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 return to King Of The South 2021 January-February or continue to King Of The South 2021 May-June.


    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:


3/2/2021 Israeli PM, First UAE Ambassador Meet For First Time, Discuss Projects by OAN Newsroom
TOPSHOT – 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 via Getty Images)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the United Arab Emirates’ first ambassador to Israel met for the first time.    Netanyahu and Mohamed Al Khaja met in Jerusalem on Tuesday, one day after the envoy arrived in the country to begin his new role.
    Their meeting came after Israel and the UAE agreed to normalize relations under agreements brokered by the Trump administration.    The pair reportedly had a warm meeting, with the two discussing a range of bilateral and regional projects.     “We are making history, and making history requires wisdom, courage and confidence,” Al Khaja stated.
    Netanyahu added, “and I would say competence too. Competence is also important, but we have all that in abundance so you’re going to have your hands full and we’re going to make sure you do.”
    Since August, the U.S. has helped restore diplomatic ties between Israel, the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

3/2/2021 Turkey Plans To Shut Down Pro-Kurdish Opposition Party: Ruling Party Official
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) shout slogans during a protest against the
arrest of 82 people including members of their party, in Istanbul, Turkey September 25, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s government plans to shut down the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), the ruling AK Party’s deputy parliament chairman was quoted as saying on Tuesday, the most senior official to endorse nationalist demands for its closure.
    President Tayyip Erdogan’s government and its nationalist MHP allies accuse the HDP of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), accusations that escalated after Ankara said Turkish captives were killed by the PKK in Iraq last month.
    The MHP have repeatedly called for the HDP’s closure over links to the PKK, which Turkey, the European Union, and United States designate a terrorist organisation.
    The HDP denies the accusation.    The third largest party in parliament, it has also faced a barrage of legal bids to lift the parliamentary immunity of its lawmakers.
    “God willing, we will shut down the HDP in the eyes of the people,” Cahit Ozkan, a deputy parliamentary group chairman for Erdogan’s AKP, was quoted as saying by the state-owned Anadolu news agency.
    “Our people have lost hope in this party.    All 83 million are demanding that this party be politically shut at the ballots and legally within the framework of the constitutional order.”
    Ozkan’s remarks come after Erdogan, whose government has faced criticism from rights groups and Western allies over backsliding in democratic freedoms, announced plans to strengthen the right to fair trial and freedoms of expression.
    Earlier on Tuesday, MHP leader Devlet Bahceli reiterated his call to shut the HDP and called for measures to prevent it re-establishing under a different name, as it has done before.
    “The HDP’s closure is urgent, vital and mandatory,” Bahceli said.    “From head to toe, the HDP is in the swamp of corruption and terror
    The crackdown on the HDP has included arrests of thousands of party officials and members, while dozens of its elected mayors and lawmakers have been ousted.
    The PKK has waged an insurgency in the mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey since 1984 and more than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Dominic Evans)

3/2/2021 Syrian Victims Of Chemical Attacks File Case With French Prosecutors by John Irish
FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad addresses the new members of parliament in Damascus, Syria
in this handout released by SANA on August 12, 2020. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
    PARIS (Reuters) – Lawyers representing survivors of a chemical weapons attack in 2013 in Syria have filed a criminal complaint against Syrian officials whom they blame for the deaths of hundreds of civilians in a rebel-held area.
    France is home to thousands of Syrian refugees, and its investigating judges have a mandate to determine whether crimes against humanity were committed anywhere in the world.
    The case, which about a dozen people have joined, follows a similar one opened in Germany last year.    It offers a rare legal avenue for action against the government of President Bashar al-Assad.
    Attempts by Western powers to set up an international tribunal for Syria have been blocked by Russia and China at the U.N. Security Council.
    “This is important so that the victims have the possibility to see those responsible being brought to justice and held accountable,” Mazen Darwish, who heads the Paris-based Syrian Center for Media and Freedom of Expression (SCM), told Reuters.
    The SCM filed the complaint along with two other NGOs: the Open Society Foundation’s Justice Initiative and Syrian Archive.
    France’s intelligence services concluded in 2013 that a sarin gas attack on the Eastern Ghouta region just south east of Damascas that killed 1,400 people had been carried out by Syrian government forces.
    The Syrian government denies it has used chemical weapons against its own civilians.
    The complaint is based on what the lawyers say is the most comprehensive body of evidence on the use of substances such as sarin gas in Syria.
    They include testimonies from survivors and defectors, an analysis of the Syrian military chain of command, and hundreds of items of documentary evidence, including photos and videos.
    “We have compiled extensive evidence establishing exactly who is responsible for these attacks on Douma and Eastern Ghouta, whose horrific effects continue to impact survivors,” said Hadi al Khatib, founder and director of Syrian Archive.
    A U.N.-commissioned investigation to identify those behind chemical weapons attacks in Syria concluded in 2016 that Syrian government forces had used chlorine and sarin gas.
    Darwish said he expected another case to be opened in Sweden in the coming months.
(Reporting by John Irish; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2021 With Poll Support Dropping, Erdogan’s Party Looks To Change Turkish Relection Law: Officials by Orhan Coskun and Birsen Altayli
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a meeting to unveil the Human Rights Action Plan
in Ankara, Turkey March 2, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – With its support in polls dropping, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s AK Party is considering changes to electoral laws which could rescue its prospects in elections due to be held by 2023, three AK Party officials say.
    Polls show combined support for the AK Party and its MHP ally has fallen to just 45%.    For the first time, pollsters say, disenchanted supporters who drifted away from the AK Party appear unlikely to be won back.
    Modern Turkey’s longest-ruling leader and the most powerful since its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Erdogan has lost support after economic growth slowed, the lira nose-dived and two AK Party founders broke away to form rival parties.
    He remains the country’s pre-eminent politician, with wide powers under an executive presidency introduced three years ago, but still relies on parliament for legislative endorsement.
    Support for his Islamist-rooted AK Party, in power since 2002, has fallen to 36% from 42% at the last election, with its nationalist MHP ally slipping to 8%, according to a compilation of 15 recent polls.
    Defeat in Turkey’s three largest cities in 2019 municipal elections highlight the challenge for the next national vote.    Options for new party alliances are limited after Erdogan’s virulent denunciation of opposition parties.
    Trying to seize back the initiative, he announced a government plan for human rights on Tuesday and eased nationwide coronavirus lockdowns.    He also promised changes to election rules, without giving details.
    “We are starting extensive work regarding changing political party and election regulations to improve democratic participation,” the president said.
    Three AK Party sources who spoke on condition of anonymity said plans included dividing large urban electoral districts into smaller constituencies, changes which one party official said could significantly boost the number of AK Party lawmakers.
    They could also cut the threshhold for entering parliament – currently at 10% of votes, one of the highest in the world – to 7%, a move that would reassure Erdogan’s nationalist partners after their support fell below the existing threshold.
    A 7% barrier would still be high enough to bar the breakaway Gelecek (Future) and DEVA parties, both polling around 2%, from entering parliament unless they were part of a larger alliance.
    Pollsters say Erdogan’s military interventions and assertive foreign policy, which dragged Turkey into political crises with the United States and European Union, had cost support in addition to the domestic difficulties.
    “The AK Party and Tayyip Erdogan wore themselves out, in particular due to economic policies which they applied and in particular their foreign policies,” MetroPOLL research director Özer Sencar.
    Sencar and MAK Consultancy Chairman Mehmet Ali Kulat said a growing number of people were turning their backs on Erdogan’s party, without knowing yet in which direction they might turn.
    “For the first time, there is a grey area that says they are mad at the AK Party and will not vote for it,” said Kulat.    “In the past, they would get mad but they would still vote for it.”
    Kulat said the two new parties, as well as the centrist nationalist Iyi Party, had already peeled some voters away from the AK Party.
    The AK Party officials who spoke to Reuters acknowledged the party has been losing support but said that was partly down to the temporary impact of coronavirus restrictions, including three months of nightly curfews and weekend lockdowns across Turkey.
    “There is a mass of voters who are straying from the party but there will be more work in the field to win these back,” one source said.
(Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

