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

    This file is attached to from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D.
    Or continue to King Of The South 2021 March-April


    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the South in 2020" is?
    The phrase “king of the South” is found in the Bible in only one location — Daniel 11, which is also the chapter containing the most detailed prophecy in the Bible.    The first mention of this ruler is found in verse 5, where we find that “the king of the South shall become strong” and that “His dominion shall be a great dominion.”    Who was this king?    Who will he be in the “time of the end” spoken of in verse 40?    To answer these questions, we need a little background information.    One of the first considerations is the setting of this prophecy.    Daniel received the message in “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” which was 537 or 536 B.C. according to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Daniel 10:1).    The prophecy of Daniel 11 begins with verses 2-4, which describe what would happen in the Persian and Greek Empires after Daniel was given this vision, and continues through “the time of the end” (verse 40).
    The Persian Empire refers to any of a series of imperial dynasties that were centred in Persia/Iran from the 6th century B.C. Achaemenid Empire era to the 20th century AD in the Qajar dynasty era.    Know that Ancient Persia is modern Iran.
    Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) also called the First Persian Empire, in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great.    It ranges from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army.    The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.
    By the 7th century BC, the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland.    From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire.    Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered most of the empire by 330 BC.    Upon Alexander's death, most of the empire's former territory came under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time.    The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century B.C. under the Parthian Empire.
    The Achaemenid Empire is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.    The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well.
    Despite the lasting conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings.    The impact of Cyrus's edict is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts, and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China.    The empire also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of Iran (also officially known as Persia).    The image below shows you the area for the "King of the South."
    So based on the above information I would acknowledge that the "King of the South" will come out of that area.
    As you may have noted that in 2019 I claimed that individual will be: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
    The reason was his image of the pentagram a Satanic symbol which is at the top of Erdogan’s Tek Devlet (One State) monument in Turkey, which is a pentagram, a satanic symbol, and believed in beheading, and Shriah Will Rise Again, religious education, Koranic courses, Arabic and Ottoman lessons, Islamization of all schools, sharia education and finally compulsory worship services in all schools
    Could Recep Tayyip Erdogan be the upcoming antichrist and may fit the description and then may not be the final antichrist.    The Bible tells us there are “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18); many believe there will be the single antichrist, and we are rapidly approaching the end of time as we know it, before the great tribulation begins.
    All of the antichrists have the same modus operandi (mode of operation).
    As Erdogan has tried to be a force in the South and has shown hints of hypocrisy along the way, and August 2014, he has steadily become dictatorial, and enacted laws to give him excessive powers.
    “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom, but he shall come in peaceably and obtain the kingdom by flatteriesDaniel 11:21.
    The Bible, in a number of instances, refers to the antichrist as the “Assyrian.”    A good part of Turkey was included in the Assyrian Empire, which also persecuted God’s people.
    “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Oh My people who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite you with a rod and shall lift up his staff against you, after the manner of Egypt.    For yet a little while and the indignation shall cease and My anger in their destructionIsaiah 10:24-25.
    “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land and when he shall tread in our palaces; then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal menMicah 5:5.
    Erdogan announced, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the honor of 1.7 billion Muslims, not just Palestinians, and the Muslim world cannot wait to remain indifferent to the restrictions imposed on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which is situated on the historical Jewish Temple Mount.
    Erdogan’s real crimes are buying the Russian S-400 missile system for Turkey, refusing to accept US support for America’s Kurdish YPG allies and allowing Islamist fighters to pour over Turkey’s border into Syria along with a load of weapons, mortars and missiles.    Erdogan said Turkey will work with the Syrian people directly to help achieve peace in the war-torn country.    He went on to clarify this does not mean he is willing to work with the Syrian government.
    “Russia takes the necessary measures against a (possible) threat by Syrian regime in Idlib, and as Turkey, we are taking all kind of measures against radical groups in Idlib,” stated President Erdogan.    “We are also taking joint action with Russia if it is necessary.”    His remarks come almost a month after Turkish and Russian forces announced a demilitarized zone in the Idlib province.
    In December, President Donald Trump’s called Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border, and delivered a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.
    The following image below is seen at so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    So lets see what will happen in 2021 regarding the King of the South:


1/4/2020 Prosecutors file new brief on Netanyahu by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israeli prosecutors on Sunday released an amended indictment spelling out detailed charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in a corruption case in which he is accused of trading favors with a powerful media mogul.
    Netanyahu has been charged with fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three corruption cases.    One of them alleges that Netanyahu promoted regulations worth hundreds of millions of dollars to the owner of the Bezeq telecom company in exchange for positive coverage on its popular Walla news site.
    In response to a request from Netanyahu’s lawyers for more details, Israeli prosecutors released a letter Sunday alleging there had been 315 incidents of Walla being requested to make its coverage more favorable for Netanyahu and his family.    They said there were indications that Netanyahu was personally involved in 150 of those incidents.
    It said the requests included giving more time or prominence to positive articles about Netanyahu and his family, changing headlines, and lowering or even removing unfavorable stories.

1/4/2021 Yemeni Boy, Ravaged By Hunger, Weighs 7 Kg by Reuters Staff
FILE PHOTO: Faid Samim, 7, a malnourished boy who also has cerebral palsy, lies on a bed at the malnutrition
treatment ward of al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen December 28, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA(Reuters) – Paralysed and severely malnourished, seven-year-old Faid Samim lies curled up on a hospital bed in the Yemeni capital Sanaa, having barely survived the journey there.
    “He was almost gone when he arrived but thank God we were able to do what was necessary and he started improving. He is suffering from CP (cerebral palsy) and severe malnutrition,” said Rageh Mohammed, the supervising doctor of the Al-Sabeen hospital’s malnutrition ward.
    Faid weighs only 7 kg (just over 15 lb) and his tiny, fragile frame takes up barely a quarter of a folded hospital blanket.    His family had to travel from Al-Jawf, 170 km (105 miles) north of Sanaa, through checkpoints and damaged roads, to get him there.
    Unable to afford Faid’s medication or treatment, the family relies on donations to get him treated.    Mohammed says malnutrition cases are on the rise and impoverished parents are forced to rely on the kindness of strangers or international aid to get their children treated.
    Famine has never been officially declared in Yemen, where a six-year war has left 80% of the population reliant on aid in what the U.N. says is the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
    U.N. warnings in late 2018 of impending famine prompted an aid ramp-up.    But coronavirus restrictions, reduced remittances, locusts, floods and significant underfunding of the 2020 aid response are exacerbating hunger.
    The war in Yemen, in which a Saudi-led coalition has been battling the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement since 2015, has killed more than 100,000 people and left the country divided, with the Houthis holding Sanaa and most major urban centres.

1/4/2021 Lebanon Orders Three-Week Lockdown To Fight Virus Spread
People wait to get tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Rafik Hariri
University Hospital, in Beirut, Lebanon January 4, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon announced a full lockdown for three weeks, including a night curfew, to stem a rise in COVID-19 infections that threatens to overwhelm hospitals in a country already facing financial meltdown.
    Caretaker Health Minister Hamad Hasan said the lockdown would start on Thursday and run until Feb. 1, with further details on Tuesday on which sectors would be exempt.
    The lockdown will include a curfew from 6 pm to 5 am.
    “It has become clear that the pandemic challenge has reached a stage that is seriously threatening Lebanese lives as hospitals are not capable of providing beds,” Hasan told reporters after a meeting of the ministerial committee on COVID-19.
    Lebanon registered 2,870 new infections on Sunday, bringing its total to 189,278 cases and 1,486 deaths since Feb. 21.
    The new lockdown comes amid concerns over soaring unemployment, inflation and poverty.
    Lebanon is facing a devastating financial crisis that has crashed the currency, paralysed banks, and frozen savers out of their deposits.    Medical supplies have dwindled as dollars have grown scarce.
    Intensive care units had previously reached critical capacity over the summer as the virus spread after a massive explosion at the docks wrecked swathes of Beirut, killed 200 people and destroyed several hospitals.
    Adherence to social distancing and other preventive measures has been lax and there are now fears of a significant rise in cases after the Christmas and New Year holidays.
    “It is a big problem.    In the next ten days it will be very difficult and we are expecting death rates to increase as infections rise,” Mahmoud Hassoun, head of the critical care unit at Rafik Hariri hospital, told Reuters.
    “We are nearly full now and we haven’t even seen the effect of the holiday period yet.”
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Maha El Dahan and Alaa Kanaan; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/4/2021 PM Netanyahu: Israel Will Not Allow Iran To Obtain A Nuclear Weapon by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a cabinet meeting of the new government at Chagall State Hall in the Knesset
(Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Photo by ABIR SULTAN / POOL / AFP) (Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    In a press conference on Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it’s clear Iran plans to manufacture nuclear weapons.
    Netanyahu also promised that Israel will not allow Iran to continue violating the 2015 nuclear deal, which called for Tehran to shut down its nuclear program.
    “There is no other explanation except for the continued realization of Iran’s intention to manufacture nuclear weapons,” Netanyahu said.    “I reiterate: Israel will not allow Iran to manufacture nuclear weapons.”
    This came after Iran announced it had resumed 20 percent uranium enrichment.    Experts said this development puts Tehran one step closer to enrich uranium at 90 percent, which is required to produce a nuclear weapon.

1/5/2021 From Embargo To Embrace, Saudi Arabia Pushes Gulf Detente by Aziz El Yaakoubi
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani upon his arrival
to attend the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy
    AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Embracing Qatar’s ruler, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince pushed a deal to end a bitter row with Doha at a Gulf Arab summit on Tuesday to try to shore up an anti-Iran front, although a final declaration contained only a general pledge of solidarity.
    The kingdom’s foreign minister said Riyadh and its Arab allies agreed to restore ties with Doha to end a boycott imposed in mid-2017 and strengthen a Gulf Arab alliance against Tehran.
    While the communique contained no detailed confirmation of a deal, the apparent breakthrough signalled hope for mending a rift between major U.S. allies two weeks before President-elect Joe Biden takes office and at a time of regional tensions with Iran.
    “There is political will and good faith” to guarantee implementation of the deal, Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told a news conference, saying the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt had all agreed to restore ties with Doha.
    The apparent deal followed mediation efforts by the United States and Kuwait, and a U.S. official said on Monday Qatar would suspend legal cases related to the boycott under the emerging deal.
    Ahead of the gathering in the historic city of al-Ula, which was also attended by White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, Kuwait anounced that Saudi Arabia would reopen its airspace and borders to Qatar.    The other three nations have yet to announce similar moves.
    Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman and Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, hugged at the airport tarmac before heading to the summit venue in a mirrored building reflecting the desert landscape.
    Saudi de facto ruler Prince Mohammed, who chaired the short event instead of his father King Salman, said the al-Ula agreement “confirms Gulf, Arab and Islamic unity and stability.”
    He also called for serious action by the global community to address a threat he said was posed by Iran’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and its “subversive and destructive plans.”
    Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar over allegations Doha supports terrorism, a charge it denies.
    U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has been pushing for a resolution to the dispute that Washington sees as hindering efforts to contain Iran.
    Kushner, tasked by Trump, his father-in-law, to work on ending the rift, was making phone calls on the emerging deal until the early hours of Monday, a U.S. official had said
    Diplomats and analysts said Riyadh was also pushing reluctant allies to show Biden that the kingdom is open to dialogue.    Biden has said he will take a harder line with the kingdom over issues including its human rights record and the Yemen war.
    “This (deal) is seemingly influenced by a desire to pre-empt pressure from an incoming Biden administration, more than a genuine commitment to conflict resolution,” said Emadeddin Badi, nonresident senior fellow at Atlantic Council.
    “The détente within the GCC is very unlikely to significantly affect geopolitical dynamics beyond the Gulf.”
    All the states are U.S. allies.    Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
    Qatar says the boycott aims to curb its sovereignty.
    The other countries had set Doha 13 demands, including closing Al Jazeera TV, shuttering a Turkish base, cutting links to the Muslim Brotherhood and downgrading ties with Iran.
(Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi in Dubai Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by Tom Hogue, John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie and Timothy Heritage)

1/5/2021 South African Variant Unlikely To ‘Completely Negate’ COVID Vaccines, Scientist Says by Alexander Winning
FILE PHOTO: The word "COVID-19" is reflected in a drop on a syringe needle in this illustration taken November 9, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A variant of the coronavirus first detected in South Africa is unlikely to completely negate the immunising effects of vaccines, a researcher studying it told Reuters.
    British scientists expressed concern on Monday that COVID-19 vaccines may not be able to protect against the variant identified by South African scientists and which has spread internationally.
    Richard Lessells, an infectious disease expert at the KwaZulu-Natal Research Innovation and Sequencing Platform, which played a central role in identifying the variant known as 501Y.V2, said his understanding was that the comments were not based on any new data but on shared information.
    “They are voicing the same concerns that we articulated when we first released this information, that the pattern of mutations did give us concern,” Lessells said on Tuesday.
    South African researchers are studying the effects of mutations in the variant, including whether natural immunity from exposure to older versions of the virus provides protection against reinfection by the new variant.
    Preliminary results from those studies may be ready by the end of this week, Lessells said.
    Scientists have identified more than 20 mutations in the 501Y.V2 variant, including several in the spike protein the virus uses to infect human cells.
    One of these is at a site that is believed to be important for neutralising antibodies and is not found in another coronavirus variant discovered in Britain, Lessells said.
    “Why we’ve been a bit cautious about flagging out the concern about the (effectiveness of) vaccines is that for many of the vaccines they are thought to induce quite a broad immune response,” he said.
    That broad response could target different parts of the spike protein, not just one, he added.
    “That’s why we think that although these mutations may have some effect, they are very unlikely to completely negate the effect of the vaccines,” Lessells said.
    South Africa’s health ministry acknowledged questions from Reuters but did not give an immediate response.    The country has recorded more than 1.1 million COVID-19 cases and in excess of 30,000 deaths, the most on the African continent.
    Public Health England has said there is no evidence to suggest COVID-19 vaccines would not protect against mutated coronavirus variants.
    BioNTech chief executive Ugur Sahin said in an interview last week that his company’s vaccine, which uses messenger RNA to instruct the human immune system to fight the virus, should be able to protect against the British variant.

1/5/2021 Ethiopian Police Release Detained Reuters Cameraman Without Charge
Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu arrives to cover a breaking news assignment
in Bishoftu, Ethiopia March 10, 2019. Family Album/via REUTERS
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopian police released Reuters cameraman Kumerra Gemechu on Tuesday after detaining him without charge for 12 days.     Police had told his lawyer Melkamu Ogo that their lines of inquiry included accusations of disseminating false information, communicating with groups fighting the government, and disturbing the public’s peace and security.    However, Ogo said he had seen no evidence.
    “We are delighted that Kumerra has been released and reunited with his family.    His release today affirms he has done nothing wrong,” Reuters Editor-in-Chief Stephen J. Adler said in a statement.
    “Kumerra is a journalist who has consistently demonstrated his professionalism and commitment to accuracy, as part of a Reuters team that reports from Ethiopia in a fair, independent and unbiased way. Journalists like Kumerra must be allowed to report the news in the public interest without fear of harassment or harm, wherever they are.”
    The Ethiopian police and prosecutor’s office did not respond to questions from Reuters on the reasons for Kumerra’s arrest and subsequent release.
    Kumerra, 38, has worked for Reuters for a decade.
    His family said they were preparing a special meal and looking forward to having him home for Christmas, which many Ethiopian Christians will celebrate on Thursday.
    “We are so relieved that Kumerra has been released and would like to thank everyone who has supported us during this difficult time,” the family said in a statement.
    “Kumerra is a dedicated and professional journalist who has done nothing wrong.    He simply wants to report on Ethiopia in an independent way.    His family missed him every day he was detained, and we are delighted that Kumerra will be home for Christmas.”
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize in 2019, has overseen sweeping reforms since taking office in 2018, including the unbanning of more than 250 media outlets and the release of dozens of journalists.
    However, rights groups say press freedom has eroded as the government faced outbreaks of deadly violence including fighting between the military and rebellious leaders in the northern region of Tigray.
    Media watchdog groups reported the arrests of at least 12 other journalists in Ethiopia last year, seven of them in November when the Tigray conflict broke out.
    Only one journalist was charged, for social media posts about COVID-19 that were denounced by the health ministry as false, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists and Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
    Eight have since been released and the rest remain in custody, the two groups said.
    Police and government officials did not return calls and messages seeking comment.    The government has previouslysaid the nation is facing security threats and is committedto maintaining law and order.
(Reporting by the Nairobi news room; Editing by Alexandra Zavis and Nick Tattersall)

1/5/2021 U.N. Envoy Plans Trip To Yemen And Saudi Arabia After Aden Attack
FILE PHOTO: Security personnel and others react during an attack on Aden airport moments after a plane landed carrying a newly
formed cabinet for government-held parts of Yemen, in Aden, Yemen December 30, 2020. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – U.N. Special Envoy for Yemen Martin Griffiths will visit Yemen and Saudi Arabia in the next few days to meet with the Yemeni president and senior Saudi officials following an attack on Aden airport last week, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
    Attacks on the southern port city of Aden on Dec. 30 killed at least 22 people as officials in a government backed by Riyadh arrived there.    Saudi-led coalition warplanes then retaliated by striking targets in Yemen’s Houthi-held capital Sanaa the next day.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/5/2021 Breakthrough Reached In Gulf Dispute With Qatar -Senior Trump Official by Steve Holland and Aziz El Yaakoubi
Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman welcomes Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani upon his arrival to attend the Gulf
Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula, Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court
    WASHINGTON/RIYADH (Reuters) -A breakthrough has been reached in Qatar’s three-year-old dispute with Saudi Arabia and three other Arab countries and an agreement aimed at ending their rift is to be signed in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday, a senior Trump administration official said.
    The development is the latest in a series of Middle East deals sought by Washington – the others involving Israel and Arab states – aimed at building a united front against Iran.
    As part of the deal, Saudi Arabia will reopen its airspace and land and sea border to Qatar as of Monday, Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Ahmad Nasser al-Sabah said on Kuwait TV ahead of a Gulf Arab summit in Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
    Saudi state agency SPA quoted Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman as saying the annual gathering of Gulf leaders would unite Gulf ranks “in the face of challenges facing the region.”
    Qatar’s ruler, Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will attend, the royal court said.    The U.S. official said the Saudi crown prince and Qatari emir would sign the deal.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt have imposed a diplomatic, trade and travel embargo on Qatar since mid-2017 accusing it of supporting terrorism.    Qatar denies it and says the embargo aims to undermine its sovereignty.
    While Saudi Arabia made clear it intended to lift the blockade, the other three countries did not do so immediately, but the Trump official said “it’s our expectation” they would also join in lifting the blockade.    Under the emerging agreement, Qatar will suspend lawsuits related to the blockade, the official said.
    All of the countries involved in the deals are U.S. allies.    Qatar hosts the region’s largest U.S. military base, Bahrain is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, and Saudi Arabia and the UAE host U.S. troops.
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, assigned to work on the dispute by U.S. President Donald Trump, helped negotiate the deal and was working the phones on it until the wee hours of Monday morning, the official said.
    When in December Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said a resolution to the dispute seemed within reach, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif in a Twitter post said he hoped Gulf reconciliation “contributes to stability and political and economic development for all peoples of our region.”
    UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said in a Twitter post that Tuesday’s summit would restore Gulf unity and that “more work lies ahead and we are moving in the right direction.” [C6N2J405Y]
    On Monday, Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it welcomed the move by Saudi Arabia and called it an important step towards resolving the dispute.
    “Our hope is that this dispute reaches a comprehensive and lasting resolution based on mutual respect for the countries’ sovereignty and that other sanctions against the people of Qatar are lifted as soon as possible,” it said, adding that Turkey supported all efforts to bring stability to the Gulf region.
    Kushner, Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz and Brian Hook, a special State Department adviser, were flying to the Saudi Arabian city of al-Ula to attend the ceremony, the U.S. official said.
    If the deal holds, the Gulf dispute will be added to a string of diplomatic achievements of the Kushner team, a list that includes normalization deals last year between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
    Kushner, who is also Trump’s son-in-law, has been working on more normalization deals between Israel and Arab countries but may run out of time with President-elect Joe Biden due to take over the presidency on Jan. 20.
    “It’s just a massive breakthrough,” the U.S. official said.    “The blockade will be lifted.    It will allow for travel amongst the countries as well as goods.    It will lead to more stability in the region.”
    Diplomats in the region have said that Saudi Arabia was keen by pushing a deal to resolve the dispute to demonstrate to Biden that they are peacemakers and open to dialogue.
    The United States has about 10,000 troops in Qatar, which is home to Al Udeid Air Base.    There are thousands more troops in the UAE, Kuwait, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Steve Holland; additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Nayera Abdallah in Cairo, Idrees Ali in Washington and Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara; Editing by Howard Goller)

1/5/2021 Saudi Arabia And Allies To Restore Full Ties With Qatar, Says Foreign Minister
Arabic leaders, pose for a group photo during the Gulf Cooperation Council's (GCC) 41st Summit in Al-Ula,
Saudi Arabia January 5, 2021. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS
    AL-ULA, Saudi Arabia (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and its three Arab allies agreed to restore full ties with Doha at a summit in the kingdom on Tuesday, the Saudi foreign minister said.
    Faisal bin Farhan al-Saud told a news conference after the gathering of Gulf Arab states, also attended by Egypt, that there was political will and good faith to guarantee implementation of the agreement to restore diplomatic and other ties, including resumption of flights.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Alison Williams)

1/8/2021 Lebanon’s Hezbollah Chief Says Nuclear Button With “Crazy Fool” Trump
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah (2nd R), escorted by his bodyguards, greets his supporters
at an anti-U.S. protest in Beirut's southern suburbs, Lebanon September 17, 2012. REUTERS/Sharif Karim/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said on Friday recent events in the U.S. would have global repercussions and prayed that God protect the world until Jan. 20 when President elect Joe Biden is inaugurated.
    “The nuclear button is in the hands of a crazy fool called Trump,” Nasrallah said in a televised address.
    “God protect the world from what he can do.”
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Laila Bassam)

1/8/2021 Saudi King Receives First Dose Of A Coronavirus Vaccine -SPA
Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz gets a dose of a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine in Neom, Saudi Arabia, January 8, 2021.
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Saudi King Salman received a first dose of a coronavirus vaccine on Friday in the NEOM economic zone, the state news agency SPA said.
    The agency posted two pictures and a short video that showed a medical staff injecting the king with the vaccine.
(Reporting by Oamr Fahmy; writing by Mahmoud Mourad, Editing by Franklin Paul and Leslie Adler)

1/8/2021 Erdogan Says Gulf Rapprochement ‘Very Beneficial’ For Region
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of his ruling AK Party during a meeting at
the parliament in Ankara, Turkey, December 23, 2020. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    NKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan on Friday hailed a breakthrough between Guld Arab states and Qatar earlier this week, saying the move to restore ties and lift restrictions was “very beneficial” for the region.
    Turkey has a military base in Qatar has and supported its ally since Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states cut ties with Doha in mid-2017.    On Tuesday Riyadh said those ties would be restored.
    “Lifting this embargo is very appropriate, especially for the Gulf.    It has been very beneficial,” Erdogan told reporters.    “We hope that our position in the Gulf cooperation will be re-established. This will make the Gulf cooperation stronger.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

1/8/2021 Almost 2.3 Million People Need Aid In Ethiopia’s Tigray: U.N. Report
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region gather to receive relief aid at the Um-Rakoba camp on
the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Fighting is still going on in several parts of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and almost 2.3 million people, or nearly half of the population, need aid, a U.N. report said.
    The report, the most comprehensive public assessment of the humanitarian situation in Tigray since conflict erupted there on Nov. 4, was posted online late on Thursday.
    It said food supplies were very limited, looting was widespread and insecurity remained high.
    Federal government troops are fighting the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party that was governing the province.    The government declared victory in late November though the TPLF vowed to fight on.
    Ethiopia’s National Defence Force said late on Thursday that four senior TPLF members had been killed and nine arrested.
    The state-run Ethiopian Broadcasting Corporation said on Friday that Sebhat Nega, a founding member of the TPLF, had also been captured.    The TPLF could not be reached for comment.
    The whereabouts of TPFL leader Debretsion Gebremichael, other members of the party’s central committee and many high-ranking former military officers remains unknown.
    The findings in the humanitarian report stem from two missions conducted at the end of December by U.N. and government agencies.    They said the humanitarian situation was dire and two out of four refugee camps in Tigray remained inaccessible.
    The report said fighting was reported in rural areas as well as on the periphery of regional capital Mekelle and the towns of Shire and Sheraro, among other locations.
    The fact-finding teams also said schools, hospitals and administrative offices had been looted and damaged.    They said only five out of 40 hospitals in Tigray were physically accessible, with another four reachable by mobile networks.
    They said the health facilities in the major cities that were partially functioning had “limited to no stock of supplies and absence of health workers.”
    The disruption might also coincide with a massive spike in COVID-19 cases, the report said.
    “The interruption of COVID-19 surveillance and control activities for over a month in the region, coupled with mass displacements and overcrowded conditions in displacement settings, is feared to have facilitated massive community transmission of the pandemic,” it said.
    The report said regional and local bureaucratic hurdles were preventing some agencies getting into Tigray, despite clearance from the federal government.    It also said humanitarian supplies and equipment were being looted in some areas.
    Ethiopia’s own estimates of people in need of aid are even higher than U.N. figures.    The U.N. said 950,000 needed aid before the conflict and another 1.3 million would now need help.
    However, the report said the government-run Tigray Emergency Coordination Center estimated that more than 4.5 million people needed emergency food assistance, including 2.2 million people who had been forced to flee their homes within Tigray.
    Reuters could not immediately reach the center for comment and other government officials were unavailable.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini; Editing by David Clarke)

1/11/2021 U.S. Diplomats Say Morocco Will Ensure Peace In West Sahara by OAN Newsroom
Moroccan and U.S flag emblems are seen outside the provisional consulate of the U.S
in Dakhla, Morocco-administered Western Sahara, Jan. 10, 2021. (AP Photo/Noureddine Abakchou)
    The Trump administration has advanced diplomatic recognition of Western Sahara as part of the Kingdom of Morocco.    On Sunday, assistant Secretary of State David Schenker and Ambassador to Morocco David Fischer met with top Moroccan officials to reaffirm mutual ties.
    Morocco recently agreed to normalize ties with Israel as part of President Trump’s peace deal.    Officials said good relations between Israel and Arab nations is the only way to ensure peace in the region.
    “We sought a peaceful resolution for this frozen conflict and, again last month, President Trump acknowledged the inevitable and stated the obvious: the Sahara is Moroccan,” stated Ambassador Fischer.    “And Morocco has the only just and lasting solution to resolve the fate of this territory.”
    Morocco has occupied parts of Western Sahara since the end of Spanish rule in 1975 and some local tribes are still demanding full independence for the contested territory.

1/14/2021 Israeli airstrikes hammer east Syria by Zeina Karam, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    BEIRUT – Israeli warplanes carried out intense airstrikes in eastern Syria early Wednesday, apparently targeting positions and arms depots of Iranbacked forces as the region is on high alert.    At least 57 fighters were killed, and dozens were wounded, according to a Syrian opposition war monitoring group.
    A senior U.S. intelligence official with knowledge of the attack told the Associated Press that the airstrikes were carried out with intelligence provided by the United States – a rare incidence of publicized cooperation between the two countries over choosing targets in Syria.    The official said that the strikes targeted a series of warehouses in Syria that were being used in a pipeline to store and stage Iranian weapons.
    The U.S. official, who requested anonymity to speak about the matter, said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Tuesday’s airstrike with Yossi Cohen, chief of Israel’s spy agency Mossad, at a public meeting in a Washington restaurant Monday.
    The warehouses also served as a pipeline for components that support Iran’s nuclear program, the official said.    There was no immediate comment from Iran.     A Syrian opposition war-monitoring group reported at least 18 strikes in Deir el-Zour and along the Iraq border.

1/14/2021 Ethiopia Says Ex-Foreign Minister Killed By Military After Refusing To Surrender
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's former foreign minister, Seyoum Mesfin, addresses the final mediation report on
South Sudan in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, April 2, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Ethiopia said on Wednesday its military had killed three members of the Tigray region’s former ruling party, including former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin.
    The three Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) officials were killed, and five other party members were captured, after they refused to surrender to the military, the government’s task force for the crisis in Tigray said on Twitter.
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declared victory in its conflict with the TPLF on Nov. 28 last year after nearly a month of fighting.
    Fugitive leaders of the TPLF had vowed to continue to fight from the mountains of the region in northern Ethiopia, but Reuters has been unable to contact them for weeks.
    The military said last week it had captured Sebhat Nega, a founding member of the TPLF.
    At the weekend, it said it had killed 15 members of the TPLF and captured eight others, according to state-run TV.
    Seyoum was Ethiopia’s foreign minister from 1991 to 2010.
    Air strikes and battles since early November in Tigray are believed to have killed thousands of people.    Fighting is continuing in some parts and more than 2 million people need aid, the United Nations said this week.
    Reuters has been unable to verify claims by either side since phone and internet connections to the Tigray region are down and access to the area is strictly controlled.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom, Writing by Maggie Fick, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

1/13/2021 U.S. Cancels Its Observation Of Uganda’s Presidential Election
Ugandan opposition presidential candidate Robert Kyagulanyi, also known as Bobi Wine, speaks during the funeral of his driver
Elijah Mukiibi, who he claims was killed by security forces, in the village of Bowa, Uganda January 13, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    KAMPALA (Reuters) – The United States has cancelled its observation of Uganda’s presidential election because most of its accreditation requests were denied and said Thursday’s vote would lack accountability and transparency.
    The announcement adds to a chorus of concern over the credibility of the election pitting Yoweri Museveni, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, against 10 candidates including opposition frontrunner Bobi Wine, a popular singer.
    While previous votes have been marred by crackdowns on the opposition, campaigning this time has been particularly violent.    Scores of protesters have been killed and opposition candidates, supporters and campaign staff have been arrested repeatedly.
    The European Union says the electoral process has been seriously tarnished by the excessive use of force and its offer to deploy a small team of electoral experts was not taken up.
    A coalition representing hundreds of Ugandan civil society organisations said it had filed 1,900 accreditation requests but only 10 had been granted.
    “Absent the robust participation of observers, particularly Ugandan observers who are answerable to their fellow citizens, Uganda’s elections will lack the accountability, transparency and confidence that observer missions provide,” the U.S. embassy in Uganda said in a statement.
    Museveni’s spokesman Don Wanyama said the African Union and East African Community would deploy observers and he couldn’t remember when Uganda last sent monitors to the United States.
    Museveni has dismissed interference by foreign partners saying they don’t understand that Uganda’s strength comes from the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM) party, the army and the economy.
    “We therefore don’t need lectures about anything from anybody.    Because there’s nothing we don’t know,” Museveni, wearing a military camouflage jacket, said in a television address on Tuesday evening.
    Stéphane Dujarric, spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, said the U.N. human rights office was deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation.
    “It’s a concern that we very much share,” he said. “There have been arrests, including limitations of rights, freedom of expression, freedom of assembly.”
    Uganda is a Western ally, a prospective oil producer and is considered a stabilising force in a region where war has plagued some neighbours.    It contributes the biggest contingent of an African Union force fighting Islamist insurgents in Somalia.
    Bobi Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi Ssentamu, is one the first opposition politicians to channel the grievances of young people into a viable challenge and this has rattled the NRM, analysts say.
    “We are not preparing for the election.    We are rushing our friends, our fellow citizens, to hospital because they are being brutalized by the military and the police,” Wine said at the funeral of his driver, who he says was shot dead this week.
    With nearly 80% of its people under 30, Uganda has one of Africa’s youngest populations.    That means the majority of Ugandans were born after Museveni took power in 1986 following a five-year guerrilla war.
    More than a dozen European countries, Britain, Canada and the United States expressed their concern on Tuesday about media freedom and the harassment of reporters.
    Reporters covering opposition protests have been attacked by the security forces. Last week, police chief Martin Okoth Ochola said reporters would be beaten for their own good, to stop them going to places where their lives might be at risk.
    “It’s hard to say there wont be violence,” said a senior EU diplomat.    “Every bit of the security apparatus will be on the streets. Theoretically that brings calm, but I think we know that just brings flashpoints.”
    Uganda has also banned all social media platforms and messaging apps until further notice.
    Museveni apologised for the inconvenience but said Uganda had no choice after Facebook took down some accounts which backed his ruling party.
    “He wants to stop the use of our application, the youth vote application, which he knows functions with the internet,” Wine told Reuters on Wednesday.
    In what analysts called a display of force amounting to preventative intimidation, a convoy of armoured military vehicles rolled through predominantly opposition areas of the capital Kampala on Tuesday.
    “The systematic attempt to stop free information, to intimidate voters, and to harass opposition candidates means that this is no longer a credible election,” said Nic Cheeseman, a professor of democracy at Birmingham University.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by David Clarke)

