From The Alpha and the Omega - Chapter Eight
by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved
"REVELATION EUPHRATES RIVER"

    This file is attached to http://www.mazzaroth.com/ChapterEight/2014-2017.htm from "Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D." - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright @ 1995, all rights reserved.

REVELATION EUPHRATES RIVER
    Revelation 16:12 "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."
    We can only assume that the vial would cause some type of catastrophe that would have the Euphrates River to dry up or change its direction so that the kings of the east could cross over it.    As you can see in the map below that the river starts from Armenia where the Mountain Ararat is and where the Bible states in Genesis 8:4 "And the ark rested in the seventh month, on the seventeenth day of the month, upon the mountains of Ararat."

   
    As to the emergence of India in the global technological culture I did not see much of that in 2019 to dominate the next few decades in research and development centers are sprouting everywhere and are the seedbeds of the most advanced software platforms, multimedia devices, and other next-generation innovations and India's Prime Minister is still Narendra Modi.
    China and India account for one-third of the world's population which is noted later.
    Although numerous commentators try to connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related: as Rev. 16:12 only says "way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    This tells me that it could be several countries from the Kings of the East could take that journey.
    The “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.
    As to kings from the Orient, but this is not required by the text, they are kings representing nations east of the Euphrates.    Commentators particularly of the postmillennial and the historical schools have guessed at the identity of the kings of the East and as many as fifty different interpretations have been advanced.    The very number of these interpretations is their refutation.

    Since Iran has become more of an issue during 2019 I decided to input the following again regarding Jeremiah 49:35-39 New King James Version (NKJV) PROPHESY OF ELAM to let you know what the Bible says about them and their possible future.
35Thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Behold, I will break the bow of Elam, The foremost of their might.
36 Against Elam I will bring the four winds from the four quarters of heaven, And scatter them toward all those winds; There shall be no nations where the outcasts of Elam will not go.
37 For I will cause Elam to be dismayed before their enemies And before those who seek their life.    I will bring disaster upon them, My fierce anger,’ says the Lord; ‘And I will send the sword after them Until I have consumed them.
38 I will set My throne in Elam, And will destroy from there the king and the princes,’ says the Lord.
39 ‘But it shall come to pass in the latter days: I will bring back the captives of Elam,’ says the Lord.”
   
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used, for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem.    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.
    Elam in the Hebrew Bible (Genesis 10:22, Ezra 4:9;) is said to be one of the sons of Shem, the son of Noah.    It is also used (as in Akkadian), for the ancient country of Elam in what is now southern Iran, whose people the Hebrews believed to be the offspring of Elam, son of Shem (Genesis 10:22).    This implies that the Elamites were considered Semites by the Hebrews.    Their language was not one of the Semitic languages, but is considered a linguistic isolate.
    Elam (the nation) is also mentioned in Genesis 14, describing an ancient war in the time of Abram (father of the tribe, for possible leaders over time) not Abraham, (father of many nations) involving Chedorlaomer, the king of Elam at that time, and noted that Sarai, Princess of the tribe, who became the final as Sarah.
    The prophecies of the Book of Isaiah (11:11, 21:2, 22:6) and the Book of Jeremiah (25:25) also mention Elam.    The last part of Jeremiah 49 is an apocalyptic oracle against Elam which states that Elam will be scattered to the four winds of the earth, but "will be, in the end of days, that I will return their captivity," a prophecy self-dated to the first year of Zedekiah (597 BC).
    The Book of Jubilees may reflect ancient tradition when it mentions a son (or daughter, in some versions) of 'Elam named "Susan," whose daughter Rasuaya married Arpachshad, progenitor of another branch of Shemites.    Shushan (or Susa) was the ancient capital of the Elamite Empire. (Dan. 8:2)
    Then we need to consider the following Bible prophecy in:
Daniel Chapter 8
1 In the third year of the reign of king Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first.
2 And I saw in a vision; and it came to pass, when I saw, that I was at Shushan in the palace, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in a vision, and I was by the river of Ulai.
3 Then I lifted up mine eyes, and saw, and, behold, there stood before the river a ram which had two horns: and the two horns were high; but one was higher than the other, and the higher came up last.
4 I saw the ram pushing westward, and northward, and southward; so that no beasts might stand before him, neither was there any that could deliver out of his hand; but he did according to his will, and became great.
5 And as I was considering, behold, an he goat came from the west on the face of the whole earth, and touched not the ground: and the goat had a notable horn between his eyes [note that horns in Hebrew was a power].
6 And he came to the ram that had two horns, which I had seen standing before the river, and ran unto him in the fury of his power.
7 And I saw him come close unto the ram, and he was moved with choler against him, and smote the ram, and brake his two horns: and there was no power in the ram to stand before him, but he cast him down to the ground, and stamped upon him: and there was none that could deliver the ram out of his hand.
8 Therefore the he goat waxed very great: and when he was strong, the great horn was broken; and for it came up four notable ones toward the four winds of heaven.
9 And out of one of them came forth a little horn, which waxed exceeding great, toward the south, and toward the east, and toward the pleasant land.
10 And it waxed great, even to the host of heaven; and it cast down some of the host and of the stars to the ground, and stamped upon them.
11 Yea, he magnified himself even to the prince of the host, and by him the daily sacrifice was taken away, and the place of his sanctuary was cast down.
12 And an host was given him against the daily sacrifice by reason of transgression, and it cast down the truth to the ground; and it practised, and prospered.
13 Then I heard one saint speaking, and another saint said unto that certain saint which spake, How long shall be the vision concerning the daily sacrifice, and the transgression of desolation, to give both the sanctuary and the host to be trodden under foot?
14 And he said unto me, Unto two thousand and three hundred days; then shall the sanctuary be cleansed.
15 And it came to pass, when I, even I Daniel, had seen the vision, and sought for the meaning, then, behold, there stood before me as the appearance of a man. 16 And I heard a man's voice between the banks of Ulai, which called, and said, Gabriel, make this man to understand the vision.
17 So he came near where I stood: and when he came, I was afraid, and fell upon my face: but he said unto me, Understand, O son of man: for at the time of the end shall be the vision.
18 Now as he was speaking with me, I was in a deep sleep on my face toward the ground: but he touched me, and set me upright.
19 And he said, Behold, I will make thee know what shall be in the last end of the indignation: for at the time appointed the end shall be.
20 The ram which thou sawest having two horns are the kings of Media and Persia.
21 And the rough goat is the king of Grecia: and the great horn that is between his eyes is the first king. [Most believed this to be Alexander the Great who conquered the known world, and his inheritors divided his empire into four kingdoms]
22 Now that being broken, whereas four stood up for it, four kingdoms shall stand up out of the nation, but not in his power.
23 And in the latter time of their kingdom, when the transgressors are come to the full, a king of fierce countenance, and understanding dark sentences, shall stand up.
24 And his power shall be mighty, but not by his own power: and he shall destroy wonderfully, and shall prosper, and practise, and shall destroy the mighty and the holy people.
25 And through his policy also he shall cause craft to prosper in his hand; and he shall magnify himself in his heart, and by peace shall destroy many: he shall also stand up against the Prince of princes; but he shall be broken without hand.
26 And the vision of the evening and the morning which was told is true: wherefore shut thou up the vision; for it shall be for many days.
27 And I Daniel fainted, and was sick certain days; afterward I rose up, and did the king's business; and I was astonished at the vision, but none understood it.
SO BASED ON THIS FILE MAYBE YOU WILL BE ABLE TO UNDERSTAND THE VISION

NOW FOR INFORMATION ABOUT WHAT IS GOING ON IN OUR MODERN TIMES
    I created this file after seeing the series on the "End of the Age" with Rev. Irwin Baxter presented the following concept of Revelation 9:13-16.
13 And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God,
[four horns are visions of a world-wide extension of the four quarters of the world.].
14 Saying to the sixth angel which had the trumpet, Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.
[These four angels are demons and very powerful fallen angels that were bound in the Euphrates River, and as you can see it runs through Turkey, then Syria, then Iraq to Iran in the areas where the first human sin and first world ruler King of Babylon or spiritual Babel.].
15 And the four angels were loosed, which were prepared for an hour, and a day, and a month, and a year, for to slay the third part of men.
[These four angels will slay one-third of men with pain, death and hell.].
16 And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand: and I heard the number of them.
[The river dries up in Revelation 16:12 so the army of 200,000,000 can cross it.].

As seen in the above image that the Euphrates River starts at Turkey, then to Syria, then to Iraq and to the border of Iran.
    As to China, India and Islam, each could easily have 200 million army or horsemen if needed, so any one of them could fulfill the above prophecy and be considered the Kings Of The East.
    As Bible students, we all are aware of the allusions to the "Kings of the East" in the prophetic scenario: "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    Revelation 16:12.
    Although numerous commentators try to connect these kings with the 200 million horsemen of the sixth trumpet judgment, they are not related: as Rev. 16:12 only says "way of the kings of the east might be prepared."    This tells me that it could be several countries from the Kings of the East could take that journey.
    The “two hundred million” is in Rev. 9:16 are in a Trumpet Judgment, whereas the kings of the east are in a Bowl judgment.    Furthermore, . . . it was shown that the two hundred million are demons and not men.

Iran has removed the Blue Flag and raised the Red flag of "revenge" for Soleimani hoisted on Jamkaran Mosque

    On 1/2/2020 Pentagon: U.S. air strike kills commander of Iran backed Quds Force
FILE – In this Sept. 18, 2016, file photo provided by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, Revolutionary
Guard Gen. Qassem Soleimani, center, attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran. (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP, File)
    The Pentagon has confirmed the commander of the Iranian-backed terror group Quds Force Iranian General Qasem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. air strike near the airport in Baghdad.    The Pentagon said Soleimani was one of the leaders who was behind recent attacks on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and other U.S. military bases across Iraq.    Defense officials said his death will prevent future attacks on U.S. interests.

    The head of the Iraqi Popular Mobilization Forces was also killed in the strike, including Badr Organization Commander Hadi al-Amiri.
    In 2019, the State Department designated Quds Force, which is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), as a terrorist organization.
    “The IRGC FTO designation highlights that Iran is an outlaw regime that uses terrorism as a key tool of statecraft and that the IRGC, part of Iran’s official military, has engaged in terrorist activity or terrorism since its inception 40 years ago,” read the Department of State’s April fact sheet.    “The Iranian regime has made a clear choice not only to fund and equip, but also to fuel terrorism, violence and unrest across the Middle East and around the world at the expense of its own people.”
    The assassination of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani has been a target for sometime now for the killings of many U.S. troops, and was the mastermind behind Iranian policy in the region and President Trump “thinks tactically” and uses bold military maneuvers that former President Obama would never have used.    Trump felt that the U.S. troops in Iraq…are helping the U.S. strategically go after Iran to prevent Iran from taking over this region, and so that could be one unintended consequence of Trump’s move… He has had a target, a bull’s eye, on his head for some time now…it is a big deal because he is, you know, the senior most official that the U.S. have been after in Iran.
    Since the move, Iran has vowed vengeance on the U.S., sparking fears of all-out war as Iranian spokesperson and General Ramezan Sharif and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani condemned the airstrike, and promised to retaliate for what he called a “heinous crime.”
    The president said for years, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard forces and the Quds Force have targeted and injured American troops and Soleimani’s death should have come long ago.    “Today we remember and honor the victims of Soleimani’s many atrocities, and we take comfort in knowing that his reign of terror is over,” stated President Trump.
    He noted the action taken against Soleimani was to stop a war, not start one.    He also called on the ruling Iranian regime to end the use of proxy fighters in order to destabilize their neighboring nations.    “We took action last night to stop a war, we did not take action to start a war.    I have deep respect for the Iranian people.    We do not seek a regime change.    However, the Iranian regime’s aggression in the region, including the use of proxy fighters to destabilize its neighbors, must end now.” – Donald Trump, 45th President of the United States
    Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, the top commander of the elite Quds Force of the Revolutionary Guards, helped Iran fight proxy wars across the Middle East by inspiring militias on the battlefield and negotiating with political leaders.    Soleimani was responsible for clandestine overseas operations and was often seen on battlefields guiding Iraqi Shi’ite groups in the war against Islamic State.    He was killed along with top Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and his Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization in 2019, part of a campaign of maximum pressure to force Iran to negotiate on its ballistic missile program and nuclear policy.    Soleimani’s Quds Force shored up support for Syrian President Bashir al-Assad when he looked close to defeat in the civil war raging since 2011 and also helped militiamen defeat Islamic State in Iraq, and strengthened Iran’s ties with Hezbollah in Lebanon, Assad’s government, and Shi’ite militia groups in Iraq.
    Soleimani was also in charge of intelligence gathering and covert military operations carried out by the Quds Force and in 2018 he publicly challenged U.S. President Donald Trump.    “I’m telling you Mr. Trump the gambler, I’m telling you, know that we are close to you in that place you don’t think we are,” said Soleimani, seen wagging an admonishing finger in a video clip distributed online.    “You will start the war but we will end it,” he said, with a checkered keffiya draped across the shoulders of his olive uniform.
    In 1/3/2020 at least five people were killed after an airstrike hit a medical convoy just north of Baghdad.    Iraqi officials said two vehicles were targeted near Camp Taji, which were carrying a convoy of medics with the Popular Mobilization Forces.    Three others were also critically wounded.    This new attack came a day after the group’s leader, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, was killed in the airstrike that eliminated General Qasem Soleimani.
    On 1/4/2020 last October, Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani met with his Iraqi Shi’ite militia allies at a villa on the banks of the Tigris River, looking across at the U.S. embassy complex in Baghdad.    The Revolutionary Guards commander instructed his top ally in Iraq, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, and other powerful militia leaders to step up attacks on U.S. targets in the country using sophisticated new weapons provided by Iran.
    Soleimani’s efforts ended up provoking the U.S. attack that killed him and Muhandis, marking a major escalation of tensions between the United States and Iran, as the two men died in air strikes on their convoy at a Baghdad airport as they headed to the capital, dealing a major blow to the Islamic Republic and the Iraqi paramilitary groups it supports and the Iranian Revolutionary Guards moved more sophisticated weapons – such as Katyusha rockets and shoulder-fired missiles that could bring down helicoptersReuters.
    Soleimani told the assembled commanders to form a new militia group of low-profile paramilitaries – unknown to the United States – who could carry out rocket attacks on Americans housed at Iraqi military bases.    He ordered Kataib Hezbollah – a force founded by Muhandis and trained in Iran – to direct the new plan.
    Before the attacks, the U.S. intelligence community had reason to believe that Soleimani was involved in “late stage” planning to strike Americans in multiple countries, including Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, U.S. officials and Soleimani had just come from Damascus, “where he was planning attacks on American soldiers, airmen, Marines, sailors and against our diplomats.”
    The United States has grown increasingly concerned about Iran’s influence over the ruling elite in Iraq, which has been beset for months by protesters who accuse the government of enriching itself and serving the interests of foreign powers, especially Iran, as Iraqis languish in poverty without jobs or basic services.
    Muhandis, a former Iraqi lawmaker, oversaw Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), an umbrella grouping of paramilitary forces mostly consisting of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias that was formally integrated into Iraq’s armed forces.    Soleimani picked Kataib Hezbollah to lead the attacks on U.S. forces in the region because it had the capability to use drones to scout targets for Katyusha rocket attacks, one of the militia commanders told Reuters.    Among the weapons that Soleimani’s forces supplied to its Iraqi militia allies last fall was a drone Iran had developed that could elude radar systems, the militia commanders said.    Kataib Hezbollah used the drones to gather aerial footage of locations where U.S. troops were deployed, according to two Iraqi security officials who monitor the movements of militias.
    On December 11, a senior U.S. military official said attacks by Iranian-backed groups on bases hosting U.S. forces in Iraq were increasing and becoming more sophisticated, pushing all sides closer to an uncontrollable escalation.
    His warning came two days after four Katyusha rockets struck a base near Baghdad international airport, wounding five members of Iraq’s elite Counter-Terrorism Service.    No group claimed responsibility for the attack but a U.S. military official said intelligence and forensic analyses of the rockets and launchers pointed to Iranian-backed Shi’ite Muslim militia groups, notably Kataib Hezbollah and Asaib Ahl al-Haq.
    On Dec. 27 more than 30 rockets were fired at an Iraqi military base near the northern Iraq city of Kirkuk.    The attack killed a U.S. civilian contractor and wounded four American and two Iraq servicemen.
    Washington accused Kataib Hezbollah of carrying out the attack, an allegation it denied.    The United States then launched air strikes two days later against the militia, killing at least 25 militia fighters and wounding 55.
    The attacks sparked two days of violent protests by supporters of Iranian-backed Iraqi paramilitary groups who stormed the U.S. Embassy’s perimeter and hurled rocks, prompting Washington to dispatch extra troops to the region and threaten reprisals against Tehran.
    On Thursday – the day before the attack that killed Soleimani – U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper warned that the United States might have to take preemptive action to protect American lives from expected attacks by Iran-backed militias.    “The game has changed,” he said.

    Iran wants to control Iraq, Syria, Lebanon as the Revelation 9:13-16 so it can control it with the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) which would eventually consist of 200 million men and would then have great resources and wealth and we hope never to have nuclear weapons.
    The Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), also known as the People's Mobilization Committee (PMC) and the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU) (Arabic: al-Hashd ash-Sha'bi), is an Iraqi state-sponsored umbrella organization composed of some 40 militias that are mostly Shia Muslim groups, but also include Sunni Muslim, Christian, and Yazidi groups.    The popular mobilization units as a group was formed in 2014 and have fought in nearly every major battle against ISIL.    It has been called the new Iraqi Republican Guard after it was fully reorganized in early 2018 by its then-Commander in Chief Haider al-Abadi.    Former Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi issued "regulations to adapt the situation of the Popular Mobilization fighters," giving them ranks and salaries equivalent to other branches of the Iraqi military.
    President Trump who I think has been blessed by the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob because he moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and promoted the Golan Heights for Israel and since then he has been attacked by the worse of the worse and has survived each of their attacks knew just what he is doing with these terrorists and will keep going on and will continue to protect us with divine help.


THE FOLLOWING ARE NEWS ARTICLES REGARDING THE ABOVE SUBJECT:.

    On 1/31/2020 Report: Officials believe Al-Qaeda leader killed in U.S. airstrike by OAN Newsroom
Screengrabs of Qassim al-Rimi, via Rewards for Justice website and official CNN report.
    U.S. officials reportedly believe they may have killed the leader of Al-Qaeda following a recent airstrike in the Arabian Peninsula.    Friday reports said the U.S. conducted a strike targeting terror leader Qassim al-Rimi in Yemen, but have yet to confirm his death.
    The Pentagon has not elaborated on the situation.
    “While we are aware of the reports alleging the death of AQAP leader Qassim al-Rimi, the Department of Defense has nothing to offer on this matter,” one State Department told CNN.
    Authorities reportedly said they’ll continue to assess whether al-Rimi was killed in the strike by monitoring social media and messaging apps for evidence.

2/6/2020 President Trump confirms Al-Qaeda’s Qasim al-Rimi killed in U.S. airstrike by OAN Newsroom
    On Thursday, President Trump confirmed that the U.S. military has eliminated the leader of Al-Qaeda on the Arabian Peninsula. In a statement, the president said the Pentagon killed Qasim al-Rimi during a counterterrorism operation in Yemen this week.
    Al-Rimi was the top regional commander of the militant group and served as deputy to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri.
    “At the direction of President Donald J. Trump, the United States conducted a counterrorism operation in Yemen that successfully eliminated Qasim al-Rimi, a founder and the leader of Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” read the statement.    “His death further degrades AQAP and the global Al-Qaeda movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security.”
    Al-Rimi’s forces have been responsible for attacks on U.S. forces and allies, as well as many atrocities against the civilian population in the region.
    President Trump said his death brings the U.S. closer to eliminating the threat posed by the terror group.
    On Twitter, Donald Trump Jr. celebrated the news and thanked the president for taking down “another disgusting terrorist.”
[Qasim al-Raymi was the emir of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.    Al-Raymi was one of 23 men who escaped in the February 3, 2006 prison-break in Yemen, along with other notable al-Qaeda members.    Al-Raymi was connected to a July 2007 suicide bombing that killed eight Spanish tourists.    In 2009, the Yemeni government accused him of being responsible for the running of an al-Qaeda training camp in Abyan province.    After serving as AQAP's military commander, al-Raymi was promoted to leader after the death of Nasir al-Wuhayshi on 12 June 2015.]

2/7/2020 U.S. kills leader of al Qaeda in Arabian Peninsula: Trump
U.S. President Donald Trump delivers a statement about his acquittal in the East Room
of the White House in Washington, U.S., February 6, 2020. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump said on Thursday the United States had killed Qassim al-Raymi, the leader of Islamist group al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), in a counterterrorism operation in Yemen.
    “Under Rimi, AQAP committed unconscionable violence against civilians in Yemen and sought to conduct and inspire numerous attacks against the United States and our forces,” Trump said in a statement.
    “His death further degrades AQAP and the global al-Qa’ida movement, and it brings us closer to eliminating the threats these groups pose to our national security,” the president said. He did not say when Raymi was killed.
    The United States regards AQAP as one of the deadliest branches of the al Qaeda network founded by Osama bin Laden.
    Reports in Yemen have suggested in recent days that Raymi had been killed in a drone strike in Marib.    Reuters was unable to verify the reports.
    One Yemeni government official told Reuters there had been a drone strike in Marib but it was not Raymi who had been killed.
(This story has been refiled to show leader killed, in headline)
(Reporting by Eric Beech; Editing by Mohammad Zargham and Tom Brown)

2/7/2020 Russia holds key to Idlib’s fate as Syrian army advances by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Trucks carry belongings of people fleeing from Maarat al-Numan, in northern Idlib, Syria December 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano
    AMMAN/ANKARA (Reuters) – Wary of a confrontation with Turkey that could suck Moscow into a military quagmire, Russia is likely to take a gradual approach to helping the Syrian government capture the last rebel bastion of Idlib, analysts and diplomats say.
    President Bashar al-Assad’s army, aided by heavy Russian air strikes, has swept through dozens of towns in Idlib province in the last two weeks in the deepest advance in years, forcing tens of thousands to flee to the Turkish border.
    But Russia is unlikely to lend its military muscle for a full-on advance on densely populated Idlib city.
    Such a push would help Assad regain full control of Syria, which he and his late father before him ruled for a total of nearly 50 years, but it would also risk a major confrontation with Turkey, which backs opposition forces in the war.
    Instead, Russia appears intent on “biting” chunks of rebel turf in a piece by piece approach, a senior Western intelligence source told Reuters.
    Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, has threatened military action if Assad’s forces do not retreat by the end of the month and has reinforced Turkish outposts in the region and set up new ones to try to slow the advance.
    “The regime has come very close to Idlib (city),” a Turkish official told Reuters. “The rules of engagement in Syria changed, a new era has started now.”
    The crackle of gunfire can now be heard by the more than a million inhabitants living in the city, many of them Syrians displaced by government assaults on their territory.
    “People everywhere are terrified, people are sleeping in the streets and cars, there is no place to stay,” Ibrahim Samaan al Hajj, a grocer in the city said.
INEVITABLE FIGHT
    Officials from Turkey and Russia are due to discuss the offensive on Saturday as tensions rise after eight Turkish soldiers were killed in Syrian shelling on one outpost, prompting Turkish troops to respond.
    A costly battle for the provincial capital does not appear to be Moscow’s priority.
    “Russia is concerned with opening major highways that are symbols of sovereignty for the regime,” said Syrian military defector general Ahmad Rahhal.    “Falling in the Idlib (city) quagmire is very costly militarily and a humanitarian catastrophe with one million people inside the city.”
    Moscow will be the one to decide if and when to move on Idlib city at some stage, a step that risks unleashing a bloodbath and deepening the humanitarian crisis, opposition military commanders and Western intelligence sources said.
    Syrian ground troops aided by Iranian-backed militias coming from Aleppo are now on the fringes of Idlib city after taking Maarat al-Numan and Saraqeb near the strategic M4-M5 road Aleppo to Hama and Latakia on the Mediterranean coast.
    “For the time being it’s important that they control the highway, and I think it’s an accommodation they can reach with Turkey,” said Ozgur Unluhisarcikli of the German Marshall Fund.
    He said the takeover on Idlib city is a “matter of time but we are not there yet” because the Syrian army is overstretched.
    The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, made millions refugees in their own country or overseas, and fractured the wider Middle East since it broke out in 2011.
RED LINE
    The fate of the region has been the focus of Russia-Turkey deals involving Iran since 2017 aimed at sparing its three million inhabitants all out war.
    Turkish officials said the new advance imperils understandings under a 2018 pact that left Turkey, which has expanded its influence in Syria, to secure control of rebel-controlled highways and handle the thorny fate of jihadists.    Moscow accuses Ankara of failing to live up to its obligationsa.
    At a recent meeting with some 40 Turkey-backed rebel commanders held in Reyhanli along the border, Turkish intelligence told rebels that talks with Moscow had failed and to prepare for the worst, a source who attended the gathering told Reuters, adding that Idlib city was “a red line.”
    The city has been mostly spared the aerial bombing of the latest two-month old campaign that has triggered the exodus of nearly 600,000 people from areas further south and east.
    Western military experts said Moscow has used a “scorched earth” aerial bombing maneuver that has hit hospitals, schools and other infrastructure in mostly rural areas of the province.    But such tactics could prove more difficult to use in the city.
    “If there is going to be a battle in Idlib, there will be a bloodbath, the jihadists will fight with all their strength and we will see more suicide operations,” Abu Baraa al-Shami, a nom de guerre of a senior commander with Hayat Tahir al Sham, told Reuters in a text message via Internet messaging.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous, William Maclean)
[HAS ANYONE NOTICED THAT THE PLAYERS IN THIS EVENT MAY BE THE KING OF THE NORTH AND KING OF THE SOUTH IN CONFLICT AS SOME OF EZEKIEL'S PROPHESIES CLAIM WHICH IS WHY THE KING OF THE WEST IS OUT OF THIS GAME IN THE AREA OF THE EUPHRATES RIVER BUT IRAN IS BEHIND THE SCENES.].

2/8/2020 Iran says it is ready to mediate between Turkey and Syria
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers Friday prayers sermon,
in Tehran, Iran January 17, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is ready to help Turkey and Syria resolve their differences over the nearly nine-year-old war in Syria, the Foreign     Ministry said on Saturday, adding that Tehran backs the sovereignty of its key regional ally Damascus.
    Turkey has backed rebels looking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Iran and Russia have supported Assad’s forces in the war.    The three countries have also collaborated on a political solution to the conflict.
    In a meeting between the visiting United Nations’ special envoy for Syria, Geir Pedersen, and Iranian officials, Tehran underlined the importance of resolving issues in Syria through diplomacy, it said on its website.
    “During the meeting, Iran reiterated that civilians in Syria should not be used as human shields … and that Iran is ready to mediate between Turkey and Syria to solve the issue,” the website reported.
    Iranian state TV reported that Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, in a separate meeting with Pedersen in Tehran, said Iran was prepared to help in the de-escalation of the crisis in Syria with respect to Syria’s independence and sovereignty.
    Russian-backed Syrian forces have tried to capture Syria’s Idlib province, the last rebel stronghold in the country, displacing more than half a million people since early December.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to drive back the Syrian troops in Idlib unless they withdrew by the end of the month, after eight Turkish soldiers were killed on Monday by Syrian government shelling near the town of Saraqeb.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alexander Smith and Hugh Lawson)

2/8/2020 Khamenei says Iran should increase military might to prevent war by Parisa Hafezi
Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei gestures as he meets a group of Iranian Air Force
officers in Tehran, Iran February 8, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran should increase its military might to prevent a war, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei told a gathering of air force commanders on Saturday, dismissing the U.S. sanctions on the country as “criminal act.”
    “We should be strong to prevent any war against the county.    Being weak will encourage our enemies to attack Iran,” Khamenei, Iran’s top authority, said according to state news agency IRNA.
    The Islamic Republic has vowed to increase its military strength despite mounting pressure from Western countries to curtail its military capabilities, including its ballistic missile program.
    Tensions between Tehran and Washington have spiked since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 pact between Iran and world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for lifting sanctions.
    “Since the revolution their aim was to stop us from having a strong military and a strong air force … but look at us now. We even build planes.    We have transformed their pressure to opportunity,” Khamenei said, according to state TV.
    Iran is marking the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, which toppled the U.S.-backed Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi in 1979.
    Washington has reimposed crippling sanctions aimed at halting all Iranian oil exports, saying it seeks to force Iran to negotiate to reach a wider deal.
    Khamenei, who dismissed the U.S. sanctions as a “criminal act,” has banned Iranian officials from holding talks unless the United States returns to the deal and lifts all sanctions. He said Iran should distance its economy from dependency on oil exports.
    Iran and the United States stormed to the edge of a war in early January when Tehran’s most prominent general, Qassem Soleimani, was killed in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy in Baghdad.
    Tehran responded by launching missile attacks on U.S. targets in Iraq.
    Iranian television said 80 “American terrorists” had been killed and U.S. helicopters and military equipment damaged, without providing any evidence, Washington denied that there were any fatalities.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; editing by David Evans and Ros Russell)

2/8/2020 Turkey reinforces troops in Syria’s Idlib, talks with Russia
FILE PHOTO: Trucks carry belongings of people fleeing from Maarat al-Numan, in
northern Idlib, Syria December 24, 2019. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano/File Photo
    AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkey reinforced its military presence in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province on Saturday as Turkish and Russian officials held talks about the Syrian government offensive there, which has displaced more than half a million people in two months.
    Turkey says the advances by Russian-backed Syrian troops and their allies threaten a fresh humanitarian disaster, driving another wave of potential refugees to its southern border, and has threatened to act if they do not pull back.
    Witnesses at the border said convoys of Turkish military vehicles had been crossing into Idlib since Friday, delivering supplies before turning back to return with more.
    The beefing up of Turkish forces has failed to stem the advance by Syrian government forces, which took control of a strategic town close to the provincial capital and also made gains to the east of Idlib – the last major enclave of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad.
    In Ankara, officials from Turkey and Russia held three hours of apparently inconclusive talks, agreeing to meet again next week.    The two countries support opposing sides in Syria’s nearly nine-year civil war, but have forged a series of agreements since 2017 aimed at containing the bloodshed.
    “The situation in Idlib was discussed,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said after the talks.    “Steps that could be taken to establish peace on the ground as soon as possible and advance the political process were evaluated.”
    The escalation in Idlib has displaced around 600,000 people since the beginning of December, according to the United Nations, and disrupted the fragile cooperation between Russia and Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who backs some of the rebels who once aimed to topple Assad, threatened this week to repel the Russian-backed Syrian forces unless they withdraw from the region by the end of the month.
    Syrian government forces have pressed their advances, surrounding several Turkish observation posts.    On Monday, eight Turkish military personnel were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces.
    “Our checkpoints in Idlib continue their duties as usual and are capable of protecting themselves,” Turkey’s Defence Ministry said, adding they would respond to any new attack “in the harshest manner in accordance with legitimate defense.”
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said on Saturday that 430 Turkish military vehicles had crossed into Idlib in the last 24 hours.
    Turkish forces were setting up a new post at Al-Mastoumah, on the southern approach to Idlib city, the Observatory said.
    Syrian state TV broadcast live on Saturday from the strategic town of Saraqeb, located at the junction of the two main highways in Idlib that Assad seeks full control of, and lies less than 10 miles (15 km) southeast of Idlib city.
    It said the army had taken full control over the town.
    The military media unit of the Lebanese Shi’ite group Hezbollah, which supports Assad, said it had also taken control of Syrian government force had also taken the town of Al-Eis east of Idlib, close to the main north-south highway leading to Aleppo.
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria, Ellen Francis in Beirut and Dominic Evans in Istanbul, Editing by Ros Russell and Hugh Lawson)

2/8/2020 Lebanon’s Aoun: foreign states, especially France, want to help Lebanon
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the cabinet meeting at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Saturday that foreign states, particularly France, had expressed a desire to help his country emerge from a severe economic crisis.
    As Lebanon grapples with its worst economic and financial strains in decades, foreign donors have said they will only help if the government enacts long-stalled reforms.
    Aoun said he had a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron and the two would speak again in the next few days.
    “A number of states have expressed their desire to help Lebanon, with France at their forefront,” Aoun’s office quoted him as saying on Saturday in an interview with French magazine Valeurs Actuelles.    It did not elaborate.
    The new Lebanese government has approved a rescue plan that envisages seeking foreign help, calls for interest rate cuts, and warns some “painful steps” will be necessary, according to a copy seen by Reuters on Thursday.
    The policy statement will be presented to parliament next week for a vote of confidence.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet was formed last month with the support of the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement and its political allies, which hold a parliamentary majority.
    The government must contend with a liquidity crunch, shattered confidence in banks, a weakened Lebanese pound and soaring inflation.
    It took office some three months after Saad al-Hariri’s government resigned under pressure from nationwide protests against a ruling elite accused of corruption.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; editing by David Evans and Ros Russell)

2/9/2020 Iranian ‘Victory’ satellite fails to reach orbit by Parisa Hafezi and Babak Dehghanpisheh
FILE PHOTO: People gather around a model of a satellite-carrier rocket displayed during a ceremony marking the
37th anniversary of the Islamic Revolution, in Tehran February 11, 2016. REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi/TIMA
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran unveiled a new short-range missile called Thunder on Sunday and launched a satellite named Victory which failed to reach orbit.
    The developments took place at a time of high tension with the United States, which killed Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting an Iranian missile attack on a U.S. base in Iraq.
    Iranian Minister of Information and Communications Technology Mohammad Javad Azari-Jahromi said the satellite launch had not gone as planned.
    “I wanted to make you happy with good news but sometimes life does not go the way we want it to.    The launch was not successful,” he tweeted.
    A defense ministry official earlier told state television the “Zafar” (“Victory”) satellite had launched successfully but not reached orbit.
    “We will make improvements for future launches,” he said.
    U.S. officials say they fear long-range ballistic technology used to put satellites into orbit could also be used to launch nuclear warheads.    Tehran says it has never pursued the development of nuclear weapons.
    State television said Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards Corps, which is in charge of the country’s missile program, had unveiled the new missile, called Raad-500, Farsi for Thunder.
    Iran’s clerical rulers have said Tehran’s missile program is solely defensive.
    The first picture the satellite had been due to transmit to state media would have been of Soleimani, Azari-Jahromi told state TV.
    He said it was launched from Iran’s Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province, a facility under the control of the country’s defense ministry.
    Tehran launched the first Iranian-made satellite in 2009, another in 2011 and a third in 2012, but at least two satellite launches failed last year.
NEW MISSILE
    Iran usually displays its military and space achievements in February during the anniversary of its 1979 Islamic Revolution that toppled the U.S.-backed Shah.
    State television said the Raad-500 missile was half the weight of a similar missile, the Fateh-110, but its range was about 200 km (120 miles) more and it could be powered by a new generation of engines designed to put satellites into orbit.
    There was no immediate U.S. comment on the announcements.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu noted the satellite launch had failed and said Israel was continuing to curb Iranian military reach.
    “They are also failing when it comes to the transfer of weapons to Syria and Lebanon because we are acting (against that) all the time, including during these very days,” he wrote in a tweet.
    Washington reimposed sanctions on Iran after President Donald Trump in 2018 pulled the United States out of the 2015 nuclear deal between Tehran and six world powers.
    Under that deal, Tehran curbed its nuclear program in exchange for the lifting of international sanctions on Iran.
    But Trump said the agreement was flawed because it was not permanent, did not address Iran’s missile program and did not involve what Washington considers Iran’s meddling in regional countries.
(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by Timothy Heritage and Philippa Fletcher)
[WE'LL THE IRANIANS NEED TO GO TO THE ROCKET DOCTOR SINCE THEY ARE EXPERIENCING EROCKETILE DYSFUNCTION WHICH OCCURS WHEN A COUNTRY CAN'T KEEP THERE ROCKET ERECT AND FIRM ENOUGH FOR ATMOSPHERE INTERCOURSE.].

2/9/2020 Iran announces development of new short-range missile by OAN Newsroom
Screengrab via state media official report.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guard announced its development of a new short-range ballistic missile.    On Sunday, General Hossein Salami unveiled the missile on state television.
    The general claimed the ‘Raad 500’ can be launched more than 300 miles.    It was reportedly developed as part of the nation’s controversial aerospace division, which is attempting to launch satellites into space.
    Salami claimed the device was created by a “new generation” of engines, which he said would be key to getting to space.     The development goes directly against the efforts of the Trump administration, which has called for Tehran to disband its aerospace program and stop weapons development.
FILE – In this July 27, 2017, file photo, released by the official website of the Iranian Defense Ministry, claims to show the Simorgh
satellite-carrying rocket at Imam Khomeini National Space Center in an undisclosed location, Iran. (Iranian Defense Ministry via AP, File)
    State media also released footage of the ayatollah regime’s latest failed attempt to launch a space satellite.    A rocket carried the Iranian made satellite called ‘Zafar,’ which means ‘victory’ in Farsi.
    Iranian space officials said the rocket did not reach enough speed to place the satellite into orbit and eventually fell back to earth.
    “God willing, with optimizations that will be done in future launches, this part of the mission to place a satellite into orbit will be completed as well,” said spokesman Ahmad Hosseini.    “Thanks to God, we reached the majority of the goals that we pursued in this launch, and the data collecting process has been done.”
    The incident marked the fourth failed attempt by the ayatollah regime to establish its presence in space.
This Feb. 4, 2020 satellite image from Maxar Technologies, shows activity at the
Imam Khomeini Space Center in Iran’s Semnan province. (Maxar Technologies via AP)
[WE'LL I DO KNOW THAT THE IRANIANS ARE GOOD AT SHOOTING OFF THINGS AT THE WRONG TARGETS AND CAN'T SEEM TO HIT THE JACKPOT.].

2/9/2020 Turkey ready to act after reinforcing Syria’s Idlib: official by Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting
at the Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 5, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has sent major reinforcements to Syria’s northwestern Idlib region and “all options are on the table,” a senior official said on Sunday, as Ankara tries to stem rapid advances by Syrian government forces.
    The government offensive in Idlib, the last major enclave of opposition to President Bashar al-Assad, has driven more than half a million people from their homes toward the closed Turkish border, threatening a new humanitarian crisis in Syria.
    Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more and has demanded Damascus pull back in Idlib by the end of the month or face Turkish action.
    Large convoys of military vehicles carrying tanks, armored personnel carriers and other equipment have crossed into Syria to reinforce a dozen Turkish military positions, several of which are now surrounded by advancing Syrian troops.
    “There was a serious troop and military equipment support sent to Syria’s Idlib region in recent weeks,” the official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters.
    Three hundred vehicles entered Idlib on Saturday, bringing the total to around 1,000 this month, he said.    He declined to say exactly how many new troops had been deployed, but described it as a “notable amount.”
    “The observation points have been fully reinforced,” the official said.    “The Idlib front has been strengthened."
    The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a UK-based war monitor, said 1,240 Turkish military vehicles crossed into Idlib in the last week, along with 5,000 soldiers.
    The fighting in Idlib has shaken the fragile cooperation between Turkey, which backs rebels who once hoped to topple Assad, and Russia, whose support helped the once-beleaguered president bring most of the country back under his control.
    On Monday, eight Turkish military personnel were killed in shelling by Syrian government forces, prompting Turkey to tell Russia to “stand aside” while its forces to bombard dozens of Syrian army targets in retaliation.
    “The regime, with Russia’s support, has been violating all agreements and accords,” the official said.    “We are prepared for any event.    Of course, all options are on the table.”
    Despite Turkey’s disagreement with Russia over Idlib, the official described talks between them in Ankara on Saturday as positive.    The two sides will meet again in the coming week.
‘TURKEY WILL ACT’
    Syria’s armed forces said on Sunday they have recaptured more than 600 square kilometers (230 square miles) of territory, taking control of dozens of towns and villages in recent days, and said they would maintain the fight.
    “Our brave army will continue to carry out its sacred duties to clear the entire geographic territory of Syria from terrorism and its supporters,” the armed forces said in a statement.
    Ankara has urged Moscow to rein in the Idlib offensive, which has brought Syrian government forces within 10 miles (16 km) of the provincial capital Idlib city, home to more than 1 million people.
    Defence Minister Hulusi Akar reiterated on Sunday that they must pull back soon.    “If the regime forces are not withdrawn by the end of February, we will take action,” he told Hurriyet newspaper in an interview.
    On the eastern flank of the opposition-held enclave, the Observatory said advancing government forces had seized all but a 2 km stretch of the M5 highway, Syrian’s main north-south road which links Syria’s two main cities Damascus and Aleppo.
    Pope Francis called on Sunday for respect of humanitarian law in Idlib, saying reports from the province were “painful … particularly regarding the conditions of women and children, of people forced to flee from a military escalation.”
(Additional reporting by Irem Koca in Istanbul, Eric Knecht in Beirut and Philip Pullella in Vatican City; Writing by Dominic Evans)

2/10/2020 Slain commander Soleimani sought stability: Iranian president
FILE PHOTO: Flowers lie around a portrait of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in an airstrike
near Baghdad, at the Iranian embassy's fence in Minsk, Belarus January 10, 2020. REUTERS/Vasily Fedosenko
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qassem Soleimani, the Iranian military commander killed in a U.S. drone strike on Jan. 3 in Baghdad, had sought to bring stability to the Middle East, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday.
    “Commander Soleimani was a man who was pursuing stability and calm in the region,” Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on state television.    “If commander Soleimani wanted to kill American generals it would have been very, very easy for him, in Afghanistan, Iraq and any other place. He never did that.”
    Rouhani, citing the missile strike Iran carried out against a U.S. base in Iraq in retaliation for Soleimani’s death, said the Islamic     Republic’s ballistic missile program was not intended for attacks on neighboring countries – which include arch regional adversary Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies.
    “Our missiles are against terrorism, our missiles are against crimes. We have never built and stored missiles for aggression.    We reassure all our neighbors and the people in the region that our desire is peaceful co-existence.”
    The United States and Iran came close to full-blown conflict last month after the Iranian general’s killing and Iran’s retaliation, but stepped back from the brink and no notable incidents have occurred since then.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration said Soleimani, the commander of elite Iranian forces based abroad, was targeted for plotting future attacks on U.S. interests and that he had helped coordinated strikes on American forces in Iraq in the past through militia proxies.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/11/2020 Thousands of Iranians mark revolution anniversary amid peak tensions with U.S.
Iranians gahter during the commemoration of the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution in
Tehran, Iran February 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Iranians poured into the streets of Tehran and other cities on Tuesday morning to commemorate the 41st anniversary of the Islamic revolution, against a backdrop of escalating tensions with the United States.
    State TV showed video footage of rallies in at least half a dozen cities outside the capital, including Mashhad, Ahvaz and Kerman, with people holding signs that read, “Death to America” and “Death to Israel.”
    Iran almost got into a full-blown conflict with the United States last month after a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Iran to retaliate with a missile barrage against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.
    Tensions spiked between Iran and the United States after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from a multilateral nuclear deal with Iran in 2018 and reimposed sanctions in a bid to pressure Tehran to negotiate over its ballistic missile program and ties with regional proxy groups.
    Missiles were put on display as part of the anniversary celebrations, according to the Tasnim news agency.    Iran’s state TV showed archival footage of missile launches and underground missile storage facilities as part of its anniversary coverage.
    The missile program is not intended for attacks on neighboring countries, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Stephen Coates)

2/11/2020 Lebanese security forces, protesters clash ahead of vote
A protestor throws back a tear gas canister during a protest seeking to prevent MPs and government officials from
reaching the parliament for a vote of confidence, in Beirut, Lebanon February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Security forces fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters in Beirut on Tuesday as the Lebanese parliament convened to hold a vote of confidence on the new government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab.     MPs are set to vote on the government’s policy statement which says “painful steps” are needed to address a financial crisis that has weakened the currency and pushed banks to severely curb access to deposits.
    Hundreds of protesters gathered in central Beirut to try to block MPs from reaching the parliamentary building.    Security forces blocked off all the roads leading to the barricaded parliament district.
    Men and women, their faces wrapped in scarves, lobbed rocks at security forces deployed at several locations around the city center as clouds of tear gas engulfed them.
    Protesters hurled eggs and threw paint at the cars of lawmakers and ministers while others tried to smash their tinted windows.
    Some MPs skirted the clashes, arriving at parliament on the back of motorcycles.    Crowds chanted revolution, waved Lebanese flags and held signs that said “no confidence.”
    One of the world’s most heavily indebted states, Lebanon is facing a crisis rooted in decades of state waste and corruption which have fueled public anger.
    The crisis came to a head last year as slowing flows of capital from abroad led to a hard currency crunch and protests erupted across the country against the ruling elite.
    Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri has said Lebanon should seek IMF technical help and take a decision on whether to pay maturing foreign debt next month based on IMF advice, an-Nahar newspaper and a government source said on Tuesday.
    Lebanon could not, however, surrender itself to the IMF because the nation could not bear its conditions, he said.
    Senior MP Alain Aoun told Reuters on Tuesday the country needs IMF technical assistance and should draw on IMF advice in its decision on whether to pay a forthcoming Eurobond maturity.
    He said this was also expected to be the position of his political party, the FPM which was founded by President Michel Aoun and named six ministers.
    Berri said Lebanon must take advantage of the time remaining before its next debt maturity on March 9 to send a message abroad, “specifically to the Americans” that the country needs IMF technical help through a rescue plan.
    Berri is one of the country’s most influential figures and his Amal Movement named a number of ministers in Diab’s cabinet which took office last month, including the finance minister.
    “There is still room for Lebanon during the coming two weeks and before the end of the current month to benefit from this measure,” Berri was quoted as saying.
    Based on this, “Lebanon will be able to form its position on the maturing Eurobonds – whether to pay its commitments or not to pay them – based on what the IMF advises.”     But Berri also said the Lebanese people would be unable to bear IMF conditions, saying Lebanon was not Greece or Argentina – countries that have experienced their own financial crises.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/11/2020 Lebanese parliament convenes to vote on new government
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrives at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese parliament convened a session on Tuesday for MPs to hold a vote of confidence on the new government led by Prime Minister Hassan Diab, as security forces clashed with protesters nearby seeking to thwart the session.
    MPs are set to vote on a government policy statement that says the country needs “painful steps” to rescue it from an unprecedented financial crisis.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/11/2020 Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani’s wake
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah supporters chant slogans during a funeral ceremony rally to mourn Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite
Quds Force, who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, in Beirut's suburbs, Lebanon, January 5, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    (Reuters) – Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters.
    The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the Jan. 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said.
    While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias.    All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public.    Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.
    The discussions shed light on how Iran and its allied groups are trying to cement control in the unstable Middle East, especially in the wake of the devastating U.S. attack on a revered Iranian military leader.
    The Tehran-backed militias are critical to Iran’s efforts to maintain control over Iraq, where the U.S. still maintains some 5,000 troops.    The country has experienced years of civil war since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein and more recently, the government – and the militias – have faced growing protests against Iran’s influence in the country. Iran helped found some Iraqi militia groups.
    In the months ahead of his death, Soleimani had waded ever deeper into the Iraq crisis, holding meetings with the Iraqi militias in Baghdad as Tehran sought to defend its allies and interests in its power struggle with the United States, one of the two Iraqi sources said.
    Hezbollah’s involvement marks an expansion of its role in the region.    The Shi’ite group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, has been at the heart of Iran’s regional strategy for years, helping Soleimani to train paramilitary groups in both Iraq and Syria.
    One pro-Iran regional official said Hezbollah’s guidance of the militias would continue until the new leadership in the Quds Force – a unit of the Revolutionary Guards led by Soleimani since 1998 – gets a handle on the political crisis in Iraq.
    The meetings between Hezbollah and Iraqi militia leaders began in January, just days after Soleimani’s assassination, the two Iraqi sources said.    Reuters couldn’t confirm the number of meetings or where they took place.    One source said they were in Beirut and the other said they were either in Lebanon or Iran.
    Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq who worked closely with Soleimani for years to guide the Iraqi militias, hosted the meetings, the Iraqi sources said.
    Kawtharani picked up where Soleimani left off, the Iraqi sources said.    The sources said Kawtharani berated the groups, as Soleimani had done in one of his final meetings with them, for failing to come up with a unified plan to contain popular protests against the Baghdad government and the paramilitaries that dominate it.    The government and militia groups have killed hundreds of protesters but not managed to contain the rebellion.
    Kawatharani also urged a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister, the Iraqi sources said.    Since then, former Iraqi communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has been named – a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backs but opposed by protesters.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
    For now, Kawtharani is seen as the most suitable figure to direct Iraqi militias until a permanent Iranian successor can be chosen, although he possesses nowhere near Soleimani’s clout and charisma, according to the two Iraqi sources and a senior Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim leader.
    “Kawtharani has connections with the militia groups,” the Shi’ite leader said, noting that he was born in Najaf, lived in Iraq for decades and speaks Iraqi dialect.    “He was trusted by Soleimani, who used to depend and call on him to help him in crises and in meetings in Baghdad.”
    One of the Iraqi sources close to the militias said that Kawtharani also met with the Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful but unpredictable figure, to convince him to support the new Iraqi prime minister.    As Reuters has reported, Sadr has given Allawi his support.
    Kawtharani will face serious – perhaps insurmountable- challenges in filling the shoes of the leaders killed in the drone attack, the Iraqi sources close to the militias told Reuters.
    “A lot of faction leaders see themselves as too big and important to take orders from” one Iraqi source said.        “For now, because of pressure from Iran, they’re cooperating with him, but I doubt that will continue and the Iranians know that.”
    One of the pro-Iran sources, a military commander, said Hezbollah’s involvement would consist of political guidance but stop short of providing manpower and materiel to retaliate for the Solemani killing.    The militias “do not need Hezbollah’s intervention because they have the strength in numbers, combat experience and firepower,” the commander said.
    Those groups are difficult to control while Hezbollah is seen as more disciplined.    But like the rest of Iran’s network, Hezbollah risks stretching itself thin, a senior U.S. official in the region and an Iraqi political leader said.
    In recent years, Hezbollah’s role has grown considerably.    It has fought in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and extended political support to the Iran-allied Houthis of Yemen in their war with a Saudi-led military alliance.
    Iran is likely to rely partly on the clout Nasrallah, a figure who commands deep respect among Iran’s allies across the region, the U.S. official said.    Nasrallah is seen as overseeing Kawtharani’s efforts, according to a senior Shi’ite Iraqi leader.
    “I think ideologically, religiously, he’s seen as a charismatic figure to many of the Iraqi Shia militias,” the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
    In two lengthy televised addresses, Nasrallah has paid homage to Soleimani and vowed to avenge his death.
    He has also declared it a goal of Hezbollah and its allies to eject U.S. forces from the region once and for all
.    U.S. forces have been in Iraq since 2014 as part of a coalition fighting against Islamic State.
    If the Iraqi militias have their way, sources close to them say, these troops will be the first to depart.
(Editing by Julie Marquis)

2/11/2020 Turkey says 51 Syrian soldiers killed as rebels hit back in Idlib by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Orhan Coskun
A Turkish soldier walks near Turkish military vehicles in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AMMAN/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey said on Tuesday 51 Syrian soldiers were killed in northwest Syria as Turkish-backed rebels struck back against Russian-supported government forces who had made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion in the country.
    The Turkish Defense Ministry cited sources on the ground for the information, adding that two Syrian tanks and one ammunition store were destroyed as well.
    Hours before, a war monitor reported that Syrian government forces seized control of the main Aleppo-to-Damascus highway running through the embattled northwest province of Idlib for the first time since the early days of the civil war in 2012.
    But Syrian state media made no mention of this and rebel sources later said fighting was continuing in some northern areas near the M-5 highway, which links Aleppo with the capital Damascus and ultimately Deraa in the far south.
    In response, insurgents shot down a Syrian military helicopter and advanced toward the town of Nairab, which the Turkish Defense Ministry said had been abandoned by Syrian government forces.
    A Turkish official said the rebels, bolstered by Turkish artillery, had begun “a full-fledged attack” on an area recently lost to the government side near Saraqeb, a strategic crossroads town on the M5 highway.    A rebel commander told Reuters they were pushing back government forces there.
    For its part, the Syrian army said on Tuesday it would respond to attacks by Turkish forces who it said were trying to halt army advances into Idlib province.
    The flare-up of fighting has given rise to some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus in the nine-year-old war in which Russia and Iran have backed Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
U.S.-TURKISH TALKS ON WEDNESDAY
    James Jeffrey, the U.S. envoy for Syria, is set to meet senior Turkish officials in Ankara on Wednesday and the U.S. Embassy there said they would discuss working together toward a political solution to the conflict.
    “Today, our NATO ally Turkey is facing a threat from Assad’s government and Russia.    We are here to assess the situation with the Turkish government and offer support if possible,” said Jeffrey, who arrived in Ankara late on Tuesday.
    Idlib’s fate may well be decided by Turkey and Russia as much as by Assad.
    Russia has officers on the ground advising the Syrians on the campaign as well as some ground forces, and Russian warplanes have carried out numerous air strikes.
    Ankara has sent thousands of soldiers across the border to help stem the Syrian offensive.
    Relief agencies meanwhile said an exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the afflicted areas was the largest such movement in the war and marked a new humanitarian crisis.
    Turkey already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot absorb any more.    It said it would halt any new refugee waves from Idlib and its military would remain deployed there.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Syrian government would pay a “very heavy price” for attacking Turkish troops, including five killed on Monday and eight Turkish personnel killed a week earlier.
    “We gave the necessary responses to the Syrian side at the highest level.    Especially in Idlib, they got what they deserved.    But this is not enough, it will continue,” he said in Ankara, adding he would announce on Wednesday a detailed plan for Idlib.
    Talks in Ankara between Turkey and a Russian delegation ended on Monday without agreement on halting the fighting, a Turkish diplomatic source said.
    Turkish officials told the Russians that attacks on Turkish posts inside Idlib must cease immediately and that Turkish forces had destroyed several Syrian government targets in retaliation.    Erdogan has warned Turkey will drive back Assad’s forces unless they withdraw by the end of this month.
    The Kremlin said on Tuesday all attacks on Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib must stop.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin will discuss the situation with Erdogan by phone later on Tuesday, TASS news agency said.
AIR RAIDS
    Since launching their new offensive in December, government forces have recaptured more than 600 square km (230 square miles) of territory, and in recent days wrested control of dozens of towns and villages.
    The rebels are a mix of nationalist factions and Islamist militants who have had deadly rivalries but are now closing ranks.
    Last week government troops recaptured rebel-held Saraqeb, where Turkey had several military personnel stationed.
    Rescue teams said on Tuesday Russian and Syrian warplanes had bombed several towns in Idlib and carried out air raids in nearby western Aleppo province where rebels are present.    At least 13 civilians were killed overnight in the air strikes, they said.
    The rapid advances by Assad’s forces in Idlib have driven nearly 700,000 people – mostly women and children – from their homes toward the sealed Turkish border in the past 10 weeks.
    “This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations’ OCHA humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.
    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the harsh winter weather was making their suffering worse and that shelter was hard to find.
    “Even finding a place in an unfinished building is becoming nearly impossible,” he said, adding that mosques were full.
    Witnesses and rebels said a new column of Turkish reinforcements, including tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles, crossed the border into Idlib overnight.
    The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, made millions refugees in their own country or overseas, and fractured the wider Middle East since it broke out amid the Arab Spring in 2011.
    Moscow’s military intervention in 2015 helped swing the war decisively in favor of Assad, Syria’s ruler for nearly 20 years, but he now presides over a devastated country.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/11/2020 UAE’s Gargash says we support calls for de-escalation with Iran: Arabiya TV
FILE PHOTO: UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash is seen during preparatory meeting
for the GCC, Arab and Islamic summits in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, May 29, 2019. REUTERS/Waleed Ali
    CAIRO (Reuters) – United Arab Emirate’s minister of state for foreign affairs Anwar Gargash said on Tuesday his country supports calls for de-escalation with Iran and to reach a political solution, Al Arabiya TV reported.
    He added that preventing Iran from having nuclear weapons under the Vienna accord as the sole restriction is not enough.
(Reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek, writing by Rania El Gamal, editing by Chris Reese)

2/11/2020 Government troops seizes highway in northwest Syria as Turkey-Russia talks end inconclusively
A man rides on a motorbike past Turkish military vehicles in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) – Government forces seized control of a highway in northwest Syria for the first time since 2012 on Tuesday as they pressed their campaign to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in Idlib province and the Aleppo countryside, a war monitor said.
    In Ankara, talks between Turkey and Russian ended without agreement on stopping clashes in which 13 Turkish soldiers have been killed in Syria in one week.
    Relief agencies meanwhile said an exodus of hundreds of thousands of civilians from the afflicted areas was the largest such movement in nine years of war and a new humanitarian crisis was unfolding.
    The British-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces had seized the entire length of the M5 highway after driving rebels from their last foothold on the road.    The M5 runs from Aleppo in the north to the capital Damascus then on to southern Deraa.
    They took control of the highway after capturing a western suburb of Aleppo from insurgents.
    The latest advances by President Bashar al-Assad’s Russian and Iranian-backed troops came after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed in the Idlib region in the past week, prompting some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus of the war.
    Ankara deployed thousands of soldiers to stem the Syrian offensive.
    Turkish-backed Syrian rebels downed a helicopter believed to belong to the Syrian government in the town of Nairab, Turkish state broadcaster TRT Haber reported on Tuesday.
    Since the new push began, government forces have recaptured more than 600 square km of territory and in recent days have taken control of dozens of towns and villages.
    Last week they recaptured the crossroads town of Saraqeb, on the M5.    Turkey has several military personnel stationed there to prevent further Syrian advances after eight of its soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling.
    A Russian delegation arrived in Ankara on Saturday days after the attack to hold talks aimed at stopping clashes.    On their final day of talks, a second Syrian attack on Turkish troops in the Taftanaz area killed five more troops.
    Ankara has said that it retaliated to both attacks, destroying several Syrian targets.    It said would drive back Assad’s forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month.    It also told the Russian team that attacks against Turkish posts must stop immediately.
    The Russians left Turkey after talks ended on Monday, a Turkish diplomatic source said, with no apparent agreement.
    The Kremlin said on Tuesday all attacks on Russian and Syrian forces in Idlib had to stop.
AIR RAIDS
    Rescue teams in the region said Russian and Syrian war planes bombed several towns in Idlib, with most air raids on towns in western Aleppo, including a residential area in the city of Daraat Izza.    At least 13 civilians were killed overnight in the air strikes, they said.
    The rapid advances by Assad’s forces in Idlib have driven nearly 700,000 people from their homes toward the closed-off Turkish border in the past 10 weeks.    Most of those displaced are women and children.
    “This is, from our initial analysis, the largest number of people in a single period since the Syrian crisis began almost nine years ago,” Jens Laerke, spokesman for the United Nations’ OCHA humanitarian agency, told reporters in Geneva.    “So it’s the fastest growing displacement we have ever seen in the country.
    United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees spokesman Andrej Mahecic said the harsh winter weather was making their suffering worse and shelter was hard to find.
    “Even finding a place in an unfinished building is becoming nearly impossible,” he said, adding that mosques were full.
    Turkey, which already hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot absorb any more.    It said it will halt new migrant waves from Idlib and its military will remain there.
    One Turkish politician urged President Tayyip Erdogan to go further.
    “There will be no peace in Turkey until Assad is brought down from his throne.    Turkey must start plans to enter Damascus now, and annihilate the cruel ones,” said Devlet Bahceli, chairman of Erdogan’s nationalist partner party.
    Witnesses and rebels said on Tuesday a new column of Turkish reinforcements, including tanks, rocket launchers and armored vehicles, crossed the border into Idlib overnight.
    Turkish-backed Syrian rebels have also begun an new offensive against the government forces near army-controlled Saraqeb and Nairab to push troops away from Idlib city, where more than one million people live.
    The battle for Idlib is a crucial stage of a war that has killed hundreds of thousands of combatants and civilians, made millions refugees in their own country or overseas, and fractured the wider Middle East since it broke out amid the Arab Spring in 2011.
    Forces arrayed against Assad, Syria’s ruler for nearly 20 years, have failed to dislodge him but he now presides over a devastated country.    Moscow’s military intervention in 2015 helped swing the war decisively in Assad’s favor.
    Despite being on opposing sides, Turkey and Russia collaborate for a political solution to the conflict.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

2/12/2020 Egypt’s booming population officially hits 100 million
    CAIRO – Egypt’s fast-growing population hit 100 million Tuesday, the official statistics agency announced, presenting a pressing problem for an already overburdened country with limited resources.    The staggering figure is an increase of 7 million since the publication of the latest census results in 2017.    Egypt’s population has tripled since 1960, with the annual growth rate peaking in 1987 at nearly 2.8%.    Every day nearly 5,000 people are born in Egypt, the agency estimates.    Egypt is the most populous Arab nation.