3/2/2021 Israel Moving To Protect Hundreds Of Personnel Against ICC Probe by Dan Williams
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz speaks to military personnel during a tour of the
Gaza border area, in southern Israel March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dan Williams
    KEREM SHALOM, Israel (Reuters) – Israel estimates that hundreds of its citizens might be subject to war crimes probes by the International Criminal Court, whose jurisdiction it rejects, and is working on how to protect them, the Defence Minister said on Tuesday.
    Including himself among Israelis who could be threatened with arrest, Benny Gantz told Reuters: “I was never afraid to go across enemy lines, I will continue to stand wherever I have to.”
    The Hague-based tribunal ruled last month that it has jurisdiction over the occupied West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.    The ruling could lead to criminal investigations of Israel and of Palestinian militant groups including Hamas.
    Israel is not a member of the court and rejects its jurisdiction, a position backed by its close ally the United States.    Palestinians have welcomed the ruling as a chance for justice for victims of Israeli attacks.
    In an interview on Israel’s fortified border with Gaza, Gantz, who also holds Israel’s justice portfolio, called the ruling a “negative development” and added: “We have our own teams working in different (places) to try (and) influence (the ICC).”
    Gantz was the military’s chief of staff during a 2014 war between Israel and militants in Hamas-controlled Gaza.    The ICC has pointed to that conflict as a potential issue to be probed.
    Asked by Reuters how many Israelis, including himself, might expect to be subject to arrest should the probe lead to criminal investigations, Gantz said: “I guess several hundred, but we will take care of everybody.”
    Gantz called that “an estimate,” declining to say if Israel had drawn up a list of officials.    Israel will provide legal assistance to any implicated Israelis and will give them legal warnings regarding travel if necessary, Gantz said.
    Asked if he himself might change his travel plans in light of the ICC probe, Gantz said: “So far, no.”
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; editing by Jeffrey Heller and Philippa Fletcher)

3/2/2021 Israeli Defence Chief Sees ‘Special Security Arrangement’ With Gulf States by Dan Williams
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz wears a face mask as he looks out from the window of a helicopter
during a tour of the Gaza border area, southern Israel March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Dan Williams
    KEREM SHALOM, Israel (Reuters) – Israel’s defence minister said on Tuesday it intends to develop a “special security arrangement” with new Gulf Arab allies, who share common concerns about Iran.
    The United Arab Emirates and Bahrain established formal relations with Israel last year.
    As part of their U.S.-backed rapprochement, Israel and the UAE have proposed defence and military cooperation.    The UAE’s first ambassador to Israel met Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday, a day after taking up his post.
    On a visit to an Israel-Gaza border crossing, Defence Minister Benny Gantz played down a report by public radio Kan that Israel was considering a defence agreement with Gulf Arab countries, but said security ties would be pursued.
    “I don’t think it’s going to be a defence pact but we are going to develop defence relations with every country that we have relations with,” Gantz told Reuters.
    “We have this process of setting up (a) special security arrangement, and within this arrangement we can continue and develop our relations,” he said.    Gantz declined to go into details on what such an arrangement would entail.
    He signalled that Israel had no opposition to the sale, approved during former U.S. President Donald Trump’s last days in office, of 50 Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth jets to the UAE.    The deal is now under review by U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration.
    Asked about the Israeli government’s view of the sale, Gantz said Israel’s “qualitative military edge” must be preserved by the United States, adding that the advanced warplane was already in the country’s arsenal.
    In Jerusalem, Netanyahu met UAE ambassador Mohamed Al Khaja at the prime minister’s office and said in welcoming remarks: “We’re changing the Middle East.    We’re changing the world.”
    An Israeli statement said the two discussed prospects for developing regional and bilateral projects in a broad range of fields.    Israel opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi in January.
    Palestinians have been critical of the rapprochement, worried that their own unmet goal of statehood in Israeli-occupied territory might be sidelined.
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Mark Heinrich)