1/13/2021 Gulf Of Guinea Pirate Kidnappings Hit Record In 2020 by Libby George
FILE PHOTO: A naval officer mans a machine gun on a boat off the Atlantic coast in Nigeria's
Bayelsa state December 19, 2013. Picture taken December 19, 2013. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    LAGOS (Reuters) – Kidnappings by pirates in the Gulf of Guinea hit a record in 2020, with well-armed and violent gangs defying regional navies and marauding further out to sea, a report from the International Maritime Bureau said on Wednesday.
    Pirates in the West African region kidnapped 130 seafarers in 22 separate incidents, accounting for all but five of those seized worldwide last year. The previous record, in 2019, was 121.
    The IMB’s annual piracy report said that overall armed robbery and piracy incidents rose to 195 last year, up from 162 in 2019, an increase it attributed to attacks in the Gulf of Guinea and armed robbery in the Singapore Straits.
    “The latest statistics confirm the increased capabilities of pirates in the Gulf of Guinea with more and more attacks taking place further from the coast,” said IMB director Michael Howlett.
    “Despite prompt action by navies in the region, there remains an urgent need to address this crime,” he added.
    The Gulf covers 2.3 million sq km (888,000 sq m) and borders more than a dozen countries, but experts say most of the pirates operate out of Nigeria’s delta region.
    Though the region produces most of the oil from Nigeria, Africa’s largest crude exporter, its economy is underdeveloped and there are limited jobs for local people.
(Reporting by Libby George; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/13/2021 Darfur Displaced Fearful As UN Peacekeepers Hand Over To Local Forces by Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid Abdelaziz
Sudanese civilians protest against United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) exit in
Zalenjei, West Darfur, Sudan December 29, 2020. Picture taken December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Adam Rojal
    CAIRO/KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Ahlam Hamid fled from her home in Sudan’s Darfur region 17 years ago when government troops and militiamen, some on horseback, raided her village and clashed with rebels.
    Now she worries she will be at the mercy of those forces once more, as an international peacekeeping mission deployed to contain the conflict abruptly pulls out.
    UNAMID, a joint United Nations-African Union peacekeeping force established in 2007 to protect civilians and facilitate humanitarian assistance in Darfur, stopped patrolling on Jan. 1, days after a vote by the U.N. Security Council to end its mandate.
    After signing a peace deal with some rebel groups, Sudan’s transitional government is starting to deploy a national force that it says will protect civilians.    But thousands have protested across Darfur against UNAMID’s exit in recent weeks, saying it will leave them more vulnerable.
    The United Nations has reported a rise in violence across Darfur including tribal clashes, militia attacks on protesters, and renewed fighting involving rebel forces led by Abdel Wahed el-Nur, who is yet to sign onto the peace deal.
    Hamid has been living since 2003 with her family at Kalma in South Darfur, a camp that is home to some 200,000 of the estimated 1.5 million still displaced across Darfur’s five regions.
    Men risk being killed if they leave Kalma, so women venture out to collect firewood, work on farms or clean homes in the nearby town of Nyala, said Hamid, a 55-year-old who makes a living handweaving inside the camp.
    “There’s a high chance they’ll assault you or rape you,” she said by phone from the camp, referring to the militias.    “But otherwise you’ll die of hunger.”
    Darfur’s conflict escalated from 2003, as mostly non-Arab rebels rose up against Khartoum. Government forces and mainly Arab militia that moved to repress the revolt were accused of widespread atrocities.    An estimated 300,000 people were killed.
    The war subsided over the past decade and in April 2019 former president Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) under charges of genocide and war crimes in Darfur, was forced from power after an uprising.
    Darfuris say UNAMID offered a weak but necessary deterrent against militias originally armed by Bashir to fight rebels.
    The peacekeeping mission has been gradually drawn down in recent years, but its full withdrawal has been delayed due to security concerns and the coronavirus pandemic.
    “UNAMID makes us feel like we’re seen by the world.    But now they are leaving us with the criminals,” said Sheikh Mousa Bahar Adam, a community leader in Kalma.
    As UNAMID repatriates its 7,000-strong force over the next six months, Sudan is starting to deploy its national force in Darfur.
    Half of the initial 6,000 peacekeepers will be police, with the rest coming from the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces (RSF), the army, and the general intelligence service, according to officials.    It will later absorb former rebels and civilians.
    Rebel groups have agreed with the government to eventually increase the force to 20,000, said Nour Aldayim Taha, a leader in a Sudan Liberation Army faction that signed the peace deal.
    “We hope that the national protection force created by the government of Sudan will be able to maintain the gains that were achieved by UNAMID in terms of protecting civilians and security,” said Ashraf Eissa, a UNAMID spokesman.
    Sudan’s information minister Faisal Salih said it was natural for there to be a vacuum in the first phase after UNAMID’s exit, but the new force would “work together with the armed groups that have signed the peace agreement to maintain security in Darfur.”
    But Western diplomats have expressed concern about the nature of UNAMID’s withdrawal.    They say long-standing opposition by Sudan’s military to the presence of U.N. peacekeepers played into the Security Council vote.
    Britain said it regretted the resolution did not allow UNAMID to continue its activities as it draws down, in line with other recent U.N. peacekeeping missions.
    “It was the largest peacekeeping mission in the world and to have it end this way is not ideal,” said one Western diplomat.
    Camps handed over to Sudanese authorities over the past three years with equipment worth tens of millions of dollars have been looted. Since the start of January, some Darfur residents have reported heightened insecurity, with an increase in incidents of theft.
    Kalma residents remain deeply distrustful of government forces, in particular the RSF, which incorporated members of the “janjaweed” militias that terrorised Darfuris during the war and has cemented its role in the security forces in the transition.
    The government says the targeting of civilians ended with the former regime.
    “There might be fear among the refugees towards the military as a result of what the previous regime used to do, but it is possible to rebuild trust by raising awareness that the government has changed and there is a new government whose goal is to protect civilians,” said Salih.
    Hamid is not reassured.
    “When you go into the city and see a khaki uniform or the RSF uniform, your heart stops,” she said.
(Editing by Aidan Lewis and Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/13/2021 Dubai Partner ‘Very Happy’ With Trump Org Despite Capitol Chaos by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Hussain Sajwani, founder and chairman of Dubai's DAMAC Properties poses for the camera
during an interview with Reuters at his office in Dubai, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Saeed Azhar
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Donald Trump’s business partner in Dubai on Wednesday said he was interested in expanding their commercial relationship despite the storming of the U.S. Capitol last week.
    Trump has faced stinging criticism after encouraging supporters on Jan. 6 to march on the Capitol as Congress met to certify his defeat to Democrat Joe Biden.    That led to a violent invasion during which five people died.
    “Our relationship with the Trump Organisation, and especially with (Trump’s son and Trump Organisation executive) Eric Trump and his team, is fabulous and we have no intention to cancel or to change that relation,” DAMAC Properties Chairman Hussain Sajwani told Reuters.
    Dubai developer DAMAC owns the Middle East’s only Trump-branded golf course, the Trump International Golf Club Dubai, which opened in 2017 and is operated by the Trump Organisation.
    Sajwani said he was “very, very happy” with the Trump relationship and would love to work together on any golf course projects around the world.
    Social media companies suspended Trump’s online accounts in the wake of the Capitol assault, while a Trump-owned golf club in the United States has been stripped of hosting a major tournament.    Deutsche Bank, Trump’s biggest lender, will not do business with him in future, the New York Times reported.
    “We always stay away from politics and we don’t get involved in politics and we have no view on any political issues.    We are a very much commercial organisation and his organisation has served us well,” Sajwani said.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Giles Elgood)

1/13/2021 Kuwait’s Cabinet Submits Resignation In Standoff With Parliament
Kuwait's Prime Minister Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah meets with the emir, Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah to present the resignation
of his cabinet, in Kuwait City, Kuwait January 13, 2021. Kuwait News Agency/Al-Diwan Al-Amiri/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Kuwait’s Prime Minister Sabah al-Khalid al-Sabah presented the resignation of his cabinet to the country’s ruler on Wednesday, days before the premier was due to be questioned in parliament over his choice of ministers and other issues.
    The standoff between the government and parliament less than a month after the cabinet was appointed poses the first big challenge to Emir Sheikh Nawaf al-Ahmed al-Sabah, who assumed power in September.
    It complicates government efforts to tackle the OPEC state’s deepest economic crisis in decades, caused by low oil prices and the coronavirus crisis.
    The impasse, the latest in a series of standoffs between government and parliament over several decades, is “another punctuation mark in a numbing narrative,” Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer, said in a strategy note.
    He said the government would have to dip into sovereign cash reserves to partly finance a yawning deficit in the absence of a debt law that has long-faced legislative gridlock.
    Ministers had submitted their resignations on Tuesday to Sheikh Sabah, a move the government said was related to “developments in the relationship” between the assembly and the government.
    It was not immediately clear if the emir, who has the final say in matters of state, would accept the cabinet’s resignation.
    The motion to question Sheikh Sabah, who has been prime minister since late 2019, was submitted by three lawmakers on Jan. 5 in the first regular session of the new assembly, in which the opposition made gains in last year’s election.
    More than 30 other MPs in the assembly, which has 50 elected members, supported the request to question him.    The motion seen by Reuters referred to a cabinet that did not reflect the poll result and to government “interference” in electing the speaker and members of parliamentary committees.
    In addition to its elected members, cabinet ministers also sit in parliament.
    Kuwait has the most open political system among Gulf Arab states.    Parliament has the power to pass legislation and question ministers, although senior government posts are occupied by members of Kuwait’s ruling family.
    Frequent rows and deadlocks between cabinet and parliament have led to successive government reshuffles and dissolutions of parliament, hampering investment and economic and fiscal reform.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alison Williams, Edmund Blair, William Maclean)

1/13/2021 Interpol Red Notices Issued For Ship Captain, Owner Over Beirut Blast – Lebanese State Media
FILE PHOTO: A general view shows damage following blast in Beirut's port area, Lebanon August 8, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay/File Photo/File Photo
    BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Interpol has issued red notices for the captain and owner of the ship that carried the chemicals which devastated Beirut in an explosion in August, killing 200 people, Lebanon’s state media said.
    Five months since one of the biggest non-nuclear blasts on record, big questions remain about the ammonium nitrate that detonated after being stored at the port for years.
    The Interpol notices, which are not international arrest warrants, ask authorities worldwide to provisionally detain people pending possible extradition or other legal actions.    Interpol issues them at the request of a member country.
    State news agency NNA said on Tuesday that Interpol also issued a notice for a Portuguese trader who examined the cargo at Beirut port in 2014, without giving a name or futher details.
    The Interpol global police coordination agency says it does not confirm or deny red notices that are not publicly available on its website.    An Interpol spokesperson said if there was a notice and it was not published online, that meant it was for law enforcement only.
    Lebanese officials have faced accusations of negligence, with some port and customs employees detained in connection to the blast, which injured thousands of people.    Families of the victims are still waiting for results of the investigation.
    Lebanon’s public prosecution asked Interpol in October to issue arrest warrants for two people it had identified as the Russian captain and owner of the Rhosus ship which arrived in Beirut in 2013, security and judicial sources said.
    Their names did not appear on the public list of Red Notices on Interpol’s website on Wednesday.
    Boris Prokoshev, the captain at the time, has said the chemicals ended up in Beirut after the ship’s owner told him to divert to pick up extra cargo, and that Lebanese authorities had paid little attention to the nitrate.
    “I am shocked,” he told Reuters when asked about the report of an Interpol red notice on Tuesday.    “I do not understand at all what could be the basis for my arrest.”
(Reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut, Maria Vasilyeva in Moscow and Richard Lough in Paris, Editing by William Maclean)

1/15/2021 Trump Receives Morocco’s Highest Award For Middle East Work: Official
FILE PHOTO: Israeli National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat (front R), who led the Israeli delegation, and U.S. White House
Senior Adviser Jared Kushner are seen during a visit to Rabat, Morocco, December 22, 2020. REUTERS/Shereen Talaat/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday received Morocco’s highest award for his work in advancing a normalization deal between Israel and Morocco, a senior administration official told Reuters.
    In a private Oval Office ceremony, Princess Lalla Joumala Alaoui, who is Morocco’s ambassador to the United States, gave Trump the Order of Muhammad, an award given only to heads of state. It was a gift from Morocco’s King Mohammed VI.
    White House senior adviser Jared Kushner and Middle East envoy Avi Berkowitz received other awards for their work on the Israel-Morocco deal, which was reached in December.
    The United States in the last five months helped broker deals between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.    The agreements are aimed at normalizing relations and opening economic ties.
    Trump, who leaves office on Wednesday, has drawn some criticism over the Morocco agreement because to seal the deal, he agreed that the United States would recognize Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara.
    Western Sahara has been the site of a decades-old territorial dispute between Morocco and the Algeria-backed Polisario Front, a breakaway movement that seeks to establish an independent state in the territory.
    The Kushner team had been working on reaching more agreements between Israel and the Arab world.    But time has run out and no more are expected before Trump’s departure.
    Media were not allowed to witness the award ceremony. Trump has been limiting his public appearances since losing the election on Nov. 3.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)

1/15/2021 Uganda’s Museveni Takes Commanding Election Lead As Rival Alleges Fraud
FILE PHOTO: Uganda's President Yoweri Museveni arrives for the opening of the 33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the
Heads of State and the Government of the African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 9, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    KAMPALA (Reuters) – Long-time leader Yoweri Museveni took a commanding lead in Uganda’s presidential election with almost half the votes counted on Friday though his main rival Bobi Wine said there had been widespread fraud.
    With 49.1% of votes from Thursday’s ballot counted, Museveni had won 3.9 million, or 62.7%, while main opposition candidate Wine had 1.4 million votes (29.3%), the electoral commission said just after 5 p.m. (1400 GMT).
    The next batch of results was due to be released at 9 p.m. when a nationwide curfew in place since March due to the COVID-19 pandemic kicks in.
    The election campaign was marred by deadly crackdowns by security forces on opposition candidates and their supporters.
    The normally bustling capital Kampala was quiet on Friday with many shops closed for a public holiday following Thursday’s poll.    Soldiers patrolled on foot in the rain in a suburb visited by Reuters in the morning.
    There was a heavy security presence around Wine’s sprawling compound on Friday.    The singer-turned-lawmaker said he was under siege and his life was in danger.
    “We have simply boosted our deployment in the neighbourhood for his own security.    We are not there to arrest him and he is not under arrest,” Luke Owoyesigyire, deputy spokesman for Kampala’s metropolitan police said.
    The deputy spokesman for Uganda’s armed forces, Deo Akiiki, said security officers intervened on Friday to arrest three intruders who had jumped over the fence into Wine’s compound.
    Wine has galvanized young Ugandans with calls for political change and he told a news conference on Friday that he had video proof of voting fraud.    “I am very confident that we defeated the dictator by far,” he said.
    “We are putting every legal, every constitutional and every non-violent option on the table,” Wine told Reuters.    “I will be happy to share the videos of all the fraud and irregularities as soon as the internet is restored.”
    Electoral Commission Chairman Simon Byabakama told a news conference that under Ugandan law, the burden of proof rested with Wine, whose real name is Robert Kyagulanyi.
    “The onus is upon candidate Kyagulanyi to show or to prove in what context and how the results are rigged,” he said.
    Wine’s claims have not been independently verified by Reuters. The United States and European Union did not deploy teams of observers for this election, though the African Union and East African Community did.
    Neither the AU or EAC observer teams responded to requests for comment about possible irregularities.
    Museveni, who has led the East African country with a population of nearly 46 million for 34 years, was expected to hold a news conference at 8 p.m., according to NTV Uganda.
    More than a dozen East African non-governmental organisations called for the release of 26 Ugandan election observers arrested on Thursday over allegations they were creating an illegal parallel tallying centre.
    They said those arrested were civil society members carrying out the legitimate duty of collecting information at a time when the authorities had shut down many forms of communications.
    On Wednesday, the government ordered an internet blackout until further notice, a day after banning all social media and messaging apps.
    Wine and his supporters used Facebook to relay live coverage of his campaigns and news conferences after he said many media outlets had declined to host him.
    The electoral commission’s Byabakama assured Ugandans on Thursday that results were arriving at the national tallying centre, despite the internet blackout.
    “We are not using local internet to transmit our results, we are using our own system,” he said, without giving details.    “Don’t worry, results will come.”
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by Maggie Fick; Editing by Catherine Evans and David Clarke)

1/15/2021 Palestinians Announce First Elections In 15 Years, On Eve Of Biden Era by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands the election decree to Chairman of the Palestinian Central Election Committee Hana Naser
in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 15, 2021. Palestinian President Office (PPO)/Handout via REUTERS
    RAMALLAH, West Bank/GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced parliamentary and presidential elections on Friday, the first in 15 years, in an effort to heal long-standing internal divisions.
    The move is widely seen as a response to criticism of the democratic legitimacy of Palestinian political institutions, including Abbas’s presidency.
    It also comes days before the inauguration of U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, with whom the Palestinians want to reset relations after they reached a low under President Donald Trump.
    According to a decree issued by Abbas’s office, the Palestinian Authority, which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, will hold legislative elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
    “The President instructed the election committee and all state apparatuses to launch a democratic election process in all cities of the homeland,” the decree said, referring to the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
    The Palestinians’ last parliamentary ballot in 2006 resulted in a surprise win by Hamas, widening an internal political rift that led to the group’s military seizure of the Gaza Strip in 2007.
    Palestinian factions have renewed reconciliation efforts after Israel reached diplomatic agreements last year with four Arab countries, accords that dismayed Palestinians and prompted their leaders to try to present a united front.    There was no immediate comment from Hamas on Abbas’s announcement.
(This story corrects date of presidential vote to July 31, not June 31)
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell, Editing by Toby Chopra and William Maclean)

1/15/2021 Lebanese Parliament Passes Law To Pave Way For Coronavirus Vaccine Deals
Lebanese members of Parliament attend a legislative session as Lebanon's parliament approved a law that paves the way for the
government to ink deals for coronavirus vaccinations, at UNESCO Palace in Beirut, Lebanon January 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament on Friday approved a law that paves the way for the government to sign deals for coronavirus vaccines as it battles a steep increase in infections.
    Lebanon said in mid-December it was expecting to sign a deal for supplies of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine and hoped to receive the first batch eight weeks after that.
    But the country, now struggling with a severe spike in infections that has overwhelmed hospitals, hit a legal stumbling block that has so far prevented it from finalising the agreement.
    The new law would give Pfizer-BioNtech, and other companies that provide vaccines to Lebanon, protection from any future liability claims for two years.
    It includes a clause that points to the Lebanese health ministry as the only entity responsible for compensation.
    Lebanon is under a three-week lockdown that ends on Feb. 1 and a strict 24-hour curfew until Jan. 25 after lax measures over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday period led to a spike in cases.
    Hamad Hasan, the country’s caretaker health minister, has previously said the ministry had secured about 2 million doses of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine, to cover 20% of Lebanese nationals, but the government has yet to announce a starting date for a national vaccination programme.
    Hasan on Friday tweeted his thanks to the parliament for approving the law. He has been hospitalised since Wednesday with coronavirus but is in stable condition and continuing to work from his hospital bed.
    Apart from the anticipated Pfizer-BioNtech deal, Lebanon’s President Michel Aoun approved on Friday the transfer of 26.4 billion Lebanese pounds ($17.53 million) to COVAX to book 2.73 million vaccines, his official twitter account said.
    The country had previously signed up for COVAX, the global scheme backed by the World Health Organization to provide vaccines to poorer countries.
    As of Thursday, Lebanon had recorded 237,132 cases of coronavirus and 1,781 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
    The latest spike in infections has hit the country hard as its medical system was already reeling from a severe financial crisis that led to supply shortages, and a port explosion in August that damaged major hospitals in Beirut.
($1 = 1,505.7000 Lebanese pounds)
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Editing by William Maclean and Paul Simao)

1/15/2021 Erdogan Hopes For Positive Steps On F-35 Jet Programme In Biden Term
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting with businesspeople in Istanbul, Turkey,
January 15, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday he hoped positive steps will be taken on Turkey’s role in the F-35 jet programme once U.S. President-elect Joe Biden takes office, describing Ankara’s exclusion for purchasing Russian defences as a “serious wrong.”
    Last month, Washington imposed long-anticipated sanctions on Turkey’s defence industry over its acquisition of S-400 missile defence systems from Moscow, in a move Turkey called a “grave mistake.”
    The United States has also removed fellow NATO member Turkey from the F-35 programme over the move.
    Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems.    Turkey rejects this, saying S-400s will not be integrated into NATO and purchasing them was a necessity as it was unable to procure air defence systems from any NATO ally on satisfactory terms.
    “No country can determine the steps we will take toward the defence industry, that fully depends on the decisions we make,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul, adding Ankara was in talks to procure a second shipment of S-400s from Russia and would hold talks on the issue later this month.
    “We don’t know what the Biden administration will say at this stage (on the S-400s),” he added.    “Despite having paid a serious fee on the F-35s, the F-35s still have not been given to us.    This is a serious wrong the United States did against us as a NATO ally,” he said.
    “My hope is that, after we hold talks with Biden as he takes office, we will take much more positive steps and put these back on track.”
    Biden will be inaugurated on Jan. 20, replacing incumbent Donald Trump, with whom Erdogan had a close relationship.    Ankara has said it hopes for better with Washington then.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Chizu Nomiyama)

1/15/2021 EU Suspends Ethiopian Budget Support Over Tigray Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopians who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region gather to receive relief aid at the Um-Rakoba camp
on the Sudan-Ethiopia border, in Kassala state, Sudan December 17, 2020. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    (Reuters) – The European Union has suspended budget support for Ethiopia worth 88 million euros ($107 million) until humanitarian agencies are granted access to people in need of aid in the northern Tigray region.
    In a blog post published on Friday, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed now needed to live up to the Nobel Peace Prize he was awarded in 2019 by doing all it takes to end the conflict in Tigray.
    “We are ready to help, but unless there is access for humanitarian aid operators, the EU cannot disburse the planned budget support to the Ethiopian government,” Borrell said.
    Abiy’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    In December, the government’s task force for Tigray said it had reached a deal with the United Nations in which Addis Ababa would call the shots on access for aid agencies.
    Conflict erupted in Tigray on Nov. 4 between Ethiopian federal forces and the party ruling the northern region.    Thousands have been killed, millions displaced and more than 50,000 refugees have fled to Sudan.
    Abiy’s government declared victory over the rebellious leaders in at the end of November but they vowed to fight on.    The United Nations has said there are reports fighting is still going on in various parts of Tigray.
    Reuters reported in December that the EU was delaying budget support to Ethiopia over the Tigray crisis, according to internal documents.
    Borrell said the Tigray conflict had become far more than an internal “law and order” operation and was now a direct threat to the stability of the whole region.
    “We receive consistent reports of ethnic-targeted violence, killings, massive looting, rapes, forceful returns of refugees and possible war crimes,” he said.
    Reuters was unable to independently verify events in Tigray as the government is restricting journalists’ access.
    “Moreover, there are regional spill-over effects of the conflict, with for instance Eritrean troops being involved in the military operations in Tigray and with Ethiopian troops being withdrawn from Somalia,” Borrell said.
    The EU has provided 815 million euros of development aid to Ethiopia over the past seven years, on top of 409 million euros of projects focused mainly on supporting refugees and host communities in the country.
    The United Nations said on Thursday there had been major violations of international law in Tigray at two refugee camps, home to people who fled repression in neighbouring Eritrea long before the latest conflict.
    It said satellite imagery showed fires burning and fresh signs of destruction at the Shimelba and Hitsats camps.
    The U.N. refugee agency, which decried the lack of humanitarian access to the camps, did not say who was responsible, but said there had been additional military incursions over the past 10 days.
    “UNHCR seems to indulge, yet again, in another bout of gratuitous & irresponsible smear campaigns against Eritrea,” Eritrea’s Information Minister, Yemane Meskel, tweeted on Friday.
    After repeated denials of the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray by both countries, a senior Ethiopian general has since said they had crossed into the northern region uninvited.
    Borrell also said there needed to be a de-escalation of tension between Ethiopia and Sudan.
    Ethiopia has said it is running out of patience with Sudan’s continued military build-up in an area populated by Ethiopian farmers on the Sudanese side of their disputed border.
    Sudan’s foreign ministry said this week that an Ethiopian military aircraft had crossed the border in a “dangerous and unjustified escalation.”
($1 = 0.8252 euros)
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Writing by David Clarke; Editing by Maggie Fick and Andrew Heavens)

1/15/2021 Analysis: Less For More In Turkey: Costly Food Starves Economic Rebound by Ezgi Erkoyun and Jonathan Spicer
Women shop at a local market in Istanbul, Turkey January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Food has become so expensive in Turkey that some people are spending what money they have to stock up on rice and pasta to avoid swallowing even higher prices in the months ahead.
    Parents have switched to discount baby biscuits, the cost of eggs has nearly doubled in a year, and a mock photo is circulating on Twitter in which a man on bended knee offers a woman a can of cooking oil instead of an engagement ring.
    “We are buying only the absolute necessary and cheapest brands out there.    All food prices are rising but especially baby formulas,” said Huseyin Duran, 43, an Istanbul father of three and security guard receiving partial state pay for lost work.
    “I worry about my kids,” he said.    “We can only meet our rent, groceries and loan payments.”
    In a world of near zero inflation and economic fallout from the coronavirus, Turkey stands out with annual consumer prices climbing to 15%, second only to Argentina among emerging markets and by far the highest in the OECD.
    Rising oil and fertilizer prices and dry weather are part of the reason food inflation jumped more than 20% in a year.    But economists also point to government policy decisions which saw the lira dive to record lows last year, hiking import costs on some $9 billion in food.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan has reluctantly accepted sharp interest rate hikes that will slow an economic rebound just as COVID-19 vaccines are rolling out.
    With surveys showing pantries are thinning out, Erdogan may need to do more about basic living costs even after installing a new central bank chief who in November pledged to tame inflation.
    One policymaker told Reuters the government expects inflation to be difficult in 2021 and must be monitored.
    Turkey is “mired in a painful stagflation” even amid coronavirus curfews and high borrowing costs, said Yesenn El-Radhi, senior sovereign analyst at Capital Intelligence Ratings.
    “Inflationary pressures continue to be high due to the recent rise in global commodity prices and a lagged effect of the sharp lira depreciation,” he said.
    A trip to a the market – where eggplant, orange and sunflower oil prices rose more than 50% last year – has become a serious strain for Turks in addition to the pandemic, which has already depressed workers and incomes.
    “Every time I fill my pantry the shopping bags get lighter but the bill gets higher,” said Pinar, 31, who declined to give a surname.    “I buy in bulk so I don’t have to shop again for three or four months.”
    A furloughed chef, Pinar gets part of her salary under a temporary ban on layoffs that she says only covers rent and utilities.    “I’ve had many sleepless nights (and) in the end I think I’ll be unemployed.”
    Hyperinflation dogged Turkey in the 1990s and only ended with an International Monetary Fund programme that tamed prices just as Erdogan came to power in 2003.
    Inflation, led by food, jumped again in a 2018 currency crisis and has since remained mostly in double-digits.    Economists blame a chronic trade imbalance and costly state FX interventions that depleted reserves.
    A Metropoll survey last month showed 80% believe inflation is higher than the official tally. A separate survey by the Deep Poverty Network showed more than half of respondents in Istanbul relied on food handouts from the municipality.
    Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said the situation was getting worse.    “There had not been hunger in Turkey before.    But hunger is the reality now.”
    In a turnaround, Erdogan in November said even “bitter pills” like high rates were needed to cool prices.    Lutfi Elvan, his new finance minister, said he would take structural steps to fight inflation, which is expected to edge higher until April.
    The government has several levers it can pull to ease pressure on the public.    Ankara has already cut taxes on tobacco, which weighs heavily in the consumer price index (CPI), even while it raised duties on alcohol and road tolls which have less impact on the headline number.
    State agencies also set the price of utilities such as natural gas and electricity.    Last month the government raised the minimum wage by a net 16% for 2021, to 2,825 lira ($377) a month, in a boost to workers but also to overall CPI.
    “You cannot solve the food problem with interest rates,” Gizem Oztok Altinsac, chief economist at Turkey’s top business organisation TUSIAD, told a conference last week.
    “Our problem with inflation is too big so we have to take more targeted steps to solve it.”
(Additional reporting by Nevzat Devranoglu, Orhan Coskun and Murad Sezer; Editing by Toby Chopra)

1/21/2021 First Big Suicide Attack In Baghdad For Three Years Kills At Least 32
Members of Iraqi security forces keep guard at the site of a twin suicide bombing attack in a central market in Baghdad, Iraq January 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Two men blew themselves up in a crowded Baghdad market on Thursday, killing at least 32 people in Iraq’s first big suicide bombing for three years, authorities said, describing it as a possible sign of the reactivation of Islamic State.
    Reuters journalists arriving after the blasts saw pools of blood and discarded shoes at the site, a clothing market in Tayaran Square in the centre of the city. Health authorities said at least 110 people had been wounded.
    “One (bomber) came, fell to the ground and started complaining ‘my stomach is hurting’ and he pressed the detonator in his hand.    It exploded immediately.    People were torn to pieces,” said a street vendor who did not give his name.
    Suicide attacks, once an almost daily occurrence in the Iraqi capital, have halted in recent years since Islamic State fighters were defeated in 2017, part of an overall improvement in security that has brought normal life back to Baghdad.
    “Daesh terrorist groups might be standing behind the attacks,” Civil Defence chief Major General Kadhim Salman told reporters, using an Arabic acronym for Islamic State.
    A video taken from a rooftop and circulated on social media purported to show the second blast scattering people gathered in the area.    Images shared online, which Reuters could not independently verify, showed several dead and wounded.
    Thursday’s attack took place in the same market that was struck in the last big attack, in January, 2018, when at least 27 people were killed.
    Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi held an urgent meeting with top security commanders to discuss Thursday’s suicide attacks, the premier’s office said in a brief statement.    Iraqi security forces were deployed and key roads blocked to prevent possible further attacks.
    Suicide attacks against civilian targets were a near-daily tactic of mainly Sunni Muslim insurgents during the U.S. occupation of Iraq after the invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein in 2003, and were later employed by Islamic State, whose fighters swept across a third of the country in 2014.
    By 2017 the fighters had been driven from all territory they held, although they have continued to wage a low-level insurgency against Iraqi forces and attack officials mainly in northern areas.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison; Editing by Catherine Evans and Peter Graff)

1/21/2021 Bahraini Minister Criticises Qatar Despite Accord To End Rift
FILE PHOTO: Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani looks on as he delivers joint statements with U.S. Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during their meeting in Jerusalem November 18, 2020. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar has not taken any initiative to solve the problems with Bahrain, despite an agreement to end a rift of more than three years, Bahrain’s Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani said on Thursday.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt agreed earlier this month at a summit to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties severed in 2017 over accusations that Qatar supported terrorism, a charge it denies.
    The emerging deal followed mediation efforts by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump and Kuwait.
    “Qatar didn’t show after the summit in al-Ula (Saudi Arabia) any initiative to solve pending problems with Bahrain,” said Zayani, according to a post by his ministry on Twitter.    He did not elaborate on the issues that need to be solved.
    His criticism contrasted with an upbeat assessment of the relationship with Qatar by Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan, who told the Dubai-based al-Arabiya TV channel on Thursday the kingdom’s embassy in Doha should reopen “in days.”
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/21/2021 Saudi Minister Optimistic U.S. Ties Will Be ‘Excellent’ Under Biden: Al-Arabiya
FLE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud attends a news conference following talks with
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia January 14, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister has voiced optimism that relations between Riyadh and Washington will be “excellent” under new U.S. President Joe Biden, Al-Arabiya TV channel cited him as saying on Thursday.
    Appointments made by Biden show “understanding of the common issues” by the new U.S. administration, Prince Faisal bin Farhan added, according to Twitter posts by the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based TV channel.
    “The Biden administration will find that our targets regarding Yemen are the same,” Al-Arabiya quoted him as saying.
    A Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group after it seized the capital Sanaa.
    Biden pledged during his election campaign to reassess ties with Saudi Arabia, demanding more accountability over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018 and calling for an end to U.S. support for the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen.
    Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab monarchies have long been allies of the United States, sharing the objective of protecting oil supplies from the Gulf region and containing Iran.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Mark Heinrich)
Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud in 2020
    Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah bin Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud - born 11/1/1974 in Frankfurt am Main, is a Saudi Arabian diplomat and politician and a member of the house of Saud.    Prince Faisal is the current foreign minister of Saudi Arabia appointed by King Salman with a royal decree on 10/23/2019.    Prince Faisal was born in Frankfurt, Germany and spent a part of his childhood and youth in Germany, which is why, according to German news media, he speaks fluent German.        On 10/19/2020, Prince Faisal said the peace agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates could be seen as positive, but Saudi Arabia would not normalize relations until peace is signed with the Palestinians, hopefully within the framework of the Arab Peace Initiative.