2/12/2020 Haftar forces block U.N. flights in and out of Libya: U.N. mission
FILE PHOTO: Members of Libyan National Army (LNA) commanded by Khalifa Haftar, get ready before heading out of Benghazi
to reinforce the troops advancing to Tripoli, in Benghazi, Libya April 13, 2019. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al-Fetori
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Forces loyal to Khalifa Haftar have blocked flights carrying United Nations staff to and from Libya, hampering humanitarian and mediation efforts, the U.N. mission said on Wednesday.
    Haftar’s eastern-based Libya National Army has on several occasions in recent weeks refused to grant permission for the regular U.N. flights to land, the U.N. mission in Libya (UNSMIL) said in a statement.
    The LNA has been trying since last April to capture the capital Tripoli from the internationally recognized government but has failed to breach the city’s defenses.
    U.N. envoy Ghassan Salame has been mediating between Haftar, who is backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, and the Tripoli government supported by Turkey.
    But relations have been difficult as UNSMIL has condemned air strikes blamed on the LNA, though mostly without mentioning the force by name.
    Eastern officials have accused Salame of being biased against them, charges denied by the United Nations.
    UNSMIL has a large base in Tripoli and also provides humanitarian relief for migrants and people displaced by the conflict.
(Reporting by Omar Fahmy and Ulf Laessing; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/12/2020 Turkey will hit Syrian government forces anywhere if troops hurt: Erdogan
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting
at the Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 5, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s military will strike Syrian government forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier is hurt, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday.
    Erdogan said Turkey is determined to push Syrian government forces beyond Turkish observation posts in the northwestern Idlib region by the end of February, and he warned allied Syrian rebels not to give government forces an excuse to attack.
    Violence has flared in Idlib, just south of Turkey’s border, in recent weeks as government forces backed by Russia and Iran have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion after the country’s nine year war.
    Turkey, which is allied with some rebel groups opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, mounted a counter attack on Tuesday after 13 Turkish military personnel were killed by Syrian shelling in Idlib in the last 10 days.
    “If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib’s borders or the lines of the Sochi agreement,” Erdogan said, referring to a 2018 ceasefire accord.
    “We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating, without allowing for any stalling,” he told members of his AK Party in Ankara.    Russia, which has an air base in Syria, has controlled Idlib’s air space for several years.
    The Turkish military casualties have strained ties between Ankara and Moscow.    The TASS news agency quoted the Kremlin as saying Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan agreed in a phone call that the sides would continue contacts on Syria.
    Erdogan said Turkey-backed rebels have mobilized to push Syrian government forces out of Idlib, but added they must remain disciplined.
    “We have given the message that we will act without compromise to those from the opposition groups who act in an undisciplined way and give the regime an excuse to attack,” he said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

2/12/2020 Tehran-backed Hezbollah steps in to guide Iraqi militias in Soleimani’s wake
FILE PHOTO: An Iraqi woman holds a picture of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force,
and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, who were killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, during a
funeral procession for militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, in Basra, Iraq, January 7, 2020. REUTERS/Essam al-Sudani/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Shortly after Iranian Major General Qassem Soleimani was killed in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq, the Tehran-backed Lebanese organization Hezbollah urgently met with Iraqi militia leaders, seeking to unite them in the face of a huge void left by their powerful mentor’s death, two sources with knowledge of the meetings told Reuters.
    The meetings were meant to coordinate the political efforts of Iraq’s often-fractious militias, which lost not only Soleimani but also Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis, a unifying Iraqi paramilitary commander, in the Jan. 3 attack at Baghdad airport, the sources said.
    While offering few details, two additional sources in a pro-Iran regional alliance confirmed that Hezbollah, which is sanctioned as a terrorist group by the United States, has stepped in to help fill the void left by Soleimani in guiding the militias.    All sources in this article spoke on condition of anonymity to address sensitive political activities rarely addressed in public.    Officials with the governments of Iraq and Iran did not respond to requests for comment, nor did a spokesperson for the militia groups.
    The discussions shed light on how Iran and its allied groups are trying to cement control in the unstable Middle East, especially in the wake of the devastating U.S. attack on a revered Iranian military leader.
    The Tehran-backed militias are critical to Iran’s efforts to maintain control over Iraq, where the U.S. still maintains some 5,000 troops.    The country has experienced years of civil war since U.S. forces toppled Saddam Hussein and more recently, the government – and the militias – have faced growing protests against Iran’s influence in the country.    Iran helped found some Iraqi militia groups.
    In the months ahead of his death, Soleimani had waded ever deeper into the Iraq crisis, holding meetings with the Iraqi militias in Baghdad as Tehran sought to defend its allies and interests in its power struggle with the United States, one of the two Iraqi sources said.
    Hezbollah’s involvement marks an expansion of its role in the region.    The Shi’ite group, founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, has been at the heart of Iran’s regional strategy for years, helping Soleimani to train paramilitary groups in both Iraq and Syria.
    One pro-Iran regional official said Hezbollah’s guidance of the militias would continue until the new leadership in the Quds Force – a unit of the Revolutionary Guards led by Soleimani since 1998 – gets a handle on the political crisis in Iraq.
    The meetings between Hezbollah and Iraqi militia leaders began in January, just days after Soleimani’s assassination, the two Iraqi sources said.    Reuters couldn’t confirm the number of meetings or where they took place. One source said they were in Beirut and the other said they were either in Lebanon or Iran.
    Sheikh Mohammad al-Kawtharani, the Hezbollah representative in Iraq who worked closely with Soleimani for years to guide the Iraqi militias, hosted the meetings, the Iraqi sources said.
Kawtharani picked up where Soleimani left off, the Iraqi sources said.    The sources said Kawtharani berated the groups, as Soleimani had done in one of his final meetings with them, for failing to come up with a unified plan to contain popular protests against the Baghdad government and the paramilitaries that dominate it.    The government and militia groups have killed hundreds of protesters but not managed to contain the rebellion.
    Kawatharani also urged a united front in picking a new Iraqi prime minister, the Iraqi sources said.    Since then, former Iraqi communications minister Mohammed Tawfiq Allawi has been named – a development welcomed by Iran and accepted by the militia-linked parties it backs but opposed by protesters.
BIG SHOES TO FILL
    For now, Kawtharani is seen as the most suitable figure to direct Iraqi militias until a permanent Iranian successor can be chosen, although he possesses nowhere near Soleimani’s clout and charisma, according to the two Iraqi sources and a senior Iraqi Shi’ite Muslim leader.
    “Kawtharani has connections with the militia groups,” the Shi’ite leader said, noting that he was born in Najaf, lived in Iraq for decades and speaks Iraqi dialect.    “He was trusted by Soleimani, who used to depend and call on him to help him in crises and in meetings in Baghdad.”
    One of the Iraqi sources close to the militias said that Kawtharani also met with the Iraqi populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, a powerful but unpredictable figure, to convince him to support the new Iraqi prime minister.    As Reuters has reported, Sadr has given Allawi his support.
    Kawtharani will face serious – perhaps insurmountable- challenges in filling the shoes of the leaders killed in the drone attack, the Iraqi sources close to the militias told Reuters.
    “A lot of faction leaders see themselves as too big and important to take orders from” one Iraqi source said.    “For now, because of pressure from Iran, they’re cooperating with him, but I doubt that will continue and the Iranians know that.”
    One of the pro-Iran sources, a military commander, said Hezbollah’s involvement would consist of political guidance but stop short of providing manpower and materiel to retaliate for the Solemani killing.    The militias “do not need Hezbollah’s intervention because they have the strength in numbers, combat experience and firepower,” the commander said.
    Those groups are difficult to control while Hezbollah is seen as more disciplined.    But like the rest of Iran’s network, Hezbollah risks stretching itself thin, a senior U.S. official in the region and an Iraqi political leader said.
    In recent years, Hezbollah’s role has grown considerably. It has fought in support of President Bashar Al-Assad in Syria and extended political support to the Iran-allied Houthis of Yemen in their war with a Saudi-led military alliance.
    Iran is likely to rely partly on the clout Nasrallah, a figure who commands deep respect among Iran’s allies across the region, the U.S. official said.    Nasrallah is seen as overseeing Kawtharani’s efforts, according to a senior Shi’ite Iraqi leader.
    “I think ideologically, religiously, he’s seen as a charismatic figure to many of the Iraqi Shia militias,” the U.S. official said, requesting anonymity because he was not authorized to speak on the record.
    In two lengthy televised addresses, Nasrallah has paid homage to Soleimani and vowed to avenge his death.
    He has also declared it a goal of Hezbollah and its allies to eject U.S. forces from the region once and for all. U.S. forces have been in Iraq since 2014 as part of a coalition fighting against Islamic State.
    If the Iraqi militias have their way, sources close to them say, these troops will be the first to depart.
(Editing by Julie Marquis)

2/12/2020 Russia accuses Turkey of breaking Syria deals, rejects Erdogan claim by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov attends the annual end-of-year news conference of Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia December 19, 2019. Picture taken December 19, 2019. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia on Wednesday accused Turkey of flouting agreements it had made with Moscow on Syria and of aggravating the situation in Idlib where Syrian forces have made gains in their campaign to eliminate the last insurgent bastion in a nine-year-old war.
    That offensive has fueled violence in Idlib, in northwest Syria and bordering Turkey, forcing thousands of civilians to flee and drawing in the Turkish military which has seen 13 of its soldiers killed by Syrian shelling in the last 10 days.
    In one of the strongest signs yet that Syria is placing relations between Moscow, which backs the Syrian government, and Ankara, which backs Syrian anti-government rebels, under increasing strain, the Kremlin, the Russian Foreign Ministry and the Russian Defense Ministry all accused Turkey of bad faith.
    The Kremlin said Turkey had failed to deliver on a promise to neutralize militants in Idlib, something it called unacceptable, the Foreign     Ministry reminded Ankara its forces were in Syria without the blessing of the Syrian government, and the Defense Ministry said Turkish troops were seriously aggravating the situation on the ground in Idlib.
    The Defense Ministry also flatly rejected an allegation made by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan who said Russian forces and Iran-backed militias were “constantly attacking the civilian people, carrying out massacres, spilling blood.”
‘NON-FULFILMENT’
    “Statements by Turkish representatives about alleged attacks by Russian forces on civilians in the Idlib de-escalation zone do not correspond with reality,” the Russian Defense Ministry said in a statement.
    “The real reason for the crisis in the Idlib de-escalation zone unfortunately is the non-fulfilment by our Turkish colleagues of their undertakings to separate moderate opposition militants from terrorists.”
    It said the presence of Turkish troops and armor in Idlib was making the situation there much worse, as was the transport of weapons and ammunition across the Syrian-Turkish border.
    Russia took issue with Turkey after Erdogan said his military would strike Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt as the Syrian government fought to regain control of Idlib.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow remained committed to a deal on Syria it had struck with Ankara, but that Russia considered militant attacks in Idlib to be unacceptable and in contravention of that same agreement.
    Russia, a close ally of the Syrian government, hashed out a deal with Turkey in 2018 to create a de-militarized zone in Idlib, but those agreements and others between the two countries have come under strain amid mounting tensions in the region.
    “In particular, according to this document (the agreement), the Turkish side undertook to ensure that terrorist groups in Idlib were neutralized,” said Peskov.
    “We continue to note with regret that these groups are carrying out strikes from Idlib on Syrian forces and also taking aggressive action against our military facilities,” Peskov told reporters.
    “This is unacceptable.”
(Additional reporting by Tom Balmforth, Vladimir Soldatkin and Andrey Kuzmin; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/12/2020 Turkey will hit Syrian government forces anywhere if troops hurt: Erdogan by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling
AK Party at the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his military would strike Syrian forces by air or ground anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt as the Syrian government fought to regain control of northwestern Idlib province from rebels.
    Thousands of civilians meanwhile were heading north to the Turkish-Syrian border, many trudging by foot through snow in freezing temperatures, to escape air strikes and artillery barrages by the Russian-supported government forces.
    Erdogan said Turkey was determined to push the Syrian troops beyond Turkish observation posts in Idlib by the end of this month and that Ankara would not allow insurgents in Idlib to give them an excuse to attack.
    In turn, the Kremlin accused Turkey of flouting agreements with Russia to neutralize militants in Idlib and said attacks on Syrian and Russian forces there were continuing.
    Syrian troops and Iranian-backed militias have been advancing in Idlib in a campaign to destroy the last bastion of insurgents fighting for the past nine years to topple President Bashar al-Assad.
    An extensive campaign of air strikes and artillery shelling was underway along the M4 highway, which links Latakia on the Mediterranean coast to the contested crossroads town of Saraqeb south of Idlib city, a humanitarian source said on Wednesday.
    The offensive has uprooted hundreds of thousands of people, in the biggest single wave of displacement of the conflict, leaving them desperate for shelter amid atrocious weather conditions.
    Many villages along the M5 highway, running south from the city of Aleppo, were now deserted, the source said.
    Turkey, which is allied with some rebel groups opposed to Assad, counter-attacked on Tuesday after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian shelling in Idlib in the last 10 days.
    “If there is the smallest injury to our soldiers on the observation posts or other places, I am declaring from here that we will hit the regime forces everywhere from today, regardless of Idlib’s borders or the lines of the Sochi agreement,” Erdogan said, referring to a 2018 ceasefire accord.
    “We will do this by any means necessary, by air or ground, without hesitating,” he told members of his AK Party in Ankara.
    Turkey has set up 12 observation posts in Idlib as part of an agreement with Russia and Iran to establish what they called a de-escalation zone.
    This month Ankara – which has the second-largest army in NATO – has poured some 5,000 troops and convoys of military vehicles across the border into Idlib, including tanks, armored personnel carriers and radar equipment to bolster its positions.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow remained committed to its deal with Ankara on Syria but that Russia considered militant attacks in Idlib unacceptable.
    “The Turkish side undertook to ensure that terrorist groups in Idlib were neutralized,” he told reporters.    “These groups are carrying out strikes from Idlib on Syrian forces and also taking aggressive action against our military facilities.”
WAVES OF DISPLACED
    The Turkish military casualties have sparked some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus in the war, which has killed hundreds of thousands of people and made millions refugees, including 3.6 million Syrians in Turkey.
    Ankara says it cannot handle another wave of refugees.
    In the last five days, some 52,000 people have fled toward the border, mostly from the towns of Atarib and Darat Izza west of Aleppo city, said Selim Tosun, the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation’s (IHH) media adviser in Syria.
    In total, the number of people displaced since the fighting intensified in November was about 870,000, he said.    Some 400 concrete block dwellings and 2,300 tents had been set up for the displaced people, 70% of whom are children, he said.
    Speaking from the border area in northwest Syria, Tosun said traffic was jammed up for several kilometers.    Cold weather, a lack of health facilities and the risk of epidemics were all threatening those on the move.
    “They have been worn out by the war.    They want at least some welfare and peace.    They want the attacks to stop,” he said.
    The U.N. regional spokesman on Syria, David Swanson, said people were fleeing by night in trucks or by foot in an effort to avoid the attacks.
    “People are fleeing northwards not knowing where they will find shelter.    Some are seeking shelter in host communities, in camps, makeshift shelters, abandoned buildings, schools, mosques and some people are out in the open in the cold and others are in their vehicles, having fled, and are trapped there.    They are waking up each morning not knowing which direction to go,” he told Reuters from Turkey.
    Many were also flocking into Idlib city, already host to tens of thousands of previously displaced people.
U.S. INCIDENT
    Damascus and Moscow say the attacks are targeting hardline Islamist militants who control Idlib.    Turkey says they are hitting civilians.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Erdogan agreed in a phone call the sides would continue contacts on Syria, the Kremlin said.    Erdogan said he discussed with Putin the issue of the Turkish casualties.
    The U.S. envoy for Syria, James Jeffrey, met Erdogan aide Ibrahim Kalin in Ankara and the two sides said diplomatic efforts needed to be ramped up urgently to halt the wave of displaced, Anadolu news agency said.
    Turkish artillery has been supporting the rebels as they battle to hold on to areas of Idlib.    Russia has officers on the ground advising the Syrians on the campaign as well as some ground forces, and Russian warplanes have carried out numerous air strikes.
    Separately, the U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said its troops opened fire on Wednesday at a checkpoint in northeast Syria after they came under small arms fire, an incident that underscored the multi-faceted nature of the conflict.
(This story adds dropped words in paragraphs 3, 5)
(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul, Emma Farge in Geneva, Tom Balmforth and Andrey Kuzmin in Moscow, Suleiman Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)

2/12/2020 Lebanon requests technical help from IMF: government source
FILE PHOTO: The International Monetary Fund (IMF) logo is seen outside the headquarters building in Washington, U.S., as IMF Managing
Director Christine Lagarde meets with Argentine Treasury Minister Nicolas Dujovne September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon formally requested technical assistance from the IMF on Wednesday, asking the Fund to send a team to Beirut to help draw up a comprehensive plan to escape financial collapse, a senior government source told Reuters.
    As the government grapples with an economic crisis that has fueled increasingly violent protests, heavily indebted Lebanon must urgently decide on how to deal with fast approaching debt payments including a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.
    The financial crisis, worse than any Lebanon endured in its 1975-90 civil war, came to a head last year as slowing capital inflows led to a liquidity crunch and demonstrations erupted against the ruling elite.
    Deciding how to handle Lebanon’s next sovereign debt maturity is a top priority for Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government which won a vote of confidence in parliament on Tuesday.
    The IMF technical team is expected to arrive in Beirut in the next few days to help draw up an economic, financial, and monetary plan, said the senior government source, adding that the request for help was made by phone on Wednesday.
    It was not immediately clear whether the technical assistance would involve a plan for debt restructuring, though some politicians have expressed support for consulting the IMF before any plan is put forward to manage the debt payments.
    A decision on the March Eurobond was expected in Beirut on Thursday at a meeting between the president, central bank governor, finance minister and others, a second government source said.
    Lebanon was seeking advice on the March Eurobond “amid concerns that any reprofiling of Lebanon’s debt should be conducted in an orderly way to avoid damaging the country’s banking system,” the second government source said.
    Lebanese banks holding the bulk of the sovereign debt have piled pressure on the state to pay the March Eurobond on time.    The banks have in recent months imposed tough controls on hard currency amid dwindling reserves and fears of capital flight.
    In London, two of Lebanon’s international corporate creditors, Greylock Capital and Mangart Advisors, said they and others had organized an “informal discussion group” to begin evaluating options.
    Another source familiar with the matter said that “since the government gave the nod for IMF technical help, the general mood is towards doing an orderly restructuring.”
    “The feeling here is that the government would like a restructuring – not to pay – and to set terms on how to pay and when to pay,” a fourth source familiar with the matter said.
    Senior political sources said the major parties that back the Diab government, notably the heavily armed Hezbollah, favored reaching a deal to avoid paying the debt as Lebanon needed its foreign currency to pay for essential imports.
DECADES OF CORRUPTION
    The crisis is rooted in decades of state corruption and bad governance that have landed Lebanon with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
    The banking association said it was necessary to repay the Eurobond on time to maintain Lebanon’s place and relationships in global financial markets.
    It said the short time remaining before the March 9 maturity did not allow for preparation and “competent handling,” and called for the public debt to be tackled right after the March payment.
    Diab on Tuesday described the government’s task as a “suicide mission.”    The priority would be preserving foreign currency reserves for critical imports, and “all possibilities” were under study for dealing with Eurobonds maturing this year.
    Even as it seeks IMF technical help, comments attributed to Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri this week indicated Lebanon’s opposition to a full IMF program, whose tough conditions the country would not be able to bear.
(Reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Ellen Francis, Tom Perry and Laila Bassam; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie and Alexandra Hudson)

2/14/2020 Russian, Turkish foreign ministers to meet on Sunday amid Syria tensions: Ifax
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attend a
joint news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia January 13, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will meet his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu in Munich on Sunday on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference, the Interfax news agency reported on Friday.
    On Thursday evening, Russia’s foreign ministry criticized statements from Ankara about Syria’s Idlib, after Turkey said it would use force against rebel groups violating a ceasefire in the region.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov, Writing by Alexander Marrow; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/13/2020 Iran says it will strike U.S. and Israel if they make the ‘slightest error’
FILE PHOTO: Women hold pictures of Iranian Major-General Qassem Soleimani, head of the elite Quds Force,
who was killed in an air strike at Baghdad airport, during a funeral procession and burial at his
hometown in Kerman, Iran January 7, 2020. Mehdi Bolourian/Fars News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran is ready to strike the United States and Israel if they give it any reason to do so, the head of the elite Revolutionary Guards said in a live speech on state television on Thursday.
    “If you make the slightest error, we will hit both of you,” Major General Hossein Salami said at a ceremony marking the 40th day since the death of top commander Qassem Soleimani.
    Soleimani, who was head of the Quds Force, a branch of the Guards responsible for operations outside Iran, was killed by a U.S. drone in Baghdad on Jan. 3 along with Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
    The killing of Soleimani will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem, the spokesman for the Revolutionary Guards said earlier, according to the Tasnim news agency.
    “The cowardly and craven assassination of commander Soleimani and Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis by the Americans will lead to the liberation of Jerusalem, by the grace of God,” Ramezan Sharif said.
    Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said last week that Iran would support Palestinian armed groups as much as it could and urged Palestinians to confront a U.S. plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.
    U.S. President Donald Trump announced a plan that would set up a Palestinian state with strict conditions but allow Israel to take over long-contested Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank.    Palestinian leaders reject it as biased toward Israel
.
    On Thursday, Iranian state TV aired an interview with Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah in which he described a close relationship with Soleimani, highlighting the key role Soleimani played in helping build up Hezbollah’s rocket arsenal as well as his role in military operations during Hezbollah’s war with Israel in 2006.
    Founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, Lebanese group Hezbollah is a critical part of an Iranian-backed regional military alliance.
    Soleimani also played an important role in Iraq’s battle against Islamic State, Nasrallah said, and asked for Hezbollah operational commanders to work with Iraqi security forces in battling the militant group when they first blazed across large swathes of Iraq in 2014.
    Separately, Soleimani urged Iranians to support Khamenei and said political factions should put aside their differences.    He made the call in his will, which was read by the new Quds Force chief, Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, at a ceremony in Tehran.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Giles Elgood and Daniel Wallis)

2/13/2020 Turkey says it will hit groups violating Idlib ceasefire
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 will use force against rebel groups violating a ceasefire in Syria’s northwest Idlib region, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday, in an apparent response to Russian criticism.
    Turkey has allied with some rebels in Idlib opposed to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and has boosted its troops, arms and equipment in the region after 13 of its soldiers were killed by Syrian government forces in just over a week.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his NATO-member military would strike Russia-backed Syrian forces if another Turkish soldier was hurt, and he blamed Moscow for targeting civilians.
    Russia, which supports Assad, in turn accused Turkey of flouting agreements it made with Moscow and of aggravating the situation in Idlib.    The Kremlin said Ankara had failed to neutralize militants there, as per a 2018 agreement to establish a de-escalation zone.
    Apparently responding to the Russian criticism, Akar said Turkey was sending reinforcements to Idlib to ensure a ceasefire is maintained and to “control” the area, according to a ministry statement.
    “Force will be used against those violating the ceasefire, including radicals, and every measure will be taken,” Akar said, referring to a Jan. 12 ceasefire Ankara says has been violated by Assad’s forces.
    The flare-up of fighting has given rise to some of the most serious confrontations between Ankara and Damascus in the nine-year-old war that, since early December in Idlib alone, has displaced hundreds of thousands.
    Aid workers said families fleeing air strikes and advancing troops in Idlib were sleeping in streets and olive groves, and burning toxic bundles of rubbish to stay warm in the biting winter weather.
    Since last week, Ankara has deployed more than 1,000 troops to its military posts in Idlib.
    On Wednesday, Erdogan said Ankara had given a message to the rebels it supports in the conflict to refrain from acting in an undisciplined way and give Syrian forces an excuse to strike.
    The rebels are a mix of nationalist factions and Islamist militants who were rivals but are now closing ranks.
    A Turkish official told Reuters: “Talks are being held with Russia to make sure tensions don’t flare more.”    Yet he added rebels backed by Turkish artillery had in recent days retaken territory previously lost in Idlib.
    Turkey has repeatedly urged Russia to stop the Syrian attacks in Idlib, warning that it will use military power to push back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month.
    Later on Thursday, Russia called on Turkey to refrain from provocative statements about Idlib.    It said it was “perplexed” by the comments of Erdogan’s nationalist partner party leader, who held Moscow responsible for attacks on Turkish troops and said Ankara should plan to “enter Damascus.”
    “We believe that in the context of the tense situation in the north-west of Syria, it is worth exercising restraint and in particular refraining from provocative comments that do not contribute to a constructive dialogue between our countries,” the Russian foreign ministry said.
    Ankara and Moscow back opposing sides, but have collaborated on a political solution to the war.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ece Toksabay and Orhan Coskun; Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/14/2020 Lebanon ex-premier Hariri blames political rivals for crisis
Lebanon's former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks during a ceremony marking the 15th anniversary of the assassination of
his father, former Lebanese prime minister Rafik al-Hariri, in Beirut, Lebanon February 14, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s ex-Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, in his first major address as an opposition figure after the formation of a new cabinet, charged his rivals with pushing the country to near-collapse and cast doubt on their ability to win foreign support.
    The speech by Hariri, the country’s top Sunni Muslim politician, laid bare growing political divisions that could complicate Beirut’s push to enact painful reforms and recover from the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 war.
    A cabinet formed last month by the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, the first since Hariri resigned in October in the face of protests, must contend with a severe liquidity crunch and fast-approaching debt payments, with a $1.2 billion Eurobond due on March 9.
    The government clinched a parliamentary vote of confidence on Tuesday but several major parties, such as Hariri’s Future Movement, the Christian Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties, and the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, all withheld support.
    Speaking on the 15th anniversary of the assassination of his father, ex-premier Rafik al-Hariri, Hariri lambasted his rivals, casting their obstruction of reforms as largely to blame for the depth of the current crisis.
    “We organized the Cedar conference, and we got $11 billion dollars for the economy based on reforms we agreed to and promised to implement,” said Hariri, referring to a 2018 Paris donor conference.    “But what can I do if someone does not keep to his word?
    Hariri, an ally of Western and Gulf Arab states at odds with Iran, threw his most scathing jabs at former Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, who he called a “shadow” president who had subverted his work and helped push the country to collapse.
    The remarks underscored the end of a fragile cross-sectarian alliance that had held between Hariri, Aoun’s Christian Free Patriotic Movement and Hezbollah, a coalition that formed the basis of two previous governments.
    In his speech Hariri raised prickly questions about how the new cabinet, seen as dominated by Hezbollah, could win the badly needed support of countries at odds with Iran, another potential obstacle to its recovery bid.
    “Can we establish tourism without Arab and Gulf citizens?    Can we open markets for Lebanese goods without having Arab and Gulf markets in particular?” said Hariri.
    “Iran’s cash can solve the problems of a party, but not a country’s,” said Hariri, in a pointed reference to Hezbollah.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/15/2020 Turkey says Libya’s Haftar violating ceasefire, must be stopped
FILE PHOTO: Libyan commander Khalifa Haftar meets Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
(not pictured) at the Parliament in Athens, Greece, January 17, 2020. REUTERS/Costas Baltas
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu accused Libyan military commander Khalifa Haftar on Saturday of constantly violating a ceasefire in the country, saying he “must be stopped” so a political solution could be found.
    Turkey backs the internationally-recognized government of Fayez al-Serraj in Libya and has sent military personnel to the country in support of Serraj.    President Tayyip Erdogan has also warned that Ankara may deploy troops there if necessary.
    Speaking at a news conference with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas at the Munich Security Conference, Cavusoglu said that Haftar, who is based in east Libya, wanted a military solution to the conflict rather than a political one.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu)

2/15/2020 Turkey says it met responsibilities over Syria’s Idlib in Russia deal
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrians from western Aleppo countryside, ride on a vehicle with
belongings in Hazano near Idlib, Syria, February 11, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in the northwestern Syrian region of Idlib in line with its de-escalation agreements with Russia and Iran, Vice President Fuat Oktay said on Saturday, after violence spiked in recent weeks.
    Turkey and Russia, which back opposing sides in the conflict, agreed in 2018 to set up a de-escalation zone in the region.    But a Syrian government offensive has disrupted Ankara and Moscow’s fragile cooperation, after 13 Turkish soldiers were killed by Syrian attacks in the past two weeks.
    Ankara has said it will use military power to drive back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of February.    President Tayyip Erdogan threatened to strike Syrian government forces anywhere in Syria if another Turkish soldier was hurt.
    Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, says Turkey has flouted deals it made with Moscow and aggravated the situation in Idlib.    The Kremlin said Ankara had failed to neutralize militants there.
    Oktay told broadcaster NTV that Turkey was determined to stop Syrian government advances in Idlib and Ankara had clearly conveyed its position on Idlib to Moscow during the talks.
    “We cannot overlook the cruelty happening in our neighbor,” Oktay said, adding that Turkey, which hosts more than 3.6 million Syrian refugees, cannot handle a new migrant wave from Idlib where hundreds of thousands have been displaced.
    “Turkey has fulfilled its responsibilities in Idlib.    Some of our observation posts have now fallen into areas controlled by the (Syrian) regime,” he said, referring to Turkey’s military observation posts established in Idlib under the 2018 deal.
    In an apparent response to Russia’s criticism on Thursday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkey would use force against rebel groups violating a Jan. 12 ceasefire in Idlib and said Ankara was sending reinforcements to control Idlib.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu will meet Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Sunday during the Munich Security Conference, the Interfax news agency reported.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Edmund Blair)

2/15/2020 Russia and Turkey are close but will disagree, Lavrov says
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at the annual
Munich Security Conference in Germany February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Andreas Gebert
    MUNICH (Reuters) – Russia has good ties with Turkey but will sometimes disagree, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Saturday.
    “We have very good relations with Turkey, that does not mean we have to agree on everything.    Full agreement on all issues cannot be possible between any two countries,” Lavrov told the Munich Security Council.
    Turkey is purchasing a Russian S-400 missile defense system in defiance of its NATO allies but the two countries support opposing sides in Libya.    The fighting in northwestern Syria has led to testy exchanges between Russia, which supports an offensive by Syrian troops, and Turkey which has deployed its own soldiers to support insurgents trying to halt the advance.
(Reporting by Jack Stubbs, editing by Robin Emmott)

2/16/2020 Rouhani says Iran will never yield to U.S. pressure for talks
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani meets Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (not pictured)
in Tokyo, Japan, December 20, 2019. Charly Triballeau/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will never hold talks with the United States under pressure, President Hassan Rouhani said on Sunday, adding that Tehran’s help was essential in establishing security in the Middle East.
    Relations between Tehran and Washington reached crisis point in 2018 after U.S. President Donald Trump abandoned a 2015 pact between Iran and world powers under which Tehran accepted curbs to its nuclear program in return for the lifting of sanctions.
    Tensions spiked further following the killing of Iran’s most prominent military commander Qassem Soleimani on Jan. 3 by U.S. drone attacks at Baghdad airport. In retaliation, Iran attacked U.S. targets in Iraq in January.
    Trump has adopted a policy of “maximum pressure” to force Tehran to negotiate a broader deal that further curbs Iran’s nuclear work, ends its missile program and its involvement in regional proxy wars.
    “Iran will never negotiate under pressure … We will never yield to America’s pressure and we will not negotiate from a position of weakness,” Rouhani said in a televised news conference.
    Although the reimposed U.S. sanctions have crippled Iran’s economy, slashing its oil exports, Tehran has repeatedly dismissed talks over any new deal, saying they are possible only if the United States returns to the pact and lifts trade curbs.
    “America’s ‘maximum pressure’ toward Iran is doomed to failure … our enemy (the United States) is very well aware that their pressure is inefficient,” Rouhani said.
    Iran has been involved in decades of regional proxy wars with its key regional rival Saudi Arabia, from Syria to Iraq. European and Arab states have since scrambled to avert a full-fledged conflict between the two sides.
    “Securing peace and stability in the sensitive region of Middle East and in the Persian Gulf is impossible without Iran’s help,” Rouhani said.
    “Several countries have delivered messages to us (from Saudi Arabia) … we don’t have issues with Saudi Arabia that cannot be resolved,” he said.
    Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said on Saturday Riyadh had contacted Iran after the killing of Soleimani, but when Iran had responded the contact had ended.    He suggested the United States had pressured Riyadh.
    Zarif’s comments were dismissed by his Saudi counterpart Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud who said there had been neither private messages nor direct contacts between the two countries.
(Additional reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Reporting and writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alison Williams)

2/16/2020 Yemeni authorities say Saudi airstrike killed 31 by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Friday, Feb. 2, 2018, file photo, a Yemeni soldier allied to the country’s internationally recognized
government unslings his machine gun on the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell, File)
    Reports out of Yemen alleged a Syrian airstrike that killed dozens of people, in what has been described as a retaliatory act.    The United Nations said as many as 31 Yemeni civilians died in airstrikes on Saturday that the country’s Houthi movement claimed were retaliation by a Saudi-led coalition.
    “This is a farmer’s car who was going to Sanaa and he was targeted on the way,” stated an Arabic civilian.
    In the latest flare-up in the five year Yemen conflict, the Iran-aligned Houthis claimed to have shot down a coalition Tornado warplane in the Houthi-controlled Al-Jawf province.    They also released a video purporting to show a missile hitting the jet.
    The area’s health ministry said women and children were among those killed in the subsequent coalition airstrikes.    The UN office in Yemen stated preliminary field reports indicated 12 injured as well as up to 31 civilians have been killed.
Yemenis walk past rubble after deadly airstrikes in and near the presidential compound, in Sanaa, Yemen, Monday, May. 7, 2018.
Airstrikes by the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Shiite rebels targeted the presidency building in the heart of the Yemeni
capital on Monday, leaving at least six people dead and some 30 wounded, according to health officials. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)
    Coalition spokesman Col. Turki al-Maliki said on Saturday that only a Tornado warplane had crashed in Al-Jawf.    Maliki later said rescue operations had been launched and that the possibility of “collateral damages” had been reported, without providing details.
    The Saudi-led coalition intervened in Yemen in March 2015 in support of the internationally-recognized government, which the Houthis ousted from the capital Sanaa in 2014.
    The conflict has been widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and its regional foe, Iran.

2/16/2020 Syrian forces seize most of Aleppo province, ahead of Turkey-Russia talks by Suleiman Al-Khalidi, Tom Perry and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference in Tirana, Albania, February 12, 2020. Turkish
Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS PICTURE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVE
    AMMAN/BEIRUT/ANKARA (Reuters) – Syrian government forces made significant advances on Sunday in the country’s northwestern Aleppo province, seizing most of the rebel-held region, state media said, a day before a new round of talks between Turkey and Russia on the escalation in the area.
    The Syrian government’s recent advances in the northwestern region of the country have upset a fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing factions in the conflict but have collaborated toward a political solution to the nearly nine-year war.
    Turkey, which backs rebels looking to oust Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has been outraged since Syrian attacks in the Idlib region killed 13 Turkish troops in two weeks.    It has urged Russia to stop the attacks, warning it would use military power to drive back the Syrian forces unless they withdraw by the end of the month.
    On Sunday, Russian warplanes mounted heavy air strikes in the Aleppo province, bombing towns including Anadan, which was later seized by Syrian forces supported by Iranian-backed militias, activists reported.
    Rebel military sources said opposition fighters had pulled back from the area, including Anadan and the town of Haritan.
    “In day one, they took an area where for eight years they could not take a single village,” Rami Abdulrahman, director of the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said.
    “There is very rapid advance by the (Syrian) regime in this area,” Abdulrahman said.    “The factions have withdrawn from most of the area,” he added.    The Observatory said Syrian forces had seized 13 towns and villages in the area.
    The advances come after Assad’s forces drove insurgents from the key M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, and reopened the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years, in a major strategic accomplishment for Assad.
    Turkey-backed rebels have meanwhile launched an operation in Idlib to retake areas lost to Syrian government forces.    Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said on Sunday that a 100-vehicle convoy of reinforcements, including troops, tanks and military vehicles and equipment, had been deployed to Idlib.
    Turkey has so far sent thousands of troops and hundreds of convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.    Images from the region showed many houses draped in Turkish flags, while footage showed residents chanting slogans as convoys passed by.
    A suicide bomber with the main insurgent group in the area, the jihadist Hayat Tahrir al-Sham faction, blew himself up in an attack on Russian positions in the town of Kafr Aleppo, the Ibaa news outlet affiliated with the group reported.
TURKEY-RUSSIA TALKS
    As Syrian forces continued their push to retake Idlib, the last major rebel-held enclave in Syria, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Sunday he told his Russian counterpart that attacks in Idlib must stop immediately and that a lasting ceasefire has to be achieved.
    “We told (Russia on Saturday) …that the aggression in Idlib must stop and that a lasting ceasefire has to be achieved now,” Cavusoglu told reporters during a briefing at the Munich Security Conference, adding that Turkish and Russian officials will discuss the issue in Moscow on Monday.
    Cavusoglu also said he met with some U.S. lawmakers at the conference, and added Washington should work to improve its relations with Ankara anyway, not just due to current tensions between Turkey and Russia.
    “We told them that we expected a sincere approach from the United States in line with the spirit of our alliance,” he said, days after the top U.S. envoy for Syria came to Ankara for talks on Idlib and cooperation in Syria.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw out of Idlib by the end of the month.    On Saturday, he appeared to pull that date forward, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the month if there was no pullback.
    In a meeting with Iranian parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Assad said that “the Syrian nation was determined to liberate all Syrian land from terrorism,” Syria’s state news agency SANA reported.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Susan Fenton, John Stonestreet and Lisa Shumaker)

2/16/2020 Crisis puts Lebanon’s survival at stake, Hezbollah warns
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a rally
commemorating the annual Hezbollah's slain leaders in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon may not survive if its new government fails, the powerful Hezbollah warned on Sunday, urging the country’s divided politicians not to obstruct the cabinet as it seeks to address an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah also said there was no point in politicians trading blame over the causes of the crisis, after former prime minister Saad al-Hariri on Friday accused his rivals of pushing the country to near-collapse.
    Banks are curtailing access to deposits, the Lebanese pound has slumped, inflation has spiked and firms are shedding jobs and slashing wages in a financial crisis.    Hariri resigned last year amid mass demonstrations against the ruling class.
    Hezbollah, heavily armed and backed by Iran, is one of the main backers of Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s cabinet which was formed last month after the failure of efforts to establish a new national unity cabinet led by Hariri.
    Supporting the government was a “national duty,” Nasrallah said.    “This is not a party matter.    If this government fails, it is not known whether a country will remain for someone to ride in on a white horse and form a new government.”
    Analysts have said Hezbollah’s role in forming the cabinet could make it trickier for Diab to secure badly needed financial support from Western and Gulf Arab states that are alarmed by the Tehran-backed group’s influence in Beirut.
    Nasrallah said that while Hezbollah backed the cabinet, it was not “Hezbollah’s government,” adding that opponents who described the cabinet that way were making it more difficult to combat the crisis and damaging Lebanon’s international ties.
    Lebanon last week asked the International Monetary Fund for technical assistance on dealing with the economic crisis.
    Speaking in Dubai, IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva said Lebanon needed urgent and deep structural reforms.    “We are sending a small team to Lebanon …"    “We’ll do our best to give a diagnostics recommendation on measures to take but the taking is in the hands of Lebanon,” she said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry and Laila Bassam in Beirut, Ghaida Ghantous and Davide Barbuscia in Dubai; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)

2/17/2020 Chinese doctors using plasma therapy on coronavirus, WHO says ‘very valid’ approach
A security guard stands in front of building A3 of the Shanghai Public Clinical Center, where the
coronavirus patients are quarantined, in Shanghai, China February 17, 2020. Noel Celis/Pool via REUTERS
    SHANGHAI/GENEVA (Reuters) – Doctors in Shanghai are using infusions of blood plasma from people who have recovered from the coronavirus to treat those still battling the infection, reporting some encouraging preliminary results, a Chinese professor said on Monday.
    A top emergency expert at the World Health Organization (WHO) said later that using convalescent plasma was a “very valid” approach to test, but that it was important to get the timing right to maximize the boost to a patient’s immunity.
    The coronavirus epidemic is believed to have originated in a seafood market in the central city of Wuhan, capital of Hubei province, and has so far killed 1,770 people and infected more than 70,000 in mainland China.
    China’s financial hub of Shanghai on Monday had 332 infected cases, one of whom died in recent weeks.    Lu Hongzhou, professor and co-director of the Shanghai Public Health Clinical Centre, said that 184 cases were still hospitalized, including 166 mild cases, while 18 were in serious and critical conditions.
    He said the hospital had set up a special clinic to administer plasma therapy and was selecting patients who were willing to donate.    The blood would be screened to check if he or she had other diseases like hepatitis B or C, he added.
    “We are positive that this method can be very effective in our patients,” he said.
    There are no fully licensed treatments or vaccines against the new coronavirus, and the process of developing and testing drugs can take many months and even years.
‘VERY IMPORTANT AREA’
    Convalescent plasma has been proven “effective and life-saving” against other infectious diseases, including rabies and diphtheria, Dr. Mike Ryan, head of WHO’s health emergencies program, told reporters in Geneva.
    “It is a very important area to pursue,” Ryan said.
    “Because what hyperimmune globulin does is it concentrates the antibodies in a recovered patient.    You are essentially giving the new victim’s immune system a boost of antibodies to hopefully get them through the very difficult phase."
    “So it must be given at the right time, because it mops up the virus in the system, and it just gives the new patient’s immune system a vital push at the time it needs it.    But it has to be carefully timed and it’s not always successful.”
    Ryan added: “So it is a very important area of discovery, and I believe they are starting trials on that in China.    But it is a very valid way to explore therapeutics, especially when we don’t have vaccines and we don’t have specific antivirals.”
    As well as using plasma therapies, the Chinese doctors are also trying antiviral drugs licensed for use against other infections to see if they might help.
    Scientists are testing two antiviral drugs and preliminary results are due in weeks, while the head of a Wuhan hospital had said plasma infusions from recovered patients had shown some encouraging preliminary results.
(Reporting by Xihao Jiang and Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Editing by Kate Kelland and Nick Macfie)

2/18/2020 Coronavirus slows China’s Belt and Road push by Keith Zhai and Matthew Tostevin
    Cambodian workers eat lunch outside a Chinese-operated factory in the Chinese-managed
Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in the city of Sihanoukville, Cambodia February 15, 2020. REUTERS/Matthew Tostevin
    (Reuters) – When President Xi Jinping made his first state visit this year to Myanmar and signed new infrastructure contracts, there was no indication of the obstacle about to trip up China’s plan for railways, ports and highways around the world: the coronavirus.Travel restrictions to prevent the spread of the disease, which has now killed more than 1,800 people, have idled much of the world’s second-largest economy and choked key elements of Xi’s signature Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).
    Chinese workers cannot get to overseas projects, and factories are cut off from the Chinese imports they need to keep running, according to more than a dozen company executives and officials.
    “Many factories in China remain closed; those that are open cannot reach full capacity,” said Boyang Xue, a China analyst at Ducker Frontier.    “Since many BRI projects tend to source equipment and machinery from manufacturers based in China, the disruptions in industrial production and supply chain will cause further delays.”
    One giant project, China Railway International Group’s $6 billion high-speed railway in Indonesia, is on a war footing.
    The state enterprise has set up a task force to monitor the coronavirus’ spread and urged all Chinese employees who went home for the Lunar New Year holiday not to return to Indonesia, a senior executive with the company said on condition of anonymity, as he was not authorized to speak to the media.
    The company has stopped more than 100 Chinese personnel, mostly skilled workers or managers, from returning to the project linking Indonesia’s capital Jakarta with the textile hub of Bandung, about 140 km (85 miles) away, the executive said.
    “We have to focus on less-critical parts of the railway project until some of our key people come back to work,” he said.    “We’re getting off to a very bad start in 2020. Our project has been dogged by delays and controversy, and this coronavirus brought us bigger challenges.”
DISRUPTION
    China’s top regulator of state-run companies said in a Tuesday briefing that the outbreak has caused “difficulties” on some overseas projects and investments.
    The country “has already communicated with overseas companies, overseas owners, and governments as early as possible to gain support and understanding,” said Peng Qinghua, secretary general of the State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission.
    Several Chinese companies in Indonesia, including Tsingshan Holding Group, GEM Co Ltd <002340.SZ> and Zhejiang Huayou Cobalt <603799.SS> saw nickel and cobalt projects disrupted as Southeast Asia’s biggest economy stopped flights from China in early February and denied entry to people who had been in mainland China in the previous 14 days.
    “The new projects may be postponed a little, but not that much,” said an executive at one of the companies, who had planned to travel to Indonesia before the travel ban made it impossible.
    More than 133 countries have imposed entry restrictions on Chinese citizens or people who have visited China, according to the Chinese National Immigration Agency.
    Pakistan’s $62 billion China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) said the coronavirus was not having an impact, although officials said some managers had been quarantined after returning from China.
    The challenge of the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus to Belt and Road contracts follows a pushback in 2018, when officials in Indonesia, Malaysia, Sri Lanka and elsewhere criticized projects there as costly and unnecessary.
    China scaled back some plans after several countries sought to review, cancel or scale down commitments, citing concerns over costs, erosion of sovereignty, and corruption.
BROKEN SUPPLY CHAIN
    The coronavirus has also started to disrupt the supply chains that give companies access to key machinery and components.
    The offices of Chinese senior managers stand empty at the Cambodia Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone, which describes itself as a “landmark project” on the Belt and Road Initiative and is home to more than 160 businesses and over 20,000 workers.
    Employees from Chinese-run factories told Reuters that most of the workers there were local, but that the greater challenge was their dependence on supplies from China.
    That “could elongate project timelines, for example, which might raise costs,” said Nick Marro, global trade lead at the Economic Intelligence Unit and a China analyst.
    And although that might only affect operations in the first quarter – depending on whether the virus is contained – slower Chinese growth will have a regional and global impact, he said.
    In some places on the Belt and Road, the impact of the coronavirus has already arrived.
    Bangladesh has announced delays to several infrastructure projects, including commissioning of the Payra coal power plant, which was supposed to begin commercial operations in early February.
    Well over 2,000 Chinese workers work on the plant and some 40 percent of them went home for the Lunar New Year holiday, local media reported.    Twenty were allowed back to work on Monday after 14 days in quarantine.
(This story corrects spelling of name in paragraph 4)
(Reporting and writing by Keith Zhai; Additional reporting by Fanny Potkin, Tom Daly and Gibran Peshimam; Editing by Matthew Tostevin and Gerry Doyle)