3/2/2021 U.S. Blacklists Two Leaders Of Yemen’s Houthi Movement by Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder
FILE PHOTO: Armed Houthi followers ride on the back of a truck after participating in a funeral of Houthi fighters killed in recent
fighting against government forces in Yemen's oil-rich province of Marib, in Sanaa, Yemen February 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on two military leaders of the Houthi movement in Yemen, accusing them of procuring weapons from Iran and organizing attacks, in the Biden administration’s first punitive action against the group.
    The sanctions contrast with the State Department’s decision last month to revoke terrorist designations on the group imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration on its last full day in office, over concern that they would exacerbate Yemen’s humanitarian crisis.
    But President Joe Biden’s administration has signaled limits to U.S. tolerance of the Iran-backed Houthi movement, warning that Washington will keep up pressure on the group’s leadership.
    “The United States remains committed to promoting accountability of Houthi leadership for their actions, which have contributed to the extraordinary suffering of the Yemeni people,” Director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control Andrea Gacki said in a Treasury Department statement.
    Tuesday’s move blacklisted Mansur Al-Sa’adi, the Houthi naval forces chief of staff, and Ahmad ‘Ali Ahsan al-Hamzi, the commander of Yemen’s Houthi-aligned Yemeni air force and air defense forces.
    The Treasury accused the two leaders of orchestrating attacks by the Houthis that affected the Yemeni people, neighboring countries and commercial vessels in international waters, in actions done to “advance the Iranian regime’s destabilizing agenda.”
    “The United States condemns the destruction of civilian sites by the Houthi militants designated today.    These individuals command forces that are worsening the humanitarian crisis in Yemen,” Gacki said.    The war has sent the impoverished country spiraling into what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
    The new sanctions were issued as Biden has withdrawn support for a Saudi Arabia-led military campaign in Yemen, declaring that the six-year war, widely seen as a proxy conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, “has to end.”
    The Treasury said Iran has intensified the conflict by providing direct financial and material assistance to the Houthis, including small arms, missiles, explosives and unmanned aerial vehicles, or drones, that have been used against the internationally recognized Yemeni government.
    The Treasury said Al-Sa’adi has received extensive training in Iran and helped smuggle weapons into Yemen, while al-Hamzi has acquired Iranian-made weapons for use in the civil war, including in drone strikes.
    Tuesday’s sanctions – imposed under an executive order that aims to freeze the assets of people threatening the peace, security or stability of Yemen – blocks any property those blacklisted may have under U.S. jurisdiction and generally bars Americans from dealing with them.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and David Lawder; Editing by Mary Milliken and Franklin Paul)

3/4/2021 Israel: Iran’s ‘Environmental Terror’ Behind Mediterranean Oil Spill by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Tuesday, Feb. 23, 2021 file photo, tar is stuck on rocks after an oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea, at Tel-Dor Nature
Reserve, in Nahsholim, Israel. Israeli authorities said they believed a tanker suspected of smuggling oil from Iran to Syria was responsible
for spilling tons of crude into the Mediterranean last month, causing one of Israel’s worst environmental disasters. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)
    Israeli officials are blaming Iran for a major oil spill in the Mediterranean Sea.
    “We have located the crude oil tanker, which has polluted the Israeli shore line,” announced Gila Gamliel, Israeli Environmental Protection Minister.    “It is owned by a Libyan company and was carrying a cargo from Iran to Syria.”
    Israel highlighted the issue of illegal oil shipments from Iran to regimes around the world while noting this activity poses an environmental threat as well.    Officials said the Iranian tanker was traveling without radio contact, which endangers other vessels on the high seas.
    “This is environmental terror, we have succeeded in identifying who polluted our shores and we will bring them to justice,” stated Minister Gamliel.    “We will sue for compensation in the name of all citizens of Israel for damage to the health, the nature, and the floral and the fauna.”
    Officials also highlighted Iran’s nuclear program and its support for regional terror groups, adding to this latest environmental threat against the Jewish State.

3/4/2021 Roadside Bomb Attack On Yemen Separatist Forces Kills Three by Mohammed Ghobari
FILE PHOTO: Security forces loyal to the separatist Southern Transitional Council stand guard as they are
deployed in the southern port city of Aden, Yemen December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Fawaz Salman/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – A roadside bomb killed a civilian and two fighters travelling in a convoy of vehicles belonging to Yemen’s main southern separatist forces in Aden city on Thursday, the militia said.
    The Southern Transitional Council (STC) forces had earlier said that a car bomb struck the convoy carrying a general, but the armed forces command later said in a statement that it was a roadside bomb.
    “Terrorist elements planted an explosive device … and detonated it when the general’s convoy passed and then opened fire,” it said, adding that the civilian killed had been in the vicinity.
    It said several people were injured but gave no figure.
    Video footage shared by STC activists on Facebook showed a white four-wheel-drive vehicle with extensive damage.
    Aden is the seat of Yemen’s internationally recognised government, which in December formed a new power-sharing cabinet including the STC under a deal brokered by Saudi Arabia.
    The STC said in a statement that those behind the attack are “declaring that their battle is not against the Houthi enemy … but against the south, its leadership and forces” but did not specify which Yemeni party it was referring to.
    Riyadh is leading a military coalition fighting to oust the Iranian-aligned Houthi movement that controls much of north Yemen and the capital Sanaa, and restore the internationally recognised government of President Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi.
    On Dec. 30, at least 22 people were killed and dozens wounded in an attack on Aden airport moments after a plane landed with members of the new cabinet.    The coalition blamed the Houthi movement, who denied responsibility.
    The power-sharing deal ended a standoff that had triggered clashes in Aden and complicated United Nations efforts to broker a permanent ceasefire in the overall conflict.
    The war has killed more than 100,000 people and caused the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
(Additional reporting by Mohammed Mokhashef in Aden and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Kevin Liffey, William Maclean)

3/4/2021 Netanyahu Calls ICC War-Crimes Decision ‘Outrageous’, Vows To Fight It Everywhere
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a visit to Leumit Health Care Services vaccination facility in
Jerusalem where he meets the 4,000,000 person who had been vaccinated in Israel, February 16, 2021. Alex Kolomoisky/Pool via REUTERS
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemned as “outrageous” on Thursday a decision by the International Criminal Court prosecutor to formally investigate alleged war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
    “I am going to fight this in every place,” he told Fox News.
(Reporting by Lisa Lambert)