1/21/2021 Turkey-EU Ties On Better Footing, EU’s Borrell Says
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell
give a joint statement ahead of a meeting at the EEAS in Brussels, Belgium, January 21, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Turkey and the European Union have started the year positively and steps to restart talks with Greece over hydrocarbons in the Mediterranean are welcome, but the EU remains concerned about human rights, the bloc’s top envoy said on Thursday.
    “We have seen an improvement in the overall atmosphere … we strongly wish to see a sustainable de-escalation in the eastern Mediterranean,” EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters alongside Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu before their meeting.
    “We remain concerned about the (human rights) situation in Turkey,” Borrell said.
(Reporting by Robin Emmott; Editing by John Chalmers)

1/21/2021 Egypt And Qatar Agree To Resume Diplomatic Ties, Cairo Says
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during a joint news conference with French President Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee palace, France December 7, 2020.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is paying a state visit to France for talks on fighting terrorism, the conflict in Libya and other regional issues. Michel Euler/Pool via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt and Qatar have agreed to resume diplomatic relations, the Egyptian foreign ministry said on Wednesday, making Cairo the first country to officially do so under an Arab deal to end a long-running dispute with Doha.
    Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt agreed earlier this month to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties severed in 2017 over allegations Qatar supported terrorism, a charge that Doha denies.
    “The Arab Republic of Egypt and the State of Qatar exchanged, today, January 20, 2021, two official memoranda, in virtue of which the two countries agreed to resume diplomatic relations,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.
    On Saturday, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister said the kingdom expects to reopen its embassy in Qatar within days, and full diplomatic relations between the two would resume.
    The UAE, which followed Riyadh in reopening all entry points to Qatar, has said restoring diplomatic ties will take time.    Bahrain has reopened its air space to Qatar, as has Egypt.
    The U.S.-backed accord to end the row was one of a series of Middle East deals by former President Donald Trump’s administration aimed at building a united front against Iran.
    When the boycott was announced, Egypt and its allies called on Qatar to cut ties with the Muslim Brotherhood, among other demands. Doha said the embargo aimed to curtail its sovereignty.
    The Islamist group was outlawed in Egypt after then-army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi led the overthrow of the Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi from the presidency in 2013, before being elected president himself the following year.
    Much of the Muslim Brotherhood’s senior leadership was jailed in Egypt but other members took refuge abroad in Qatar or its regional ally Turkey.
    Egypt and the UAE have also found themselves at odds with Turkey and Qatar in Libya, where they have backed opposing factions in a civil conflict.
    Two Egyptian intelligence sources told Reuters on Wednesday that a Qatari foreign ministry official pledged in a meeting with Egyptian and Emirati security officials on Saturday that Qatar would not interfere in Egypt’s internal affairs.
    He also pledged a change of orientation for Qatar’s Al Jazeera television channel, which is state-funded, and state-owned media outlets towards Cairo, the sources said.
    A Qatari official on Thursday told Reuters that no such meeting had taken place and that diplomatic relations were restored “via written correspondence referencing the Al Ula Agreement” reached at the summit in Saudi Arabia.
    Qatar’s foreign minister had said in televised remarks after the Arab deal was announced that Al Jazeera is an independent media institution.
    The Egyptian intelligence sources also said the officials agreed on economic cooperation and a series of meetings on outstanding issues such as Libya and the Muslim Brotherhood.
    The officials agreed to restore diplomatic relations between Egypt and Qatar “under probation,” as one source put it.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Additional reporting by Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Giles Elgood)

1/21/2021 In Poor Districts, Young Tunisians With Nothing To Lose Clash With Police by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
FILE PHOTO: Security forces clash with demonstrators during anti-government protests in Tunis, Tunisia, January 18, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – The 19-year-old smoking with friends in a poor district of Tunisia’s capital had a simple explanation for night-time clashes between youths and police that have shaken the country – he has nothing to lose.
    A decade after mass protests toppled Tunisia’s long-time president and sparked uprisings across the Middle East, anger is boiling over again amid economic stagnation, the global pandemic and a widening disconnect between people and their leaders.
    “There’s nothing here … there’s no opportunity.    The only government we know is the police car coming to arrest people,” said Mohammed, surrounded by nodding friends next to walls marked with graffiti.
    In the worst political unrest in years, thousands of protesters have marched through cities across the country demanding jobs, dignity and an end to police violence.    At night, youths face off with security forces.
    Mohammed, who gave only his first name for fear of reprisals, was one of 10 out-of-school and unemployed boys and young men in the alleyway in the Ezzahrouni district, passing around cigarettes, soda bottles and marijuana joints.
    Like the others, his only aspiration was to leave Tunisia to seek his fortune in Europe.    Police have said most of the hundreds arrested this week were aged between 15 and 20.
    Since Tunisia’s 2011 revolution ousted autocratic leader Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali, successive governments have struggled with high deficits and demands for state jobs and services.
    “If we do not listen to the voice of these angry youths, they will sweep away the whole parliament, government, president – the whole system,” said Safi Said, an independent lawmaker addressing parliament this week.
    The government is one of the weakest since the revolution, backed by a fragile coalition of rival parties after 2019 elections produced a deeply fragmented parliament.
    Formed after the COVID-19 pandemic thrust Tunisia’s economy further into crisis, it is trying to slow a surge in infections without keeping the working poor from their jobs or widening the yawning fiscal deficit.
    Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi, speaking on television on Tuesday, said he understood the economic frustration that lay behind the unrest but vowed to confront any street violence.
    Mohammed said he had not listened to the prime minister’s speech and did not know the difference between Tunisia’s prime minister and president.
    The longest job he has held since leaving school four years ago was in a cafe for a month.    His parents give him 5 dinar ($1.50) most mornings to get by. None of his five older siblings work.
    He walks through the neighbourhood with friends, rifling through barrows of second-hand clothing imported from abroad looking for items he might be able to sell on for more money.
    “All I hope for every day is to find some pot and some beer and maybe get out of this world for a while,” he said.
    His friends, including an 11-year-old who quit school, all wanted to leave Tunisia.
    Omar, a 17-year-old with a diploma as a barber, worked in a hair salon for a while but stopped because he was not paid.    His father is disabled and he said the family skipped breakfast for want of money.
    He has gone to the port several times to stow away on a ship for Europe, but he has been caught, beaten and detained, he said.    He can’t afford to pay professional smugglers to take him abroad as a rising number of Tunisians are doing.
    Ayman, who said he was 16, scowled and smoked, saying he took part in the clashes because he wanted to hurt the police.
    “The police insult us,” he said, adding that he had been arrested three times for theft and drug possession.    “We insult them by throwing stones.”
(Reporting by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

1/21/2021 Analysis: What Will Survive Of U.S.-Middle East Policy Under Biden? by Maayan Lubell and Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. President Donald Trump, Bahrain's Foreign Minister Abdullatif Al Zayani and United Arab Emirates (UAE) Foreign Minister
Abdullah bin Zayed wave from the White House balcony after a signing ceremony for the Abraham Accords, normalizing relations between Israel and some of its Middle East neighbors,
in a strategic realignment of Middle Eastern countries against Iran, on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, U.S., September 15, 2020. REUTERS/Tom Brenner/File Photo
    TRUMP HEIGHTS, Occupied Golan Heights (Reuters) – Trump Heights, Trump Square, Trump train terminal: Israel isn’t shy about honouring Donald Trump, who is widely admired among Israelis for his staunch support of their country.
    But in the Palestinian territories, no U.S. president was openly reviled as much as Trump, or depicted in such unflattering terms in portraits and effigies across the Gaza Strip and the occupied West Bank.
    In four years, Trump overturned decades of U.S. policy in the Middle East.    Joe Biden will want to undo many of those changes during his presidency, but his freedom for manoeuvre will be limited.
    At his Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, Biden’s choice for secretary of state, Antony Blinken, signalled that countering Iran would be central to Biden’s Middle East agenda.
    But Blinken said the United States was “a long way” from rejoining the 2015 pact with Iran – restraining Tehran’s nuclear programme – which the United States quit under Trump.
    Biden and his team have said they will restore ties with the Palestinians that were cut by Trump, resume aid and reject unilateral actions, such as construction of Israeli settlements on occupied territory.
    But Blinken said the U.S. embassy in Israel would remain in Jerusalem, which Trump recognised as Israel’s capital.
    Four Trump-brokered diplomatic deals between Israel and Arab states are also likely to remain – they have bipartisan support in Washington and brought a strategic realignment of Middle East countries against Iran.
    So too is Trump’s acceptance of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights, which Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in a move not recognised internationally.
    Biden’s challenge will be how to walk back not just Trump-era policy – and the polarisation triggered by the man who said he had “done a lot for Israel” – without being accused of retreating altogether from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
    “He will try to project an image of fairness and balance,” Michele Dunne, Director of the Middle East Program at the U.S. based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told Reuters.
    “There is no question that Biden’s policies towards the Middle East will be quite different from those of Trump; the question is how different they will be from those of (former President Barack) Obama… I doubt that Biden sees the conflict as ripe for U.S. diplomacy right now.”
    Trump was broadly in lockstep on Middle East policy with his closest ally in the region, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    As well as recognising Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, Trump backed Israeli settlements in the West Bank, territory that the Palestinians seek for a state.
    Israel’s investment in its West Bank settlements between 2017-2019 increased by almost half against the last three years in office of Obama, according to official Israeli data provided to the U.S. State Department and seen by Reuters.
    One day before Biden’s inauguration, Israel issued tenders for more than 2,500 settlement homes in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, on top of hundreds more announced by Netanyahu last week.
    Relations with the Palestinians reached a new low after Trump cut off $360 million annual funding to UNRWA, the United Nations agency dealing with Palestinian refugees, reduced other aid to the Palestinians and shuttered the Palestine Liberation Organization office in Washington D.C.
    Blinken returned to long-standing, pre-Trump, diplomatic norms at his senate hearing.
    “The only way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish, democratic state and to give the Palestinians a state to which they are entitled is through the so-called two-state solution,” Blinken said.
    But he added: “Realistically it’s hard to see near-term prospects for moving forward on that.”
    In Gaza, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini was optimistic of change, and that things might ease up for the Palestinian refugees that his agency cares for.
    “We indeed have informal contact with the incoming new administration.    We heard all the messages we are receiving that there are intentions to resume the partnership,” he told Reuters.
    For many Israelis, the Trump brand has not been tarnished by the Capitol Hill riot on Jan. 6.
    In Trump Heights, a tiny Golan Heights settlement, work is underway to house 20 new families who will move in by the summer.    A giant black and gold sign at the gate has been restored after vandals stole the ‘T’.
    “We are keeping the name Trump Heights, we are proud of the name.    President Trump deserves gratitude for all the good deeds he did for us,” Golan Regional Council Head Haim Rokach told Reuters.
    An Israeli cabinet minister this week reaffirmed his support for Trump’s name to adorn a future train terminus near Jerusalem’s Western Wall, and at Trump Square roundabout in Petah Tikva he remains popular.    “We will miss him,” said Alon Sender.    “He was good for Israel.”
    But on the other side of the Israeli military barrier 10km east of Petah Tikva, many Palestinians are glad to see the back of Trump.
    “For sure, Trump’s policy is unfair,” said Sumoud Salah, a teenage refugee in Jericho.
    “I hope that his (Biden) era will be different than Trump’s, which was unfair for everyone, not only for the Palestinians.”
Full coverage for Eikon readers of the U.S. presidential transition
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(Additional reporting by Rami Amichay, Adel Abu Nimeh, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Dan Williams and Ali Sawafta, Writing by Maayan Lubell and Stephen Farrell, Editing by Timothy Heritage)


1/24/2021 Israeli Closes International Airport Amid Virus Strain Fears by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 15: Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu waves as he arrives outside
the West Wing of the White House September 15, 2020 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Israel was shutting down the international airport to nearly all flights.    This is expected to last through the end of the month.
    The closure of Israel’s main airport comes as the nation struggles to contain the outbreak.    The emergence of the new variant has also threatened to undercut the nation’s highly successful vaccination push to its citizens.
Travellers wait by the check-in desk at the departures area of Israel’s Ben-Gurion International Airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, on January 24, 2021. – The Israeli
government on January 24 banned incoming and outgoing flights for a week, a statement said, in a bid to slow the spread of Covid-19 variants. Exceptions will be made for
cargo and firefighting flights, as well as medical treatments, funerals and legal procedures. (Photo by JACK GUEZ / AFP) (Photo by JACK GUEZ/AFP via Getty Images)
    “We are shutting down the Ben Gurion Airport today,” Netanyahu stated. “As opposed to what’s being said, we are ahead of the entire world, no country has done what we are about to do.    We are doing it, hermetically shutting down the sky, except for unusual rare cases, to prevent the entry of variants of the virus.”
    The closure will go into effect at midnight Monday and will remain in effect until at least January 31.

1/25/2021 U.S. Will Work With Israel To Build On Regional Normalization Agreements: Biden National Security Adviser
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli flag and an American flag fly at Abu Dhabi International Airport before the arrival
of Israeli and U.S. officials, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Christoper Pike
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration will work closely with Israel on regional security issues and to build on the country’s regional normalization agreements, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan told his Israeli counterpart, according to a statement on Sunday.
    “They discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalization arrangements with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco,” according to a statement on Sullivan’s call on Saturday with Israel’s Meir Ben Shabbat.
    Sullivan also extended an invitation to begin a strategic dialogue in the near term, the statement said.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/25/2021 Israel Decides To Ban Passenger Flights To Curb COVID-19 Spread
FILE PHOTO: Passengers wearing masks push trolleys at the departures terminal as Israel's airport authority announced a pilot programme
revealing what passengers leaving Israel should except as air travel gradually returns to normal after weeks of bare minimum flights due to the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, at Ben Gurion International Airport, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel May 14, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Sunday decided to ban incoming and outgoing passenger flights from Monday at 22:00GMT until the end of January in order to stop the spread of COVID-19 and new coronavirus strains, Israel’s Haaretz news website reported.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

1/25/2021 Yemen Aid Groups Call On U.S. To Revoke Houthi Terrorism Designation
FILE PHOTO: Houthi supporters hold up their weapons during a demonstration against the United States decision to
designate the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Twenty-two aid groups working in Yemen called on Sunday for the new U.S. administration to revoke the designation of Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization, saying it puts millions of lives and the peace process at risk.
    The U.S. State Department has initiated a review of the designation, which came into effect Jan. 19, the day before President Joe Biden’s inauguration.    The designation freezes any U.S.-related assets of the Houthis, bans Americans from doing business with them and makes it a crime to provide support or resources to the movement.
    “This designation comes at a time when famine is a very real threat to a country devastated by six years of conflict, and it must be revoked immediately.    Any disruption to lifesaving aid operations and commercial imports of food, fuel, medicine and other essential goods will put millions of lives at risk,” the aid groups’ statement said.
    The United States has exempted aid groups, the United Nations, the Red Cross and the export of agricultural commodities, medicine, and medical devices from its designation.
    But the aid organisations say the legal implications of the designation are not fully understood, and the exemptions do not cover enough of the commercial sector.
    “The licences and associated guidance do not provide sufficient guarantees to international banks, shipping companies and suppliers that still face the risk of falling foul of US laws.    As a result, many in the commercial sector will likely feel the risk is too high to continue working in Yemen,” they said.
    Signatories to the statement include Mercy Corps, the Norwegian Refugee Council, Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee.
    A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Houthis in a war widely seen as a proxy conflict between U.S. ally Saudi Arabia and Iran.    U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/25/2021 Egypt Begins COVID-19 Vaccination Drive With Frontline Medical Staff
Egypt's Health Minister Hala Zayed speaks during a news conference alongside Dr Abdel Menoim Selim and nurse Ahmed Hamdan Zayed, the first two Egyptians to receive Chinese
Sinopharm coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, inside a tent set up outside the Abou Khalifa hospital in Ismailia, Egypt January 24, 2021. REUTERS/Shokry Hussien
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egypt began vaccinating frontline medical staff against COVID-19 on Sunday using the jab developed by China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
    The vaccine will be provided free of charge first to all doctors and frontline workers treating coronavirus patients, then to other medical workers, senior citizens and people with chronic illnesses, Health Minister Hala Zayed said.
    “As soon as each citizen registers, they will take their turn.    But you cannot set a timeframe for when this will be, and even the countries that have set a timeframe have not been able to fulfil it, not because they have a problem, but because of the global production issue,” Zayed said, adding that Egypt was on track to approve three other vaccines for use.
    Egypt has recorded a total of 161,143 cases, including 8,902 deaths, since the pandemic started. Health officials say the real number of infections is likely far higher because of the relatively low rate of coronavirus testing and exclusion of private test results from official figures.
    Zayed previously said Egypt was expecting 40 million doses via the GAVI vaccine alliance, covering 20 million of the country’s 100 million population.
    She said on Sunday the country had secured an additional 40 million vials from one company and 20 million from another, without specifying their origin but bringing the total to 100 million doses.
    Abdel Moneim Selim, an intensive care unit doctor and the first to receive the Sinopharm jab, said any risk from the vaccine was lower than the risk of exposure at work.
    “I believe (my exposure) is more dangerous than any vaccine you will take, whether it be the Russian or Chinese, or any other vaccine,” he said.
    “If you have the opportunity to take something safe that is scientifically proven, I think that is a good opportunity.”
(Reporting by Mohamed Zaki and Ahmed Fahmy; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Aidan Lewis)

1/25/2021 UAE Cabinet Approves Setting Up Embassy In Tel Aviv
An Israeli flag, attached to a rock known as "Andromeda's Rock," flutters in the Mediterranean Sea as a Tel Aviv's skyline of
high-rise buildings is seen in the background, in Jaffa, Israel June 16, 2019. Picture taken June 16, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    DUBAI/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates cabinet on Sunday approved the establishment of an embassy in Tel Aviv in Israel, state media said, and Israel announced its embassy had opened in Abu Dhabi.
    The UAE and Israel agreed to normalise relations in August, a deal forged largely over shared fears of Iran.
    Since then Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco have all agreed to establish ties with Israel in deals brokered in 2020 by the administration of former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    No further details were given about the UAE embassy to Israel.
    Israel’s government regards Jerusalem as its capital, although that is not recognised by most of the international community.    Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state.    Most countries have their embassies in Tel Aviv.
    A statement from the Israeli foreign ministry said Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi officially opened on Sunday with the arrival of the country’s envoy there, albeit in a temporary location until permanent premises are found.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Nick Macfie and David Evans)

1/25/2021 Israel Bans International Flights To Curb Coronavirus Spread by Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Travelers walk with their suitcases in the departures terminal after Israel said it will require anyone arriving from overseas to self-quarantine for
14 days as a precaution against the spread of coronavirus, at Ben Gurion International airport in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel March 10, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will ban passenger flights in and out of the country from Monday evening for a week, the government announced on Sunday, as protesters in some ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities clashed with police over coronavirus lockdown measures.
    Clashes broke out between ultra-Orthodox protesters in the city of Bnei Brak and police forces who came to enforce the lockdown.    One police officer, feeling his life was in danger, fired in the air to repel the crowds, police said.    Smaller confrontations with ultra-Orthodox protesters broke out in several other towns, police said.
    The ban on flights will come into force from Monday at 2200 GMT and last until the end of January, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said in a statement.
    “Other than rare exceptions, we are closing the sky hermetically to prevent the entry of the virus variants and also to ensure that we progress quickly with our vaccination campaign,” Netanyahu said in public remarks at the start of a cabinet meeting.
    The country’s borders have largely been closed to foreigners during the pandemic, with only Israeli passport holders allowed entry.
    The country has been under a third national lockdown since Dec. 27.    Critics say the government has mishandled the crisis, lacking a clear long-term strategy and allowing politics to cloud its decisions.
    Anger has mounted in Israel at some ultra-Orthodox communities that have defied lockdown restrictions and opened schools and seminaries.    The study of Jewish scripture is one of the most important religious decrees for ultra-Orthodox Jews.
    Ultra-Orthodox parties have long been political allies of Netanyahu’s Likud party.
    The government had intended to lift the lockdown at the end of January but Education Minister Yoav Galant, speaking on Ynet TV, said it was too early to know if schools would reopen next month.
    Israel expanded its rapid vaccination drive on Sunday to include late teens in what the government described as an effort to enable their attendance at school exams.
    The vaccines were initially limited to the elderly and other high-risk categories, but are now available to anyone over 40 or – with parental permission – those between 16 and 18.
    Israel has the world’s fastest vaccine distribution rate. With regular imports of Pfizer Inc. vaccines, it has administered at least one dose to more than 25% of its 9 million population since Dec. 19, the Health Ministry says.
    Netanyahu announced on Sunday he would propose to parliament a new aid package for businesses, households and unemployed Israelis hit by the crisis.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell and Dan Williams; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/28/2021 Nigeria Repatriates Hundreds Of Migrants From Saudi Arabia by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga
    ABUJA (Reuters) – Nigeria evacuated hundreds of its citizens from Saudi Arabia on Thursday after they overstayed their visas and were left stranded, two Reuters witnesses said.
    The first returnees, clad in masks and flowing robes, could be seen walking across the tarmac after their plane landed in the capital Abuja.
    High unemployment and two recessions in four years have pushed thousands of Nigerians to seek work overseas.    But the coronavirus pandemic has reduced employment opportunities in other countries and travel restrictions have left many stranded.
    A video circulating on social media in recent weeks had shown Nigerians who said they had been held in a camp in Saudi Arabia for more than three months while other countries had flown out their stranded citizens within two weeks or so.
    “A camp generally is not a luxury hotel, but when people have waited for some time agitation comes in,” said Akinremi Bolaji, a foreign affairs ministry official.
    The government had said on Monday it was working with Saudi authorities to repatriate 802 Nigerians via two flights on Thursday and Friday.
    Abike Dabiri-Erewa, chairman of the Nigerians In Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM), said last Friday that evacuations had been delayed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “We appeal to Nigerians to resist travelling abroad without proper documents.    It becomes very dangerous and more difficult,” he said.
(Reporting by Camillus Eboh and Abraham Achirga; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Alexis Akwagyiram and Catherine Evans)

1/28/2021 Israel Plays Down Possible Biden Administration Review Of Arms For UAE
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues a statement at the Israeli Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, Israel
with the Alternate PM and Defence Minister Benny Gantz July 27 2020. Tal Shahar/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli leaders played down on Thursday a possible Biden administration review of U.S. arms sales to the United Arab Emirates that girded the Gulf power’s rapprochement with Israel.
    Washington said on Wednesday it had temporarily paused some pending arms sales to U.S. allies.    The Trump administration, having brokered formal Israel-UAE ties in September, approved a first sale of F-35 warplanes and other weaponry for Abu Dhabi.
    Reviews of this sort are typical after a U.S. presidential handover.    The UAE said it had anticipated the move and would work closely with the Biden administration.
    Israel is the only country in the region to have the F-35. After initially voicing misgivings at its sale to the UAE, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz relented amid Trump administration assurances that Israeli military superiority would be preserved.
    Asked by reporters if the review might set back Israel’s efforts to build up relations with the UAE and other Arab countries, Netanyahu said: “I don’t think so.    I think we have passed the point of no-return.”
    “Everyone understands that there are huge advantages here.    It’s peace in exchange for peace … I think it’ll move ahead.”
    Gantz described the review as “routine
    Interviewed by Ynet TV, Gantz said he would speak to his U.S. counterpart, Lloyd Austin, on Thursday but did not elaborate.
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

1/29/2021 Biden Renews Deportation Relief For Syrians In The United States by Ted Hesson
FILE PHOTO: Protesters gather with a sign that reads "Syrian refugees: NYC says welcome" outside Terminal 4 at JFK airport in opposition to U.S.
President Donald Trump's proposed ban on immigration in Queens, New York City, New York, U.S. January 28, 2017. REUTERS/Joe Penney/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The administration of President Joe Biden on Friday extended deportation relief for several thousand Syrian immigrants living in the United States, an early move that aligns with his broader pro-immigrant platform.
    The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced that acting Secretary David Pekoske would extend Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for 6,700 eligible Syrians through September 2022 and allow an additional 1,800 people to file initial applications.
    The program grants immigrants who cannot return to their countries safely, for reasons like natural disasters or armed conflict, the ability to stay and work in the United States legally for a defined period that can be renewed.
    Biden, a Democrat who took office on Jan. 20, has pledged to embrace a more welcoming approach to refugees and immigrants.    The stance contrasts with the hardline policies of former Republican President Donald Trump, who rolled back many humanitarian protections.
    Trump largely sought to phase out enrollment in the TPS program for immigrants from Central American and other countries but was stymied by legal challenges.    Despite his tough stance, his administration twice extended protections for Syrians due to ongoing armed conflict and limited access to medical care in the country.    Trump, however, did not allow new applicants into the program.
    With Biden’s designation, additional Syrians in the United States can now seek protection under TPS.    The move fits with his broader plans to expand protections under the program.
    Biden also pledged to grant TPS to immigrants from Venezuela due to the economic conditions in that country, although Trump had pre-empted that move by providing the protections through a similar program before he left office.
    Additionally, the Biden transition team discussed the possibility of designating Guatemala and Honduras for the program, which could open protections to over a million people.
(Reporting by Ted Hesson in Washington D.C.; Editing by Dan Grebler)

1/29/2021 Biden Pledge To Reopen PLO Mission In Washington Faces Legal Hurdles by Rami Ayyub and Matt Spetalnick
Flags fly over the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington, September 12, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
    JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden’s plan to work to reopen the Palestinians’ diplomatic mission in Washington could be held up over a law that exposes Palestinian officials to U.S. anti-terror lawsuits, officials and advisers to the Palestinians say.
    The Biden administration hopes to repair relations with the Palestinians after a sharp deterioration under former President Donald Trump, who closed the Palestine Liberation     Organization’s Washington office in 2018 and cut millions of dollars in aid to the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
    But under an anti-terror amendment passed by Congress and signed into law by Trump in 2019, the Palestinians would become liable for $655.5 million in financial penalties against them in U.S. courts if they open an office in the United States.
    There are also questions about how Biden will fulfil a pledge to resume economic aid to the Palestinians.    The Taylor Force Act, passed by Congress in 2018, restricts some aid until the Palestinians end payments to people jailed by Israel over violent crimes, among other conditions.
    Speaking to the United Nations Security Council on Tuesday, Acting U.S. envoy Richard Mills said Washington “intended to take steps to reopen diplomatic missions that were closed for the last U.S. administration,” without giving a timeline.
    The legal hurdles underscore the range of challenges Biden may face in restoring ties with the Palestinians and reversing actions taken by Trump, who overturned longtime U.S. Middle East policy with a series of pro-Israel steps including ending U.S. opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank.
    Palestinians say his actions discredited the longtime U.S. role as chief mediator in their conflict with Israel and further dimmed any chance of a peace deal envisaging a Palestinian state in Israeli-occupied territory.
    Palestinian leaders have welcomed Biden’s pledges of rapprochement, but while he can reverse some measures through executive orders, others involve laws passed by Congress and are not as easily changed.
    Asked for comment, a U.S. State Department official told Reuters: “In administering aid, the Biden-Harris Administration will fully comply with U.S. law including the Taylor Force Act.”
    The official did not comment on whether the Biden administration would look into working around the anti-terror amendment to help rebuild relations with the Palestinians.
    Talks are ongoing with the administration and Congress about finding a “fix” to the amendment that would allow the PLO mission to reopen, an American legal adviser to the Palestinians said, adding that the Palestinians “don’t have the money to pay” the financial claims against them.
    Palestinian officials declined to comment.
    A Biden adviser told Reuters just before the Nov. 3 election that Biden would seek to reopen the PLO mission to Washington but added: “There is a law that could make that more challenging.”
    The anti-terror amendment makes the Palestinians liable for the hefty financial penalty that a U.S. jury awarded against them if they establish or maintain any facilities in the United States, conduct activity on behalf of the PLO or the Palestinian Authority, or make payments to Palestinians imprisoned over violent crimes against Americans, among other conditions.
    The jury award stems from lawsuits by 11 American families who sought to hold the PA and PLO liable for shootings and bombings by between 2002 and 2004 in Jerusalem that killed 33 people, including several Americans.
    Palestinian leaders have condemned the attacks and blamed them on rogue individuals.
    But the U.S. Supreme Court in 2018 refused to consider awarding those claims, upholding a lower court finding that there was no jurisdiction for attacks outside U.S. territory.
(Reporting by Rami Ayyub in Jerusalem and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/29/2021 Turkish-Russian Observation Centre For Nagorno-Karabakh To Open Saturday: 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
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A joint Turkish-Russian centre to observe the ceasefire in Nagorno-Karabakh will begin operating on Saturday, Turkish Defence Minister Hulusi Akar said on Friday.
    One Turkish general and 38 personnel will work at the centre to support efforts to ensure that the ceasefire lasts, Akar said in a statement.
    Turkey and Russia agreed to set up the joint centre to monitor the ceasefire reached between Azerbaijan and Armenia in November.
    After six weeks of fighting, the countries signed a Russia-brokered ceasefire for Nagorno-Karabakh, which is internationally recognised as part of Azerbaijan but mainly populated by ethnic Armenians.    Russian peacekeepers were also deployed to the region under the deal.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Dominic Evans)

1/29/2021 Lebanese Leaders Condemn Violence After Tripoli Unrest
People gather at the municipality building that was set ablaze overnight, in the aftermath of protests against the lockdown and worsening
economic conditions, amid the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Tripoli, Lebanon January 29, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Lebanon’s caretaker prime minister and its president on Friday condemned overnight violence in the city of Tripoli, where protesters angry over a strict lockdown clashed with security forces and set the municipality building on fire.
    Thursday was the fourth straight night of unrest in one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, after the Beirut government imposed a 24-hour curfew to curb a surge in the COVID-19 pandemic that has killed more than 2,500 people and compounded an economic crisis.
    “The criminals who set the municipality on fire and attempted to burn the court…represent a black hatred for Tripoli,” Prime Minister Hassan Diab said in a statement.
    “The challenge now is in defeating these criminals by arresting them one by one and referring them to the judicial system.”    President Michel Aoun also condemned the violence.
    Flames engulfed the Tripoli municipal government building after it caught fire just before midnight on Thursday.    Police had been firing tear gas at protesters hurling petrol bombs.
    A funeral for a man who died from a gunshot wound on Wednesday night had given fuel to protesters.    Security forces said they had fired live rounds to disperse rioters trying to storm the government building.
    Diab’s statement did not mention the killing; Human Rights Watch has called for it to be investigated.
    “We promise to work quickly to restore the municipality building of Tripoli so that it remains an expression of its dignity and pure heritage,” Diab said.
    The lockdown against the coronavirus, in effect since Jan. 11, is piling extra hardship on the poor, now more than half the Lebanese population who get little government aid.
    “We are demanding a state, we are demanding a country and we are demanding an improvement to the social and political conditions in Tripoli,” said Rabih Mina, a Tripoli resident who joined the anti-government protests.
    The financial meltdown gripping Lebanon could render people more dependent on political factions for aid and security, in a throwback to the 1975-90 civil war era of dominant militias.
    Some analysts have warned that security forces, their wages fast losing value, would not be able to contain rising unrest.
    Najib Mikati, a billionaire businessmen and former premier who is from Tripoli, warned on Friday that should the army prove unable to control the situation in his city quickly enough, dangerous disorder could set in.
    “I may have to carry arms to protect myself and my institutions,” Mikati told local media.
    Lebanon has been in the throes of its worst financial crisis since 2019 and anger has escalated into street unrest over the economy, endemic state corruption and political mismanagement.
    A currency crash has raised the spectre of widespread hunger but Lebanese leaders have yet to launch a rescue plan or enact reforms to unlock aid, prompting rebukes from foreign donors.
    Diab is steering the government in a caretaker role as fractious politicians remain unable to agree on a new government since his quit in the aftermath of the Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion, leaving Lebanon rudderless as poverty spreads.
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan in Beirut and Walid Saleh in Tripoli; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/30/2021 Top ISIS Leader Killed In Airstrike By U.S. And Iraqi Forces by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – A member of the Iraqi forces walked past a mural bearing the logo of the Islamic State (IS) group in a tunnel that was reportedly used as a training
center by the jihadists, on March 1, 2017, in the village of Albu Sayf, on the southern outskirts of Mosul. (Photo: AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
    A U.S.-led military coalition announced that a recent airstrike led to the death of a top ISIS leader.    The ISIS leader known as Abu Yasser was killed along with 10 other ISIS members on Wednesday as part of a joint mission with U.S. and Iraqi forces in Kirkuk.
    Coalition spokesman Wayne Marotto said the death is another significant blow to the group’s resurgence efforts in Iraq.
    The strike came about a week after ISIS claimed a suicide bombing attack in Baghdad that killed at least 32 people.
    Marotto said the coalition will continue to remove key leaders to degrade the terrorist organization.

2/1/2021 Israel to give vaccines to Palestinians by Josef Federman, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israel agreed to transfer 5,000 doses of COVID-19 vaccine to the Palestinians to immunize front-line medical workers, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office said Sunday.
    It was the first time that Israel confirmed the transfer of vaccines to the Palestinians, who lag far behind Israel’s aggressive vaccination campaign and have not received inoculations.
    The World Health Organization raised concerns about the disparity between Israel and Palestinians
living in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip, and international human-rights groups and U.N. experts said Israel is responsible for the well-being of Palestinians in these areas.
    Under interim peace agreements reached in the 1990s, Israel said it’s not responsible for the Palestinians.
    Gantz’s office said Sunday that the transfer was approved but offered no timeline for distribution. There was no comment from Palestinian officials.
    Israel is one of the world’s leaders in vaccinating its population after striking procurement deals with international drug giants Pfizer and Moderna.

2/1/2021 Israel And Kosovo Establish Diplomatic Relations In Virtual Ceremony by Rami Ayyub
Israel's Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi signs the agreement establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and Kosovo during a virtual ceremony
with Kosovo's Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj Stublla, in the Israeli foreign ministry in Jerusalem February 1, 2021. REUTERS/ Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic relations on Monday, via online links due to the coronavirus crisis, under a U.S.-brokered deal that includes a pledge by the Muslim-majority country to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
    Israel sees its new ties with the tiny Balkan country as part of its broader normalisation with Arab and Muslim countries under agreements sponsored by former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    Trump announced the two countries’ ties in September as a side deal to an economic agreement between Kosovo and Serbia.    As part of the deal, Serbia, which has ties with Israel, also agreed to open an embassy in Jerusalem.
    During a signing ceremony held via Zoom video conference, Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said the new ties were “historic” and “reflect a change in the region, and in the Arab (and) Muslim world’s relationship with Israel
    Ashkenazi said he had received an official request from Kosovo to establish a Jerusalem embassy, which Israeli officials hope will open by end-March.
    Only two countries – the United States and Guatemala – have embassies in Jerusalem. Others, including Malawi and Honduras, have pledged to make the move.
    The status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest obstacles to forging a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians, who with broad international backing want East Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war, as their capital.
    The ceremony included the unveiling of a commemorative plaque that will be placed at the entrance to Kosovo’s embassy in Jerusalem upon opening, Israel’s foreign ministry said.
    Kosovo Foreign Minister Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla said Kosovo and Israel share a “historic bond” and had both “witnessed a long and challenging path to existing as a people and becoming states.”
    Kosovo declared independence from Serbia in 2008, almost a decade after a guerrilla uprising by its ethnic Albanian majority.
    Haradinaj-Stublla said she had spoken in recent days with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who she said voiced President Joe Biden’s support for Kosovo’s new relations with Israel and economic agreement with Serbia.
(Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/1/2021 Israel Says Drone Falls In Lebanese Territory, Hezbollah Says It Brought It Down
A picture released by Hezbollah media center on February 1, 2021, shows what they said is an Israeli drone at an unspecified
location in Lebanon. The Arabic reads: "Military media". Hezbollah media centre/Handout via Reuters ATTENTION
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah said on Monday it brought down an Israeli drone that had entered Lebanese airspace, while the Israeli military said one of its drones had fallen inside Lebanon.
    Hezbollah said in a statement carried by al-Manar television that it was now in control of the drone.
    The Israeli military said the drone had fallen in Lebanese territory during an operation near the border demarcation known as the Blue Line and that there was, “no breach of information.”
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/1/2021 Israel Supplies First COVID-19 Vaccines To Palestinians
FILE PHOTO: Vials labelled "COVID-19 Coronavirus Vaccine" are placed on dry ice in this illustration
taken, December 4, 2020. Picture taken December 4, 2020. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel said on Monday it supplied the Palestinians with their first shipment of COVID-19 shots, totalling 2,000 doses of Moderna’s vaccine.
    The vaccines were transferred into the occupied West Bank and will be used by Palestinian Authority medical teams, according to a statement by COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.
    Palestinian officials declined to confirm or deny the delivery.
    Israel has earmarked an additional 3,000 doses for the Palestinians, said a COGAT spokesman.
    Israel has emerged as a world leader in vaccinating its citizens and the Palestinian Authority has separately been trying to secure its own doses.    It has ordered a batch of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine.
    The Palestinians will also be receiving upwards of 35,000 to 40,000 vaccines from the COVAX global vaccine sharing programme in the coming weeks, a World Health Organization official said on Monday.
    Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war.    Palestinians seek the territory for an independent state they hope to set up in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi, additional reporting by Aidan Lewis in Cairo; editing by Nick Macfie)

2/1/2021 Closed Highway And Dangerous Desert Detour Underline Challenges To Libyan Peace
Overview of the first day of the Libyan Political Dialogue Forum at an undisclosed location,
Switzerland, February 1, 2021. Violaine Martin/U.N. Photo/Handout via REUTERS
    TRIPOLI (Reuters) – Libyans watching a peace process nearing a critical phase this week in Switzerland need only try driving from one side of their country to the other to understand the obstacles to diplomacy.
    An October ceasefire called for all foreign mercenaries to leave the country and for the main coastal road between west and east to reopen.    But the mercenaries remain, the United Nations said last week, and the road is shut.
    For those who cannot take one of the flights that resumed last year between the capital Tripoli in the west and Benghazi in the east, it means a long, dangerous detour through the desert.
    “Drivers face violence and abuse. Sometimes we lose contact with the drivers for two days until they reach safety and can get a mobile signal,” said a transport company worker, who asked not to be named fearing reprisals from armed groups.
    A 24-year-old driver from Benghazi, waiting in Tripoli to fill his minibus with goods to take back, said he had no other way to make a living.
    “The road is difficult and there is a lot of looting. The trip takes about a day and a half,” he said.    That is double the time it would take along the coastal road.
    The continued closure of the key artery, and lawlessness along alternative routes, underline how Libya remains beset by instability 10 years after the NATO-backed uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi but unleashed civil war.
    The United Nations last week urged both sides of the conflict to reopen the road, as it hosts a meeting near Geneva to select a new transitional government for the whole country to oversee the run-up to elections scheduled for December.
    Belqasem Egzait, a member of the State Council set up as part of an earlier peace process, said he believed diplomacy was moving forward, but would be slow.
    “The political track is by its nature complex.    That complexity will continue,” he told Reuters.
    However, some Libya experts have warned of the risk of renewed fighting as the process drags on.
    The transport company worker said stories of attacks on drivers were commonplace.
    “Last week a group of armed men stopped a driver and stole everything – even chemotherapy doses.    The thugs will target anything they find.”
    Libya has been split between factions in the west and east since 2014.
    The latest round of diplomacy follows the failure last year of Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army (LNA) to capture Tripoli, seat of the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA).
    In recent interviews with Reuters, leaders on both sides of the frontlines accused each other of refusing to abide by ceasefire terms that temporarily halted the 14-month assault.
    The GNA defence minister, Saleh Namroush, who has nominated himself for a leadership role in the transitional government, said the LNA was bringing in more equipment and digging new defences.
    But in Benghazi, LNA spokesman Ahmed Mismari blamed armed groups in the west for breaching the agreement.
    Along the frontline between the cities of Sirte and Misrata, a joint military committee is still discussing ceasefire terms.    Both sides have dug in.
    On the GNA side, a local field commander, Musa Araibi Mayouf, said the absence of fighting since the summer showed that the current talks were serious.    But he acknowledged the risk of a return to warfare.
    “There are obstacles.    And they are the gentlemen who sit in the political chairs,” he said.    His fighters, in camouflage uniforms, stood atop their “technicals” – pick-up trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
(Reporting by Reuters Libya Newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/1/2021 Israel, Kosovo Establish Mutual Diplomatic Ties by OAN Newsroom
A government official took a selfie during a signing ceremony held digitally in the capital Pristina, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
    Israel established formal diplomatic relations with Kosovo in yet another foreign policy success for President Trump.
    On Monday, Israel and Kosovo signed agreements of mutual recognition following a series of peace deals mediated by the Trump administration.
    Last year, President Trump landed a peace agreement between Kosovo and Serbia, ending a 20 year conflict started by the Clinton administration.
    The latest deal between the Islamic region of Kosovo and Israel is also expected to advance peace in the Middle East.
    “Israel wants a stable Balkans.    The agreement signed in Washington on a joint economic progress between our two friends, Serbia and Kosovo, encourages us,” Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi stated.    “Israel considers Serbia as a close and significant partner in the Balkans.”
A Kosovo police officer stood guard during a virtual signing ceremony, in the capital Pristina, Monday, Feb. 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Visar Kryeziu)
    Kosovo will open an embassy in Jerusalem, cementing the Holy City’s role as the capital of Israel.    The Jewish state is now getting new trade and investment opportunities in the Balkan region.