2/17/2020 Syrian forces consolidate control of Aleppo, air strikes under way
Syrian army soldiers gesture in al-Rashideen area in Aleppo province, Syria,
in this handout released by SANA on February 16, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT/AMMAN (Reuters) – The Syrian army said on Monday it had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside and it would press on with its campaign to wipe out militant groups “wherever they are found
    The advances were made after President Bashar al-Assad’s forces drove insurgents from the M5 highway linking Aleppo to Damascus, reopening the fastest route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years in a big strategic gain for Assad.
    Assad said on Monday his forces’ rapid recent gains presaged the eventual defeat of the nine-year insurgency that sought to oust him from power.    But in an appearance televised by state media, he also cautioned that the conflict was not yet over.
    “We know this liberation does not mean the end of the war or the crushing of all plots or the end of terror or the surrender of the enemy, but it definitely rubs their noses in the dirt,” Assad said.    “This is a prelude to their (opposition forces’) final defeat, sooner or later.”
    Backed by heavy Russian air strikes and aided by pro-Iranian militias, government forces have intensified since the start of the year their campaign to recapture the Aleppo countryside and parts of neighboring Idlib province in the far northwest of Syria where anti-Assad insurgents hold their last strongholds.
    Russian and government air strikes on Monday hit Darat Izza, near the Turkish border about 30 km (20 miles) north of Aleppo city, wounding several civilians and forcing two hospitals to close, according to hospital staff.
    Witnesses also reported air strikes in southern areas of Idlib province in what the opposition said was a “scorched earth policy” that has left dozens of towns and villages in ruins.
    The advances sent hundreds of thousands of Syrian civilians fleeing towards the border with Turkey in the biggest single displacement of the nine-year-old war.
    The United Nations said on Monday that over 875,000 Syrians, mostly children and women, have now fled towns and villages targeted by the heavy aerial bombing campaign since Dec. 1.
    More than 40,000 have been displaced in the last four days alone from western Aleppo province, the scene of heavy fighting, said David Swanson, a U.N. spokesman.
    The offensive has also upset the fragile cooperation between Ankara and Moscow, which back opposing factions in the conflict.
    Turkey and Russia began a new round of talks in Moscow on Monday after several demands by Ankara that Assad’s forces should back down and a ceasefire be put in place.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said that Islamist militant attacks on Russian bases and Syrian positions have continued and “it is not possible to leave this unanswered.”
    “Troops from Russia and Turkey on the ground in Syria, in Idlib, are in constant contact with each other, looking at changes in the conditions.    They have a full understanding of each other,” said Lavrov.
    However, the Syrian armed forces said they would push on with what they called their “sacred and noble task to rid what remains of terrorist organizations wherever on Syria’s geography they are found.”
    Syrian forces had taken full control of dozens of towns in Aleppo’s northwestern countryside, they said in a statement.
    Syrian Transport Minister Ali Hammoud announced on Monday the reopening of Aleppo international airport with the first flight, from Damascus to Aleppo, scheduled for Wednesday and flights to Cairo to be announced within days, state news agency SANA reported.
    The pro-Damascus Al-Watan newspaper said the M5 highway, a vital artery in northern Syria, would be ready for civilian use by the end of the week.    Aleppo city, once Syria’s economic hub, was the scene of some of the most vicious fighting of the war between 2012 and 2016.
    The Syrian army has also opened the international roadway from northern Aleppo to the towns of Zahraa and Nubl toward the Turkish border, a military news service run by Lebanon’s Assad-allied pro-Damascus Hezbollah group said.
    The insurgent forces arrayed against Assad include Western-backed rebels and jihadist militants.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said his military will drive back Syrian forces if they do not withdraw from Idlib by the end of the month.    On Saturday, he appeared to move that date forward, saying Turkey would “handle it” before the end of the month if there was no pullback.
    Alarmed by the new refugee crisis on its border, Turkey has sent thousands of troops and hundreds of convoys of military equipment to reinforce its observation posts in Idlib, established under a 2018 de-escalation agreement with Russia.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht, Tom Perry, Khalil Ashawi and Suleiman Khalidi, additional reporting by Alexander Marrow in Moscow; Editing by Angus MacSwan/Mark Heinrich)

2/17/2020 Libya’s rival factions dig in for long conflict by Ulf Laessing, Aidan Lewis and Ayman al-Warfalli
Security forces stand guard during a celebration of the 9th anniversary of the revolution against former Libyan
leader Muammar Gaddafi at Martyrs' Square in Tripoli, Libya February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Ismail Zitouny
    CAIRO/BENGHAZI, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s combatants are readying for a long conflict, as foreign weapons flood in, eastern factions close oil ports and rival alliances wrangle over revenues from Africa’s largest petroleum reserves.
    The moves signal deepening animosity in a war that could worsen regional instability and swell the flow of migrants from the Middle East and Africa almost a decade after Muammar Gaddafi’s fall in 2011.
    From his large villa in Libya’s east, tribal leader Sanoussi al-Zwai sees plenty more trouble ahead for the huge country, for years contested by two rival authorities in the east and west.
    He is an ally of Commander Khalifa Haftar, whose self-styled Libya National Army (LNA) also has the support of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Jordan and Russian mercenaries as it tries to capture the capital Tripoli.
    Zwai’s tribe backs the oil port blockade, resisting calls by the United States and the United Nations to restart flows of Libya’s vital income source, which is run by Haftar’s foe, the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).
    Zwai’s price for unlocking the ports is for the GNA, based 1,000 km (620 miles) away in Tripoli, to funnel more income to his people.    If the GNA resists, he suggests there could be worse to come.
    “We are not happy with what is happening now, but we have ways to escalate if the international community does not listen to us,” said Zwai, leader of a tribe living near eastern oil facilities.
    “There will be a major escalation.    We have other things (means) to use at the time.    If it comes to it, the world knows what escalation is,” he told Reuters in the main eastern city of Benghazi, without saying what any escalation would involve.
RACING TO REARM
    The standoff over oil is only one of several factors that could prolong the almost year-long conflict over the capital, where the GNA last month secured military backing from Turkey including Turkish-backed fighters from Syria.
    The combatants are racing to rearm, receiving shipments both before and after foreign backers agreed to enforce a truce at a summit in     Germany in January.    The inflow of advanced artillery and fighters and advisers breaches pledges made in Berlin to respect an arms embargo, diplomats say.
    On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council called for a ceasefire but Russia, a Haftar backer, abstained from the vote. Diplomats took this as sign that Moscow might not be committed to a U.N.-led political mediation.
    Haftar’s forces and their foreign backers have stopped fighter jet strikes on the capital.    But Western diplomats and experts say this is not due to a genuine desire for peace but because of better air defenses supplied by Turkey.
    Until Turkey’s intervention, Tripoli officials had started to panic they might lose the capital, the diplomats said.
    Instead, Syrian fighters sent by Turkey have helped reverse small LNA gains, restoring frontlines to roughly where they settled just after the LNA attack began in April 2019.
    Estimates from diplomats in Turkey about the number of Syrian fighters vary from 1,500 to 3,000, while the number of Turkish troops was seen at between 200 to 500 including special forces, conventional troops and drone operators.
    “Both sides are preparing for the next battle,” said a Western diplomat.
    Diplomacy repeatedly founders on mutual suspicions.
    “Each time we have any kind of agreement … we always saw the same pattern,” said Taher el-Sonni, the GNA ambassador to the U.N.    “It’s more like gaining time, then (Haftar decides to) just use force.”
    Turkey has sent heavy trucks by sea, while the UAE flew in 89 shipments totaling 4,680 metric tons between Jan 12 and Feb 16, according flight tracking data and a security source.    The UAE did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
CONTROL OF OIL WEALTH
    Newly-shipped big guns are already making their presence felt, as shelling from long-range artillery blamed on the LNA hit the city center for the first time this week.
    Away from the Tripoli battle, which has displaced at least 150,000 people, the conflict has shifted to the control of oil wealth. Forces allied to Haftar have kept the ports shut for a month, causing losses of some $1.4 billion.
    The blockade echoes complaints of neglect going back to Gaddafi, who punished the east for dissent in his long rule.
    The National Oil Corporation (NOC), which says it is neutral and deals with all sides in the conflict, blames the LNA for directly ordering the shutdown.
    Pressure from international powers and the United Nations has so far failed to persuade Haftar to reopen the ports and the southern El Sharara oilfield, Libya’s largest.    The veteran commander has even won some new recognition from Western countries that oil revenues need to be distributed fairly.
    A senior U.S. diplomat said it was important that oil revenues are distributed equally, something he said should be discussed in U.N.-led intra-Libyan economic talks, part of a mediation to overcome divisions.
    Neither side discloses how much it spends on the conflict.
    Diplomats say the Tripoli government is less dependent on oil than before, as up to a third of the budget is covered by a fee it levies on all private transactions involving hard currency.    Some of the Syrian fighters sent by Turkey are paid directly by Tripoli, diplomats say.
    A stalemate looms.    On Friday Haftar dashed hopes of a truce, saying there would be no peace until “militias” holding Tripoli had been defeated.    For its part, Tripoli demands the LNA pull back 1,000 km (620 miles) east, something Haftar rejects.
    “We don’t expect to reach a ceasefire unless these troops (LNA) go back where they came from,” said GNA Interior Minister Fathi Bashagha.
(Additional reporting by Dominic Evans; Writing by Ulf Laessing, Editing by William Maclean)

2/17/2020 Snubbed by Gulf, Lebanon’s PM Diab hosts Iranian official
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab arrives at the presidential palace
in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, who is getting the cold shoulder from Gulf Arab states, on Monday met Iran’s parliament speaker, the first senior foreign official to visit since Diab’s government took office.
    Gulf states had long channeled funds to Beirut but have grown alarmed by the rising clout of Iran’s ally Hezbollah.
Lebanon’s rich Gulf neighbors now appear loathe to help it out of an unprecedented economic and financial crisis.
    The heavily armed Hezbollah backed Diab’s cabinet after efforts failed to strike a deal with Saad al-Hariri, a traditional Western ally who stayed out of the new government.
    The economic crisis came to a head last year as slowing capital inflows led to a liquidity crunch and protests erupted against the ruling elite.    Banks are curbing access to cash, the Lebanese pound has slumped and inflation has spiked.
    Foreign donors have said they will only help after Lebanon enacts reforms.
    However, analysts say Hezbollah’s role in forming the government, which took office last month, could impede securing Western and Gulf aid.
    Iranian speaker Ali Larijani said in a news conference that Iran stood ready to help Lebanon.
    In response to a question on whether this would close the door to any Western aid, he said: “We express our full readiness to support but we do not force this on anyone.”
    Mohanad Hage Ali, a fellow at the Carnegie Middle East Center, said his visit may not help bolster the new Lebanese government’s image.
    “It’s not very helpful at this stage as Lebanon seeks foreign aid and a bailout and the help of Gulf Arab states.    This is the not message you want to send,” he said.
    Diab has said his first trip abroad would be to the Arab region, particularly the Gulf monarchies.    But none of them have officially commented on the government nor extended public invitations to Diab.
    An Arab diplomat in the Gulf said only Qatar had invited Diab to visit so far.    “No other government in the Gulf will invite him,” the diplomat said.
    Qatar did not immediately respond to a request for comment on whether it had sent an invitation.
    Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s office said he received an invitation to Tehran during his meeting with Larijani on Monday.
    Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Sunday that the cabinet was not “Hezbollah’s government” and that opponents who described it that way were damaging Lebanon’s ties to foreign states and making it harder to combat the crisis.
    A team of IMF experts will begin consultations with Lebanon’s government in Beirut on Thursday, a source familiar with the matter said.    The heavily indebted state formally requested the Fund’s technical help last week.
    On the parallel market – now the main source of hard currency – the price of U.S. dollars hovered around 2,400 Lebanese pounds on Monday, 60% beyond the official peg of 1,507.5 in place since 1997.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/19/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan says Syria talks with Russia unsatisfactory, offensive ‘matter of time’
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to phone as he addresses his ruling AK Party members
in Istanbul, Turkey, February 15, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday talks with Russia on the conflict in Syria’s northwestern Idlib province were far from meeting Turkey’s demands and he said a military operation there was a “matter of time.”
    Turkey and Russia back opposing sides in the nine-year-old Syrian conflict but have collaborated toward finding a political solution to end it.
    However, a Syrian government offensive in Idlib has upset the fragile cooperation after 13 Turkish troops were killed in Syrian attacks earlier this month.
    Ankara has urged Moscow, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, to stop the attacks in Idlib, saying the offensive was causing a migrant wave toward Turkey, which currently hosts 3.6 million Syrian refugees.
    Erdogan has previously said Turkey may use military force to drive back Syrian forces unless they pull back by the end of the month.
    Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, Erdogan said Turkey was determined to make Idlib a secure zone “no matter the cost,” even as talks continue with Russia. Several rounds of talks with Moscow had failed to reach an agreement, he said.
    “We are entering the last days for the (Syrian) regime to stop its hostility in Idlib.    We are making our final warnings,” Erdogan said.    “We did not reach the desired results in our talks (with Russia).    The talks will continue, but it is true that we are far from meeting our demands at the table,” he said.
    “Turkey has made every preparation to carry out its own operational plans.    I say that we can come at any point.    In other words, the Idlib offensive is only a matter of time.”
    Ankara and Moscow signed an agreement in 2018 to establish a de-escalation zone in Idlib, allowing both sides to also set up military observation posts in the region.    Since the escalation of violence in the region, both sides have accused each other of flouting the agreement.
    Turkish and Russian officials held several rounds of talks in Ankara and Moscow.    The foreign ministers Turkey and Russia also met at the weekend, but failed to find a solution.    Erdogan has said Turkey has given the Syrian forces until the end of February to withdraw from Idlib.
    “We will not leave Idlib to the (Syrian) regime, which does not understand our country’s determination, and to those encouraging it,” he said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/19/2020 Russia: Only matter of time before Turkey attacks Syria’s Idlib province by OAN Newsroom
Turkish army artillery arrives in the east of Idlib, Syria, Saturday, Feb. 15, 2020. (AP Photo)
    Russia recently said a Turkish military operation against Syrian forces in the Idlib region would be a “worst-case scenario.”    A Kremlin spokesperson said Russia has made its final warnings about an “imminent” Turkish attack in Syria.
    The official said Moscow failed to deescalate tensions between the two countries.    This came after Syria killed over a dozen Turkish troops in an operation to retake rebel held areas in its Idlib province.
    Russia emphasized Turkey will likely retaliate soon.
    “If it is about military operation against terrorist groups in Idlib, it would be in line with Sochi agreements,” stated spokesman Dmitry Peskov.    “Neutralization of those terrorist groups, who currently possess powerful infrastructure, weaponry, hardware and ammunition, is a duty of the Turkish side.”
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he will give Syrian forces until the end of the month to withdraw from Idlib.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses to his ruling party’s legislator
at parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
    Meanwhile, the U.S. has expressed deep concern over Russia’s recent escalation of violence in eastern Ukraine.    In a Wednesday tweet, a state department spokeswoman said the U.S. stands in solidarity with its allies in condemning Russian aggression against Ukraine.
    She cited the administration’s support for President Zelensky and his commitment to peace in the region.
    Officials have also called on Russia to abide by a ceasefire it signed under the Minsk Protocol.    The U.S. Embassy in Ukraine spoke out against this week’s attack against the Ukrainian military in Donbass by Russian backed forces.
In this video grab provided by the RU-RTR Russian television, a woman stands next to her home, that was distroyed
during cross fire between     Russia-backed separatists and Ukrainian forces, in Zaitseve,
Donetsk region, eastern Ukraine, Tuesday, Feb. 18, 2020. (RU-RTR Russian Television via AP)

2/19/2020 No place to go: Syrian families fleeing Idlib stranded on the roads by Khalil Ashawi
Internally displaced people sit outside tents at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Abu Abdallah has been on the road for days.    After his family fled the air strikes pounding Idlib, they moved from one village to another in northwest Syria but have yet to find refuge.
    “I don’t know where to take them,” the 49-year-old farmer said from his tractor on the side of a road in Azaz town, where he is stranded with his wife, four children and 20 other relatives."    “This is the first time I flee my hometown. God knows where we will go.”
    The family is part of the biggest exodus of Syria’s nine-year war.
    Nearly a million people, mostly women and children, are trying to escape the latest wave of violence in the Idlib region, overwhelming aid agencies.
    Many have nowhere to go, trapped between the fighting and the closed-off Turkish border.    Families sleep outside in streets and olive groves, burning garbage to stay warm. Some children have died from the cold.
    Some of the people fleeing Idlib have already been displaced more than once, after fleeing battles in other parts of Syria earlier in the conflict.
    The United Nations said on Tuesday that government warplanes had struck hospitals and refugee camps as the Syrian army, with Russian backing, gains ground in the northwest, the country’s last rebel stronghold.
    Before she escaped Idlib in recent days, Aziza Hadaja, 70, locked her front door.
    It is the third time she has been uprooted, but in the past, she would go back home.    This time, after government forces marched into her village, she does not know when or if she will return.
    Along with her children and grandchildren, Hadaja is now sheltering in a makeshift tent in a field on the road out of Azaz further north.
    “We came out with the clothes on our backs,” she said.    “We didn’t bring a thing.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi in Syria; Writing by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/20/2020 Lebanon’s Aoun vows accountability over financial crisis: Twitter
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun attends the cabinet meeting at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon January 22, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on Thursday measures would be taken to hold to account all those who contributed to Lebanon’s financial crisis through illegal actions be they transfers abroad, manipulation of Eurobonds or other acts.
    “There is information that we are still in need of with regards to the banking situation.    There are measures that we will take to hold to account all who participated in bringing the crisis to where it is,” Aoun said, according to his Twitter account.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Toby Chopra)

2/20/2020 Turkey says talks with Russia on Syria warning but more needed
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a news conference
in Tirana, Albania, February 12, 2020. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday there was some rapprochement with Russia in talks about Syria’s Idlib region, where Ankara has threatened to mount an offensive, but added that discussions were not at a desired level yet.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday that a Turkish military operation in Idlib to drive back a Russian-led Syrian government offensive that has displaced nearly a million people was a “matter of time” after talks with Moscow failed to reach a solution.
    Speaking to broadcaster TRT Haber, Cavusoglu said Turkey and Russia would intensify their talks on Idlib in the coming days, adding that Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin may discuss the issue as well.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

2/20/2020 Flare-up in fighting in northwest Syria pulls in Russian, Turkish forces by Khalil Ashawi and Orhan Coskun
FILE PHOTO: An internally displaced Syrian boy walks near tents at a makeshift camp in Azaz, Syria February 20, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AZAZ, Syria/ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish forces and Syrian rebels fought government troops in northwest Syria on Thursday and Russian warplanes struck back in a sharp escalation of an intense battle over the last rebel bastions, Russian and Turkish officials said.
    The Turkish Defense Ministry said two of its soldiers were killed and five were wounded in Syrian government air strikes in Idlib, bringing Turkish military fatalities to 15 this month in the Idlib region.    It said more than 50 Syrian soldiers had been killed in retaliation.
    Earlier, talks between Moscow and Ankara, who back different sides in Syria’s nine-year war, had failed to reach a compromise to ease the situation and head off a direct confrontation between them in Aleppo and Idlib provinces.
    Syrian troops backed by Russian forces have been battling since December to eradicate the last rebel strongholds in the region in a war that has killed an estimated 400,000 Syrians and left much of the country in ruins.
    In Geneva, the U.N. refugee chief called for a halt to the fighting to allow hundreds of thousands of trapped and destitute civilians to move to places of safety.
    There was no end was in sight to the misery of the nearly 1 million people – most of them women and children – who have fled the fighting to seek sanctuary in the border area.
    Families are sleeping outside by roads and in olive groves, burning garbage to stay warm.    Some children have died from the cold.    Some families have at least reached tent camps for displaced people.
    “We want the whole world to see us and learn about our conditions, the children and these camps,” said Ruqyyah Omar, a woman who left Idlib and is now at a camp near Azaz, about 30 km (20 miles) northwest of Aleppo city.
    Thursday’s action came a day after Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened a military operation against the Syrian government forces unless they pulled back from rebel-held areas.
    The Russian Defense Ministry said Turkey provided artillery support to the militants, wounding four Syrian soldiers.
    Russian warplanes then attacked the militants who had burst through the government positions in two areas of Idlib, allowing the Syrian army to repel them, the ministry said.
    “So as not to allow the armed groups to make it deep into Syrian territory, Russian Su-25 aircraft carried out a strike … on the armed militant groups that burst through,” it said.
    Ankara said Syrian planes had carried out the air strikes.
    Speaking in an interview recorded early on Thursday, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar told CNN Turk that Ankara and Moscow were discussing the use of Syrian air space in Idlib. He said problems could be overcome if Russia “steps aside.”
    Turkey has urged its Western allies to provide “concrete support” in Idlib and Akar said that Washington could send its Patriot missile systems to Turkey to bolster its security.
    “There are air missile threats against our country and there are previous events of the sort.    In that light, there could be a Patriot system battery support here,” Akar said.
UNDER FIRE
    A rebel source told Reuters the Turkish army and rebels had mounted a joint operation to storm the town of Nairab, push the army away from the M4 highway, and relieve the encirclement of five Turkish observation posts on the outskirts of the crossroads town of Saraqeb.
    Turkish forces engaged Syrian troops on Saraqeb’s southern edge, he said.
    “The strategic goal is to reach Saraqeb city because it lies on both key highways,” Ibrahim al Idlibi, a former rebel official and activist said.    “The Turkish troops are now combing Nairab town after the Syrian forces had pulled away.”
    Turkish and Russian officials have failed to reach any compromise in talks, although Turkish officials had sounded more optimistic on Thursday prior to the flare-up on the ground.
    Various options are being discussed, including possible joint patrols in Idlib, a Turkish official said. Both Ankara and Moscow expected their presidents to “end the issue,” he added.
    Akar said Turkey would not accept any Russian proposals to move its observation posts in Idlib, but added that talks with Moscow had not reached an impasse.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, whose family dynasty has ruled for nearly half a century, has showed no sign of letting up in the campaign to crush his foes.
    Residents and relief staff said Russian warplanes on Thursday resumed attacks on the towns of Darat Izza and Atareb in the northern corner of Aleppo province, where Turkish troops have set up a line of defense.
    The exodus of people has overwhelmed relief agencies but Turkey, struggling to cope with 3.7 million Syrian refugees inside its borders, says it can take no more.
    In Azaz, Abu Abdallah had been stranded on the road for days.    After his family fled air strikes pounding Idlib, they have yet to find refuge.    With him were his wife, four children and 20 relatives.
    “I don’t know where to take them,” the 49-year-old farmer said, sitting on his tractor.    “God knows where we will go.”
    French President Emmanuel Macron called on the U.N. Security Council and European Union to take action.
    “Today, and for several weeks now, one of the worst humanitarian dramas has been unfolding,” Macron told reporters as he arrived at an EU summit in Brussels.
    The U.N. humanitarian affairs agency OCHA said the crisis had reached a horrifying level, with displaced people crammed into a small pocket of Idlib.
    “Places previously considered safe by civilians are now coming under fire,” it said in a report.
    More than 300 people, many of them women and children, had been killed in Idlib and Aleppo due to the hostilities since the start of the year, it said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Polina Ivanova in Moscow and Michelle Nichols at the United Nations; Editing by Angus MacSwan, Alison Williams and Jonathan Oatis)

2/20/2020 Turkey will activate Russian S-400 missile systems: minister
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 Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said on Thursday that Turkey will activate the S-400 missile systems which it has bought from Russia and there should be “no doubt” about this.
    Akar was speaking in an interview with broadcaster CNN Turk.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Chris Reese)

2/21/2020 Erdogan to speak with Putin to determine stance on Syria fighting by OAN Newsroom
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses to his ruling party’s legislator
at parliament, in Ankara, Turkey, Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020. (AP Photo/Burhan Ozbilici)
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has said he is planning to speak with Russian President Vladimir Putin about deescalating the situation in Northwestern Syria.    While speaking to the press, Erdogan announced he would contact Putin on Friday evening to “determine their stance” in the region.
    “The outcome of tonight’s call will determine our stance there.    As long as the (Syrian) regime do not halt the tyranny inflicted on people of Idlib, our withdrawal is out of question.    That’s the only way to make a ceasefire.    This tyranny will stop.” – Tayyip Erdogan, President of Turkey
    Russian-backed Syrian troops have been fighting in the Idlib province to eliminate rebel-held areas since December.
    Leaders in both Germany and France reportedly suggested a four-way meeting with Russia.    However, President Putin has yet to respond to the request.
Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses during his meeting in the Federal Security Service (FSB) headquarters
in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, Feb. 20, 2020. (Alexei Druzhinin, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP)
    According to recent reports, two Turkish soldiers were killed in Idlib on Thursday, while Turkey “neutralized” at least 150 Syrian fighters.
    In 2018, Turkey and Russia agreed to create a safe zone for civilians, a million of whom have been displaced since December.

2/22/2020 Russian, Turkish defense ministers discuss stabilization in Idlib
FILE PHOTO: Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu gestures during a news conference after bilateral talks
between Italy and Russia at Villa Madama in Rome, Italy February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu has discussed the situation in Syria’s Idlib with his Turkish counterpart Hulusi Akar, Russian news agencies reported on Saturday.
    “During the telephone conversation they discussed issues of stabilization of the situation in Idlib de-escalation zone,” Interfax agency reported, citing a statement from the Defence Ministry.
(Reporting by Maxim Rodionov; Editing by)

2/23/2020 Exclusive: If Lebanon needs financial aid, France will be there, finance minister says by Stephen Kalin
FILE PHOTO: French Finance and Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire speaks during the G20 finance ministers
and central bank governors meeting in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, February 22, 2020. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    RIYADH (Reuters) – France is ready to support Lebanon financially – bilaterally or multilaterally – its finance minister said on Sunday, warning against mixing economic recovery in the small Mediterranean state with U.S.-led efforts to counter Iran in the region.
    “France always stands ready to help Lebanon.    It has always been the case in the past and it will be the case in the future…” Bruno Le Maire told Reuters at the end of a meeting of finance officials from the Group of 20 (G20) major economies.
    “If there is any help required from Lebanon, France will be there.”
    Lebanon’s long-brewing economic crisis spiraled last year as the country’s capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite.
    As the crisis deepens, hitting ordinary Lebanese hard, there is no sign of foreign aid.    Western and Sunni-led Gulf Arab states that helped in the past have made clear that any support hinges on Beirut implementing long-delayed reforms to address root causes such as state corruption and bad governance.
    Saudi Arabia’s finance minister said on Sunday the kingdom was in contact with allies and international bodies to coordinate any support for Lebanon on the basis of economic reforms proposed by Beirut.
    An International Monetary Fund (IMF) team has discussed all possible options in recent meetings with Lebanese officials, who are seeking technical advice for tackling the crisis as Beirut mulls a plan for dealing with fast-approaching debt payments.
    Le Maire said decisions by Lebanon’s government were urgently needed to improve the situation on the ground.
    “We want to move in the official fora and we think that the IMF might have a role to play at one stage, but it’s up to the Lebanese government to decide,” he said.    “But if there is any need for help, either bilateral or multilateral, we stand ready to help.”
    Since protests erupted in October, Lebanon’s currency has slumped by roughly 60% on a parallel market, dollars have become scarce, prices have been hiked and thousands of jobs have been shed.
    Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government took office last month with the backing of Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed Shi’ite group, and its allies, as Washington presses its policy of “maximum pressure” against Iran with wide-ranging sanctions.
    “We know that there are ties between the two issues but we don’t want to mix the issue of economic recovery in Lebanon, which is today the clear emergency, and the question of Iran,” Le Maire added.
(Additional reporting by Francesco Canepa and Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Jane Merriman and Alex Richardson)

2/24/2020 Russia, Turkey preparing talks on fighting in Syria’s Idlib province: TASS
FILE PHOTO: Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a news conference with his Jordanian counterpart
Ayman Safadi following their talks in Moscow, Russia February 19, 2020. REUTERS/Evgenia Novozhenina
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia and Turkey are preparing talks on how to de-escalate fighting in Syria’s Idlib province, TASS news agency reported on Monday, citing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
    “Another series of consultations, which we hope will lead us to an agreement on how to ensure that this is indeed a de-escalation zone and that terrorists do not operate there, is being prepared now,” Lavrov was quoted as saying.
(Reporting by Polina Devitt; editing by Jon Boyle)

2/24/2020 As Syrian forces advance on Idlib, families fear being trapped at Turkish border by Khalil Ashawi
Internally displaced boys walk near the wall in Atmah IDP camp, located near
the border with Turkey, Syria February 24, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    ATMEH, Syria (Reuters) – Syrian government forces are advancing closer to the displaced persons camp where Adnan Abdelkarim and his family have taken shelter along the Turkish border after being uprooted multiple times, and he fears there is nowhere left to go.
    “Today the regime is advancing from everywhere and we are trapped along the border,” said 30-year-old Abdelkarim.
    At the Atmeh camp on the northern edge of Idlib province, uprooted families are arriving in droves as they flee bombardment from air strikes and artillery shelling.
    They fear being trapped between the fighting and the closed-off Turkish border.    About 50 meters from the camp an imposing gray concrete wall is crowned with barbed wire, blocking their entry to Turkey.
    “In the event the regime advances…, either we will die storming the Turkish wall and fleeing with our families…or slaughter ourselves by turning ourselves over,” said Abdelkarim.
    Backed by heavy Russian air power, Syrian government forces have stepped up a campaign to retake the last rebel stronghold in the northwestern regions of Aleppo and Idlib, sparking an exodus of nearly a million people toward a shrinking pocket along the Turkish frontier.
    On Monday, Russian and Syrian warplanes continued to pound eastern and southern areas of Idlib province, according to the Syrian Observatory, a war monitor, and witnesses.
    The Observatory said on Monday that pro-Damascus forces had seized control of 10 more towns in southern areas of Idlib province in less than 24 hours.    It said fighting continued meanwhile around the Idlib town of Neirab between government forces and rebels backed by Turkish artillery.
    “People here have little hope and everyone has started to head toward the border, fearful of the (government) advance,” said Ismail Shahine, 37, originally displaced six years earlier from the Hama countryside.
    Shahine on Monday prepared a tent to accommodate the rest of his family, which he said would soon arrive from the western countryside of Aleppo, where government forces have retaken large swathes of land from rebels at a rapid clip in recent weeks.
    Fearing a fresh refugee crisis, Turkey has poured thousands of troops into Idlib in the last few weeks and President Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to use military force to drive back Syrian forces unless they pull back by the end of the month.
    Turkey hosts about 3.7 million Syrians and says it cannot absorb any more.
    As Turkish military convoys continue to enter northern Syria, Shahine and others near the border have pinned their hopes on Erdogan’s pledge to force Damascus to retreat.
    “Everyone today is waiting for the start of the coming month, for the deadline that Erdogan gave the regime to withdraw,” said Shahine.    “I am expecting that they will make a move and not leave the Syrian people to fend for themselves.”
(Reporting by Khalil Ashawi; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/25/2020 Turkey-backed rebels say they’ve seized town in Syria’s Idlib in first advance by Orhan Coskun and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the audience during a ceremony at the Presidential Palace
in Ankara, Turkey, February 20, 2020. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA/AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military have seized the town of Nairab in northwest Syria’s Idlib, Turkish and rebel officials said on Tuesday, the first area to be taken back from Syrian government forces advancing in the province.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russian air power, are trying to retake the last large rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.    Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced by the latest fighting.
    Turkey has responded by sending thousands of troops and equipment into the region to support the rebels in resisting the offensive.
    “With the help of our Turkish friends, we have regained control of the strategic town of Nairab, the gateway of Saraqeb, after expelling the terrorist Russian militias,” Yusef Hamoud, spokesman for the Turkey-backed National Army, told Reuters.
    A Turkish security official said that the Turkish military had supported the rebel offensive with shelling and that bomb disposal teams and the rebels were now clearing the town.
    Their next goal was to capture the strategic town of Saraqeb, where Syria’s main north-south highway linking Damascus and Aleppo meets the road west to the Mediterranean.
    “This will happen soon. The regime suffered heavy losses in the clashes last night.    Also, a serious amount of weapons and ammunition was seizedzz,” the Turkish official told Reuters.
    He said there had been no clash between Turkish and Russian forces in Monday’s advance on Nairab and that no Turkish soldiers had lost their lives in the clashes.
    Two weeks ago, the Turkish Defence Ministry said Syrian government forces briefly abandoned Nairab as the Turkey-backed rebels advanced on the town. However, the rebels were subsequently pushed back from the area.
    Since Turkey poured its forces into northwest Syria to halt the Syrian government forces’ campaign, 17 members of the Turkish forces have been killed.
    The fighting has strained ties between Turkey and Russia, which although backing opposing sides in Syria’s conflict had worked to contain the violence until the latest flare-up.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said there was not yet full agreement on holding a proposed March 5 summit with Russia, France and Germany on the Idlib conflict, but he may meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin on that date.
    At a news conference in Ankara before leaving on a trip to Azerbaijan, Erdogan said that a Russian delegation was set to come to Turkey on Wednesday to discuss the situation.
    “There is no full agreement yet between (French President Emmanuel) Macron…(German Chancellor Angela) Merkel, and Putin,” he said.    Macron and Merkel have both urged Putin to end the conflict, concerned about the humanitarian situation.
    On Saturday, Erdogan said that Turkey had set out a “road map” for Syria after calls with the three leaders, while the Kremlin has said it was discussing the possibility of holding a four-way summit.
    Turkey already hosts 3.7 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot handle another wave.    It has closed its borders.
    Syrian government forces are advancing closer to the camps for displaced persons near the Turkish border, where the migrants fear being caught up in the fighting.
    The Syrian Observatory, a war monitor, said on Monday that pro-Damascus forces had seized control of 10 more towns in southern areas of Idlib province in less than 24 hours.
(Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Nick Macfie)

2/25/2020 Hezbollah says it opposes IMF management of Lebanon crisis
An Iranian carries the Iranian and Hezbollah flags during the commemoration of the 41st anniversary
of the Islamic revolution in Tehran, Iran February 11, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency)
via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
    BEIRUT/LONDON (Reuters) – Hezbollah is against allowing the International Monetary Fund to manage Lebanon’s financial crisis, the powerful group said on Tuesday, indicating opposition to any IMF bailout that would impose tough conditions on the heavily indebted state.
    Hezbollah, backed by Iran and designated as a terrorist group by the United States, is one of the main parties that backs the new Beirut government as it struggles with the unprecedented crisis.
    Facing a huge public debt burden and a liquidity crunch, the government on Tuesday appointed international investment firm Lazard and law firm Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP as its financial and legal advisers on a widely expected sovereign debt restructuring.
    Beirut has sought IMF technical but not financial aid.
    “We will not accept submitting to (imperialist) tools … meaning we do not accept submitting to the International Monetary Fund to manage the crisis,” said Hezbollah’s Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of the heavily armed Shi’ite group.
    “Yes, there is nothing to prevent consultations … and this is what the Lebanese government is doing.”
    An IMF technical team visited Beirut from Feb. 20-24.    “The discussions on the challenges and the authorities’ plans to address them were very informative and productive,” IMF spokesman Gerry Rice said.
    “Staff is available to provide further technical advice to the government as it formulates its economic reform plans.”
    The crisis came to a head last year as capital inflows slowed and protests erupted against the ruling elite over corruption and bad governance – root causes of the crisis.
    Banks are imposing tight restrictions on access to deposits and transfers.    The Lebanese pound has slumped: dollars were being offered at 2,470 pounds on Tuesday, a dealer said.    The official rate is 1,507.5.
    “Hezbollah is very adamantly opposed to the IMF and that makes it very, very difficult and means Lebanon will have to get to a point where the situation is bad for longer,” said Steffen Reichold, portfolio manager at ?Stone Harbor Investment Partners, which holds some Lebanese Eurobonds.
    “That could mean the exchange rate getting to 3,000 and significantly more inflation.”
    French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Monday his government was looking at options to help Lebanon recover, including an IMF program if Beirut seeks one.
    Foreign states which have backed Lebanon in the past want to see implementation of long-delayed reforms before any assistance is forthcoming this time.
    Some of Lebanon’s Eurobonds intensified their sell-off.
    The government must urgently decide how to handle a $1.2 billion Eurobond maturing on March 9.
    “It’s pretty likely they will go down the debt restructuring route and the question then becomes will the March 2020 bonds be brought in to that,” said Nick Eisinger, principal, fixed income emerging markets, at Vanguard.
    “I think the market will not be particularly happy that the IMF will not be coming on board with a financial program as without that the recovery prospects and long-term recovery of the country are not good,” he said.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Ellen Francis, Laila Bassam and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut, Tom Arnold in London; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson, William Maclean and Giles Elgood)

2/26/2020 Turkey will repel Syrian forces from Idlib posts this week: Erdogan by Nevzat Devranoglu and Tom Perry
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at the
Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 19, 2020. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to push Syrian government forces away from its military observation posts in northwest Syria’s Idlib region this week, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday, despite continued advances by Damascus’s Russian-backed military.
    Nearly a million Syrians have been displaced in the last three months by fighting between Turkish-backed rebels and Syrian forces trying to recapture the last major insurgent-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
    Ankara has sent thousands of troops and truckloads of equipment into the region, in Syria’s northwest corner bordering Turkey, to support the rebels and Erdogan has vowed to push back Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
    “We are planning to liberate our observation posts from the surrounding (Syrian government forces) by the end of this month, one way or another,” Erdogan told his party’s lawmakers in a speech.
    But Assad’s forces made fresh gains in southern Idlib province where they took a number of villages on Wednesday, according to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a war monitor, and a military news outlet run by Assad’s Lebanese ally Hezbollah.
    The pro-government forces’ immediate objective is to reach the town of Kafar Aweed, the capture of which would force rebels to withdraw from a wider tract of territory including their last remaining foothold in Hama province, Observatory Director Rami Abdulrahman said.
    The Syrian army said it had seized numerous villages and towns in the last few days in the south of Idlib province, describing the captured territory as an important crossroads between rebel-held territories.
    Erdogan first demanded on Feb. 5 that Assad’s forces pull back behind a line of Turkish observation posts by end-February, or Turkey would drive them back.
    Turkey set up 12 observation posts up around a “de-escalation zone” in Idlib under a 2017 agreement with Russia and Iran, but several now find themselves behind Syrian government front lines.
    Syrian insurgents backed by the Turkish military seized the town of Nairab in Idlib this week, according to rebel and Turkish sources, the first area to be taken back from advancing Syrian government forces.
WAVE OF MIGRANTS
    Ankara is increasingly concerned about the build-up of displaced people south of its frontier with Syria.    Turkey, which has already taken in 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another influx and has closed the border.
    Syrian government forces are advancing closer to the camps for uprooted people near the Turkish border, where the migrants fear being engulfed in the fighting.
    Turkish and Russian officials began a third round of talks in Ankara on Wednesday aimed at reducing tensions in the region.    Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency said the talks would continue on Thursday.
    Two previous rounds in Ankara and Moscow have failed to yield any tangible progress.
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry expected positive results, RIA news agency cited Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov as saying, but a Turkish official was not optimistic.
    “At the moment, solely military diplomacy is being carried out and it is not possible to solve the problem on the ground like this,” the Turkish official told Reuters.
    He said clear results were unlikely until a planned Turkey-Russia-Iran summit on March 6.    A summit a day earlier between Russia, Turkey, France and Germany had been proposed, but Moscow has not sounded receptive to the idea.
    Erdogan said in Wednesday’s speech that he hoped the issue of using the air space over Idlib will be resolved soon.
    Russia controls the region’s air space and has been bombing Turkish-supported rebels on a daily basis in support of the offensive by Syrian government forces.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Maxim Rodionov in Moscw, Tom Perry in Beirut; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mark Heinrich, Kirsten Donovan)

2/27/2020 Turkish-backed rebels say they regain pivotal Syrian town Saraqeb by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: A view of trucks carrying belongings of displaced Syrians, is pictured in the
town of Sarmada in Idlib province, Syria, January 28, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    AMMAN/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Syrian rebels backed by the Turkish military said on Thursday they had recaptured the strategic town of Saraqeb in what would be the first major reverse for the Syrian army in a Russian-backed offensive that had made swift gains.
    Three weeks ago, the armed opposition lost the northwestern town at the junction of two main highways, following advances by the Syrian army in its push to retake the last large, rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.
    Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Syria’s Idlib region in an unprecedented incursion to back the rebels against the offensive by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.
    Nearly a million Syrians have fled over the last three months, the biggest exodus of the war.
    “The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” said Naji Mustafa, a spokesman for a Turkish-backed coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front.
    However, a Russian military source cited by Russian news agencies denied that, saying Syrian government forces had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the town.
    With Russian backing, government forces aided by Iranian militias have gained ground in northwest Syria since December.
    Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in southern Idlib and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
    Rebels said heavy fighting was still raging in an area that the army, backed by Iranian-militias, had controlled in fresh advances which the war monitor said had secured for the pro-government forces control of all of southern Idlib.
TURKEY’S ULTIMATUM
    Opposition sources said a counter offensive was underway.
    The push on Saraqeb comes ahead of an end-February deadline set by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan for Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Ankara says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
    Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back.
    Two Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib on Wednesday, bringing Turkish forces’ deaths in the region to 18.
    Turkish and Russian officials were expected to hold a second day of talks in Ankara on Thursday.    Two previous rounds in Ankara and Moscow have not yielded tangible progress.
    As well as sending troops and truckloads of equipment into the region across its border, Ankara has set up new outposts in Idlib in what rebels say is preparation for a Turkish operation.
    Turkey, which has already taken in 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another influx and has closed the border.
    Stuck at the border, some migrants have made homes along the wall, using it to prop up tents and shelters.
    Ibrahim al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with the rebel factions, said Saraqeb’s seizure eases pressure on rebels, who in recent days lost significant territory in southern Idlib province and Jabal al Zawiya highlands.
    “The rebels this morning completed their control of Saraqeb after having advanced from several fronts,” he said.
    Saraqeb is at the junction of two main roads linking the capital of Damascus, Syria’s second largest city Aleppo and another highway west to the Mediterranean.
    Taking back the M5 highway, which goes south to Damascus, had marked a big gain for Assad’s forces as they restored state control over the route between Syria’s two biggest cities for the first time in years of conflict.
    Opening major highways in rebel hands to revive a shattered war economy has been a major goal of the Russian-led campaign.
    “The opposition have now cut the highways and brought the regime to square one,” said Syrian opposition defector general Ahmad Rahhal.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Andrey Kuzmin and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Cawthorne)

2/27/2020 Battle rages over strategic Syrian town of Saraqeb as humanitarian catastrophe unfolds by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Daren Butler
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting of his ruling AK Party in
Ankara, Turkey, February 27, 2020. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    AMMAN/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Syrian rebels backed by Turkish forces said on Thursday they had recaptured the crossroads town of Saraqeb, marking a first big push-back of a Syrian government offensive.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said developments were turning in Ankara’s favor, three weeks after the armed rebel opposition lost the northwestern town at the crossroads of two main highways to the Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
    Russian state television said Turkish military specialists were using shoulder-fired missiles to try to shoot down Russian and Syrian military aircraft over Idlib province, a development that, if confirmed, would mark a serious escalation of the conflict.
    Syrian warplanes also launched renewed air strikes on Thursday on residential areas of Idlib city, witnesses said.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces have pushed hard in recent months to retake the last large rebel-held region in northwestern Syria after nine years of war that has displaced millions and killed hundreds of thousands.
    Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib province in an incursion to back the rebels against the offensive.
    Nearly a million Syrians have fled over the last three months, the biggest exodus of the war.
    The United Nations said on Thursday the battle was having “catastrophic” humanitarian consequences, with the civilian death toll rising and schools and hospitals destroyed.
    At least 134 civilians, including 44 children, were killed in February alone, Najat Rochdi, the United Nations’ senior humanitarian adviser on northwest Syria, said in Geneva.
    Seven children were among 11 people killed when an air strike hit a school in northern Idlib on Tuesday, she said.
    Rochdi also reiterated a call by the United Nations Secretary-General for a ceasefire.
    “There are reports of multiple children freezing to death.    The needs of civilians in the northwest are exceeding the humanitarian response capacity,” she said.
‘OUR BATTLE WILL CONTINUE’
    In Ankara, Erdogan said he would press on with the campaign as he announced that the death toll of the Turkish military forces in the region this month had risen to 21.
    “Developments in Idlib have turned to our advantage.    We have three martyrs, let them rest in peace.    But on the other hand, the regime’s losses are very big,” he said in a speech.
    “Our battle will continue.    Our talks with the Russians continue,” he said.    “If there was no support from Russia or Iran, it would be impossible for Assad to stand.”
    Earlier, the Turkish-backed rebels said they made advances in Idlib.
    “The city of Saraqeb has been liberated completely from Assad’s gangs,” said Naji Mustafa, spokesman for a coalition of rebel factions, the National Liberation Front.
    A Russian military source cited by Russian news agencies denied that, saying Syrian government forces had successfully repelled a rebel attack on the town.
    A Turkish official subsequently said Assad’s forces, backed by Russian warplanes, had launched an assault to take back Saraqeb.    “There are violent clashes,” he told Reuters.
    Government forces have seized about 60 towns and villages in southern Idlib and the adjoining province of Hama in the last three days, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said.
    Rebels said heavy fighting was still raging in an area that the army, backed by Iranian-militias, had gained in new advances which the war monitor said had secured for the pro-government forces control of all of southern Idlib.
    Opposition sources said a counter-offensive was underway.
TURKEY-RUSSIA TALKS FALTER
    The push on Saraqeb comes before an end-of-February deadline set by Erdogan for Assad’s forces to pull back from territory that Ankara says is part of a buffer zone agreed with Russia.
    Erdogan has said Turkey would otherwise drive them back and the spokesman of his AK Party, Omer Celik, said on Thursday preparations were complete.
    “When the time given to the regime to withdraw expires, the Turkish Armed Forces will carry out their duties based on the orders they receive and nobody should doubt our determination about this,” Celik said.
    Celik said work on a date for a meeting between Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin to discuss Idlib was till ongoing.    Turkish and Russian officials held a second day of talks in Ankara on Thursday.    Two previous rounds in Ankara and Moscow have not yielded tangible progress.
    During talks, Turkey emphasized the importance of a ceasefire in Idlib to stop a possible humanitarian catastrophe and discussed steps to take on the field to achieve it.
    In Washington, the Pentagon said U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper had spoken with his Turkish counterpart on Thursday and they discussed the situation in Idlib, Northwest Syria and Libya.
    “As President (Donald) Trump said on Tuesday, and as discussed in today’s call, we are exploring ways the United States can work together with Turkey and the international community,” a Pentagon readout of the call said.
    As well as sending troops, tanks and artillery into the region across its border, Ankara has set up new outposts in what rebels say is preparation for a Turkish operation.
    A senior opposition figure in touch with Turkey’s military said the Turkish-backed campaign would continue until the Syrian army was expelled from the buffer zone, and only then would serious negotiations begin over a settlement.
    Turkey, which has already taken in 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot handle another influx and has closed the border. Some migrants have made homes along the border wall, using it to prop up tents and shelters.
    Ibrahim al-Idlibi, an opposition figure in touch with the rebel factions, said the seizure of Saraqeb eased pressure on rebels, who in recent days lost significant territory in southern Idlib province and Jabal al Zawiya highlands.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Andrey Kuzmin and Andrew Osborn in Moscow, Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Omar Fahmy in Cairo, and Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria; Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Bernadette Baum)

2/27/2020 U.N. hears plea from women in northwest Syria: ‘We want the right to live’ by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrian woman walks near the wall in Atmah IDP camp,
located near the border with Turkey, Syria February 26, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    (Reuters) – Amid heavy fighting in northwest Syria between government forces backed by Russia and Syrian rebels supported by Turkey, the U.N. Security Council heard a plea on Thursday from women caught in the middle: “All we are asking, is for the misery to stop, for the killing to stop.    We want the right to live.”
    The message was shared by deputy U.N. aid chief Ursula Mueller, who spoke via videolink to 14 Syrian women in Idlib and northern Aleppo last week.
    “What is happening in northwest Syria, they said, is beyond imagination.    It is not humanly tolerable. They told me of children so traumatized they no longer speak,” Mueller said.
    Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, supported by Russian air power, have been fighting to retake the last large, rebel-held region in Syria after nine years of war.    Turkey has sent thousands of troops and heavy military hardware into Idlib region in an unprecedented incursion to back the rebels.
    Nearly a million Syrians have fled over the last three months, the biggest exodus of the conflict.    A crackdown by Assad on pro-democracy protesters in 2011 led to civil war.
    Mueller and Henrietta Fore, executive director of the U.N. children’s agency UNICEF, told the Security Council that hospitals, schools and camps for displaced families had been hit in recent fighting.
    “We’ve heard and read reports of children freezing to death,” Fore said.    “When wood runs out, families burn whatever they can find — plastic bags, garbage, discarded furniture — just to provide a flicker of heat against the cold, or a simple fire to cook whatever food they can find.”
    Defending Moscow’s role in the conflict, Russia’s U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia questioned why the United Nations and aid groups weren’t more prepared to deal with millions of displaced people in Idlib during the winter.
    “The humanitarian workers have plenty of resources so why hasn’t this problem been resolved?” he asked.
    Britain’s deputy U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Allen responded: “The answer is because they’re being bombed, they’re being shelled, they’re being attacked.    It is extremely difficult indeed to provide assistance to people in those circumstances.”
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations, Kelly Craft, said that to end the humanitarian crisis in northwest Syria all efforts must be concentrated on establishing a durable and verifiable ceasefire.
    “This will require Russia to ground its planes at once and tell the regime to pull back its forces,” she told the council.
    However, Nebenzia said: “The only long-term solution to the problem of Idlib and … of Syria as a whole is a final and irreversible expulsion from the country of all terrorists.    And please don’t tell us we’re exaggerating the problem.”
    Both Mueller and Fore appealed for action from the council, which has long been divided on how to deal with Syria.    Russia had vetoed 14 draft resolutions during the war.
    “Millions of Syrian children are crying tonight – from hunger and cold, from wounds and pain, from fear, loss and heartbreak,” Fore said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Grant McCool)

2/27/2020 President Erdogan’s options narrow as Russia presses Syrian crisis to Turkey’s doorstep by Jonathan Spicer and Khalil Ashawi
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced children ride in a pick up truck with their
belongings in Afrin, Syria February 18, 2020. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – With nearly one million displaced Syrians massing near the Turkish border in the face of a Syrian government military offensive, President Tayyip Erdogan’s options are narrowing.
    He feels blindsided by Russia’s push into Syria’s Idlib region and the risk of full-blown conflict is growing, but Turkey’s Erdogan remains hopeful a deal with Moscow may offer a way out of the crisis, according to Turkish government officials and other sources.
    Erdogan has repeatedly warned that Turkey, which backs rebels in Syria’s northwest province, would push Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s troops away from territory taken in the recent months if they didn’t pull back by the end of February.
    But as Saturday’s deadline has drawn closer, the Russia-backed Syrian offensive has continued to gain ground and a third round of talks between Ankara and Moscow this week were not expected to quickly break the deadlock.
    Turkish government and Syrian opposition military officials, diplomats and analysts said while a full-scale Turkish-backed military operation is still a possibility, depending on how hard Russia bargains, Erdogan is more likely at this late stage to agree a deal with Moscow that has him withdraw some of Turkey’s military presence in exchange for a role in deciding Syria’s future.    They added that Erdogan has been taken aback by what Turkey views as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s uncompromising stance in the field and in discussions.
    A Turkish official told Reuters: “Turkey and Russia can still reach a compromise.”    But, “if there is no agreement and attacks on Turkish soldiers continue, the Idlib offensive will begin,” referring to a direct Turkish military effort to retake territory.
    Erdogan’s office did not respond to a request for comment. He and aides have publicly said they want to solve the problem with Russia, but that Turkey’s resolve should not be tested and it will not abandon observation posts in Idlib, some of which have been surrounded by Syrian forces.
    Erdogan’s decision will help define one of the worst humanitarian disasters so far this century, in which an estimated 900,000 Syrians – about half of whom are children – have been uprooted as they have fled the bombing of their towns and villages in recent months.    In December, Moscow and Damascus, reinforced by Iran-backed fighters, launched the operation into the last big territory in northwest Syria held by opposition forces as they seek to end on Assad’s terms nine years of a bloody proxy that has resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands of Syrians.
    As Russian-backed Syrian government forces have pushed northwest, displaced Syrians have amassed along Turkey’s closed southern border sleeping in tents or outside, with at least several children having died in freezing weather in recent months.    “The bombing comes at us from everywhere… We no longer have any guarantor, not Turkey nor anyone else,” said Mohamad Atouf, 31, sheltering with his wife and four children in an empty hut near the border town of Azaz.
    Erdogan faces the competing demands of the welfare of the displaced Syrians and his support at home, where there is little appetite for adding to the 3.7 million Syrian refugees already in Turkey.
    Turkey, which has sent thousands of troops and equipment into the region to support the rebels, has seen about 20 troops killed so far in February.    Hundreds more troops stationed in the observation posts have been surrounded by Syrian government forces that have stormed across Idlib under cover of unrelenting Russian air strikes.
    Fighting has raged in recent days and late Thursday Russian state television said Turkish military specialists targeted Russian planes with shoulder-fired missiles.    Ankara didn’t immediately publicly respond to the claim.
    Faced with Russian air supremacy in Idlib, Erdogan’s most likely action would be striking a ceasefire deal with Putin in which the Turkish leader walks back repeated threats of an offensive but saves face with a role in deciding Syria’s future and in managing the migrant crisis, according to the government officials, diplomats and analysts.
    Turkey, which opposes Assad and has supported some of the rebel fighters trying to topple him, hopes to re-impose the map of a 2018 Sochi agreement that called for a demilitarization zone around the Idlib region, but analysts said it would settle for a smaller zone of influence containing the displaced Syrians.
    Syrian government forces have now taken about half of Idlib province and Assad has vowed to take back “every inch” of Syria.
    Turkey remains hopeful of a deal.    Erdogan had wanted Russian, German and French counterparts to meet on March 5 to discuss Idlib, but on Thursday the Kremlin said Putin had no plans for a meeting on that date.    Germany and France have condemned the humanitarian crisis and urged an end to the conflict.
    A separate Turkish official said a final resolution was unlikely until March 6, when leaders have floated but not confirmed a Turkey-Russia-Iran summit on Idlib.
    The Kremlin did not immediately comment on prospects of a ceasefire.    Vladimir Frolov, a former senior Russian diplomat, said Russia’s position is full control of Syria by Assad with potentially a narrow strip in Idlib along the Turkish border controlled in part by Erdogan and policed by Russia.    Though Turkey is unlikely to accept that, said analysts, diplomats and officials in Ankara.
    “Turkey has no good options from now on,” said Sinan Ulgen, a former Turkish diplomat and currently chairman of the Centre for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies, an Istanbul-based think tank.    “This is why if there isn’t a ceasefire soon, Turkey will fight.”
    On Wednesday, Erdogan restated his plans to push Syrian government forces away from its military observation posts in northwest Syria’s Idlib region by end-February.
    Rebels backed by Turkey said on Thursday they recaptured the strategic town on Saraqeb.
    While disputed by some, taking Saraqeb marks the first major reversal by Turkey-backed Syrian rebels and allowed them to re-gain a portion of the main north-south highway linking Syria’s main cities.
    But Assad’s forces have continued to make advances elsewhere in the province in recent weeks, taking numerous other villages and towns in the south of Idlib province.
    A Turkish offensive that would face Russia’s air dominance would pose huge risks for Turkey.    While its military is the second largest in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO), Turkey would likely rely on artillery units near the border because it lacks U.S.-made surface-to-air defenses after Ankara opted last year to buy Russian-made S-400s.
    NATO members could supply Turkey with equipment and intelligence but not intervene on Syrian soil, diplomats and Turkish officials said. NATO did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer in Istanbul and Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria. Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut, Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman and Thomas Balmforth in Moscow.; Writing by Jonathan Spicer.; Editing by Cassell Bryan-Low)

2/28/2020 Putin and Erdogan discuss fighting in Idlib province by OAN Newsroom
A Turkish military convoy drive in the east of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo)
    Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan are moving forward with their efforts to deescalate the fighting in northwestern Syria.    On Friday, the leaders spoke over the phone about the situation in Idlib, which has been the center of violent conflict.
    Reports this week said over 30 Turkish soldiers were killed in an airstrike by Assad forces, who were fighting for control over the region.
    “We make every effort, including effective intervention on the ground, to prevent a humanitarian crisis in Idlib,” Erdogan stated earlier this week.    “We want the regime to put an immediate end to its attacks and withdraw to the boundaries outlined in the Sochi memorandum.”
    The Turkish president has reminded Russia of its duty to help stop the Syrian government from making further attacks.    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov recently noted the importance of coordination between the two countries.
    “There are agreements between the military,” he said.    “If the agreements had been fully followed, including communication about the exact location of the Turkish militaries, such tragedies could have been avoided.”
Turkish soldiers fire a missile at Syrian government position in the province of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Feb. 14, 2020. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)
    According to local reports, Putin and Erdogan are planning to meet in person to discuss agreements between the countries further.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has condemned the violence Syria and demanded that those involved “must cease their ongoing attacks in Idlib.”