3/4/2021 Saudi Prince Pushes On With $500 Billion Megacity As U.S. Points The Finger Over Khashoggi Killing by Saeed Azhar
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman attends a graduation ceremony for the 95th batch of cadets from the King Faisal Air Academy in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia December 23, 2018. Picture taken December 23, 2018. Bandar Algaloud/Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout via REUTERS//File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – It seems an unlikely vision, a megacity in the desert with no cars or roads, all run by machines that can recognise your face.
    Yet preparations for NEOM, the $500 billion signature project in Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s drive to diversify Saudi Arabia’s economy, are well underway.    The organisation behind the development, expected to be close to the size of Belgium when it is completed, will hire 700 people this year, according to Simon Ainslie, the venture’s chief operating officer.
    While NEOM is being sold as a vision of a brighter future, international investors have yet to bite.
    The scale of the project is vast and the region already has well-established transport and business hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar.    The development is also inextricably linked to the Crown Prince, who as de facto leader of the kingdom has drawn ire over Saudi’s war in Yemen and his own alleged links to the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
    A U.S. intelligence report released last week concluded the prince approved an operation to “capture or kill” Khashoggi, who had criticised Saudi policies in columns for the Washington Post. Saudi officials deny this and have rejected the report’s findings.
    Analysts say the report is unlikely to change investor sentiment towards Saudi Arabia in the absence of U.S. action against the prince.
    “They had expected sort of a bigger push back from the (Biden) administration but if this is it then the signal is fairly weak,” said Neil Quilliam, managing director at Azure Strategy, a Middle East-focused consultancy.
    “So I don’t see this as being a major impediment to most companies seeking opportunities in the kingdom.” [L5N2L06I7]
    Quilliam said there was some skepticism about so-called ‘giga projects,’ citing the King Abdullah Economic City project in the early 2000s, that never really took off.
    The Saudi government’s media office and NEOM did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on the status of NEOM in the wake of the U.S. report.
    Before the report was released, NEOM said that the project had attracted domestic and international interest.
    “NEOM is in discussions with several companies across diverse industries that are keen to be involved,” it said in a statement.
    NEOM was publicly launched in 2017 but large-scale construction of the city has yet to begin.    The project currently employs over 750 people, 500 of them hired last year.
    The murder of Khashoggi by Saudi agents in Istanbul in 2018 had already caused an international outcry prompting some people at the time to withdraw from the advisory board of NEOM.
    The list of current members is not publicly available and NEOM declined to say who sits on it.
    Funding for NEOM will initially come from Saudi Arabia’s sovereign wealth fund, the Public Investment Fund, according to two financial sources close to the matter.
    “Investors will start getting interested when the core infrastructure is operating so they are not taking absolute green-field risk,” said a financial source familiar with the project.
    In 2017, Softbank Group CEO Masayoshi Son said the company would work with Saudi Arabia on the development of NEOM.
    Softbank and Son did not respond to a Reuters request for comment on what their current investment plans are for NEOM.
    The Saudi sovereign fund PIF has invested around $45 billion in Softbank’s inaugural $100 billion technology fund.
    The PIF said in an email that its role on major projects was to act as a long-term cornerstone investor to ensure “that capital allocated to all its projects, including NEOM, generate sustainable returns that generate long-term shareholder value
    NEOM’s flagship zero-carbon project “The Line” envisages a city of 1 million people run by smart technology with facial recognition and 5G networks as standard.
    “We’re fundamentally building the world’s first cognitive city,” Joseph Bradley, NEOM’s head of technology and digital and a former CISCO executive, told Reuters, adding that an operating system known as NEOS aimed to seek consent to use data from 90% of residents.
    This year’s hiring spree will span a range of professions from lawyers, accountants and engineers, to specialist areas such as advanced robotics and adventure sports, according to Ainslie, who was hired in 2019 from Microsoft Corp.
    NEOM officials say building would start soon on ‘The Line’, a car-free, road-free city within NEOM, without specifying a date.
    NEOM said in a statement that work had begun on surveys and temporary infrastructure, and that permanent works would start this year with the first phase to be completed by 2025.
(additional reporting by Davide Barbuscia in Dubai, Marwa Rashad in London, Paresh Dave in San Francisco and Raya Jalabi in Dubai; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Carmel Crimmins)
[NEOM means "New Future," the acronym NEOM was first used publicly with the meaning "New Future" on 24 October 2017, when Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of a project involving the construction of a futuristic $500 billion city that will be built to run entirely on alternative energy.].

3/4/2021 Israel, Austria And Denmark Establish Vaccine-Supply Alliance by Dan Williams
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) – Israel, Austria and Denmark said on Thursday they would set up a joint research and development fund and possibly production facilities for COVID-19 vaccines to ensure they had long-term supplies for booster shots or to contend with virus mutations.
    European Union members Austria and Denmark have been chafing at delays in ordering, approving and distributing vaccines within 27-member bloc that have left it trailing far behind Israel’s world-beating vaccination campaign.
    After hosting his Austrian and Danish counterparts for talks and a tour of an Israeli gym open to those documented as having been vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19 with presumed immunity, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced the pact.
    “Once we get over this cycle of the disease we have no guarantee that it won’t come back.    We don’t know how long – nobody knows – how long these vaccines will hold up,” he said at a joint news conference.    “And therefore we have to protect our people against the reemergence of this pandemic or mutations.”
    Austria’s Sebastian Kurz said he was “very happy” about an EU vaccine initiative “but we also need to cooperate worldwide.”
    The European Commission has said member states were free to strike separate deals should they wish to.
    The trilateral pact, Kurz said, would include investment in production plants in Europe and Israel, and each country contributing where it best can to the manufacturing cycle.
    “In Austria, for example, lipid production necessary for many vaccines is already taking place,” the chancellor said.
    Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said her country was looking to expand its production capacity.    “We would like in common also to explore possible cooperation on clinical trials” with Israel and Austria, she said.
    Netanyahu, who said 90% of eligible Israelis have either received at least one dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine or recovered from the virus, has made the programme a showcase of his campaign for a March 23 election.
    “We will be, together, ‘Vaccination Nations’,” he said of the deal with Austria and Denmark.    “And we agreed that if other nations want to join us, we will discuss this among ourselves and welcome others to come in as well.”
(Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Bernadette Baum, Alexandra Hudson)

3/4/2021 Protesters Block Lebanon Roads For Third Day As Economy Falters
A demonstrator walks past burning tires and garbage bins blocking a road, during a protest against the fall of the
Lebanese pound and mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon March 4, 2021. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Demonstrators blocked main roads in several parts of Lebanon on Thursday in a third day of protests as anger over the country’s economic downturn grows.
    Protests started on Tuesday after the currency tumbled to a new low, enraging a population long horrified by the country’s financial meltdown.
    Lebanon’s financial crisis, which erupted in 2019, has wiped out jobs, raised warnings of growing hunger and locked people out of their bank deposits.
    On Thursday evening, protesters burnt tyres to block roads leading out of Beirut in Jal el Dib and Furn al-Shebak.    The main road was also blocked in Zouk district to the north of the capital, with tensions sometimes arising between motorists wanting to drive through and demonstrators.
    In the past year, Lebanon has been through a popular uprising against its political leaders, the bankruptcy of the state and banking system, a COVID-19 pandemic and, in August, a huge blast that killed 200 people and destroyed parts of Beirut.
    The collapse of the Lebanese pound, which fell to 10,000 to the dollar on Tuesday was the last straw for many who have seen prices of consumer goods such as diapers or cereals nearly triple since the crisis erupted.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Editing by William Maclean)