2/1/2021 Turkish Police Detain 159 People At Protests Over Erdogan-Appointed University Head
Students shout slogans as they wait in front of the Bogazici University in solidarity with fellow students inside the campus
who are protesting against the new rector and the arrest of two students, in Istanbul, Turkey February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police on Monday detained 159 people over protests in Istanbul against President Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a new rector at one of the country’s top universities, the Istanbul Governor’s office said.
    Students at the Bogazici University in Istanbul began their protests nearly a month ago, saying the appointment of Melih Bulu as rector was undemocratic.    Teachers at Bogazici have also protested Bulu’s swearing-in.
    Protesters chanting slogans such as “Police, get out” and “Universities are ours” clashed and scuffled with the police on Monday.
    In a statement, the Istanbul Governor’s office said 159 people had later been detained for “not ending the demonstrations in front of the Bogazici University despite warnings,” and added that an investigation had been launched.
    Earlier, more than 100 police gathered at the main entrance of the campus.    They allowed university students to enter, checking their IDs, but told others to leave, including several lawmakers, mainly from the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP).
    Sidewalks next to the roads leading up to the university were fenced off, and minor scuffles broke out as some protesters began chanting and walking toward the police barricade.
    Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), criticised the detentions late on Monday on Twitter, calling on Bulu to resign to end “this ugly situation.”
    Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, also from the CHP, said he had spoken with uthorities to establish dialogue between them and the protesters, adding he would meet with Bogazici students on Tuesday to hear their concerns.
    Bulu, who has applied to be a candidate for Erdogan’s ruling AK Party in a 2015 parliamentary election, was the first rector chosen from outside a university since a military coup in Turkey in 1980, Bogazici faculty members have said.
    The protesters have also been demanding the release of four people who had been detained after images were shared on social media of them laying a picture on the ground that mixed sacred Islamic iconography with symbols supporting LGBT issues.
    Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said at the weekend that four “LGBT perverts” had been detained, while Erdogan on Monday praised his ruling AK Party’s youth wing for “not being the LGBT youth.”
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Omer Berberoglu; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

2/1/2021 Turkey’s Erdogan Says May Begin Working On New Constitution
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a news conference following a cabinet meeting
in Ankara, Turkey February 1, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday his ruling AK Party and its nationalist allies may start work on drafting a new constitution, less than four years after overhauling the previous constitution to grant his office sweeping powers.
    Turks had voted in favour of the constitutional changes in 2017, leading the country to switch from a parliamentary democracy to an executive presidential system despite strong backlash from opposition parties and critics.
    Erdogan was elected president under the new system in 2018, with sweeping executive powers that opposition parties described as a “one-man regime.”    The AKP and their Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) allies have defended the system, saying it created a streamlined state apparatus.
    “Perhaps, the time has come for Turkey to once again discuss a new constitution,” Erdogan said following a cabinet meeting in Ankara.    “If we reach an understanding with our alliance partner, we may mobilise for a new constitution in the coming period,” he said, adding that efforts should be transparent and shared with the public.
    “No matter how much we change, it is not possible to erase the signs of coup and tutelage that have been inserted into the spirit of the constitution,” he said, adding he was upset that previous such attempts had foundered over the main opposition’s “uncompromising stance
    Erdogan’s remarks come weeks after MHP leader Devlet Bahceli suggested constitutional changes to ban the pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) for separatism, a move the HDP condemned as an attempt to silence six million votes.
    Bahceli has long been a fierce critic of the HDP and, like Erdogan, accuses it of links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants who have fought a 36-year-old insurgency in southeast Turkey.    The HDP denies this.
    “Work on a constitution is not something that can be done under the shadow of groups linked to the terrorist organisation (PKK) with people whose mental and emotional ties to their country are broken,” Erdogan said on Monday, without specifying.
    Rights groups and Turkey’s Western allies have criticised what they see as increasing authoritarianism and threats to the rule of law under Erdogan, especially since a 2016 coup attempt that prompted sweeping crackdowns on his perceived opponents in public services, the military and elsewhere.
    Turkish authorities have rejected the accusations, saying the measures were necessary for national security.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay; Editing by Alistair Bell)

2/2/2021 Turkey, U.S. Security Advisers Hold First Talks Since Biden Inauguration
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks as he attends a satellite technologies event through live videolink in Istanbul, Turkey January 8, 2021.
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Top advisers for Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and U.S. President Joe Biden spoke on the phone on Tuesday, marking the first official contact between the two countries since Biden took office.
    Erdogan’s Chief Foreign Policy Adviser Ibrahim Kalin and U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan discussed issues regarding Syria, Libya, the eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus, and Nagorno-Karabakh, Turkey’s official news agency Anadolu reported.
    Kalin told Sullivan that joint efforts were needed to find a solution to present disagreements between the countries such as Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 defence systems, and the United States’ support for Kurdish militia groups in northern Syria, Anadolu said.
    In December, Washington imposed long-anticipated sanctions on Ankara over its acquisition of the Russian-made S-400 defence systems, a move Turkey called a “grave mistake.”    It also removed Turkey, a NATO ally, from its F-35 fighter jet programme as a result.
    Washington says the S-400s pose a threat to its F-35 fighter jets and to NATO’s broader defence systems.    Turkey rejects this, saying S-400s will not be integrated into NATO, and has offered to form a joint working group to examine the conflicting claims.
    Ankara says its purchase of the S-400s was not a choice, but rather a necessity as it was unable to procure missile defences from other NATO allies with satisfactory conditions.
(Reporting by Ece Toksabay; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

2/2/2021 Israel Sees 6-Month Iran Nuclear Breakout, Longer Than Blinken Projection
Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken concludes his first press briefing at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s energy minister said on Tuesday it would take Iran around six months to produce enough fissile material for a single nuclear weapon, a timeline almost twice as long as that anticipated by a senior member of the Biden administration.
    Israel is wary of the Biden administration’s intent to reenter the 2015 Iranian nuclear deal and has long opposed the agreement.    Washington argues that the previous Trump administration’s withdrawal from the deal backfired by prompting Iran to abandon caps on nuclear activities.
    Speaking last month a day before he took office as U.S. secretary of state, Antony Blinken said that the so-called “breakout time” – in which Iran might ramp up enrichment of uranium to bomb-fuel purity – “has gone from beyond a year (under the deal) to about three or four months.”    He said he based his comments on information in public reporting.
    But Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, in a radio interview, said the Trump administration “seriously damaged Iran’s nuclear project and entire force build-up.”
    “In terms of enrichment, they (Iranians) are in a situation of breaking out in around half a year if they do everything required,” he told public broadcaster Kan.    “As for nuclear weaponry, the range is around one or two years.”
    Iran, which denies seeking nuclear weaponry, has recently accelerated its breaches of the deal, which it started violating in 2019 response to the U.S. withdrawal and reimposition of sanctions against it.
    The last quarterly estimates by the U.N. nuclear watchdog in November show that Iran’s stock of enriched uranium had risen to 2.4 tonnes, more than 10 times the amount allowed under the deal but still a fraction of the more than eight tonnes it had before.
    Since then Iran has started enriching uranium to higher purity, returning to the 20% it achieved before the deal from a previous maximum of 4.5%.    The deal sets a limit of 3.67%, far below the 90% that is weapons grade.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Francois Murphy, Editing by William Maclean)

2/2/2021 In Algerian Mountains, Army Operation Shows Persistent Militant Threat by Lamine Chikhi
An Algerian soldier takes a position on a look-out point during an operation against Islamist militants, in the Ain Defla
mountains, west of the capital Algiers, Algeria January 26, 2021. Picture taken January 26, 2021. REUTERS/Abdelaziz Boumzar
    AIN DEFLA, Algeria (Reuters) – Algerian soldiers fired high-calibre rounds into a scrubby hillside of the Ain Defla mountains last week, part of an operation against the persistent threat of Islamist militants after they launched a fresh attack last month.
    They stalked in the rain between pine trees along muddy tracks, rifles raised, before dropping into a crouch, many of them too young to remember the 1990s jihadist insurgency that killed 200,000 Algerians.
    Two decades after that bloodshed ended, the militant threat in Algeria has mostly been contained.    However, al Qaeda and other groups including an Islamic State branch still hold out in some remote areas, mostly in the vast desert border region with Sahel neighbours Mali and Niger.
    The operation in Ain Defla was aimed at a small group that the army believed to be hiding in the mountains, about 180 kms (112 miles) west of the capital Algiers.
    It had splintered from the Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat, one of Algeria’s oldest militant organisations and the forerunner of its al Qaeda franchise, the army said.
    Reuters and a local news agency were escorted during the operation by the military.
    “Our goal is to fix, surround and liquidate a group of terrorists in this perimeter,” said an army captain, calling it a combat mission.
    His column of five vehicles crawled across the barren terrain, using jamming devices to prevent militants using cell phones to detonate explosives.
    In the wet weather, it took the column nearly two hours to drive just 50 kms (30 miles) along the marshy tracks under the 2,000-metre (6,000-ft) peak of Mount Ouarsenis.
    In one place, soldiers sat behind sandbags under a bivouac looking out across a mountain valley, the wind ruffling the camouflage pattern sheet above them. JIHADIST STRUGGLE
    Large-calibre gunfire rattled out across the landscape. The soldiers were shooting into an area they could not reach.
    “These shots are intended to clean areas where terrorists may be hiding,” a colonel said.
    Algeria’s main security focus has shifted in recent years from the internal threat that once ran rampant through rural areas and dense cities to borders with unstable neighbours.
    “They are small in numbers, so you need to hunt them one by one,” a security source said of militant groups still present in Algeria.
    Though some militants remain in areas like Ain Defla, the region’s traditional pastoral life continues.
    Lazali Belgacem, an animal herder in a brown hooded robe and yellow turban, said he felt safer than in the past as he led a donkey across a mountainside, his cows walking ahead.
    “I used to be very afraid of terrorists.    They might kill or kidnap you,” he said.
    In January, three soldiers and six armed men were killed in clashes in the Tipaza region, between Ain Defla and Algiers.
    It was a relatively rare recent episode in a jihadist struggle that has mostly moved into the deep sahara.
    Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the most potent militant group operating in North Africa, has found more room for manouevre in the insurgencies rattling Mali and Niger.
    The former AQIM chief Abdelmalek Droukdel was killed in Mali last year.    His successor, Algerian Abu Obaida Yusuf al-Annabi, is also thought to be based there.
    AQIM, set up in 2007, seeks to replace Algeria’s government with sharia rule but has not carried out any big attacks since the 2013 assault on a desert gas plant in which 40 workers and more than 20 militants were killed.
    Last year the Defence Ministry said it had killed 21 militants in Algeria.    According to constitutional changes approved in a referendum last year, the military will in future be able to operate beyond Algeria’s borders in some cases.
(Reporting By Lamine Chikhi, editing by Angus McDowall and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

2/3/2021 Tripoli, Lebanon’s Poorest City, On Edge After Curfew, Protests by Maha El Dahan and Issam Abdallah
A general view shows buildings in Tripoli, Lebanon February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    TRIPOLI, Lebanon (Reuters) – Lebanon’s poorest city, Tripoli, was again racked by violent protests last week, and some politicians and experts warn that unrest could spread if more is not done to support people facing deepening poverty amid coronavirus restrictions.
    The country was already in financial meltdown before the pandemic struck, with national debt spiralling, unemployment high and a tumbling currency stoking inflation.
    For residents of Tripoli, on Lebanon’s northern coast, the 24-hour curfew imposed from Jan. 11 to control the spread of COVID-19 was the final straw, preventing many from working.
    “We are headed towards famine,” said Haytham Kurdi, a 49-year-old fish kiosk owner in the city.
    “The fish that we get is $3.    That used to mean 4,500 pounds and we used to sell for 6,000 so we make a dollar profit.    Now $3 is around 25,000 pounds and someone who earns 30,000 to 40,000 pounds a day, how can they buy a couple of kilos of fish?
    Protests last week culminated in the burning of Tripoli’s municipality building as demonstrators clashed with police.
    “There is practically a total absence of government action, so the situation in Tripoli is … worrisome and it reflects an extreme form of what is happening elsewhere in the country,” said Toufic Gaspard, an economist who has worked as an adviser at the IMF and to a former finance minister.
    If subsidies on basic foodstuffs like bread are eased because of dwindling reserves and dollar shortages, more Lebanese will feel the pinch.
    Nationwide protests erupted in October 2019, amid financial meltdown, bringing cities including the capital Beirut to a standstill as tens of thousands of people vented their anger at politicians they blamed for ineptitude and graft.
    Today, roughly half of the workforce relies on daily wages mostly paid in local currency, and a recent study by aid organization CARE found that 94% of Lebanon’s population are earning less then the minimum wage.
    “Should subsidies be lifted, the scene from Tripoli will be repeated everywhere,” MP Faisal Karameh told local media.
    France’s Emmanuel Macron is leading efforts to unlock foreign aid to help Lebanon out of its crisis.
    But the initiative has been hampered by political paralysis in Lebanon, which has been unable to form a new government since the last one quit in the aftermath of an Aug. 4 Beirut port explosion that destroyed large parts of the city.
    The caretaker government said it was giving 230,000 of the poorest families 400,000 liras a month, or less than $50 at the market rate, to help them make ends meet. Lebanon has a population of around 6 million.
    Many are still falling through the cracks.
    “If you walk down the street you will see people looking through garbage for something to eat,” said Bilal Tasieh, a 46-year-old carpenter from Tripoli.
    A government decision to close supermarkets and grocery shops during lockdown, making daily essentials only available through delivery services, has drawn criticism.
    “If I am poor then delivery is out of the question for me, it costs 10 to 15% more,” said Nasser Saidi, a leading economist and former minister.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan in Beirut and Issam Abdallah in Tripoli; additional reporting by Ellen Francis; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/3/2021 Erdogan Says Will Not Let University Protests Swell by Ali Kucukgocmen, Ezgi Erkoyun and Tuvan Gumrukcu
Riot police detain a protester during a gathering in solidarity with Bogazici University students who are protesting
against the appointment of Melih Bulu as new rector of the university, in Istanbul, Turkey, February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday his government would not allow month-long demonstrations at a Turkish university to grow into anti-government protests similar to those in 2013, calling the protesters “terrorists.”
    Defying a government ban on demonstrations, students and teachers at Istanbul’s Bogazici University have protested Erdogan’s appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic and former political candidate, as rector.
    They say the process was undemocratic and want him to resign, causing a nationwide debate over the government’s reach and separate protests elsewhere.    More than 250 people were detained in Istanbul this week and 69 others in Ankara.
    The unrest marks some of the largest demonstrations since 2013 when hundreds of thousands of people marched against government plans to build replica Ottoman barracks in Istanbul’s Gezi Park.
    “This country will not be run by terrorists.    We will do whatever is needed to prevent this,” Erdogan told members of his ruling AK Party.    He said young protestors lack Turkey’s “national and spiritual values” and are members of terrorist groups.
    “Are you students or terrorists trying to raid the rector’s room?” Erdogan said.    “This country will not again live a Gezi event in Taksim, will not allow it.    We have not stood with terrorists and we will not.”
    Bulu said earlier he would not step down despite growing calls.    “I am never thinking about resigning,” Turkish media quoted him as telling reporters.
    The main opposition party leader, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, has called for Bulu’s resignation.    Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas urged Bulu in an open letter to “sacrifice” his position instead of “academic peace, youth and our future.”
    Bulu, who once applied to the AK Party to run for parliament, told broadcaster HaberTurk the “crisis will be totally finished within six months.”
    On Tuesday, academics again gathered on the Bogazici campus with their backs turned to the rector’s building in protest and chanted “Melih Bulu resign,” carrying signs reading “159,” the number of those detained on Monday.
    Students have shared images on social media of a picture displayed at the university that mixed LGBT symbols and Islam’s holiest site, the Kaaba shrine in Mecca.    The picture was condemned by Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
    Erdogan said “there is no such thing” as LGBT.    “This country is national and spiritual, and will continue to walk into the future as such,” he said.
    Furkan Dogramaci, 23, a Bogazici graduate last year, said a “lynching campaign” against the LGBT community was launched to thwart the protest’s real aim.    The government response aimed at “dividing, separating us and ending this movement,” he said.
    University student Enes Gozukucuk, 23, who was among protestors on Monday when police detained 51 people, said the protests were against Bulu’s appointment not the government.
    “We could have solved these issues amongst ourselves in the school.    There was no need for violence from government forces,” he said.
(Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans and Angus MacSwan)

2/3/2021 Crossing The COVID Chasm Between Israel And The Palestinian Territories by Zainah El-Haroun and Adel Abu Nimeh
Palestinian Businessman Ismail Daiq, who was vaccinated against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), buys vegetables in
Jericho, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, February 2, 2021. Picture taken February 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JERICHO, West Bank (Reuters) – As a Palestinian living in Jerusalem, Ismail Daiq is used to negotiating the dividing lines between communities: the daily commute to his Jordan Valley date farm involves crossing a checkpoint on his way home.
    Now the coronavirus pandemic has created another faultline for him to navigate: the stark difference between access to vaccines in Israel and in the Palestinian territories.
    Living within the Israeli health system, Daiq, 62, has already received his second COVID-19 vaccination in a country that is a leader in the world’s inoculation drive.
    But his Palestinian siblings and 95-year-old mother in Jericho are still awaiting a vaccine rollout that has only just begun under the Palestinian Authority, which exercises limited sovereignty in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Daiq is eligible for vaccination because he became a Jerusalem resident two decades ago when he married a woman from the city.
    The rest of his family, friends and employees do not qualify, because they only have West Bank identity papers that do not let them pass through the Israeli checkpoints that control entry to the city.
    So when the date farmer travels each day into the Palestinian territories, he is uncomfortably aware that while he feels safe, his loved ones are still at risk from the virus.
    “I feel guilty, I feel very sad, because I want all my family safe,” Daiq told Reuters.     “When you see that you can get these services, the vaccination, and all of the family, they can’t get this vaccination, you feel that there is a difference between you and your family.”
    Although Israel and the Palestinian Authority coordinate on security issues, political relations have foundered.    Negotiations last broke down in 2014.
    In January, the Palestinian Foreign Ministry accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power by not including Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip in their inoculation programme.
    Israeli officials have said that this is the job of the Palestinian authorities.
    “If it is the responsibility of the Israeli health minister to take care of the Palestinians, what exactly is the responsibility of the Palestinian health minister?” Israeli Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the BBC last month.
    While Israel has so far vaccinated a third of its 9 million citizens, the Palestinian Authority received its first batch of 2,000 vaccines – supplied by Israel – on Monday.    West Bank health workers received the first shots.
    Daiq said he tried to avoid the subject with his family, because his mother kept asking him when she would be inoculated.
    His brother Ibrahim, 60, said that he wished good health to “every person on this land” but that there was a sense of unfairness among Palestinians.
    “Because of this, my natural rights as a human being, me and the rest of the people living in the West Bank and Gaza, considering we are a country living under occupation, we should also have the right to benefit from this vaccination.”
    The West Bank, where 3.1 million Palestinians live, has reported 101,221 coronavirus cases, with 1,271 deaths. Gaza, with a population of two million, has registered more than 51,000 cases with 523 deaths. Israel has reported 663,665 coronavirus cases and 4,888 deaths. [L1N2K90YQ]
(Reporting by Zainah El-Haroun and Adel Abu Nimeh in Jericho; Additional reporting by Estelle Shirbon in London; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/3/2021 Israel Razes Palestinian Bedouin Village For Second Time by Adel Abu Nimeh
A Palestinian man sits on mattresses in the village of Khirbet Humsah which was razed by Israeli forces,
in Jordan Valley in the Israeli-occupied West Bank February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Adel Abu Nimeh NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    JORDAN VALLEY, West Bank (Reuters) – Israel has begun demolishing a Bedouin village in the occupied West Bank for the second time in three months, in what a rights group called an attempt to displace an entire Palestinian community from the area.
    Israeli authorities said the village of Khirbet Humsah, in the northern West Bank’s Jordan Valley, had been constructed illegally on a military firing range, and that residents had rejected their offer to move to a nearby area.
    Khirbet Humsah’s 130 inhabitants have vowed to stay, with some sleeping on mattresses and plastic tarps strewn on the rocky soil.    Tented homes and animal shelters in the village were last razed in November, though residents returned soon after.
    “We will not move from here, we will stay here.    If they demolish, we will rebuild,” said one of the residents, Ibrahim Abu Awad.    He and other Bedouin in the village said they feared Israeli settlers would seize the vacated land.
    The Israeli rights group B’Tselem said the demolition at Khirbet Humsah was “unusually broad,” accusing Israel of seeking “to forcibly transfer Palestinian communities in order to take over their land.”
    Some 440,000 Israeli settlers live among more than 3 million Palestinians in the West Bank, territory captured by Israel in a 1967 war and which Palestinians want as part of a future state.
    Israeli forces began dismantling tents and livestock pens in Khirbet Humsah on Monday, residents and B’Tselem said.    On Wednesday, Israeli troops accompanied by bulldozers also knocked down several steel and wooden structures in the village, Reuters TV footage showed.
    The dismantled tents had housed 74 Palestinians, including 41 minors, B’Tselem said in a statement.
    COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, said it had explained to residents “the dangers involved in staying within the firing range” and offered them space outside of it.
    “Despite the offer, the residents refused to independently move the tent areas that had been set up illegally and without the required permits and approvals,” COGAT said.
    Palestinians and rights group say such permits are nearly impossible to obtain from Israel.
(Writing and additional reporting by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Giles Elgood)

2/4/2021 Biden Reduces Support For S. Arabia In Another Boon To Iran by OAN Newsroom
Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Yemen from a post close to the Saudi-Yemeni border, in
southwestern Saudi Arabia, on April 13, 2015 . (Photo: FAYEZ NURELDINE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden reduced support for key U.S. ally Saudi Arabia by citing concerns over its proxy war with Iran in Yemen.
    In what appears to be another win for the Iranian regime, Biden’s National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said Thursday that the U.S. will no longer provide material support to the Saudi operations in Yemen. He cited concerns of civilian casualties in Yemen that resulted from Saudi bombings of Houthi militants, which was backed by Iran.
    According to reports, analysts said a reduction of U.S. aid for the Saudis may give Iran an upper hand in that ongoing conflict.    Sullivan also failed to address Iranian threats against U.S. regional allies.
    “So it does not extend to actions against AQAP, which are actions that we undertake in service of protecting the homeland and protecting American interests in the region and our allies and partners,” Sullivan said.    “It extends to the types of offensive operations that have perpetuated a civil war in Yemen that has led to a humanitarian crisis.”
WILMINGTON, DE – NOVEMBER 24: National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan speaks. (Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images)
    Officials also cast doubt on arms-sales to the UAE and Saudi Arabia that had been approved by President Trump to counter the Iranian threat.    Iran is now expected to ramp-up terror-activities across the Middle East.

2/4/2021 Biden Ends U.S. Support For Saudi Arabia In Yemen, Says War ‘Has To End’ by Jonathan Landay and Jarrett Renshaw
FILE PHOTO: People injured in an attack on Aden airport rest at a hospital in Aden, Yemen December 31, 2020. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden on Thursday declared a halt to U.S. support for a Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen, demanding that the more than six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end.”
    Biden also named veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking as the U.S. special envoy for Yemen in a bid to step up American diplomacy “to end the war in Yemen, a war which has created humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.”
    The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of its people in need and millions on the verge of a large-scale famine.
    “This war has to end,” the Democratic president said during a visit to the U.S. State Department in Washington.    “And to underscore our commitment, we’re ending all American support for offensive operations in the war in Yemen, including relevant arms sales.”
    The move is a reversal of a policy of both the Democratic Obama and Republican Trump administrations.    Biden was vice president in the Obama administration.
    “At the same time,” he said on Thursday, “Saudi Arabia faces missile attacks, UAV (drone) strikes and other threats from Iranian-supplied forces in multiple countries.    We’re going to continue to support and help Saudi Arabia defend its sovereignty and its territorial integrity and its people.”
    Saudi Arabia welcomed Biden’s remarks, particularly his commitment to the country’s defense and addressing threats against it, according to the country’s state news agency.
    The Saudi-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-aligned Houthis.    U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country’s suffering is also worsened by an economic crisis, currency collapse, and the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Under the Trump administration, policy on Yemen was secondary to a so-called “maximum pressure” sanctions campaign against Iran in a bid to force Tehran back into talks over its nuclear and missile programs and activities in the Middle East.
    Former President Donald Trump and Jared Kushner, his son-in-law and a top aide, were also focused on maintaining their close ties with Saudi Arabia’s effective ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which included U.S. arms sales.
    This was despite demands by Republican and Democratic lawmakers for an end to U.S. support for Riyadh as the civilian death toll in Yemen mounted and the humanitarian crisis worsened.
    Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan said earlier on Thursday that the end of U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition’s operations in Yemen does not extend to efforts to combat the regional affiliate of the al Qaeda militant group.
    Sullivan said the Biden administration already had halted two sales of precision-guided munitions and kept regional allies in the region informed of actions to avoid surprises.
    “Any move that reduces the number of weapons, military activity, is to be welcomed and will give more space and more hope not only to the talks, but importantly more hope to the people of Yemen,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Thursday.
    The State Department is also reviewing a Trump administration designation last month of the Houthis as a foreign terrorist organization.
    The United Nations and aid groups have called for the designation to be reversed, warning it would push Yemen into a large-scale famine.    The Biden administration last week approved all transactions involving Yemen’s Houthi movement for the next month as it carries out the review.
(Additional reporting and writing by Michelle Nichols in New York; Editing by Alistair Bell, Paul Simao and Jonathan Oatis)

2/4/2021 Prominent Hezbollah Critic Slim Killed In Lebanon by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam
Lokman Slim, an activist and publisher who ran a research centre, speaks during an interview, in a still
image taken from Reuters TV footage shot on February 2, 2009, in Beirut, Lebanon. Reuters TV/via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A prominent Lebanese Shi’ite publisher who criticised the armed Hezbollah movement was shot dead in a car in southern Lebanon on Thursday, the first such killing of a high-profile activist in years.
    A judge said the body of Lokman Slim had four bullets in the head and one in the back.    A security source said his phone was found on the side of a road.
    They said the motive was unclear.
    Slim, who was in his late 50s, ran a research centre, made documentaries with his wife and led efforts to build an archive on Lebanon’s 1975-1990 sectarian civil war.
    He spoke against what he described as the Iranian-backed, Shi’ite Hezbollah’s intimidation tactics and attempts to monopolise Lebanese politics.
    His sister suggested Slim had been murdered because of this. He was last seen after visiting a poet friend. His wife said he had gone missing overnight.
    Hezbollah said it condemned the killing, which Lebanese officials, including the president, called an assassination U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken termed it a “heinous assassination” and called for Slim’s killers to be brought swiftly to justice.
    “It is cowardly and unacceptable to resort to violence, threats, and intimidation as a means of subverting the rule of law or suppressing freedom of expression and civic activism,” Blinken said in a statement.
    Human rights groups, the United Nations and other Western diplomats all demanded an investigation.    “We deplore the prevailing culture of impunity,” EU ambassador Ralph Tarraf tweeted.
    A Lebanese press freedom centre, SKeyes, said it feared a cover-up of the crime and more attempts to eliminate “symbols of free political thought.”
    The centre was founded after a car bomb killed journalist Samir Kassir in 2005, at a time when a series of assassinations hit Lebanon targeting critics of Syria’s 15-year domination.
    At Slim’s family home in Beirut’s southern suburbs, where Hezbollah holds sway, relatives sat in shock.    Some wept in silence.    One relative said they had found out about his death from a news alert while at a police station.
    “What a big loss.    And they lost a noble enemy too … It’s rare for someone to argue with them and live among them with respect,” his sister Rasha told reporters, without naming Hezbollah.
    She said he had not mentioned any threats.    “Killing is the only language they are fluent in,” she added.    “I don’t know how we will go on with our work … It will be hard.”
    In an interview last month on Saudi’s al-Hadath TV, Slim said he believed Damascus and its ally Hezbollah had a role in the port blast that ripped through Beirut in August, killing 200 people and injuring thousands.
    Hezbollah has denied any links to the explosion.
    President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, said he had ordered an investigation into Thursday’s crime, which came exactly six month since the port blast.    The official investigation into the explosion has yet to yield results.
    Former premier Saad al-Hariri, whose father’s assassination sparked regional turmoil in 2005, said Slim had been clearer than most in identifying the source of danger to the nation.
    Slim’s criticism of Hezbollah faced rebuke from its supporters, who called him “an embassy Shi’ite,” accusing him of being a tool of the United States.
    Washington, which classifies Hezbollah as terrorists, has ramped up sanctions against it to pressure Tehran.
    Slim founded a nonprofit to promote civil liberties which received a grant under the U.S. Middle East Partnership Initiative and worked with an American think tank, leaked WikiLeaks diplomatic cables said in 2008.
    In late 2019, Slim said people had gathered in his garden, chanting slurs and threats.    His statement held Hezbollah’s leader responsible.
    Slim also said he had received death threats after speaking in a debate at a Beirut camp that activists set up when protests against all the country’s political leaders swept Lebanon.
    “His murder is a very big loss for Lebanon, for culture,” said Hazem Saghieh, a well-known Lebanese journalist.    “He was one of a few who only knew how to speak his mind.”
(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Alaa Kanaan, Beirut TV and David Brunnstrom in Washington; Writing by Ellen Francis; Editing by William Maclean, Mark Heinrich and Alistair Bell)

2/4/2021 Netanyahu Postpones UAE, Bahrain Trip Due To COVID-19 Lockdown
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wears a protective face mask as he delivers a joint
statement with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in Jerusalem January 7, 2021. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Thursday he was postponing a trip planned next week to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain due to Israel’s COVID-19 lockdown.
    “Prime Minister Netanyahu greatly appreciates the invitations of the Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammad bin Zayd and the King of Bahrain, Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, and the historic peace that has been established between our countries,” said a statement from Netanyahu’s office.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

2/4/2021 U.N. Warns Tigray Conflict Could Spark Broader Destablization In Ethiopia by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: U. N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator (OCHA) Mark Lowcock,
addresses the United Nations Security Council at U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S, April 10, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – A conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region could trigger broader destablization in the country, U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock told the Security Council on Wednesday as he warned that a dire humanitarian situation in the north was set to worsen.
    Hundreds of thousands of people in Tigray have not received help and the United Nations has been unable to completely assess the situation because it does not have full and unimpeded access, according to Lowcock’s notes for the closed virtual briefing of the 15-member Security Council.
    He said there were reports of increasing insecurity elsewhere, which could be due to a vacuum created by the redeployment of Ethiopian troops to Tigray, and that the United Nations was concerned about the potential for broader national and regional destablization.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s former ruling party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – after regional forces attacked federal army bases in the region on Nov. 4.
    The TPLF withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, and major cities, but low-level fighting has continued.
    In the region of more than five million people, thousands of people are believed to have died and 950,000 have fled their homes since fighting began.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “seriously concerned” over the situation in Tigray, a U.N. spokesman said late on Tuesday.
    Lowcock said Abiy’s government controls between 60% and 80% of the territory in Tigray, but does not have full command of the ethnic Amhara and Eritrean forces also operating in the region.
    Dozens of witnesses say Eritrean troops are in Tigray to support Ethiopian forces, though both countries deny that.
    The United Nations has received reports that police are operating at a fraction of their previous capacity and Lowcock said he could confidently say that if protection and aid were not quickly increased then the humanitarian situation would deteriorate.
    He said there were troubling accusations of sexual and gender-based violence.
    Several senior U.N. officials recently visited Ethiopia to push for greater access to Tigray.    Lowcock said he was hopeful there would be concrete progress in coming days to allow aid to be scaled up.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/5/2021 Senate Votes To Keep U.S. Embassy In Jerusalem Permanently by OAN Newsroom
A sign on a bridge leading to the US Embassy compound ahead the official opening in Jerusalem, Sunday, May 13, 2018. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)
    The Senate overwhelmingly passed an amendment to keep the U.S. Embassy to Israel in Jerusalem permanently.    The measure was passed with near unanimous support late Thursday with 97 senators voting in favor.
    While President Trump was first to implement the decades old proposition to relocate the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, congressional approval shields the measure from reversal by future administrations.
    While Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vt.), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Sen. Tom Carper (D-Del.) voted against the move, GOP lawmakers argued this law should not be controversial.
    “It’s been our position in the United States for 25 years, Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and we should have our embassy in Jerusalem,” stated Sen. Bill Hagerty (R-Tenn.).    “This is not controversial; in 1995 the same amendment was 93 to 5, in 2017 it was 90 to 0.”
    Hagerty added, the measure contributes to the recognition of Jerusalem as the “eternal and indivisible” capital of Israel, which is paving the way for peace across the region.
    Basically great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars: being with child and a great red dragon, having seven heads and ten horns, and seven crowns upon his heads.    And to the woman were given two wings of a great eagle, that she might fly into the wilderness, into her place, where she is nourished for a time, and times, and half a time, from the face of the serpent until now as what you read below