2/29/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan asks Russia’s Putin to step aside in Syria
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting
at the Parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 5, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that he had asked President Vladimir Putin for Russia to step aside in Syria and leave Turkey to deal with Syrian government forces alone, after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed this week.
    Government forces, backed by Russian air power, have waged a major assault to capture the northwest province of Idlib, the last remaining territory held by rebels backed by Turkey.
    With diplomacy sponsored by Ankara and Moscow to ease tensions in tatters, Turkey has come closer than ever to confrontation with Russia on the battlefield.
    Speaking in Istanbul, Erdogan said he had told Putin in a phone call to stand aside and let Turkey “to do what is necessary” with the Syrian government alone.
    He said Turkey does not intend to leave Syria right now.
    “We did not go there because we were invited by (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad). We went there because we were invited by the people of Syria.    We don’t intend to leave before the people of Syria, ‘okay, this is done,” Erdogan added.
    As tensions rose, Russia and Turkey have held three rounds of talks, the first two of which did not yield a ceasefire.
    Russia’s Foreign Ministry said on Saturday that the two sides agreed in this week’s talks to reduce tensions on the ground in Idlib while continuing military action there.
    After the death of its soldiers in a Syrian government air strike on Thursday, Turkey said it would allow migrants it hosts to freely pass to Europe.
    Erdogan said in Istanbul on Saturday that 18,000 migrants has crossed the border, without immediately providing evidence, adding that the number could rise to 25,000-30,000 on Saturday.
    “We will not close these doors in the coming period and this will continue.    Why?    The European Union needs to keep its promises.    We don’t have to take care of this many refugees, to feed them,” he said.
    He complained the funds transferred to Turkey from the European Union to support refugees were arriving too slowly and that he had asked German Chancellor Angela Merkel to send the funds directly to the Turkish government.
    Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under an accord between Turkey and the European Union that halted the 2015-16 migration crisis when more than a million people crossed into Europe by foot.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alexander Smith and Louise Heavens)

3/1/2020 Turkey begins new military operation in Idlib by OAN Newsroom
A Turkish military convoy drive in the east of Idlib, Syria, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020. (AP Photo)
    Turkey has doubled down on armed intervention in Syria’s contested Idlib province.    On Sunday, officials announced a new campaign called ‘Operation Spring Shield.’
    The move came after Turkey reportedly shot down two Syrian jets on Sunday following the Syrian downing of a Turkish drone earlier in the day.
    “Some 2,200 Syrian regime troops, a drone, eight helicopters, 103 tanks, tens of howitzers and three air defense systems have been neutralized,” stated Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
    In response, Damascus has announced the complete closure of all airspace over Idlib and threatened to prevent breaches.
    On Saturday, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres cautioned the Security Council that recent clashes over Syria’s last rebel-held territory could get out of control.
    “The potential escalation in itself could represent with the conflicts of a different nature that could have a much more dramatic impacts,” he said.
    The campaign came after Turkey pushed into Syria following the deaths of more than 30 of its soldiers.

3/1/2020 Turkey strikes Syrian planes and airports, escalating Idlib fight by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ellen Francis
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
    ISTANBUL/BEIRUT (Reuters) – Turkey shot down two Syrian warplanes over Idlib on Sunday and struck a military airport well beyond its frontlines in a sharp escalation of its military operations following the death of dozens of Turkish soldiers last week.
Ankara has ramped up its attacks, including drone strikes, against the Russian-backed Syrian forces since Thursday, when 33 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike by Damascus.
    It has already deployed thousands of troops and military vehicles in northwest Syria’s Idlib province in the last month to stem advances by Syrian government forces which have displaced 1 million people close to Turkey’s southern border.
    Already hosting 3.6 million Syrian refugees, Ankara is determined to prevent any further influx from Syria.    It has also let migrants cross its borders into the European Union, in an apparent effort to press for EU support in tackling the Syria crisis.
    Defense Minister Hulusi Akar said in the last four days Turkish forces destroyed eight helicopters, 103 tanks, 72 howitzers, rocket launchers, a drone and six air defense systems.    He dubbed Turkey’s operation, its fourth incursion in Syria in four years, “Operation Spring Shield.”
    In response, Syria’s army said it shot down three Turkish drones and warned it would take down any aircraft breaching the air space over the northwest, which has been controlled for years by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s main ally Russia.
    Despite the warning, Turkish warplanes downed two Syrian warplanes, while Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu agency said the Turkish military had targeted and rendered unusable Nayrab airport, west of Aleppo city.
    Turkey-backed opposition commanders also said Kuweires airport, east of Nayrab, had been bombed since midnight.    Both airports are well inside Syrian government controlled territory, marking a significant expansion of Ankara’s targets.
    The fighting has risked drawing Russia and Turkey, who cooperated for years to contain the fighting despite backing rival sides in Syria’s nine-year war, into direct conflict.
    “We have neither the intention nor the notion to face Russia.    Our only intention there is for the (Syrian) regime to end the massacre and thereby prevent … radicalization and migration,” Turkey’s Akar said.
    He said that 2,212 members of the Syrian forces had been “neutralized,” a term used to designate killed, wounded or captured.    The Syrian Observatory, a Britain-based war monitor, said 74 Syrian government troops and pro-Damascus fighters had been killed since Feb. 27.
    Fifty-five Turkish troops were killed in Idlib in February.
CRISIS DIPLOMACY
    Diplomatic efforts by Ankara and Moscow to defuse tensions have failed to agree a ceasefire in Idlib, part of Syria’s last major rebel stronghold.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Saturday that while there was progress in talks between Turkish and Russian delegations, the Idlib issue would only be resolved between presidents Tayyip Erdogan and Vladimir Putin.
    A senior Turkish official and a security official said the meeting would be held on Thursday in Moscow.    The officials said the two leaders would discuss steps to take in Idlib and that they were expected to reach a mutual agreement.
    The Kremlin said it hoped Erdogan and Putin would meet on Thursday or Friday.    Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov agreed on the need to create a “favorable atmosphere” to improve working relations between their countries, Russia’s foreign ministry said.
    The latest fighting in Idlib has uprooted 1 million civilians since December, many of them women and children fleeing towards the Turkish border.
    Turkey said it would allow migrants to cross into Europe in anticipation of an imminent new migrant influx from Idlib, lifting restraints on movement in place since 2016 under a deal with the European Union.
    Greek police fired tear gas to repel hundreds of stone-throwing migrants who sought to force their way across the border from Turkey on Sunday, witnesses said, with thousands more behind them after Ankara relaxed curbs on their movement. [nL8N2AU05E]
    Turkey’s borders to Europe were closed to migrants under the accord between the Turkish-EU deal that halted the 2015-16 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people crossed into Europe.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Khalil Ashawi in Syria and Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, Andrey Ostroukh in Moscow; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

3/2/2020 Clashes in strategic north Syrian town after Turkish strikes by Orhan Coskun and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Smoke rises after an air strike in Saraqeb in Idlib province, Syria February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ANKARA/AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian government forces battled to recapture a strategic rebel-held town in Idlib province on Monday and a Turkish official said Ankara would continue to strike President Bashar al-Assad’s troops after escalating its military operations at the weekend.
    Syrian state television broadcast live footage from inside Saraqeb, which lies on the country’s main north-south highway, and said it was under government control.    Rebels denied the report, saying they still held the town despite heavy shelling.
    Saraqeb has already changed hands twice in less than a month, reflecting its importance both as a gateway to the government-controlled northern city of Aleppo and to the rebel-held Idlib city to the west.
    Rebels said Turkish drones had been striking Syrian army positions on the Saraqeb frontline, hitting at least two rocket launchers.
    Turkey, which has backed rebels fighting Assad for much of Syria’s nine-year conflict, stepped up its intervention in recent days in response to the killing of 34 Turkish soldiers in Idlib.
    On Sunday it shot down two Syrian planes in Idlib and struck at least one military airport in Aleppo province, taking the battle deep into territory controlled by forces loyal to Assad.
    Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said Turkish forces had also destroyed eight helicopters, scores of tanks and five air defense systems.
    “All (Syrian) attacks have been retaliated by the Turkish Armed Forces in the heaviest manner without hesitation and will continue to be retaliated,” state news agency Anadolu quoted him as saying.
    President Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin, whose support for Assad turned the tide of the war five years ago, are due to meet in Russia on Thursday to seek agreement on Idlib.
    Turkey has insisted that it seeks no conflict with Moscow, but its barrage of strikes on the Russian-backed forces around Idlib have raised the risk of a direct confrontation.
    “A solution is expected to emerge from the talks but attacks and attempts which the (Syrian) regime carries out in this period will not go unanswered,” a senior Turkish security official told Reuters.
    Backed by Turkish shelling and drone strikes, rebels say they have now retaken several villages that they lost last week in the Syrian government offensive.
    Erdogan demanded in early February that Syrian forces withdraw by the end of the month from a “de-escalation zone” agreed by Turkey, Russia and Iran around Idlib in 2017, or face being driven back by the Turkish military.
    “The (Syrian) regime will be forced to leave the de-escalation zone before the Putin-Erdogan meeting,” a senior opposition source said.
(Additional reporting by Tom Perry in Beirut and Khalil Ashawi in Azaz, Syria; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/3/2020 Turkey, Russia face off in Syria as fighting escalates, plane shot down by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
A still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters and shot on March 2, 2020, shows
Syrian army soldiers advancing on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    REYHANLI, Turkey/AMMAN (Reuters) – Turkey shot down a Syrian government warplane on Tuesday over northwest Syria, where fighting has intensified in recent days, bringing Turkish and Russian forces close to direct conflict in the battle over the last swathe of Syria still held by rebels.
    It was the third Syrian warplane Turkey has shot down since Sunday in an escalating campaign against President Bashar al-Assad’s forces.    NATO-member Turkey supports the rebels, while Assad relies on his superpower ally Russia.
    With more than a million refugees amassing since December on the Turkish border, the battle for Syria’s Idlib province has brought what the United Nations fears might be the worst humanitarian crisis of the nine-year-old Syrian civil war.
    “i>This relief operation has been overwhelmed.    There needs to be more of everything.    The first thing is money,” U.N. Under-secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock told reporters at a trans-shipment point for supplies in southern Turkey.
    Fighting was raging north of the strategic crossroads town of Saraqeb, recaptured on Monday by Syrian troops, one of several times the town, which controls access to Idlib city and Aleppo, has changed hands in recent weeks.
    Syrian state media said the army was now combing the town and had dealt heavy blows to fighters still holed up in hideouts on its outskirts.    A state television correspondent said Turkey was firing artillery to halt the government advance.
    Rebels said the government was aided by thousands of Iranian-backed Lebanese and Iraqi militiamen brought from other areas to help storm the town after two days of failed attempts.
    A Syrian general who has defected to the opposition, Ahmad Rahhal, said a Russian announcement on Monday that it had deployed military police in Saraqeb was aimed at blocking Turkey from trying to help rebels reclaim the town.
HUMANITARIAN CRISIS
    Turkey has sent thousands of troops and armored vehicles into northern Syria over the past month to fight back against Assad. Last week, a Syrian air strike killed at least 34 Turkish soldiers in the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in decades.
    Moscow, which has anti-aircraft missiles in Syria, has since warned Turkey that it cannot guarantee the safety of Turkish planes in Syrian skies.
    The Turkish Defence Ministry said on Tuesday that its forces had shot down a Syrian L-39 ground attack jet.    Syria’s state-run SANA news agency confirmed the plane had been shot down over Idlib province by missiles fired from Turkish warplanes.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia’s Vladimir Putin are due to meet on Thursday to seek ways to avert conflict.    Asked about the prospect of direct clashes with Turkey, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters: “We hope that we’re able to absolutely minimize this risk thanks to the close contact between the two countries’ militaries.”
    Turkey, already home to 3.6 million Syrian refugees, says it cannot take any more.    It wants to push Assad’s forces back to lines agreed in a 2017 deal brokered with Russia and Iran, which left a buffer zone in northern Syria near its border.
    Since last week, Turkey has thrown open its frontiers with Greece and Bulgaria to allow migrants to enter the EU, a move apparently aimed at putting pressure on European countries to back it in Syria.
    Some 10,000 migrants have tried to cross into Greece by land in recent days and more than 1,000 have arrived by sea at Greek islands, creating fears of a repeat of the 2015-2016 migration crisis, when more than 1 million people crossed into Greece and 4,000 drowned in the Aegean.
    The opposition says Syrian government forces are deliberately attacking civilians to provoke them to flee.
    A rocket attack believed to have been fired by the Syrian army on a residential quarter of Idlib city left at least nine civilians dead, including five children, according to Osama Idlibi, a rescuer in the opposition-run Syrian Civil Defence.
    Overnight Russian and Syrian jets killed at least 10 people in the town of Al Foah in what residents said was a spike in strikes on several towns, including Binish and the outskirts of Tatanaz in Idlib province.
    Russia and its Syrian army ally deny indiscriminate bombing of civilian areas and say they target jihadists.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft, in Turkey inspecting the relief efforts, announced $180 million in additional funding for the humanitarian crisis in Idlib.
    “Humanitarian aid is only a response but the solution is an immediate ceasefire,” Craft told reporters.    “This is not something that just happened.    This is planned by the Assad regime,” Craft said.    “It is cruel and brutal.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Reyhanli, Turkey and Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Writing by Peter Graff; Editing by William Maclean)

3/3/2020 IMF deal would spark ‘popular revolution’ in Lebanon, Hezbollah believes
FILE PHOTO: Hezbollah member of the parliament Hassan Fadlallah talks in Beirut, Lebanon November 9, 2017. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah believes that terms required by any IMF bailout package for Lebanon would spark “a popular revolution,” a senior official said on Tuesday, rejecting such a step and calling instead for a “national solution” to a deep economic crisis.
    Lebanon is in the throes of an unprecedented economic crisis, the result of long-entrenched corruption and bad governance that have landed the state with one of the world’s heaviest public debt burdens.
    Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite group which is backed by Iran and designated a terrorist organization by Washington, is one of the main backers of a new government that has sought technical but not financial aid from the International Monetary Fund.
    Long-standing financial backer France said last week it was looking at options to support Lebanon, including through an IMF program if Beirut sought one.
    Hezbollah MP Hassan Fadlallah told Reuters the group was against the type of terms typically imposed by the IMF as part of a bailout such as taxes, privatization, reducing the size of the public sector and halting subsidies.
    “The position is not toward the Fund as an international financial institution but on the terms offered to Lebanon, because they will lead to a popular revolution,” he said.
    “Our position is against this type of program and not against the Fund as an organization.”
    Deputy Hezbollah leader Sheikh Naim Qassem last week said the group was against allowing the IMF to manage the financial crisis, describing the Fund as a U.S. tool to which Lebanon would not submit.
    Fadlallah said Lebanon needed a deeply-rooted reform plan that would “benefit from the experience of the IMF and others”.     France and other countries that have provided Lebanon with financial backing in the past say it must implement long-delayed economic reforms before any support is forthcoming this time.
    Based mainly on previous IMF recommendations, any program from the Fund is likely to require Lebanon to agree to measures ranging from increasing taxes to fighting corruption.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/4/2020 Russia says rebel positions in Syria’s Idlib have merged with Turkish army posts
A still image taken from a video obtained by Reuters and shot on March 2, 2020, shows Syrian army soldiers
firing a weapon as they advance on the town of Kfar Nabl, Syria. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia’s Ministry of Defence said on Wednesday that fortified rebel positions in Syria’s Idlib province had merged with Turkish observation posts, and that artillery attacks on nearby civilian areas and Russia’s air base in Syria had become daily.
    The allegations, made by Major-General Igor Konashenkov, are likely to increase tensions ahead of a planned meeting on Syria in Moscow on Thursday between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan.
    Ties between Moscow and Ankara have come under severe strain in recent days since 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Idlib, the deadliest attack on the Turkish army in nearly 30 years.
    Turkey has responded by stepping up its attacks on Syrian government forces, while Russian military police have helped to secure a strategic town that Syrian government forces recaptured from rebels they are trying to oust from Idlib.
    Moscow has long backed President Bashar al-Assad in his nine-year-old war against rebels.
    Konashenkov, in his statement, accused Turkey of failing to meet its obligations under agreements on Idlib with Moscow, and of helping anti-Assad rebel forces instead.
    He said Turkey had poured enough troops into Idlib to make up a mechanized division, said Konashenkov, violating international law.
    There was no immediate response from Turkey, which has traded blame with Moscow over the upsurge in violence in Idlib.
(Reporting by Andrew Osborn and Olzhas Auyezov; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/4/2020 Russia reinforces Syria before Putin-Erdogan talks – flight and shipping data by Maria Tsvetkova and Yoruk Isik
FILE PHOTO: The Russian Navy's large landing ship Orsk sets sail in the Bosphorus, on its way to the
Mediterranean Sea, in Istanbul, Turkey, February 28, 2020. REUTERS/Yoruk Isik/File Photo
    MOSCOW/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Russia is racing to reinforce its troops in Syria by sea and air before talks between the Russian and Turkish leaders in Moscow on Thursday, flight data and shipping movements show.
    The two presidents, Vladimir Putin and Tayyip Erdogan, agreed to meet after a surge in tensions between their countries over fighting in Syria’s Idlib province between Russian-backed Syrian government forces and rebels allied to Turkey.
    The fighting has raised the prospect of a direct clash between their armies, which operate in close proximity on opposing sides, and Erdogan hopes the talks will yield a ceasefire in Idlib.
    A Reuters analysis of flight data and correspondents’ monitoring of shipping in the Bosphorus Strait in northwestern Turkey show Russia began to step up naval and airborne deliveries to Syria on Feb. 28, the day after 34 Turkish soldiers were killed in an air strike in Syria.
    That incident prompted concern in Moscow that Turkey might close the Bosphorus to Russian warships and bar Russian military transport planes from using Turkish air space.
    The Russian Defence Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.    A Turkish official, who asked not to be identified, said there was no plan to close the strait, which would force Russia to take longer routes to Syria.
    But Russia appears to be reinforcing Syria at its fastest rate since October, when U.S. forces withdrew from some parts of Syria and Moscow scrambled to fill the vacuum.
    Reuters’ monitoring of the Bosphorus since Feb. 28 shows Russia has sent five warships toward Syria within six days.    That exceeds a usual pattern of one or two warships ships per week.
    The Russian military announced the departure of the Admiral Grigorovich and Admiral Makarov frigates for Syria, but three other warships have followed unannounced.
    One is the Orsk, a landing ship capable of carrying 20 tanks, 50 trucks or 45 armored personnel carries and up to 400 troops.    The others – the Novocherkassk and the Caesar Kunikov – are landing ships that can carry over 300 troops, tanks and armor.
    Turkey has responded by beefing up its escort protocol for Russian warships using the Bosphorus.    Three Turkish patrol boats and a helicopter escorted the Russian frigates – such ships are usually accompanied by a single coast guard vessel.
SHOW OF MUSCLES
    Since Feb. 28, at least five passenger and cargo planes operated by the Russian military have also flown to Syria, including three in a single day, the flight data showed.
    That followed a further 12 military planes in the previous 18 days and represents the most intense level of Russian military air activity with Syria since October.
    Publicly available tracking data gives only a snapshot of Russian military flights to Syria because not all such planes can be tracked.
    One person who has worked closely with Russian forces in Syria said Moscow’s reinforcement effort was meant to send Ankara a message and was “a show of muscles
    The same person said the swift build-up was an insurance policy in case the Putin-Erdogan meeting flopped and Ankara applied restrictions on the Bosphorus or in its airspace.
    Turkey shows sign s of having noticed Russia is also concentrating its forces near its main air base in Syria, Hmeymim, in Latakia province.
    “Russia is conducting a serious build-up near Hmeymim,” said a Turkish security official, who added that Moscow had also stepped up its logistical support for the Syrian army.
    “These are steps that may damage the positive atmosphere that could be found before tomorrow’s meeting,” said the official though hoping for “positive results.”
(Additional reporting by Rinat Sagdiev in Moscow and Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

3/5/2020 Erdogan, Putin announce ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province by OAN Newsroom
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan shake hands after a joint news conference
followed six-hour talks in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin have agreed to a ceasefire in Syria’s Idlib province.    The announcement came after Thursday’s face-to-face meeting between the two leaders.
    The ceasefire is reportedly slated to start at midnight local time.
    According to reports, Putin called for the meeting.    He claimed fighting in the northeastern region of the country had become so intense that it required one-on-one talks.
Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, right, speaks to the media as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, 2nd right, listens
after six-hours of talks in the Kremlin, in Moscow, Russia, Thursday, March 5, 2020. (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)
    Erdogan has expressed hope that the meeting would lead to measures to calm the fighting.
    “Undoubtedly, our meeting today on the Idlib talks was of great importance,” he said.    “The situation in the region is very tense, I know that the world’s eyes are on us.”
    Russian airstrikes have aided a push by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces to retake the rebel-held region.
    Fighting in the region has raised concerns of a direct conflict between Russia and Turkey.    Roughly 60 Turkish troops have been killed in the region since last month.

3/6/2020 Russia, Turkey agree ceasefire deal for Syria’s Idlib by Vladimir Soldatkin and Maria Kiselyova
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during meeting at the
parliament in Ankara, Turkey, March 4, 2020. Turkish Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey and Russia agreed a ceasefire deal on Thursday in Syria’s Idlib region, their two leaders said after talks in Moscow to contain a conflict which has displaced nearly a million people in three months.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, standing next to his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan, said he hoped their agreement would lead to a halt of military action in Syria’s last major rebel stronghold in the northwest of the country.
    “I express hope that these agreements will serve as a good basis for a cessation of military activity in the Idlib de-escalation zone (and) stop the suffering of the peaceful population and the growing humanitarian crisis,” Putin said.
    Erdogan told reporters the truce would come into effect at midnight on Thursday.    “We will work together to supply aid for the Syrians in need,” he said, adding that Turkey retained the right “to respond to all (Syrian) regime attacks in the field.”
    Russia and Turkey back opposing sides in Syria’s nine-year conflict, with Moscow supporting President Bashar al-Assad and Turkey backing some rebel groups.    Several previous deals to end the fighting in Idlib have collapsed.
    The latest offensive in Idlib by Assad’s forces, backed by Russian air strikes, sparked what the United Nations says may be the worst humanitarian crisis yet in a war that has driven millions from their homes and killed hundreds of thousands.
    The Russian military has, however, repeatedly played down any talk of a refugee crisis and accused Turkey of violating international law by pouring enough troops into Idlib to make up a mechanised division.
    Turkey, which has the second largest army in the transatlantic NATO alliance, has funneled troops and equipment into the region in recent weeks to resist the Syrian government advance and prevent a wave of refugees over its southern border.
    Russia also raced to reinforce its troops in Syria by sea and air before the Putin-Erdogan talks.
    Assad himself has vowed to recapture “every inch” of Syrian territory, but his depleted military depends heavily on Moscow’s power and Iranian-backed militias on the ground.    Iran was not a party to Thursday’s deal.
    Apart from Idlib, a large stretch of northern Syria remains outside Assad’s control, held by Turkey and its rebel partners, and by U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.
MORE DEATHS
    The Kremlin said the two leaders had spoken for three hours on their own before being joined by their officials.
    They agreed to establish a secure corridor near the M4 highway, which runs east to west through Idlib, and hold joint patrols along the road from March 15.
    In a joint statement, they said the corridor would stretch 6 km to the north and 6 km to the south of the M4 – effectively advancing Russia’s presence further north into Idlib.
    The Russian and Turkish defense ministers would agree on the parameters of the corridor within seven days.
    The deal did not spell out – as Erdogan has repeatedly demanded – that Syrian forces withdraw to the edge of the Idlib “de-escalation zone,” around which Turkey has stationed a dozen military observation posts, most of them now surrounded by Russian-backed Syrian government forces.
    The fighting, which raised the prospect of a direct clash between Russia and Turkey, has killed around 60 Turkish troops in the region since last month.    Two hours after the joint announcement Turkey’s defense ministry said two soldiers were killed after Syrian government forces opened fire in Idlib.
    Putin expressed his regret to Erdogan about the recent killing of 34 Turkish troops in an air strike, saying the Syrian military had not known of their location.
    Ahead of the talks, at least 16 civilians were killed when Russian air strikes hit a gathering of displaced people near the town of Maarat Misrin in Idlib, according to civil defense workers helping clear the rubble and search for survivors.
    Russia denies targeting civilians.
    Turkey hosts some 3.6 million Syrian refugees and says it cannot handle more.    Seeking to extract more funding and support from Europe over Idlib, Ankara said last week it would no longer abide by a 2016 deal in which it stopped migrants crossing into the European Union in return for billions of euros in aid.
(Additional reporting by Orhan Coskun and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Andrey Ostroukh and Tom Balmforth in Moscow, Daren Butler in Istanbul, Suleiman al-Khalidi in Amman, and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Writing by Jonathan Spicer and Andrew Osborn; Editing by Dominic Evans and Mark Heinrich)

4/28/2020 Protester killed in Tripoli as Lebanon hit by unrest by Walid Saleh
Demonstrators throw pieces of concrete during a protest against growing
economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set ablaze after a night of rioting that left one demonstrator dead, according to security and medical sources.
    A collapse in the currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment are convulsing Lebanon, in deep financial crisis since October.    A shutdown to fight the new coronavirus has made matters worse for the economy.
    Protesters in Tripoli set two banks on fire and smashed their facades, prompting the army to deploy and dozens of soldiers to take position in a street lined with several banks, some firing rubber bullets and tear gas.
    Riots that began a night earlier and which set several other banks and an army vehicle on fire in the city ended with the death of a man in his 20s, according to a security source who said it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death.
    Later on Tuesday protesters in the southern city of Sidon chanting “revolution” hurled petrol bombs at a central bank building, setting its exterior on fire before smashing the fronts of several banks.
    In Beirut dozens marched across the city, some wearing medical masks while chanting against the financial system and shouting for more Lebanese to join.    Later, crowds hurled stones toward security forces positioned in front of the central bank.
    The unrest threatens to tip the country back into violence even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter negotiations with foreign creditors after defaulting on its hefty debt obligations last month.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged Lebanese to refrain from violence and said “malicious intentions behind the scenes” were “shaking stability.”
    “We are faced with a new reality, a reality that the social and living crisis has made worse at record speed, especially with the rise of the U.S. dollar exchange rate to record levels on the black market,” Diab said in a statement.
    Lebanon’s pound has lost more than half its value since October and slid sharply over the past week, triggering small protests despite a coronavirus lockdown and pleas by officials for people to remain home.
    U.S. dollars sold for 4,200 Lebanese pounds on Tuesday according to one importer, despite a central bank directive capping the price at 3,200.    Several currency dealers were arrested on Monday for violating the cap, prompting their trade association to announce an open-ended strike.
    In a phone call to Diab, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris was ready to convene an international support group meeting for Lebanon as soon as coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted.
    Diab’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, has struggled to enact reforms demanded by foreign donors to release billions of dollars in pledged financing.
    People have lost their purchasing power and the state has no plan to do anything.    Banks are closed and not giving money to people.    I think this government should resign,” said Tripoli lawyer Fahed Moukaddem.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a Cabinet meeting that “final touches” were being put to the rescue plan, a draft of which this month estimated losses in the banking sector at $83 billion.
WARNING
    Tripoli, a port city 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long dogged by poverty and unemployment, was the stage for protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite last October.
    This is not a riot, this is expressing (anger) that the dollar has reached 4,000 Lebanese pounds. … How are people going to eat?    And this is the holy month of Ramadan,” said Abou Hussein, a Tripoli activist.
    The army said a firebomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade hurled at a patrol.    It blamed “infiltrators” and called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets.
    It said 40 soldiers were wounded in Tripoli and elsewhere after patrols sent to reopen roads were attacked with stones.    Three banks and several ATMs in Tripoli were burned overnight and nine protesters arrested, a statement said.
    A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said: “The frustration of the Lebanese people over the economic crisis is understandable, and the demands of protesters are justified. But incidents of violence, threats, and destruction of property are deeply concerning, and must stop.”
    The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said the violence was a warning for Lebanon’s political leaders.
    “This is the time to provide material support to increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese all around the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
    The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut until security is restored.    Only a handful of branches have been open during the coronavirus lockdown.
    Banks have been a target of savers angered by being frozen out of their deposits.    One each in the southern cities of Sidon and Tyre were attacked on Saturday and Sunday.
(Writing by Tom Perry and Eric Knecht; Additional reporting by Eric Knecht, Yara Abi Nader and Issam Abdallah; Editing by Peter Graff, Janet Lawrence and Jonathan Oatis)
[This is an example or what happens to a country when it lets Iran and its offshoot Hezbollah became infiltrated into their government and has slowly over time pushed to the brink of disaster.].

4/29/2020 Key U.S. official urges Lebanon to prove commitment to reforms: Al-Arabiya
A Lebanese police officer confronts a demonstrator during a protest against growing
economic hardship in Beirut, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The U.S. State Department’s top diplomat for the Middle East has urged crisis-hit Lebanon to prove its commitment to reform in order to secure international assistance, Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV channel said on Wednesday.
    Lebanon is grappling with renewed protests following a collapse in its currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment, but its dire financial straits have only been worsened by a shutdown to rein in the coronavirus pandemic.
    The growing unrest threatens to tip Lebanon into more serious conflict, even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter talks with foreign creditors after defaulting on hefty debt obligations last month.
    An accumulation of bad financial decisions, inaction and entrenched corruption and cronyism, were the cause of Lebanon’s crisis, Al Arabiya quoted David Schenker, the U.S. assistant secretary for Near Eastern affairs, as saying.
    “For Lebanon to be in a position to receive assistance from international financial institutions it must prove that it is ready to make difficult choices and decisions to show it is 100% committed to reform,” it quoted him saying in an interview.
    Its subsidiary channel, Al Hadath, also interviewed Schenker, who specified reforms to the power sector, customs, telecommunications and tax collection.
    Lebanon’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iranian-backed movement Hezbollah, has struggled to make economic reforms demanded by foreign donors.    The United States has classified Hezbollah as a terrorist group.
    The U.S. official also welcomed a ceasefire announcement by the Saudi-led coalition that has been battling the Iran-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen for five years.    The truce was prompted by the pandemic and as a measure to support U.N. peace efforts.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman and Clarence Fernandez)

4/29/2020 Lebanon cities erupt against economic hardship, one protester killed in Tripoli by Walid Saleh
A view of the damaged bank interior that was set ablaze during unrest overnight, as an economic crisis brought
demonstrations back onto the streets, in Tripoli, Lebanon April 28, 2020. REUTERS/Omar Ibrahim
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Protests against growing economic hardship erupted in Tripoli and spread to other Lebanese cities on Tuesday, with banks set ablaze and violence boiling over into a second night.
    One demonstrator was killed in riots overnight Monday, according to security and medical sources, as a collapse in the currency, soaring inflation and spiralling unemployment convulse Lebanon, a country in deep financial crisis since October.
    A shutdown to fight the new coronavirus has made matters worse for the economy.
    Protesters in the northern city of Tripoli on Tuesday set banks on fire and smashed their facades, prompting the army to fire rubber bullets and tear gas.    Demonstrators on Tuesday night piled into a main square while on side streets some threw stones at security forces.
    Riots a night earlier left a trail of bank facades charred and cars and ATMs smashed.    The violence led to the death of a man in his 20s, according to a security source who said it was not immediately clear who was responsible for his death.
    Banks have been a target of people angered by being frozen out of their deposits.
    Protesters in the southern city of Sidon chanting “revolution” hurled petrol bombs at a central bank building and set its exterior on fire before smashing the fronts of banks.
    In Beirut dozens marched across the city, some wearing medical masks while chanting against the financial system and shouting for more Lebanese to join.    Later, crowds hurled stones toward security forces positioned in front of the central bank.
    The growing unrest threatens to tip Lebanon into more serious conflict even as Beirut looks to pass an economic rescue plan and enter negotiations with foreign creditors after defaulting on its hefty debt obligations last month.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab urged Lebanese to refrain from violence and said “malicious intentions behind the scenes” were “shaking stability.”
    “We are faced with a new reality, a reality that the social and living crisis has made worse at record speed, especially with the rise of the U.S. dollar exchange rate to record levels on the black market,” Diab said in a statement.
    Lebanon’s pound has lost more than half its value since October and slid sharply over the past week, triggering small protests despite a coronavirus lockdown and pleas by officials for people to remain home.
    U.S. dollars sold for 4,200 Lebanese pounds on Tuesday according to one importer, despite a central bank directive capping the price at 3,200.    Several currency dealers were arrested on Monday for violating the cap, prompting their trade association to announce an open-ended strike.
    In a phone call to Diab, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Paris was ready to convene an international support group meeting for Lebanon as soon as coronavirus lockdown measures were lifted.
    Diab’s government, formed in January with the support of the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah, has struggled to enact reforms demanded by foreign donors to release billions of dollars in pledged financing.
    “People have lost their purchasing power and the state has no plan to do anything.    Banks are closed and not giving money to people.    I think this government should resign,” said Tripoli lawyer Fahed Moukaddem.
    Information Minister Manal Abdel Samad said after a Cabinet meeting that “final touches” were being put to the rescue plan, a draft of which this month estimated losses in the banking sector at $83 billion.
WARNING
    Tripoli, a mainly Sunni Muslim port city 80 km (50 miles) north of Beirut and long dogged by poverty and unemployment, was the stage for protests against Lebanon’s ruling elite last October.
    “This is not a riot, this is expressing (anger) that the dollar has reached 4,000 Lebanese pounds. … How are people going to eat?    And this is the holy month of Ramadan,” said Abou Hussein, a Tripoli activist.
    The army said a firebomb was thrown at one of its vehicles and a hand grenade hurled at a patrol.    It blamed “infiltrators” and called on peaceful protesters to leave the streets.
    It said 40 soldiers were wounded in Tripoli and elsewhere in the first night of riots after patrols sent to reopen roads were attacked with stones and nine protesters were arrested.
    A statement from the U.S. Embassy in Beirut said: “The frustration of the Lebanese people over the economic crisis is understandable, and the demands of protesters are justified.    But incidents of violence, threats, and destruction of property are deeply concerning, and must stop.”
    The U.N. Special Coordinator for Lebanon, Jan Kubis, said the violence was a warning for Lebanon’s political leaders.
    “This is the time to provide material support to increasingly desperate, impoverished and hungry majority of Lebanese all around the country,” he wrote in a tweet.
    The banking association declared all banks in Tripoli shut until security is restored.    Only a handful of branches have been open during the coronavirus lockdown.
(Reporting by Walid Saleh; additional reporting by Eric Knecht, Yara Abi Nader and Issam Abdallah; writing by Tom Perry, Peter Graff, Janet Lawrence; Editing by Jonathan Oatis and Grant McCool)

4/29/2020 Small protests break out in Lebanese cities in third night of unrest
A worker cleans up broken glass from a bank facade after overnight protests against
growing economic hardship in Sidon, Lebanon April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Small protests fueled by worsening economic conditions in Lebanon broke out across several cities late on Wednesday, marking a third night of unrest.
    Lebanon is in the throes of a deep economic crisis that has seen its currency lose more than half its value since October, soaring inflation, and spiraling unemployment
.
    In the northern city of Tripoli protesters lobbed fireworks and stones at soldiers who pushed them back with rubber bullets.    In the southern city of Sidon demonstrators set a central bank building ablaze with petrol bombs for a second night.
    The latest wave of unrest comes after a plunge in the value of the pound currency last week that has threatened to further hike prices in the import-dependent country.
    Banks that have locked savers out of their U.S. dollar accounts in a bid to preserve scarce hard currency have been primary targets in recent days, with bank fronts burned and ATMs smashed in several cities.
    The unrest comes as Beirut is on the verge of finalizing an economic rescue plan that will form the basis of negotiations with foreign bondholders after defaulting on its debt last month in a bid to preserve cash for vital imports.
(Reporting by Eric Knecht; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

4/30/2020 After U.S., Israeli pressure, Germany bans Hezbollah activity, raids mosques
German special police leaves the El-Irschad (Al-Iraschad e.V.) centre in Berlin, Germany, April 30, 2020, after Germany
has banned Iran-backed Hezbollah on its soil and designated it a terrorist organisation. REUTERS/Hannibal Hanschke
    BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany banned all Hezbollah activity on its soil on Thursday and designated the Iran-backed group a terrorist organisation, a much-anticipated step long urged by Israel and the United States.
    Police also conducted early morning raids on mosque associations in cities across Germany which officials believe are close to the heavily armed Shi’ite Islamist group.
    “The activities of Hezbollah violate criminal law and the organization opposes the concept of international understanding,” said the interior ministry in a statement.
    The move means that Hezbollah symbols are banned at gatherings and in publications or in the media and Hezbollah assets can be confiscated, said the ministry, adding as it is a foreign organisation, it is not possible to ban and dissolve it.
    Security officials believe up to 1,050 people in Germany are part of what they describe as Hezbollah’s extremist wing.
    Israel, which with the United States had been pushing Germany to ban the group, praised the move.
    “It is a very important decision and a valuable and significant step in the global fight against terrorism,” said Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz.
    “I call on other European countries as well as the European Union to do the same.    All the parts of Hezbollah, including the social, political and military wings are terror organizations and they should be treated as such,” he added.
DAWN RAIDS
    Previously, Berlin had distinguished between Hezbollah’s political arm and its military units, which have fought alongside President Bashar al-Assad’s army in Syria.
    Hezbollah is also a significant backer of the government of Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, which took office in January.
    The EU classifies Hezbollah’s military wing as a terrorist group, but not its political wing.    Britain introduced legislation in February of last year that classified Hezbollah as a terrorist organisation.
    The American Jewish Committee also hailed it as a landmark decision.
    “This is a welcome, much-anticipated, and significant German decision,” said AJC head David Harris.
    As a legacy of the Holocaust, Germany feels a special responsibility towards protecting Israel.
    Germany’s interior ministry said Hezbollah calls for the violent elimination of the State of Israel and questions the right of the State of Israel to exist.
    “The organization is therefore fundamentally against the concept of international understanding, regardless of whether it presents itself as a political, social or military structure,” it said.
    In dawn raids, police searched mosque associations in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bremen and Berlin which they believe are close to Hezbollah and the private residences of the leaders of each association.
    The associations under investigation are suspected of forming part of Hezbollah due to their financial support and propaganda for the terrorist organization, said the interior ministry.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers, Additional reporting by Andreas Rinke and Jeffrey Heller in Israel, Editing by William Maclean)

4/30/2020 With economy in ‘free fall’, Lebanon aims for IMF aid
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun wearing a face mask, heads a council of ministers meeting
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon April 30, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon plans to seek International Monetary Fund aid after approving an economic rescue plan setting out vast losses in its financial system as it aims to chart a way out of a crisis seen as the biggest risk to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    Rooted in decades of state waste, corruption and bad governance, the crisis is causing mounting economic hardship and fuelling unrest.    A protester was killed during rioting in the northern city of Tripoli this week and dozens of soldiers have been wounded in the unrest.
    Lebanon will use the rescue plan http://finance.gov.lb/en-us/EventPdfs/English/The%20Lebanese%20Goverment%20Financial%20Recovery%20Plan.pdf to negotiate an IMF programme, Prime Minister Hassan Diab said after it was approved by cabinet.    The 53-page plan says the economy “is in free fall” and an international financial rescue package urgently needed.
    “If we get (IMF support), and God willing we will, it will help us to pass through this difficult economic phase, which could be three, four or five years,” said Diab, a little-known academic until he was nominated premier in January by the Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its political allies, including President Michel Aoun’s party.
    “The road ahead will not be easy, but our determination and optimism will help us.”
    The crisis has brought economic difficulties on a scale unseen before in Lebanon, even during its civil war.
    Saddled with one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens, the state defaulted on its sovereign debt in March for the first time.    The government declared hard currency reserves had hit critically low levels and were needed for vital imports.
    The local currency has shed more than half its value and savers have been largely shut out of their deposits since October, when countrywide protests erupted against ruling politicians.
    Consumer goods prices in the import-dependent country have shot up by 50% since then.
    The IMF is widely seen as Lebanon’s only way to secure financing.    Foreign governments that have supported Lebanon in the past have said it must implement long-delayed reforms before it gets any aid this time.
    Lebanon is seeking external finance support in excess of $10 billion, Diab said.    That is in addition to some $11 billion of funds pledged by donors in 2018 for infrastructure projects but which were conditional on long-delayed reforms.
HUGE LOSSES
    The new plan maps out tens of billions of dollars of losses in the financial system, which has helped to bankroll decades of large state budget deficits.
    “We will seek to absorb losses fairly, that is without any burdens on those who have not benefited from past policies,” Diab said.    The plan aims to protect depositors’ money and strengthen and restructure banks, he added.
    But the government would seek a contribution from those who had benefited from extremely high interest rates and from financial engineering, he said, referring to central bank operations used to attract dollars from abroad.
    Contributions would also be sought from “those who broke the laws and have stolen public funds.”
    Diab said the plan would also be used to launch negotiations to restructure the sovereign debt.    It would take six to nine months to be clear how much $31 billion of Eurobonds could be reduced, he said.
    The plan projects losses in the financial system using an exchange rate of 3,500 pounds to the dollar, close to the current rate in a parallel market but some 57% weaker than the official peg that has been in place since 1997.
    Losses at Lebanese institutions were estimated at 241 trillion Lebanese pounds, or $69.9 billion at the weaker rate.
    It attributed 177 trillion pounds in losses to the central bank and 64 trillion to commercial banks.
    To restore central bank strength, the plan called for the creation of a public asset management company holding key government assets, excluding oil and gas, the profits of which would fund central bank capital increases.
    “Going forward, the government intends to move to a more flexible exchange rate,” the plan says.    A graph indicated the pound weakening to 4,297 by 2024.
    It projected output shrinking by 13.8% in 2020 and 4.4% in 2021, before a gradual recovery that would enable the economy to grow by 3.1% in 2024.
(Reporting by Tom Perry, Samia Nakhoul, Eric Knecht and Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson/Jason Neely/Ken Ferris)

5/4/2020 Hezbollah deems Lebanese government rescue plan an ‘important step’ forward
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters
via a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah’s leader hailed the Lebanese government’s crisis plan as an “important step” on Monday and warned the country should not blindly surrender in talks with the IMF to terms it can not bear.
    Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah called on the Lebanese to give the cabinet a chance as it tries to pull the country from a financial crisis that has slashed the value of the local currency by more than half.
    The government, which took office this year with the backing of Iran-backed Hezbollah, has requested assistance from the International Monetary Fund in what Prime Minister Hassan Diab called a “historic moment” last week.
    “It is a step on the path, a big and important step, but it also needs national reinforcement … In our view, it is a step from which it is possible to kick off,” Nasrallah said in a televised speech on Monday.
    “What we are calling for is dealing with this plan positively because the country needs to be rescued.”
    His comments marked public backing for the plan, including talks with the IMF, from Hezbollah, a political and military movement that holds much sway in Lebanon.    Some analysts see an IMF deal as the only way out for Lebanon.
    “One thing would be unacceptable, which is to blindly surrender, to go wearing handcuffs and give ourselves to the IMF,” Nasrallah said.
    “As I understand it, the government is not going to tell the IMF ‘do what you want with Lebanon’.    There will be help and dialogue, there’s no problem with that,” he added.    “We must see what the conditions are.    Can the country handle them?
    The crisis has hammered Lebanon since late last year with economic woes on a scale the country has never seen, even during its 1975-1990 civil war.    Inflation has soared, confidence in the banking system has collapsed, and the heavily indebted state defaulted on its sovereign debt in March for the first time.
    Lebanon will use the rescue plan to negotiate an IMF programme, Diab said last week after his cabinet approved the 53-page blueprint which says the economy “is in free fall.”
    The new plan envisages tens of billions of dollars of losses in the financial system, which has helped to bankroll decades of large state budget deficits.
    Lebanon’s banking association has rejected the plan and said it was not consulted despite being “a key part of any solution.”
    Nasrallah said on Monday that the banks had made huge profits over the years and must now step in to help.    He also accused the lenders of unjust treatment in their implementation of U.S. banking sanctions against Hezbollah.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Alison Williams)

5/4/2020 Hezbollah: Germany bowing to U.S. will with ban
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters through a screen during a rally
commemorating the annual Hezbollah's slain leaders in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon February 16, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday that Germany was “succumbing to American will” by banning his Iran-backed movement and designating it a terrorist organisation.
    In a televised speech, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said last week’s German move, which Israel and the United States have long urged, would not deter Hezbollah from confronting its foes.
    He denounced police raids on mosque associations in Germany accused of being close to the heavily armed Shi’ite movement, which Nasrallah said had no official presence in Europe.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Editing by Toby Chopra)

5/6/2020 Lebanon plan based on flexible exchange rate in ‘coming period’- Finance Minister
Lebanon's President Michel Aoun meets with Prime Minister Hassan Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon May 6, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A government plan for getting Lebanon out of a financial crisis is based on a shift to a flexible exchange rate, but in the “coming period,” and a currency peg will be maintained for now, Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni said on Wednesday.
    The government approved the plan, which entails vast losses in the financial system, last week, announcing it would form the basis of aid negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
    The crisis is seen as the greatest risk to Lebanon’s stability since its 1975-90 civil war.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab said the plan was not sacred and could evolve, urging Lebanese to set aside differences during a meeting with some of the country’s fractious politicians.
    The Lebanese pound has lost more than half of its value since October and depositors have largely been shut out of their savings as dollars have become ever more scarce.    Inflation, unemployment and poverty have soared.
    The pound has been pegged at 1,507.5 to the dollar since 1997 and the central bank supplies dollars at this price for the purchase of fuel, medicine and wheat.    Dollars were changing hands at over 4,000 pounds on the parallel market on Wednesday.
    The plan is based on “a policy of a flexible exchange rate in the coming period, in a gradual and studied way,” Finance Minister Ghazi Wazni told the meeting.
    He gave no time frame for the change but said freeing up the exchange rate before restoring confidence and securing international support would lead to a big deterioration in the value of the pound and uncontrolled price rises of basic goods.
DEBT DEFAULT
    “We are forced in the current phase to continue in the policy of fixing (the rate),” he said.
    The Diab government took office in January with backing from the powerful, Iran-backed Shi’ite group Hezbollah and allies including President Michel Aoun, the Christian Maronite head of state.
    Speaking after the meeting, Samir Geagea, a Maronite rival to Aoun and Hezbollah opponent, said he would not support this or any other plan that did not start with serious steps to fight corruption and waste, including customs evasion.
    These are widely seen as prime causes of the crisis, landing Lebanon with one of the world’s biggest public debt burdens.    Lebanon defaulted on its sovereign debt in March.
    Neither leading Sunni politician Saad al-Hariri, a former prime minister and traditional ally of Gulf Arab and Western states, nor Druze leader Walid attended the meeting.
    “Time is very precious.    The accumulated losses are very big.    The situation is very painful, and the chance to rectify (it) will not last long,” Diab said.
    Wazni said Lebanon had started negotiations to restructure its sovereign debt two weeks ago.    Benefits of going to the IMF included securing financial support of $9-$10 billion, he said.
    Critics of the plan include Lebanon’s commercial banks.    The plan foresees them sustaining losses of some $83.2 billion.
    The banking association is working on its own plan that aims to preserve some of its capital rather than writing it off as set out in the government proposals.
(Reporting by Beirut newsroom; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson, John Stonestreet, William Maclean)

5/11/2020 Iranian warship hit by missile in training accident, killing 19 sailors by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: An Iranian flag flutters in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency
(IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, Austria September 9, 2019. REUTERS/Leonhard Foeger
    DUBAI (Reuters) – One Iranian warship accidentally struck another with a missile during an exercise, killing 19 sailors and wounding 15 others, Iran’s navy said on Monday.
    The incident took place during training in the Gulf of Oman, a sensitive waterway that connects to the Strait of Hormuz through which about a fifth of the world’s oil passes.    Iran regularly conducts exercises in the area.
    The frigate Jamaran fired at a training target released by a support ship, the Konarak.    However, the support ship stayed too close to the target and was hit, state broadcaster IRIB said.
    “The incident took place in the perimeter of Iran’s southern Bandar-e Jask port on the Gulf of Oman during Iranian Navy drills on Sunday afternoon, in which 19 sailors were killed and 15 others were injured,” state TV said, quoting the navy.
    Fars news agency quoted an unidentified military official as denying some Iranian media reports that the Konarak had sunk.    The navy statement said investigations were undergoing regarding the cause of the incident, student news agency ISNA said.
    Video posted on Twitter purportedly of the Konarak showed a heavily damaged ship with black smoke rising from one side.
    Reuters could not independently confirm the authenticity of the video.
    IRIB said the Dutch-made Konarak vessel, which was purchased before Iran’s 1979 Islamic revolution, had been overhauled in 2018, and is equipped with four cruise missiles.
    The incident took place at a time of heightened tensions between Iran and the United States since 2018, when the United States withdrew from a nuclear deal between major powers and Iran, and Washington re-imposed sanctions on Tehran.
    Animosity deepened in early January when a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani.    Iran retaliated on Jan. 8 by firing missiles at U.S. military bases in Iraq. Later that day, Iran’s armed forces shot down a Ukrainian airliner, killing all 176 people aboard, in what the military later acknowledged was a mistake.
    Many of those killed aboard the airliner were Iranian and postings on social media on Monday drew comparisons between the two incidents.
    “Until when does the Islamic Republic want to play with the lives of Iranians,” a Twitter user name Sedighe Taheri wrote.
(Additional Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Kim Coghill, Robert Birsel, Simon Cameron-Moore and Peter Graff)
[GOD WORKS IN MYSTERIOUS WAYS AS IRAN SHOT DOWN THEIR OWN AIRPLANE WHILE ATTACKING A U.S. BASE IN IRAQ, NOW GOD IS HAVING IRAN'S NAVY ATTACKING THEIR OWN NAVY SHIPS SO 3 TIMES IS A CHARM IRAN.].

5/13/2020 China threatens to wipe out 65% of Australian agricultural exports by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this May 14, 2019, file photo, frozen beef filets from Australia, United States, and Canada are on sale at a supermarket
in Beijing. China has suspended imports of beef from four Australian producers following a threat by Beijing of possible trade
retaliation if Australia pushed for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein, File)
    China is ramping-up economic pressure on Australia over its ongoing probe into Beijing’s alleged cover-up of COVID-19.    On Tuesday, China imposed a partial ban on the imports of meat from Australia and threatened an 80 percent import tariff on Australian barley.
    Officials in Beijing have threatened to decimate Australia’s foreign trade unless the nation drops its probe into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
    China is the largest market for Australia’s agricultural sector.    The Asian country accounts for $153 billion, or 65 percent, of its total exports.    Despite this, Australian officials said they will not back down.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison speaks to the media during a press conference
at Parliament House in Canberra, Friday, May 1, 2020. (Lukas Coch/AAP Image via AP)
    “It’s been an ongoing issue between our two countries and we have seen the level of trade of barley into China fall from $1.7 billion down to $600 million,” explained Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, MP.    “We have had anti-dumping inquiries in relation to Chinese products into Australia and not all of those decisions have been well received, but they’ve been made on the merits.”
    Australia is reportedly looking at limiting trade of strategically important goods with China in response to — what it calls — “economic coercion.”
[IF THE ABOVE ARTICLE DOES NOT LET YOU KNOW THAT COMMUNIST CHINA WILL THREATEN AND EXTORT A COUNTRY TO GET THEIR WAY AND NOW YOU KNOW WHY TRUMP HAS FOUGHT BACK AGAINST THEM BECAUSE HE CAN AND WILL SO WAKE UP AMERICA AND MAKE US SELF EFFICIENT TO STOP IT AND WHEN WE DO YOU WILL HEAR CHINA CRY BABYING ABOUT IT AND WE WILL KNOW THAT WE HAVE ACHIEVED THAT AND CHINA IS LIKE AN ANT COLONY WHICH WILL KEEP INVADING YOUR HOUSE UNTIL YOU DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT.].