3/4/2021 Syria Sees COVID-19 Spike But Grim State Of Economy Limits Lockdown Options
FILE PHOTO: People stand outside a hospital in Damascus, amid concerns over the spread of the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Damascus, Syria March 3, 2021. Picture taken March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Firas Makdesi
    DAMASCUS (Reuters) – Syria has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections since mid-February but lockdown options remain limited due to the country’s dire economic situation, a member of the country’s coronavirus advisory committee said on Thursday.
    “Starting February 10th or around that time we started seeing a spike in cases,” Dr. Nabough al-Awa told Reuters.
    “I don’t have accurate percentages as I’m only one doctor… but I also talk to my colleagues.    If I was seeing in my clinic two or three cases a day last year now I am seeing five or six.”
    The health ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Thursday.
    On Monday it started administering COVID-19 vaccinations to frontline healthcare workers and said the country was experiencing a rise in infections.    It gave no further details.
    Syria has officially recorded a total of 15,753 cases and 1,045 deaths since the start of the pandemic.    Actual numbers are expected to be much higher owing to the government’s limited testing capability.
    “It is not possible in Syria to test everybody concerning PCR, there is a total shortage of PCR kits, we don’t get enough to test everybody,” said Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent (SARC), speaking from Damascus to a news briefing in Geneva.
    The government imposed a nationwide curfew when the pandemic first hit last year but restaurants, shops and schools re-opened as that lockdown was gradually eased starting from May.    Mask wearing is required in government offices and on crowded public transport.
    One relief worker said the number of people seeking oxygen tanks spiked around a week ago but was now stabilising again.
    Several schools in Damascus have had to shut classes in the past week due to the rise in cases amongst students.
    Online learning remains difficult in a conflict-ridden country where internet and electricity supply is not stable.
    Awa said adding to the problem was the fact that most schools in Syria don’t have access to functional bathrooms, and soap and sanitation facilities, which if provided could decrease the number of infections.
    “These things could help reduce numbers if closure is difficult,” Awa said.
    “It’s still not too late to act but the problem is we have to admit that we are being subjected to a severe spike.”
(Reporting by Kinda Makieh and Firas Makdesi, additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva, writing by Maha El Dahan, editing by Alexandra Hudson, William Maclean)

3/4/2021 Syrians Struggle With Food, Fuel Shortages After Decade Of War – Red Cross by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Internally displaced Syrian woman walks with a child, near tents at a camp in Northern Aleppo
countryside, Syria January 20, 2021. Picture taken January 20, 2021. REUTERS/Mahmoud Hassano/
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A decade after Syria’s conflict began, families struggle more than ever to buy food while ambulances lack fuel to bring wounded and COVID-19 patients to hospital, Red Cross and Red Crescent officials said on Thursday.
    “Syria is in a deadly spiral of warfare, economic downturn, pandemic and sanctions,” International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) President Peter Maurer told a news conference.    “Close to three-quarters of the population now need humanitarian assistance, an increase of 20% compared to 12 months ago.”
    Of Syria’s current population of some 18 million, 13.4 million rely on aid, U.N. figures show.
    Syria has seen a sharp rise in COVID-19 infections since mid-February but lockdown options remain limited due to the country’s dire economic situation, a member of the country’s coronavirus advisory committee said in Damascus on Thursday.
    Khaled Hboubati, President of the Syrian Arab Red Crescent, said Western sanctions on the government of President Bashar al-Assad also hindered imports of medical equipment and medicines.
    “The lack of fuel means that there are no ambulances to bring patients to hospital,” said Francesco Rocca, President of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.    “Without power it is impossible to safely store blood or, one day, the vaccines.”
    Maurer said ICRC officials continue to visit people held in Syria’s central prisons but had no access to unofficial detention centres on all sides.
    Prisoner exchanges, clarifying the fate of tens of thousands of missing and identification of dead bodies were vital preconditions for meaningful talks to end the war, he said and needed to be done urgently.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/5/2021 ‘I’ll Believe It When I See It’ – Saudi Arabia Doubts Oil Recovery And Keeps Taps Tight by Ahmad Ghaddar and Alex Lawler
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Arabia's Minister of Energy Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud speaks via video link during a virtual emergency meeting of OPEC and non-OPEC
countries, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia April 9, 2020.Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – This week’s surprise decision by Saudi Arabia and other top oil producers to broadly stick with output cuts despite rising crude prices was influenced by events in an unexpected place – Italy.
    About a year after the country’s financial heart became one of the first European cities to enter a lockdown to curb the spread of COVID-19, Milan is again facing restrictions.
    “Take a look at what is happening in Milan today,” Saudi energy minister Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman Al-Saud told a news conference on Thursday after a meeting of OPEC and its allies.
    “These things, they don’t keep you at ease with the idea of venturing, leaping into an unknown future,” he added.
    Restrictions on movement destroyed up to a fifth of oil demand last year and led OPEC and its allies – known as OPEC+ – to make record output cuts.
    And while global oil futures are back where they were before the pandemic – which for many pundits and investors heralded more production from OPEC+ – the recovery in fuel demand has been tepid as global travel remains subdued.
    Thursday’s meeting saw OPEC+ mostly rolling over its production cuts into April, and Riyadh extending its voluntary 1 million barrels per day (bpd) curb by one more month.
    Russia which had publicly called for higher output was allowed to hike production slightly, along with Kazakhstan.    Countries such as Iraq and the United Arab Emirates, which at previous meetings had favoured production hikes, did not raise any objections this time, sources close to the matter said.
    “Overall this was the most bullish outcome we could have expected,” JP Morgan said.
    The bank, like many others, was expecting OPEC+ to raise output.    It revised its 2021 Brent crude price forecast $3 a barrel higher to $67, and said it saw inventories in OECD countries coming in line with the latest 5-year average in June.
    Goldman Sachs raised its Brent forecast for the second and third quarters by $5 a barrel to $75 and $80, respectively.
    OPEC’s internal forecasts, seen by Reuters, suggested the oil market could absorb an additional 1.4 million bpd of OPEC+ production from March to April, and still see a reduction in inventories this year.
    But the Saudi minister chose to err on the side of caution, despite higher projected crude demand from OPEC’s own analysts, and dismissed signs of a stronger market, such as forecasts for a rapid economic recovery.
    “I will believe it when I see it,” he said on several occasions during an hour-long press conference.
    He cautioned that analysts had been wrong before.
    “We are in a crisis-mode and if anybody wants to be daring, he can.    I’m not,” he said.
    Oil producers have a window into the future, making them something of a leading indicator, in that their customers have to order cargoes a few months out.
    So right now, refiners are lining up their May cargoes, and Saudi Arabia is getting a sense of what customers worldwide think demand will look like at the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer driving season – typically the period of peak annual demand.
    Prince Abdulaziz left spectators with a message that predicting future policy of the kingdom and OPEC+ would not be easy.
    While he said that bringing down excess oil inventories in industrialised nations and monitoring transport data were metrics that would inform future decisions, he was not willing divulge any other factors.
    OECD oil stocks in December were around 140 million barrels above the latest 5-year average, the latest OPEC data shows.
    The IMF projects Saudi Arabia’s fiscal breakeven oil price for 2021 at about $68 a barrel, down from about $78 a barrel in 2020.    Brent crude is currently trading around $69 a barrel.
    The OPEC+ decision, which led to a 9% spike in oil prices, has so far not elicited any major reaction from Washington.
    White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki made no direct comment when asked on Thursday, and instead said the United States was focused on helping Americans with an economic stimulus package.
    Former U.S. President Donald Trump regularly pushed Saudi Arabia to hike output to avoid price spikes.
(Editing by Mark Potter)