2/5/2021 International Criminal Court Says It Has Jurisdiction In Palestinian Territories by Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg
FILE PHOTO: Public Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda attends the trial for Malian Islamist militant Al-Hassan Ag Abdoul Aziz Ag
Mohamed Ag Mahmoud at the ICC (International Criminal Court) in the Hague, the Netherlands July 8,2019. REUTERS/Eva Plevier/Pool
    THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Judges at the International Criminal Court on Friday found the court has jurisdiction over war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories, paving the way for a possible criminal investigation, despite Israeli objections.
    The decision prompted swift reactions from both Israel, which is not a member of the court and rejects its jurisdiction, and the Palestinian Authority, which welcomed the ruling.
    ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was studying the decision and would decide what to do next “guided strictly by its independent and impartial mandate” to prosecute grave war crimes and atrocities when countries are unable or unwilling to do so themselves.
    The ICC judges said their decision was based on the fact that Palestine has been granted membership to the tribunal’s founding treaty, and had referred the situation to the court.    The judges said the jurisdiction decision does not imply any attempt to determine Palestinian statehood, which is uncertain, or national borders.
    “The Court’s territorial jurisdiction in the Situation in Palestine … extends to the territories occupied by Israel since 1967, namely Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem,” they said.
    Bensouda had found in December 2019 that “war crimes have been or are being committed in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.”
    She named both the Israeli Defense Forces and armed Palestinian groups such as Hamas as possible perpetrators.
    She said then that she saw no reason not to open an investigation, but asked judges to first rule on whether the situation fell under the court’s jurisdiction.
    In a reaction, Human Rights Watch called the decision “pivotal” and said it “finally offers victims of serious crimes some real hope for justice after a half century of impunity,” said Balkees Jarrah, associate international justice director.
    “It’s high time that Israeli and Palestinian perpetrators of the gravest abuses – whether war crimes committed during hostilities or the expansion of unlawful settlements – face justice.”
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reacted, saying “the court is ignoring the real war crimes and instead is pursuing Israel, a country with a strong democratic regime, that sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the tribunal.”
    He added Israel would “protect all of our citizens and soldiers” from prosecution.
    “The court in its decision impairs the right of democratic countries to defend themselves,” Netanyahu said.
    The Palestinian Foreign Ministry said in a statement that it was a “historic day for the principle of accountability.”
    Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official, described the decision as “an important development that contributes in protecting the Palestinian people.”
    “We urge the international court to launch an investigation into Israeli war crimes against the Palestinian people,” said Abu Zuhri, who is currently outside Gaza.
    The United States has “serious concerns” about the ICC’s effort to assert jurisdiction over Israeli personnel in the Palestinian territories, U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said.    He added the U.S. government shares “the goals of the ICC in promoting accountability for the worst crimes known to humanity.”
    The Trump administration had vehemently opposed the ICC.
    Jamil Dakwar, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Human Rights Program, said U.S. President Joe Biden should do nothing to undermine the ICC’s independence.
    “It’s important to remember that the ICC investigation would also target Palestinian perpetrators of war crimes in the context of hostilities between Israel and Palestinian armed groups, especially in the Gaza Strip,” Dakwar said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Toby Sterling, Anthony Deutsch, Stephanie van den Berg, Ari Rabinovitch, Stephen Farrell, Nidal al-Mughrabi, Arshad Mohammed, Humeyra Pamuk and Simon Lewis; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Daniel Wallis)

2/5/2021 New Libya Interim Government Agreed In U.N. Talks
Libyan family watch the elections to choose the new interim government on a TV screen at home in Tajoura suburb of Tripoli, Libya February 5, 2021. REUTERS/Hazem Ahmed
    GENEVA/TRIPOLI (Reuters) – U.N. sponsored talks produced a new interim government for Libya on Friday aimed at resolving a decade of chaos, division and violence by holding national elections later this year.
    Mohammed al-Menfi, a former diplomat from Benghazi, will head a three-man presidency council, while Abdulhamid Dbeibeh, from the western city of Misrata, will head the government as prime minister.
    Libya has been engulfed in chaos since a NATO-backed intervention ended Muammar Gaddafi’s four-decade rule in 2011 and has been split since 2014 between warring administrations backed by foreign powers in the west and east.
    However, with many factions in the country afraid to surrender influence they already hold, and with foreign powers invested in local allies, the new government may rapidly come under pressure.
    “My appeal to everybody is to recognize and accept these results and to work with the new authorities that were elected,” U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said.
    The appointment of a new government may also do little to change the balance of military power on the ground, where armed groups rule the streets and factions remain split between east and west along a fortified front line.
    “This is the last chance for the Libyan people and political leaders to end the conflict and division in the country.    We hope to reach the stage of elections, just as they have promised, to achieve the people’s demands,” said Gamal al-Fallah, a political activist in Benghazi.
    Analysts describe the new government team as surprise winners of a leadership contest against three other groups of candidates presented to the 75 Libyan participants picked by the United Nations to take part in political talks.
    A slate that included the eastern-based parliament head Aguila Saleh and western-based interior minister Fathi Bashagha was widely seen as the most likely to succeed but lost in a run-off by 39 votes to 34.
    “This is certainly a shake-up, and as a result it will get support from groups that were preparing to fight Aguila or Fathi,” said Tarek Megerisi, of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
    The winning leadership group also includes Musa al-Koni, from the south, and Abdullah al-Lafi, from the west, in the presidency council. Bashagha tweeted his support for the process and for the new government after the vote.
    All candidates for the new government promised to honour the plans to hold presidential and parliamentary elections on Dec. 24 and not to run for office then.    The U.N. publicly displayed their signed pledges.
    Dbeibeh has until Feb. 26 to present a new government to the parliament, which then has three weeks to approve it.
    The latest U.N. process emerged from a Berlin conference last year and gathered pace in the autumn after commander Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based forces were repelled from a 14-month assault on Tripoli.
    It has also involved a military ceasefire, but not all terms of the ceasefire have been met – a sign of continued mistrust on both sides and internal fractures within both camps.
    The new government may make it harder to bridge the east-west divide, said analyst Jalel Harchaoui of the Clingendael Institute.
    Though born in the east, Menfi is seen as close politically to the current Tripoli government leadership and without strong ties to Haftar or other eastern leaders, he added.
    Some Libyans have been critical of a process which they view as being managed from abroad and which they fear will allow existing powermongers to cling to their influence.
    “It’s just a painkiller to portray Libya as stable for a while.    But war and tension will certainly come back sooner or later so long as militias have power,” said Abdulatif al-Zorgani, a 45-year old state employee in Tripoli.
Turkey, which backed the Tripoli government, and the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, which have supported Haftar, publicly welcomed the new government.
(Reporting by Emma Farge and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, Reuters Libya newsroom in Tripoli and Ayman al-Warfali in Benghazi, additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York; writing by Angus McDowall; editing by John Stonestreet, Pravin Char and Philippa Fletcher)

2/5/2021 Biden Administration Expects Saudi Arabia To Improve Human Rights – White House by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki walks to the podium ahead of a press briefing
inside the White House in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States expects Saudi Arabia to improve its human rights record, including releasing women’s rights activists and other political prisoners, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Friday.
    Pskai’s comments underscored U.S. President Joe Biden’s intention to make human right a key issue in U.S.-Saudi relations, which he pledged during the 2020 campaign to reassess.
    Biden on Thursday unveiled a first step in taking a firmer line with the kingdom, announcing an end to U.S. support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led military coalition fighting the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement in Yemen.
    Psaki side-stepped a question at a White House briefing on whether the administration would impose sanctions on Saudi Arabia for the 2018 murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi operatives in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul.
    Calling Khashoggi’s death a “horrific crime,” she reiterated the administration’s intention to declassify a U.S. intelligence report on the murder, which the CIA assessed was approved – and possibly ordered – by defacto Saudi ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
    The prince denied ordering the murder.
    “We, of course, expect Saudi Arabia to improve its record on human rights,” Psaki continued.    “That includes releasing political prisoners such as women’s rights advocates from Saudi jails.”
    One of the most prominent of those advocates is Loujain al-Hathloul, 31, the leader of a campaign to allow Saudi women to drive, who was arrested in 2018.
    Riyadh drew international criticism in December when, according to her family, she was sentenced by a court to nearly six years in prison.
    Psaki said the administration was “encouraged” by the release on Thursday of two dual Saudi-U.S. citizens pending their trials.
    Bader al-Ibrahim, an epidemiologist and journalist, and Salah al-Haidar, a media commentator whose mother Aziza al-Yousef is a women’s rights campaigner, were arrested in 2019 on terrorism-related charges.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; editing by Diane Craft and Aurora Ellis)

2/8/2021 Explainer: What’s At Stake For Israel’s Netanyahu As Corruption Trial Resumes? by Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his protective face mask after receiving a coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccine at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel December 19, 2020. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumes on Monday, when Israel’s longest-serving leader will have to enter his plea to charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    Involving secret recordings, media moguls, gifts of cigars and champagne and aides’ betrayals, the three corruption cases have all the makings of a political thriller.
    Netanyahu has managed to stay in office throughout the investigations and three election campaigns – with a fourth election due on March>     He denies wrongdoing and a trial is likely to take years.    He will fight to remain prime minister in March and possibly for years afterwards.    If he wins, he could try to secure parliamentary immunity, or pass laws to exempt a serving prime minister from standing trial.
    Under Israeli law, a prime minister is under no obligation to stand down unless convicted.    No other government minister is protected in this way, so there are legal and political reasons why Netanyahu wants to stay at the top.
    Yes.    The corruption case has had a polarising impact on Israelis.    Thousands of demonstrators gather weekly outside his official residence and across Israel under the banner of “Crime Minister,” demanding he quit.
    But his right-wing voter base has stayed loyal.    Supporters see the man they call King Bibi as strong on security and an influential voice for Israel abroad.
    CASE 4000 alleges Netanyahu granted regulatory favours worth around 1.8 billion shekels (about $500 million) to telecommunications company Bezeq Telecom Israel.    In return, prosecutors say, he sought positive coverage of himself and wife Sara on a news website controlled by the company’s former chairman, Shaul Elovitch.
    In this case, Netanyahu has been charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust.    Elovitch and his wife, Iris, have been charged with bribery and obstruction of justice.    The couple deny wrongdoing.
    CASE 1000, in which Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust, centres on allegations that he and his wife wrongfully received almost 700,000 shekels worth of gifts from Arnon Milchan, a Hollywood producer and Israeli citizen, and Australian billionaire businessman James Packer.
    Prosecutors said gifts included champagne and cigars and that Netanyahu helped Milchan with his business interests. Packer and Milchan face no charges.
    CASE 2000 alleges Netanyahu negotiated a deal with Arnon Mozes, owner of Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth, for better coverage and that, in return, he offered legislation that would slow the growth of a rival newspaper.    Netanyahu has been charged with fraud and breach of trust.    Mozes has been charged with offering a bribe, and denies wrongdoing.
    Netanyahu says he is the victim of a politically orchestrated “witch hunt” by the left and media to oust him from office, and that receiving gifts from friends is not against the law.
    Bribery charges carry a jail sentence of up to 10 years and/or a fine.    Fraud and breach of trust carry a sentence of up to three years.
    Unlikely.    The trial could take years.    But proceedings could be cut short if Netanyahu seeks a plea deal.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Timothy Heritage)

2/8/2021 Turkey Jails Four Pending Trial Over University Protests: Prosecutor
FILE PHOTO: Students of Bogazici University protest against President Tayyip Erdogan's appointment
of a new rector, in Istanbul, Turkey January 6, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Four people were formally arrested as part of an investigation into protests against President Tayyip Erdogan’s appointment of a rector at one of the country’s top universities, an Istanbul prosecutor’s office said on Sunday.
    The protests began last month over Erdogan’s appointment of Melih Bulu, an academic and former political candidate, as rector of Istanbul’s Bogazici University.    Students and faculty say the process was undemocratic.
    Istanbul Anadolu prosecutor’s office said four people were jailed pending trial over protests at Istanbul’s Kadikoy district.    They were variously charged with crimes including damaging public property and terrorism propaganda.
    Two others were placed under house arrest, it said.
    Hundreds of people gathered in Kadikoy this week in support of students protesting at the university.    Authorities detained around 165 people on two separate days and two of them were jailed pending trial.
    About 600 people have been detained since Jan. 4 as protests spread in Istanbul and Ankara, authorities have said.    Most have been released but the government has dismissed protesters’ criticism, saying the demonstrations are politically driven.
    Officials have also deployed what the United States and United Nations have both described as homophobic rhetoric, with one minister describing students as “LGBT deviants
    Erdogan established two new faculties at the university in a decree published in the Official Gazette on Saturday, in a move critics said was aimed at increasing Ankara’s influence.
    Ali Babacan, a former Erdogan ally and the current head of the Democracy and Progress Party (DEVA), said on Saturday the move would lead to appointments of people closer to Erdogan.
    “New academics will be easily employed there and people of a similar profile will be appointed there,” he told broadcaster Halk TV in an interview.
    “The game plan in the background needs to be seen,” Babacan said, pointing to similar steps being taken at other institutions in the past.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen;Editing by Elaine Hardcastle)

2/8/2021 At Anti-Netanyahu Protests In Israel, Pink Is The New Black by Corinna Kern
Members of "The Pink Front," a group of protesters demanding Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down over corruption
allegations, hold Israeli flags during a weekly anti-Netanyahu demonstration, in Jerusalem October 24, 2020. REUTERS/Corinna Kern
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – It’s Saturday night in Jerusalem and a group of protesters dressed in fluorescent pink are preparing to join a weekly demonstration outside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence demanding he quit.
    They call themselves “The Pink Front,” and participate in anti-Netanyahu protests that are held across the country each Saturday, drawing thousands of people calling for Israel’s longest-serving leader to step down over corruption allegations, which he denies.
    Many Pink Front members are artists and performers, a community that has been hit hard by coronavirus lockdowns.
    With theatres closed, the demonstration becomes a street performance venue.    Amid a splash of pink bandannas, flags and shirts, other groups wear black to lament Netanyahu’s continued stewardship, permitted by law, while under criminal indictment.
    The demonstrations begin peacefully but often end with police moving in to arrest protesters who refuse to disperse.
    At one protest, Sharon Saguy, 54, a flamenco dancer and choreographer, is surrounded by activists painting their faces pink.
    She teaches them that night’s rhythm as they bang on their makeshift drums.    On some nights she shows up as a “Goddess of Justice” in a golden-green gown with a matching crown, coronavirus mask and scales of justice.
    “Creativity is a way of life,” Saguy says from her home in Jerusalem, where a megaphone and pink protest outfits sit beside her flamenco costumes.
    Pink Front has a few thousand supporters on Facebook.
    Pink, group members say, represents love, optimism and female leadership. Netanyahu has called the protesters “anarchists,” accusing them of failing to take coronavirus precautions at the demonstrations and seeking to topple a democratically-elected leader.
    Karin Brauner, 34, a set and costume designer and Pink Front member who crafts some of the protesters’ outfits, shrugs off criticism from Netanyahu, who is seeking a sixth term in a March 23 election.
    “Through our optimism and the smart performances, we can make a great impact, because those who don’t agree with us, we make them listen,” she said.
(Writing by Corinna Kern and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Susan Fenton)

2/8/2021 Israeli Lawmakers Call ICC ‘Anti-Semitic’, A ‘Sham’ After Ruling Regarding War Crimes Investigation by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Tuesday Aug. 28, 2018 file photo, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, Netherlands.
The ICC says its jurisdiction extends to territories occupied by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, appearing to clear the way
for its chief prosecutor to open a war crimes probe into Israeli military actions. (Bas Czerwinski/Pool file via AP, File)
    Israeli officials are planning on putting pressure on the International Criminal Court (ICC) over a recent ruling handed down in the Hague. Over the weekend, a number of political leaders condemned the court with some referring to it as a “sham.”     Their comments followed a ruling Friday, where the International Court claimed they have jurisdiction over Israel-held territories and can thus launch an investigation into allegations of war crimes against Palestinians.
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decried the ruling and called it an attack on his residents.
    “When the ICC investigates Israel for fake war crimes, this is pure anti-Semitism,” he stated.    “The court established to prevent atrocities like the Nazi Holocaust against the Jewish people is now targeting the one state of the Jewish people.”
    Despite the ruling, the ICC has yet to state whether they will launch an investigation.
FILE – In this July 16, 2014 file photo, Palestinian relatives of four boys from the same extended
Bakr family, grieve during their funeral in Gaza City. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra, File)

2/8/2021 Netanyahu Pleads Not Guilty To Corruption As Trial Resumes by Jeffrey Heller
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on as he arrives to a hearing in his corruption
trial at Jerusalem's District Court February 8, 2021. Reuben Castro/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pleaded not guilty on Monday to corruption charges at the resumption of his trial, six weeks before voters again head to the polls to pass judgment on his leadership.
    “I confirm the written answer submitted in my name,” Netanyahu said, standing before the three-judge panel in the heavily guarded Jerusalem District Court.
    He was referring to a document his lawyers gave the court last month in which they argued that Netanyahu, 71, was not guilty of charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud.
    Wearing a coronavirus mask, Netanyahu, the first serving Israeli leader to be charged with a crime, seemed intent on projecting an air of business as usual, thanking the court and leaving without explanation some 20 minutes into the session.
    Netanyahu was indicted in 2019 in long-running cases involving gifts from millionaire friends and for allegedly seeking regulatory favours for media tycoons in return for favourable coverage.
    On entering the courtroom, Netanyahu sat in a corner with his lawyers, his back to cameras.    The session itself was not broadcast but reporters could monitor a closed-circuit feed elsewhere in the building.
    His quick departure from the court building seemed aimed at showing the public that he would not allow the trial to interfere with government business as Israel begins to emerge from a month-long coronavirus lockdown.
    At the session, Netanyahu sat, arms crossed, and coughed occasionally into his mask, before taking it off to sip water.
    Last May, at the opening of his trial, Netanyahu put on a display of defiance that opponents condemned as a challenge to the rule of law.
    Before that session got under way, Netanyahu delivered a speech from a podium in the corridor, condemning his prosecution as a left-wing witch hunt aimed at ousting a right-wing prime minister as a phalanx of cabinet officials stood at his side.
    This time, he issued a public appeal to supporters to stay away, citing high contagion numbers in the coronavirus pandemic.
    They largely heeded his call, while dozens of opponents, some holding signs reading “crime minister,” demanded his resignation at a protest they held near the court building.
    Israel will hold its fourth parliamentary election in two years on March 23, with Netanyahu’s handling of the health crisis and his alleged corruption the main issues stoking weekly protests against him.
    Opinion polls show the race too close to call, as right-wing rivals and centre-left opponents muster against Israel’s longest-serving leader.    Netanyahu has been prime minister continuously since 2009 after a first term from 1996 to 1999.
(Editing by Kirsten Donovan and Nick Macfie)

2/8/2021 Seven Years On, Yazidi Survivor Buries Father Slain By Islamic State by Charlotte Bruneau
Thikran Kamiran Yousif, 22, is seen during an interview with Reuters at his grandfather's house which
was destroyed in past Islamic State militant attacks, in Kojo, Iraq February 7, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    KOJO, Iraq (Reuters) – Thikran Kamiran Yousif was 15 when Islamic State fighters surrounded his village in northern Iraq, rounded up residents and slaughtered several hundred of them, including his father, brother, grandfather and aunt.
    Nearly seven years later, Yousif has returned to the village of Kojo in Sinjar district for the reburial of his father and 103 other Yazidis whose bodies had been dumped by IS in mass graves and have now been identified by DNA samples.
    Yousif, now 22 and living in Germany, is still haunted by the massacre of August 2014.
    “The most painful moment was when they separated me from my father.    That was the last time I saw him,” Yousif told Reuters.
    “To be able, after seven years, to bury (these people) where they were killed… means so much to us,” said Yousif, whose other slain relatives have not yet been identified.
    The Yazidis are an ancient religious minority who combine Zoroastrian, Christian, Manichean, Jewish and Muslim beliefs.
    IS, which views the Yazidis as devil worshippers, killed more than 3,000, enslaved 7,000 Yazidi women and girls and displaced most of the 550,000-strong community from its ancestral home in northern Iraq.
    UNITAD, the U.N. team investigating IS crimes in Iraq, has discovered more than 80 mass graves in Sinjar and has exhumed 19 of them since March 2019.    It has so far identified 104 bodies by DNA samples.
    “You can almost see the territory controlled by Daesh by the number of mass graves in the area,” said Karim Khan, head of the United Nations team investigating IS crimes in Iraq (UNITAD).    Daesh is another name for Islamic State.
    During the year-and-a-half he spent in the hands of IS, Yousif was moved around several times, used as a human shield in Mosul and forced to attend an IS-run Koranic school, where he was indoctrinated with the group’s teachings on violent jihad.
    “They taught us that killing Yazidis is allowed,” he said.    “They worked on our minds.”
    As bombings by the U.S.-led coalition intensified over IS-held territory in northern Iraq, Yousif feared he would be killed or forced to fight for IS.    In early 2016, he fled to Iraqi Kurdistan with his mother and sister.
    “In the beginning it was very hard, psychologically.    I was confused.    I was telling myself that I should not forget what IS taught me,” Yousif said.
    A year ago, Yousif, his mother and sister found refuge in Germany with the help of Air Bridge Iraq, a non-profit organisation that advocates for the treatment and rehabilitation of Yazidi survivors of IS captivity outside of Iraq.
    Iraqi President Barham Saleh and Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi attended an official funeral ceremony for the 104 identified Yazidi victims on Feb. 4 in Baghdad, ahead of the burials in Kojo, which remains in ruins and uninhabited.
    A reparation law for female survivors of IS captivity is awaiting ratification by the Iraqi parliament, but it excludes men and boys like Yousif who were also held captive.
    And the Yazidis are demanding much more, including the legal recognition of their suffering as genocide.
    “There is no legal architecture in place in Iraq to allow judges to conclude that the conduct of Daesh constituted an act of genocide, of crimes against humanity or war crimes,” Khan said, adding that UNITAD’s mandate was to provide evidence to bring the culprits to trial eventually.
    About 30% of Sinjar district’s population has returned since the departure of IS, but the region is still racked by political instability and lacks basic services.
    At his father’s graveside in Kojo, surrounded by other grieving Yazidis, mostly widows, Yousif said his community simply wanted justice.
    “We want the world to see that there is a minority in Iraq that suffers,” he said.    “We want the world to see us as human beings who have rights just like everyone else.”
(Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/8/2021 Hamas And Fatah Hold Egyptian-Brokered Reconciliation Talks In Cairo by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Ali Sawafta
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas hands the election decree to Chairman of the Palestinian Central Election Committee
Hana Naser in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 15, 2021. Palestinian President Office (PPO)/Handout via REUTERS
    GAZA/RAMALLAH (Reuters) – Leaders of rival Palestinian factions began Egyptian-brokered reconciliation talks in Cairo on Monday to try to heal long-standing internal divisions, ahead of planned Palestinian elections later this year.
    Egypt has tried in vain for 14 years to reconcile Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s nationalist Fatah faction and its bitter rival Hamas, the armed Islamist movement that opposes any negotiations with Israel.
    No Palestinian elections have been held in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem for 15 years.
    As well as Hamas and Fatah there are thought to be around a dozen other factions represented in the Cairo talks.    Among those invited was Islamic Jihad, a militant group which boycotted the 1996 and 2006 elections and which, Palestinian sources said, is now considering whether to take part this year.
    But such is the mistrust between the rivals that issues on the agenda include electoral basics such as how ballot stations will be guarded and how courts will adjudicate election disputes.
    There is widespread scepticism that the elections will even happen.
    Many Palestinians believe they are primarily an attempt by Abbas to show his democratic credentials to the new administration of President Joe Biden, with whom Abbas wants to reset relations after they reached a new low under President Donald Trump.
    “There are equal chances for success and failure,” said Hani Al-Masri, a political analyst in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, who is taking part in the talks as an independent.
    Abbas’s western-backed Palestinian Authority (PA), which has limited self-rule in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, plans to hold parliamentary elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
    There are 2.8 million eligible voters in Gaza and the West Bank, and more than 80 percent of them have so far been registered with the Central Election Commission.    Palestinian voting age is 18 years old.
    The last ballot in 2006 ended in a surprise win by Hamas in its first parliamentary elections.    That set up a power struggle between Hamas, with its power base in Gaza, and Fatah in the West Bank.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi, Editing by William Maclean)

2/8/2021 ‘People Die At Home’: Tigray Medical Services Struggle After Turmoil Of War by Reuters Staff
Workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and volunteers from the Ethiopian Red Cross prepare to distribute relief supplies to
civilians in Tigray region, Ethiopia January 1, 2021. Picture taken January 1, 2021. International Committee of the Red Cross/Handout via REUTERS
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – A diabetic mother died as her daughter searched the capital of Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region for insulin. Women gave birth unattended in the dark because their hospital had no electricity or staff at night.
    Accounts from residents, medical workers and humanitarian groups illustrate people’s plight as Ethiopia struggles to revive a heavily damaged healthcare system in Tigray three months after fighting erupted between the military and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
    Some hospitals are barely functioning, with no water, electricity or food, they said. Most were looted of medicines; staff members fled.
    “The health system in Tigray is reportedly nearly collapsing,” the United Nation’s Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) said in a Feb. 4 report.
    An assessment carried out this month by international aid agencies found that out of Tigray’s 40 hospitals, only 11 were fully functional.    Fourteen were not working at all, nine were partly functioning and six were not assessed, the report said.
    Ethiopian Health Minister Lia Tadesse said conditions were improving rapidly.    The government has sent supplies to 70 of the region’s 250 health facilities, along with 10 ambulances, she told Reuters last week.
    “So many health facilities have been looted, so we are working to get more equipment to the region,” she said.    “The focus is to restore services, supporting health workers to come back and ensure they have the supplies.”
    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed declared victory over the TPLF two months ago, but details of the devastation have been slow to emerge as communications to the region remain patchy, and the government tightly controls access for journalists and aid workers.    Reuters has not been able to visit the region and could not independently verify accounts provided by residents and medical workers.
    Prior to the outbreak of fighting on Nov. 4, most people in Tigray had easy access to a hospital or clinic, according to the Ministry of Health.
    The conflict disrupted basic services, including diabetes treatment and maternal care, leading to “too many preventable deaths,” the International Committee of the Red Cross said in a Jan. 27 statement.
    Only 30 of the region’s 280 ambulances are still available, according to OCHA.
    One woman described searching the northern Tigray town of Sheraro, on Dec. 22 for pills to prevent pregnancy after a friend told her she had been gang-raped by five men.
    “Not a single worker was in the hospital,” the woman told Reuters by phone, saying she was too afraid to be identified.    “The whole hospital was looted … Apart from the roof and doors, nothing was left.”
    She tried a health centre, but said it too had been looted.
    When French aid group Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) visited the northern city of Adigrat in mid-December, the hospital was mostly deserted, it said in statement last week. There were hardly any medicines, and no food, water or money.
    Some injured patients were malnourished, the group’s emergency coordinator for Tigray, Albert Vinas, said in the statement.
    Some services have since resumed, but the hospital still has no chemicals for its laboratory and no therapeutic food for malnourished children, an Ethiopian medical worker stationed there told Reuters on Saturday.    He asked not to be identified, because he was not authorized to speak to journalists.
    Hospitals in the towns of Adwa and Axum, in central Tigray, also had no electricity or water when MSF visited.    All the medicines had been stolen from Adwa hospital and furniture and equipment broken, Vinas said.
    “I saw people arrive at hospital on bicycles carrying a patient from 30 km (19 miles) away, and those were the ones who managed to get to hospital,” he said.    “People die at home.”
    MSF is now supporting four regional hospitals along with smaller health centres, and running mobile clinics in 15 locations.
    Most rural parts of Tigray remain out of reach to humanitarian groups because of continuing insecurity, or because they lack permission to go there, aid workers told Reuters.    The TPLF withdrew from the regional capital Mekelle and major cities, but low-level fighting has continued in some areas.
    Ethiopia’s Ministry of Peace said on Saturday that it was “moving with urgency to approve requests for international staff movements into and within Tigray” to ensure humanitarian assistance is expanded without delay.
    A team from international aid group Action Against Hunger reached a town west of Mekelle for the first time on Jan. 23 and found it “pretty deserted
    “We want to start having mobile health and nutrition clinics to operate in the rural areas,” the group’s country director Panos Navrozidis told Reuters, but added security was still fragile.
    Staffing at medical facilities also remains a problem.
    As many as 20 or 30 women were giving birth unattended daily in the central town of Shire because the hospital is not staffed overnight as healthcare workers are afraid of looters, an aid worker who visited last week told Reuters.
    Almost all healthcare workers in Tigray had gone unpaid since the conflict began, a regional government report noted on Jan. 8, and three healthcare workers told     Reuters last week they had still not been paid.
    Health Minister Tadesse said money was being sent to local authorities as quickly as possible.    Hospitals in Shire and Axum were functioning again, she said, although Adwa hospital remained out of service.
    Help is coming too late for some.
    One woman told Reuters her 55-year-old mother died in Mekelle on Dec. 4 after the family was unable to find insulin.
    Mehbrit, who asked to be identified by one name for safety reasons, said she tried hospitals, the Ethiopian Red Cross Society and other diabetics, but no one had spare insulin.
    For days, she said, she jolted awake each night to check her mother’s laboured breathing.
    “I was praying to God to bring mercy in the house,” Mehbrit said.    “The insulin came 13 days after my mother died.”