5/13/2020 Timeline – Lebanon’s ordeal: Economic and political crises since civil war
FILE PHOTO: A general view of demonstrators during an anti-government protest in
downtown Beirut, Lebanon October 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon begins negotiations with the International Monetary Fund this week, seeking the IMF’s financial assistance for the first time as the country grapples with an acute financial crisis.
    The negotiations mark a new phase in a crisis seen as the biggest threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    With hard currency growing ever more scarce, the Lebanese pound has more than halved in value since October, depositors have been blocked from withdrawing savings and inflation and unemployment have soared in the import-dependent economy.
    Here are Lebanon’s main previous post-war upheavals.
2005
    Former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri is killed on Feb. 14 when a massive bomb exploded as his motorcade travelled through Beirut; 21 others also died.
    A combination of subsequent mass demonstrations and international pressure force Syria to withdraw troops from Lebanon.    Lebanese Shi’ite allies of Damascus stage their own big rallies in support of Syria.
    Lebanon enters a new era free of Syrian domination. Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group and close ally of Damascus, enters government for the first time.
2006
    In July, Hezbollah crosses the border into Israel, kidnaps two Israeli soldiers and kills others, sparking a five-week war.    At least 1,200 people in Lebanon and 158 Israelis are killed.
    After the war, tensions in Lebanon simmer over Hezbollah’s powerful arsenal.    In November, Hezbollah and its allies quit the cabinet led by Western-backed Prime Minister Fouad Siniora and organise street protests against it.
2007
    Hezbollah and its allies maintain a sit-in protest against the Siniora government for the entire year.    Their stated demand is veto power in the government.
    In May, fighting erupts at a Palestinian camp in northern Lebanon between the Lebanese army and Sunni Islamist militants of the Fatah al-Islam group.    Thousands of Palestinian refugees are forced to flee the Nahr al-Bared camp.    In September, Lebanese troops seize control of the camp after more than three months of fighting that kills more than 300 people.
2008
    May 6, 2008 – Siniora’s cabinet accuses Hezbollah of running a private telecoms network and installing spy cameras at Beirut airport.    The cabinet vows legal action against the network.
    May 7 – Hezbollah said the move against its telecoms network was a declaration of war by the government.    After a brief conflict Hezbollah takes control of mainly Muslim west Beirut.
    May 21 – After mediation, rival leaders sign a deal in Qatar to end 18 months of political conflict.    Parliament elects Michel Suleiman, the army chief, as president.
2011
    In January, Saad al-Hariri’s first government is toppled when Hezbollah and its allies quit because of tensions over the U.N.-backed Special Tribunal for Lebanon.
    The tribunal later indicts four senior members of Hezbollah for the murder of Rafik al-Hariri.    Hezbollah denies any role in the assassination.    Its leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, said the authorities would not be able to find the indicted men.
    A fifth Hezbollah member is indicted in 2013.
2012
    Hezbollah fighters deploy into Syria, secretly at first, to aid Syrian government forces facing a mostly Sunni rebellion against President Bashar al-Assad.    The group plays a major role in beating back the rebellion.
2015
    A crisis about waste erupts when authorities close the main landfill site near Beirut, having arranged no alternative.    Large protests broke out as rotting waste filled streets and demonstrators chanted “You stink!” at the government.    It became a glaring symbol of the failures of a sectarian power system unable to meet basic needs like electricity and water.
2017
    Saad al-Hariri’s ties with Saudi Arabia, which is furious at Hezbollah’s expanding role in Lebanon, hit a nadir in November 2017 when it was widely acknowledged Riyadh had forced him to resign and held him in the kingdom.    Saudi Arabia and Hariri publicly deny this version of events, though France’s Emmanuel Macron confirmed that Hariri was being held in Saudi Arabia.
2019
    Amid a stagnant economy and slowing capital inflows, the government is under pressure to curb a massive budget deficit.
    Proposals to cut the state wage and pension bill meet stiff opposition.    The government vows to enact long-delayed reforms but fails to make progress that might unlock foreign support.
    Oct. 17 – A government move to tax internet calls ignites big protests against the ruling elite. Lebanese of all sects take part, accusing leaders of corruption and economic mismanagement.
    Hariri quits on Oct. 29, against the wishes of Hezbollah.    Lebanon is left rudderless as the crisis deepens.    A hard- currency liquidity crunch leads banks to impose tight curbs on cash withdrawals and transfers abroad.
2020
    After two months of talks to form a new, Hariri-led coalition government hit a dead end, Hezbollah and its allies back Hassan Diab, a little-known academic and former education minister, for the post of prime minister.
    March 7 – Diab announces Lebanon cannot repay a maturing bond and calls for negotiations to restructure its debt.
    May 1 – Beirut signs a formal request for IMF assistance after approving a plan setting out vast losses in the financial system. The banking association rejects the plan, saying its proposals for restructuring the banking sector would further destroy confidence in Lebanon.
(Writing by Tom Perry and William Maclean; editing by Catherine Evans, Larry King)

5/13/2020 Hezbollah leader says Israel turns attention to hitting missile-making sites in Syria
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah addresses his supporters
via a screen in Nabatiyeh, Lebanon, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Wednesday that Israel is now concentrating its attacks in Syria on missile-manufacturing sites.
    Israel has conducted many raids inside Syria since the start of the civil war in 2011.    It sees the presence of Hezbollah and its ally Iran there as a strategic threat.
    The heavily armed Lebanese Shi’ite movement has played a vital role in the war, helping Syrian President Bashar al-Assad reclaim much of the country.
    In rare comments on Israeli attacks in Syria, Nasrallah said that with Assad firmly in control, Israel has turned its attention more recently to striking Syrian targets for precision missile manufacturing seen as a threat.
    He denied that Israeli air strikes have pushed either Hezbollah or Iran to retreat from Syria, calling Israel’s insistence that they have done so “imaginary victories.”
    Israeli Defence Minister Naftali Bennett said in April that the Israeli military was working to drive Tehran out of Syria.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Jon Boyle and Angus MacSwan)

5/17/2020 Iran Supreme Leader says Americans will be expelled from Iraq and Syria
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Americans will be expelled from Iraq and Syria, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Sunday, renewing Iran’s demand for U.S. troops to be withdrawn from the Middle East.
    Iran almost got into a full-blown conflict with the United States when a U.S. drone strike killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad on Jan. 3, prompting Tehran to retaliate with a missile barrage against a U.S. base in Iraq days later.
    Khamenei said Americans’ actions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria had led to them being hated, according to a transcript of a speech to students published on his website.
    “The Americans won’t stay in Iraq and Syria and will be expelled,” Khamenei said.
    Last month, U.S. President Donald Trump said he had instructed the U.S. Navy to fire on any Iranian ships that harass it at sea, but said later he was not changing the military’s rules of engagement.
    After Trump’s statement, the head of Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards, Major General Hossein Salami, said that the Islamic Republic would destroy U.S. warships if its security is threatened in the Gulf.
(Reporting By Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Gareth Jones and Andrew Heavens)
[Its not American's its your policies and obviously your beliefs and hatred of America because we have stopped you from doing your corrupt policies on the rest of the world and what you are doing to the Iranian people also who if they could would overthrow you.    And your own actions have been backfiring on you instead of who you tried to do it to, which should have sunk in but we do not expect you to learn anything new.].

5/20/2020 Iran will support any nation or group that fights Israel: supreme leader
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran will support any nation or group that fights Israel, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said on Wednesday.
    “We will support and assist any nation or any group anywhere who opposes and fights the Zionist regime, and we do not hesitate to say this,” Khamenei said in a post on his official English language Twitter account.
(Reporting by Babak Dehghanpisheh; Editing by Sandra Maler)

5/22/2020 Iran’s Khamenei says Israel is a ‘cancerous tumor’ in Middle East
FILE PHOTO: Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei delivers a televised speech on the occasion of the
Iranian New Year Nowruz, in Tehran, Iran March 20, 2020. Official Khamenei website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Palestinians on Friday to continue their uprising against Israel, suggesting the Israeli government was a “tumor” that should be confronted until Palestinians were liberated.
    “The uprising by Palestinians should continue … fight to liberate Palestine is an obligation and an Islamic jihad … The Zionist regime (Israel) is a cancerous tumor in the region.”    Iran’s top authority Khamenei said in an online speech.
    “The long-lasting virus of Zionists will be eliminated.”     Khamenei and other senior Iranian officials have called repeatedly over the years for an end to the Jewish state, including through a referendum in the region, where Palestinians are in the majority.
    Khamenei reiterated the call in his speech on Quds Day, held on the last Friday of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan and which was declared by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, founder of Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Catherine Evans)

5/30/2020 U.S. warns of Russian bid for Libya stronghold after warplane delivery by Phil Stewart
FILE PHOTO: A man walks in a deserted street in the Old Souq, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),
during the holy month of Ramadan in Tripoli, Libya April 29, 2020. Picture taken April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Ayman al-Sahili
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. military believes a Russian introduction of warplanes into Libya may not tip the balance in its stalemated civil war but could further help Moscow eventually secure a geostrategic stronghold in North Africa, a U.S. general said on Friday.
    Russian military personnel have delivered 14 MiG 29 and Su-24 fighter jets to the Libyan National Army’s Jufra air base, the U.S. military says, despite denials from the LNA and a Russian member of parliament.
    U.S. Brigadier General Gregory Hadfield, deputy director of U.S. Africa Command’s Intelligence Directorate, told a small group of reporters the Russian aircrafts’ flight path originated in Russia and passed through Iran and Syria before reaching Libya.     Hadfield said the aircraft had not been used yet but could add new capability for Eastern commander Khalifa Haftar’s LNA, which has so far failed in its year-long effort to capture Tripoli, the seat of the internationally recognized Government of National Accord (GNA).     The GNA, in turn, has been receiving critical support from Turkey, including drone strikes.
    But Hadfield cautioned that Moscow may not require an outright victory for Haftar to advance Russian interests.
    “Backing the LNA and backing Field Marshal Haftar, it really isn’t about winning the war, it’s about developing strongholds,” Hadfield said.
    A big U.S. concern would be if Moscow used such a location to stage missiles.
    “If Russia secures a permanent position in Libya and, worse, deploys long-range missile systems, it will be a game changer for Europe, NATO and many Western nations,” he said.
    Libya is once more on the brink after years of chaos that followed the uprising against Muammar Gaddafi in 2011.    With more arms and fighters flowing in, Libyans fear an unending conflict fueled by outside powers.
    One Western diplomat warned of a “stagnating conflict in which escalation is met with escalation.”
(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Angus McDowall in Tunis, Orhan Coskun in Ankara, Ulf Laessing in Cairo; Editing by Daniel Wallis)
[I MUST REMIND ALL DEMOCRATS THAT IT WAS BARAK OBAMA WHO ORDERED THE MILITARY TO GO TO LIBYA IN 2011 WITHOUT CLAIMING IT A WAR AND HE ORDERED GADDAFI TO BE KILLED BECAUSE HE SCREWED UP THE U.S. ECONOMY BECAUSE HE MADE OIL GO ABOVE $100 A BARREL AND GASOLINE ABOVE $4 A GALLON AND IT WAS THAT EVENT THAT CAUSED THE FORMATION OF ISIS WHICH WAS CALLED THE ARAB SPRING IF THEY MYSTERIOUSLY FORGOT THIS WHICH LED TO THE KILLING OF THE AMBASSADOR AND OTHERS IN BEN GHAZI WHICH SUSAN RICE TOOK THE FALL FOR TO PROTECT HILLARY CLINTONS ELECTION AND IT WAS COVERED UP BY OBAMA USING THE U.S. SURVEILLANCE SYSTEM WHICH WE ARE NOW IN 2020 TRYING TO UNCOVER ALL THAT CORRUPTION.].

6/4/2020 Russia sends second batch of fighter jets to Syria: embassy
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin takes part in a video conference call with Mayor of Moscow
Sergei Sobyanin, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence
outside Moscow, Russia May 27, 2020. Sputnik/Alexei Nikolsky/Kremlin via REUTERS/File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russia flew a batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets to Syria, Moscow’s embassy in Damascus said, with Syrian pilots already using the planes to conduct missions within the country’s airspace.
    President Vladimir Putin last week ordered Russia’s foreign and defence ministries to hold talks with its close ally, Syria, to obtain more facilities and maritime access there, in addition to the two military bases it has already.
    Russia’s Embassy in Syria said on Twitter late on Wednesday that the latest batch of planes was for the Syrian military.
    “Syrian Arab Army received the second batch of advanced MiG-29 fighter jets from #Russia – in the framework of military & technical cooperation between our countries. Syrian(s) already begin to carry out missions on those planes,” it said.
    It shared a link to a May 30 report by the Syrian Arab News Agency, which cited a Syrian military source as saying the fighters were more effective that their previous generation and would be used in Syrian airspace from June 1.
    The United States in late May accused Russia of deploying fighter aircraft via Syria to Libya to support Russian mercenaries fighting for the eastern-based forces of Khalifa Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA).
    It said aircraft had arrived in Libya after being repainted to conceal their Russian origin in Syria, stating that the aircraft would likely provide close air support and offensive fire.
    Reuters sent a request for comment to the Russian defence ministry last week.    It did not respond.
    Libya’s civil war has drawn in regional and global powers with Russia, the United Arab Emirates and Egypt backing the LNA and Turkey supporting the internationally recognised government of national accord.
    The LNA was driven out of Libya’s capital, Tripoli, on Thursday, after a year-long assault.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Editing by Nick Macfie)

6/9/2020 Erdogan says will not let Syria’s Idlib become conflict zone again
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a meeting with Russian President
Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday the Syrian government was increasing provocations in northwest Syria’s Idlib region and that Turkey would not allow it to become a conflict zone again.
    On Monday jets bombed several villages in the rebel-held region in the first such air strikes since a Turkish-Russian ceasefire deal over three months ago that halted major fighting.    Erdogan was speaking after a cabinet meeting.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Daren Butler)

6/11/2020 Lebanese protesters shut down roadways with fires as currency collapses
Demonstrators ride on motorbikes during a protest against fall in Lebanese pound currency and
mounting economic hardship, in Beirut, Lebanon June 11, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese cut roadways with burning tyres and rubbish bins across Beirut and other cities on Thursday in renewed protests sparked by a rapid fall in the pound currency and mounting economic hardship.
    The pound slid to about 5,000 to the dollar on Thursday and has lost 70% of its value since October, when Lebanon descended into a financial crisis seen as the biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    From the northern city of Tripoli to the southern city of Sidon, Lebanese chanted against the political elite and set fire to major roadways across the country in the most widespread unrest since a coronavirus lockdown imposed in mid-March.
    “We can’t afford to eat or pay rent or anything like that, so we will stay here until the dollar rate goes down and we get all our demands,” said Manal, a protester in central Beirut.
    Protesters in Tripoli, Lebanon’s second-biggest city, threw petrol bombs at a central bank building, setting it ablaze and prompting security forces to fire tear gas, according to witnesses.
    Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for an emergency Cabinet meeting to be held on Friday to discuss the monetary situation, a statement from his office said.
    The crisis, rooted in decades of corruption and waste, has brought soaring food prices and unemployment and capital controls that have severed Lebanese from their hard currency savings.
    The unrest comes as Beirut holds talks with the International Monetary Fund for a reform programme it hopes will secure billions of dollars in financing and put its economy back on track.
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah and Imad Creidi in Beirut; Writing by Eric Knecht; Editing by Matthew Lewis)

6/27/2020 Iran news agency reports visit of new Quds chief to Syria
FILE PHOTO: Brigadier General Esmail Ghaani, the newly appointed commander of Iran's Quds Force, reads the will of Major
General Qassem Soleimani, who was killed in a U.S. air strike at Baghdad Airport, during the forty day memorial at
the Grand Mosalla in Tehran, Iran February 13, 2020. Nazanin Tabatabaee/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian news agency on Saturday reported a visit by the chief of the elite Quds Force to eastern Syria, a rare public announcement of a trip to the battlefield by the successor of a commander killed by the United States in January.
    Esmail Ghaani is the replacement for Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander, who directed its allied militia in conflicts across the Middle East before he was killed by a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.
    Iran’s semi-official Tasnim news agency reported Ghaani had visited Abu Kamal, a Syrian town on the border with Iraq, in the past few days.    It later deleted the report without explanation.    Other Iranian news media made no mention of the visit.
    Tasnim quoted Ghaani as describing Islamic State fighters as agents of Israel and the United States, a common accusation by Iran.
    Israel has regularly struck what it says are positions of Iran and its allies inside Syria.    On Tuesday, the Syrian army said it responded to Israeli strikes on southern, central and eastern Syria in which two soldiers were killed.
    The Quds Force under Soleimani was instrumental in directing militia that fought on behalf of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad throughout the nine year Syrian war.
    On Saturday, Iranian media said the bodies of two Revolutionary Guards members killed in Syria four year ago were repatriated after being recently found and identified.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by Alex Richardson and Peter Graff)

6/30/2020 Russia, Turkey, Iran leaders to discuss Syria on Wednesday, Kremlin says
FILE PHOTO: Presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia, Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and Hassan Rouhani of Iran
pose following a joint news conference in Ankara, Turkey, September 16, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – The presidents of Russia, Iran and Turkey will hold a video conference on Wednesday to discuss the conflict in Syria, the Kremlin said on Tuesday.
    In Syria’s nine-year war, Russia and Iran are the main foreign supporters of President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, while Turkey backs opposition fighters.    Under a diplomatic process dating back to 2017, they agreed to work to de-escalate fighting.
    Wednesday’s talks between Vladimir Putin, Hassan Rouhani and Tayyip Erdogan were scheduled for around 1100 GMT, the Kremlin said.
    After an escalation of violence displaced nearly a million people, Turkey and Russia agreed in March to halt hostilities in northwest Syria’s Idlib region. This month military jets bombed villages in the rebel-held area.
    Two weeks ago, Russia and Turkey postponed bilateral ministerial-level talks which were expected to focus on Syria and Libya, another country where they support opposing sides.
(Reporting by Alexander Marrow; Writing by Daren Butler in Turkey; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Peter Graff)

7/12/2020 Iran Agency Says Chain Of Errors Caused Ukrainian Plane Crash
FILE PHOTO: People place candles as they commemorate victims of the Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 plane
disaster, in front of the Iranian embassy in Kiev, Ukraine February 17, 2020. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation blamed a misalignment of a radar system and lack of communication between the air defence operator and his commanders for the accidental downing of a Ukrainian passenger plane in January that killed 176 people aboard.
    Iran’s Revolutionary Guards shot down the Ukraine International Airlines flight with a ground-to-air missile on Jan. 8 shortly after the plane took off from Tehran,in what Tehran later acknowledged as a “disastrous mistake” by forces who were on high alert during a confrontation with the United States.
    A mistake in aligning the radar system had caused human error.    An operator had forgotten to re-adjust the direction on the radar system after moving to a new position, an error that contributed to misreading the radar’s data,” an interim report on the Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO) website said.
    The CAO report, which was published on late Saturday, said the missile battery that targeted the passenger plane had been relocated and “was not properly reoriented.”
    The downing occurred at a time of high tension between longtime foes Iran and the United States.    Iran was on alert for attacks after it fired missiles at Iraqi bases housing U.S. forces in retaliation for the killing on Jan. 3 of its most powerful military commander, Qassem Soleimani, in a U.S. missile strike at Baghdad airport.
    “A failure occurred after the relocation of one of the air defence units of Tehran? … It occurred because of a human error,” the CAO report said, adding that the plane was detected by the system as a target approaching Tehran.
    The operator of the air defence system “lacked awareness of the relocation of the air defence unit,” and fired the two missiles without authorisation from the command centre, the report said.
    “When the first missile was fired, the passenger plane was flying at a normal altitude and trajectory,” the report added.
    Last month, Iran said the black boxes of the Boeing 737-800 airliner will be sent to France, to be analysed starting July 20.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)
[THE BLAME IS ON YOUR LEADERS OR THE IRAN REVOLUTIONARY GUARDS WHO WERE FIRING MISSILES INTO IRAQ AT THE UNITED STATES FACILITIES AND YOUR OBSESSION CAUSED YOUR ERROR TO SHOOT DOWN AND KILL 176 PERSONS AND 140+ OF THEM WERE YOUR OWN IRANIANS ON THE AIRPLANE WHICH MAKES YOU LOOK AS STUPID AS YOUR ARE IN YOUR HATRED THE GOD OF ABRAHAM, ISAAC AND JACOB LET YOU KNOW THAT FOR SURE AS NOT ONE AMERICAN WAS HARMED AND EVEN HERE YOU ARE TRYING TO GIVE A WISHY WASHY EXCUSE FOR WHY IT HAPPENED AND NO WHERE DID YOU STATE WHAT PUNISHMENT THE OPERATOR WILL GET UNLESS HE WAS FOLLOWING THE ORDERS FROM YOU.].

7/13/2020 At Least 11 Dead, Dozens Wounded In Taliban Suicide Car Bomb, Shooting by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this May 27, 2016 file photo, Taliban fighters react to a speech by their senior leader in
the Shindand district of Herat province, Afghanistan. (AP Photos/Allauddin Khan, File)
    The Taliban has claimed responsibility for a suicide car bomb in Afghanistan.    The Monday explosion was followed by a gun battle between attackers and Afghan forces.
    The attack left at least eleven dead and more than 60 wounded in the northern Afghanistan providence of Samangan.    Officials said the bomber was targeting the Intelligence Service Department in the provincial capital of Aybak.
    “Unfortunately, 11 National Directorate of Security (intelligence service) personal were martyred; one of them was a woman, 10 others were men and also 63 people were wounded,” stated Sediq Azizi, a spokesman for the provincial governor.    “Most of the wounded people are in good condition; only two of them were in critical condition and have been transported to Mazari Sharif Hospital.”
    The Taliban and government forces have continued to trade blame for the recent violence amid calls for direct peace talks.

7/13/2020 Secy. Pompeo Opposes Obama-Era Expiration Clause In Iran Arms Embargo by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference at the State Department
in Washington, Wednesday, July 8, 2020. (Tom Brenner/Pool via AP)
    Mike Pompeo is ramping up pressure on the United Nations to extend its arms embargo on Iran’s Ayatollah regime, which is due to expire later this year.
    The secretary of state posted his recent video address on Twitter Sunday in which he said the Ayatollahs can’t be trusted due to their known history of illicit trade in weapons.
    Pompeo cited a report by the UN secretary general as the reason enough to maintain the embargo on Iran beyond its expiration date.
    The UN embargo were agreed upon as part of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, but the deal has since fallen apart due to the Ayatollah’s questionable nuclear endeavors.
    Iran is now pushing the UN to lift the weapons restrictions on October 18, 2020 as agreed with Barack Obama five-years ago.    In order to achieve that goal, Iran is leading a two-pronged assault against the U.S.    The first assault unraveled on the diplomatic front at the UN.
    “A permanent member of the Security Council is punishing law abiding states and private citizens for not violating a council resolution,” stated Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif.
    Iran’s official stance on the matter appears to be gaining popularity in the Islamic circles within the U.S. For example, Houston-based Shi’ite preacher Shamshad Haider recently endorsed the Ayatollah regime
.
    Statements like this are mostly ignored by mainstream media as they continue to portray the standoff with Iran as just another foreign policy matter.
    In reality, however, U.S. Intelligence has warned the Ayatollah regime is leading a massive diplomatic and propaganda effort to alienate America’s allies and weaken the U.S. from within.
    Some leaders and groups, both in European capitals and in America’s inner cities, are apparently buying into Iranian narratives.
    Pompeo, however, reiterated that both the U.S. and the UN have hard evidence of the Ayatollah’s violations of international law.    He added that all this goes to show the Iranian regime poses a threat to global peace and stability, which is a threat even greater than before.
    “Don’t just take it from me or from the U.S., listen to the countries in the region from Israel to Gulf,” said the secretary of state.    “Extend the arms embargo.”

7/22/2020 Explainer: What Are The Main Areas Of Tension In The U.S.-China Relationship?
FILE PHOTO: The flags of China, U.S. and the Chinese Communist Party are displayed in a flag stall at the
Yiwu Wholesale Market in Yiwu, Zhejiang province, China, May 10, 2019. REUTERS/Aly Song/File Photo
    (Reuters) – The U.S. demand this week that China close its consulate in Houston is the latest in a string of disputes that have taken the relationship between the world’s two biggest economies to its lowest point in decades.
    Here are the main points of contention between Beijing and Washington:
CORONAVIRUS
    U.S. President Donald Trump has accused China of a lack of transparency about the coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.    He regularly refers to it as the “China virus.”
    Trump said Chinese officials “ignored their reporting obligations” to the World Health Organization about the virus – that has killed hundreds of thousands of people globally – and pressured the U.N. agency to “mislead the world.”
    China says it has been transparent about the outbreak and the WHO has denied Trump’s assertions that it promoted Chinese “disinformation” about the virus.    The United States plans to quit the WHO in mid-2021 over its handling of the pandemic.
TRADE
    The Trump administration began increasing tariffs on imports from China, its largest trading partner, in 2018 as part of an ambitious plan to force Beijing to curb subsidies on state manufacturing and tough demands on U.S. companies in China.
    After more than a year of tit-for-tat tariffs that slowed global economic growth, the countries signed a trade deal in January 2020 that rolls back some tariffs, but does not address the core issues.    Beijing has pledged to increase imports of U.S. goods by $200 billion over two years.
    The U.S. Commerce and State departments are pushing U.S. companies to move sourcing and manufacturing out of China.
SOUTH CHINA SEA
    The United States has hardened its position in recent weeks on the South China Sea, where it has accused China of attempting to build a “maritime empire” in the potentially energy-rich waters.
    Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam challenge China’s claim to about 90% of the sea.    A July 13 statement by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was the first time the United States had called China’s claims unlawful and accused Beijing of a “campaign of bullying.”
HONG KONG
    China and the United States have clashed over pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong, most recently Beijing’s imposition of new security legislation on the former British colony, which returned to Chinese rule in 1997.     Trump this month signed an executive order to end preferential economic treatment for Hong Kong, allowing him to impose sanctions and visa restrictions on Chinese officials and financial institutions involved in enacting the law.
    China has threatened retaliatory sanctions of its own.
UIGHURS
    The United States has imposed sanctions on Chinese officials, companies and institutions over human rights violations linked to China’s treatment of minority Muslim Uighurs in the country’s western Xinjiang region.
    China has been widely condemned for setting up complexes in remote Xinjiang that it describes as “vocational training centers” to stamp out extremism and give people new skills.
JOURNALISTS AND CHINESE STUDENTS
    The United States has started treating several major Chinese state media outlets as foreign embassies and slashed the number of journalists allowed to work at U.S. offices of those Chinese media outlets to 100 from 160.
    In response, China expelled about a dozen American correspondents with major U.S. outlets and asked four U.S. media organizations to submit details about their operations in China.
    Washington in May introduced new rules restricting the granting of visas to Chinese graduate students believed to have links with China’s military.
HUAWEI
    Chinese tech firm Huawei was added to the U.S. Commerce Department’s “entity list” last year due to national security concerns, amid accusations from Washington that it violated U.S. sanctions on Iran and can spy on customers, allegations Huawei has denied. The listing greatly reduced its access to vital parts and supplies, like chips, from U.S. suppliers.
    Huawei says Washington wants to frustrate its growth because no U.S. company offers the same technology at a competitive price.
    The United States has been successfully pushing countries around the world to drop Huawei.
NORTH KOREA
    China is at odds with the United States over North Korea, even though they both want the country to give up its nuclear weapons.    Washington has accused China of breaching U.N. sanctions on North Korea, assertions Beijing has denied.    China wants to lift some sanctions, but the United States disagrees.
    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and Trump have met three times, but failed to make progress on U.S. calls for Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons and North Korea’s demands for an end to sanctions.
    The number-two diplomat at the State Department, Stephen Biegun, said on Wednesday Washington and Beijing could still work together against North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction despite current tensions.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols, Chris Sanders, Idrees Ali, David Brunnstrom, Patricia Zengerle and Heather Timmons; Editing by Mary Milliken and Rosalba O’Brien)

7/23/2020 Iran Says Foreign States May Have Carried Out Cyberattacks, Plays Down Their Role In Fires
FILE PHOTO: A view of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility, in
Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran’s foreign ministry said on Thursday foreign governments may have been behind recent cyberattacks on Iranian facilities, but played down the possibility of them having a role in a series of fires and explosions at military and other installations.
    Since late June, several fires or explosions have been reported at military, industrial and nuclear sites in Iran as well as at oil refineries, power plants, factories and businesses.
    Some Iranian officials have said a fire at the underground Natanz nuclear facility this month may have been caused by cyber sabotage.    Other incidents have gone unexplained.
    “There are thousands of cyberattacks on the country’s infrastructure on a daily basis – which is nothing new – most of which are repelled by our defence systems,” Iranian media quoted Foreign Ministry spokesman Abbas Mousavi as telling reporters.
    In recent months, there have been several cyberattacks with wider dimensions, and technical and forensic analyses have identified “governments or groups” who were behind the attacks, he said without naming them.
    But Mousavi also said fires in forests, refineries and other locations were common in summer.
    An article this month by Iran’s state news agency IRNA addressed what it called the possibility of sabotage by enemies such as Israel and the United States although it stopped short of accusing either directly.
[Whoever it was made sure that the IAEA is now aware of Iran’s illegal facilities where they were advancing their agenda to get nuclear weapons to destroy Israel and the United States or maybe the Iranian people have decided to fight back against the Mullahs wrongdoings to them.    On 6/5/2020 the International Atomic Energy Agency warned of Iran's refusal to let them investigate two sites where they conducted undeclared nuclear activities, which is possibly those sites above.].

7/23/2020 U.S. Diplomats Head To China Despite Row Over Houston Consulate by Humeyra Pamuk
FILE PHOTO: Vehicles pass by the China Consulate General in Houston, Texas, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A flight bound for Shanghai carrying U.S. diplomats has left the United States as Washington presses ahead with its plan to restaff its mission in China a day after a U.S. order to close the Chinese consulate in Houston sharply escalated tensions.
    A person familiar with the matter told Reuters the flight, carrying an unspecified number of U.S. diplomats, left Washington on Wednesday evening.    The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    An internal State Department email dated July 17, seen by Reuters, said the department was working to arrange a charter flight to Shanghai from Washington’s Dulles International Airport departing on Thursday.
    The source said this flight had departed earlier than initially planned.
    The email said a tentative July 29 flight to Tianjin and Beijing was in the initial planning stages and a target date for another flight, to Guangzhou, was still to be determined.
    The memo said priority was being given to reuniting separated families and returning section/agency heads.
    The U.S. is working to fully restaff its mission in China, one of its largest in the world, which was evacuated in February because of COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus.
    Thursday’s flight went ahead despite a dramatic move by Washington to close China’s consulate in Houston amid sweeping espionage allegations.
    China warned on Thursday it would be forced to respond to the U.S. move, which had “severely harmed” relations.
    It gave no details, but the South China Morning Post reported that China may close the U.S. consulate in Chengdu, while a source told Reuters on Wednesday it was considering shutting the consulate in Wuhan, where the United States withdrew staff at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Two flights have so far taken place to return some of the more than 1,200 U.S. diplomats with their families to China since negotiations for the returns hit an impasse in early July over conditions China wanted to impose on the Americans.
    The impasse caused the State Department to postpone flights tentatively scheduled for the first 10 days of July.
    U.S.-China relations have deteriorated this year to their lowest level in decades over a wide range of issues, including China’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, bilateral trade and a new security law for Hong Kong.
    Washington and Beijing have been negotiating for weeks over the terms of how to bring U.S. diplomats back amid disagreement over COVID-19 testing and quarantine procedures as well as frequency of flights and how many each can bring back.
(Reporting by Humeyra Paumuk; Additional reporting by David Brunnstrom; Editing by Mary Milliken and Diane Craft)

7/23/2020 China Warns It ‘Must’ Retaliate After Closure Of Houston Consulate by Huizhong Wu and David Brunnstrom
FILE PHOTO: China’s national flag is seen waving at the China Consulate General in Houston, Texas, U.S., July 22, 2020. REUTERS/Adrees Latif
    BEIJING/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China said the U.S. move to close its Houston consulate this week had “severely harmed” relations and warned it “must” retaliate, without detailing what it would do.
    Washington on Tuesday gave China 72 hours to close the consulate, which it said was “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” a dramatic escalation of tension between the world’s two biggest economies.
    Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described the U.S. allegations as “malicious slander” and said the “unreasonable” move had “severely harmed” relations.
    “China must make a necessary response and safeguard its legitimate rights,” he said, declining to specify any measures.
    The South China Morning Post reported that China may close the U.S. consulate in the southwestern city of Chengdu, while a source told Reuters on Wednesday that China was considering shutting the consulate in Wuhan, where the United States withdrew staff at the start of the coronavirus outbreak.
    Hu Xijin, editor of China’s Global Times tabloid, posted on Twitter: “Based on what I know, China will announce countermeasure on Friday Beijing time. One U.S. consulate in China will be asked to close.”
    He had earlier said that shutting the Wuhan consulate would be insufficiently disruptive and suggested that China could cut U.S. staff at its large consulate in Hong Kong, which he described as an “intelligence centre.”
    “This will make Washington suffer much pain,” he wrote.
    The other U.S. consulates in China are in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Shenyang.
    China has four other consulates in the United States – in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago and New York – as well as an embassy in Washington.
    A U.S. law enforcement official, familiar with the reasons for the closure of Chinese consulate in Houston, said there was “not one singular incident” which led to the decision.    He said the consulate was part of a “continual pattern” of suspicious or potentially illegal activities by Chinese diplomatic missions.
    Republican Senator Marco Rubio, acting chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, described the Houston consulate on Twitter as the “central node of the Communist Party’s vast network of spies & influence operations in the United States
    President Donald Trump said in answer to a question at a news briefing on Wednesday it was “always possible” other Chinese missions could be closed too.
    Richard Grenell, special presidential envoy for Serbia and Kosovo who served until recently as acting director of U.S. national intelligence, told Reuters the U.S. strategy was “very much start with one and move on to others if need be.”
    “It’s the escalation strategy,” he said.
    “The whole goal is to change the behavior of the Chinese… this is emerging as the Trump doctrine, which is very harsh actions, sanctions and isolation while at the same time always offering a chance to exit if the behavior changes.”
    The Wall Street Journal said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would deliver a speech in California later on Thursday urging allied countries and the people of China to work with the United States to change the Chinese Communist Party’s behavior.
    In spite of the tensions, a flight bound for Shanghai carrying U.S. diplomats left the United States on Wednesday night, as     Washington pressed ahead with its plan to restaff missions in China evacuated due to the coronavirus pandemic.
ELECTION ‘GAMBIT’
    U.S.-China ties have deteriorated sharply this year over issues ranging from the coronavirus and telecoms-gear maker Huawei to China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
    Chinese state media editorials said the U.S. move against the Houston consulate was an attempt to blame Beijing for U.S. failures ahead of Trump’s November reelection bid.
    Opinion polls show Trump trailing his Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the Nov. 3 election.    The candidates have appeared to compete in their campaigns over who can appear toughest towards Beijing.
    Separately, the Federal Bureau of Investigation alleged in U.S. court filings that a Chinese researcher accused of visa fraud and concealing ties to the military was now holed up in China’s consulate in San Francisco.
    Other Chinese researchers at U.S. universities have also been arrested for visa fraud, according to U.S. court filings.
    Wang said China would safeguard its citizens.
    “For some time, the U.S. has held ideological bias to continuously surveil, harass and even arbitrarily detain Chinese students and scholars in the U.S.,” he said.
    “We urge the U.S. to stop using any excuse to restrict, harass or oppress Chinese students and researchers in the U.S.
(Reporting by David Stanway, Tony Munroe and Huizhong Wu in China and Steve Holland, Daphne Psaledakis, Humeyra Pamuk, David Brunnstrom and Mark Hosenball in Washington; Editing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien)

7/24/2020 China Orders U.S. To Shut Chengdu Consulate, Retaliating For Houston by Yew Lun Tian and Tony Munroe
FILE PHOTO: U.S. and Chinese flags are seen before Defense Secretary James Mattis welcomes Chinese Minister of National
Defense Gen. Wei Fenghe to the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia, U.S., November 9, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas
    BEIJING (Reuters) – China ordered the United States to close its consulate in the city of Chengdu on Friday, responding to a U.S. demand this week that China close its Houston consulate, as relations between the world’s two largest economies deteriorate.
    The order to close the consulate in Chengdu, in southwestern China’s Sichuan province, was seen as roughly reciprocal in terms of scale and impact, continuing China’s recent practice of like-for-like responses to U.S. actions.
    China had warned it would retaliate after it was unexpectedly given 72 hours – until Friday – to vacate its Houston consulate, and had urged the United States to reconsider.
    “The U.S. move seriously breached international law, the basic norms of international relations, and the terms of the China-U.S. Consular Convention.    It gravely harmed China-U.S. relations,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
    “The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of China informed the U.S. Embassy in China of its decision to withdraw its consent for the establishment and operation of the U.S. Consulate General in Chengdu,” it said.
    The consulate opened in 1985 and has almost 200 employees including about 150 locally hired staff, according to its website.    It was not immediately clear how many are there now after a significant number of U.S. diplomats were evacuated from China during the early stages of the coronavirus outbreak.
    The consulate was given 72 hours to close, or until 10 a.m. on Monday, the editor of the Global Times newspaper said on Twitter.
    The U.S. Department of State and the U.S. embassy in Beijing did not immediately respond to requests for comment.     Chinese stock markets were sold off heavily after the announcement, leading regional losses with a 3.5% fall in the blue-chip index, while the yuan dropped to a two-week low. [MKTS/GLOB]
TROUBLED TIES
    Relations between Washington and Beijing have deteriorated sharply this year over a range of issues, from trade and technology to the novel coronavirus, China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea and its clampdown on Hong Kong.
    U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a speech on Thursday the United States and its allies must use “more creative and assertive ways” to press the Chinese Communist Party to change its ways, calling it the “mission of our time.”
    A source had previously told Reuters that China was considering shutting the U.S. consulate in Wuhan, where the United States withdrew staff early this year as the coronavirus outbreak raged.
    A state newspaper editor had suggested that China could order a dramatic scale back of staff at the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong.
    “The Chengdu consulate is more important than the Wuhan consulate because that is where the U.S. gathers information about Tibet and China’s development of strategic weapons in neighbouring regions,” said Wu Xinbo, a professor and American studies expert at Fudan University in Shanghai.
    He said the Chengdu consulate was less important for trade and economic activity than U.S. consulates in Shanghai, Guangzhou and Hong Kong.
    The Chengdu consulate became notorious in 2012 when Wang Lijun, the police chief of nearby Chongqing city, attempted to defect there, a trigger point in a dramatic scandal that brought down rising political star Bo Xilai.
    Chinese social media users, who had denounced the U.S. order to close the Houston mission, applauded the response.
    The comment, “let’s renovate it into a hotpot restaurant!,” a reference to a popular dish in Chengdu, got 100,000 likes on the Weibo account of state broadcaster CCTV.
(Reporting by Tony Munroe and Yew Lun Tian; additional reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru, Tom Westbrook in Singapore; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore, Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)

7/24/2020 China Says Pompeo’s Speech Filled With Ideological Bias
FILE PHOTO: New spokesman for Chinese Foreign Ministry Wang Wenbin speaks during a news conference in Beijing, China July 17, 2020. REUTERS/Tingshu Wang
    BEIJING (Reuters) – The Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday a speech by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on China disregarded reality and was filled with ideological bias.
    Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, told a daily news conference in Beijing that China urged the United States to discard the “cold war mentality.”
    In a speech delivered on Thursday, Pompeo said Washington and its allies must use “more creative and assertive ways” to press the Chinese Communist Party to change its ways, calling it the “mission of our time.”
(Reporting by Huizhong Wu; Editing by Alex Richardson)

8/11/2020 Iran Nuclear Deal At Risk As U.N. Council Prepares To Vote On Arms Embargo by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the seat of Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ahead of a
board of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The U.N. Security Council is preparing to vote this week on a U.S. proposal to extend an arms embargo on Iran, a move that some diplomats say is bound to fail and put the fate of a nuclear deal between Tehran and world powers further at risk.
    A last-minute attempt by Britain, France and Germany to broker a compromise with Russia and China on an arms embargo extension appeared unsuccessful so far, diplomats said.    Russia and China, allies of Iran, have long-signaled opposition to the U.S. measure.
    A Chinese diplomat at the United Nations, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that “extending the arms embargo on Iran in whatever form lacks legal basis and will undermine efforts to preserve” the nuclear deal, adding that there is “no chance” the U.S. text will be adopted.
    U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft said Russia and China wanted to benefit from the end of the arms embargo.    “Russia and China are waiting to be able to sell arms to Iran,” Craft told Fox News.
    The embargo is due to expire in October under a 2015 deal among Iran, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and the United States that prevents Tehran from developing nuclear weapons in return for sanctions relief.
    Even though U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration quit the accord in 2018 – with Trump dubbing it “the worst deal ever” – Washington has threatened to use a provision in the agreement to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not extend the arms embargo indefinitely.     Renewed sanctions — a move known as snapback — would likely kill the nuclear deal because Iran would lose a major incentive for limiting its nuclear activities.    Iran has already breached parts of the nuclear deal in response to the U.S. withdrawal from the pact and Washington’s imposing strong unilateral sanctions.
    “This U.S. administration’s goal is to terminate the Iran nuclear deal,” said a European diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    U.S. Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook alluded to the United States wanting to reimpose all U.N. sanctions when he said last week, “We need to restore the U.N. Security Council standard of no enrichment.”
    A snapback of U.N. sanctions would require Iran to suspend all enrichment-related and reprocessing activities, including research and development, and ban imports of anything that could contribute to those activities or to the development of nuclear weapon delivery systems.
    It would reimpose the arms embargo, ban Iran from developing ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons and reimpose targeted sanctions on dozens of individuals and entities.    States would also be urged to inspect shipments to and from Iran and authorized to seize any banned cargo.
‘ZERO CHANCE’
    Richard Gowan, U.N. director for conflict prevention advocacy body the International Crisis Group, said there was “zero chance” the U.S. attempt to extend the arms embargo would be adopted and that it was “a ploy to get to snapback.”
    The council is operating virtually so once a vote is called the 15 members would have 24 hours to submit their decision and the result would be announced at a public meeting, but diplomats say there is little support for the current U.S. text.
    The draft resolution needs at least nine votes in favor to force Russia and China to use their vetoes, but some diplomats question whether Washington can even secure those nine votes.
    “Everyone at the U.N. understands that this resolution is just the curtain-raiser for a much bigger fight over the Iranian nuclear deal,” said Gowan.
    Washington argues it can trigger the sanctions because a Security Council resolution enshrining the nuclear deal names it as a participant.    But the remaining parties to the agreement are opposed to such a move, and diplomats say the United States would face a tough, messy battle.
    “It’s highly likely … a number of countries will be saying they have no intention of implementing further sanctions, until the U.N. Security Council decides whether or not snapback has been carried out legally,” said a senior council diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    “I don’t see how the council can decide that given the divisions that will be within it,” the diplomat said.    “I don’t see any rush to re-establish sanctions regimes therefore around the world.”
(Additional reporting by Sabine Siebold; Editing by Mary Milliken and Cynthia Osterman)

8/11/2020 U.S. Attempts To Win More Support With Streamlined Bid To Extend Iran Arms Embargo by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag flutters in front the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)
headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – The United States streamlined its bid on Tuesday to get the U.N. Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Iran, a move that could win Washington more support in the 15-member body but is unlikely to overcome opposition by veto-powers Russia and China.
    The new text, seen by Reuters, is just four paragraphs and would extend a weapons ban on Iran “until the Security Council decides otherwise,” stating that is “essential to the maintenance of international peace and security.”
    The 13-year-old arms embargo is due to expire in October under a 2015 nuclear deal among Iran, Russia, China, Germany, Britain, France and the United States that prevents Tehran from developing nuclear weapons in return for sanctions relief.
    The previous U.S. draft resolution was described by diplomats and analysts as maximalist.”    It was more than a dozen pages long, would have required countries to inspect cargo going to or coming from Iran and included an annex of individuals and entities for targeted sanctions.
    Diplomats said that while the new simple draft text might win the United States some more votes, it was unclear if Washington could get the minimum nine votes needed, and they said it was unlikely to convince Russia and China to abstain.
    “Don’t let the brevity of the new U.S. draft fool you.    The key point is that it authorizes an indefinite extension of the Iran arms embargo … and China and Russia will *not* like that,” Richard Gowan, U.N. director for conflict prevention advocacy body the International Crisis Group, posted on Twitter.
    “So good chance this U.S. draft will fail by Friday,” he said.
    The United States has asked council members for comments by Wednesday morning.    The council is operating virtually so once a vote is called, members would have 24 hours to submit their response.    The result would be announced at a public meeting.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

8/12/2020 Iran Says U.S. Arms Embargo Push At U.N. Will Fail – TV
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    DUBAI (Reuters) – U.S. efforts to get the U.N. Security Council to extend an arms embargo on Tehran would fail, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a televised speech on Wednesday, a day after U.S. officials circulated a revised proposal.
    Washington streamlined its bid on Tuesday to win more support in the 15-member Security Council but it is unlikely to overcome opposition by veto powers Russia and China to extending the weapons embargo that ends in October under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers.
    “Until today, the U.S. has failed politically, and it will fail again…if such a resolution is passed…Its initiators will be responsible for the consequences,” said Rouhani, without elaborating on what Tehran’s reaction could be.
    The new U.S. resolution would extend Iran’s arms ban “until the Security Council decides otherwise,” stating it is “essential to the maintenance of international peace and security.”
    The previous U.S. draft resolution was described by diplomats and analysts as “maximalist.”    It would have required countries to inspect cargo going to or coming from Iran and included an annex of individuals and entities for targeted sanctions.
    Separately, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the revised U.S. draft was a “very illegal” resolution.
    “I am certain that the Security Council will reject (it).”
    Although U.S. President Donald Trump exited the nuclear deal in 2018, Washington has threatened to use a provision in the accord to trigger a return of all U.N. sanctions on Iran if the Security Council does not extend the arms embargo indefinitely.
    Renewed sanctions – a move known as “snapback” – would likely kill the nuclear deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its sensitive uranium enrichment programme in exchange for lifting most sanctions on Tehran.
    Washington has reimposed harsh economic and financial sanctions on the Islamic Republic since 2018.    In retaliation, Iran has gradually scaled back its commitments set by the nuclear deal.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

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

8/20/2020 U.S. Moves To Restore All U.N. Sanctions On Iran In Dispute Over Nuclear Deal by Michelle Nichols and Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: A sign marks the seat of Iran's ambassador to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) ahead of a board
of governors meeting at the IAEA headquarters in Vienna, Austria March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    UNITED NATIONS/DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States moved to restore all U.N. sanctions on Iran on Thursday, arguing Tehran was in violation of a nuclear deal it struck with world powers in 2015 even though Washington itself abandoned that agreement two years ago.
    The United States submitted a letter to the 15-member U.N. Security Council accusing Tehran of non-compliance, in theory starting a 30-day process that could lead to the “snapback” of U.N. sanctions even though major powers such as Russia reject the U.S. stance and say they will not restore the U.N. measures.
    Iran itself rejected the U.S. move, taken in part because of the impending October expiration of a U.N. arms embargo on Tehran, arguing Washington had no right trigger the re-imposition and asking Security Council members to reject the U.S. action.     U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration abandoned the Iran nuclear deal, which was designed to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons, arguing in part that its limitations on Iran’s atomic activities were inadequate.
    In a letter to the U.N. Security Council, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Iran had breached many of the deal’s central limits without acknowledging that most of the Iranian “non-performance” came only after Washington had pulled out.
    “Iran’s non-performance is incontestable and a matter of public record,” said the letter, citing Iran’s enrichment of uranium above 3.67%, amassing of an enriched uranium stockpile beyond the agreement’s 300 kg ceiling, and other violations.
    In a letter to the Security Council submitted before the United States action, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said Washington had no right to trigger the “snapback” mechanism as it was no longer a party to the pact.
    “The U.S. push to reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran will have dangerous consequences,” Zarif’s letter said.    “Now it is the international community’s turn to counter the unlawful push by the United States.”
    Iranian state TV said the letter was sent to the current president of the U.N. Security Council by Iran’s U.N. envoy Majid Takhteravanchi.
    Russia backed the Iranian stance.
    Russia’s U.N. ambassador rejected U.S. plans to restore U.N. sanctions on Iran as “nonexistent,” saying only a country that remains in the 2015 agreement can trigger the return of the sanctions in a process known informally as “snapback.”
    “We will not take it as snapback,” Russian U.N. Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia told reporters before Pompeo was to deliver the U.S. letter.
    “He’s not triggering a snapback. Snapback can be triggered by a country that is a participant of the JCPOA, which the U.S. is not,” he said, referring to the accord by its formal name, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA).
    “We consider snapback as nonexistent.    We will not take it as a snapback,” Nebenzia added.
    When asked if Russia would reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran, the Russian ambassador replied: “How can Russia reimpose U.N. sanctions on Iran if the resolution 2231 continues?

8/24/2020 Iran, IAEA Chief Say Talks In Tehran Were ‘Constructive’ by Parisa Hafezi
Head of Iran's Atomic Energy Organization Ali-Akbar Salehi wears a mask as he speaks during a meeting with International Atomic
Energy Agency (IAEA) Director General Rafael Grossi, in Tehran, Iran August 25, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Talks with the U.N. nuclear watchdog’s chief were constructive, Iran’s top nuclear official Ali Akbar Salehi was quoted as saying on Tuesday, after meeting Rafael Grossi during a visit to seek access for inspectors to two suspected former atomic sites.
    Grossi’s trip comes after Washington last week pressed the U.N. Security Council to reimpose sanctions on Tehran that were lifted under Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, from which the United States has withdrawn.
    Iranian authorities said Grossi’s visit was not related to U.S. moves to reimpose sanctions.
    “Our conversation today was very constructive.    It was agreed that the agency will carry out its independent and professional responsibilities and Iran will fulfil its legal commitments,” said Salehi, head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, according to the Students News Agency ISNA.
    “A new chapter of cooperation between Iran and the International Atomic Energy Agency will start.”
    The IAEA Board of Governors passed a resolution in June putting pressure on Iran to let inspectors into the sites because they could still host undeclared nuclear material, or traces of it.
    Grossi said on Saturday he would address “the outstanding questions, in particular, the issue of the access.”
    “There is no political approach towards Iran … There are issues that need to be addressed … this does not mean a political approach towards Iran,” Grossi said after meeting Salehi.
    Tehran said on Monday that Grossi’s visit would “strengthen ties and build trust” between Tehran and the IAEA, “as long as the IAEA moves based on impartiality, independence and distances itself from political pressure of another countries.”
    “The IAEA will not let third countries impact its relations with any other country,” Grossi said, according to Iranian media.
    Grossi will meet President Hassan Rouhani, the foreign minister and other senior officials during his visit.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Alison Williams and Giles Elgood)

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

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

9/4/2020 IAEA Inspects One Of Two Sites In Iran After Long Stand-Off
FILE PHOTO: A flag with the logo of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) flutters in front
of their headquarters in Vienna, Austria July 10, 2019. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo
    VIENNA (Reuters) – Iran has let the U.N. nuclear watchdog inspect one of the two sites it agreed last week to grant access to after a protracted standoff, while Tehran’s stockpile of enriched uranium has risen further, quarterly reports by the agency said on Friday.
    The International Atomic Energy Agency inspected one of the sites and took environmental samples there, one of the two reports obtained by Reuters said, referring to samples aimed at detecting traces of nuclear material that may have been present.
    The agency’s inspectors will visit the other site “later in September 2020 on a date already agreed with Iran, to take environmental samples,” the report said.
    The other report said that Iran’s stock of low-enriched uranium (LEU) rose by 534 kg in the most recent quarter, roughly the same amount as in the previous three months, to 2,105.4 kg.
    That is more than 10 times the 202.8 kg limit set by Iran’s 2015 nuclear accord with big powers, which Iran has been breaching in response to Washington’s withdrawal from the deal in 2018 and reimposition of sanctions against Tehran.
    The stockpile, however, remains far below the many tonnes of enriched uranium Iran had accumulated before the 2015 deal.
    Tehran is enriching up to a fissile purity of 4.5%, which while above the deal’s 3.67% limit is still far short of the 20% level it achieved before the deal. Roughly 90% purity is considered weapons-grade, suitable for an atomic bomb.
    Iran agreed on Aug. 26, during the first visit to Tehran by IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi, to allow access for U.N. inspectors to two sites suspected of once hosting covert uranium conversion and nuclear testing activities.
    While the IAEA says it has the right to examine such sites without permission, Iran objected because at least some of the information about them came from a trove of documents on its past activities that Tehran’s main Middle East adversary, Israel, says it seized inside Iran.
(Reporting by Francois Murphy; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

9/5/2020 IAEA: Iran continues to expand stockpile of enriched uranium
    VIENNA – Iran continues to increase its stockpile of enriched uranium in violation of limitations set in a landmark deal with world powers, but has begun providing access to sites where it was suspected of having stored or used undeclared nuclear material and possibly conducted nuclear-related activities.    The International Atomic Energy Agency reported in a confidential document distributed to member countries Friday that Iran as of Aug. 25 had stockpiled 2.32 tons of low-enriched uranium, up from 1.73 tons last reported on May 20.