3/5/2021 In Revival Of Street Movement, Algerians Protest For Second Friday
Demonstrators gesture and shout slogans during a protest demanding political change,
in Algiers, Algeria March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Ramzi Boudina
    ALGIERS (Reuters) – Thousands of Algerians demonstrated against the political and military elite in cities across the country for a second successive Friday, as the United Nations human rights body voiced concern at what it called a crackdown on protesters.
    The demonstrations mark a resumption of the street protest movement, calling for the old political establishment to depart and the army to quit politics, that suspended its weekly marches a year ago because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Police have not stopped the protests but maintain a heavy street presence and the spokesman for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said there was reliable information that hundreds had been arrested around the country.
    The mass street protests erupted in 2019, prompting the military to oust veteran President Abdulaziz Bouteflika, and continued weekly until the global pandemic reached Algeria a year ago.
    “Thieves, you have destroyed the country,” the protesters chanted in central Algiers.
    “This peaceful revolution will continue until we fully achieve our goals,” said Mohamed Meriche, 33, a school teacher.
    President Abdelmadjid Tebboune, elected in 2019 in a vote that many protesters regarded as a charade, has hailed the movement as providing national renewal, but demonstrators see his government as a continuation of previous administrations.
    “There have been numerous instances across the country where security forces have used unnecessary or excessive force and arbitrary arrests to suppress peaceful demonstrations,” the spokesperson for the U.N. rights commissioner said on Friday.
(Reporting by Hamid Ould Ahmed; Additional reporting by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva; Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/5/2021 ‘Coronavirus Can’t Kill Me Now’; Africans Cheer Rollout Of COVAX Vaccinations by Camillus Eboh and Omar Mohammed
FILE PHOTO: Dr Ngong Cyprian receives his first dose of the Oxford/AstraZeneca coronavirus disease (COVID-19)
vaccine from Dr Faisal Shuaib, Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer of the National Primary Health Care Development Agency,
at the National hospital in Abuja, Nigeria, March 5, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/File Photo
    ABUJA/NAIROBI (Reuters) – Nigeria, Kenya and Rwanda started inoculating frontline healthcare workers and vulnerable citizens against COVID-19 on Friday as Africa, the world’s poorest continent and home to 1.3 billion people, stepped up its vaccination campaigns.
    While some wealthy Western nations have already inoculated millions of people, many African states have struggled to secure doses and have yet to administer a single shot.
    But the global vaccine-sharing COVAX facility, co-led by the World Health Organization (WHO), the GAVI vaccine alliance and others, has begun to bear fruit in nations from Ghana to Rwanda.
    “This means that I will die when God wants because the coronavirus cannot kill me now,” 90-year-old Stephanie Nyirankuriza said, leaning on a walking stick after her shot at a health centre just east of the Rwandan capital Kigali.
    Rwanda is the first nation in Africa to use pharmaceutical company Pfizer’s doses that require ultra-cold storage.
    President Paul Kagame’s government, which prides itself on technological prowess but is often criticised as authoritarian, has installed special infrastructure to keep the Pfizer vaccine at the required -70C.
    The Kagame government, which has received both Pfizer and AstraZeneca shots via the COVAX facility, plans to vaccinate up to 30% of Rwanda’s 12 million people by the end of the year.
    Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and its biggest economy, inoculated healthcare workers with AstraZeneca shots on Friday, the start of a campaign that aims to vaccinate 80 million of the 200 million-strong population this year.
    “I want everybody to be vaccinated,” Ngong Cyprian, a 42-year-old doctor, told Reuters in the capital Abuja as he became the first in Nigeria to receive his shot, while officials clapped and cheered.
    President Muhammadu Buhari will be vaccinated on Saturday in an effort to increase public confidence in the shots.
    Nigeria took delivery of 3.92 million AstraZeneca doses on Tuesday under COVAX, but the facility only aims to cover 20% of the population in the countries it helps.    Nigeria is also expecting at least 40 million doses from the African Union as well as 100,000 donated doses of India’s Covishield vaccine.
    Applause greeted the first vaccinations in Kenya on Friday after it received its first million doses this week via COVAX.
    “I am feeling great,” said Patrick Amoth, director general at the ministry of health, after getting his shot.    “The vaccine is safe.”
    Kenya, which is keen to revive its tourism-dependent economy, East Africa’s largest, plans to vaccinate 1.25 million people by June and another 9.6 million in the next phase, with more vaccines expected within weeks.
    “This may mark the beginning of the end of the pandemic,” said Susan Mochache, a senior official at the health ministry.
    Neighbouring Uganda took delivery on Friday of its first batch of 864,000 AstraZeneca doses via COVAX and aims to begin inoculations on March 10.
    As of Thursday, Africa as a whole had reported nearly 4 million infections and 104,000 deaths – still a relatively small toll compared to other continents, with higher national death counts in the United States, India, Brazil, Russia and Britain.
    South Africa has recorded by far the most COVID-19 infections and deaths on the African continent, with 1.5 million cases and more than 50,000 fatalities to date.
    On Friday, a senior health official said South Africa was negotiating with an African Union (AU) platform to buy vaccines for at least 10 million of its people.
    The country was provisionally allocated 12 million doses developed by AstraZeneca, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson in an AU vaccine plan, but it was unclear how many vaccines it would seek to buy after it halted plans to use the AstraZeneca shot. ($1 = 109.5500 Kenyan shillings)
(Additional reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana in Kigali, Elias Biryabirema in Kampala and Alexander Winning in Johannesburg; Writing by Gareth Jones; Editing by Alex Richardson)