2/8/2021 Somalia’s Opposition Cease Recognising President As Election Row Escalates by Abdi Sheikh
Rickshaw taxis drive past the Ahmed Gurey monument at the KM4 roundabout in Mogadishu, Somalia February 8, 2021. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) – An alliance of Somali opposition parties proposed the creation of a national council of lawmakers, opposition leaders and civil society to govern the Horn of Africa nation after the president’s term expired on Monday with no clear succession plan.
    The power vacuum and divisions between political leaders was a boost to the al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab insurgency, a Somali security analyst warned, citing a spate of recent attacks in a relatively peaceful part of the country.
    The opposition alliance said they would reject any attempt to extend the term of President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed and suggested the council could elect a transitional leader to govern until a new president can be chosen by lawmakers.
    “We are against time extension, suppression, violence and further delay to the election,” the alliance said in a statement.    “An election schedule should immediately without delay be displayed with agreed upon specified time.”
    There was no immediate comment from the presidency.    Aides had previously privately floated the idea of extending his term.
    In a statement issued by its embassy in Mogadishu, the United States urged Mohamed to “act now to resolve the political impasse…and find agreement with Federal Member State leaders to allow the conduct of parliamentary and presidential elections immediately.”
    “The political gridlock…has resulted in a disappointing lack of progress in fighting al-Shabaab.”
    Somalia was initially planning to hold its first direct election since civil war erupted in 1991, but delays in preparations and continuous attacks by al Shabaab forced Somalia to plan another indirect vote.
    Clan elders should have chosen lawmakers in December and the lawmakers were due to choose a president on Monday.
    But selection of lawmakers was delayed after the opposition accused President Mohamed – who was seeking a second term – of packing regional and national electoral boards with his allies.
    Leaders in two of Somalia’s five federal states, Puntland and Jubbaland, have said they will no longer recognise President Mohamed.
    On Sunday night at midnight, the capital Mogadishu lit up with gunfire and drums as residents said they were celebrating the end of the president’s term.
    “We are firing into the sky to say goodbye to the dictator Farmajo, he has burnt Somalia these four years,” said a soldier Aden Ali, using President Mohamed’s common nickname.
    Hussein Sheikh Ali, Somalia’s former national security advisor and founder of the Mogadishu-based Hiraal think-tank, said al Shabaab had already taken advantage of the security vacuum to launch attacks in portions of central Somalia that had been relatively peaceful for around a decade.
    “They (al Shabaab) are laughing out loud,” he said.    “This is a failure by the president, Somalia’s political elite and the international community.    They didn’t have a plan B to move forward.”
    On Sunday, 12 security agents were killed by a roadside bomb outside the town of Dhusamareb in central Somalia where political leaders were meeting to try to resolve disagreements over the presidential selection process.    Al Shabaab also launched repeated mortar attacks on the town.
    The attack happened a week after four al Shabaab suicide attackers killed five people at a hotel in Mogadishu.
(Reporting by Abdi Sheikh; additional reporting by Katharine Houreld; writing by Omar Mohammed; editing by Katharine Houreld, Michael Perry, William Maclean)

2/9/2021 Egypt Opens Rafah Crossing With Gaza Until Further Notice: Sources
A Palestinian man waits to leave Rafah border crossing after it was opened by Egyptian authorities,
in the southern Gaza Strip February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa
    CAIRO/GAZA (Reuters) – Egypt on Tuesday opened its Rafah border crossing with the Gaza strip until further notice, Egyptian and Palestinian sources said, a move described as an incentive for reconciliation between the main Palestinian factions, meeting in Cairo.
    Leaders of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah faction, which controls the West Bank, and of Hamas, the armed Islamist movement that opposes any negotiations with Israel, began Egyptian-brokered talks on Monday to address long-standing divisions ahead of elections planned for later this year.
    The 365-sq km (141-sq mile) Gaza strip, controlled by Hamas, is home to around 2 million Palestinians.    An Israeli-led blockade has put restrictions on the movement of people and goods for years.
    Egypt had been opening the Rafah crossing for only a few days at a time to allow stranded travellers to pass.
    The crossing was opened early on Tuesday and a bus carrying Palestinians arrived in Egypt, two Egyptian sources at the crossing said.
    Rafah will remain open “until further notice,” one source at the checkpoint and an Egyptian security source said.
    The Palestinian embassy in Cairo said Egypt had decided to open the crossing as a result of “intensive and bilateral talks between the Palestinian and Egyptian leaderships to facilitate the passage of Palestinians to and from the Gaza Strip
    Palestinian sources attending the Cairo talks said they had been told by Egyptian intelligence officials that the move was designed to create a better atmosphere at the negotiations.
    Egypt has tried in vain for 14 years to reconcile the two factions, and the talks are unlikely to bridge the ideological divide between Abbas’s Fatah, whose strategy is to seeks peace with Israel, and Hamas, which refuses to recognise Israel and advocates armed resistance.
    It would, however, be a significant achievement if the factions could agree to hold an election in both Gaza and the West Bank, with the aim of installing a single elected government for both.
    The current round of talks is due to end on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan in Cairo and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

2/9/2021 Darfur Rebel Leader Heads Sudanese Finance Ministry Following Cabinet Shake-Up by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Peacekeepers from the United Nations Hybrid Operation in Darfur (UNAMID) receive a petition from
protesters in Kabkabia camp in North Darfur, Sudan December 29, 2020. REUTERS/Adam Jumaa NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan’s prime minister has appointed veteran Darfur rebel group leader and Islamist Jibril Ibrahim as finance minister in a cabinet overhaul announced in a press conference on Monday.
    The reshuffle comes as Hamdok struggles to push through reforms and secure foreign financing seen as crucial to easing a deep economic crisis and bolstering Sudan’s transition to democracy.
    Hamdok, appointed following a military-civilian power-sharing deal after the overthrow of Omar al-Bashir, had led a cabinet of technocrats which has had an uneasy relationship with the military.
    Caretaker ministers have been in charge at seven ministries including the finance ministry since July.
    The new, expanded cabinet comes following a peace deal signed in October with some rebel groups.    It was aimed at ending conflicts in Darfur and southern Sudan, awarded the groups posts in transitional institutions, and reset the clock on a 39-month transition to elections.
    Analysts say the peace deal and long-delayed appointments to transitional bodies are important steps, though the replacement of qualified technocrats with political figures could throw up new challenges.
    Ibrahim, leader of the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM) that fought government forces in Darfur from 2003, had previously been a member of the Islamist movement under Bashir.
    A former economic advisor for JEM who became leader after his brother was killed in an airstrike, some Sudanese, as well as analysts, have questioned the expected appointment of a former Bashir ally and Islamist to a key ministry, particularly during an economic crisis.
    Rebel groups have also been given the mining, livestock, social development, education, infrastructure and federal government ministries, following the agreement.    Three rebel leaders were appointed last week to an expanded ruling transitional sovereign council.
    The post of foreign minister went to Mariam Sadiq al-Mahdi, a leader of the popular Umma Party and daughter of former prime minister and Bashir opponent Sadiq al-Mahdi.
    Khalid Omar Yousif, a leader of the Sudanese Congress Party and a prominent figure in the protests that brought down Bashir, was appointed minister of cabinet affairs.
    Several officials, including the Justice and Irrigation and Water Resources ministers, were re-appointed to the new cabinet.    A new education minister has not yet been appointed.
    Sudan has witnessed protests in recent days over the state of the economy, with high inflation and commodity shortages.
    Commenting on the cabinet’s plans for the new year, Hamdok said “we must focus on productive investments that help to solve the economic distress the country is going through,” going on to list expected investments in petroleum and electricity.
(Writing by Nafisa Eltahir, Editing by Aidan Lewis and Toby Chopra)

2/9/2021 Turkey Will Discuss Quitting Libya If Others Go First, Erdogan Says
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks as he attends a satellite technologies event through
live videolink in Istanbul, Turkey January 8, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will discuss withdrawing its forces from Libya if other foreign troops are withdrawn first, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
    Speaking at an event in Ankara, Erdogan said that Turkish armed forces personnel were deployed in Libya solely to train units loyal to the internationally recognised Government of National Accord (GNA), which is based in Tripoli.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

2/9/2021 Turkey Aims To Reach Moon In 2023, Erdogan Says by Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan arrives for a meeting with EU Council President
Charles Michel in Brussels, Belgium March 9, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey aims to achieve first contact with the moon as part of its national space programme in 2023, President Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday.
    “The first rough landing will be made on the moon with our national and authentic hybrid rocket that shall be launched into orbit in the end of 2023 through international cooperation,” Erdogan said, detailing a two-phase mission.
    Erdogan did not elaborate further on the cooperation.    Last month, Erdogan spoke to Tesla and SpaceX boss Elon Musk on possible cooperation in space technologies with Turkish companies.
    Speaking in an event in Ankara, Erdogan announced a programme with 10 strategic goals including sending a Turkish citizen to a scientific mission in space.
    Last month, Turkey launched its Turksat 5A satellite into orbit from the United States in cooperation with SpaceX.    Turksat 5B satellite is planned to be launched in second quarter of 2021.
    Turkey aims to reach strategic space goals in 10 years, Erdogan also said, adding that the country will improve work on satellite technologies and establish a space port with other ally countries.
    Turkey previously launched reconnaissance and communication satellites set up a satellite systems integration and test center and manufactured a domestic HD satellite called IMECE which is expected to be launched in 2022.
    “Our feet will be on earth but our eyes will be in space.    Our roots will be on earth, our branches will be up in the sky,” Erdogan said.
(Writing by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Steve Orlofsky and Marguerita Choy)

2/10/2021 Saudi Women’s Rights Activist Hathloul Freed From Jail, Relatives Say by Ghaida Ghantous
FILE PHOTO: Saudi women's rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is seen in this undated handout picture. Marieke Wijntjes/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Prominent women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was released from a Saudi prison after nearly three years behind bars, her family said on Wednesday, a case that has drawn international condemnation.
    Hathloul, 31, was detained in May 2018 and sentenced in December to nearly six years in prison on charges that U.N. rights experts called “spurious” under broad counter-terrorism laws.    The court suspended two years and 10 months of her sentence, most of which had already been served.
    She still faces a five-year travel ban ordered by the court.
    “Loujain is at home !!!!!!” her sister Lina tweeted.
    Another sister, Alia, said Hathloul was at their parents’ home in Saudi Arabia.    She posted a picture of Hathloul smiling in a garden, looking much thinner and with grey streaks in her hair.
    Rights groups and her family say Hathloul, who had campaigned for women’s right to drive and to end Saudi’s male guardianship system, was subjected to abuse, including electric shocks, waterboarding, flogging and sexual assault.
    Saudi authorities denied the accusations.    A Saudi appeals court dismissed the torture claims, citing a lack of evidence, her family said on Tuesday.
    Amnesty International on Wednesday urged Riyadh to bring to justice “those responsible for her torture” and ensure Hathloul faces no further punitive measures like a travel ban.
    Saudi officials have not commented on her conviction or sentencing.    There was no immediate comment on her release.
    The White House has said President Joe Biden, who is taking a firmer line with Saudi Arabia than predecessor Donald Trump, expects Riyadh to improve its human rights record, including releasing political prisoners.
    “Releasing her was the right thing to do,” Biden said of Hathloul.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres welcomed her release, spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
    “But I think it is important that others who are in the same condition as her, who have been jailed for the same reasons as her, also be released and that charges be dropped against them,” he told reporters.
    Hathloul, detained along with several other women’s rights activists, was convicted on charges including seeking to change the Saudi political system and harming national unity.
    Saudi Arabia’s rights record came under global scrutiny after the 2018 murder of prominent Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents, which tarnished Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s image.    The prince denied ordering the killing.
    Agnes Callamard, the independent U.N. rights investigator who led an international probe into Khashoggi’s murder, welcomed Hathloul’s release but said in a Twitter post that “the cruelty” of Saudi rulers that “violated her most basic right to physical and mental integrity” should not be forgotten.
    Diplomats have said the kingdom has appeared to be acting to address potential friction with the Biden administration.
    Saudi authorities released two activists with U.S. citizenship on bail this month pending trials on terrorism-related charges.    Last month, a Saudi appeals court nearly halved a six-year jail sentence for a U.S.-Saudi physician and suspended the rest, meaning he did not have to return to jail.
    Hathloul’s family published her indictment after her case was transferred to a Specialised Criminal Court, established to try terrorism suspects but used in the past decade to prosecute perceived dissidents. Authorities made few charges public.
    The main ones against Hathloul included calling for an end to male guardianship and communicating with global rights groups, Saudi activists in the kingdom and abroad, and foreign diplomats and international media.
(Additional reporting by Raya Jalabi in Dubai, Michelle Nichols in New York and Susan Heavey and Steve Holland in Washington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich, Bernadette Baum and Grant McCool)

2/10/2021 Palestinians Open Election Registration Offices In West Bank And Gaza
Palestinian women register their names for parliamentary and presidential elections,
in a school in Gaza City February 10, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinians opened election registration offices in Gaza and the West Bank on Wednesday, one day after rival factions agreed steps to ensure that the first elections in 15 years go ahead.
    The two dominant factions – Fatah and Hamas – convened in Cairo this week with 12 other groups for Egyptian-brokered talks on how to prepare for parliamentary elections on May 22 and a presidential vote on July 31.
    There are still many obstacles, amid widespread scepticism about the feasibility of holding elections in three different areas: the parts of the occupied West Bank where the Palestinian Authority exercises limited self-rule, Hamas-controlled Gaza, and East Jerusalem, which is under Israeli control.
    But speaking in Cairo on Wednesday, Jibril Rajoub, the head of Fatah’s delegation to the talks, insisted that the elections would go ahead, even if it meant going against the will of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and “the will of all the enemies of the Palestinian people.”
    There are 2.8 million eligible voters in Gaza and the West Bank, and 85% of them have so far been registered.    The voting age is 18.    Israel allowed Palestinian elections in East Jerusalem last time.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza and Sherif Fahmy and Mohamed Zaki in Cairo; Editing by Giles Elgood)

2/12/2021 U.S. Blacklisting Of Yemen’s Houthis To Be Lifted On Feb. 16 – Blinken
FILE PHOTO: Newly confirmed U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken removes his face mask as he arrives to hold his
first press briefing at the State Department in Washington, U.S., January 27, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Friday announced that he will revoke, effective Feb. 16, designations of Yemen’s Houthi movement as a foreign terrorist organization and a specially designated global terrorist group.
Blinken said in a statement that the United States would “closely monitor” Houthi activities and is “actively identifying” new sanctions targets, especially those responsible for attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea and missile strikes on Saudi Arabia.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis)

2/13/2021 White House Press Secy Psaki Dodges Questions On U.S. Relations With Israel by OAN Newsroom
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)
    White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki denied criticism that claimed the Biden administration intentionally neglected Israel.    In a press briefing Friday, Psaki blamed the administration’s brief time in office for the lack of communication between Joe Biden and his Israeli counterpart.
    She also would not confirm if Biden plans to reach out to Israel in the near future.    Psaki then attempted to assure reporters the lack of communication with Israel’s prime minister was not intentional.
Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu looks on during a joint press conference. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
    “It is not an intentional diss,” Psaki claimed.    “Prime Minister Netanyahu is someone the president has known for some time.    Obviously, we have a long and important relationship with Israel.    And the president has known him and has been working on a range of issues that there’s mutual commitment to for some time.”
    Meanwhile, an Israeli official took to Twitter earlier this week to urge Biden to contact the “closest ally of the U.S.”    He noted Biden called several other ally nations since his time in office, adding now might be the time to communicate with Israel’s prime minister.

2/15/2021 Zimbabwe Receives 200,000 Doses Of Sinopharm COVID-19 Vaccines
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A plane carrying Zimbabwe’s first coronavirus vaccines, 200,000 doses donated by China, arrived in the capital Harare on>     A further 600,000 doses from China are set to arrive in early March, information minister Monica Mutsvangwa said last week.    It is unclear how much the cash-strapped southern African nation will pay for the second batch of the vaccines from China National Pharmaceutical Group (Sinopharm).
    Zimbabwe’s Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, head of the delegation receiving the vaccines that included the finance minister, said frontline health workers would be the first to be vaccinated.
    “This is a timely donation…our people have suffered from this pandemic.    The vaccine offers the possibility that our people who have borne the brunt of the economic ravages of the pandemic might finally turn a new page,” Chiwenga said.
    Zimbabwe has set aside $100 million for vaccine procurement, and is looking to buy 20 million doses in efforts to immunise about 60% of its population and achieve herd immunity.
    Finance Minister Mthuli Ncube said around 1.8 million vaccine doses would be acquired from China.    He did not give further details.
    Last week, West African nation Senegal paid $3.7 million for 200,000 doses of the Sinopharm COVID-19 vaccine – nearly $19 per shot.
    Only a handful of African nations have begun giving vaccinations as the continent scrambles to obtain supplies for its 1.3 billion people, even as many richer nations are racing ahead with mass immunisation programmes.
    The African Union says it has secured roughly 670 million doses for the African continent.
    Zimbabwe is also negotiating with Russia over the procurement of its Sputnik vaccines and was expecting more doses from India and COVAX.
    The country has so far reported close to 35,000 confirmed cases of the virus and nearly 1,400 deaths.
(Reporting by Philimon Bulawayo; Writing by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Jacqueline Wong)

2/15/2021 Israel Cancels Participation In UAE Defence Expo, Citing Air Travel Curbs by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Emirati and Israeli flags fly upon the arrival of Israeli and U.S. delegates at Abu Dhabi
International Airport, in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates August 31, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has cancelled plans to participate in a major defence expo in the United Arab Emirates next week due to COVID-19 curbs on air travel, Israeli officials said on Monday.
    Dozens of Israeli defence firms had been due to take part in the IDEX conference in Abu Dhabi from Feb. 21-25 – a first for both countries, which last September established formal relations after closing ranks given their shared worries about Iran.
    But officials from Israel’s Defence Ministry and Regional Cooperation Ministry said the plan was cancelled.    They cited Israel’s Jan. 26 ban on international air travel, which is still in force as it tries to reverse a surge in COVID-19 contagion.
    A Defence Ministry spokeswoman said it requested special permission for the firms to fly out to the UAE capital, but was refused by a Regional Cooperation Ministry authorisation panel.
    A Regional Cooperation Ministry spokesman said the request “had to be denied, despite the desire to advance and promote defence activity, and given the need to making unprejudiced decisions.”
    Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis has also cancelled his participation in Dubai’s Gulfood trade exhibition, his spokesman said, adding: “No one is flying out.”
    That suggested travel permission will not be forthcoming for any Israeli food security experts hoping to attend the Feb. 21-25 conference.
    The business newspaper Globes quoted an unidentified senior representative of an Israeli defence firm as saying that cancellation of participation in the defence expo would spell “huge” losses of deals to competitors.
    “The Emirati hosts were supremely friendly and rolled out the red carpet.    We were meant to have been the focus of the expo, with several top-of-the-line products and exhibits,” the representative was quoted as saying.    “All that, for nothing?
    Israel and the UAE had, as part of their U.S.-backed rapprochement, proposed defence and military cooperation.
    But anticipated exchanges of defence delegations have yet to happen – a byproduct, Israeli sources said, of coalition feuding between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defence Minister Benny Gantz as they prepare to contest a March ballot.
(Reporting by Dan Williams,; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Ed Osmond and Bernadette Baum)

2/15/2021 U.S. Reassures Turkey Over Executions After Erdogan Calls Response ‘A Joke’ by Simon Lewis and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) during a meeting
at the Turkish parliament in Ankara, Turkey, February 10, 2021. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON/ANKARA (Reuters) – Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday reassured Ankara that Washington blames the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) for the executions of 13 kidnapped Turks in northern Iraq, after Turkey called an earlier U.S. statement on the killings “a joke.”
    Turkey said on Sunday militants from the outlawed PKK executed the captives, including Turkish military and police personnel, amid a military operation against the group.
    The United States had said on Sunday evening that it stood by fellow NATO member Turkey and that it condemned the killings if it was confirmed that responsibility lay with the PKK.
    Turkey, already angered by Washington’s partnership with Kurdish fighters in neighbouring Syria, was infuriated by the conditionality of the statement and summoned the U.S. ambassador to Ankara on Monday.
    In a call with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Monday, Blinken “affirmed our view that PKK terrorists bear responsibility,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said.
    Price did not say if the call was made in response to Turkey summoning the U.S. ambassador.    A call between the countries’ two top diplomats had been anticipated for weeks.
    The call was the first between Blinken and his Turkish counterpart, nearly four weeks after President Joe Biden took office.    Biden has not yet spoken to Erdogan, a delay that has been interpreted by some as a snub of an important ally.
    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan earlier on Monday criticized Washington, which has designated the PKK a terrorist organisation but deployed U.S. forces alongside Kurdish YPG fighters in Syria.    Ankara considers the YPG to be inextricably linked to the PKK.
    “It’s a joke.    Were you not supposed to stand against the PKK, the YPG?    You clearly support them and stand behind them,” Erdogan said in the Black Sea city of Rize.
    Cavusoglu also complained on Monday about silence from “countries that are supposedly claiming to battle terrorism,” adding they were trying to “gloss over” the issue “with ifs and buts.”
    Since Biden was elected last year, Turkey has repeatedly said it wants to improve strained ties with the United States, but Washington’s support for the YPG remains a big point of disagreement.
    Erdogan said that Ankara would continue its cross-border operations into Iraq against the PKK, which has waged a decades-old insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in which more than 40,000 people have been killed.
    “If we are together with you in NATO, if we are to continue our unity, then you will act sincerely towards us.    Then, you will stand with us, not with the terrorists,” Erdogan said.
    He said nobody could criticise Turkey’s cross-border operations in Syria or Iraq after the killings, and countries must choose between Turkey and the militants.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Simon Lewis and Humeyra Pamuk in Washington; Editing by Dominic Evans, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

2/15/2021 Netanyahu Acknowledges Differences With Biden, But Confident He’ll Call
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a joint statements with Cypriot President
Nicos Anastasiades (not pictured) in Jerusalem February 14, 2021. Marc Israel Sellem/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday acknowledged differences with U.S. President Joe Biden over Iranian and Palestinian issues, but said they enjoy a “very strong” working relationship.
    The White House on Friday denied that Biden was snubbing Netanyahu by failing to include him so far in an early round of phone calls to foreign leaders since taking office on Jan. 20.
    Netanyahu dismissed any notion that Biden was intentionally excluding him, telling Israel’s Channel 12 television channel: “He’ll call … We have had very strong friendly relations for nearly 40 years, dating from the time I came to Washington as an Israeli diplomatic representative and he was a young senator from Delaware.”
    There has been speculation that the Democratic president could be signalling displeasure over Netanyahu’s close ties with former President Donald Trump, who called the right-wing leader two days after his inauguration in 2017.
    “We also have many things we agree on and the alliance is very strong,” Netanyahu said.    “But there are also differences, on the issue of Iran and on the Palestinian issue as well.”
    Netanyahu may find the alliance tested if Washington restores U.S. participation in the Iran nuclear deal, from which Trump withdrew, and opposes Israeli settlement building on occupied land where Palestinians seek statehood.
    On Friday, the White House said Biden and Netanyahu would speak soon, but gave no date.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Dan Grebler)

2/15/2021 Mortar Shells Land Near Erbil Airport, Iraqi Kurdish Security Sources Say
Broken glass is seen at the Bright Castle Motors building after reports of mortar shells landing
near Erbil airport, in Erbil, Iraq February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL (Reuters) – At least three mortar shells landed near Erbil International Airport in the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Region of Iraq without causing any casualties, Kurdish Peshmerga sources said on Monday.
    A Reuters reporter heard several blasts and saw a fire blazing for a few minutes in the vicinity of the airport.    One security official said the total number of mortars fired was five.
    It was not immediately clear if a U.S. military base housing U.S. troops near the airport was the target of the attack.
    Security officials said the Erbil airport was shut down and flights were halted for safety issues.
    One of the shell fell near a residential area and three people were wounded, Kurdish security officials said.
    Video footage aired on local televisions showed damaged vehicles and shattered glass covering an area where one mortar shell fell.
    No group claimed immediate responsibility for the attack.
    On Sept. 30, six Katyusha rockets fell near Erbil airport, an attack which the Iraqi Kurdistan’s counterterrorism service blamed on Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militia groups.
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Dan Grebler)

2/15/2021 Guinea Tracks Potential Ebola Contacts, Says It Can Overcome New Outbreak by Saliou Samb
FILE PHOTO: Guinea's Minister of Health Remy Lamah speaks during World Health Organization (WHO) Virtual Press Conference following
High Level Meeting on building resilient systems for health in Ebola-affected countries in Geneva December 11, 2014. REUTERS/Pierre Albouy
    CONAKRY (Reuters) – Guinea is tracking down people who potentially had contact with Ebola patients and will rush vaccines to the affected area as soon as possible following at least three deaths from the disease, Health Minister Remy Lamah said on Monday.
    Lamah said that unlike during the deadliest known outbreak, which tore through West Africa in 2013-2016, Guinea had the means to halt the resurgence of the virus.
    The Ebola virus causes severe bleeding and organ failure and is spread through contact with body fluids.
    “In 2013, it took us months to understand that we were dealing with an Ebola epidemic, while this time, in less than four days, we were able to do analysis and have the results.    Our medical teams are trained and seasoned.    We have the means to quickly overcome this disease,” Lamah told Reuters.
    The World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned the outbreaks in Guinea and Congo represented a regional risk.
    The WHO representative in Guinea, Georges Ki-Zerbo, said he has requested authorisation to obtain as many vaccines doses as possible.
    He added that there were some constraints in getting the vaccines to Guinea quickly, but authorities were working on the issues so that the vaccines could be available by next week for a targeted vaccination campaign.
    International organisations including the International Committee of the Red Cross, Medecins Sans Frontieres and medical charity ALIMA said they were sending rapid response teams to the region to assist.
    The 2013-2016 outbreak killed 11,300 people, mostly in Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia.    The second-deadliest known outbreak was declared over last year in Democratic Republic of Congo, but it also saw a resurgence this month.
    An Ebola vaccination campaign started in eastern Congo on Monday.
    “There is hope that with new tools and the experience and lessons learned, this could maybe work better this time,” said Ki-Zerbo, underlining the need to involve local communities and listen to them.
    Neighbouring Sierra Leone has sent workers to watch border entry points in coordination with Guinea authorities, a health ministry spokesman said.
    The outbreak started after the funeral of a nurse who was buried in southeast Guinea on Feb. 1.    She is thought to have had Ebola and seven people who attended her funeral have tested positive for Ebola, with three dying, authorities said.
    “What worries us the most is the dangerousness of the disease given what we experienced five years ago.    We do not want to relive such a situation,” Lamah said.
(Reporting by Saliou Samb, additional reporting by Cooper Inveen and Nellie Peyton in Dakar; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Hereward Holland, Peter Graff, Timothy Heritage and Sonya Hepinstall)

2/15/2021 Biden Plans To ‘Recalibrate’ Saudi Relations, Will Call Netanyahu Soon – White House
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden salutes as he boards Air Force One en route to the White House
after a trip to Camp David, in Hagerstown, Maryland, U.S., February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Erin Scott
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Joe Biden plans to recalibrate U.S. relations with Saudi Arabia and will communicate through Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz rather than Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said on Tuesday.
    Psaki told reporters Biden plans a call soon with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.    Some critics have accused Biden of snubbing Netanyahu for having not yet spoken to the leader of the top U.S. ally in the Middle East nearly a month after taking office.
    Her comments on Saudi Arabia represented an abrupt change in policy from Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, whose son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner was close to the Saudi crown prince.
    “We’ve made clear from the beginning that we are going to recalibrate our relationship with Saudi Arabia,” Psaki said.
    As for questions about whether Biden would speak to the crown prince, Psaki said Biden is returning to “counterpart to counterpart” engagement.
    “The president’s counterpart is King Salman and I expect at an appropriate time he will have a conversation with him. I don’t have a prediction on the timeline for that,” she said.
    Psaki said Saudi Arabia has critical self-defense needs and the United States will work with the Saudis on this “even as we make clear areas where we have disagreements and where we have concerns.    And that certainly is a shift from the prior administration.”
    Trump was a close ally of Netanyahu and moved U.S. relations to a strong pro-Israel position with little to no contact with the Palestinians.
    Psaki said Biden’s first call with a leader in the region will be with Netanyahu and it will be soon.
    “Israel is of course an ally. Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship, and our team is fully engaged, not at the head of state level quite yet but very soon,” she said.
(Reporting by Trevor Hunnicutt, Steve Holland and Alexandra Alper; Editing by Chris Reese and Dan Grebler)

2/16/2021 U.S. Forces In Iraq Hit By Rockets, Contractor Killed by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
Broken glass is seen at the Bright Castle Motors building after reports of mortar shells landing
near Erbil airport, in Erbil, Iraq February 15, 2021. REUTERS/Azad Lashkari
    ERBIL, Iraq (Reuters) – A rocket attack on U.S.-led forces in northern Iraq killed a civilian contractor on Monday and injured a U.S. service member, the U.S. coalition in Iraq said, in the deadliest such attack in almost a year.
    The rockets landed in and around a military air base operated by the coalition at Erbil International Airport.
    The attack, claimed by a little-known group that some Iraqi officials say has links with Iran, raises tensions as Washington explores some degree of detente with Tehran.
    The coalition spokesman tweeted on Tuesday that the dead contractor was not American, but did not elaborate.    He said three 107 mm rockets had landed inside the base.
    Of the nine other people hurt, eight were civilian contractors and one a U.S. service member, a coalition spokesman said. A U.S. official who declined to be named said the U.S. serviceman had concussion.
    In Washington, the White House said the United States was still working to determine who was responsible for the attack.
    When pressed on possible retaliation against those found responsible, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the president “reserves the right to respond in the time and the manner of our choosing.”
    “But we’ll wait for the attribution to be concluded first before we take any additional steps… I will convey to you that diplomacy is a priority with this administration,” Psaki added.
    The attack comes just three weeks before a March 5-8 visit to Iraq by Pope Francis, which is due to include Erbil, the capital of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said the United States was “outraged” by the attack.
    In a statement, Blinken said he had contacted Kurdistan Regional Government Prime Minister Masrour Barzani to “pledge our support for all efforts to investigate and hold accountable those responsible”    Blinken spoke to Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi on Tuesday.
    In a call with his Iraqi counterpart, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin condemned the attack, the Pentagon said.
    “The Iraqi people deserve a secure and stable Iraq, and the United States remains committed to supporting our Iraqi partners in their efforts to defend Iraq’s sovereignty,” a Pentagon readout of the call said.
    Powerful paramilitary groups aligned with Iran in Iraq and Yemen have launched attacks against the United States and its Arab allies in recent weeks, including a drone attack on a Saudi airport and a rocket attack on the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    Iraq’s government under al-Kadhimi has sided with the United States but has found it hard to bring the groups under control.
    Most of the incidents have caused no casualties, but they have kept up pressure on U.S. troops and U.S. allies in the early days of Joe Biden’s presidency.
    Biden’s administration is weighing a return to the 2015 big power nuclear deal that aimed to curb Iran’s nuclear programme, which his predecessor Donald Trump abandoned in 2018.
    Iran says it will only resume compliance with the deal if Washington lifts crippling sanctions.
    U.S.-Iran tension has often played out on Iraqi soil.
    A U.S. drone strike that killed Iran’s military mastermind Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad in January 2020 sent the region to the brink of a full-scale confrontation.
    A rocket attack on a base in northern Iraq last March killed three military personnel – one Briton and two Americans.
    A group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam claimed responsibility for the Erbil attack, saying it was aimed at the “American occupation” in Iraq, but provided no evidence.
(Reporting by John Davison in Erbil, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad; additional reporting by Idrees Ali and Alex Alper in Washington and Trevor Hunnicutt; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Alistair Bell)

2/16/2021 Thousands Protest In Algeria, Hoping To Rekindle Mass Demos
Demonstrators carry national flags as they gather in the town of Kherrata, marking two years since the start
of a mass protest movement there demanding political change, Algeria February 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    KHERRATA, Algeria (Reuters) – Thousands of people demonstrated on Tuesday in the Algerian town of Kherrata to voice support for the Hirak protest movement that ousted Algeria’s veteran president in 2019 before the COVID-19 crisis forced it off the streets last year.
    More than 5,000 protesters chanted: “A civilian state, not a military state” and “The gang must go” as they waved Algerian flags.
    Tuesday’s protest was held to mark the second anniversary of the start of demonstrations in 2019, which began in Kherrata, east of the capital Algiers, before spreading across the country.
    “We came to revive the Hirak that was stopped for health reasons.    They didn’t stop us. We stopped because we care for our people. Today coronavirus is over and we will get the Hirak back,” said Nassima, a protester.
    The Hirak movement demanded a complete removal of Algeria’s entrenched political elite and continued to mobilise tens of thousands of protesters every week even after Abdelaziz Bouteflika stepped down from the presidency.
    His successor, Abdelmadjid Tebboube, elected in December 2019 in a vote that Hirak supporters dismissed as a charade, has publicly praised the movement while seeking to move past it with limited concessions including tweaks to the constitution.
    The weekly mass protests stopped a year ago when the COVID-19 pandemic brought a lockdown to Algeria.
    While the protest movement has no clear leadership, its supporters have repeatedly discussed online how to rekindle its presence on the streets as an active force to press for change.
    “It is a revolutionary process for a very precise goal, which is the departure of the regime, the whole regime with all its components,” said Hamid, a protester.
(Reporting by Reuters Algeria newsroom, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by Angus MacSwan)

2/16/2021 Ten Years After Uprising, Some Bahrainis Still Counting The Cost by Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: Anti-government demonstrators listen to speeches at Pearl Square in Manama February 20, 2011. REUTERS/Caren Firouz/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – For Bahraini activist Maryam al-Khawaja, who lives in self-imposed exile in Kansas City, the pandemic at least had a silver lining.    Authorities at home allowed her to speak to her jailed father online because personal prison visits were banned.
    “I had the chance to see his face for the first time since 2014,” she told Reuters.
    It was an unexpected moment of joy, yet also a reminder of the toll Bahrain’s uprising 10 years ago has taken on her family.
    Her father, Abdulhadi al-Khawaja, is former president of the Bahrain Centre for Human Rights who is now serving a life sentence for his role in Bahrain’s pro-democracy movement.
    As so-called “Arab Spring” protests swept Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Syria a decade ago, Bahrain was the only Gulf country to see mass upheaval.
    Tens of thousands took to the streets to demand reforms. Violence spread as members of the Shi’ite Muslim majority rose up against the Sunni royal family.    Martial law was declared, and, with the help of Saudi forces, Bahrain cracked down on dissent.
    Abdulhadi al-Khawaja was among thousands of activists, opposition members and journalists that rights groups say were jailed in the Sunni-ruled island state, headquarters to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth fleet.
    In November 2011, a Bahrain state-appointed fact-finding commission found that security forces used excessive force to suppress pro-democracy rallies, including torture and coerced confessions.
    It said 35 people, mostly protesters, died, 3,000 were detained, over 4,000 lost jobs, and hundreds were maltreated in detention.
    The Bahraini government did not respond to requests for comment for this article.
    Khawaja said her father looked thinner than the last time she saw him in person, when she herself was detained in Bahrain and they were allowed a family visit. His face was also altered by a jaw shattered during his detention, she added.
    When the 33-year-old saw news footage of George Floyd pleading “I can’t breathe” as a U.S. police officer knelt on him last year, it brought a sense of déjà vu.    She said her father uttered the same in 2011 as Bahraini police dragged him down the stairs.
    Ala’a al-Shehabi, now an academic at University College London, recounted the initial sense of hope during a peaceful march to the royal palace in al-Safriyah, outside the capital Manama, in 2011.
    “We were standing at the gate of the palace, and that gate felt like the only thing that stood between us and a political transformation in Bahrain,” Shehabi recalled.
    “We thought we didn’t have anything to lose.    It turned out we had so much to lose.”
    Long before the tumult of ten years ago, the opposition had complained of discrimination against Shi’ites in the workplace and public services, and demanded a constitutional monarchy with a government chosen by an elected parliament.
    The government denies discrimination and accuses Shi’ite power Iran of stoking unrest, a charge Tehran denies.    Since 2011, Bahrain has seen sporadic clashes between protesters and security forces, who have been targeted by bomb attacks.
    In a bid to heal deep rifts, Bahrain’s leadership in July 2011 launched a national dialogue, and in 2012 King Hamad al-Khalifa announced constitutional amendments, giving parliament more powers of scrutiny.
    But reconciliation talks failed to defuse tensions.    Authorities dissolved the main opposition parties and later banned their members from legislative elections.
    Mass trials, condemned by human rights groups, followed, thousands of people were imprisoned and some fled abroad.
    The government denies deliberately targeting the opposition, saying it acted as it did to preserve Bahrain’s national security.
    Sayed Ahmed al-Wadaei, a human rights activist who fled to London, tasted liberty early in the uprising when tens of thousands of Bahrainis joined the funeral of a protester who had been shot and killed.
    “I felt real freedom that day, we could say whatever we wanted,” said Wadaei, whose citizenship was revoked in 2015 when he organised a protest against King Hamad as he visited Britain.
    In 2019, the king reinstated nationality to hundreds of Bahrainis stripped of citizenship.    The list, reviewed by Reuters, did not include major opposition and activist figures.
    Ali Al-Aswad, a former MP from the main dissolved al-Wefaq opposition group who has been sentenced in absentia to life in prison, said reconciliation in Bahrain hinged on outside powers defusing tensions in the region.
    “I believe there won’t be any solution to Bahrain’s unrest without broader regional and international steps to ease tensions, be it between Iran and Saudi Arabia or between the U.S. and Iran,” said Aswad, who has been residing in London since 2011.
(This story corrects university in paragraph 14, date in paragraph 24.
(Additional reporting by Nathalie Thomas in London; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/16/2021 Ashrawi Will Not Run In Palestinian Elections, To Mentor New Generation by Zainah El-Haroun
Palestinian politician Hanan Ashrawi is seen in her office during an interview with Reuters, in Ramallah in the
Israeli-occupied West Bank February 3, 2021. Picture taken February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Hanan Ashrawi, the most famous woman in Palestinian politics, will not be running in the first elections for 15 years, opting instead to mentor a new generation of political leaders.
    Over three decades in public office, the veteran negotiator and women’s rights advocate was one of the highest-profile Palestinian officials, especially to international audiences.
    In December she resigned from her senior post in the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), citing a need for reform and criticising what she called a lack of opportunities for women and young people.
    Now that Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas has announced parliamentary and presidential elections for later this year, 74-year-old Ashrawi says she will not change her mind.
    “I want to set an example that people can leave office,” she told Reuters.
    “I have been supporting and mentoring many young men and women in different capacities… it’s important that I do that in a variety of ways, and I am,” she said between back-to-back meetings with diplomats at MIFTAH, her civil society organization to promote global dialogue and democracy.
    Ashrawi, who was elected to the Palestinian parliament in 2006, declined to say who she was mentoring.
    Born in Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Ashrawi was an English professor when she became a familiar face on television during the first Palestinian uprising of the late 1980s, advocating her people’s quest for statehood.
    She was catapulted onto the international arena when Yasser Arafat chose her as the spokeswoman for the Palestinian delegation to the first public face-to-face talks between Palestinians, Israelis and Arab nations brokered by the United States and Russia at the Madrid Conference in 1991.
    Ashrawi said she did not find “locking horns” with Israelis especially difficult, but that it took a while to “gain the respect, albeit the grudging respect, of the men with whom you work.”
    She recalled her early days of activism, saying she was beaten by Israeli soldiers at protests where she feared for her life, years before coming face-to-face with Israeli officials at the negotiating table.
    Ashrawi has been veiled in her criticism of the Palestinian leadership but indicated that even as a member of the PLO’s Executive Committee, she felt marginalised.
    When she quit, Palestinian political analyst Nour Odeh was among those who praised Ashrawi for her contribution, calling her an “inspirational, powerful and grand woman.”    Others have been more critical, suggesting Ashrawi could have done more at an earlier stage to help women rise through the political hierarchy.
    Ashrawi said her generation faced “real difficulty” opening up a male-dominated world.    “The battle is not to gain the individual respect, but to open up the vista for other women.    That’s where the real test is,” she said.
    “The worst thing for me is to be in a position where you feel you’re not making a difference, where you are not in a position where you can really affect change,” said Ashrawi.
    “Whatever you do, you have to make a difference.”
(Editing by Janet Lawrence)