[THE FOLLOWING ARTICLE IS VERY FUNNY AS IRAN THINKS IT HAS FRIENDS AND IF THEY DO IT IS NOT SOMEONE OF INTEREST]
9/5/2020 Iran’s Friends Should Have Defied U.S. Sanctions During Pandemic: President Rouhani
    (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani bemoaned Iran’s friends on Saturday for not standing up to the United States and breaking crippling sanctions during the coronavirus pandemic.
    He also said that if the United States had a “bit of humanity or brain,” it would have lifted sanctions on Iran for the duration of the health crisis.
    Iran, with over 380,000 registered cases and over 22,000 deaths from the coronavirus, is one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic in the Middle East.
    “Over the past months since the coronavirus arrived in our country… no one came to our help,” Rouhani said in remarks broadcast live on Iranian state television.
    If the United States “had a bit of humanity and brain,” he said, it would have offered to “lift the sanctions for a year because of the coronavirus.”
    But the United States “is far more heartless and evil than those things,” he added.
    Instead, it “imposed new sanctions and pressures on us over these past seven months of coronavirus,” Rouhani said.
    At the same time, he said, “not a single friendly country told us that in this time of coronavirus and hardship and for the sake of humanity ‘we will stand up to America'” and do business with Iran despite threats of U.S. retaliation.
    The United States has threatened to impose sanctions on whoever conducts business with Iran.
    The sanctions are part of the U.S. effort to slash Iranian revenues after U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018 from the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
(Editing by Toby Chopra)

9/8/2020 Iran Building New Production Hall For Centrifuges In Mountains Near Natanz
A view of a damage building after a fire broke out at Iran's Natanz Nuclear Facility,
in Isfahan, Iran, July 2, 2020. Atomic Energy Organization of Iran/WANA
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran has begun to build a hall in “the heart of the mountains” near its Natanz nuclear site for making advanced centrifuges, Iran’s nuclear chief said on Tuesday, aiming to replace a production hall at the facility hit by fire in July.
    Iran said at the time that the fire was the result of sabotage and had caused significant damage that could slow the development of advanced uranium enrichment centrifuges.
    “Due to the sabotage, it was decided to build a more modern, larger and more comprehensive hall in all dimensions in the heart of the mountain near Natanz. Of course, the work has begun,” said Ali Akbar Salehi, according to state TV.
    Natanz is the centrepiece of Iran’s enrichment programme, which Tehran says is for peaceful purposes.    Western intelligence agencies and the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog (IAEA) believe Iran had a coordinated, clandestine nuclear arms programme that it halted in 2003.    Tehran denies ever seeking nuclear weapons.
    The Natanz uranium-enrichment site, much of which is underground, is one of several Iranian facilities monitored by inspectors of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), the U.N. nuclear watchdog.
    A confrontation between arch foes Tehran and Washington has worsened since 2018, when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with major powers and reimposed sanctions that have crippled Iran’s economy.
    Under the deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for the removal of most international sanctions.    In reaction to U.S. sanctions, Tehran has gradually distanced itself from the nuclear pact.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Gareth Jones, William Maclean)

9/9/2020 U.S. Blacklists Ex-Lebanese Ministers Over Hezbollah Ties, Vows More Action by Humeyra Pamuk and Daphne Psaledakis
FILE PHOTO: A United Nations peacekeeper (UNIFIL) stands near a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed
Hassan Nasrallah, in Adaisseh village, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, Lebanon August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Karamallah Daher
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States expanded its sanctions on Lebanon on Tuesday, blacklisting two former government ministers it accused of providing material and financial help to Hezbollah and warning that more actions targeting the Iran-backed Shi’ite group were coming.
    U.S. officials also said Washington was coordinating with France on Lebanon but voiced criticism over a meeting French President Emmanuel Macron held with Lebanese politicians, including a member of Hezbollah, seen as a terrorist organization by the United States.
    In a statement, the U.S. Treasury Department said it had designated former Lebanese Transport Minister Yusuf Finyanus and former Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil for engaging in corruption and leveraging their political power for financial gain.
    “Finyanus and Khalil were involved in directing political and economic favors to Hezbollah and involved in some of the corruption that made Hezbollah’s work possible in Lebanon,” David Schenker, assistant secretary for Near East Affairs at the U.S. State Department told a briefing call.
    “This should be a message to both to those who cooperate with Hezbollah, those who enable Hezbollah but also to Lebanon’s political leaders,” Schenker said.    “Everyone should absolutely expect more designations to come,” he added.
    Media reports suggested that Washington had been initially looking to designate Gebran Bassil, the influential son-in-law of Lebanese President Michel Aoun and a former foreign minister who heads the largest Christian political bloc in the sectarian power-sharing system.
    Asked by reporters if Bassil and Riad Salama, a Lebanese central bank governor, were next to be sanctioned by the United States, senior U.S. government officials on a separate briefing call declined to comment.
    Fifteen years after the assassination of Lebanon’s Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri, heavily armed group Hezbollah has risen to become the overarching power in a country that is now collapsing under a series of devastating crises.
    Lebanon’s banks are paralyzed, its currency has crashed and sectarian tensions are rising.    On top of that, a huge port blast last month smashed a large swath of Beirut, killing more than 190 people and causing damage estimated at up to $4.6 billion.
    Macron, whose pressure prompted Lebanon’s bickering leaders to agree on a new prime minister, has spearheaded international efforts to set Lebanon on a new course after decades of corrupt rule led to its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    While France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, is at the forefront of diplomacy, Iran through its support for Hezbollah also has influence.    The United States is also a major donor to Lebanon, including to the Lebanese army.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Humeyra Pamuk; Additional Reporting by Raya Jalabi in Beirut; Editing by Tom Brown)

9/16/2020 French Initiative Is Last Chance To Save Lebanon, Jumblatt Says
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Druze leader Walid Jumblatt leaves the Elysee Palace in Paris following a
meeting with French President Francois Hollande, February 21, 2017. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Leading Lebanese politician Walid Jumblatt said on Wednesday it seemed some people did not understand that French-led efforts to lift Lebanon out of crisis were the last chance to save the country.
    Lebanon is in the throes of a crippling economic and financial meltdown that marks the biggest threat to its stability since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    France has been leaning on its fractious politicians to set up a new government to start reforming the corruption-ridden state, but a Tuesday’s deadline that they had agreed with Paris for establishing the new cabinet has already been missed.
    “It appears that some did not understand or did not want to understand that the French initiative is the last opportunity to save Lebanon and to prevent its disappearance, as the (French) foreign minister said clearly,” Jumblatt, the main figure in Lebanon’s Druze community, wrote on Twitter.
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said last month that Lebanon risked disappearing without critical reforms.
    A lawmaker in a major Christian party said the country faced a critical 24 hours in which either the “logic of reason” would win and a government would be formed or Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib would step down.
    “We have a historic opportunity via the initiative launched by President Emmanuel Macron,” Simon Abi Ramia of the Free Patriotic Movement said in a tweet.
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair)

9/21/2020 Aoun Warns Lebanon Going To Hell Unless Government Agreed
FILE PHOTO: Mustapha Adib talks to the media after being named Lebanon's new prime minister
at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – President Michel Aoun warned on Monday Lebanon was going “to hell” if a new government could not be formed but agreeing one might take a miracle after positions had hardened between rival factions.
    His comments in a televised address underlined the severe difficulties facing French efforts to lift Lebanon out of economic and financial crisis by getting its fractious politicians to form a new government and carry out reforms.
    The crisis, exacerbated by the devastating Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, marks the worst threat to Lebanon’s stability since the 1975-90 civil war.    A deadline agreed with Paris for forming the government passed last week.
    The process has hit a logjam over the demand of Lebanon’s two dominant Shi’ite parties, the Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally the Amal Movement, to name Shi’ite ministers in cabinet including the finance minister.
    Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, said he had proposed compromise solutions that had not been accepted and depicted the problem as a standoff between the Shi’ite parties on the one hand and the Sunni Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib along with former prime ministers who support him on the other.
    Asked by a reporter after his speech where Lebanon was headed if there was no agreement on the issue, Aoun, a Maronite Christian, said “of course, to hell.”    Asked by reporters if his comments meant there was no hope of agreeing a government, Aoun said: “No, there might be a miracle
    “We are today facing a government formation crisis which should not have happened because the events that await Lebanon do not allow a minute to be wasted,” Aoun said in his speech.
    Aoun appeared to direct criticism at both the Shi’ite parties and Adib, whom he said did not want to consult the parliamentary blocs.br>     He said on the one hand parliamentary blocs could not be excluded from the government formation process while on the other it was not permissible for one party to impose ministers.
    “With the hardening of positions there does not appear to be any solution on the horizon because all the proposed solutions amount to a ‘victor and a vanquished’,” he said.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Tom Perry; Editing by Alex Richardson and Raissa Kasolowsky, William Maclean)

10/6/2020 Syria’s Assad Blames Turkey For Fighting Between Azeris And Armenians by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: A picture of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is seen on a door of a butcher shop, during a lockdown to prevent
the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria April 22, 2020. REUTERS/Yamam Al Shaar/File Photo
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad accused Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan of being the main instigator in the deadliest fighting between Armenian and Azeri forces for more than 25 years.
    In an interview published on Tuesday that is likely to exacerbate international frictions over the clashes in the South Caucasus region, Assad also said militants from Syria were being deployed to the conflict area.
    Turkey has denied involvement in the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave that belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but is governed by ethnic Armenians, and has dismissed accusations that it sent mercenaries to the area.
    But Assad told Russian news agency RIA: “He (Erdogan) … was the main instigator and the initiator of the recent conflict in Nagorno-Karabakh between Azerbaijan and Armenia.”
    Reiterating accusations first levelled by French President Emmanuel Macron that Turkey has sent Syrian jihadists to fight in the conflict, Assad said: “Damascus can confirm this.”
    Assad appeared, however, to provide no evidence for his allegation.    Ankara did not immediately respond but has described similar accusations as part of attempts by Armenia to create “dark propaganda” about Turkey.
    The fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 has increased concern that a wider conflict could be triggered, dragging in Turkey, which has expressed solidarity with Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Azerbaijan and Armenia have accused each other of starting the fighting – the latest in long-running conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh that is closely watched abroad partly because of its proximity to pipelines that carry Azeri gas and oil to Europe.
    More than 250 people have been reported killed – and many more are feared dead – in clashes that have been fought with artillery, drones and tanks.    The sides have also posted footage of devastated and burning buildings, and people taking cover during heavy bombardments.
    Azerbaijan says Azeri cities outside Nagorno-Karabakh have been struck, and Armenia has accused Azerbaijan of targeting densely populated areas.    Both deny targeting civilians.
CALMER NIGHT
    Armenia on Tuesday reported a calmer night.
    “After the calls of the international community to immediately stop military actions in Nagorno-Karabakh conflict zone, the line of conflict was relatively calm,” Defence Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan said.
    Armenia’s foreign ministry issued a new call for an immediate ceasefire and said “any attempt of military solution will be resolutely prevented.”
    Ceasefire appeals by the United States, Russia and France have failed to halt the fighting.    The three countries have for years led mediation efforts in a conflict that broke out as the Soviet Union collapsed and has killed about 30,000 people.
    U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Stephen Biegun spoke separately to the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Monday and urged the sides to agree to a ceasefire immediately and resume negotiations.
    The United States, Russia and France issued a new condemnation of the violence on Monday.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to hold talks with Azeri President Ilham Aliyev in Baku on Tuesday.
    Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said on Monday 223 of its servicemen and 19 civilians had been killed since the latest fighting began.    Many more people have been wounded.
    The Azeri prosecutor’s office said on Monday 25 Azeri civilians had been killed since fighting began.    Azerbaijan has not provided details of military casualties.
    Azerbaijan did not immediately issue an update on fighting on Tuesday.    But its foreign ministry accused Canada of “double standards” over a decision to suspend exports of some military technology over allegations the equipment was used by Azeri forces in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Maxim Rodionov in Moscow; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

10/6/2020 North Cyprus To Reopen Beach Abandoned In No-Man’s Land Since 1974 Conflict by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Michele Kambas
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ersin Tatar, prime minister of the breakaway state of
Northern Cyprus, in Ankara, Turkey October 6, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA/NICOSIA (Reuters) – Northern Cyprus said on Tuesday it will reopen the beach area of an abandoned resort in no-man’s land, a move condemned by Greek Cypriots and likely to conjure up memories of the 1974 Turkish invasion that partitioned the island.
    Ersin Tatar, premier of the breakaway state of Northern Cyprus, made the announcement in Ankara alongside Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, who said he backed the decision on Varosha, sealed off within barbed wire for decades.
    The move could weigh on Turkey’s dispute with European Union members Cyprus and Greece over territorial rights in the Eastern Mediterranean.    Tensions had eased after Ankara and Athens agreed to resume talks, but Cyprus, a close ally of the Greece, promptly condemned the move to partially reopen the abandoned resort and said it would file a recourse to the United Nations Security Council.
    Greece also criticised the move, and said it would support Cyprus.
    “God willing, we will start to use the Maras beach on Thursday morning together with our people,” Tatar said, using Varosha’s Turkish name.    Northern Cyprus is only recognised as a state by Turkey.
    Sources in Cyprus said the plan was to open up about 1.5 km (1 mile) of beachfront to the public and not the approximately 6 square km (2.3 sq miles) inland that includes abandoned hotels and residences which its population of 39,000 people fled in 1974 during a Turkish invasion following a Greek inspired coup.
    “We hope that the whole of Maras is opened to use after ongoing work is completed by respecting property rights,” Erdogan said, pledging support for Turkish Cypriot officials.
    Nicos Anastasiades, president of Cyprus’s internationally-recognised government – and who as recently as last week was involved in a tense stand-off with his EU peers for his push for sanctions on Turkey, said: “this is an exceptionally unacceptable situation.”
    Varosha is a suburb of the larger city of Famagusta, which, in Greek – Ammochostos – means “buried in sand.”    It has a pristine coastline of thick golden sand, most of it in the now out-of-bounds Varosha quarter.
    Presently, about 200 metres (660 ft) of it is accessible to the public under the towering shadow of a hotel and a three-storey resort bombed during the war and left rotting since then.    The rest of it is fenced off by rusting barbed wire which extends into the sea, guarded by Turkish soldiers.
    Nicosia had already been in touch with the governments of the five permanent members of the Security Council in the hours leading up to the announcement, people with knowledge of the matter said.
    Tatar had signalled steps to reopen Varosha in August, saying a revival of the area, which contains derelict hotels, churches and residences, would bring trade and tourism benefits.
    Presidential elections are scheduled to be held in Northern Cyprus on Sunday, with Tatar a candidate.
    Varosha has been off limits along ceasefire lines to all but the Turkish military since 1974 and has stood as a bargaining chip in the decades-long dispute between Greek and Turkish Cypriots.
    Several peacemaking efforts have made no significant progress and the discovery of offshore energy resources has complicated efforts to resolve the island’s partition.
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Mark Heinrich and Marguerita Choy)

10/6/2020 Turkey’s Erdogan To Visit Qatar, Kuwait On Wednesday
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan makes a speech during a meeting in
Ankara, Turkey October 6, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan will visit Qatar and Kuwait on Wednesday, his office said.     He will meet Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.    In Kuwait, he is due to meet the new ruler, Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmad al-Sabah, and convey condolences over the death of the emir’s predecessor and half brother, Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmed, who died at 91 last week.
    The visit to Qatar is notable as Qatar is one of the few Arab countries that supports Turkey’s intervention in Libya, where it helped the Tripoli-based government defeat an assault on the capital by forces based in the east.
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Chris Reese and Peter Graff)

10/6/2020 Turkey’s EU Membership Bid Evaporating, Commission Says by Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: European Union flags flutter outside the European Commission headquarters
in Brussels, Belgium August 21, 2020. REUTERS/Yves Herman
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive said on Tuesday that Turkey’s government was undermining its economy, eroding democracy and destroying independent courts, leaving its bid to join the EU further away than ever.
    The criticism drew an angry retort from Ankara.
    Blaming “excessively” centralised presidential power for deteriorating conditions in freedom of speech, prisons and the central bank, the European Commission said the government was also exposing Turkey to “rapid changes in investors’ sentiment.”
    “The EU’s serious concerns on continued negative developments in the rule of law, fundamental rights and the judiciary have not been credibly addressed by Turkey,” the Commission said in its annual report on the country.
    “Turkey’s (EU) accession negotiations have effectively come to a standstill,” it said.
    A NATO ally, Turkey has been negotiating EU membership since 2005 after economic and political reforms that made it an important emerging market economy and trade partner.
    Although never easy because of disputed Turkish claims over Cyprus, talks rapidly unravelled after a failed coup in Turkey in 2016 and President Tayyip Erdogan’s ensuing crackdown on perceived opponents.
    “In Turkey, the serious backsliding observed since the 2016 coup attempt continued,” the Commission said.
    The Turkish Foreign Ministry dismissed the report as “biased, far from constructive” and rejected criticism of its economy, democracy and courts.
    “Just as it (Turkey) is not straying from the EU, it remains committed to the EU membership process despite attempts by some circles to push it away,” the ministry said.    “Turkey is acting within the framework of universal norms, in line with fundamental rights, democracy and the principle of rule of law.”
    Turkey has faced several years of harsh Commission reports, and the EU executive once again intensified its criticism, citing monetary policy, public administration and widespread corruption as failures of the Turkish government.
    While the EU, Turkey’s biggest foreign investor, relies on the country to house some 4 million Syrians fleeing civil war rather than let them proceed to Europe, Brussels also reiterated its threat to impose economic sanctions on Ankara over an energy dispute in the Eastern Mediterranean.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)
[I laugh about the above article because Turkey was the first Muslim country that let the Pope come into it, and that is why he chose Turkey because he knew they would not kill him if they wanted to get into the European Union.    So after all this time the EU is dissing them.].

10/6/2020 After Signs Of Rapprochement, Turkey-EU Ties Sour Again by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to the media after attending Friday prayers in Istanbul, Turkey, August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA/ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s relations with the European Union appeared to take a turn for the worse on Tuesday, as Ankara voiced dissatisfaction with the result of last week’s EU summit and the bloc said the country’s bid for membership was evaporating.
    Tensions between the EU and Ankara had eased in recent weeks as Turkey and EU member Greece agreed to hold exploratory talks to solve several longstanding disputes, including a standoff over maritime claims in the eastern Mediterranean.
    Last Friday EU leaders assuaged concerns raised by Cyprus, which had been pushing for sanctions on Ankara, by assuring it that the bloc would punish Turkey if it continues oil and gas drilling in disputed areas of the eastern Mediterranean.
    But President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday told German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the outcome of last week’s EU summit was not sufficient to overcome the problems in Turkey-EU ties.
Erdogan “stated that the EU had succumbed to pressure and blackmail from Greek Cypriots and Greece despite Turkey’s good faith,” the Turkish presidency said in a statement.
    In an interview with Italy’s Nova agency, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey was disappointed by the decisions from the EU summit, which he described as “far from objective” and not carefully drawn out.
CYPRUS, FRANCE
    Tensions were further stoked on the island of Cyprus on Tuesday when Erdogan and Turkish Cypriot leader Ersin Tatar announced the reopening of a beach in the abandoned town of Varosha in northern Cyprus.
    The move is likely to anger Greek Cypriots, 39,000 of whom once lived in Varosha before fleeing advancing Turkish forces 46 years ago during a Turkish invasion that split the island.
    Announcing the move, Erdogan accused the EU of stalling Turkey’s membership bid for years and said the same had occurred during last week’s summit.
    “We know this will disturb a lot of places but some people have to know that it was the Turkish Cypriots who were patient until today,” he told a news conference.
    Turkey began negotiations in 2005 to join the EU but they have long been stalled amid disagreements over human rights, Cyprus and other issues.
    The European Commission accused Erdogan’s government on Tuesday of undermining Turkey’s economy, eroding its democracy and destroying independent courts, and said this record left Ankara further away than ever from EU membership.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry dismissed the report as “biased, far from constructive,” saying Ankara rejected the criticisms directed at its economy, democracy and courts, and remained committed to the EU membership process.
    In a further sign of fraying ties, Erdogan upbraided French President Emmanuel Macron over comments he made last week promising to fight “Islamist separatism.”    He said the remarks showed the French leader’s “impertinence.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Ali Kucukgocmen and Can Sezer; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer, Gareth Jones and Alexandra Hudson)

10/7/2020 In Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict, Erdogan Eyes Turkey’s “Place In World Order” by Orhan Coskun and Jonathan Spicer
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference with Russian President Vladimir Putin
(not pictured) following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan’s strong backing for Azerbaijan in the conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has set Turkey apart from other big nations and alarmed NATO allies that are demanding a ceasefire.
    But for Erdogan, the resolute stance is a strategic priority and a costly necessity that reinforces his strategy of flexing military muscle abroad to retain support at home.
    The president has described Ankara’s support for Azerbaijan as part of Turkey’s quest for its “deserved place in the world order.”
    He sees an opportunity to alter the status quo over Nagorno-Karabakh – in which France, the United States and Russia have for decades led international mediation efforts and ethnic Armenians have retained control of the enclave even though it is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
    “Turkey’s logic in almost all corners of the map is disruption.    Anything that undermines the status quo is good for it, because the previous status quo was seen to counter its interests,” said Galip Dalay, fellow at Robert Bosch Academy.
    “In Nagorno-Karabakh there was a frozen conflict in which it remained in Armenia’s hands. Turkey wants to undermine this game even if it cannot fully determine it” given Russia’s traditional influence in the region, he said.
    Turkey’s stance – sending an implicit threat to Armenia and a message of caution to Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia – reflects its confidence in drone warfare used in Syria, Libya and Iraq, political analysts said.
    Turkish-made drones are now spearheading Azeri attacks and one senior official in Ankara told Reuters that Turks were providing infrastructure and support for the weapons, though there are no troops in the field.
    Erdogan is also betting that, despite their differences over Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey and Russia get on well enough to prevent a wider conflict in the region.br> YEARS OF “NEGLECT
    Russia, the United States and France have led calls for a ceasefire over Nagorno-Karabakh but Erdogan says they have neglected the crisis over the past three decades and should not lead peacemaking.    Turkey says a lasting peace will depend on proposals being made for what happens after hostilities end.
    Erdogan’s stance had worsened a war of words with France, whose population includes many of Armenian origin, but it is accepted by Turkey’s main opposition parties.
    Military successes and the flexing of military muscle in other parts of the world have helped his ruling AK Party, allied with nationalists, retain an edge in opinion polls despite a currency depreciation that has worsened economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
    Erdogan’s job approval rose nearly 5% last month, according to MetroPoll research group, after a standoff with the European Union over Mediterranean territorial rights.
    “All of these conflicts out there boost the perception that Turkey is a country under siege, rightly or wrongly,” said Sinan Ulgen, chairman of the Istanbul-based EDAM think tank.
    But he said that “ultimately it’s the economy that determines the political contest.”
OBLIGATION AND PRIORITY
    Two economic contractions in as many years have halted the boom years under Erdogan, and Moody’s ratings agency says Turkey risks a balance-of-payments crisis after a nearly 25% drop in the lira this year.
    Ankara’s reliance on gas imports from Azerbaijan, which jumped 23% in the first half of 2020, are also an incentive to take a firm position on Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Defence spending jumped 16% this year to $7 billion, or 5% of the overall budget, and the military budget has soared nearly 90% in a decade.
    But cross-border campaigns such as those waged by Turkey in northern Syria, Iraq and Libya are a priority for Erdogan, a second Turkish official said.
    “Neither the pandemic nor the deterioration of the budget will be an obstacle to defence spending,” the official said.    “It’s not preferable but it’s obligatory.    Turkey is in the field with the United States and Russia.    We cannot think or act small.”
    A diminished U.S. presence in the region has left gaps that Turkey and Russia have sought to fill, using diplomacy to help contain conflicts in Syria’s Idlib province and in Libya, two protracted proxy wars in which they are on opposing sides.
    Ankara has denied allegations – including by Russia – that it has sent Syrian mercenaries to support Azerbaijan.
    Close cooperation with Moscow in many areas means “there is no concern over being dragged into a conflict with Russia,” the second official said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Orhan Coskun; Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay and Can Sezer; Editing by Timothy Heritage)
[LIKE TRUMP SAID THESE PEOPLE HAVE BEEN FIGHTING FOR 200 YEARS OVER RELIGION AND TERRITORY AND WE WILL NOT GET INVOLVED UNLESS THEY ATTACK A NATO COUNTRY AFTER GIVING THEM A CHANCE TO MAKE PEACE.].

10/7/2020 Lebanon’s President Says Consultations On New Government Start Next Week
Lebanese President Michel Aoun delivers televised address to the public on eve of Lebanon's centenary at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon in this undated handout released on August 30, 2020. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS/Files
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun said on Wednesday parliamentary consultations to choose a new prime minister who will form the country’s next government will begin on Oct. 15.
    Lebanon’s government resigned on Aug. 10 in the wake of a devastating blast that killed nearly 200 people and wrecked swathes of the capital, Beirut.
    Mustapha Adib, the country’s former ambassador to Berlin, was picked on Aug. 31 to form a cabinet after French President Emmanuel Macron intervened, securing a consensus on naming him in a country where power is shared out between Muslim and Christian sects.
    He quit in late September, however, after trying for almost a month to line up a non-partisan cabinet.    His resignation dealt a blow to a French plan aimed at rallying sectarian political leaders to tackle the worst crisis since the nation’s 1975-1990 civil war.
    Under the French roadmap, the new government would take steps to tackle corruption and implement reforms needed to trigger billions of dollars of international aid to fix an economy that has been crushed by a mountain of debt.
    But Adib’s efforts stumbled in a dispute over appointments, particularly the post of finance minister, who will have a key role in drawing up economic rescue plans.
    Macron admonished Lebanon’s leaders following Adib’s resignation, saying the failed efforts amounted to a collective “betrayal”, but vowed to push ahead with his efforts.
    The country’s leaders bristled at Macron’s accusations, but there has been little movement since.
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Dominic Evans)

10/7/2020 Armenia Says Turkey Seeks To Continue Genocide In Nagorno-Karabakh
An ethnic Armenian soldier fires an artillery piece during a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh,
in this handout picture released October 5, 2020. Press office of Armenian Defense Ministry/PAN Photo/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said the actions of Turkey and Azerbaijan amounted to a “terroristic attack” over Nagorno-Karabakh that formed part of the continuation of Armenian genocide.
    “What we are facing is an Azeri-Turkish international terroristic attack,” Pashinyan told Sky News.    “To me there is no doubt that this is a policy of continuing the Armenian genocide and a policy of reinstating the Turkish empire.”
    The Armenian genocide refers to the killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923.
    Turkey accepts that many Armenians living in the Ottoman Empire were killed in clashes with Ottoman forces during World War One, but contests the figures and denies that the killings were systematically orchestrated and constitute a genocide.
(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

10/8/2020 Azeris And Ethnic Armenians Fight As Russia, U.S. And France Seek Ceasefire by Nvard Hovhannisyan, Nailia Bagirova and Stephanie Nebehay
Smoke rises as Azerbaijan's forces shell targets during the fighting over the breakaway region
of Nagorno-Karabakh near the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 7, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    YEREVAN/BAKU/GENEVA (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenians fought with artillery and heavy guns on Thursday as the United States, France and Russia stepped up efforts to secure a ceasefire and avert a wider war in the South Caucasus.
    Azerbaijan said the city of Ganja had come under fire, deep inside its territory.    Ethnic Armenians who control the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh inside Azerbaijan said Stepanakert, its main city, had been shelled by Azeri forces.
    In a sign of growing alarm in the region, the head of a six-country military alliance led by Russia and including Armenia warned that the group could intervene if Armenian sovereignty were threatened.
    The continued fighting and rising tension underlined the difficulties facing U.S., Russian and French officials meeting in Geneva to try to halt fighting in which at least 400 people have been killed since it broke out on Sept. 27.
    Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov was due to attend Thursday’s talks in Geneva, but no direct meetings have been scheduled between Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan is expected to hold separate talks with U.S., French and Russian officials in Moscow on Monday.
    Washington, Paris and Moscow are co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group that has led mediation over Nagorno-Karabakh since 1992.
    “The position of the United States has been clear and has not changed: Both sides must cease hostilities immediately and work with the Minsk Group Co-Chairs to return to substantive negotiations as soon as possible,” a U.S. spokesman said.
    Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin spoke by phone with his Azeri counterpart, Ali Asadov, on Thursday to underline the importance of restarting peace talks and establishing a ceasefire, Russian news agencies reported, citing the government.
    Russia’s foreign ministry said earlier on Thursday that it was in talks with Azerbaijan and Armenia to organise a possible meeting in Moscow.
    No news conference was planned in Geneva, and the sides did not say where in the Swiss city they were meeting, hoping to keep details secret and boost hopes of a breakthrough.
    Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry denied a ceasefire had been agreed to go into force on Thursday.
INTERNATIONAL CONCERN
    Under international law, Nagorno-Karabakh belongs to Azerbaijan, but it is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians and broke away in a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000.

10/9/2020 Azeris And Ethnic Armenians Fight Before Planned Talks With Russia by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
A view shows a house damaged by recent shelling during a military conflict over the breakaway region of
Nagorno-Karabakh, in Stepanakert October 8, 2020. David Ghahramanyan/NKR InfoCenter/PAN Photo/Handout via REUTERS
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fought new clashes on Friday as Russia prepared to host talks with the warring sides’ foreign ministers on ending the deadliest battles in the South Caucasus for more than 25 years.
    Russia’s foreign ministry was quoted by RIA news agency as saying Armenia and Azerbaijan had accepted the offer of talks after the Kremlin invited their foreign ministers to the Russian capital on Friday.
    “Baku and Yerevan confirmed their participation in talks in Moscow.    Active preparation is under way,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said.
    It the two foreign ministers meet, it will be the first direct contact known to have taken place between the two former Soviet republics since fighting broke out in their decades-old conflict on Sept. 27.
    More than 400 people have been killed in the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave which under international law belongs to Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said there had been fierce clashes with ethnic Armenian forces during the night along the line of contact that divides the two sides in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    More details of the latest clashes were not immediately available.
    Fighting has continued despite the start of a concerted peace drive by the United States, France and Russia.
    Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov agreed to attend talks with the three powers on Thursday in Geneva but no details of the meeting have been released.
    Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan did not attend the Geneva talks but was expected to meet Russian, French and U.S. officials in Moscow on Monday.
    The latest fighting in the decades-old conflict over Nagorno-Karabakh has raised fears that Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, will be dragged into the conflict.
CEASEFIRE CALLS
    The warring sides have ignored repeated calls to cease military hostilities.
    Stepanakert, the city ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh consider the capital of an independent state, was under shelling since Friday morning, Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry said.
    In a sign of alarm in the region, the head of a six-country military alliance led by Russia and including Armenia, warned on Thursday that the group could intervene if Armenian sovereignty were threatened.
    Washington, Paris and Moscow have led mediation over Nagorno-Karabakh for almost three decades as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group.    A ceasefire has been violated repeatedly since the end of a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people.
    Azerbaijan said on Thursday that 31 Azeri civilians have been killed and 154 wounded since Sept. 27. It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh said on Friday 376 of its military personnel and 22 civilians had been killed since Sept. 27.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev’s main demand for a ceasefire is for Armenia to set a timetable for a withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh and surrounding Azeri territories.
    Armenia has ruled out a withdrawal from territory it considers its historic homelands.    It has also accused Turkey of military involvement in the conflict and sending in mercenaries, allegations denied by Ankara.
(Additional reporting by Alexander Marrow and Maria Kiselyova, Writing by Margarita Antidze and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Peter Graff)

10/9/2020 Lebanon’s Sunni Leader Hariri Urges Revival Of French Plan
FILE PHOTO: Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to the media after a session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon
Tribunal handing down a judgement in the case of four men being tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing that killed former prime
minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people, in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s leading Sunni Muslim politician, former premier Saad al-Hariri, called for the restoration of a French plan to lift the nation out of its worst financial crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
    Former colonial power France, which has led foreign aid efforts, has tried to rally have Lebanese leaders to launch reforms to tackle the crisis.    But they failed to agree a new government – the first step in the French roadmap – and drawn a rebuke from French President Emmanuel Macron.
    Lebanon urgently needs foreign cash to get out of a financial meltdown which has slashed the value of the currency since last year.
    “I call on political parties to think well so as not to waste this chance…French President Macron’s initiative still stands and we can still enact it,” Hariri said in a TV interview late on Thursday.    “If we let it fail, it would be a crime.”
    Talks on a new cabinet hit a logjam as politicians wrangled over ministerial posts, with Iran-backed Hezbollah and its ally Amal demanding they name the finance minister. Hariri and Hezbollah have blamed each other for the deadlock.
    Hariri added that he would only return as prime minister – a post he has already held three times – if there was agreement by Lebanon’s fractious parties on securing an International Monetary Fund deal.
    His coalition government was toppled a year ago by huge protests by Lebanese furious at an entrenched ruling elite that has overseen a state riddled with graft and drowning in debt.
    Hariri, a Western ally traditionally aligned with Gulf Arab states, also said Lebanon had no way out of the crisis other than a programme with the IMF.
    Foreign donors have made clear there will be no fresh aid unless Lebanese leaders launch reforms to tackle graft and improve governance, and engage in IMF negotiations.
    IMF talks stalled this year over a row among Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties about the vast scale of financial losses.
    Hariri warned that he feared civil strife as the crisis spirals.    It has fuelled unrest in a country where divisions run deep since the war, which was fought along sectarian lines by factions still dominating Lebanese politics.
    “What is happening in terms of carrying arms and what we are seeing in terms of military displays in the street…means the collapse of the state,” Hariri said.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam and Samia Nakhoul in Beirut with additional reporting by Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

10/9/2020 Azeri Leader Rules Out Concessions Before Nagorno-Karabakh Talks by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Azerbaijani children are seen in a secondary school classroom where they are settled with their families after fleeing Terter, during the
military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the town of Barda, Azerbaijan October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan’s president ruled out making any concessions to Armenia on Friday ahead of talks aimed at halting the deadliest fighting in the South Caucasus region for more than 25 years.
    President Ilham Aliyev’s uncompromising position in a televised speech appeared to leave little room for de-escalation as the Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers arrived in Moscow.    The talks were expected to be the first diplomatic contact between the enemies since fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people.
    The mountain enclave belongs to Azerbaijan under international law but broke away in a war as the Soviet Union collapsed and is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    “Let those holding talks in Moscow know that it’s our territory and we won’t be making any concessions,” Aliyev said after Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov flew to Moscow.
    He said he had proved there was a military solution to the dispute: “We are winning and will get our territory back and ensure our territorial integrity,” Aliyev said. “Let them abandon our territory in peace.”
    The talks in Moscow, attended by Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, follow the launch of a peace drive by France, Russia and the United States at a meeting in Geneva on Thursday, details of which have not been made public.
    The renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    The clashes have also increased concern about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
FRAGILE SITUATION
    The Armenian government said Friday’s talks would focus on a cessation of hostilities and exchanges of bodies and prisoners.
    “We are moving towards a truce soon even if the situation is still fragile,” French President Emmanuel Macron’s office said.
    But Turkey said diplomacy would succeed only if it ensured a withdrawal of Armenian forces from Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians regard as part of their historic homeland.
    “It is almost certain to fail if it doesn’t also involve a detailed plan to end the occupation,” Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin told Al Jazeera.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said on Friday Nagorno-Karabakh was on the verge of a “humanitarian disaster
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said there had been fierce clashes on Friday with ethnic Armenian forces along the line of contact that divides the two sides, and that several areas deep in Azerbaijan had come under fire.
    Shells fell on Stepanakert, the city ethnic Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh consider the capital of an independent state, the enclave’s defence ministry said.    Armenia denied its forces had attacked locations deeper in Azerbaijan on Friday.
    Washington, Paris and Moscow have led mediation over Nagorno-Karabakh for almost three decades as co-chairs of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Minsk Group.
    The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
    Azerbaijan said on Thursday that 31 Azeri civilians had been killed and 168 wounded since Sept. 27.    It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh said on Friday 376 of its military personnel and 22 civilians had been killed since Sept. 27.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Michel Rose and John Irish in Paris, and Alexander Marrow and Maria Kiselyova in Moscow, Writing by Margarita Antidze and Timothy Heritage, Editing by Jon Boyle and Peter Graff)

10/9/2020 ‘We’re Scared’: Lebanon On Edge As Time And Money Run Out by Ellen Francis and Issam Abdallah
A worker arranges bottles of oil inside inside a supermarket in Beirut, Lebanon October 8, 2020. Picture taken
October 8, 2020. The sign reads: "This product is supported by the Ministry of Economy". REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Fouad Khamasi fills his taxi every day with about 40,000 Lebanese pounds’ worth of fuel.    It could cost at least four times that much if subsidies come to an end.
    The Beirut cab driver, 53, can just about afford to buy fuel and feed his kids. He worries the price of subsidised foods and key imports – wheat, fuel, medicine – will skyrocket.
    “These are the toughest days I’ve ever seen,” he said.    “Some days, you stick your hand in your pocket and find nothing … I leave the house and just pray.    Whatever I make, it does nothing.    It’s a joke.”
    Time and money are running out for Lebanon.
    Foreign reserves have dropped far below what the state already deemed “dangerous levels” when it defaulted on its huge debt in March, meaning it cannot afford to keep subsidies for long.
    Leaders in power for decades have yet to enact a financial rescue plan, a year after huge protests against them swept the country, and they have failed to secure aid from foreign donors.
    Talks with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) stalled earlier this year when Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties could not agree over how big the losses were in the financial system and who should bear them.
    After a massive explosion at Beirut’s port in August that killed nearly 200 people and caused billions of dollars worth of damage, former colonial power France stepped in.
    But rival sectarian politicians could not get past the first hurdle on the French roadmap towards financial aid: naming a new cabinet quickly.
    The currency, which has lost more than 80% of its value against the U.S. dollar since last autumn, weakened after the French effort faltered.
    Meanwhile, comments from officials indicating an end to some subsidies within months have triggered panic buying, raising the spectre of food shortages and a more dramatic crash in the currency.
    In the nation of some six million people, more than 55% of whom are below the poverty line, many are bracing for hunger and cold as winter looms.
KICKING THE CAN
    “Everything that happened since last October could have been avoidable,” Nasser Saidi, a former vice central bank governor, told Reuters.
    He said targeted aid to the poorest Lebanese would be more effective than subsidies across the board, which had benefited smugglers taking goods into Syria.
    “It’s all kicking the can down the road.    What should have been done is a full economic and financial plan,” Saidi said.
    Importers of key commodities said they had not been given a timeline to plan for how long subsidies could last.br>     Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh has said the bank could not finance trade indefinitely, although he gave no timeframe. President Michel Aoun said recently of reserves: “The money will run out.    What can we say?
    An official source close to the government told Reuters the money left for subsidies would last six more months by cutting support for some goods. [nL8N2GZ3NR]
    The state, which critics say is mired in corruption, and the paralysed banking sector, its biggest creditor, have traded blame for the crisis.
    Meanwhile, the wealth gap, already one of the region’s largest, widens.    In a country that relies heavily on imports and produces little, prices for many items including diapers have tripled.     In Beirut, men and women, some with young children, can often be seen digging for food in dumpsters near city intersections.
STOCKPILING MEDICINE
    Two months after the port blast, Lebanese expect life to get even harder.
    Many families now rely on charity.    The meltdown could render people more dependent on political factions for aid and security, in a throwback to the militia days of the civil war.
    Some analysts have warned that security forces, their wages fast losing value, would not be able to contain rising unrest.
    Hospitals fighting a surge in COVID-19 cases are overstretched.    Fuel shortages have left city streets dark.    Cars line up at petrol stations for rationed fuel. [nL8N2GW2UK]
    “We’re scared we won’t be able to go on,” said Siham Itani, a pharmacist who fears price hikes and being robbed.    She said supplies of insulin and blood pressure medication had dwindled.
    Another pharmacist said a masked man had held her up at gunpoint, asking for baby food.
    Mostafa al-Mohalhal, who at 62 suffers from diabetes, stored four insulin vials in his fridge, but the daily power cuts spoiled them.
    “If the price rises, how will I pay for them?” he said.    “People will die in the streets.”
(Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by Samia Nakhoul and Mike Collett-White)

10/9/2020 Lebanon’s Caretaker PM Says Lifting Subsidies Would Cause ‘Social Explosion’
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Prime Minister Hassan Diab is pictured after submitting his resignation to Lebanon's
President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon August 10, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab said on Friday any step to lift subsidies now on vital goods would be unacceptable and would cause a “social explosion.”
    In a televised address, Diab, who resigned two months ago after a huge explosion damaged much of Beirut and worsened the country’s economic crisis, said $4 billion had been spent so far in 2020 on subsidizing food, medicine, flour and wheat imports.
    He warned that the country’s central bank and “all those who support such a decision” on subsidies would be responsible for the ensuing chaos in the country, already gripped by a financial meltdown.
    Crushed by a mountain of debt, Lebanon is facing its worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.    As prices soar, many Lebanese have been plunged into poverty and are increasingly reliant on subsidised food, medicine and fuel.
    Lebanon has $1.8 billion of foreign exchange reserves left for subsidising food and other imports but could make this last for six more months by scrapping support for some goods, an official source told Reuters on Thursday.
    Diab said the subsidies should not be completely removed, but suggested targeting them to support those most in need.
    Parliamentary consultations to choose a new prime minister will begin on Oct. 15, in an effort to push Lebanon’s fractious political class to move on forming the country’s next government.
    Recent efforts faltered amid bickering over cabinet posts among the country’s various political factions, dealing a blow to a French plan aimed at rallying politicians to tackle the country’s woes.
    Diab said it was incumbent upon the country’s feuding sectarian political leaders to revive the French road map and form a government swiftly because the country “cannot wait another two months.”
(Reporting by Raya Jalabi; Editing by Dominic Evans and Giles Elgood)

10/10/2020 Ceasefire Due To Enter Force In Nagorno-Karabakh After Moscow Deal< by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a meeting with Azeri Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov and Armenian Foreign
Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan in Moscow, Russia October 9, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh were due to halt hostilities later on Saturday after a deal was struck in Moscow between Baku and Armenia to allow prisoners and the bodies of the dead to be exchanged.
    It was not immediately clear how long the ceasefire, due to enter into force at midday local time, would last, and there were reports from both sides on Saturday morning of continued fighting.
    The Moscow ceasefire talks was the first diplomatic contact between the two sides since fighting over the mountainous enclave, which is internationally-recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people.
    In a statement in the early hours of Saturday after 10 hours of talks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, who helped mediate between the two sides, said the ceasefire had been agreed on humanitarian grounds.
    The International Committee of the Red Cross would help make the truce work, he said.
    “The specific terms of the ceasefire still need to be agreed,” said Lavrov, who said that Armenia and Azerbaijan had also agreed to enter into what he called substantive peace talks.
    Those talks would be held under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk Group, he said.
    Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan and his Azeri counterpart Jeyhun Bayramov did not speak to reporters in Moscow after striking the ceasefire deal.
    But Mnatsakanyan later paid tribute on Armenian state TV to Russian President Vladimir Putin, who he said had played a key role in making sure the talks happened and had personally intervened to help get an agreement.
RIVAL ALLEGATIONS OF ATTACKS
    The Azeri defence ministry in a statement accused ethnic Armenian forces of shelling populated areas on Saturday morning, an allegation Yerevan denied.
    Armenia’s defence ministry in turn accused the Azeris of using attack drones on a populated settlement inside Armenia and said it looked like Baku was trying to change the facts on the ground before the ceasefire took hold.
    Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh also accused the Azeris of firing missiles at Stepanakert, the biggest town in the region, but said there was no data on casualties yet.
    Baku denied shelling or using drones against civilian areas.
    Nagorno-Karabkh officials said that 28 members of their defence forces had been killed in fighting since Friday.
    Renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova and Margarita Antidze; Editing by Andrew Osborn)

10/10/2020 Shaky Ceasefire Takes Effect Between Armenia And Azerbaijan by OAN Newsroom
In this image made from a video released by Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry on Friday, Oct. 9, 2020, Azerbaijan’s solders walk in a
formation on a road during a military conflict in the separatist region of Nagorno-Karabakh. (Azerbaijan’s Defense Ministry via AP)
    A temporary ceasefire has been established between Armenia and Azerbaijan, though it remains unclear how long the agreement will last.    According to reports, the temporary truce came after 10 hours of brokering by Russia.
    It aims to allow for an exchange of prisoners and the recovery of bodies.    However, both sides accused each other of attacks within minutes of the ceasefire taking hold.
    Residents in the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region have said they never wanted a fight, but that they won’t be defeated.
    “We did not start this war, we are ready for a ceasefire,” stated one resident.    “We do not want war or any one of our children to die.”
Pro-Armenian protesters protest calling for an end to hostilities in Nagorno-Karabakh also
known as Artsakh, in Whitehall, London, Saturday, Oct. 10, 2020. (Aaron Chown/PA via AP)
    The disputed region is run by ethnic Armenians, but is internationally recognized as part of Azerbaijan.
    More than 300 people have died since the latest round of violence, which started at the end of September.

10/11/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Truce Under Severe Strain As Both Sides Allege Violations by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Search and rescue teams work on the blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway region
of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – A Russian-brokered humanitarian ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh was under severe strain on Sunday a day after it was agreed, with Azerbaijan and Armenia accusing each other of serious violations and crimes against civilians.
    The ceasefire, clinched after marathon talks in Moscow advocated by President Vladimir Putin, was meant to halt fighting to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri forces to swap prisoners and war dead.
    The Moscow talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two since fighting over the mountainous enclave erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people.    The enclave is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    Both sides accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately on Saturday, and Azerbaijan gave the impression in public comments from top officials that it saw it as only a brief and temporary breathing space anyway.
    On Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building.
    The Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office said five people had been killed and 28 wounded in the attack, which it said violated the norms of the Geneva Convention on the protection of civilians.
    The Armenian defence ministry called the Azeri allegations “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas inside Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.
    A Reuters photographer in Ganja saw rescue workers carrying one dead person from the ruins of a large apartment building on Sunday morning.    The structure had been almost levelled.    An excavator was clearing the debris.
    Buildings and cars in the immediate vicinity had also been severely damaged.
    Reuters could not independently verify Azeri assertions about the number of fatalities.
    Azerbaijan accused Armenia of also launching an unsuccessful rocket attack on an Azeri hydro-electric power station in Mingachevir. Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh denied the assertion.
    Arayik Haratyunyan, the leader of ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, described the situation as relatively calm on Sunday morning, but said he did not know how long it would last and that the frontline remained tense.
    He accused Azeri forces of trying to unsuccessfully take control of the town of Hadrut, and said the process of the two sides exchanging prisoners should have started on Sunday, but that it was unclear if and when that would happen.
    Renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    The clashes have also increased concern about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to Europe.
    The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Frances Kerry)

10/11/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Truce Frays As Both Sides Allege Attacks by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Search and rescue teams work on the blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway region
of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of serious violations and crimes against civilians, and Azerbaijan also said it had launched airstrikes as a day-old humanitarian ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh looked increasingly frayed on Sunday.
    The Russian-brokered ceasefire, clinched after marathon talks in Moscow, was meant to halt fighting to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and Azeri forces to swap prisoners and war dead.
    The talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two since fighting over the mountainous enclave erupted on Sept. 27, killing hundreds of people. Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    Both sides accused one another of breaking the ceasefire almost immediately, and Azerbaijan gave the impression in public comments from top officials that it saw it as only a brief breathing space anyway.
    Azerbaijan, making the first claim of an attack since the truce, said on Sunday it had carried out airstrikes against an ethnic Armenian regiment, inflicting heavy losses.    Reuters could not independently verify that claim.
    A spokesman for the leader of Nagorno-Karabakh told Reuters he did not have information about the alleged attack.
    Earlier on Sunday, Azerbaijan accused Armenia of heavily shelling a residential area in Ganja, its second largest city, in the early hours of the morning, and of hitting an apartment building.
    The Azeri Prosecutor General’s Office said nine people had been killed and 34 wounded in the attack.    Reuters could not independently verify Azeri assertions about the number of deaths or injuries.
    A Reuters photographer in Ganja saw rescue workers carrying one dead person from the ruins of the apartment building on Sunday morning.    The structure had been almost levelled.    An excavator was clearing the debris.
    Buildings and cars in the immediate vicinity had also been severely damaged.
CASUALTIES MOUNT
    Baku says more than 40 civilians have been killed and 200 injured since the start of the conflict.
    The Armenian defence ministry called the Azeri allegations about the attack on Ganja “an absolute lie” and accused Azerbaijan of continuing to shell populated areas inside Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.
    Reuters footage from Stepanakert showed a small brick house damaged by shelling, its windows shattered and its roof caved in.    The Karabakh authorities said at least five civilians had been killed since the ceasefire was supposed to take effect on Saturday and that 429 servicemen had been killed since fighting erupted last month.
    Azerbaijan accused Armenia of also launching an unsuccessful rocket attack on an Azeri hydro-electric power station in Mingachevir.    Ethnic Armenian forces in Karabakh denied the assertion.
    Arayik Haratyunyan, the leader of ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, early on Sunday described the overall situation as relatively calm, but said he did not know how long it would last and that the frontline remained tense.
    He accused Azeri forces of trying to unsuccessfully take control of the town of Hadrut, and said the process of the two sides exchanging prisoners should have started on Sunday, but that it was unclear if and when that would happen.
    Renewed fighting in the decades-old conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, a close ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu asked his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in a phone call on Sunday to press Armenia to abide by the terms of the truce, Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
    Armenia’s foreign minister was due in Moscow on Monday for talks with officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe’s (OSCE) Minsk group led by France, Russia and the United States.
    The fighting is the worst since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000 people and ended with a ceasefire that has been violated repeatedly.
(Additional reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by William Maclean and Frances Kerry)

10/12/2020 New Attacks Increase Strains On Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: A man carries a table away from ruins at a blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the
breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 11, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces accused each other on Monday of launching new attacks in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, increasing pressure on a humanitarian ceasefire intended to stop the heaviest fighting over the enclave for more than 25 years.
    Azerbaijan said its military positions had been shelled overnight.    Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians, said its forces had repelled Azeri army attacks.
    The ceasefire had already been badly frayed on Sunday, when Azerbaijan said it launched airstrikes against an Armenian regiment, following what it said was an Armenian rocket attack on a civilian apartment building.
    Armenia denied both Azeri assertions, and Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
    The humanitarian ceasefire, which went into force on Saturday, was agreed at talks in Moscow to allow ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh and the Azeri army to swap prisoners and bodies of people killed in fighting.
    The talks were the first diplomatic contact between the two former Soviet republics since fighting over the mountain enclave broke out on Sept. 27.    About 500 people have been reported killed since then.
    Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s foreign Minister, was due to hold talks in Moscow later on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said on Monday Armenian forces had tried repeatedly to attack its positions around the Aghdere-Aghdam and Fizuli-Jabrail regions, and were continuing to shell territories in the Goranboy, Terter and Aghdam regions insde Azerbaijan.
    Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said their forces had inflicted losses on Azeri forces and that large-scale military operations were continuing in the Hadrut area of the tiny enclave.
    Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
    The conflict has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    The renewed fighting is the worst since a 1994 ceasefire ended a war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed at least 30,000.    It has also raised concerns about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry Azeri natural gas and oil to Europe.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Sujata Rao, Editing by Andrew Osborn and Timothy Heritage)

10/12/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Strained By Recriminations, Fighting Reports by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Unexploded cluster bomblets collected after recent shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway
region of Nagorno-Karabakh are seen on the outskirts of Stepanakert October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces accused each other on Monday of launching new attacks in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, increasing strains on a two-day-old humanitarian ceasefire intended to end heavy fighting over the mountain enclave.
    Russia, which brokered the ceasefire, appealed for both sides to respect it and Luxembourg reiterated European Union calls for Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, to do more to secure an end to hostilities that have killed hundreds of people.
    The fighting, the deadliest over Nagorno-Karabakh in over 25 years, is being watched closely abroad partly because of its proximity to Azeri gas and oil pipelines and the risk of regional powers Turkey and Russia being dragged in. https://tmsnrt.rs/2SLS5ID
    Both Ankara and Moscow are under growing pressure to use their influence in the region to end the fighting.
    The ceasefire is meant to allow ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan to swap prisoners and bodies of people killed in two weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
    But the ceasefire has frayed quickly. Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had launched air strikes against an Armenian regiment, following what it said was an Armenian rocket attack on an apartment building in the country’s second biggest city of Ganja.    Armenia denied carrying out such an attack.
    On Monday, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces had tried to attack its positions around the Aghdere-Aghdam and Fizuli-Jabrail regions, and were shelling territories in the Goranboy and Terter regions inside Azerbaijan.
    Nagorno-Karabakh said its forces had inflicted losses on Azeri forces and that large-scale military operations were continuing in the Hadrut area of the enclave.
    Reuters could not independently verify the reports.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, was monitoring the events and asked Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces to respect the ceasefire.
    Turkey said in a statement its defence minister, Hulusi Akar, had told Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu by telephone that Armenian forces must be removed from Azeri territory.
    Turkey supports Azerbaijan’s offensive to “retake its occupied lands,” the statement said, adding that Baku “would not wait another 30 years” for a solution.
(Graphic: Ethnic tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN/xklpyqoddpg/armenia-azerbaijan-2020_ethnic.jpg)
APPEALS TO TURKEY
    Zohrab Mnatsakanyan, Armenia’s foreign minister, met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow.    He accused Azerbaijan of acting to expand Turkey’s influence in the region and of using pro-Turkish mercenaries – charges both Ankara and Baku deny.
    Accusing Azerbaijan of ceasefire violations, Mnatsakanyan said: “We want the ceasefire, we want verification mechanisms on the ground, which will indicate the perpetrator, which will demonstrate the party that is not faithful to this ceasefire.”
    Speaking before a meeting of EU foreign ministers, Luxembourg’s foreign minister, Jean Asselborn, urged Turkey to do more to end the latest flare-up of the decades-old conflict.
    “Turkey has not called for a truce yet, and I believe they are completely wrong with this position,” Asselborn said.
    “I think the message from Luxembourg will be a call on Turkey, a NATO member, to help arrange a ceasefire quickly.”
    While mediation has for years been led by France, Russia and the United States, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev repeated calls for Turkey to be involved.
    “Even if many Western countries do not want to accept it, Turkey’s word is big, it’s fully independent,” he said.
    But Russia’s Lavrov said there was no plan to change the talks format to include Turkey.
    The fighting is the worst since a 1994 ceasefire ended a war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed at least 30,000.
https://tmsnrt.rs/30GEXJd
    Azerbaijan said 41 Azeri civilians had been killed and 207 wounded since Sept. 27.    It has not disclosed information about military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh said its military death toll since Sept 27 had reached 525, while at least 25 civilians had been killed.
(Graphic: Azeri energy pipelines, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/xegpblnympq/azerbaijan.PNG)
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Writing by Sujata Rao, Editing by Andrew Osborn, Timothy Heritage and Toby Chopra)

10/13/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Truce Buckles As Both Sides Allege Violations by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
Unexploded cluster bomblets collected after recent shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway
region of Nagorno-Karabakh are seen on the outskirts of Stepanakert October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Tuesday of violating a humanitarian ceasefire agreed three days ago to quell fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh that has claimed hundreds of lives in the past two weeks.
    Ethnic Armenian officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said their total military death toll was 542, up 17 from Monday when reports of fresh fighting drew appeals from Russia and European Union members to respect the truce.
    Azerbaijan said 42 Azeri civilians had been killed and 206 wounded since Sept. 27.    It has not disclosed military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
    Saturday’s Russian-brokered ceasefire was aimed at allowing ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan to swap prisoners and bodies of those killed in the deadliest fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh in more than 25 years. [nL8N2H105C].
    On Tuesday, the truce appeared to buckle further as Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Armenian forces were shelling the Azeri territories of Goranboy, Terter and Aghdam, “grossly violating the humanitarian truce.”
    A Reuters television crew in Terter said the city centre was being shelled.
    “Azeri armed forces are not violating the humanitarian ceasefire,” defence ministry spokesman Vagif Dargiahly said.
    Armenian defence ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan denied the accusation. He said the Azeri side had resumed operations after an overnight lull, “supported by active artillery fire in the southern, northern, northeastern and eastern directions.”
Reuters could not independently verify those report of artillery fire.
    The conflict is being watched abroad because it is close to Azeri gas and oil pipelines to Europe, and Turkey and Russia risk being dragged in.    Russia has a defence pact with Armenia, while Turkey is allied with Azerbaijan.
    Turkey is not yet involved in the mediation which has for years been led by France, Russia and the United States.    Ankara backs Azerbaijan’s offensive to “retake its occupied lands.”
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Giles Elgood)