3/5/2021 WHO Sees Ebola Risk As “Very High” For Guinea’s Neighbours by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: The logo of the World Health Organization (WHO), is seen before a news conference
in Geneva, Switzerland, June 25, 2020. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse/File Photo/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – World Health Organization officials said on Friday the risk of an Ebola outbreak spreading from Guinea to its neighbours was “very high” and that some neighbouring countries were not prepared for outbreaks or for future vaccination campaigns.
    WHO’s Guinea representative, Georges Alfred Ki-Zerbo, told a virtual briefing that 18 cases had been identified and four of those people had died.
    So far, 1,604 people have been vaccinated against Ebola in the new outbreak in Guinea, the first resurgence of the virus there since a 2013-2016 outbreak – the world’s worst – which spread to several other West African countries and killed thousand of people.
    The Ebola virus causes severe vomiting and diarrhoea and is spread through contact with body fluids.
    Officials said a readiness assessment for Guinea’s neighbours — Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and Liberia — showed gaps in their preparedness.
    “There are six neighbouring countries to Guinea and we conducted an assessment of readiness.    Two of the countries are not ready and one is borderline and there are three countries more or less ready,” the WHO’s Regional Emergency Director Abdou Salam Gueye said by videoconference from Guinea.
    He said none of the neighbouring countries was completely ready to start Ebola vaccinations, should they be required, and that there were not enough vaccines doses available in any case to begin vaccinating preventively.
    “But those neighbouring countries agreed on cross-border cooperation and coordination to control the outbreak,” he said.
    Ebola vaccines, like some COVID-19 shots, require ultra-cold chain storage which presents logistical challenges.    Guinea received COVID-19 vaccine doses donated from China this week.
    “We are dealing with quite fragile health systems including (lack of) capacity to address many public health challenges so dealing with both COVID and Ebola remains a challenge,” said the WHO’s Dr Michel Yao, Director of Strategic Health Operations.
    In a separate flare-up of a 2018-20 outbreak, the Democratic Republic of Congo has also reported new Ebola cases in recent weeks.
(Reporting by Emma Farge; editing by John Stonestreet and Timothy Heritage)

3/5/2021 Ten Killed In Military Helicopter Crash In Southeast Turkey: Defence Ministry
Soldiers pray as they stand by the coffins of 11 army personnel died when a military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey on
Thursday, during a ceremony at an airport in Elazig, Turkey, March 5, 2021. Arif Akdogan/Defence Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A military helicopter crashed in southeast Turkey on Thursday, killing 10 army personnel including a lieutenant general and injuring three, the defence ministry said.
    The helicopter took off from the Bingol province at 1055 GMT, the ministry said in a statement, adding that search operations were launched after it lost contact at 1125 GMT.
    It described the crash as an accident, but did not elaborate.    The injured soldiers were being taken to hospital, the ministry added.

3/5/2021 Saudi-Led Coalition Says It Downed Six Houthi Drones Fired At Khamis Mushait
FILE PHOTO: Drone aircraft are put on display at an exhibition at an unidentified location in Yemen in this
undated handout photo released by the Houthi Media Office July 9, 2019. Houthi Media Office/Handout via REUTERS.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi group in Yemen said it had intercepted six explosive drones fired towards the kingdom on Friday, with the Houthis claiming to have launched attacks into southern Saudi Arabia since dawn.
    The Iran-aligned Houthis have recently stepped up cross-border drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities, mostly targeting the southern part of the country.    The coalition says it intercepts most attacks.
    The Houthis fired the six intercepted drones towards Khamis Mushait near the Yemen border in attacks since dawn, the coalition said in statements carried by Saudi state news agency SPA and Ekhbariya TV.
    Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said in Twitter posts on Friday that three drones had been fired at dawn, and five in the afternoon.    They hit Abha International Airport and King Khalid Air Base, in the Khamis Mushait area, he said.
    Yemen’s Houthi forces said on Thursday they fired a missile and hit a Saudi Aramco facility in the Red Sea city of Jeddah.    There has been no confirmation from the Saudi authorities.
    The United States and United Nations have renewed peace efforts as fighting has also intensified in Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region.
    On Tuesday, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed new sanctions on two Houthi military leaders.
    The conflict is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Houthis deny being puppets of Tehran and say they are fighting a corrupt system.
(Reporting by Lisa Barrington; editing by Nick Macfie and Edmund Blair)

3/5/2021 Turkey’s Pro-Kurdish Party Says It Will Regroup If Hit By Court Ban by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Selahattin Demirtas, a jailed former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), wave party flags as they
gather for a press statement outside the Istanbul Justice Palace, the Caglayan Courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer//File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) said on Friday it would keep campaigning under a different banner if a court outlawed its current organisation over alleged links to militants.
    Officials told Reuters this week that Turkey’s top appeals court had launched an enquiry into the HDP, the third largest party in parliament, in a step that could ultimately lead to a ban.
    “We as the HDP have B and C plans of course. If the HDP is shut down of course we have our own preparations.    We come from such a tradition which has always had parties being shut down,” HDP co-leader Pervin Buldan told a meeting with foreign media.
    “We have until now continued to fight on by establishing other parties after a party is shut down.    It will be like that in the future,” she said, without providing further details.
    The HDP has dismissed accusations that it is linked to militants from the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and European Union.
    Turkish authorities have arrested thousands of HDP party officials and ousted dozens of its elected mayors and lawmakers in a crackdown in recent years.
    The pressure on the HDP intensified last month after Ankara said the PKK had executed 13 prisoners, including Turkish military and police personnel, during an army operation to rescue them in Iraq’s Gara region.
    The moves against the HDP came as President Tayyip Erdogan, whose AK Party came to power since 2002, announced on Tuesday an “action plan” to boost human rights.
    “This plan is in fact a confession that human rights have been destroyed in many areas,” the HDP’s other co-leader Mithat Sancar told reporters.
    “The government is trying to appear cute to Europe and the new U.S. administration and send a message of good intent to win time,” he said, pointing to key Council of Europe and European Union meetings later this month.
    More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict since the PKK launched its insurgency in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey in 1984.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/5/2021 U.S. Denies Report Of Potential Sanctions On Lebanese Central Bank Chief
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during a news conference
at Central Bank in Beirut, Lebanon, November 11, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Washington denied on Friday that it was considering imposing sanctions on Lebanon’s veteran central bank governor Riad Salameh, whose role in the country’s financial turmoil has come under fresh scrutiny.
    “We have seen reports about possible sanctions on Riad Salameh.    They are untrue,” a U.S. State Department spokesperson told Reuters.
    Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the United States was weighing sanctions against him amid a wider investigation into the alleged embezzlement of public funds.
    Salameh said on Friday he would file lawsuits against Bloomberg and its correspondent in Beirut for what he called “fabricated news.”
    Bloomberg did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    A former Merrill Lynch banker, Salameh has led Lebanon’s central bank since 1993.    But the collapse of the financial system has shattered his reputation as a rare pillar of stability in the country.
    Swiss investigators are now looking into allegations of money laundering and embezzlement tied to Lebanon’s central bank, though they have not said whether Salameh is a suspect.
    A Lebanese government official told Reuters in January that the Swiss authorities were probing multi-million dollar transfers by Salameh, his brother and his assistant.
    Salameh has denied any wrongdoing.
    The central bank governor became a focus of anger during protests against the ruling elite as the crisis erupted in late 2019.    Banks have since locked depositors out of their savings as the currency crashed, making at least half the population poor.
    Meanwhile, foreign donors have demanded a central bank audit as a key reform before they release any aid which Lebanon badly needs.
(Reporting by Ellen Francis and Laila Bassam; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Alex Richardson)

