the summit that could result in a set of principles for negotiations or a more concrete move involving reopening airspace to Qatar.
    But Qatar has told Kuwait and the United States, the two mediators in the dispute, that any resolution should be based on mutual respect, including of foreign policy.
    Doha had been set 13 demands, ranging from closing Al Jazeera television and shuttering a Turkish base to cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
    Saudi Arabian Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud said this month that a resolution to the dispute with Qatar seemed “within reach” after Kuwait announced progress towards ending the row.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Jason Neely and David Clarke)
[The above efforts of the GCC Summit have come about because of the Abraham Accord and will lead to resolve the Palestinan-Israel issues so it is in the works and hopefully if the Biden administration actually comes in and could cause issues.].

12/27/2020 Turkey Warns Libya’s Haftar And Supporters Against Attacking Its Forces
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Defence Minister Hulusi Akar attends a NATO defence ministers meeting at the
Alliance headquarters in Brussels, Belgium February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar warned on Sunday that the forces of Khalifa Haftar and their supporters based in eastern Libya would be viewed as “legitimate targets” if they attempted to attack Turkish forces in the region.
    Speaking during a visit to Turkish troops in Tripoli, Akar said Haftar’s forces and his supporters would have “nowhere to run” if they attacked Turkish forces, adding they would become targets for Ankara “everywhere.”
    Turkey is the main foreign backer of Libya’s internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA) based in Tripoli, which for years has been fighting Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
    In October, the GNA and LNA signed a ceasefire agreement and the United Nations has been pushing a political dialogue aimed at elections next year as a solution.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; editing by Jason Neely)

12/27/2020 Israel Speeds Vaccines, Locks Down In Hope Of March Exit From Pandemic by Dan Williams
A woman holds a dog as she walks before Israel imposes a third national lockdown to fight climbing
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) infections, in Jerusalem December 27, 2020. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel began what officials hope will be its last coronavirus lockdown on Sunday as they ramp up vaccinations to a pace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said may allow an emergence from the pandemic by March.
    If realised, that could help Netanyahu’s re-election hopes after missteps that include lifting a first lockdown with a premature declaration of victory in May, inconsistent enforcement of curbs and sluggish economic relief.
    Since beginning vaccinations a week before Sunday’s European Union roll-out, Israel’s centralised health system has administered 280,000 shots, the world’s fastest rate.
    The opening of 24/7 vaccination stations is under consideration.    Netanyahu wants the daily rate doubled to 150,000 shots by next weekend.
    That could enable the vaccination of half of Israel’s 9 million people by the end of January.    The country has logged almost 400,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,210 deaths.
    “As soon as we are done with this stage, within 30 days we can emerge from the coronavirus, open the economy and do things that no country can do,” Netanyahu said in a televised address.
    The conservative premier is running in a March 23 election called after his governing coalition collapsed this month.
    An Israel Democracy Institute poll released on Sunday found that 40.8% of the public gave the government mostly positive ratings for its handling of the crisis’ medical aspects, while 32.2% gave it mostly negative ratings.    On the economic aspects, the government’s ratings were 52.8% negative and 19.7% positive.
    Sunday’s lockdown – the country’s third – will last at least three weeks and aims to tamp down contagions that are currently doubling in scale every two weeks, the Health Ministry said.
    The vaccines mean “there is a very high chance that this is our final lockdown,” Sharon Alroy-Preis, acting head of the ministry’s public health services division, told Army Radio.
(Editing by Kirsten Donovan, Larry King)