10/14/2020 Humanitarian Crisis Feared As Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Buckles by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
Unexploded cluster bomblets collected after recent shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway region
of Nagorno-Karabakh are seen on the outskirts of Stepanakert October 12, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Tuesday of violating a ceasefire agreed three days ago to quell fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, drawing warnings from international groups of a humanitarian crisis.
    The Russia-brokered truce is buckling despite mounting calls from world powers to halt the fighting, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo among those urging greater commitment to the ceasefire terms.
    Turkey and Armenia exchanged recriminations, each blaming the other for exacerbating the crisis around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but governed and populated by ethnic Armenians.
    Earlier on Tuesday, a Reuters cameraman witnessed shelling in the Nagorno-Karabakh town of Martuni.    A Reuters television crew in Terter in Azerbaijan also said the city centre was being shelled.
    Azerbaijan accused Armenia of “grossly violating the humanitarian truce,” which was agreed on Saturday to allow the sides to swap prisoners and bodies of those killed.
    Defence Ministry spokesman Vagif Dargiahly said Armenia was shelling the Azeri territories of Goranboy and Aghdam, as well as Terter.    Azeri forces were not violating the truce, he added.
    Armenian Defence Ministry spokeswoman Shushan Stepanyan denied the accusation.    She said Azerbaijan had resumed military operations “supported by active artillery fire in the southern, northern, northeastern and eastern directions.”
    The fighting, which erupted on Sept. 27, is the worst since a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh that killed about 30,000 people.    It is being closely watched abroad because of fears Russia and Turkey could get sucked in.    Russia has a defence pact with Armenia, while Turkey is allied with Azerbaijan.
CATASTROPHIC CONSEQUENCES
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan accused Turkey of muscling its way into the South Caucasus region to further what he called its expansionist ambitions.    Turkey denies this.     “The problem is that Armenians in the South Caucasus are the last remaining obstacle on its path to implement that expansionist policy,” Pashinyan told Reuters.
    The “Minsk Group” – a committee set up by the OSCE security watchdog to help mediate in Nagorno-Karabakh – called on the Armenian and Azeri leaders to implement the ceasefire to prevent “catastrophic consequences for the region.”
    The 11-member group is led by the United States, Russia and France.    Turkey is also a member but not involved in the Nagorno-Karabakh talks, though it has said it wants to join them.
    Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, told reporters that while ceasefire demands were “reasonable,” the international community should ask Armenia to withdraw from Azeri territory.
    “Sadly no such call is being made,” he said.
    Influential Turkish politician Devlet Bahceli, whose party supports President Tayyip Erdogan’s AKP in parliament, took a more belligerent tone, telling Azerbaijan to secure Nagorno-Karabakh by “hitting Armenia over the head over and over again.”
    Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden, President Donald Trump’s Democratic rival in the Nov. 3 presidential election, expressed deep concern over the “collapse” of the ceasefire and accused the Trump administration of being “largely passive and disengaged.”
    “Rather than delegating the diplomacy to Moscow, the administration must get more involved, at the highest levels,” Biden said in a statement.
DEAD AND WOUNDED
    The death toll continues to rise.    Nagorno-Karabakh officials said 532 servicemen had been killed so far, up 7 from Monday.
    Azerbaijan has reported 42 Azeri civilian deaths and 206 wounded since Sept. 27. It has not disclosed military casualties.
    Martin Schuepp, Eurasia regional director for the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), said his organisation was trying to facilitate handovers of detainees or dead bodies, but the security situation hindered the efforts.
    With tens of thousands of people potentially needing help in coming months, the ICRC is appealing for another 9.2 million Swiss francs ($10.10 million) to fund humanitarian efforts.
    The conflict is also worsening the spread of COVID-19, World Health Organisation spokesman Tarik Jasarevic told a United Nations briefing in Geneva.    New cases doubled over the past two weeks in Armenia and rose by 80% in Azerbaijan, he said.
($1 = 0.9106 Swiss francs)
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Riham Alkousaa in Berlin, Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Jonathan Spicer in Ankara; Trevor Hunnicutt and Matt Spetalnick in the U.S.; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Giles Elgood, Timothy Heritage, William Maclean, Peter Graff and Leslie Adler)

10/14/2020 Azeri President Says Azerbaijan Continues Military Operation In Nagorno-Karabakh: IFAX
    BAKU (Reuters) – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Wednesday that Azerbaijan was continuing a military operation to free territory in Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian news agency Interfax reported.
    The renewed fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh is the worst since a 1994 ceasefire ended a war over the breakaway region that killed at least 30,000.
(Reporting by Maria Kiselyova; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alex Richardson)

10/15/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Hopes Sink As Warring Sides Bicker And Fight by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
A wounded ethnic Armenian soldier lies on a bed in a hospital, which, according to the Ministry of
Foreign Affairs of the Nagorno-Karabakh region, was damaged during the shelling by Azeri armed forces,
in the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Martakert October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Hopes of a humanitarian ceasefire ending fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh sank on Thursday as the death toll mounted and Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other of launching new attacks.
    Azerbaijan’s president said his country’s armed forces would take control of all regions surrounding the breakaway mountain territory if Armenia continued to “act negatively.”
    Armenia accused Azerbaijan’s ally, Turkey, of not allowing aircraft carrying emergency aid to enter its airspace despite fears of a humanitarian disaster.
    The ceasefire brokered by Russia last Saturday was intended to let the sides swap detainees and bodies of those killed.    But it has had little impact on the fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
(Graphic: Ethnic tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN/xklpyqoddpg/armenia-azerbaijan-2020_ethnic.jpg)
    Several hundred people have been killed in the deadliest flare-up of the decades-old conflict since a 1990s war over Nagorno-Karabakh killed about 30,000 people.
    The ceasefire’s failure to end the fighting has stoked fears about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry natural gas and oil to international markets, and raised concerns that Turkey or Russia could be drawn into a wider conflict.
    Aliyev said the peace process could begin only if Turkey were included in mediation talks, long driven by Russia, France and the United States.
    “Turkey plays a role here and that is Turkey’s right.    It has been like that historically,” Aliyev told Turkish broadcaster NTV.
    He said he did not advocate a military solution but Azeri forces could take all of Nagorno-Karabakh’s five major regions if Armenia did not set out a specific timeline to withdraw from the area.    Around 40 settlements had already “been liberated from the occupiers,” Aliyev added.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said his country was ready to implement ceasefire agreements but self-determination for Nagorno-Karabakh, which broke away from Azeri control as the Soviet Union collapsed, was a “red line” that could not be crossed.
    The Russian and Turkish foreign ministers agreed by phone that a peaceful resolution was the only option, Russian news agency RIA reported.
MOUNTING DEATH TOLL
    The authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh said 604 of the territory’s defence personnel had been killed since Sept. 27.
    Azerbaijan had on Wednesday put its civilian death toll at 43 and four more were killed and three wounded at a funeral in its Terter region when an artillery shell fell on a cemetery, the Azeri prosecutor-general’s office said.
    It said two civilians had also been wounded in shelling of the Aghdam area.    Azerbaijan does not disclose military casualties.
    The Armenian prosecutor-general’s office said Azeri drones had killed two soldiers in the Vardenis region of Armenia on Wednesday, raising the Armenian military death toll so far to five.    They were not involved in military action, it said.
    Reuters could not independently verify the reports but a Reuters television crew witnessed shelling of Stepanakert, the main city in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Data this week showed Turkey’s military exports to Azerbaijan have risen six-fold this year.    Russia has a defence pact with Armenia.
(Graphic: Turkey’s arms exports to Azerbaijan surge, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN/TURKEY-ARMS/oakvenzyxpr/chart.png)
    The fighting, coming on top of the COVID-19 pandemic, could leave tens of thousands of people in need of aid over coming months, according to international organisations.
    Zareh Sinanyan, Armenian High Commissioner for Diaspora Affairs, said the delivery of 100 tonnes of aid from the United States was being delayed as Turkey had prohibited Armenia-bound humanitarian aid flights over its airspace.
    Armenia’s civil aviation committee was told on Wednesday the Qatar Airways flight from Los Angeles was cancelled but gave no reasons, said the committee’s head, Tatevik Revazyan.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry, which handles airspace issues, was not immediately available to comment.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Tuvan Gumrukcu and Jonathan Spicer in Ankara; Polina Ivanova in Moscow; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Timothy Heritage)

10/16/2020 Nagorno-Karabakh Says Death Toll Among Its Military Rises To 633 Since Start Of Conflict
A graveyard hit during the fighting over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh is seen in the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 15, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – The defence ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region said on Friday it had recorded another 29 casualties among its military, pushing the military death toll to 633 since fighting with Azeri forces erupted on Sept. 27.
    The fighting has surged to its worst level since the 1990s, when some 30,000 people were killed.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Alison Williams)

10/16/2020 New Clashes In Nagorno-Karabakh; Pompeo Says Turkey Makes Situation Worse by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
A man washes blood out of a mat of a car, which according to local residents transported people wounded by recent shelling, during a
military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the settlement of Karmir Shuka, October 16, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenian and Azeri forces fought new clashes on Friday, defying hopes of ending nearly three weeks of fighting over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave, and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo blamed Turkey for inflaming the situation by arming the Azeris.
    The worst outbreak of violence in the South Caucasus since Armenia and Azerbaijan went to war over the enclave in the 1990s, the fighting risks creating a humanitarian disaster, especially if it draws in Russia and Turkey.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    Turkey has increased military exports sixfold this year to its close ally Azerbaijan.    Russia is close to both sides but has a defence pact with Armenia.    News agency RIA reported the Russian navy had started planned military exercises in the Caspian Sea.
(Graphic: Ethnic tensions in Nagorno-Karabakh, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN/xklpyqoddpg/armenia-azerbaijan-2020_ethnic.jpg)
    There were further signs on Friday that a Russian-brokered ceasefire agreed last Saturday to allow the sides to swap detainees and the bodies of those killed had all but broken down.
    Armenia and Azerbaijan each accused the other of launching attacks, and each said it had the upper hand.
    Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said Azerbaijan had conducted artillery bombardments of Nagorno-Karabakh from the north, “with total disregard for the humanitarian truce.”    He added that Azeri forces had been repelled and had suffered significant losses.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said Nagorno-Karabakh forces had been forced to retreat and Azeri forces retained the advantage along the line of contact that divides the sides.
    Reuters could not independently verify these reports.
    Baku also accused Yerevan of a missile attack on Ordubad in Nakhchivan autonomous province, a region which belongs to Azerbaijan but is surrounded by Armenia and Iran.    Armenia denied such an attack.
    The Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry reported 29 more military casualties, bringing to 633 the number of servicemen killed since fighting broke out on Sept. 27.    The region’s ombudsman said civilian deaths now totalled 34.
    Azerbaijan does not disclose military casualties.    The Azeri prosecutor-general’s office said 47 civilians had been killed and 222 wounded.
CRITICISM OF TURKEY
    The hostilities, close to pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry gas and oil to global markets, are stoking concern in Europe and the United States that Turkey and Russia, already at loggerheads over Syria and Libya, will be dragged in.
(Graphic: Turkey’s arms exports to Azerbaijan surge, https://graphics.reuters.com/ARMENIA-AZERBAIJAN/TURKEY-ARMS/oakvenzyxpr/chart.png)
    Pompeo said Turkey had worsened the conflict, calling for a diplomatic resolution, rather than “third-party countries coming in to lend their firepower to what is already a powder keg of a situation,” he told broadcaster WSB Atlanta.
    Azerbaijan’s foreign ministry said Pompeo’s remarks were not in line with official U.S. government statements on the conflict.
    “These remarks also do not correspond to the status of the United States as one of the co-chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group,” it said, referring to the committee created by the OSCE security watchdog to mediate in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Ankara accuses Armenia of illegally occupying Azeri territory.    Armenia says Turkey has encouraged Azerbaijan to pursue a military solution to the conflict, putting Armenian civilians in danger.
    Armenia’s foreign ministry said Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan had spoken by phone with United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres, asking the international community to “neutralise” Azeri actions which he said posed “an existential danger of the people of Nagorno-Karabakh.”
    Meanwhile, Iran tweeted that its foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had offered the Azeri side Teheran’s help with the peace process.
ECONOMIC DAMAGE
    The conflict between the two former Soviet republics threatens to further damage their economies, already hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and, in Azerbaijan’s case, weak oil prices.
    With 43,280 COVID-19 cases, Azerbaijan said it would close secondary schools and shut the underground rail system in the capital Baku between Oct. 19 and Nov. 2.
    Armenia said on Friday its caseload had risen to 61,460.
    In projections drafted before fighting started, the World Bank predicted Armenia’s economy would shrink 6.3% this year, while expecting Azerbaijan to contract 4.2%.
(Graphic: Azerbaijan Armenia economy, https://fingfx.thomsonreuters.com/gfx/mkt/qzjpqaeoypx/Azerbaijan%20Armenia.JPG)
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Writing by Sujata Rao; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Peter Graff and Toby Chopra)

10/17/2020 Azerbaijan And Armenia Allege Truce Violations, Accuse Each Other In Shelling by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Search and rescue teams work on the blast site hit by a rocket during the fighting over the breakaway
region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other on Saturday of fresh attacks in violation of a week-old Russian-brokered truce that has failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.
    Baku said 13 civilians were killed and more than 50 wounded in the city of Ganja by an Armenian missile attack, while Yerevan accused Azerbaijan of continued shelling.
    The fighting is the worst in the region since Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces went to war in the 1990s over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain territory that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and governed by ethnic Armenians.
    The Azeri Prosecutor General’s office said a residential area in Ganja, the country’s second-largest city and miles away from Nagorno-    Karabakh, was shelled by missile strikes and around 20 apartment buildings had been hit.    Armenia denied the claim.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev accused Armenia of committing a war crime by shelling Ganja.
    “They will be held responsible for that … If the international community does not punish Armenia, we will do it,” he said.
    Aliyev said the Azeri army has completely taken over two regions previously held by separatists, Fizuli and Jabrail.
    “We are dominating the battlefield,” he said, adding that Azeri armed forces never targeted civilian settlements.
    Aliyev also questioned Armenia’s ability to keep replacing military hardware destroyed in battles, a thinly veiled jab at Yerevan’s ally Moscow.
    He reiterated his stance that Baku would only stop its offensive once Armenia withdraws from Nagorno-Karabakh.
    In Ganja, rescuers worked at the scene on Saturday morning, picking through rubble, a Reuters photographer said.    Some houses had been almost levelled.    An excavator was clearing the debris.
    “We have been living in fear for days … We are suffering a lot.    We would rather die.    I wish we were dead but our children would survive,” one resident of the city, 58-year-old Emina Aliyeva, told reporters.
    The Armenian defence ministry denied the Azeri claim on shelling cities in Azerbaijan and accused Baku of continuing to shell populated areas inside Nagorno-Karabakh, including Stepanakert, the region’s biggest city.
    Three civilians were wounded as a result of Azeri fire, the Armenian foreign ministry said.
    A Reuters cameraman in Stepanakert said he had heard several explosions on Friday night and in the early hours of the morning.
    Armenia also said several Azeri drones flew over settlements in Armenia, attacked military installations and damaged the civilian infrastructure.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan called attacks “an attempted genocide of the Armenian people.”
    “We must defend ourselves, like any nation that is threatened with extermination,” he told the French newspaper Liberation.
    Baku said on Saturday that 60 Azeri civilians had been killed and 270 wounded since the fighting flared on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh says 633 of its military personnel have been killed, and 34 civilians.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Edwina Gibbs, William Mallard and Frances Kerry)
[A little history of why or what these conflicts are about:
    Armenia is a country with ancient history and rich culture and is one of the oldest countries in the world.    Scientific research, numerous archaeological findings and old manuscripts prove that the Armenian Highlands are the very Cradle of Civilization.
    Armenia–Turkey relations are officially non-existent and have historically been hostile, eventhough Turkey recognised Armenia (in the borders of the Armenian Soviet Socialist Republic) shortly after the latter proclaimed independence in September 1991, the two countries have failed to establish diplomatic relations.
    The hostility was also due to Armenian genocide in a systematic killing and deportation of Armenians by the Turks of the Ottoman Empire in 1915, during World War I, leaders of the Turkish government set in motion a plan to expel and massacre Armenians.
    The original Armenian name for the country is Hayk, which was later called Hayastan (land of Hayk).    This comes from an ancient legend of Hayk and Bel where Hayk defeats his historical enemy Bel.    The word Bel is named in the bible at the following and seems to prophesied the past and the future:
Isaiah 46:1 "Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all you who remain of the house of Israel, you whom I have upheld since you were conceived, and have carried since your birth.    Even to your old age and gray hairs I am he, I am he who will sustain you."
Jeremiah 50:20 "In those days, and in that time, saith the Lord, the iniquity of Israel shall be sought for, and there shall be none; and the sins of Judah, and they shall not be found: for I will pardon them whom I reserve."
Jeremiah 51:44 "And I will punish Bel in Babylon, and I will bring forth out of his mouth that which he hath swallowed up: and the nations shall not flow together any more unto him: yea, the wall of Babylon shall fall."
    The recent clashes between Armenia and Azerbaijan, two former Soviet republics, mark the latest chapter in a simmering conflict over the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh that has consumed the two nations for almost three decades.
    This subject does not get much notice is that Genesis 8:4 states Noah's Ark supposed landed on the top of Mount Ararat (seen from Armenia) in Turkey, and in history some explorers claim to have found Noah's ark and as you can see in the image below where Armenia is is where Mount Ararat is at the beginning of the Euphrates River which has a lot of prophecies associated with it and is also mention in Revelation 16:12.].
    Revelation 16:12 "And the sixth angel poured out his vial upon the great river Euphrates; and the water thereof was dried up, that the way of the kings of the east might be prepared."

10/17/2020 Armenia And Azerbaijan Say They Have Agreed Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire
Elton Kerimov visits his home for the first time after it was hit by shelling as a ceasefire begins during the fighting
over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 10, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan have agreed to a humanitarian ceasefire from midnight, both countries said on Saturday night.
    “This decision was taken following the statement of the presidents of the French Republic, the Russian Federation and the United States of America, representing the co-chair countries of the OSCE Minsk Group, of Oct. 1 2020, the Statement by the Co-Chairs of the OSCE Minsk Group of Oct. 5, and in line with the Moscow Statement of Oct. 10,” Armenia’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan; writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

10/17/2020 France’s Macron Says Armenia-Azerbaijan Ceasefire Must Be Respected
FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin, speaks to the press following
a stabbing attack in the Conflans-Sainte-Honorine suburb of Paris, France, October 16, 2020. Abdulmonam Eassa/Pool via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron on Saturday welcomed Armenia and Azerbaijan’s agreement to a humanitarian ceasefire from midnight and stressed that it should be strictly respected by both parties.
    “This ceasefire must be unconditional and strictly observed by both parties.    France will be very attentive to this and will remain committed so that hostilities cease permanently and that credible discussions can quickly begin,” the president’s office said in a statement.
(Reporting by Sybille de La Hamaide; Editing by Pravin Char)

10/17/2020 Lebanon’s Protest Flame Still Flickers On Anniversary Of ‘Revolution’ by Imad Creidi
Anti-government demonstrators take pictures of a metal sculpture spelling out the word "revolution" topped by flames during a protest
as Lebanese mark one year since the start of nation-wide protests, near Beirut's port, Lebanon October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Demonstrators marched through Lebanon’s capital on Saturday to mark the first anniversary of a protest movement that toppled the government but was then overwhelmed by economic crisis, coronavirus and a devastating explosion in Beirut.
    The demonstrations that broke out last October spread nationwide against a political elite that had ruled since the 1975-1990 civil war, presiding over an economic crisis and a collapse in the currency.
    While the turmoil led to the resignation of prime minister Saad al-Hariri, politicians have since failed to form a government capable of addressing the country’s challenges.
    The global pandemic and the Aug. 4 explosion at Beirut’s port, which killed nearly 200 people, brought further suffering and robbed the protests of momentum.
    Those marking the anniversary in Beirut said they were not abandoning their demand for revolution and for President Michel Aoun to step aside.
    “The revolution did not die,” said activist Rabih al-Zein.    “We can hold this corrupt authority accountable and the proof is we brought down two governments.”
    Hundreds of protesters marched past the central bank, a target of protesters’ anger over a financial crisis that has seen the Lebanese pound lose nearly 80% of its value, and the parliament building before gathering near the damaged port.
    A metal sculpture spelling out the word “Revolution” and topped by flames lit up the evening sky in front of the port.
    The protests come ahead of talks between Aoun and parliamentary blocs to choose a prime minister.    Hariri is in the running to form a government, although obstacles remain.
    The legitimate grievances of the Lebanese people have gone unheeded during a “harrowing year” of crises, said Jan Kubis, the United Nations special representative for Lebanon.
    “People’s commitment to and yearning for deep reforms and changes continues to be strong, even if the momentum has receded,” Kubis said.
    “They have planted the seeds for systemic changes.    One year on, their struggle continues.”
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mike Harrison)

10/17/2020 Lebanon’s Biggest Christian Party Says Won’t Back Hariri For PM
FILE PHOTO: Former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri speaks to the media after a session of the United Nations-backed Lebanon
Tribunal handing down a judgement in the case of four men being tried in absentia for the 2005 bombing that killed former prime minister
Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people, in Leidschendam, Netherlands August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Piroschka Van De Wouw
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s largest Christian political party said on Saturday it would not back the nomination of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri to lead a government to tackle a deep economic crisis, further complicating efforts to agree a new premier.
    Hariri, who quit as prime minister last October in the face of nationwide protests, has said he is ready to lead a government to implement reforms proposed by France as a way to unlock badly needed international aid.
    But Hariri, Lebanon’s most prominent Sunni Muslim politician, has failed to win backing from the two main Christian parties – the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and Lebanese Forces.
    Parliamentary consultations to name a new prime minister were due to be held last Thursday, but President Michel Aoun postponed the discussions after receiving requests for a delay from some parliamentary blocs.
    The FPM, which is led by Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, said it could not back a political figure such as Hariri because French President Emmanuel Macron’s proposal had called for a reformist government made up of and led by “specialists.”
    As a result, the party’s political council “decided unanimously not to nominate… Hariri to lead the government,” a statement said, adding that Aoun’s week-long postponement would not lead the party to reconsider its position.
    Hariri could still secure a parliamentary majority if the powerful Shi’ite group Hezbollah and its ally Amal endorse him for premier.
    But the absence of support from either of the main Christian blocs would hand him at best a fragile mandate to tackle Lebanon’s gravest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.
    The country has plunged into financial turmoil and the value of the Lebanese pound has collapsed.    COVID-19 and a huge explosion at Beirut’s port two months ago have compounded the crisis and pushed many Lebanese into poverty.
    Hariri, who has served twice as prime minister, resigned two weeks after huge protests erupted exactly a year ago.
    The demonstrations, triggered by plans to tax voice calls made through the Facebook-owned WhatsApp messaging application, grew into wider protests against Lebanon’s political elite.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Helen Popper)

10/18/2020 Iran Arms Embargo Expires, Opens Nation To Purchase And Sale Of Foreign Weapons by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Nov. 13, 2012 file photo, an Iranian clergyman stands next to missiles and army troops, during
a manoeuvre, in an undisclosed location in Iran. (Majid Asgaripour/Mehr News Agency via AP, File)
    A 13-year-old United Nations arms embargo against Iran came to an end this weekend, giving the Middle Eastern country to the ability to purchase foreign weapons.    The embargo, which expired on Sunday, came as part of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers.
    Iranian officials have called the ban’s lift a “momentous day.”
    Iran has said it doesn’t have plans to purchase any new weapons, but the country does have the ability to purchase upgraded weapon systems or sell weaponry it produces.
    “What Tehran will be looking for will be maybe cooperation with countries like Russia and China,” stated political analyst Abbas Aslani.    “When it comes to buying maybe some arms from those countries, Iran might be thinking of buying some missile defense system, like S-400 from Russia.”
    In the meantime, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo reiterated the U.S. is prepared to sanction any entity that contributes to the sale of arms to or from Iran.

10/19/2020 New Nagorno-Karabakh Ceasefire Jeopardised By Shelling Reports by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Men stand amidst the ruins of a house following recent shelling during a military conflict
over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Stepanakert, October 17, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – A new ceasefire in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh appeared to be in jeopardy on Monday, with ethnic Armenian forces and Azerbaijan accusing each other of renewed shelling.
    The ceasefire was agreed on Saturday after a deal brokered by Russia a week earlier failed to halt the worst fighting in the South Caucasus since the 1990s. More than 1,000 people have been killed since fighting began on Sept. 27.
    The failure to halt the fighting has raised fears of a humanitarian crisis and put new strains on ties between Turkey, which strongly backs Azerbaijan, and its allies in NATO, which want the fighting to stop.
    Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, could also be at risk of being sucked into a regional war.
    Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway enclave of Azerbaijan that is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, said Azeri forces were shelling their positions in northern and southern areas of the line of contact that divides them.
    The Azeri defence ministry said Armenian forces had shelled its positions in the Garanboy, Terter and Aghdam regions of Azerbaijan overnight and the Agjebedin region was being shelled on Monday morning.
    The reports could not immediately be verified.
    A ceasefire brokered in Moscow earlier this month was aimed at letting the sides swap detainees and bodies of those killed in the clashes, but it had little impact on the fighting around the enclave.
    Shelling has also hit areas inside deep inside Azerbaijan, Azeri authorities say, increasing concerns about the security of pipelines that carry Azeri natural gas and oil to world markets.    Armenia denies this.
    The new ceasefire was announced on Saturday after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov talked to his Armenian and Azeri counterparts by telephone and called on sides to observe the truce that he mediated a week ago.
    Russia, France and the United States jointly chair a body called the Minsk Group, which has attempted to help resolve the conflict under the umbrella of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE).
    Baku said on Saturday that 60 Azeri civilians had been killed and 270 wounded since the fighting flared on Sept. 27.    It has not disclosed its military casualties.
    Nagorno-Karabakh says 710 of its military personnel have been killed, and 36 civilians.
(Additonal reporting by Margarita Antidze; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/20/2020 Washington To Host Talks On Nagorno-Karabakh, Warring Sides Say by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: People cross a street in Stepanakert, the capital of the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 19, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan said on Tuesday their foreign ministers would meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday in efforts to end the heaviest fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh since the 1990s.
    The State Department did not immediately comment.    But the planned meetings suggest that, just before the U.S. presidential election, Washington is stepping up involvement in moves to calm a conflict that has killed hundreds of people since Sept. 27.
    Russia has until now driven mediation efforts over Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway enclave within Azerbaijan that is controlled by ethnic Armenians, but two ceasefires brokered by Moscow this month have not stopped the fighting.
    The two ex-Soviet republics said there was intense fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday, with the enclave reporting 43 more of its defence personnel had been killed.
    The violence has raised fears that regional powers Turkey and Russia could be sucked into a wider conflict, and concern about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry natural gas and oil to world markets.
    It was not immediately clear whether the warring sides’ foreign ministers would meet Pompeo separately or at the same time.
    Azerbaijan said its foreign minister, Jeyhun Bayramov, would also meet envoys of the OSCE security and rights watchdog’s so-called Minsk Group, whose co-chairs Russia, France and the United States have for years led mediation in the conflict.
    Armenia released few details about Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan’s plans in Washington.
    Turkey is also part of the Minsk Group but has not been involved in mediation, and its relations with its NATO allies have been further strained by the fighting.
    Ankara has denied accusations that it sent mercenaries from the conflicts in Syria and Libya to fight in Nagorno-Karabakh.    It has stepped up arms sales to Azerbaijan this year but denies any direct involvement in the fighting.
MORE FIGHTING, ANGRY RHETORIC
    In an interview, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Turkey of destabilising the South Caucasus with its strong backing for Azerbaijan.
    But he told France-24 television that he did not advocate military intervention by Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, or other countries that could lead to “another Syria.”
    In comments to Azerbaijan’s parliament, Turkish Parliament Speaker Mustafa Sentop portrayed Armenia as the aggressor and criticised mediation by Paris, Moscow and Washington.
    “If they are sincere on their path to peace, those who have held Armenia’s leash and supported it for years need to end this dangerous game now and stop supporting Armenia.    Azerbaijan does not have another 30 years to wait,” Sentop said.
    The Minsk Group, he said, “is brain dead.”
    Turkey and Azerbaijan want an end to what they call Armenian occupation of Nagorno-Karabakh, and Azerbaijan wants Turkey involved in peacemaking.    Armenia rules this out and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab.
    In a speech to the nation, Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said Baku was willing to end fighting as soon as possible to complete the restoration of what it sees as its territorial integrity.
    Officials in Nagorno-Karabakh reported new artillery battles on Tuesday and said fighting was intense in southern areas of the conflict zone.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry also reported fighting in several areas, including disputed territory close to the line of contact dividing the sides.    It said Armenian forces were shelling the Azeri regions of Terter and Aghdam.
    Nagorno-Karabakh says 772 of its military and 37 civilians have been killed in the fighting since Sept. 27.
    Azerbaijan says 61 Azeri civilians have been killed and 291 wounded, but has not disclosed its military casualties in the worst bloodshed since a 1991-94 war that killed about 30,000.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Peter Graff/Mark Heinrich)

10/21/2020 Armenian President To Discuss Nagorno-Karabakh With EU, NATO
FILE PHOTO: Armenian President Armen Sarkissian votes during an early parliamentary
election in Yerevan, Armenia December 9, 2018. REUTERS/Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian President Armen Sarkissian has left for Brussels to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict with NATO and European Union officials, his office said on Wednesday.
    During the visit he will meet NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell and European Council President Charles Michel, it said.
    Armenia expects NATO and EU leaders to do “everything possible” to stop the fighting and to “bring to life” a ceasefire deal, it said.
    The trip follows more than three weeks of fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountain enclave that is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is governed by ethnic Armenians.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Andrew Heavens)

10/21/2020 Armenian Leader Sees No Quick Diplomatic Solution In Nagorno-Karabakh by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
Armenian President Armen Sarkissian (L) is welcomed by European Council President Charles Michel
prior a meeting in Brussels, Belgium October 21, 2020. Olivier Hoslet/Pool via REUTERS
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia’s prime minister said on Wednesday he saw no possibility of a diplomatic solution at this stage in the conflict with Azerbaijan over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    His comments, after Azerbaijan’s president said he believed the conflict could be solved militarily, increased doubts over a diplomatic push by major powers to bring peace to the South Caucasus region.
    In the latest flare-up of the decades-old conflict, hundreds of people have been killed since Sept. 27 in clashes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, which is part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday he had held separate talks with the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan, who are expected to meet U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington on Friday.
    Pompeo said he hoped that a diplomatic solution could be found.
    “The right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to de-escalate, that every country should stay out – provide no fuel for this conflict, no weapons systems, no support – and it is at that point that a diplomatic solution, that would be acceptable to all, can potentially be achieved,” he told reporters.
    But hopes that Pompeo’s direct involvement in mediation might lead to a breakthrough were dampened by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s remarks in an address to the nation.
    “We have to realise that the Karabakh question, at least at this stage and for a very long time, cannot have a diplomatic solution,” Pashinyan said.
    “Everything that is diplomatically acceptable to the Armenian side … is not acceptable to Azerbaijan any more.”
    Pashinyan said before that Armenia was ready for talks based on mutual concessions and a solution acceptable to all sides of the conflict.
    Azerbaijan’s main condition for ending fighting is an Armenian withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh.    Armenia rules this out and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said this month he believed there was a military solution to the conflict, while his aide Hikmet Hajiyev said on Wednesday that Azerbaijan didn’t expect any breakthrough from the planned talks in Washington.
    Azeri forces, boosted in recent years by increased military spending and the purchase of weapons from close ally Turkey, say they have made territorial gains in the latest fighting. Nagorno-Karabakh says its forces have repulsed repeated attacks and that the situation is under control.
FAILED CEASEFIRES
    The fighting is the worst since Nagorno-Karabakh broke away from Azerbaijan as the Soviet Union collapsed, resulting in a war in which about 30,000 people were killed.
    The violence has raised fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia, and increased concern about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry Azeri gas and oil to world markets.
    In further diplomacy, Armenian President Armen Sarkissian flew to Brussels to meet leaders of the NATO military alliance and the European Union.
    “We are deeply concerned with the violations of the ceasefire agreement that lead to new casualties,” NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg told a news conference after the meeting.
    “It’s important that the sides demonstrate restraint, observe the ceasefire regime and sit around the negotiation table.”
    Mediation has for years been led by Russia, France and the United States under the auspices of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), a security and rights watchdog.
    But Azerbaijan says mediation has achieved nothing in three decades and wants Turkey involved in peacemaking.
    Russia has brokered two ceasefires since Sept. 27 but neither has held.    There was no indication Lavrov had made any breakthrough in his talks with the Azeri and Armenian foreign ministers, Jeyhun Bayramov and Zohrab Mnatsakanyan.
    In the latest fighting, both sides said clashes continued in several areas near the line of contact.
    Nagorno-Karabakh said 834 of its military personnel had now been killed since Sept. 27, in addition to 37 civilians.
    Azerbaijan says 61 Azeri civilians have been killed and 291 wounded, but has not disclosed its military casualties.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi; Writing by Timothy Heritage; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

10/22/2020 New Fighting In Nagorno-Karabakh Dims Hopes Before Washington Talks by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: A view shows a fragment of an artillery shell at the fighting positions of ethnic Armenian soldiers on the front line during a military conflict
against Azerbaijan's armed forces in the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 20, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Hopes of ending nearly a month of bloodshed in the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh were receding on Thursday as Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces fought new battles on the eve of talks in Washington.
    Plans for U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to meet the foreign ministers of Azerbaijan and Armenia on Friday raised hopes this week that the two former Soviet republics would agree to end their deadliest fighting since the mid-1990s.
    But those hopes have been dented by the continued heavy fighting in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway territory which is inside Azerbaijan but controlled by ethnic Armenians, and by angry rhetoric from both sides.
    Armenia’s prime minister said on Wednesday he could see no diplomatic resolution of the long-running conflict at this stage.    Azerbaijan’s president said on Tuesday his country would reclaim Nagorno-Karabakh by force. [nL8N2HC4KB]
    Hundreds of people have been killed since fighting flared on Sept. 27, raising fears of a wider war drawing in Turkey and Russia and increasing concerns about the security of pipelines in Azerbaijan that carry Azeri gas and oil through the South Caucasus to world markets.
    Russia has brokered two ceasefires since Sept. 27 but neither has held.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry reported fighting in several areas on Thursday, including territories close to the line of contact that divides the sides.
    It also said Armenia had fired three ballistic missiles at three regions inside Azerbaijan but Armenia said this was “complete nonsense and a cynical lie.”
    The Armenian defence ministry reported fighting in several areas, and Nagorno-Karabakh officials said the town of Martuni and nearby villages in the enclave had been shelled.
POMPEO SEEKS BREAKTHROUGH
    Azerbaijan wants to regain control of Nagorno-Karabakh before it agrees to end fighting.    Armenia says it will not allow this and accuses Azerbaijan of making a land grab in the recent fighting.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said this month he believed there was a military solution to the conflict and his aide Hikmet Hajiyev said on Wednesday Azerbaijan did not expect any breakthrough at the talks in Washington.
    Azeri forces, bolstered in recent years by increased military spending and the purchase of weapons from Turkey, say they have made territorial gains in the latest fighting though Nagorno-Karabakh says its forces have repulsed repeated attacks.[nL5N2GM2BB][nL1N2H505N]
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan underlined how far apart the sides are on Wednesday, saying: “Everything that is diplomatically acceptable to the Armenian side … is not acceptable to Azerbaijan any more.”
    Pashinyan had previously said that Armenia was ready for talks based on mutual concessions and a solution acceptable to all sides of the conflict.
    Pompeo said on Wednesday he still hoped a diplomatic solution could be found and underlined that the “right path forward is to cease the conflict, tell them to de-escalate, that every country should stay out.”
    Turkey has said it will not hesitate to send soldiers and provide military support for Azerbaijan if such a request is made by its close ally.    Russia has a defence pact with Armenia but Pashinyan has said he does not advocate Russian military involvement in the conflict.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tblisi, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by William Maclean)

10/25/2020 New Fighting Flares Over Nagorno-Karabakh As Aliyev Warns Against Russian Involvement by Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: An Azerbaijani military helicopter flies during the fighting over the breakaway region
of Nagorno-Karabakh near the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    BAKU (Reuters) – New fighting erupted between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces on Sunday over the mountainous enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh as both sides blamed each other for blocking a peaceful settlement to the conflict.
    Armenia accused Azeri forces of shelling civilian settlements.    Baku denied killing civilians and said it was ready to implement a ceasefire, provided that Armenian forces withdrew from the battlefield.
    The weekend’s clashes in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, a part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, came after U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo hosted the foreign ministers of both countries in a new peace push on Friday.
    The collapse of two Russia-brokered ceasefires had already dimmed the prospect of a quick end to fighting that broke out on Sept. 27 over Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Local officials in Nagorno-Karabakh accused Azeri forces of firing artillery on settlements in the areas of Askeran and Martuni during the night.    Azerbaijan said its positions had been attacked with small arms, mortars, tanks, mortars, and howitzers.     “I am absolutely confident in the effectiveness of the peace negotiations but this also depends on the will of the Armenian side to take part in them,” said Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.
    “Why can Azerbaijani and Armenian people live together in Georgia, Russia, Ukraine, and other countries but not in Nagorno Karabakh?” he added in a Fox News interview that was reprinted by the state Azertag News Agency.
    Armenian President Armen Sarkissian accused Baku of being “aggressively stubborn and destructive.”
    World powers want to prevent a wider war that draws in Turkey, which has voiced strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.
    Differences over the conflict have further strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies, with Pompeo accusing Turkey of fuelling the conflict by arming the Azeri side.    Ankara denies it has inflamed the conflict.
    Sarkissian, in comments reprinted by the Armenpress news agency, called on “global players” to step in immediately to bring about a ceasefire.
    “In the context of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia is a trusted and pro-active mediator between the conflicting sides. Russia plays a crucial role here,” he said.
    Aliyev said it was “very hazardous” for Armenia to want Russian military support in the conflict and third parties should not get involved militarily.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin has said he hoped that the United States would help Moscow broker a solution to the conflict.
    The defence ministry of Nagorno-Karabakh said on Saturday the total number of Armenians killed in the fighting had risen by 36 to 963, the Russian news agency Interfax reported.
    Azerbaijan says 65 Azeri civilians have been killed and 298 wounded, but has not disclosed its military casualties.
    About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians regard the enclave as part of their historic homeland;     Azeris consider it illegally occupied land that must be returned to their control.
(Writing by Matthias Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry)

10/26/2020 Renewed Fighting In Nagorno-Karabakh Threatens U.S.-Backed Truce
FILE PHOTO: An Azerbaijani military helicopter flies during the fighting over the breakaway region of
Nagorno-Karabakh near the city of Terter, Azerbaijan October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenia and Azerbaijan accused each other on Monday of violating a new U.S.-brokered ceasefire in fighting over the mountain enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, casting doubt over the prospects of the latest international push to end a month of clashes.
    The third truce in just over two weeks came into force at 8 a.m. local time (0400 GMT).    Within minutes, Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in a statement that Armenian forces had shelled villages in the Terter and Lachin regions.
    The Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry denied this and said Azeri forces had launched a missile attack on Armenian military positions on the northeastern side on the line of contact.    Armenia’s defence ministry said in a statement that the Azeri side violated the ceasefire at around 9.10 a.m. local time.
    The latest fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, erupted on Sept. 27 and is the worst in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.    Two Russian-brokered ceasefires have failed to hold.
    World powers want to prevent a wider war that might draw in Turkey, which has voiced strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.    The conflict has also strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies.
    The latest ceasefire was agreed on Sunday after separate talks in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    Representatives of the OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, also participated in the talks.    The group said its co-chairs and the foreign ministers agreed to meet again in Geneva on Oct. 29.
    Commenting on the talks, U.S. President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: “Congratulations to Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, who just agreed to adhere to a cease fire effective at midnight.    Many lives will be saved.”
    Nagorno-Karabakh has said that 974 of its military personnel have been killed since Sept. 27.    Azerbaijan says 65 Azeri civilians have been killed but has not disclosed its military casualties.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said last week that 5,000 people might have been killed in the fighting.
    Pashinyan, the Armenian prime minister, wrote on his Facebook page that the Armenian side “continued to adhere to the ceasefire.”
    About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenians regard the enclave as part of their historic homeland; Azeris consider it illegally occupied land that must be returned to their control.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova and Margarita Antidze, Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

10/26/2020 U.S.-Backed Truce Under Threat As Nagorno-Karabakh Fighting Resumes by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Azerbaijani soldiers maneuver with a tank during a training at a military training and
deployment center near the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – A U.S.-backed ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh was in jeopardy as clashes resumed on Monday between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in the mountain enclave, defying international efforts to end a conflict that has killed hundreds in the last month.
    Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said in a televised address that he wanted to resolve the conflict “by political and military means” after both sides accused each other of breaking a truce agreed hours earlier in Washington.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan wrote earlier on his Facebook page that the Armenian side “continued to adhere to the ceasefire.”
    The latest fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous part of Azerbaijan populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians, erupted on Sept. 27 and is the worst in the South Caucasus since the 1990s.    Two Russian-brokered ceasefires have failed to hold.
    World powers want to prevent a wider war that might draw in Turkey, which voices strong support for Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.    The conflict, close to pipelines that carry Azeri oil and gas to international markets, has also strained relations between Ankara and its NATO allies.
    A third ceasefire since Oct. 10 was agreed on Sunday after separate talks in Washington between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the foreign ministers of Armenia and Azerbaijan.
    Within minutes of its coming into force at 8 a.m. local time (0400 GMT), Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in a statement that Armenian forces had shelled villages in the Terter and Lachin regions, located at opposite ends of the conflict zone.
    Authorities in Nagorno-Karabakh denied this: the defence ministry said Azeri forces fired missiles on Armenian positions on the northeastern side on the line of contact and the foreign ministry said Azeri warplanes had violated the ceasefire.
    Pompeo has since left Washington, landing on Monday in India on the first leg of a five-day Asian trip.
    The OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, also participated in Sunday’s talks and is scheduled to meet the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers again in Geneva on Oct. 29.
‘HOW LONG CAN YOU NEGOTIATE?’
    About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which Armenians regard as part of their historic homeland and Azeris consider to be illegally occupied land that must be returned to their control.
    In Monday’s address, Aliyev criticised the OSCE Minsk Group.
    “For almost 30 years, the Minsk Group co-chairs have tried to reconcile Azerbaijan with the process of freezing the conflict, but we have created a new reality,” he said.    “We are fed up with these negotiations.    How long can you negotiate?
    The office of Artak Beglaryan, Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman, said 90,000 residents, or 60% of the enclave’s population, had fled their homes for locations elsewhere in Nagorno-Karabakh or Armenia.
    The ombudsman’s office said one civilian was killed and two wounded in a missile strike on the village of Avetaranots on Monday.    This was denied by Azerbaijan’s defence ministry.
    In all, 41 civilians in Nagorno-Karabakh and 974 servicemen had been killed, the ombudsman’s office said.    Azerbaijan says that 65 Azeri civilians have been killed and 297 wounded. It has not disclosed its military casualties.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan, additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Tomasz Janowski, William Maclean)

10/27/2020 Armenia Says Karabakh Forces Quit Town As U.S.-Backed Ceasefire Appears To Fail by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: Azerbaijani soldiers maneuver with a tank during a training at a military training and
deployment center near the city of Ganja, Azerbaijan October 23, 2020. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Armenia acknowledged overnight that Nagorno-Karabakh forces had withdrawn from a strategic town between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain for Azerbaijan as a new U.S.-brokered ceasefire failed to end a month of fighting.
    Azerbaijan, an ally of Turkey, has been trying since to recapture Nagorno-Karabakh, a breakaway region populated and ruled by ethnic Armenians.    The worst fighting in decades in the area has killed hundreds of people and risks sucking Turkey and Russia into a regional conflict.
    Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said in a news conference late on Monday that ethnic Armenian forces had given up the settlement of Gubadli south of the enclave “to avoid unnecessary losses,” but the situation was “not critical.”
    Azerbaijan’s military gains could make a diplomatic solution more difficult. It and Turkey reject any proposed solution that allows Armenians to remain in control of the enclave.    Armenia says it will not withdraw from territory it views as part of its historic homeland, where the population needs protection.
    The two countries agreed to a ceasefire on Sunday when their foreign ministers separately met U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Washington.    But the truce seems to have had little impact; two previous ceasefires brokered by Russia were largely ignored.
    Localised battles were taking place along several parts of the front line on Tuesday morning, the Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry said in a statement.    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry described fighting concentrated in three frontline areas.
    “The situation in the conflict zone remained relatively stable and tense throughout the night.    Artillery duels continued in some areas,” Nagorno-Karabakh’s defence ministry said.
    It said in a statement that shells had landed in the towns of Martuni and Martakert, as well as villages in the northern part of Askeran region.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said in a statement that its military positions and settlements near the front line had been fired upon and that combat continued mainly in the Khojavend, Fizuli and Gubadli regions.
    The OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, is scheduled to meet the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers in Geneva on Oct. 29. Turkey has demanded a bigger role in the mediating body.
    Turkish Foreign Ministry Spokesman Hami Aksoy said late on Monday said that “goal-oriented talks in line with U.N. Security Council resolutions and international laws” were needed for talks involving the Minsk Group to yield results.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku, additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/28/2020 U.S. Urges Diplomacy As Nagorno-Karabakh Fighting Rages by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
A view shows a car damaged by shelling during the military conflict over the breakaway region of
Nagorno-Karabakh, in the town of Martuni October 27, 2020. Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged Armenia and Azerbaijan to pursue a diplomatic solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict as fighting in and around the mountain enclave entered a second month on Tuesday, defying a ceasefire brokered in Washington.
    Armenia acknowledged overnight that Nagorno-Karabakh forces had withdrawn from a strategic town between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain for Azerbaijan.
    Both sides accused each other on Tuesday of striking targets outside Nagorno-Karabakh itself in defiance of a truce brokered by Pompeo at the weekend.
    Pompeo, in India on Tuesday, spoke separately with Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and Azeri President Ilham Aliyev and “pressed the leaders to abide by their commitments to cease hostilities and pursue a diplomatic solution,” the State Department said.
    World powers want to prevent a wider war that might suck in Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, and Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia.    The conflict is also close to pipelines that carry oil and gas from Azerbaijan to international markets.
    Azerbaijan’s military gains could make a diplomatic solution more difficult: it rejects any solution that would leave Armenians in control of an enclave that is part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Armenia says it will not withdraw from territory it views as part of its historic homeland and where the population needs protection.
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry said its military had recorded 1,009 deaths since the fighting erupted on Sept. 27. Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military casualties.    Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 people have been killed.
    Armenian Defence Ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said in a news conference late on Monday that ethnic Armenian forces had given up the settlement of Gubadli south of Nagorno-Karabakh “to avoid unnecessary losses,” but the situation was “not critical.”
CEASEFIRE BROKEN
    The two countries agreed to a ceasefire on Sunday when their foreign ministers separately met Pompeo in Washington. But the truce, like two previous ceasefires brokered by Russia, has had little impact on the ground.
    Localised battles were taking place along several parts of the front line on Tuesday, the Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry said in a statement.    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry described fighting concentrated in three frontline areas.
    Shushan Stepanyan, spokeswoman for Armenia’s defence ministry, said Azerbaijan had used drones to attack frontier posts near the country’s southern border with Iran.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry denied this and said in a statement that Armenia had fired mortars in the direction of the village of Aghband in Zangilan region, east of Nagorno-Karabakh and inside Azeri territory, also near the Iranian border.
    Azerbaijan later reported four civilian deaths after shelling in the village of Garayusifli, miles from the conflict zone in the Barda region of central Azerbaijan. Stepanyan, the Armenian defence spokeswoman, denied this.
    Iran’s foreign ministry said on Twitter that Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi would travel to several countries to discuss the crisis.    Iranian media said he would visit Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkey and Russia.
    Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, discussed Nagorno-Karabakh in a phone call.    Moscow said they discussed an immediate ceasefire.
    The OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, is scheduled to meet the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers in Geneva on Oct. 29.    Turkey has demanded a bigger role in the mediating body.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku, additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Doina Chiacu in Washington, Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Peter Graff)

10/28/2020 Azerbaijan, Armenia Trade Accusations Of Civilian Deaths In Nagorno-Karabakh by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
A view shows a crater following recent shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha), in the course of a military conflict
over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 28, 2020. Hayk Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azerbaijan and Armenia accused each other of killing civilians by shelling cities in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Wednesday, in an escalation of a month-long conflict over the mountain enclave that has defied three ceasefires.
    Azerbaijan said 21 people were killed when Armenian shells hit the town of Barda, northeast of Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Armenian-backed officials in Nagorno-Karabakh said Azeri shells had fallen on the enclave’s two largest cities, killing one person.
    Both sides denied each other’s claims.
    The worst fighting in the South Caucasus for nearly 30 years has raised fears of a wider war that could suck in Russia and Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan.    It also poses a threat to pipelines carrying oil and gas from Azerbaijan to world markets.
    The prosecutor general of Azerbaijan’s office said 21 people had been killed and 70 wounded in Barda.
    Aisel Huseynova, a 35-year-old housewife who lives in the town, said she heard two explosions while out shopping with her son.    The second blast swept her off her feet.
    “When I regained consciousness, I was already in the ambulance,” she said by telephone from a hospital bed.    “I have a wound in the leg and arm.    My son was not with me.    I don’t know where he is.”
    The Emergency and Rescue Service of ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh said shells had fallen on Stepanakert, the enclave’s largest city.    It said a civilian had been killed and two wounded by shelling in another city, Shushi, 15 km (9 miles) to the south.
    Armenia’s defence ministry also said a maternity hospital in Stepanakert had been hit.    There were no reports of casualties.
    Angela Frangyan, a documentary film maker currently in Stepanakert, said she heard “at least two strong bombardments.”
    “When I approached the hospital, I saw shattered windows and damaged ceilings at the maternity hospital, and a doctor crying,” she told Reuters by telephone.
BROKEN CEASEFIRES
    Armenia’s defence ministry also confirmed on Wednesday that Azerbaijan had seized the strategic town of Gubadli between the enclave and the Iranian border, an apparent military gain that could make a diplomatic solution more difficult.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.    About 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war in the region.
    Azerbaijan rejects any solution that would leave Armenians in control of the enclave, which it considers to be illegally occupied.    Armenia regards the territory as part of its historic homeland and says the population there needs its protection.
    The Nagorno-Karabakh defence ministry has recorded 1,068 military deaths since fighting erupted on Sept. 27.    Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military casualties.    Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths in total.
    The latest of three ceasefires was brokered in Washington on Sunday.    U.S. President Donald Trump called the renewed fighting “disappointing” and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urged both sides to pursue a diplomatic solution.
    The OSCE Minsk Group, formed to mediate the conflict and led by France, Russia and the United States, is scheduled to meet the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers in Geneva on Thursday.    Turkey has demanded a bigger role in the group.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin, in a phone call with Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday, expressed concerns over what he said was the increased involvement of fighters from the Middle East.
    Erdogan said on Wednesday that Turkey was sincere in its efforts to solve the conflict and he believed in Russia’s sincerity.    He said he had told Putin that Armenia was using Kurdish militants.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova, additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara, Darya Korsunskaya in Moscow and Jeff Mason in Washington; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Giles Elgood and Nick Macfie)

10/29/2020 Putin Calls For Turkish Involvement In Nagorno-Karabakh Talks by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
A man drives a car past a damaged building following recent shelling in the town of Shushi (Shusha),
in the course of a military conflict over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, October 29, 2020.
Vahram Baghdasaryan/Photolure via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin said Turkey should be among countries involved in talks to end fighting in Nagorno-Karabakh, as Azerbaijan and Armenia again accused each other on Thursday of shelling civilians in and around the mountain enclave.
    With more peace talks scheduled for Geneva this week, the European Union said an escalation in the month-old conflict was “unacceptable” and called for a lasting settlement after the collapse of three ceasefires.
    The fighting has been the worst in the South Caucasus since about 30,000 people were killed in a 1991-94 war over Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Azeri presidential aide Hikmet Hajiyev said on Twitter that a civilian was killed when an Armenian missile hit his home in Tap, a village north of Nagorno-Karabakh. Armenia denied this.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said earlier that Armenia had fired at its forces and civilian settlements along the front line, shelling the nearby town of Terter.
    The human rights ombudsman in Nagorno-Karabakh said more than a dozen shells had fallen on Stepanakert, the enclave’s largest city, a day after a maternity hospital there was struck. Two civilians were wounded.
    Armenia’s foreign ministry said Stepanakert, and the towns of Shushi and Martakert, had been “under continuous attack
    The OSCE Minsk Group, which has been leading peace talks, is due to meet the Armenian and Azeri foreign ministers in Geneva on Friday, although neither has confirmed its minister will travel.
    Three diplomatic sources told Reuters, on condition of anonymity, that preliminary talks between the group’s co-chairs France, Russia and the United States were taking place.
    Putin said on Thursday that “many countries, including Turkey and a host of European states” should work together to find consensus.    Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, has demanded a greater say in talks.
    “The first stage is to stop the fighting, stop the killing,” Putin told an online Russian investment forum.
HANDOVER OF BODIES
    Civilians on both sides were killed during heavy shelling on Wednesday.
    In the first such handover since the conflict reignited on Sept. 27, Azerbaijan returned 30 bodies of soldiers.    Armenia’s defence ministry said Yerevan would respond in kind.
    The European Union, meanwhile, called for both sides to return to “substantive negotiations” on a peaceful settlement.
    The defence ministry of the Nagorno-Karabakh region said on Thursday it had suffered 51 more casualties, taking its military death toll to 1,166.
    Azerbaijan has not disclosed its military casualties. Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.
(Reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova, additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Gleb Stolyarov in Moscow and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Robin Paxton; Editing by Tomasz Janowski and Catherine Evans)

10/29/2020 With Ropes And Wooden Guns, Returning Armenians Train For War by Maria Tsvetkova
Armenian military volunteers undergo combat training at a camp, in the course of a military conflict against Azerbaijan's armed
forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Yerevan, Armenia October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – When conflict broke out in Nagorno-Karabakh last month, Aghasi Asatryan was thousands of kilometres away in Germany, embarking on a career as an IT specialist.
    The 29-year-old Armenian national immediately applied for vacation, citing a family matter, and flew back to Yerevan, his home town.
    On a hillside above the Armenian capital, he began combat training at a camp founded by veterans of a previous war in Nagorno-Karabakh, a mountainous enclave controlled by ethnic Armenians but internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan.
    “My plan is to get prepared and to go to the front line,” Asatryan said.    Slung across his shoulder was a wooden copy of an AK-47 assault rifle, a training aid given to each volunteer at the camp.
    More than 1,000 people have died in a month of clashes in Nagorno-Karabakh, which Azerbaijan considers to be illegally occupied. [nL1N2HJ0WZ]
    It rejects any move to leave Armenians in control there, while Armenia regards the territory as part of its historic homeland and says the population there needs its protection.
    Asatryan moved to Germany seven years ago as a student, avoiding conscription.    He has neither served in the army nor held a gun before and said he could not tell his bosses that he was going back home to fight.
    “My German employers wouldn’t understand a man who would want to go to war,” he said.    “But I know that we, the Armenians, wouldn’t have survived so many centuries without understanding that every man should fight for his homeland.”
    Asatryan is one of hundreds of volunteers from as far afield as Argentina and the United States to have joined the VOMA Survival School in recent weeks.
    Its founder, Vova Vartanov, fought in the 1991-94 war in Nagorno-Karabakh in which about 30,000 people were killed.    He has returned to the front line as leader of a volunteer battalion.
    Reuters reporters saw dozens of men and women in the camp, split into groups for lessons on using hand grenades and repelling a gun attack.    Some volunteers were practising rock-climbing using ropes and the concrete wall of a waste dump.
    Before the latest fighting broke out on Sept. 27, the school would attract 20 to 30 people at a time for training in readiness for a renewed war.    One of the instructors, Karapet Aghajanyan, said “hundreds” from the Armenian diaspora had now come.
    Armenia’s defence ministry said this month that around 10,000 people volunteered to take up arms on the first day of fighting. [nL8N2GZ38H]
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said 55,000 volunteers were registered between July 12 and July 22 after fighting in another region.    It said that information about more recent volunteers was classified.
    Knarik Karaminasyan, a 21-year-old English teacher from Yerevan, decided to join the volunteers as soon as she learned that women were welcome and could be sent to the front line as medical workers or cooks.
    “It was hard at the beginning and I even had nightmares,” she said.    Now she feels more comfortable.
    “Here, I feel better than at home, where I was just scrolling through Facebook, reading the news and panicking… Now I feel that I’m getting ready for something important.”
(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in Yerevan; Additional reporting by Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan and Nailia Bagirova in Baku; Editing by Robin Paxton, Janet Lawrence and John Stonestreet)