2/16/2021 U.S. Urges Yemen’s Houthis To Stop Military Operations
FILE PHOTO: Houthi supporters rally against the United States' designation of Houthis as a
foreign terrorist organisation, in Sanaa, Yemen January 25, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday urged Yemen’s Houthi movement to halt an offensive on the government-held city of Marib and join international efforts to find a political solution to the more than six-year civil war.
    The advance by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement on the last government-held northern city threatens to complicate the administration of U.S. President Joe Biden’s new drive to intensify diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price called on the Houthis to halt the Marib attack, cease all military operations, end cross-border strikes on Saudi Arabia and participate in a U.N.-led peace process.
    The conflict pits the Houthi movement against the country’s internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led coalition.
    “The Houthis’ assault on Marib is the action of a group not committed to peace or to ending the war afflicting the people of Yemen,” Price said in a statement.
    The assault will only worsen the world’s most serious humanitarian catastrophe, he said, noting that a U.N. agency estimates that Marib hosts about 1 million people displaced from other areas by fighting.
    “Marib is controlled by the legitimate government of Yemen,” he said.    “This assault will only increase the number of internally displaced persons and exacerbate the humanitarian crisis in Yemen.”
    He urged the Houthis to “constructively participate” in the U.N.-led peace process and “engage seriously” with the recently appointed U.S. special envoy for Yemen, Timothy Lenderking.
    Biden appointed the veteran U.S. diplomat as part of his new approach to ending the war that also includes halting U.S. support for offensive operations by the Saudi-led coalition.
    Since Biden launched the policy, however, the Houthis have pressed the assault on Marib and persisted with cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia.
    “The time to end this conflict is now,” Price said.    “There is no military solution.”
    The United States on Tuesday also revoked the foreign terrorist organization and specially designated global terrorist designations of the Houthis, imposed by the Trump administration on its last full day in office despite warnings from aid groups and others that it could push Yemen into a major famine.
(Reporting by Doina Chiacu and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Bernadette Baum)

2/16/2021 Israel Moves To Buy F-35 Jets, KC-46 Refueling Planes, Munitions: Official by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Boeing's KC-46 aerial refueling tanker conducts receiver compatibility tests with a U.S. Air Force C-17 Globemaster III from
Joint Base Lewis-McChord, in Seattle, Washington, U.S., July 12, 2016. Christopher Okula/ U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS/File Photo/File Photo
    JERUSALEM/WASHINGTON (Reuters) – An Israeli ministerial committee approved the purchase of new jets, aircraft and munitions from U.S. companies, an Israeli official said on Tuesday, in a deal that would be worth billions of dollars.
    “A ministerial procurement committee has approved the purchase of a new F-35 squadron, four new refueling planes, and a large quantity of munitions,” the official said on condition of anonymity to discuss matters still under negotiation.
    It would be the first Foreign Military Sale to Israel announced under the new administration of President Joe Biden.    Since sales take months to process, the genesis of the deals likely dates back to the Trump Administration.
    Israel has been considering the purchase of KC-46 refueling planes made by Boeing Co for some time and has also been eyeing an additional squadron of 24 or 25 F-35s, which are made by Lockheed Martin.
    The Biden Administration temporarily paused some pending arms sales to U.S. allies like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in order to review them.
    Although the Israelis have approved the purchase, the U.S. Congress requires notification of major weapons sales before a contract can be signed.
(Reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Mike Stone in Washington, D.C.; Editing by Dan Grebler)

2/16/2021 Lebanon Hezbollah Chief Refutes Accusations Linking Group To Activist Killing
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) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah on Tuesday refuted accusations of any links between the group and the killing of researcher and activist Lokman Slim.
    “Any incident that happens in your area then you are accused until the opposite is proven?    Is this something that is practiced in the whole wide world? Where else is this logic present?” Nasrallah said in a televised speech.
    Activist Lokman Slim was shot and found dead in his car in south Lebanon earlier in February, marking the first killing of a high-profile activist in years.
    He was a critic of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.    His sister has suggested he was murdered because of those views.
(Reporting By Laila Bassam and Maha El Dahan; Editing by Chris Reese)

2/16/2021 Psaki: Biden Will Call Israel’s Netanyahu ‘Soon,’ U.S. Will Recalibrate Ties With Saudi Arabia by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden walked on the South Lawn of the White House to board Marine One after speaking with
reporters, Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    The Biden administration seems to be distancing itself from foreign allies.    Speaking during Tuesday’s press conference, White House press secretary Jen Psaki dodged questions on when Joe Biden will reach out to his counterparts in Israel and Saudi Arabia.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki spoke during a press briefing at the White House,
Tuesday, Feb. 16, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)
    This came amid accusations Biden is “snubbing” allies that once had friendly ties with the U.S. under the Trump administration.
    Although there is no set date on a call with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Psaki assured the U.S. is still in communication with Israel.
    “Israel, of course, an ally.    Israel is a country where we have an important strategic security relationship and our team is fully engaged, not at the at the head of state level quite yet, but very soon,” Psaki stated.    “But our team is fully engaged, having constant conversations at many levels with the Israelis.”
    In the meantime, Psaki said the White House is looking to recalibrate” relations with Saudi Arabia, adding it will be a shift from President Trump’s approach.

2/17/2021 Show Us That Sheikha Latifa Is Alive, UK Tells Dubai by Sarah Young and Paul Sandle
FILE PHOTO: Britain's Foreign Affairs Secretary Dominic Raab arrives at Downing Street, in London, Britain, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Simon Dawson
    LONDON (Reuters) – Britain called on the United Arab Emirates on Wednesday to show proof that Sheikha Latifa, one of the daughters of the ruler of Dubai, was still alive after she said in a video message from a bathroom that she was being held captive in a barricaded villa.
    The fate of Latifa, 35, and her tempestuous relationship with her father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, has cast a new spotlight on his family affairs and on an international campaign to free his daughter.
    Dubai is now under growing international pressure to allow Latifa, who tried to flee in 2018 in a dinghy but was brought back by commando units from India, to go free.
    British foreign minister Dominic Raab said the video of Latifa, in which she said she was being held hostage and was worried about her safety, was deeply troubling as it showed a woman in deep distress.
    “Given what we’ve just seen, I think people would just at a human level want to see that she’s alive and well,” Raab told Sky.
    In the video, shown as part of the BBC’s Panorama current affairs programme, Latifa said: “I am a hostage and this villa has been converted into a jail.”
    “Every day I worry about my safety and my life,” she said in the video message from the bathroom of a villa.
    She said guards had told her she would be kept in captivity for her entire life and “never see the sun again.”
    Reuters could not independently verify when or where the video was recorded.
    British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was concerned and that the United Nations was looking into the situation.
    “That’s something obviously that we are concerned about but the U.N. Commission on Human Rights is looking at that,” he told reporters. “I think what we’ll do is wait and see how they get on.    We’ll keep an eye on that.”
    The Dubai government’s media office referred questions about the video to Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed’s law firm, which did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Sheikha Latifa bint Mohammed al-Maktoum drew international attention in 2018 when a human rights group released a video made by her in which she described an attempt to escape Dubai.
    Last March, a London High Court judge said he accepted as proved a series of allegations made by Sheikh Mohammed’s former wife, Princess Haya, in a legal battle, including that the sheikh ordered the abduction of Latifa. The sheikh’s lawyers rejected the allegations.
    Asked if Britain would impose sanctions on the UAE after the video, Raab said: “It’s not clear to me that there would be the evidence to support that.”
    The Free Latifa campaign, which has lobbied for her release, said it had managed to smuggle a phone to Latifa, which had been used to send a series of secret video messages taken over the past two years.
    Before Tuesday, the only time Latifa had been seen since she was brought back to Dubai was when her family released photos of her sitting with Mary Robinson, a former Irish president and a United Nations high commissioner for human rights, in late 2018.
    But Robinson told the BBC she had been “horribly tricked” during the visit and never asked Latifa about her situation, fearing it would exacerbate a mental condition she was told the princess had.
    Mohammed has a vast horse racing stable in Britain and has been pictured with Queen Elizabeth at Royal Ascot horse races.
(Reporting by Sarah Young and Paul Sandle; Editing by Guy Faulconbridge, Angus MacSwan and Gareth Jones)

2/17/2021 Sudan Summons Ambassador To Ethiopia For Consultations: Spokesman
FILE PHOTO: Redwan Hussein, State Minister for Foreign Affairs and spokesperson for the newly established State of Emergency
task force, addresses a news conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudan has summoned its ambassador to Ethiopia for consultations over the latest developments in the ties between both countries, a spokesman for the Sudanese foreign ministry told Reuters on Wednesday.
    Sudan’s foreign ministry had said on Sunday that Ethiopian forces crossed into Sudanese territory in an act of “aggression,” but the spokesman did not specify if consultations would be about that particular incident.
    Ethiopian foreign ministry official spokesman Dina Mufti and state minister of foreign affairs Redwan Hussein could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday following the incident and did not return messages.
    Clashes erupted late last year between Sudanese and Ethiopian forces over Al-Fashqa, an area of fertile land settled by Ethiopian farmers that Sudan says lies on the Sudanese side of a border demarcated at the start of the 20th century.
    Sudan said last month that an Ethiopian aircraft had crossed the border, an allegation that Ethiopia denies.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Nadine Awadalla; Editing by Alison Williams and Steve Orlofsky)

2/18/2021 After Political Pushback, Lebanese Court Removes Lead Beirut Blast Investigator by Ellen Francis
William Noun, whose firefighter brother died in the August 4 Beirut port explosion, speaks from Mechmech village, during an
interview on Zoom with Reuters in Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Yara Abi Nader NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – A Lebanese court on Thursday removed the judge leading the investigation into the Beirut port explosion, a move likely to further delay a probe that has faced fierce political pushback.
    More than six months since the largest non-nuclear blast in history, Lebanese still have no answers into why and how tonnes of ammonium nitrate, stored unsafely at the port for years, detonated in the heart of Beirut.
    The explosion killed 200 people, injured thousands and destroyed entire districts.
    Judge Fadi Sawan in December charged three ex-ministers and the outgoing prime minister with negligence over the August explosion, which compounded Lebanon’s economic meltdown.
    But the officials snubbed Sawan when he sought to question them before deciding whether they should be formally indicted, accusing him of overstepping his powers.    He also faced criticism from Shi’ite Hezbollah and former Sunni premier Saad al-Hariri.
    The court of cassation decided to remove Sawan from the case on Thursday after a request from two of the former ministers he charged, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zeaiter.
    A copy of the court decision seen by Reuters cited “legitimate suspicion” over Sawan’s neutrality because his house was damaged in the blast, which devastated much of the capital.
    Sawan could not be reached for comment.
    “As soon as the judge started getting at them, they removed him right away,” said William Noun, whose firefighter brother died in the blast.    “There’s sadness and anger in us.    We know there are political pressures … but we will not give up.”
    Human Rights Watch said the judge’s removal based on a complaint from politicians was “an insult” to the victims.
    “We are back to square one,” researcher Aya Majzoub said.    “We need answers, and Lebanon has shown that it is incapable of providing them.”
    Lawyer Youssef Lahoud, representing around 1,400 victims, told Reuters the justice minister would now have to nominate another judge and get approval from the higher judicial council.
    The minister did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Sawan’s charges were the first filed against top politicians over the blast.    Victims and lawyers have said the judge showed courage in a country where few in authority have ever been held to account.
    Outgoing premier Hassan Diab, whose cabinet quit over public outrage after the blast, has said his conscience was clear.
    Khalil said he had no role in the blast.    The finance ministry, which he ran from 2014 to early 2020, oversees customs.
    Zeaiter, who called the charges “a blatant violation,” ran the public works ministry in 2014, soon after ship carrying the nitrate arrived at the port.
    Both Khalil and Zeaiter are lawmakers from the Amal party of influential Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, a Hezbollah ally.
    The third former minister, Youssef Finianos, was due to be questioned on Thursday but also said he would not turn up.    He and Khalil were hit with U.S. sanctions last year for links to Hezbollah, which Washington deems a terrorist organisation.
(Additional reporting by Yara Abi Nader and Laila Bassam; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alison Williams)

2/18/2021 Jerusalem’s Old City Turns White After Rare Snowfall by Stephen Farrell
People play with snow and take selfies during a snowy morning in Jerusalem, February 18, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Jerusalem woke up to the rare experience of seeing its holy sites covered in snow on Thursday, with the Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall under a layer of white after an overnight snowstorm.
    Before dawn children were up hurling snowballs at each other outside the Old City gates, as the faithful trudged to sites holy to Judaism, Islam and Christianity.
    The snowstorm began on Wednesday evening, leading the authorities to shut down public transportation and block the main road to Jerusalem.
    But as it eased overnight the municipality said it would resume services, and people even drove to see the spectacle.
    “We came in from Tel Aviv to play in the snow,” said Ben Miller.    “It’s a rare occasion that we get snow in Jerusalem. The last time, I think, was 2013.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

2/18/2021 Egypt’s Sisi Offers Support To Libya’s New PM
Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi speaks during his meeting with Libyan Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh
at the Presidential Palace in Cairo, Egypt February 18, 2021. The Egyptian Presidency/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi met incoming Libyan prime minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh in Cairo on Thursday and offered his country’s support in achieving stability in its troubled neighbour,? ?the presidency said in a statement.?
    Egypt has welcomed the announcement of a new interim government – the latest U.N.-brokered effort to unite rival camps in east and west Libya – and is planning to reopen its embassy in the capital Tripoli.
    It had been one of the most prominent backers of eastern-based military commander Khalifa Haftar, seeing him as the best option for securing its border with Libya.    Haftar’s campaign to take control of Tripoli, in the west, crumbled in June.
    Sisi affirmed “Egypt’s full readiness to provide all its expertise and experience … in a way that contributes to putting Libya on the right track and preparing the country to move towards horizons of construction, development and stability,” the statement said.
    Egyptian intelligence sources and Western diplomats say Egypt’s attempts to work with Tripoli represents a recalibration of policy after the failure of Haftar’s campaign.
    After the meeting, Dbeibeh tweeted: “We look forward to a strategic relationship between the two brotherly countries.”
    Egypt closed its Tripoli embassy in 2014, the year when many foreign missions shut during an intensifying conflict that saw rival parallel governments set up in the chaos that followed the ousting of Muammar Gaddafi after four decades.
    Turkey, a regional rival of Egypt and military backer of west Libyan factions, reopened its embassy in the Libyan capital in 2017.    Dbeibeh also visited Turkey last week.
(Reporting by Mohamed Wali; Additional reporting by Tripoli bureau; Writing by Mahmoud Mourad; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/18/2021 Joe Biden Finally Calls Israeli PM Netanyahu, Both Agree To Further Peace Agreements With Arab Nations by OAN Newsroom
Joe Biden speaks during a meeting with labor leaders about the American Rescue Plan, the administration’s coronavirus response bill,
in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC, on February 17, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    Joe Biden finally called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nearly a month after he took office.    According to reports, Biden made the call late Wednesday.
    The call lasted nearly an hour and the conversation was described as “warm and friendly.”    Biden reportedly said the U.S. will continue to support the normalization of relations between Israel and other Arab nations.
Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu attends a ceremony marking the 4,000,000th person to be vaccinated at Leumit Health Care
Services vaccination facility in Jerusalem on February 16, 2021. (Photo by ALEX KOLOMIENSKY/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    Both leaders said they will continue working together to strengthen the alliance between Israel and the U.S.
    “Only yesterday in my conversation with my friend Joe Biden,” Netanyahu said.    “We talked for a long time about many issues.”
    Biden also congratulated Netanyahu on his leadership through the pandemic.    The Prime Minister shot down rumors that Biden was seeking to distance himself from Israel and added he believes they will advance more peace agreements.

2/22/2021 U.S.’S Blinken Stresses Two-State Solution To Palestinian Conflict In Call With Israeli Minister
FILE PHOTO: An Israeli army post is seen next to a concrete wall inside the Israeli farming community of Netiv Haasara,
just outside Gaza Strip by the Israeli side of the Israel-Gaza border February 6, 2021 REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told his Israeli counterpart on Monday that a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was best for the future of Israel, the U.S. State Department said.
    Blinken, in a call with Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, “emphasized the Biden administration’s belief that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state,” the State Department said.
(Reporting by Tim Ahmann; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

2/23/2021 Italy’s Envoy To Congo Killed In Attack On U.N. Convoy by Fiston Mahamba and Stanis Bujakera
The Italian flag flies at half mast next to the EU flag outside the prime minister’s office of Chigi Palace, following the death of the
Italian ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo Luca Attanasio, Italian military policeman Vittorio Iacovacci and their Congolese driver,
who were killed in an attack on a United Nations convoy in eastern Congo, in Rome, Italy, February 23, 2021. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane
    GOMA, Democratic Republic of Congo (Reuters) – Italy’s ambassador to Democratic Republic of Congo was killed on Monday along with his bodyguard and a World Food Programme driver when their convoy was attacked in the east of the country, Italy and the United Nations said.
    The assailants stopped the convoy by firing warning shots, killed the Congolese driver and were leading the passengers into the forest when park rangers opened fire, the governor of North Kivu province, Carly Nzanzu Kasivita, told Reuters.
    The Italian ambassador, Luca Attanasio, 43, was hit in the abdomen and died several hours later at the U.N. hospital in the regional capital Goma, Congo’s interior ministry said.
    Italy said Attanasio’s bodyguard Vittorio Iacovacci, 30, also died in the attack.    The driver was named by a security source and local rights activists as Mustapha Milambo.
    “It was with great shock and immense sorrow that I learned of the death today of our Ambassador to the Democratic Republic of Congo and of a Carabinieri policeman,” Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said in a statement.
    “The circumstances of this brutal attack are still unclear and no effort will be spared to shed light on what happened.”
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility.    Congo’s interior ministry blamed a Hutu militia called the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR).
    It is one of dozens of armed groups operating in and around Virunga National Park, which lies along Congo’s borders with Rwanda and Uganda and is home to more than half the world’s mountain gorillas.
    The FDLR, founded by members of the militia behind the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, kidnapped two British tourists in the same village in May 2018, leading the park to close to tourists for nine months. The couple were released after several days.
    “I promise the Italian government that my country’s government will do everything to discover who is behind this awful murder,” Congo’s foreign minister Marie Ntumba Nzeza said.
    The convoy was attacked at about 10:15 a.m. (0815 GMT) some 25 km (15 miles) north of Goma, a spokesman for the Virunga National Park told Reuters.    Local civil society member Mambo Kawaya said it happened in the village of Rurimba.
    The U.N.’s World Food Programme (WFP) said the delegation was on its way to visit a school feeding programme in Rutshuru.    It said the road had previously been cleared for travel without security escorts.
    Photos shared on social media showed Attanasio lying in the arms of a man in a park authority jeep and the broken window of a WFP vehicle.    Reuters has not verified the images.
    Italy’s foreign ministry website said Attanasio had been its head of mission in Congo’s capital Kinshasa since 2017 and was made ambassador in 2019.    He was married and had three young daughters, according to his Facebook page.
    “He was an enthusiastic young diplomat with a great sensitivity to social problems,” said Mauro Garofolo at the Sant’Egidio charity based in Rome.    “He closely followed our work such as our programme to help HIV/AIDS sufferers.”
    The driver, Milambo, leaves behind four children, said Jean-Mobert Senga, a Congolese rights activist.
    “(He) joins thousands of Congolese who have lost their lives in this region, including on this road, and whose tragedies rarely make the headlines and comments from politicians in Kinshasa,” he said on Twitter.
(Reporting by Fiston Mahamba, Stanis Bujakera and Hereward Holland; Additional reporting by Philip Pullella and Crispian Balmer in Rome and Giulia Paravicini; Writing by Aaron Ross and Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Timothy Heritage and David Clarke)

2/23/2021 Obituary: Yamani, The Saudi Oil Minister Who Brought The West To Its Knees by Rania El Gamal
FILE PHOTO: Then Saudi Arabian oil minister Sheikh Zaki Yamani speaks during a news conference
in Islamabad, Pakistan, in this still image taken from a video dated January 4, 1982. Reuters TV/via REUTERS.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s Sheikh Zaki Yamani, the embodiment of the ascent of Arab petroleum power and the face of the 1973 oil embargo that brought the West to its knees, has died.
    Yamani was a witness to the 1975 murder of the Saudi king who had plucked him, a non-royal, from obscurity to be oil minister.    Later the same year Yamani was kidnapped at an OPEC meeting by Ilyich Ramirez Sanchez, known as Carlos the Jackal.
    Yamani, 91, died in London, Saudi state media reported on Tuesday.
    Known for his elegant manner and trademark goatee beard, Yamani’s 24-year tenure running the oil affairs of the world’s biggest crude producer made him a global celebrity during the inflationary “oil shocks” of the 1970s.
    That ended with his abrupt sacking in 1986 after a costly attempt to prop up crude prices, a failed strategy which has cast a shadow over Saudi oil policy to this day.
    In December 1975, Yamani attended the meeting of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) in Vienna, which ended in a hail of bullets fired into the ceiling from Venezuelan assassin Carlos and five cohorts.    Three bystanders were killed.
    Carlos, promoting the Palestinian cause, targeted Yamani as the most valuable hostage, telling him repeatedly that he had been sentenced to death. Ministers were held for two days in a dynamite-charged room before the captors were granted a plane out of Austria with their hostages.
    A further 43 harrowing hours on board, flying from Algeria to Libya and back, created an intimacy between captive and hostage taker.
    “It was odd, but as we sat together and talked, it was almost as if we had become friends,” Yamani told biographer Jeffrey Robinson.    “He was telling me so much, knowing that I would die.”
    A deal was struck in Algiers and Carlos vanished, escaping arrest until 1994.
    Months earlier, Yamani was at the side of Saudi King Faisal in Riyadh, receiving a visiting delegation when a disaffected Saudi prince pulled out a revolver and shot the king dead.
    Yamani’s career was remarkable, for the time, as a commoner in a society dominated by the royal family.
    Born on June 30, 1930, the son of an Islamic scholar and judge in Mecca, Yamani was expected to follow his father and grandfather into teaching.
    After studying law in Cairo he left for New York University and Harvard.    Returning to Saudi Arabia, he set up a law firm and took on government work, drawing the attention of the future King Faisal.    He became oil minister in 1962.
    Yamani became a leading figure in the development of OPEC, founded in 1960.    He extricated the Saudi oil industry from the grip of American companies in a series of steps that produced a deal on national ownership of Saudi Aramco in 1976.
    Aramco remains among the world’s wealthiest companies by assets.
    In Yamani’s early years as oil minister, Arab nationalism was on the rise and oil power was at the heart of it.
    By the time of the 1967 Arab-Israeli Six-Day War, Riyadh was ready to flex its economic muscle. Yamani announced a supply embargo against countries friendly to Israel.    But the embargo did not bite.    High inventories in the West and extra supply from Venezuela and pre-revolutionary Iran filled the gap.
    In 1973 the fourth Arab-Israeli conflict prompted Yamani to trigger another oil embargo.    This time it worked – a fourfold increase in the price of crude marked the high point of OPEC power and sent western economies into recession as inflation soared in what became known as the first oil shock.
    Yamani summed up that moment when oil producers took charge.    “The moment has come,” he said.    “We are masters of our own commodity.”
    With the end of the war and the embargo, Riyadh found an accommodation with the United States.
    Yamani was now a price moderate, espousing the view that high prices would ultimately destroy demand and encourage production from new exploration in places such as the North Sea.
    When the 1979 Iranian revolution triggered a second oil shock in the West, most in OPEC raised oil prices.    Riyadh, close now to Washington, issued the “Yamani Edict,” holding Saudi prices at official levels to ease the pain for importers.
    Yamani’s new-found price moderation was to cost him.    A supply glut born of the early 1980s recession in the West depressed fuel demand.
    Faisal’s successor, King Fahd, called on Yamani to both protect Saudi market share and boost prices.    Instead, he cut Saudi production to a 20-year low of only 2 million barrels per day in an effort to shore up prices.
    Fellow OPEC members were not as disciplined on production and Yamani was criticised at home as others increased their market share at Riyadh’s expense.    As the oil glut ballooned, crude prices crashed below $10 a barrel.
    Having disobeyed Fahd and failed, Yamani paid the price.    In October 1986 he learned of his dismissal from a public announcement on Saudi television, apparently designed to embarrass him.
    Yamani retreated to his private life and became the figurehead for a consultancy, the Centre for Global Energy Studies.    At its launch in London in 1989, with crude still worth only $20 a barrel, he predicted prices would eventually break $100, as they did eventually in the new millennium.
    Reuters interviewed Yamani in September 2000 to mark OPEC’s 40th anniversary.    Shale oil was little known at the time and renewables were in their infancy, but Yamani predicted that technology would hurt oil producers.
    “Technology is a real enemy for OPEC,” he said.    “Technology will reduce consumption and increase production from areas outside OPEC.    The real victims will be Saudi Arabia, with huge reserves which they can do nothing with."
    “The Stone Age did not end because the world ran out of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”
(Reporting by Rania El Gamal; Editing by David Goodman)

2/23/2021 UAE Weapons Maker EDGE Wants In On F-35 Supply Chain by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Faisal Al Bannai, EDGE chief Executive is seen during an interview with Reuters in the International
Defence Exhibition, Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Khushnum Bhandari/File Photo
    ABU DHABI (Reuters) – United Arab Emirates’ state-owned weapons maker EDGE expects to be involved in the supply chain of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 war plane if the sale of U.S. planes to the Gulf Arab state goes ahead, its chief executive said on Tuesday.
    U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is re-examining the sale of 50 F-35 stealth jets, 18 armed drones and other military equipment approved by former     President Donald Trump during his last days in office.
    “Any platform that is coming to the country, we are now getting heavily involved in this supply chain in whatever component that makes sense for the client and for us,” EDGE CEO Faisal al-Bannai said at Abu Dhabi’s Idex defence exhibition.
    EDGE, a $5 billion state defence conglomerate, could integrate subsystems, products and weapons, perform maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) work and also develop weapons such as missiles for the jet, he said.
    EDGE and Lockheed later announced in a statement they had reached a preliminary agreement to jointly “explore industrial participation opportunities across the UAE’s aerospace and defence industry.”
    The statement did not mention the F-35 or any other system.
    The Gulf state, one of Washington’s closest Middle Eastern allies, was promised a chance to buy the war planes when it established formal ties with Israel last year.
    EDGE was in “advanced discussion” with several Israeli defence companies about jointly funding and developing missiles and unmanned platforms, Bannai said without identifying the firms.
    “Quite soon there will be announcements,” he said.
    It is not clear when Washington will complete its review, though even if approved the first F-35 is not expected to be delivered for several years.
    “Every country has their own process.    I think they will go through their process and come to what is a right decision for them,” Bannai said of the U.S. review.
    The UAE’s Ambassador to Washington Yousef al-Otaiba has said he is confident the sale would go through.
    The jets are a major component of a $23 billion sale of high-tech armaments from General Atomics, Lockheed Martin Corp and Raytheon Technologies Corp to the UAE.
    The F-35, the world’s most advanced war plane, would give the UAE a “huge deterrence capability” against regional foe Iran, an Arab diplomat in the Gulf told Reuters.
    “The F-35 gives a lot of control over the Gulf skies.    It’s a big thing.    It’s a game changer for the UAE,” the diplomat said.
    EDGE, tasked with supplying advanced weapons to the UAE armed forces, is focused on developing drones, unmanned vehicles, smart weapons and electronic warfare equipment rather than conventional weaponry.
    “We are a small country in size and population … we are extremely focused on deploying more smarter technology that can apply a ‘force multiplier’ to our army,” Bannai said.
    EDGE is developing a directed energy system, to be unveiled next year, that can be used against aerial and land threats.
    EDGE announced on Tuesday it would supply Rheinmetall’s Oerlikon Skynex air defence system with a short-range interceptor missile system known as SkyKnight.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Editing by Susan Fenton)

2/23/2021 Israel To Debate Iran With Biden ‘Below Radar’ For Now, Radio Says
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Vice President Joe Biden (L) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu look at each other as
they deliver joint statements during their meeting in Jerusalem March 9, 2016. REUTERS/Debbie Hill/Pool/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will address disputes with the United States over Iran “below the radar” for now, a top Israeli broadcaster said on Tuesday, citing sources involved in a strategising session convened by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
    The Netanyahu government has decided to avoid public spats with U.S. President Joe Biden over his desire to return to a 2015 Iran nuclear deal, but that approach could change depending on the actions of the Biden administration, Army Radio added.
    Netanyahu’s office declined comment.
    The conservative premier is seeking a fifth term in a March 23 election.    Unlike previous campaigns, he has not played up foreign policy – reflecting perhaps a change of fortune since Biden, a Democrat, succeeded Republican president Donald Trump, a vocal ally of Netanyahu.
    On Monday, Netanyahu held a first meeting about Iran with Defence Minister Benny Gantz and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, his centrist political rivals, in what officials said was an effort to present a united Israeli front.
    Under the 2015 deal with world powers, Iran agreed to limit its enrichment potential – a possible pathway to atomic bombs – in exchange for a lifting of most sanctions.    Netanyahu upset then-U.S. President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, by addressing Congress as part of vigorous advocacy against the deal.
    Trump quit the deal in 2018, deeming it one-sided in Iran’s favour.    Iran began breaching the deal the 2019 and has recently stepped up violations.
    The Biden administration announced on Thursday that it was ready to talk to Tehran about a mutual return to compliance with the agreement.    A person familiar with the matter said Israel was informed in advance.
    Israel said in a statement on Friday it was “in close contact” with Washington on the issue and asserted that a return to the 2015 deal would “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal
    Israel is reputed to have the Middle East’s only atomic arsenal but neither confirms nor denies this under a “strategic ambiguity” policy to deter Arab and Iranian adversaries.
    Tehran, which denies seeking the bomb, has so far been cool to the the Biden administration’s overture.
(Writing by Dan Williams, Editing by William Maclean)

2/23/2021 Israel Sharing Some COVID Vaccines With Palestinians, Honduras, Czech Republic by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein attend the arrival of a plane with a shipment of Pfizer-BioNTech
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccines, at Ben Gurion airport, near the city of Lod, Israel, January 10, 2021. Motti Millrod/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Tuesday it was giving small amounts of surplus COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinian-run territories as well as to several countries.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu did not name which countries in a statement announcing the move.
    But the government of Guatemala – which opened its Israel embassy in Jerusalem last year – said it was expecting to receive 5,000 doses from Israel on Thursday.
    The government of Honduras – which said last year it intended to move its Israel embassy to Jerusalem – said it was expecting 5,000 doses from Israel. The country has yet to receive any doses.
    The Czech Republic said it had received a small Israeli shipment.    The country in December said it would add a diplomatic presence to its Jerusalem office, a move short of opening a full embassy in the city.
    Israel has been importing Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna Inc vaccines.    It has administered at least one Pfizer dose to almost 50% of its 9 million population in one of the world’s swiftest campaigns. (Graphic:
    This month the Palestinians received an initial shipment of Moderna doses from Israel, helping kick off a limited vaccination programme in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza.
    While Israel has been vaccinating Palestinians in East Jerusalem, it had come under foreign criticism for not extending its campaign to the other Palestinian areas.
    The vaccines due for Honduras will be administered to health workers at risk of exposure, and a Honduran Air Force plane is in Israel to transport them, government spokesman Carlos Madero said.
    The Central American country last year followed the United States in signalling its intention to move its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, a diplomatic gain for Israel.
    Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, although that is not recognised by most countries.    Palestinians seek East Jerusalem, which Israel captured along with the West Bank and Gaza in the 1967 Middle East War, as the capital of a future independent state.
    The Czech Republic has received several thousand Moderna doses from Israel, Czech Foreign Minister Tomas Petricek told reporters on Tuesday.
    The donation comes after the European Union country’s president and premier sent letters to Israel requesting vaccine help.
    Some of Netanyahu’s competitors in a March 23 election criticized the donations, saying the premier did not consult with the public or even his own cabinet before making them.
    Netanyahu “thinks he is running a kingdom and not a state.    Such a move requires discussion and approval,” Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s centrist coalition partner and now election competitor, wrote on Twitter.
    In an interview with Israel’s Army Radio, Finance Minister Israel Katz, a member of Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud party, said he was unaware of the donations. (Reporting by Dan Williams; Additional reporting by Robert Muller in Prague, Gustavo Palencia in Tegucigalpa and Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; Writing by Rami Ayyub and Dan Williams; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Lisa Shumaker)

2/23/2021 Egypt And Qatar Hold First Meeting Since Accord Ending Gulf Row
FILE PHOTO: Qatari foreign minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, is pictured at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon February 9, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Delegations from Qatar and Egypt met in Kuwait on Tuesday for the first time since an agreement last month to end a rift, both countries’ foreign ministries said, in a further push to bury a Gulf Arab diplomatic feud with repercussions around the Middle East.
    Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt agreed in January at a summit in Saudi’s al-Ula to restore diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Doha, which had been severed in 2017 over accusations that Qatar supported terrorism, a charge it denies.
    Qatar on Monday similarly met a delegation from the United Arab Emirates in Kuwait for their first bilateral talks.
    “The two sides welcomed measures each has taken since signing the al-Ula statement, as a step on the path of building confidence between the two fraternal countries,” the statement said.
    Since the agreement, air and travel links have resumed between Qatar and the four states.    Each state is to arrange bilateral talks with Qatar to resolve individual issues.
    Bahrain’s foreign ministry said last month it had written to Qatar inviting Doha to send a delegation to Bahrain to start bilateral talks to implement the al-Ula agreement.    Qatar has not yet responded, Bahrain’s foreign minister has said.
    Washington has strong ties with all the states involved, including Qatar which hosts the largest U.S. military base in the region, and has seen the rift as a threat to efforts to contain Iran.    It has pushed for a united Gulf front.
    The row also rattled Arab power politics in the region, where Gulf states have used their financial and political clout to influence events in Libya, Egypt, Syria, Iraq and Yemen.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)