12/28/2020 Ethiopian Police Arrest Reuters Cameraman
A photograph from the family album shows Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu
in this picture released on December 27, 2020. Handout via REUTERS
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – A Reuters cameraman, Kumerra Gemechu, was arrested in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Thursday and will be kept in custody for at least two weeks, his family said. He has not been charged.
    No reason was provided to the family for Thursday’s arrest, and police did not respond to Reuters’ requests for comment.    Kumerra, 38, has worked for Reuters as a freelance cameraman for a decade.
    At a brief court hearing on Friday, where no lawyer was present, a judge ordered Kumerra’s detention for a further 14 days to give police time to investigate, the family said.
    In a statement on Monday, Reuters news agency strongly condemned Kumerra’s detention.    The arrest followed the beating of a Reuters photographer, Tiksa Negeri, by two Ethiopian federal police officers on Dec. 16.
    “Kumerra is part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased way.    Kumerra’s work demonstrates his professionalism and impartiality, and we are aware of no basis for his detention,” Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in the statement.
    “Journalists must be allowed to report the news in the public interest without fear of harassment or harm, wherever they are.    We will not rest until Kumerra is freed,” Adler said.
    Around 10 armed federal police officers arrived at Kumerra’s home in Addis Ababa on Thursday evening and took him away in handcuffs in front of his wife and three children, his wife Hawi Desalegn said.    She added that his eldest daughter, who is 10, clung to him screaming as he was led away.
    Police also confiscated Kumerra’s phone, a computer, flash drives and papers, according to the family.
JOURNALISTS ARRESTED
    Kumerra’s arrest follows government pressure on journalists for some international news outlets which have been covering the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region, where government forces have been battling the former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
    Kumerra covered the Tigray conflict, but Reuters was unable to determine whether his arrest was connected to his work.    Government officials did not respond to questions from Reuters about whether his coverage was at issue.
    Ethiopia’s media authority, the Ethiopian Broadcasting Authority, accused Reuters and other international media outlets in a Nov. 23 statement on its Facebook page of “false” and “unbalanced” coverage of the fighting in Tigray.
    “We stand by our reporting on the conflict in the Tigray region and will continue to report on Ethiopia with integrity, independence, and freedom from bias, as we do all around the world,” Reuters said in a separate statement.
    The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said Kumerra’s detention was “the latest example of how press freedom is fast eroding under Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed after a short-lived hope of reform.”
    When CPJ carried out its annual census of jailed journalists on Dec. 1, there were at least seven journalists in custody in Ethiopia for their work, CPJ said in a statement on Monday.
    Five of those arrests took place after the Tigray fighting broke out on Nov. 4, according to CPJ.
    Thousands of people are believed to have been killed and around 950,000 displaced in the month-long conflict.    The government says it is now in control of the restive region, but it tightly controls access, and some areas still do not have cell phone coverage.
    Ethiopia’s government, which the TPLF dominated for nearly three decades, frequently jailed critics, including politicians and journalists.
    When Abiy came to power in 2018, he speeded up democratic reforms and oversaw the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners.
    However, local and international rights groups have expressed concern about the arrests of thousands of other people following outbreaks of deadly violence around the country.
    The government has said those arrested were suspected of fomenting the bloodshed.
    “One of the government’s primary roles and responsibilities is ensuring security and stability and that the rule of law prevails,” Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, told Reuters in August after more than 9,000 people were arrested following deadly clashes in the capital and surrounding Oromiya region.
(This story corrects age in third paragraph)
(Reporting by the Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)

12/28/2020 Sudan Deploys Troops In South Darfur After Tribal Violence – Report
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced Sudanese family poses for a photograph outside their makeshift shelter within the
Kalma camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Darfur, Sudan April 26, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Sudan will deploy “large numbers” of troops to South Darfur state after the killing of 15 people in tribal violence recently, the state news agency cited the state governor as saying on Sunday.
    The state is part of the restive Darfur region, in the west of Sudan, which suffered a bitter conflict that erupted in 2003.
    A dispute over a water source between members of the tribes of Masalit and Fallata in Gereida city ended with the killing of two people from the Fallata tribe, SUNA news agency said, citing two local leaders.
    One of the leaders said Fallata members responded by killing 13 people from Masalit and wounding 34 others.
    Gereida is located 97 kilometres south of Nyala, the capital of South Darfur state.
    The area witnessed several bloody clashes between the tribes over the last two years, SUNA said.    The latest violence is the first since they reached a reconciliation in October, it added.
    A meeting of the state security committee with military and local community leaders in Gereida decided to deploy troops “in large numbers” to pursue the perpetrators? ?and collect arms, Mousa Mahdi, the governor of South Darfur told the agency.
    They agreed also on forming an investigation committee, he added.
    Conflict spread in Sudan’s western Darfur region from 2003 after mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Government forces and mainly Arab militia that moved to repress the revolt were accused of widespread atrocities.    An estimated 300,000 people were killed and 2.5 million displaced.
    In October, Sudan’s transitional authorities finalized a peace deal with some rebel groups from Darfur.    But the agreement excluded the group that has been most active on the ground.
    Last week, the U.N. Security Council decided to end the mission of a joint United Nations and African Union peacekeeping mission in Darfur, known as UNAMID, on Dec.31, more than 13 years after it established the operation.
    Many Darfuri residents say UNAMID has not effectively protected them, but they fear its withdrawal will leave them more vulnerable and have staged protests in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