10/30/2020 Analysis: Stick Or Twist? Azerbaijan Looks To Drive Home Nagorno-Karabakh Gains by Robin Paxton and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber
FILE PHOTO: Armenian military volunteers receive meals while undergoing combat training at a camp, in the course
of a conflict against Azerbaijan's armed forces over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in Yerevan, Armenia
October 27, 2020. Picture taken October 27, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY/File Photo
    (Reuters) – A recent rallying cry by the ethnic Armenian leader of Nagorno-Karabakh contained a startling admission: enemy troops were no more than five kilometres (three miles) from the mountain enclave’s second-largest city.
    Emboldened by Turkish support, Azerbaijan has the upper hand in the bloodiest fighting in more than 25 years in the South Caucasus.    In just over a month, it has retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in the 1990s.
    It now faces a difficult choice: advance on the symbolic city of Shusha – Shushi to Armenians – a staging post for an assault on the region’s largest city, Stepanakert.    Or sever Armenia’s main supply corridor to the west
.
    But analysts say a third option – to consolidate military gains and return to the negotiating table from a position of greater strength – might be the smartest move as winter draws in.
    “It’s clearly Azerbaijan’s war to lose,” said Michael Kofman, director of the Russia Studies Program at CNA, a U.S.-based research body.    “Armenia’s position is very precarious.”
    Azerbaijan’s success on the battlefield gives it less of an incentive to strike a lasting peace deal, complicating international efforts to broker one. With three ceasefires already broken, analysts expect little from talks in Geneva on Friday.
    At stake is the fate of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven other regions that surround it.    The territory is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Nagorno-Karabakh’s leader, Arayik Harutyunyan, on Thursday called on citizens to repel any attack on Shushi.    The city is of cultural and strategic importance to both sides, perched on high ground just 15 km (9 miles) south of Stepanakert.
    “If Azerbaijan were to take it back, Stepanakert would become like another Sarajevo,” said Neil Melvin, director of international security studies at the RUSI think tank in London, referring to the city besieged during the 1990s Bosnian war.
    From a military standpoint, however, analysts said a better tactic for Azerbaijan, and one likely to involve fewer casualties, would be a northward push on its western flank toward a key supply route linking Armenia and Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Armenian defence ministry official Artsrun Hovhannisyan said this week that Azerbaijan had made an unsuccessful attempt to advance on Lachin, having already captured the region of Gubadli further south, severing Armenian access to the Iranian border.
    “If Lachin is taken, that would be a strategic success for Azerbaijan and a catastrophe for the Nagorno-Karabakh defence forces,” said Viktor Murakhovsky, a retired Russian army colonel and editor of a military magazine.
    “It would be impossible (for Armenia) to deliver food, fuel and people there. In this case, the fall of Nagorno-Karabakh would be a question of time.”
TURKEY’S INFLUENCE
    When the 1991-94 war ended, with around 30,000 killed, the Armenians had won control of Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions, amounting to 13.6% of the de jure territory of Azerbaijan, according to Carnegie Europe.     Much of this land has been retaken in fighting since Sept. 27, possibly as much as 15% of Nagorno-Karabakh itself, according to Kofman – territory that he said Armenia “does not have the means to take back.”
    Tensions between the two sides had been building over the summer and spilled into direct clashes as the outside powers that have mediated in the past – Russia, France and the United States – were distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming U.S. presidential election and a list of world crises.
    The biggest change since the 1990s is Turkey’s influence in a region that was once entirely part of the Soviet Union.
    “Turkish support for Azerbaijan is what makes this situation qualitatively different from all the previous conflagrations,” said Alex Melikishvili, a principal research analyst at IHS Markit Country Risk.
    He said the presence of Turkish F-16 fighter jets at a military airfield in Ganja, Azerbaijan’s second-largest city, “represents a very tangible confirmation that the geopolitical balance in South Caucasus has changed.”
    Azerbaijan, rich in oil and gas, can also afford superior firepower.    In September alone, it bought $77 million worth of military equipment from Turkey, including drones that afford it an aerial superiority absent in earlier conflicts.
    "Money, not people, are at war,” said Russian political analyst Dmitry Oreshkin.    “The Armenians have archaic, practically Soviet weaponry while the Azeri forces are buying the most modern tanks and drones.”
    In the ascendancy, Azerbaijan has little military incentive to negotiate a ceasefire on terms that fall short of its demands for ethnic Armenian troops to agree to leave Nagorno-Karabakh.
    A Russian defence pact with Yerevan extends only to Armenian territory outside the current conflict zone.    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan told Reuters this month only a change in Turkey’s stance could prompt Azerbaijan to halt military action.
    Azerbaijan is potentially vulnerable, however, to counter-attack along overstretched supply lines through territory gained in the relatively flat and sparsely populated south.    Combat further north, in mountains where ethnic Armenian troops are dug in, would also be harder.
    “Eventually there will be a settlement, but that settlement will need to be between Russia and Turkey,” said Kofman.    “You can’t return to the ‘status quo’. What’s been going on for the last 30 years is over.”
(Reporting by Robin Paxton, Gabrielle Tetrault-Farber and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Frances Kerry)

11/1/2020 Azeri Leader Says He Will Fight ‘To The End’ If Karabakh Talks Fail by Nailia Bagirova and Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Azerbaijan's President Ilham Aliyev speaks during an address to the nation in Baku,
Azerbaijan October 9, 2020. Official web-site of President of Azerbaijan/Handout via REUTERS
    BAKU/YEREVAN (Reuters) – Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said on Sunday his troops would “go to the end” should negotiations fail to result in an agreement by ethnic Armenian forces to withdraw from Nagorno-Karabakh and seven surrounding regions.
    Aliyev, speaking during a meeting with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in the Azeri capital Baku, also said Armenia had “no basis” to request Russian military assistance in the conflict.
    Further shelling was reported by Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces in and around Nagorno-Karabakh on Sunday.    The death toll in the region’s worst fighting in more than 25 years has already surpassed 1,000 and is possibly much higher.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but is populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    The conflict has brought into sharp focus the increased influence of Turkey, an ally of Azerbaijan, in a former Soviet region considered by Russia to be within its sphere of influence.    Russia also has a security alliance with Armenia.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan has asked Russia to outline the extent of the support it could expect from Moscow.
    In response, Russia’s foreign ministry said on Saturday it would provide “all assistance required” should the conflict spill onto “the territory of Armenia” – land that is outside the current conflict zone.
    Aliyev, quoted by state news agency Azertag, said he wanted to resolve the conflict through negotiations that would result in the withdrawal of ethnic Armenian forces.
    “Otherwise,” he said, “we will continue by any means to restore our territorial integrity and … we will go to the end.”
    Azerbaijan’s advances on the battlefield since fighting began on Sept. 27 have reduced its incentive to strike a lasting peace deal and complicated international efforts to broker a truce.    Three ceasefires have failed to hold.
    The ethnic Armenian-controlled Nagorno-Karabakh military said that missiles been targeted at the town of Martuni, the village of Karin Tak and the city of Shushi, just 15 kilometres (9 miles) from the enclave’s largest city, Stepanakert.
    Armenia’s defence ministry said a second militant from Syria had been captured on the battlefield.    Azerbaijan has previously denied the presence of foreign fighters.
    Azerbaijan’s defence ministry said its army units in Tovuz, Gadabay and Gubadli had come under shelling overnight.    Combat on Sunday was concentrated in Aghdere, Aghdam, Gubadli and Khojavend – the Azeri name for Martuni.
    Nagorno-Karabakh’s army says 1,166 of its soldiers have been killed since Sept. 27 and the office of Nagorno-Karabakh’s human rights ombudsman said the civilian death toll was 45.
    Azerbaijan, which does not disclose its military casualties, says 91 civilians have been killed.    Russia has estimated as many as 5,000 deaths on both sides.
(Reporting by Nailia Bagirova in Baku and Nvard Hovhannisyan in Yerevan; Additional reporting by Olzhas Auyezov in Baku and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Writing by Robin Paxton; editing by David Evans)

11/9/2020 Fierce Fighting In Nagorno-Karabakh After Azeris Say They Capture City by Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
FILE PHOTO: A view shows what is said to be the aftermath of recent shelling in the city of Stepanakert during a military conflict over the breakaway
region of Nagorno-Karabakh, in this handout photo released November 6, 2020. Armenian Unified Infocentre/Handout via REUTERS
    YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Azerbaijan declared on Monday it had seized dozens more settlements in Nagorno-Karabakh, a day after proclaiming victory in the battle for the enclave’s strategically positioned second-largest city.
    After six weeks of heavy fighting, Azerbaijan said on Sunday it had captured Shusha, known by Armenians as Shushi, which sits on a mountaintop overlooking Stepanakert, the city regarded as the enclave’s capital by its ethnic Armenian administration.
    The fighting has raised fears of a wider regional war, with Turkey supporting its ally Azerbaijan, while Russia has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there.
    Azerbaijan acknowledged on Monday that it had shot down a Russian MI-24 military helicopter over Armenia, killing two crew members.    It apologised to Moscow for what it said was an accident, and offered compensation.
    President Ilham Aliyev announced a list of 48 settlements he declared liberated on Monday in several parts of the enclave.
    The apparent fall of Shusha, or Shushi, could be a major turning point for Azerbaijan, which has sought for decades to recapture the breakaway enclave: part of Azerbaijan which has been populated and controlled by ethnic Armenians since the early 1990s.
    An Azeri defence ministry video posted online showed Azerbaijan’s national flag flying over deserted streets in what it said was Shusha.
    Armenia disputes that the city has fallen. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan said fighting for the city was still raging.    Suren Sarumyan, a Nagorno-Karabakh defence official, said there was still fighting in the city, and the Azeri footage was filmed by a “sabotage group.”
    But Vahram Poghosyan, a spokesman for Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan, wrote on Facebook: “Shushi city is not in our control.”
    Karabakh forces “should keep it together, as the enemy is near Stepanakert,” he wrote.
    Emboldened by Turkish support, Azerbaijan says it has since Sept. 27 retaken much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it lost in a 1991-94 war which killed an estimated 30,000 people and forced many more from their homes.    Armenia has denied the extent of Azerbaijan’s territorial gains.
RUSSIAN HELICOPTER DOWNED
    Several thousand people are feared killed in the flare-up of the conflict.    Three ceasefires have failed in the past six weeks and Azerbaijan’s superior weaponry and battlefield gains have reduced its incentive to seek a lasting peace deal.
    Military analysts say direct Russian military involvement in the conflict is unlikely unless Armenia itself is deliberately attacked, and that Turkey will probably not step up its involvement if Azeri advances continue.
    Moscow, which ruled the South Caucasus during Soviet times, also has good relations with Azerbaijan, a gas and oil-producing state whose pipelines have not been affected by the fighting.
    With its armed forces outgunned by Azerbaijan, Armenia has avoided direct military intervention in Nagorno-Karabakh.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi, Writing by Timothy Heritage, Editing by Jon Boyle, Nick Tattersall and Peter Graff)

11/10/2020 Russian Peacekeepers Deploy To Nagorno-Karabakh After Ceasefire Deal by Andrew Osborn, Nvard Hovhannisyan and Nailia Bagirova
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks on the signed deal on a complete stoppage of combat actions over the Nagorno-Karabakh region
at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow, Russia, November 10, 2020. Sputnik/Aleksey Nikolskyi/Kremlin via REUTERS
    MOSCOW/YEREVAN/BAKU (Reuters) – Russian peacekeeping troops deployed to Nagorno-Karabakh on Tuesday under a deal that halted six weeks of fighting between Azeri and ethnic Armenian forces, locking in place territorial gains by Azerbaijan.
    The agreement was celebrated as a victory in Azerbaijan, while in Armenia it triggered unrest from crowds who stormed government buildings and branded the deal a betrayal.
    It ends military action and restores relative calm to the breakaway territory, internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated and, until recently, fully controlled by ethnic Armenians.
    Azerbaijan will keep territory it captured, including the mountain enclave’s second biggest city Shusha, which Armenians call Shushi.    Ethnic Armenian forces must give up control of a slew of other areas by Dec. 1.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin said the deal, announced overnight and also signed by Moscow, should pave the way for a lasting political settlement to fighting that killed thousands, displaced many more and threatened to spark a wider war.
    Azerbaijan had been trying to regain land lost during a war in the 1990s.    Azeris celebrated in the capital, Baku, sounding car and bus horns in delight and cheering and waving the Azeri national flag.
    “This (ceasefire) statement has historic significance.    This statement constitutes Armenia’s capitulation.    This statement puts an end to the years-long occupation,” Azeri President Ilham Aliyev said.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan denied Armenia had suffered a defeat but acknowledged a “disaster” for which he took personal responsibility.
    Unrest broke out in Yerevan, Armenia’s capital, where crowds stormed and ransacked government buildings overnight, labelling the deal a betrayal. Some protesters urged Pashinyan to quit, a demand later echoed by 17 political parties, while a petition was started demanding the agreement be annulled.
    Despite the celebrations in Baku, some Azeris regretted Azerbaijan had stopped fighting before capturing all of Nagorno-Karabakh, and were wary about the arrival of peacekeepers from Russia, which dominated the region in Soviet times.
    “We were about to gain the whole of Nagorno-Karabakh back,” said 52-year-old Kiamala Aliyeva.    “The agreement is very vague.    I don’t trust Armenia and I don’t trust Russia even more.”
NO OPTION
    Since the fighting flared on Sept. 27, Azerbaijan says it retook much of the land in and around Nagorno-Karabakh that it had lost in a 1991-94 war in which about 30,000 people were killed.
    The capture of Shusha, or Shushi, appears to have been a turning point. Perched on a mountain top above Stepanakert, Nagorno-Karabakh’s biggest city, it gave Azerbaijan’s forces a commanding position from which to launch an assault.
    Three previous ceasefires had failed and Nagorno-Karabakh leader Arayik Harutyunyan said there had been no option but to conclude a peace deal because of the risk of losing the whole enclave to Azerbaijan.
    Pashinyan said he had concluded the peace deal under pressure from his own army.
    “I personally bear responsibility for this,” he later said on Facebook.    “This is a big failure and disaster and mourning for lost lives.”
    Arms supplies and diplomatic support from Turkey, a close ally, helped give Azerbaijan the upper hand in the conflict, and Ankara used it to show its growing international clout, often putting it at odds with its NATO allies and Moscow.
    For Russia, which has a defence pact with Armenia and a military base there, the deal is a sign it is still the main arbiter in the energy-producing South Caucasus, which it sees as its own backyard.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan hailed the deal in a phone call to Russia’s Vladimir Putin.    The Turkish presidency said Erdogan told Putin Turkey would set up a centre to observe the ceasefire along with Russia, in a location “in the lands liberated from Armenian occupation.”
    The Kremlin said the two leaders had stressed the importance of close cooperation to ensure the agreement was implemented.
    A statement released by France, which with Russia and the United States has long mediated in the conflict, hinted at lingering tensions with Ankara over the bloodshed.
    President Emmanuel Macron’s office said any lasting agreement must take into account Armenia’s interests, and urged Turkey to end “provocations.”
NO AGREEMENT ON TURKISH PEACEKEEPERS
    Under the ceasefire deal, Azerbaijan will gain a road link to an Azeri exclave on the Iranian-Turkish border, giving Turkey a land bridge to Azerbaijan.
    Putin said displaced people would be able to return to Nagorno-Karabakh and prisoners of war and bodies of those killed would be exchanged.    All economic and transport links in the area would be reopened.
    Russian peacekeepers will remain for at least five years, expanding Moscow’s military footprint in the region.    Putin said they would be deployed along the frontline in Nagorno-Karabakh and in a corridor between the region and Armenia.
    Almost 2,000 servicemen, 90 armoured personnel carriers, and 380 vehicles and pieces of other hardware were being deployed, the Russian defence ministry said.
    Russian media said 20 military planes had taken off for the region and had started arriving in Armenia en route to Nagorno-Karabakh.
    Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said there had been no agreement on deploying any Turkish peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh, but the Turkish military would help staff a joint monitoring centre with Russian forces.
(Additional reporting by Margarita Antidze in Tbilisi and Vladimir Soldatkin and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow, John Irish and Elisabeth Pineau in Paris, Tuvvan Gumruku in Ankara and Ali Kucukgocmen in Istanbul; Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)

11/10/2020 Analysis: Putin Draws Erdogan A Red Line On Russia’s Southern Flank With Karabakh Deal by Andrew Osborn
FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrive for a news conference
following their talks in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS//File Photo
    MOSCOW (Reuters) – Russian President Vladimir Putin has brokered a Nagorno-Karabakh peace deal that locks in territorial gains for Turkey-backed Azerbaijan.    In doing so, he has thwarted a stronger Turkish presence in a region Moscow views as its backyard.
    Six weeks of heavy fighting between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces over the enclave have tested Moscow’s influence in the South Caucasus, a swath of the former Soviet Union it views as vital to defending its own southern flank.
    Three previous ceasefires, at least one of which was brokered by Moscow, fell apart.    Azerbaijan accidentally shot down a Russian military helicopter, killing two.    And Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan backed the Azeri offensive militarily and diplomatically and tried to gatecrash mediation efforts.
    In the end though, Putin has achieved a more than two decades Russian dream of inserting Russian peacekeepers into Nagorno-Karabakh on a renewable five-year basis and, for now, kept Turkish troops, who will instead help run a ceasefire monitoring centre outside the enclave, out. [nL1N2HW0GT]
    That expands Russia’s military footprint, putting an apparent end to geopolitical competition between Moscow and Ankara of the kind that continues to play out in Syria and Libya.
    With the wider deal, Putin has staved off a full Turkish-backed Azeri takeover of Nagorno-Karabakh however, which ethnic Armenians forces said was just days away from falling, and reaffirmed Russian influence in the region by brokering a deal which excluded Turkey as a signatory.
    “Today’s deal…in many ways addresses core Russian interests in the conflict, and is perhaps the best outcome (at least in short term) Moscow could get,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Moscow Center think tank.
    “Russia has put its 2,000 peacekeepers in Nagorno-Karabakh – something that Moscow wanted to do back in 1994, but was unable to.    There will be no Turkish armed peacekeepers, which is very important for Moscow.”
TURKISH GAMBIT
    Ankara has said the ceasefire deal was a “sacred success” for its ally Azerbaijan [nL8N2HW1IO] while Erdogan, who has yet to comment, has described Ankara’s support for Azerbaijan as part of Turkey’s quest for its “deserved place in the world order.” [nL1N2GV05O]
    Ozgur Unluhisarcikli, director of the German Marshall Fund research group in Ankara, said the Russian presence in the area was a negative for Turkey and Azerbaijan but the Azeri position was now far stronger than six weeks ago.
    “Azerbaijan has obtained a great success in the field and this is consolidated by this ceasefire,” he said.
    Ankara did not need permission to send its forces to observe the ceasefire, Unluhisarcikli said, although it was unclear if Moscow had accepted that.
    Eurasia Group said Erdogan would probably not be too upset by the way things had turned out.
    “Turkey maintains some role, but it is clearly secondary to Russia’s,” it said in a research note.    “Erdogan is likely fine with this.    His military support for Azerbaijan made a big difference at relatively little cost to Turkey, and it granted Ankara a nationalist win and some leverage with Russia.”
    That said, Russia’s peacekeepers, armed and backed with armoured vehicles, freeze the conflict, making it impossible for Azerbaijan or Turkish-backed proxy forces to advance further.
    There’s another potential dividend for Moscow, which has a defence pact with Armenia and maintains a military base there.
    Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan swept to power on the back of 2018 street protests which forced the then government to resign.
    Moscow has had an uneasy relationship with Pashinyan ever since, seeing him as less pro-Russian than his predecessors on key policy issues and as someone who unseated a generation of Kremlin loyalists.
    The Karabakh deal, seen by many Armenians as a sell-out, puts Pashinyan under pressure, with opposition political parties calling for him to resign.
    Angry crowds stormed government buildings overnight, including his official residence which was looted, and Pashinyan was forced to deny allegations he had fled the country.
    Moscow would be unlikely to mourn his downfall if it happened.
    But even as Moscow savoured its diplomatic coup, Mark Galeotti, a senior associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, said the ceasefire deal flattered to deceive.
    “This is managing decline, a Russia that in regional terms is strong in capacities, weak in will, trying to make the best of a situation, and in the process disappointing its allies and doing nothing to deter its challengers,” he wrote in a Moscow Times opinion piece.
(Editing by Jon Boyle)

11/12/2020 U.S. And France Play Catch-Up On Karabakh After Russia Deploys Troops by Vladimir Soldatkin and Nvard Hovhannisyan
Military vehicles of the Russian peacekeeping forces are seen on a road near the town of Goris, Armenia November 12, 2020. REUTERS/Gleb Garanich
    MOSCOW/YELPIN, Armenia (Reuters) – France and the United States are expected to send diplomats to Moscow soon to discuss the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, Russia said on Thursday, two days after the Kremlin deployed troops to the ethnic Armenian enclave in Azerbaijan to secure a truce.
    The arrival on Tuesday of the peacekeepers to oversee the ceasefire between Azeri troops and ethnic Armenian forces in the enclave extends     Russia’s military footprint among the former Soviet republics it views as its strategic back yard.
    Moscow co-chairs an international group overseeing the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute with Washington and Paris, but they were not involved in the deal signed by Russia, Armenia and Azerbaijan to end six weeks of fighting over the enclave.
    “By no means do we want to distance ourselves from our American and French colleagues,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said.    “Moreover, we have invited them to Moscow.    They will arrive within the next few days to discuss how they can contribute to the implementation of the achieved agreements.”
    The accord, which locked in territorial gains by Azeri troops against ethnic Armenian forces in Nagorno-Karabakh, triggered protests in Armenia calling for the resignation of Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan when it was announced early on Tuesday.
    Hundreds of protesters rallied for a third day in the Armenian capital Yerevan on Thursday chanting “Nikol is a traitor!”    They then marched to the Security Service headquarters to demand the release of some opposition leaders and activists detained on Wednesday.
    Pashinyan, elected in 2018 after street protests against alleged corruption ousted the former elite, said on Thursday he had signed the accord to secure peace and save lives.
    Armenians living nearer to Nagorno-Karabakh, which has reported more than 1,300 losses among its fighters, had mixed feelings but welcomed the small columns of Russian peacekeepers making their way to the enclave on Thursday.
    “We are happy that peacekeepers came but at the same time we are sad that we are giving up that territory,” Armen Manjoyan, a 45-year-old driver, said outside the Armenian village of Yelpin between Yerevan and the Azeri border.
    “We all fought for it, but it turned out in vain,” he said.    “I think it was not the right decision.”
    Turkey, which has backed Azerbaijan over the conflict, signed a protocol with Russia on Wednesday to establish a joint centre to coordinate efforts to monitor the peace deal, agreed after three previous ceasefire attempts quickly broke down.
    The details of the monitoring have yet to be worked out and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that Russian officials were due in Ankara on Friday to discuss them.
    Nagorno-Karabakh is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan, which now joins eight other former Soviet republics where Russia has a military presence.    Moscow has military bases in five neighbouring states as well as troops in regions which have broken away from three others.
(Additional reporting by Maria Tsvetkova in YELPIN, Nailia Bagirova in BAKU and Margarita Antidze in TBILISI and Alexander Marrow in MOSCOW; Writing by Philippa Fletcher; Editing by Alison Williams)

11/16/2020 Shell-Shocked Armenians Return To Nagorno-Karabakh After Peace Deal
Local residents carry humanitarian aid in Stepanakert in the region of Nagorno-Karabakh, November 16, 2020. REUTERS/Stringer
    STEPANAKERT, Azerbaijan (Reuters) – Armenian refugees who fled a six-week war between Azerbaijan and ethnic Armenian forces have begun to return home to Nagorno-Karabakh to try to rebuild their shattered lives after Russia last week brokered a peace deal over the enclave.
    At least two convoys of buses carrying residents arrived in Stepanakert, the capital of the mountainous area, from neighbouring Armenia over the weekend.
    Under the terms of the agreement, control over the enclave’s main city Stepanakert, in territory internationally recognised as Azerbaijan, will stay with ethnic Armenians despite them being forced to cede other land to a victorious Azerbaijan.
    On Monday, refugees lined up in the centre of Stepanakert, which had been deserted for weeks beforehand, to collect bags of humanitarian aid which included staples such as canned food and pasta.
    Several men handed out rolled-up pieces of plastic which the returnees could use to fix broken windows in their homes.
    Some said they had come back with a heavy heart.
    “I have seen the third war already here.    In 1992 and 2016 I did not leave the city for even a minute.    But this time it was awful,” said a middle-aged woman who declined to give her name.
    The woman, who said she had returned on Sunday, said she had left for the Armenian border town of Sisian after the first week of fighting in early October when she had been forced to hide from shelling in a bomb shelter.
    While Stepanakert may remain in ethnic Armenian hands after the deal, Shusha, the second largest town in Nagorno-Karabakh, is now controlled by Azerbaijan after fierce fighting.
    “There are no Armenians in Shusha now,” said 35-year-old Alexander Simonyan, a gymnastics teacher from Shusha.
    When the fighting began, he sent his wife and children to Armenia and joined the Nagorno-Karabakh defence forces.
    He said he now lived with a friend in Stepanakert and had nowhere to house his family, though he hoped local authorities might offer them all somewhere to live.    “This is our land.    Where else can I go?    I can’t live in another place.”
    The Russian defence ministry said on Monday it had helped 475 people to return on Sunday and that a total of 725 people had come back to the enclave since Nov. 14.
LOST LAND
    After the ceasefire, Andranik Sarkisyan, 27, a former fighter, managed to bring his wife and two sons back from Armenia to their home village of Badara in Nagorno-Karabakh.
    News of the truce had been painful, he said.    “I was on the front line and they (commanders) simply called and told us that the land has been given up.    All the soldiers were crying.”
    Sarkisyan worked as a hairdresser in Stepanakert before the war and went to fight in the district of Gadrut, which was taken by Azeri forces at the start of the conflict.
    Many men in his battalion had been killed by artillery fire in an Oct. 11 attack, he said, adding that he had only survived because he had left earlier to guard a checkpoint.
    “The guys were simply burnt, they died, we collected their body parts.    I saw it every night.    It was unbearable, impossible,” he said.
    Such memories make it difficult for him to think about the terms of the settlement.
    “It is not about land.    It is about the blood spilled on it,” he said.    “I hope it was the last war.”
(Reporting by Reuters reporters; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Mark Heinrich)

11/16/2020 Armenian Foreign Minister Quits After Unpopular Karabakh Ceasefire by Nvard Hovhannisyan
FILE PHOTO: Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan attends a meeting with his Russian counterpart
Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia October 21, 2020. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    YEREVAN (Reuters) – Armenian Foreign Minister Zohrab Mnatsakanyan resigned on Monday, the ministry said, in a sign of political fall-out in the ex-Soviet republic after a ceasefire in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that locked in territorial gains for Azerbaijan.
    Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan’s government has faced a backlash over the ceasefire that ended six weeks of fighting, with thousands of protesters last week demanding he resign.
    On Monday, hundreds of protesters rallied in the capital Yerevan.
    The ceasefire signed by leaders of Armenia, Azerbaijan and Russia on Nov. 10 halted military action in and around Nagorno-Karabakh, an enclave internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but populated by ethnic Armenians.    Some 2,000 Russian peacekeeping troops are now being deployed to the region.
    Armenian President Armen Sarkissian said Pashinyan’s government should step down and a snap parliamentary election should be held.
    “Taking into account the current situation, taking into account public demands, it is obvious that in order to avoid internal political upheavals, the holding of early parliamentary elections is inevitable,” Sarkissian said in address to the nation.
    He said there should be an interim government of national unity.    However, the president does not have much power and his statement might be viewed as more of a recommendation.
    Pashinyan has rejected calls to step down.
    For over 25 years until fighting over Nagorno-Karabakh resumed on Sept. 27, ethnic Armenians held military control over the entire pocket and swathes of Azeri territory ringing it. But when the guns fell silent, they had lost much of the enclave – including its second city Shushi, which Azeris call Shusha – as well as adjoining terrain.
    Pashinyan said war could have been avoided if Armenia had voluntarily ceded control of seven regions surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh as well as Shushi. “But we took up the challenge of war,” he told a news conference.
    Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Anna Naghdalyan wrote on Facebook afterwards that giving up Shushi was never on the agenda at any stage of negotiations.
    Pashinyan said the road through the Lachin region that connects Nagorno Karabakh with Armenian state territory would be reopened later on Monday, and that many displaced residents of the enclave were returning home.
    Russian President Vladimir Putin held a phone call with French counterpart Emmanuel Macron to discuss Nagorno-Karabakh, the Kremlin said.
    The two leaders said the situation in the region had generally stabilised and it was time to address humanitarian issues, including the return of refugees and the preservation of Christian churches and monasteries.
(Additional reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Margarita Antidze; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

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)

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 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 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)

11/28/2020 Killing Of Suspected Iranian Nuclear Mastermind Risks Confrontation As Trump Exits by Parisa Hafezi
A view shows the scene of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – An Iranian scientist long suspected by the West of masterminding a secret nuclear bomb programme was killed in an ambush near Tehran on Friday that could provoke confrontation between Iran and its foes in the last weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
    The death of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Iranian media said died in hospital after armed assassins gunned him down in his car, will also complicate any effort by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive the detente of Barack Obama’s presidency.
    Iran pointed the finger at Israel, while implying the killing had the blessing of the departing Trump.    Foreign Minister Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter of “serious indications of (an) Israeli role.”
    The military adviser to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei vowed to “strike as thunder at the killers of this oppressed martyr.”    “In the last days of the political life of their … ally (Trump), the Zionists seek to intensify pressure on Iran and create a full-blown war,” Hossein Dehghan tweeted.
    Channels of the Telegram encrypted messaging app believed to be close to Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards reported that the top security body, the Supreme National Security Council, convened an emergency meeting with senior military commanders present.
    Israel declined to comment.    The White House, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and CIA also declined to comment, as did Biden’s transition team.
    Fakhrizadeh has been described by Western and Israeli intelligence services for years as the mysterious leader of a covert atomic bomb programme halted in 2003, which Israel and the United States accuse Tehran of trying to restore.    Iran has long denied seeking to weaponise nuclear energy.
    “Unfortunately, the medical team did not succeed in reviving (Fakhrizadeh), and a few minutes ago, this manager and scientist achieved the high status of martyrdom after years of effort and struggle,” Iran’s armed forces said in a statement.
    The semi-official news agency Tasnim said “terrorists blew up another car” before firing on a vehicle carrying Fakhrizadeh and his bodyguards in an ambush outside the capital.
    In the aftermath, there was a heavy presence of security forces stopping cars in Tehran in an apparent search for the killers, witnesses said.
    Trump, who lost his re-election bid to Biden on Nov. 3 and leaves office on Jan. 20, pulled the United States from a deal reached under Obama, his predecessor, that lifted sanctions on Iran in return for curbs on its nuclear programme.
    Biden has said he will aim to restore that agreement, although many analysts say this will be a challenging goal.
    Robert Malley, who served as Iran adviser to Obama and has informally advised Biden’s team, said Fakhrizadeh’s killing was among a series of moves that have occurred during Trump’s final weeks that appear aimed at making it harder for Biden to re-engage with Iran.
    “One purpose is simply to inflict as much damage to Iran economically and to its nuclear program while they can, and the other could be to complicate President Biden’s ability to resume diplomacy and resume the nuclear deal,” said Malley, adding that he would not speculate on who was behind Friday’s killing.
    A U.S. official confirmed this month that Trump asked military aides for a plan for a possible strike on Iran.    Trump decided against it to avoid a wider Middle East conflict.
    In January, Trump ordered a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad that killed Qassem Soleimani, Iran’s most powerful military commander.    Iran retaliated by firing missiles at a U.S. base in Iraq.
    U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, the top Democrat on the U.S. Senate’s Middle East subcommittee, said on Twitter “this assassination does not make America, Israel or the world safer.”
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres urged restraint to avoid an escalation of tensions, his spokesman said.
    Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, said in a letter to Guterres that Tehran “reserves its rights to take all necessary measures” to defend itself.    He also called on the U.N. Security Council to condemn the killing and take steps “against its perpetrators.”
‘REMEMBER THAT NAME’
    Fakhrizadeh had no public profile, but was thought to have headed what the U.N. nuclear watchdog and U.S. intelligence services believe was a coordinated nuclear weapons programme in Iran, shelved in 2003.
    He was the only Iranian scientist named in the International Atomic Energy Agency’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear programme. The report said he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme.”
    He was a central figure in a presentation by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.
    “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time.
    Michael Mulroy, a senior Pentagon official earlier during Trump’s administration, said Fakhrizadeh’s killing would set back Iran’s nuclear programme and alert levels should be raised in countries where Iran could retaliate.
    Sheikh Naim Qassem, deputy leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, blamed the “heinous attack” on “those sponsored by America and Israel” in an interview with Al Manar television and said the response was in Iran’s hands.
    During the final months of Trump’s presidency, Israel has been making peace with Gulf Arab states that share hostility towards Iran.
    This week, Netanyahu travelled to Saudi Arabia and met its crown prince, an Israeli official said, in what would be the first publicly confirmed visit by an Israeli leader.    Israeli media said they were joined by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi and Dubai newsroom, Francois Murphy in Vienna, Dan Williams in Jerusalem, and Matt Spetalnick in Washington;     Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk, Alexandra Alper, Phil Stewart, David Brunnstrom and Patricia Zengerle in Washington, Ghaida Ghantous in Beirut and Hesham Abdul Khalek in Cairo, Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Mark Heinrich, Peter Graff and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Howard Goller and Daniel Wallis)

11/28/2020 Iran Tells U.N. ‘Serious Indications’ Of Israeli Responsibility In Scientist’s Death
A view shows the site of the attack that killed Prominent Iranian scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
outside Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2020. WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    (Reuters) – Iran said there are “serious indications of Israeli responsibility” in the assassination of an Iranian scientist and it reserves the right to defend itself, the country wrote in a letter to U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the U.N. Security Council on Friday.
    “Warning against any adventuristic measures by the United States and Israel against my country, particularly during the remaining period of the current administration of the United States in office, the Islamic Republic of Iran reserves its rights to take all necessary measures to defend its people and secure its interests,” Iran’s U.N. envoy, Majid Takht Ravanchi, wrote in the letter, which was seen by Reuters.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler)

11/28/2020 Iran’s Leader Promises Retaliation For Nuclear Scientist’s Killing by Parisa Hafezi
FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks at a news conference on the sidelines of the
United Nations General Assembly in New York, U.S., September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s supreme leader promised on Saturday to retaliate for the killing of the Islamic Republic’s top nuclear scientist, raising the threat of a new confrontation with the West and Israel in the remaining weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency.
    Ayatollah Ali Khamenei pledged to continue the work of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, who Western and Israeli governments believe was the architect of a secret Iranian nuclear weapons programme.
    Friday’s killing, which Iran’s president was swift to blame on Israel, could complicate any efforts by President-elect Joe Biden to revive a detente with Tehran that was forged when he was in Barack Obama’s administration.
    Trump pulled Washington out of the 2015 international nuclear pact agreed between Tehran and major powers.
    Khamenei, who is Iran’s top authority and who says the country has never sought nuclear arms, said on Twitter that Iranian officials must take up the task of “pursuing this crime and punishing its perpetrators and those who commanded it.”
    Fakhrizadeh, who had little public profile in Iran but who Israel named as a prime player in what it says is Iran’s nuclear weapons quest, was killed on Friday when he was ambushed near Tehran and his car sprayed with bullets.    He was rushed to hospital where he died.
    Iranian President Hassan Rouhani told a televised meeting on Saturday Iran would respond “at the proper time.”
    “Once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son,” he said, using terms officials employ to refer to Israel.
    Israeli cabinet minister Tzachi Hanegbi, a confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said he did not know who carried out the killing.     “I have no clue who did it.    It’s not that my lips are sealed because I’m being responsible, I simply really have no clue,” he told N12’s Meet the Press.
CHALLENGE FOR BIDEN
    Israel’s Army Radio said some Israeli embassies had been put on high alert after the Iranian threats of retaliation, though there were no reports of concrete threats.    The radio’s military affairs correspondent said the army was on routine footing.
    Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing of Fakhrizadeh and an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the ministry did not comment on security regarding missions abroad.
    The White House, Pentagon, U.S. State Department and CIA have also declined to comment on the killing, as has Biden’s transition team.    Biden takes office on Jan. 20.
    “Whether Iran is tempted to take revenge or whether it restrains itself, it will make it difficult for Biden to return to the nuclear agreement,” Amos Yadlin, a former Israeli military intelligence chief and director of Israel’s Institute for National Security Studies, wrote on Twitter.
    Under the 2015 nuclear deal, Iran agreed to curb its nuclear work in return for the lifting of sanctions.    Once Trump withdrew in 2018, U.S. sanctions were ramped up, driving down Iran’s vital oil exports and crippling the economy.    Tehran, meanwhile, sped up its nuclear work.
    Germany, a party to the nuclear pact, and U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for restraint from all sides.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that it was “shameful that some refuse to stand against terrorism and hide behind calls for restraint.”
ACCELERATING NUCLEAR WORK
    A senior official told Reuters: “Definitely Iran will retaliate.    When and how depends on our national interests.    It might happen in the coming days or weeks, but it will happen.”
    He pointed to Iran’s retaliatory missile attacks in January on an Iraqi base where U.S. forces were stationed, days after a U.S. drone strike in Baghdad killed top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani. No U.S. troops were killed in the action.
    “The martyrdom of Fakhrizadeh will accelerate our nuclear work,” said Fereydoon Abbasi, the former head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organisation, who survived an assassination attempt in 2010.
    At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012 in what Tehran said was a programme of assassinations aimed at sabotaging its nuclear energy programme.    Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons, saying its aims are only peaceful.
    Fakhrizadeh was thought to have headed what the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the U.S. intelligence services believe was Iran’s nuclear arms programme.
    He was the only Iranian scientist named in the IAEA’s 2015 “final assessment” of open questions about Iran’s nuclear programme.    It said he oversaw activities “in support of a possible military dimension to (Iran’s) nuclear programme.”
    Fakhrizadeh was also a central figure in a presentation by the Israeli prime minister in 2018 accusing Iran of continuing to seek nuclear weapons.    “Remember that name, Fakhrizadeh,” Netanyahu said at the time.
    U.S. intelligence services and the IAEA believe Iran halted its coordinated weapons programme in 2003.
    The IAEA has said it had no credible indications of activities in Iran relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device after 2009.
    The United States deployed U.S. aircraft carrier Nimitz with accompanying ships to the Gulf on Wednesday, shortly before the killing, but a U.S. Navy spokeswoman said the deployment was not related to any specific threats.
(Additional reporting by Francois Murphy in Vienna and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry and Edmund Blair)

11/28/2020 Iran Threatens Retaliation For Killing Of Top Nuclear Scientist by OAN Newsroom
A combo of recent file pictures shows Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei (L) addressing the faithful
at the weekly Muslim Friday prayers at Tehran University on June 19, 2009 and newly elected president, Hassan Rouhani,
attending a press conference in the Iranian capital on June 17, 2013. (BEHROUZ MEHRI/AFP via Getty Images)
    Iran’s supreme leader said he plans to strike back for the killing of the top nuclear scientist in the Islamic Republic.
    On Saturday, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei made the comments that he will pick up Mohsen Fakhrizadeh’s work.    However, western and Israeli governments have been led to believe Fakhrizadeh headed a secret program to create weapons.
    This could spark tension with the U.S. as Iran’s president Hassan Rouhani quickly blamed U.S. ally, Israel, for the execution.
    “This brutal and cowardly terror attack showed that our enemies are experiencing weeks of anxiety,” Rouhani said.    “Weeks when they feel their stress is being reduced and global conditions are changing.”
    Furthermore, Israeli embassies are reported to be on high alert.
    On Friday, Fakhrizadeh was in his car near Tehran when he was attacked and shot.    He was pronounced dead at the hospital later that day.
    On Saturday, angry protesters took to the streets where they were seen burning U.S. and Israeli flags.
    “The limitations of the nuclear deal were a barrier to the progress of this martyr,” Abolfazl Aboei, a conservative member of parliament, stated. “These restrictions must be lifted.”
    U.S.-Iran tensions have risen over the last few years after the U.S. pulled out of an international nuclear deal, which caused the Iranian economy to plummet.
    However, President Trump said the U.S. pulled out of the deal because it only addressed Iran’s nuclear weapons program and excluded the nation’s other problematic practices.
    Fakhrizadeh’s death could increase tension between the countries.
    Iran has retaliated in the past.    For example, last January the country fired missiles at a U.S. base after a U.S. drone killed Iran’s commander.
[Iran can not believe that an Iranian person may have killed him to get back at the Mullahs for their treatment of the Iranian people and of course they want to blame it on the U.S. or Israel who would have told them they did it if they did as you see in the article above.    I hope Iran is not going to do something stupid again such as shooting down an airplane with Iranians on it and the God of Abraham Accord is watching you.].

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 Iran To Give A ‘Calculated’ Response To Nuclear Scientist Killing, Says Official
A coffin with an image of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, can be seen among the servants of the holy
shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad, Iran November 29, 2020. Massoud Nozari/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran will give a “calculated and decisive” response to the killing of its top nuclear scientist, said a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, while a hardline newspaper suggested Tehran’s revenge should include striking the Israeli city of Haifa.
    “Undoubtedly, Iran will give a calculated and decisive answer to the criminals who took Martyr Mohsen Fakhrizadeh from the Iranian nation,” Kamal Kharrazi, who is also head of Iran’s Strategic Council on Foreign Relations, said in a statement.
    Fakhrizadeh, long suspected by Western and Israeli government of masterminding a secret nuclear weapons program, was ambushed on a highway near Tehran on Friday and gunned down in his car.
    Iran’s clerical and military rulers have blamed the Islamic Republic’s longtime enemy, Israel, for the killing. Iran has in the past accused Israel of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.    An Israeli cabinet minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Saturday he did not know who carried it out.
    Iranian hardline media called on Sunday for a tough revenge.
    The hardline Kayhan daily, whose editor-in-chief is appointed by Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, called for an attack on the Israeli port city of Haifa, if an Israeli role in Fakhrizadeh’s killing is proven.
    “The attack should be carried out in such a way that in addition to destroying the facilities, it should also cause heavy human casualties,” wrote Saadollah Zarei in an opinion piece.
    However, Iran’s rulers are aware of daunting military and political difficulties of attacking Israel.    Such an attack would also complicate any effort by U.S. President-elect Joe Biden to revive detente with Tehran after he takes office on Jan. 20.
    Tensions have been high between Tehran and Washington since 2018, when President Donald Trump exited Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with six major powers and reimposed sanctions that have hit Iran’s economy hard.    In retaliation, Tehran has gradually breached the deal’s curbs on its nuclear programme.
    Biden has said he will return the United States to the deal if Iran resumes compliance. Iran has always denied pursuing nuclear weapons. (Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frances Kerry)

11/30/2020 Iran Begins Burial Of Slain Prominent Nuclear Scientist: TV
Servants of the holy shrine of Imam Reza carry the coffin of Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh,
in Mashhad, Iran November 29, 2020. Massoud Nozari/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran began the burial of slain nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh in a cemetery in northern Tehran on Monday, state TV reported, as the defence minister promised the Islamic Republic would retaliate for his killing.
    Fakhrizadeh, long suspected by Western and Israeli government of masterminding a secret nuclear weapons program, was ambushed on a highway near Tehran on Friday and gunned down in his car.
    Iran’s clerical and military rulers have blamed the Islamic Republic’s longtime enemy, Israel, for the killing.    Iran has in the past accused Israel of killing several Iranian nuclear scientists since 2010.
    State TV showed Fakhrizadeh’s coffin, wrapped by an Iranian flag in a ceremony at the defence ministry, where only several dozen senior military commanders and his family attended due to coronavirus precautions.
    “The enemies know and I, as a soldier, tell them that no crime, no terror and no stupid act will go unanswered by the Iranian people,” said     Defence Minister Brigadier General Amir Hatami in a televised speech at the ceremony.
    His body was later transferred to the Emamzade Saleh cemetery in northern Tehran for burial.
    Iran’s semi-official Fars news agency said on Sunday Fakhrizadeh was assassinated by an automatic machine gun operated with a remote control.    Witnesses on Friday told state TV that there were gunmen on the ground.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office has declined to comment on the killing.    An Israeli cabinet minister, Tzachi Hanegbi, said on Saturday he did not know who carried it out.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi, Editing by William Maclean)

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)

11/30/2020 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)

12/11/2020 Iran Protests To Turkey Over Remarks By Erdogan In Azerbaijan
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
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Iran’s Foreign Ministry summoned Turkey’s ambassador on Friday over remarks by Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran said amounted to meddling in its affairs.
    Erdogan recited an Azeri-Iranian poem about the division of Azerbaijan’s territory between Russia and Iran in the 19th century.    Tehran appeared concerned his remarks could fan separatist tendencies among Iran’s Azeri minority.
    “The Turkish ambassador was informed that the era of territorial claims and expansionist empires is over,” the Foreign Ministry said on its website.    “Iran does not allow anyone to meddle in its territorial integrity.”
    Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted earlier: “President Erdogan was not informed that what he ill-recited in Baku refers to the forcible separation of areas…from (the) Iranian motherland.”
    “NO ONE can talk about OUR beloved Azerbaijan,” Zarif said, referring to a northwest region of Iran where many of its ethnic Azeris live.
    Azeris speak a language very similar to Turkish, but most observe Shi’ite Islam, Iran’s state religion.    The Iranian region of Azerbaijan borders on the independent state of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic.    Turkey has become a close ally of Azerbaijan, helping it make major territorial gains against Armenians in a war that ended with a ceasefire last month.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry also summoned Iran’s ambassador in Ankara and protested claims about President Erdogan, state-owned Anadolu news agency reported.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom, additional reporting by Ezgi ErkoyunEditing by Mark Heinrich and Peter Graff)

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)

12/14/2020 Rouhani Says Iran Can Move Beyond Row With Turkey Over Erdogan Poem
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a news conference in Tehran, Iran
December 14, 2020. Official Presidential website/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani said on Monday Tehran could move past a diplomatic quarrel with Turkey over a poem recited by President Tayyip Erdogan during a visit to Azerbaijan, which Tehran had called a threat to its territorial integrity.
    Iran summoned Turkey’s envoy last week after Erdogan recited an Azeri-Iranian poem lamenting the 19th century division of Azerbaijan’s territory between Russia and Iran. Tehran appeared concerned his remarks questioned Iran’s territorial integrity and could fan separatist tendencies among its Azeri minority.
    “In my opinion, with the explanations (Turkish officials) gave, we can move beyond this issue, but the sensitivity of our people is very important,” Rouhani told a televised news conference in Tehran.
    “Based on my past knowledge of Mr Erdogan, it is very unlikely that he had any intention of insulting our territorial integrity,” Rouhani said.    “He always recites poetry in his speeches.”
    Azeris are the largest minority in Iran, and millions live in an Iranian region which shares the same name as the independent state of Azerbaijan, a former Soviet Republic.    Azeris speak a language very similar to Turkish, while mostly observing Shi’ite Islam, Iran’s state religion.
    Turkey has become a close ally of Azerbaijan, helping it make major territorial gains against Armenians in a war that ended with a ceasefire last month.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Peter Graff)

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)

[THE FOLLOWING PROPHECY IS ASSOCIATED WITH THE ABOVE ARTICLES AS IF IT WILL LEAD INTO THAT EVENTUALLY SO ENJOY]

Daniel - Chapter 11
1 Also I in the first year of Darius the Mede, even I, stood to confirm and to strengthen him.
2 And now will I shew thee the truth. Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.
3 And a mighty king shall stand up, that shall rule with great dominion, and do according to his will.
4 And when he shall stand up, his kingdom shall be broken, and shall be divided toward the four winds of heaven; and not to his posterity, nor according to his dominion which he ruled: for his kingdom shall be plucked up, even for others beside those.
5 And the king of the south shall be strong, and one of his princes; and he shall be strong above him, and have dominion; his dominion shall be a great dominion.
6 And in the end of years they shall join themselves together; for the king's daughter of the south shall come to the king of the north to make an agreement: but she shall not retain the power of the arm; neither shall he stand, nor his arm: but she shall be given up, and they that brought her, and he that begat her, and he that strengthened her in these times.
7 But out of a branch of her roots shall one stand up in his estate, which shall come with an army, and shall enter into the fortress of the king of the north, and shall deal against them, and shall prevail:
8 And shall also carry captives into Egypt their gods, with their princes, and with their precious vessels of silver and of gold; and he shall continue more years than the king of the north.
9 So the king of the south shall come into his kingdom, and shall return into his own land.
10 But his sons shall be stirred up, and shall assemble a multitude of great forces: and one shall certainly come, and overflow, and pass through: then shall he return, and be stirred up, even to his fortress.
11 And the king of the south shall be moved with choler, and shall come forth and fight with him, even with the king of the north: and he shall set forth a great multitude; but the multitude shall be given into his hand.
12 And when he hath taken away the multitude, his heart shall be lifted up; and he shall cast down many ten thousands: but he shall not be strengthened by it.
13 For the king of the north shall return, and shall set forth a multitude greater than the former, and shall certainly come after certain years with a great army and with much riches.
14 And in those times there shall many stand up against the king of the south: also the robbers of thy people shall exalt themselves to establish the vision; but they shall fall.
15 So the king of the north shall come, and cast up a mount, and take the most fenced cities: and the arms of the south shall not withstand, neither his chosen people, neither shall there be any strength to withstand.
16 But he that cometh against him shall do according to his own will, and none shall stand before him: and he shall stand in the glorious land, which by his hand shall be consumed.
17 He shall also set his face to enter with the strength of his whole kingdom, and upright ones with him; thus shall he do: and he shall give him the daughter of women, corrupting her: but she shall not stand on his side, neither be for him.br> 18 After this shall he turn his face unto the isles, and shall take many: but a prince for his own behalf shall cause the reproach offered by him to cease; without his own reproach he shall cause it to turn upon him.
19 Then he shall turn his face toward the fort of his own land: but he shall stumble and fall, and not be found.
20 Then shall stand up in his estate a raiser of taxes in the glory of the kingdom: but within few days he shall be destroyed, neither in anger, nor in battle.
21 And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honour of the kingdom: but he shall come in peaceably, and obtain the kingdom by flatteries.
22 And with the arms of a flood shall they be overflown from before him, and shall be broken; yea, also the prince of the covenant.
23 And after the league made with him he shall work deceitfully: for he shall come up, and shall become strong with a small people.
24 He shall enter peaceably even upon the fattest places of the province; and he shall do that which his fathers have not done, nor his fathers' fathers; he shall scatter among them the prey, and spoil, and riches: yea, and he shall forecast his devices against the strong holds, even for a time.
25 And he shall stir up his power and his courage against the king of the south with a great army; and the king of the south shall be stirred up to battle with a very great and mighty army; but he shall not stand: for they shall forecast devices against him.
26 Yea, they that feed of the portion of his meat shall destroy him, and his army shall overflow: and many shall fall down slain.
27 And both these kings' hearts shall be to do mischief, and they shall speak lies at one table; but it shall not prosper: for yet the end shall be at the time appointed.
28 Then shall he return into his land with great riches; and his heart shall be against the holy covenant; and he shall do exploits, and return to his own land.
29 At the time appointed he shall return, and come toward the south; but it shall not be as the former, or as the latter.
30 For the ships of Chittim shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return, and have indignation against the holy covenant: so shall he do; he shall even return, and have intelligence with them that forsake the holy covenant.
31 And arms shall stand on his part, and they shall pollute the sanctuary of strength, and shall take away the daily sacrifice, and they shall place the abomination that maketh desolate.
32 And such as do wickedly against the covenant shall he corrupt by flatteries: but the people that do know their God shall be strong, and do exploits.
33 And they that understand among the people shall instruct many: yet they shall fall by the sword, and by flame, by captivity, and by spoil, many days.
34 Now when they shall fall, they shall be holpen with a little help: but many shall cleave to them with flatteries.
35 And some of them of understanding shall fall, to try them, and to purge, and to make them white, even to the time of the end: because it is yet for a time appointed.
36 And the king shall do according to his will; and he shall exalt himself, and magnify himself above every god, and shall speak marvellous things against the God of gods, and shall prosper till the indignation be accomplished: for that that is determined shall be done.
37 Neither shall he regard the God of his fathers, nor the desire of women, nor regard any god: for he shall magnify himself above all.
38 But in his estate shall he honour the God of forces: and a god whom his fathers knew not shall he honour with gold, and silver, and with precious stones, and pleasant things.
39 Thus shall he do in the most strong holds with a strange god, whom he shall acknowledge and increase with glory: and he shall cause them to rule over many, and shall divide the land for gain.
40 And at the time of the end shall the king of the south push at him: and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass over.
41 He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many countries shall be overthrown: but these shall escape out of his hand, even Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon.
42 He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries: and the land of Egypt shall not escape.
43 But he 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.
44 But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him: therefore he shall go forth with great fury to destroy, and utterly to make away many.
45 And he shall plant the tabernacles of his palace between the seas in the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him.

Genesis 15:17 And it came to pass, that, when the sun went down, and it was dark, behold a smoking furnace, and a burning lamp that passed between those pieces.    18 In the same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed have I given this land, from the river of Egypt unto the great river, the river Euphrates:

    This page created on 2/7/2020 and updated on 12/31/2020.

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