2/24/2021 U.S. Report On Khashoggi Death Expected To Single Out Saudi Crown Prince-Sources by Mark Hosenball, Jonathan Landay and Trevor Hunnicutt
U.S. State Department Spokesman Ned Price speaks to reporters during a news briefing at the
State Department in Washington, U.S., February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/Pool
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A declassified version of a U.S. intelligence report expected to be released on Thursday finds that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the 2018 killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, four U.S. officials familiar with the matter said.
    The officials said the report, for which the CIA was the main contributor, assessed that the crown prince approved and likely ordered the murder of Khashoggi, whose     Washington Post column had criticized the crown prince’s policies.
    President Joe Biden, a Democrat who succeeded the Republican Donald Trump five weeks ago, told reporters on Wednesday he had read the report and expected to speak soon by phone with Saudi Arabian King Salman, 85, father of the crown prince, the country’s 35-year-old de facto ruler.
    The report’s release is part of Biden’s policy to realign ties with Riyadh after years of giving the Arab ally and major oil producer a pass on its human rights record and its intervention in Yemen’s civil war.
    Biden is working to restore the relationship with Riyadh to traditional lines after four years of cozier ties under Trump.
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Wednesday Biden would only communicate with the Saudi king and said the declassified Khashoggi report was being readied for release soon.
    While Biden restricts his contacts to the king, others in the Biden administration are talking to Saudi officials at various levels.
    “We have been in touch with Saudi officials at numerous levels in the early weeks of this administration,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price.
    The 59-year-old Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and Washington Post columnist, was lured to the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on Oct. 2, 2018, and killed by a team of operatives linked to the crown prince.    They then dismembered his body.    His remains have never been found.
    Riyadh eventually admitted that Khashoggi was killed in a “rogue” extradition operation gone wrong, but it denied any involvement by the crown prince. Five men given the death penalty for the murder had their sentences commuted to 20 years in jail after being forgiven by Khashoggi’s family.
    In 2019, a U.N. human rights investigator, Agnes Callamard, accused Saudi Arabia of a “deliberate, premeditated execution” of Khashoggi and called for further investigation.
    “There is sufficient credible evidence regarding the responsibility of the crown prince demanding further investigation,” Callamard said after the six-month probe.
    A classified version of the report was shared with members of Congress in late 2018.
    But the Trump administration rejected demands by lawmakers and human rights groups to release a declassified version, seeking to preserve cooperation amid rising tensions with Riyadh’s regional rival, Iran, and promote U.S. arms sales to the kingdom.
    Biden’s new director of national intelligence, Avril Haines, committed at her confirmation hearing to complying with a provision in a 2019 defense bill that required the Office of the Director of National Intelligence to release within 30 days a declassified report on Khashoggi’s murder.
    Biden pledged during the 2020 presidential campaign to reassess U.S.-Saudi ties in part over Khashoggi’s murder.    Since taking office, he has ended sales of offensive arms that Riyadh could use in Yemen and appointed a special envoy to boost diplomatic efforts to end that country’s grueling civil war.
(Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Stephanie Ulmer-Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Steve Holland; Editing by Mary Milliken, Alistair Bell and Howard Goller)

2/24/2021 U.N. Aid Chief Urges Gulf States To Step Up To Avert Yemen Famine by Michelle Nichols
Ahmadiya Juaidi, 13, drinks a supplemental nutrition shake at malnutrition treatment ward of
al-Sabeen hospital in Sanaa, Yemen February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock urged Gulf states to step up next Monday when the world body seeks to avert a large-scale “man-made” famine in     Yemen by raising $3.85 billion for humanitarian operations in the war-torn Arabian Peninsula country for 2021.
    The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis, with 80% of the people in need.    Lowcock warned that if the world body does not receive the money it needs at a virtual pledging conference on Monday “we’re going to see is the worst famine the world has seen for decades.”
    In 2018 and 2019, the United Nations prevented famine in Yemen due to a well-funded aid appeal, which included large donations from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait, Lowcock said.
    “What is alarming and what is different about the situation we’re in now is that there’s been such a big drop off in support for the aid operation that we’ve been cutting aid to starving people – not in an isolated way, in a way that affects millions of people all over the country,” Lowcock said on Wednesday.
    In 2020 the United Nations only received just over half the $3.4 billion it needed, which Lowcock said was largely due to smaller contributions from Gulf countries.    He urged them to pledge generously for 2021 and pay quickly.
    “My message really to the Gulf countries … is you have an extremely important role to play here, what you did in 2018 and 2019 saved a lot of lives, frankly, and enabled us to avoid a total collapse and a tragedy of genuinely historic proportion.    It’s now back on a knife edge,” Lowcock told reporters.
    A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015, backing government forces fighting the Iran-allied Houthi group.    U.N. officials are trying to revive peace talks to end the war as the country’s suffering is also worsened by an economic and currency collapse and the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “This is an entirely man-made famine,” Lowcock said.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Howard Goller)

2/24/2021 ‘Immense Joy’ As Senegal Begins Public Vaccine Distribution
Health minister Abdoulaye Diouf Sarr receives a dose of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
in Dakar, Senegal February 23, 2021. REUTERS/ Zohra Bensemra
    DAKAR (Reuters) – Senegal kicked off its wider COVID-19 vaccination campaign on Wednesday, after an official launch ceremony the day before saw dozens of officials vaccinated to demonstrate its safety.
    Around 100,000 people are expected to be vaccinated with 200,000 doses purchased from China’s Sinopharm, which arrived in Senegal last week.
    At a health centre in Patte d’Oie, a densely populated neighbourhood of Senegal’s capital Dakar, the halls were packed with people, mostly the elderly, wearing colorful clothes, including imams in flowing robes and a pair of Catholic priests in their cassocks.
    Ousmane Dieng, an imam, said he traveled throughout the city ahead of the campaign’s launch, hoping to convince people to put aside fear and take the vaccine for the greater good.
    “It was with a feeling of immense joy that we welcomed the vaccine.    We are fully confident about it, knowing it won’t kill us,” Dieng said after getting his shot.
    The West African country is one of the first in the region to start vaccinating its population against COVID-19.
    “We have seen how COVID manifests itself, and so it was with a smile that we can get vaccinated and at last achieve immunity,” said Baye Moussa Samba, a doctor at a health centre in the Sicap neighbourhood, which was previously a COVID testing centre.
    Senegal aims to inoculate about 90% of a targeted 3.5 million people, including health workers and high-risk individuals, by the end of 2021.
    As a lower-middle income country, Senegal is eligible for about 1.3 million vaccine doses for free through the first wave of the World Health Organization’s COVAX programme in early March.
    The country is negotiating with Russian for more vaccines and is also eligible to get 3.4 million doses for just under $23 million under an African Union plan.
(Reporting by Ngouda Dione and Cooper Inveen; writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Hereward Holland, Bate Felix, and Aurora Ellis)

2/25/2021 Israel’s Netanyahu Sets April Target For Reopening Economy
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks next to the Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis
(unseen) after their meeting in the PM's office in Jerusalem February 8, 2021. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel aims to reopen its economy by April 5 after having vaccinated all its eligible population and is in talks with vaccine makers Pfizer and Moderna to open facilities in the country, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday.
    Israel has been importing Pfizer-BioNTech PFE.N, BNTX.O and Moderna Inc MRNA.O vaccines.    It has administered at least one Pfizer dose to almost 50% of its 9 million population so far in one of the world’s swiftest campaigns. (Graphic:
    On Sunday, Israel reopened many businesses, including street shops and malls though with some leisure facilities being open only to people immunised by vaccine or by having recovered from COVID-19.    Many school children have returned to class but middle-school pupils are still home-learning, while restaurants are allowed to provide take-out and deliveries only.
    Speaking to reporters in Tel Aviv, Netanyahu said all eligible Israelis, 16 years of age and up, were expected to have been inoculated by the end of March, allowing a full reopening of the economy by April 5.
    Seeking re-election in a March 23 ballot, Netanyahu also said he was in talks with the heads of Pfizer and Moderna.    “We are going to establish two factories here that will make Israel part of the global vaccine supply chain,” he said.
    Netanyahu said one would manufacture vials for Moderna and the other would be a research and development centre for Pfizer.    There was no immediate comment from either company.
    On Tuesday Israel said it was giving small amounts of surplus COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinian-run territories as well as to several countries.
    This month the Palestinians received an initial shipment of Moderna doses from Israel, helping to kick off a limited vaccination programme in Gaza and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    While Israel has been vaccinating Palestinians in East Jerusalem, it had come under foreign criticism for not extending its campaign to the other Palestinian areas.
(This story corrects to remove ‘5’ from 5th paragraph to show Netanyahu said by April, not April 5.)
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/25/2021 Reports: U.S. Airstrike Iranian Target In Syria by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin speaks during a visit by US President Joe Biden to the Pentagon
in Washington, DC, February 10, 2021. (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    The U.S. military conducted air-strikes against Iranian-backed militant groups in eastern Syria.    In a statement on Thursday, Pentagon Spokesman John Kirby confirmed multiple structures belonging to the Iranian-backed Quds Force were destroyed in a U.S. airstrike.
    The attack was authorized by Joe Biden Thursday morning in response to suspected Iranian bombings on U.S. targets in Iraq.    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, who recommended the strikes, said he was confident they hit the correct targets.
    “We’re confident in the target that we went after, we know what we hit,” U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said.    “And we’re confident that that target was being used by the same Shi’ite militia that conducted the strikes.    And so, you’ll get more information in terms of the effects of the strikes as time goes by, but I just wanted to make sure that I gave you that viewpoint from me.”
    The strike was reportedly “limited in scope” and in line with Biden’s policy of appeasement of Iran.    At this time, it remains unclear what damage was caused or if there were any casualties.
[Lloyd James Austin III a retired United States Army four-star general who previously served as the 12th commander of United States Central Command (CENTCOM) from 2013 to 2016, and the last commanding general of United States Forces – Iraq Operation New Dawn, which ended in December 2011, appointed as the first black commander of CENTCOM by President Barack Obama and joined the boards of Raytheon Technologies, Nucor, and Tenet Healthcare, with all Senators voting to confirm him except Josh Hawley and Mike Lee.].

2/26/2021 Biden Authorizes Airstrike To Hit Iranian Target In Syria In Apparent Reversal Of Trump’s Pullout From Mideast by OAN Newsroom
Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin listens to a question as he speaks during a media briefing
at the Pentagon, Friday, Feb. 19, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin confirmed the United States carried out an airstrike in Syria targeting several Iranian militia facilities near the Iraqi border.    While speaking to reporters late Thursday, Austin said he was confident the airstrike hit the correct targets.
    In a statement earlier that day, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said multiple structures belonging to the Iranian-backed Quds Force were destroyed.
    This marks the first military action from the Biden administration and was in response to suspected Iranian bombings on U.S. targets in Iraq earlier this month.    Austin said the delay was due to the administration wanting to weigh its options amid heightened tensions in the region.
    “It was my recommendation,” stated U.S. defense secretary.    “We said a number of times, we will respond…on our timeline and, once again, we want to be sure that the kind of activity and want to be sure that we had the right targets.”
    The strike was reportedly “limited in scope” in line with Biden’s policy of appeasement of Iran and relied heavily on Iraqi Intelligence.
    “We allowed and encouraged the Iraqis to investigate and develop intelligence,” Austin explained.    “And that was very helpful to us in refining the target."
    At this time, it remains unclear what damage was caused or if there were any casualties.
    During his administration, President Trump had vowed to end America’s involvement in the wars in Syria and Iraq, but analysts have said this attack provides further evidence that policy is unlikely to continue under Biden.

2/26/2021 US bombs facilities in Syria used by Iran-backed militia by Lolita C. Baldor and Robert Burns, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    WASHINGTON – The United States launched airstrikes in Syria on Thursday, targeting facilities near the Iraqi border used by Iranian-backed militia groups.    The Pentagon said the strikes were retaliation for a rocket attack in Iraq earlier this month that killed one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member and other coalition troops.
    The airstrike was the first military action undertaken by the Biden administration, which in its first weeks has emphasized its intent to put more focus on the challenges posed by China, even as Mideast threats persist.
    “This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” the Pentagon’s chief spokesperson, John Kirby, said in announcing the strikes.
    “The operation sends an unambiguous message: President Biden will act to protect American and coalition personnel.    At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to deescalate the overall situation in eastern Syria and Iraq.”
    Kirby said the U.S. airstrikes “destroyed multiple facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian- backed militant groups.”
    Further details were not immediately available.
    Biden administration officials condemned the Feb. 15 rocket attack near the city of Irbil in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish-run region, but as recently as this week officials indicated they had not determined for certain who carried it out. Officials have noted that in the past, Iranian-backed Shiite militia groups have been responsible for numerous rocket attacks that targeted U.S. personnel or facilities in Iraq.
    Kirby had said Tuesday that Iraq is in charge of investigating the Feb. 15 attack.
    “Right now, we’re not able to give you a certain attribution as to who was behind these attacks, what groups, and I’m not going to get into the tactical de- tails of every bit of weaponry used here,” Kirby said.    “Let’s let the investigations complete and conclude, and then when we have more to say, we will.”
    A little-known Shiite militant group calling itself Saraya Awliya al-Dam, Arabic for Guardians of Blood Brigade, claimed responsibility for the Feb. 15 attack.    A week later, a rocket attack in Baghdad’s Green Zone appeared to target the U.S. Embassy compound, but no one was hurt.
    Iran this week said it has no links to the Guardians of Blood Brigade.
    The frequency of attacks by Shiite militia groups against U.S. targets in Iraq diminished late last year ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration, though now     Iran is pressing America to return to Tehran’s 2015 nuclear deal.    The U.S. under the previous Trump administration blamed Iran-backed groups for carrying out the attacks.    Tensions soared after a Washington-directed drone strike that killed top Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and powerful Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis last year.    Trump had said the death of a U.S. contractor would be a red line and provoke U.S. escalation in Iraq.    The December 2019 killing of a U.S. civilian contractor in a rocket attack in Kirkuk sparked a tit-for-tat fight on Iraqi soil that brought the country to the brink of a proxy war.
    U.S. forces have been significantly reduced in Iraq to 2,500 personnel and no longer partake in combat missions with Iraqi forces in ongoing operations against the Islamic State group.
    “This proportionate military response was conducted together with diplomatic measures, including consultation with coalition partners,” John Kirby, Pentagon chief spokesperson.

2/26/2021 Senate Minority Leader McConnell Supports Authorization Of Syria Airstrikes by OAN Newsroom
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell arrived for votes on Joe Biden’s cabinet nominees,
at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) weighed in on the recent U.S. military airstrikes in Syria.    In a statement on Friday, McConnell threw his support behind Joe Biden’s decision, saying he acted “well within the authorities of his office.”
    He added the administration should continue to confront any growing terrorist threats by Iran on American facilities and personnel.    Other GOP members came out in support of move, saying the strikes were necessary in addressing current and prior U.S. attacks.

2/26/2021 Democrats Question Need For U.S. Military Strike In Syria by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021, file photo, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby spoke
during a media briefing at the Pentagon, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
    Democrats are questioning the legality of a Biden administration airstrike in Syria.
    The U.S. military strike on Thursday targeted a site used by Iranian-backed militia groups in response to rocket attacks on American forces.    It marked the first known action by the military under Joe Biden.
    On Friday, the White House said the strikes were backed by the Constitution as well as the UN Charter.    They added, the administration included a “rigorous process to include legal review of the strikes conducted.”
    Officials said Biden used Article II of the Constitution to defend U.S. personnel and deter the risk of additional attacks.
    Pentagon press secretary John Kirby said the purpose of the strike was to both “make an impact” on the group’s ability to conduct future attacks, and to send a signal that the U.S. is going to protect its people.
    “As we made clear last night, and I think through President Biden’s order, he made clear that the United States will act to protect American and coalition personnel and our security interests in the region,” Kirby stated.
    However, the strike has divided Democrats who say Biden should have cleared the attack with them first.
Sen. Tim Kaine spoke during a U.S. Senate Budget Committee hearing regarding wages at large corporations
on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Stefani Reynolds/The New York Times via AP, Pool)
    Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.) said Congress must be fully briefed on the matter, adding military action without congressional approval is not constitutional.    Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) also said the strikes require congressional authorization and Congress should hold this administration to the same standards as previous administrations.
    Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who has long opposed military action in the Middle East, said there is “no justification for a president to authorize a military strike” without seeking explicit authority from Congress.
    Even White House press secretary Jen Psaki was targeted after one of her tweets from 2017 resurfaced.    In April of that year,     Psaki questioned the legal authority for strikes in Syria after the Trump administration launched airstrikes in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack.
    Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) retweeted Psaki, saying simply “great question.”
    A spokesperson for the White House National Security Committee said the Pentagon briefed congressional leaders ahead of the strike.
    The strike came as Washington and Tehran sparred over the possibility of returning to the 2015 nuclear deal, a process already on shaky ground due to the demands of both sides.    The White House said it will provide a full classified briefing on the strike to Congress in the coming week.

2/26/2021 Syria Condemns ‘Cowardly’ U.S. Air Strikes On Iran-Backed Militias by Maha El Dahan and Amina Ismail
FILE PHOTO: The Pentagon building is seen in Arlington, Virginia, U.S. October 9, 2020. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syria said U.S. air strikes against Iranian-backed militias in the east of the country on Friday were a cowardly act and urged President Joe Biden not to follow “the law of the jungle
    An Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the strikes killed one fighter and wounded four. U.S. officials said they were limited in scope to show Biden’s administration will act firmly while trying to avoid a big regional escalation.
    Washington and Tehran are seeking maximum leverage in attempts to save Iran’s nuclear deal reached with world powers in 2015 but abandoned in 2018 by then-President Donald Trump, after which regional tensions soared and fears of full-scale conflict grew.
    “Syria condemns in the strongest terms the cowardly U.S. attack on areas in Deir al-Zor near the Syrian-Iraqi border,” the Syrian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
    “It (the Biden administration) is supposed to stick to international legitimacy, not to the law of the jungle as (did) the previous administration.”
    Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh condemned the U.S. strikes, calling them “illegal aggression” and a violation of human rights and international law.
    The air strikes, early on Friday local time, targeted militia sites on the Syrian side of the Iraqi-Syrian frontier, where groups backed by Iran control an important crossing for weapons, personnel and goods.
    Western officials and some Iraqi officials accuse Iranian-backed groups of involvement in deadly rocket attacks on U.S. sites and personnel in Iraq over the last month.
    Russia, an ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, also criticised the U.S. strikes and called for “unconditional respect of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Syria.”
    White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the air strikes in Syria are meant to send the message that Biden will act to protect Americans.
    Future U.S. actions in the region will be deliberative and will aim to deescalate tensions in Syria, Psaki said.
    The Iraqi militia official close to Iran said the strikes targeted positions of the Kataib Hezbollah (KH) paramilitary group along the border.
    KH later confirmed the death of one of its fighters and identified him as Sayyid Rahi Salam Zayid al-Sharifi.
    “The American enemy persists in its criminality and kills the protectors of the nation and the honorable people of the country, not deterred from shedding innocent blood as long as the wages of murder are received from Saudi Arabia and the Emirates,” a KH statement said.
    Local sources and a medical source in eastern Syria told Reuters that at least 17 people had been killed, but gave no further details.    That toll could not be confirmed.
    The Pentagon said it had preliminary information about casualties, but did not provide any details.
    In recent attacks, a non-American contractor was killed at a U.S. military base at Erbil International Airport in Kurdish-run northern Iraq on Feb. 15 and, in the days that followed, rockets were fired at a base hosting U.S. forces, and near the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad.
    Biden’s decision to strike only in Syria and not in Iraq gives Iraq’s government breathing room as it investigates the Erbil attack, which also wounded Americans.
    Kataib Hezbollah has denied involvement in recent attacks against U.S. interests. Iran denies involvement in attacks on U.S. sites.
    Several attacks, including the one at Erbil airport, have been claimed by little-known groups which some Iraqi and Western officials say are a front for established Iranian-backed groups such as Kataib Hezbollah.
    U.S. lawmakers from both political parties welcomed the strikes but a number of Democrats questioned the legal justification under which they were carried out and the continuation of military operations in the Middle East.
    “I am very concerned that last night’s strike by U.S. forces in Syria puts our country on the path of continuing the Forever War instead of ending it,” said Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent who caucuses with Democrats.
    Pentagon spokesman John Kirby said the U.S. strikes totally destroyed nine facilities and partially destroyed two facilities at a border control point used by a number of Iranian-backed militant groups, including Kataib Hezbollah and Kataib Sayyid al-Shuhada.
    A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the decision to carry out the strikes was meant to signal that, while the United States wanted to punish the militias, it did not want the situation to spiral into a bigger conflict.
    The Iraqi military issued a statement saying it had not exchanged information with the United States over the targeting of locations in Syria, and that cooperation with the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq was limited to fighting Islamic State.
    Kirby, the Pentagon spokesman, said Iraq was able to help the United States determine who was responsible for the recent attacks in Iraq, but Baghdad did not assist in the targeting process in Syria.
    Iraq’s foreign minister will visit Iran on Saturday to discuss the regional situation including ways to avoid tension and escalation, Iraq’s foreign ministry said late on Friday.
    It was not clear how, or whether, the U.S. strikes might affect efforts to coax Iran back into negotiations about both sides resuming compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.
(Reporting by John Davison, Amina Ismail, Baghdad newsroom, Maha El Dahan in Beirut, Kinda Makieh in Damascus, Idrees Ali, Phil Stewart and Jarrett Renshaw in Washington, and Thomas Balmforth and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber in Moscow; Editing by Timothy Heritage, Mark Heinrich and Daniel Wallis)

2/26/2021 Exclusive: Biden Team Considering A Halt To ‘Offensive’ Arms Sales For Saudis by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks as he commemorates the 50 millionth coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccination with a number
of vaccine recipients in the South Court Auditorium at the White House in Washington, U.S., February 25, 2021. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Joe Biden’s administration is considering the cancellation of arms deals with Saudi Arabia that pose human rights concerns while limiting future military sales to “defensive” weapons, as it reassesses it relationship with the kingdom.
    Four sources familiar with the administration’s thinking said that after pausing half a billion dollars in arms deals with Saudi Arabia out of concern over casualties in Yemen earlier this year, officials are assessing the equipment and training included in recent sales to determine what can be considered defensive.    Those deals would be allowed.
    A State Department spokesperson said, “Our focus is on ending the conflict in Yemen even as we ensure Saudi Arabia has everything it needs to defend its territory and its people,” adding Biden has pledged to end U.S. military support for the military campaign against the Houthis.
    The Biden administration is recalibrating its relationship with Saudi Arabia, a country with which it has severe human rights concerns but which is also one of Washington’s closest U.S. allies in countering the threat posed by Iran.
    “They’re trying to figure out where do you draw the lines between offensive weapons and defensive stuff,” said one congressional aide familiar with the issue, describing the process.    The Biden administration is expected as soon as Friday to release a sensitive U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a U.S. resident who wrote for The Washington Post.
    The report finds that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the country’s de factor ruler, approved the killing, U.S. officials said.
    Sales of products deemed defensive – like Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-ballistic missile defense systems made by Lockheed Martin or Patriot missile defense systems made by Lockheed and Raytheon – would still be allowed under such the new policy.    But it would end big-ticket deals — for products such as precision-guided munitions (PGM) and small-diameter bombs — like those brokered under former President Donald Trump in the face of strong objections from members of Congress.    After he lost the Nov. 3 presidential election, Trump’s State Department kept approving weapons sales that could be considered offensive.
    It cleared the sale of Boeing Co GBU-39 small diameter bombs worth some $290 million to Saudi Arabia.    The Trump administration also gave its blessing to the sale to Riyadh of 7500 Raytheon PGMs for nearly $480 million.
    The weapons review also affects $23 billion of deals with the United Arab Emirates, another country that has been an important U.S. partner.
    On Jan. 20, the day that Trump left office and Biden became president, the UAE signed agreements with the outgoing administration to buy up to 50 F-35 jets, 18 armed drones and other defense equipment in a deal worth $23 billion.
    That sale, which the Trump administration justified as allowing the UAE to deter Iranian “threats,” is also among those being reviewed by the Biden administration.
    Congress had voted to block the UAE deal out of concern that it was being rushed through without sufficient assurances that the equipment would not fall into the wrong hands, but the Republican-controlled Senate did not override his veto.
    U.S. lawmakers said they would be more comfortable with limits on offensive weapons, with many vehemently opposed to the continued massive sales of munitions that they said have contributed to the humanitarian disaster in>     “We should continue to sell military equipment to our partners in the Gulf, but we should make sure that these really are truly defensive arms,” Democratic Senator     Chris Murphy said in a speech at the Council on Foreign Relations this week.
    Murphy, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s Middle East subcommittee, said sales of items like armed Reaper drones to the UAE could fuel a regional arms race.
    While Trump saw weapons sales as a way to create American jobs, Biden appears to revert to a stance that weighs human rights abuses more seriously than under the Trump presidency, a defense industry executive said.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle and Mike Stone; Editing by Chris Sanders and Alistair Bell)

2/26/2021 Gunmen Kidnap 300 Schoolgirls In Increasingly Lawless Northwest Nigeria by Hamza Ibrahim
FILE PHOTO: Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari speaks after security forces rescued schoolboys
from kidnappers, in Katsina, Nigeria, December 18, 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo/File Photo
    KANO, Nigeria (Reuters) – An operation to rescue more than 300 girls kidnapped in Nigeria had failed to pinpoint their location by late on Friday, almost 24 hours after gunmen seized them in a raid on their school.
    The raid in Zamfara state, where the governor ordered all boarding schools to close immediately, was the second such kidnapping in little over a week in the country’s northwest, a region increasingly targeted by militants and criminal gangs.
    Zamfara police said they had begun search-and-rescue operations with the army to find the “bandits” who took the 317 girls from the Government Girls Science Secondary School in the town of Jangebe.
    “There’s information that they were moved to a neighbouring forest, and we are tracking and exercising caution,” Zamfara police commissioner Abutu Yaro told a news conference.
    All the abductees remained at large, but the parent of one of them, Mohammed Usman Jangebe, said seven of their schoolmates had resurfaced after escaping the raiders by hiding in gutters.
    The assailants stormed in at around 1 a.m., firing sporadically, said Zamfara’s information commissioner, Sulaiman Tanau Anka.
    “Information available to me said they came with vehicles and moved the students.    They also moved some on foot,” he told Reuters.
    By late Friday, there had been no claim of responsibility for the raid.
    School kidnappings were first carried out by jihadist groups Boko Haram and Islamic State West Africa Province but the tactic has now been adopted by other militants whose agenda is unclear.
    They have become endemic around the increasingly lawless north, to the anguish of families and frustration of Nigeria’s government and armed forces.    Friday’s was the third such incident since December.
    The rise in abductions is fuelled in part by sizeable government payoffs in exchange for child hostages, catalysing a broader breakdown of security in the north, officials have said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    The government denies making such payouts, and President Muhammadu Buhari reiterated on Friday that it would will not succumb to blackmail.
    In a statement isued late on Friday, he also appealed to state administrations not to reward bandits with money or vehicles.
    Jangebe town seethed with anger over the abduction, said a government official who was part of the delegation to the community.     Young men hurled rocks at journalists driving through the town, injuring a cameraman, the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
    “People mobilised to block security operatives, journalists and government officials from getting access to the main town,” he said.
    Parents also had no faith in authorities to return their kidnapped girls, said Mohammed Usman Jangebe told Reuters by phone.
    “We are going to rescue our children, since the government isn’t ready to give them protection,” he said.
    “All of us that have had our children abducted have agreed to follow them into the forest.    We will not listen to anyone now until we rescue our children.”
    Buhari replaced his long-standing military chiefs this month amid the worsening violence.
    Last week, unidentified gunmen kidnapped 42 people including 27 students, and killed one pupil, in an overnight attack on a boarding school in the north-central state of Niger.    The hostages are yet to be released.
    In December, dozens of gunmen abducted 344 schoolboys in northwest Katsina state.    They were freed after six days but the government denied paying a ransom.
    Islamic State’s West Africa branch in 2018 kidnapped more than 100 schoolgirls in northeast Nigeria, all but one of whom – the only Christian – were released.    A ransom was paid, according to the United Nations.
    Perhaps the most notorious kidnapping in recent years was when Boko Haram militants abducted 276 schoolgirls from Chibok in Borno state in April 2014.    The incident drew widespread global attention, with then U.S. first lady Michelle Obama among the prominent figures calling for their return.
    Many have been found or rescued by the army, or freed years later after negotiations between the government and Boko Haram, according to sources, but 100 are still missing.
    Ikemesit Effiong, head of research at Lagos-based risk consultancy SBM Intelligence, said many northern governors were keen to pay to avoid protracted hostage situations attracting international outrage, which in turn gave an incentive for more abductions.
    “When you have these mass abductions now and you see victims are released relatively quickly, unlike Chibok, the one thing that has changed is money,” Effiong said.
(Reporting by Hamza Ibrahim in Kano, Ardo Hazzad in Bauchi, Maiduguri Newsroom and Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja and Libby George in Lagos; Writing by Paul Carsten and Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by Angus MacSwan and John Stonestreet)

2/26/2021 U.N. Human Rights Boss Urges Saudi Arabia To Allow Free Speech, Assembly
FILE PHOTO: U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a news conference at the
European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, December 9, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse
    GENEVA (Reuters) – United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, in rare public comments on Saudi Arabia, said on Friday that people were unlawfully held in the kingdom and urged it to uphold freedom of expression and the right to peaceful assembly.
    Bachelet, addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council where Saudi Arabia has observer status, welcomed the release earlier this month of women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, adding: “although I regret that others continued to be unjustly detained.”
    Hathloul campaigned for women’s right to drive and to end Saudi Arabia’s guardianship system that requires women to obtain permission of a male relative for certain decisions and travel.    She spent nearly three years behind bars in a case that drew international condemnation, and remains forbidden to leave Saudi Arabia for five years.
    Bachelet did not refer to the expected release by the Biden administration of a sensitive U.S. intelligence report on the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    The European Union, in a speech by Portugal’s ambassador Rui Macieira, voiced concern at Saudi Arabia’s use of anti-terrorist and security bodies to try civilians and activists subjected to prolonged detention, including solitary confinement.
    “Noting reforms to the penal system and a significant decrease in the use of capital punishment, the EU calls for further attention to the rights of migrant workers, to women’s rights and to the freedom of expression and of religion or belief,” he said.
    Bachelet welcomed plans announced by Saudi authorities to adopt new legislation on family law and personal status.
    “I urge the authorities to also establish legislative frameworks to uphold the rights to freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association for everyone in the Kingdom,” she said.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by John Revill and Peter Graff)

2/26/2021 In Iraq’s Biblical Lands, Scattered Christians Ask ‘Should I Stay Or Go?’ by John Davison
Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian is seen near his home which he reclaimed when Islamic State
militants was driven out, in Mosul, Iraq February 21, 2021. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani
    MOSUL, Iraq (Reuters) – A jihadist message, “Islamic State endures”, is still graffitied on the front gate of Thanoun Yahya, an Iraqi Christian from the northern city of Mosul, scrawled by Islamist militants who occupied his home for three years when they ruled the city.
    He refuses to remove it, partly in defiance of the militants who were eventually beaten by Iraqi forces, but also as a reminder that Iraq’s scattered and dwindling Christian community still lives a precarious existence.
    “They’re gone, they can’t hurt us,” said the 59-year-old, sitting in his home which he reclaimed when Islamic State was driven out in 2017.    “But there aren’t many of us left.    The younger generation want to leave.”
    The stark choice facing many Christians in Muslim-majority Iraq will be highlighted during the first ever papal visit to the Biblical nation.     Pope Francis’s trip runs from March 5-8 and will include a stop in Mosul.
    Yahya sold the family’s metalwork shop to pay a ransom for his brother, kidnapped by al Qaeda militants in 2004 at a time when Christians were being abducted and executed.
    Since then, he has watched siblings leave for foreign countries and work and income dry up.
    Of 20 relatives who once lived in the neighbourhood, only his family of six remain.
    Iraq’s Christians have endured unrest over centuries, but a mass exodus began after the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003 and accelerated during the reign of Islamic State, which brutalised minorities and Muslims alike.
    Hundreds of thousands left for nearby areas and Western countries.
    Across Iraq’s northern Nineveh Plains, home to some of the oldest churches and monasteries in the world, the remaining Christians often live displaced in villages that fell easily to Islamic State in 2014 or in enclaves of bigger cities such as Mosul and the nearby self-run Kurdish region.
    The Islamists’ rule over almost a third of Iraq, with Mosul as their capital, ended in 2017 in a destructive battle with security forces.
    Physical and economic ruin remain.    Iraqi authorities have struggled to rebuild areas decimated by war, and armed groups that the government has not been able to control vie for territory and resources, including Christian heartlands.
    Christians say they are left with a dilemma – whether to return to damaged homes, resettle inside Iraq or migrate from a country that experience has shown cannot protect them.
    “In 2014, Christians thought their displacement would last a few days,” said Cardinal Louis Sako, head of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church.
    “It lasted three years.    Many lost hope and migrated.    There’s no security or stability.”
    Iraq’s indigenous Christians are estimated to number around 300,000, a fifth of the 1.5 million who lived in the country before the 2003 invasion that toppled Sunni Muslim leader Saddam Hussein.
    Christians were tolerated under Hussein, but singled out for kidnappings and killings in the communal bloodshed of the mid-2000s onwards.
    Pope Francis is to visit Iraq on an historic trip that eluded his predecessors.    He will say a prayer for the victims of conflict at a site in Mosul where old churches lie in ruins, once used as religious tribunals by Islamic State.
    Christians welcome the visit, but do not believe it will improve their lot.
    “The pope can’t help us, only God can,” Yahya said.
    Yahya’s family, who fled to Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region during Islamic State’s rule, is one of just a few dozen that have returned to Mosul out of an original population of some 50,000 Christians, according to local clergy.
    His two teenage sons help out at the local church, the only one fully repaired in Mosul, which fills to about half its modest capacity on Sundays.
    Firas, his eldest, finds little more than a day a week of casual labour and sees no future in Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city.
    “If I want to marry, I’ll have to leave.    Christian women from here are displaced to other areas and don’t want to come back,” he said.    “Ideally, I’d go to the West.”
    The experience of Islamic State, which told Christians to convert, pay a tax or be killed, and the inability of Iraqi and Kurdish security forces to prevent the group marauding through their hometowns, has left many Christians distrustful of any but their own.
    The nearby Christian town of Hamdaniya boasts its own militia, which local officials say is necessary because of the proliferation of Shi’ite Muslim paramilitary groups which seek control of land, and Islamic State militants who remain in hideouts across northern Iraq.
    “If there were no Christian militia here, no one would come back.    Why should we rely on outside forces to protect us?” said a local militia leader, who requested anonymity.
    Nearly 30,000 Christians, half of Hamdaniya’s population, have returned, including a small number from abroad, and began rebuilding infrastructure thanks to foreign aid.    It is a rare bright spot.
    In the neighbouring village, Christian leader Sako said most Christians were unable or unwilling to return out of fear of a local Shi’ite militia, and because non-Christians had bought their property in their absence.
    Some have showed interest in resettling in Hamdaniya, but local officials generally reject this, fearing it would weaken Iraqi Christians’ presence.
    “If people move here from their own villages, it empties those areas of Christians,” said Isam Daaboul, the mayor of Hamdaniya.
    “This threatens our existence in areas we’ve been for generations.”
(Reporting by John Davison; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

    This page created on 1/1/2021, and updated each month by 1/31/2021 and 2/28/2021.

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