12/28/2020 Violence Closed 800 Polling Stations In Central African Republic
FILE PHOTO: Electoral officials prepare a polling centre during the Presidential and legislative elections at a polling station in
Petevo, 8th Arrondissement of Bangui, Central African Republic December 27, 2020. REUTERS/Antonie Rolland NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    BANGUI (Reuters) – More than 14% of polling stations in the Central African Republic failed to operate during Sunday’s presidential and legislative election due to armed rebels who attacked voters and barred electoral staff, the electoral commission said on Monday.
    Around 800 out of a total 5,408 polling stations nationwide did not open, Theophile Momokouama, an executive of the electoral authority, told a news conference in Bangui.
    “There were localities where voters were brutalized, threatened with death.    The electoral staff were forbidden to deploy on the ground,” Momokouama said.
    The diamond- and gold-rich nation of 4.7 million has struggled to stabilise due to a successive waves of militia violence since 2013 that have killed thousands and forced more than a million from their homes.
    “As of today, we do not know the proportion of Central Africans who were able to vote,” Momokouama said.
    Momokouama said the commission was waiting for results from regions for collation.    The commission would then forward the provisional results to the constitutional court which will publish them.
    The election campaign was marred by threats from armed rebel groups that vowed to march on the capital and disrupt the vote after several candidates, including former President Francois Bozize, were barred from running.
    Security forces, helped by more than 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers, and reinforcement from partners Russia and Rwanda, managed to fend off attacks in the capital and some towns, but rebels were able to stop the vote in some areas of a sparsely populated country larger than France.
    Security Minister Henri Wanzet-Linguissara told the news conference that some rebel groups were aided by foreign mercenaries, enabling them to take control of some towns.
    In Bouar, around 435 km (270 miles) northwest of the capital where heavy gunfire prevented voting, terrified residents were still hiding in their homes on Monday.
    “The armed groups are still near the town.    Yesterday it was very difficult for us.    We couldn’t vote.    They ransacked polling stations.    For now the city is almost empty,” a resident said by phone.
(Reporting by Antoine Rolland; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Nick Macfie)

12/28/2020 Banks Re-Open In Ethiopia’s Mekelle For First Time Since War Began
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a street in Mekelle, Tigray region of northern Ethiopia December 10, 2018. REUTERS/Maggie Fick
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Banking services have resumed in the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region for the first time since conflict broke out there on Nov. 4, state-run Fana TV reported on Monday, as the government seeks to restore normality a month after capturing the city.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declared victory after seizing Mekelle from the rebellious northern Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) on Nov. 28.
    By mid-December, it was sending civil servants back to work and re-opening air space, while some power and telecoms links were restored after a near-total communications blackout.
    Fana cited an interview in the state-run Ethiopia Press Agency with Mekelle’s mayor, Ataklti Haile Selassie, in which he was quoted as saying banks had opened their doors.
    The conflict between Ethiopian federal forces and the TPLF is believed to have killed thousands and displaced around 950,000 people. Earlier this month, residents reported shortages of food, water and fuel in the city.
    Aid agencies have struggled to gain access to the region to assess the extent of the emergency, but are concerned about food running out, especially in camps hosting refugees fleeing repression in neighbouring Eritrea.
    On Tuesday, the U.N.’s World Food Programme announced it had been able to distribute food at two of the four camps for Eritrean refugees.    Refugees had last received two months of rations in mid October.
    Abiy’s government says the conflict is finished. Ethiopia has a general election scheduled for June and is drafting a bill to establish an Ethiopian stock market.
    TPLF leaders have previously said they were fighting back from mountain hideouts to which they fled after the fall of Mekelle but there have not been reports of fighting since earlier this month.
(Writing by Tim Cocks. Editing by Mark Potter)

    This page created on 11/1/2020, and updated each month by 11/30/2019 and 12/31/2020.

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