3/7/2021 Defense Secy Says U.S. Will ‘Respond Accordingly’ To Iraq Missile Strike 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) (Photo by SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
    Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said the U.S. will retaliate accordingly to the recent Iraqi rocket attacks.    In an interview Sunday, Austin discussed the recent attack on a base that was holding U.S. troops in Iraq’s Anbar Province, which led to the death of a U.S. contractor.
An empty tent is pictured at a displaced persons camp in Habbaniyah in Iraq’s Anbar province
on November 10, 2020. (Photo by AHMAD AL-RUBAYE/AFP via Getty Images)
    Although officials were still gathering information, Austin said the U.S. was aware of who was responsible for the attack and plans to hold them accountable for their actions.    Additionally, the U.S. accused Iran of endorsing the missile strike.
    “The message to those that would carry out such an attack is: Expect us to do what’s necessary to defend ourselves,” Austin noted.    “We’ll strike, if that’s what we think we need to do, at a time and place of our own choosing.”
    Reports said the same base was targeted in 2020 by a missile strike from Iran.

3/8/2021 Yemen’s Houthis Attack Saudi Oil Heartland With Drones, Missiles
Smoke billows from the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen March 7, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthi forces fired drones and missiles at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s oil industry on Sunday, including a Saudi Aramco facility at Ras Tanura vital to petroleum exports, in what Riyadh called a failed assault on global energy security.
    The Saudi energy ministry said there were no casualties or loss of property from the attacks.    The defence ministry said it intercepted an armed drone coming from the sea prior to hitting its target at an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility.
    Shrapnel from a ballistic missile fell near a residential compound in Dhahran used by state-controlled Saudi Aramco, the world’s biggest oil company, the ministries said.
    The attacks drove Brent crude prices above $70 a barrel to their highest since January 2020, while U.S. crude futures touched their loftiest since October 2018. [O/R]
    The sites are located on the Gulf coast across from Iran and near Iraq and Bahrain, which is home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet.    Yemen lies thousands of kms southwest on the Gulf of Aden.
    Announcing the attacks, the Houthis, who have been battling a Saudi-led coalition for six years, also said they attacked military targets in the Saudi cities of Dammam, Asir and Jazan.
    “Such acts of sabotage do not only target the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, but also the security and stability of energy supplies to the world, and therefore, the global economy,” a ministry spokesman said in a statement on state media.
    The Saudi-led coalition earlier said it intercepted 12 armed drones aimed at “civilian targets” without specifying a location as well as two ballistic missiles fired towards Jazan.
    The Eastern Province is home to most of Aramco’s production and export facilities.    In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, was shaken by a big missile and drone attack on oil installations just a few km (miles) from the facilities hit on Sunday, which Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
    That attack, which was claimed by the Houthis but which Riyadh said did not originate from Yemen, forced Saudi Arabia to temporarily shut more than half of its crude output, causing a huge price spike.
    Houthi military spokesman Yahya Sarea said on Sunday that the group had fired 14 drones and eight ballistic missiles in a “wide operation in the heart of Saudi Arabia.”
    The Houthis recently stepped up cross-border attacks on Saudi Arabia at a time when the United States and the United Nations are pushing for a ceasefire to revive stalled political negotiations to end the war.
    Last Thursday, the movement said it fired a missile at an Aramco petroleum products distribution plant in the Red Sea city of Jeddah which the Houthis had attacked in November 2020, hitting a storage tank.    Aramco and Saudi authorities have not commented about Thursday’s claim.
    The military alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the Saudi-backed government from power in the capital, Sanaa.    The conflict is widely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Colonel Turki al-Malki, the spokesman of the Saudi defence ministry and of the Saudi-led military coalition, said in a statement that the ministry would take “all necessary, deterrent measures to safeguard its national assets.”
    Earlier, the coalition said it conducted air strikes on Houthi military targets in Sanaa and other Yemeni regions on Sunday and warned that “civilians and civilian objects in the Kingdom are a red line.”
    It said the Houthis had been emboldened after the new U.S. administration revoked terrorist designations on the group in February that had been imposed by former President Donald Trump’s administration and backed by Riyadh.
    Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Houthi military leaders in the first punitive measures against the group by President Joe Biden’s administration following the increase in attacks on Saudi cities and intensified battles in Yemen’s Marib region.
    In February, Biden declared a halt to U.S. support for offensive operations by the coalition but said the United States would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.
    The war, which has been in a military stalemate for years, has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
(Reporting by Gulf team; Marwa Rashad in London and Nayera Abdallah and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo and Yemen team; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Louise Heavens, Frances Kerry, William Maclean)

3/8/2021 U.S. Commits To Saudi Defence After Houthi Attacks On Oil Heartland
FILE PHOTO: Smoke billows from the site of Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen March 7, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United States said on Monday it is committed to defending Saudi Arabia following drone and missile attacks claimed by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, including on a Saudi facility vital to oil exports.
    Saudi authorities said there were no casualties or property losses from Sunday’s attacks targeting an oil storage yard at Ras Tanura, site of a refinery and the world’s biggest offshore oil loading facility, and a residential compound in Dhahran used by state-controlled oil giant Saudi Aramco.
    The attacks, which drove Brent crude prices above $70 a barrel to their highest since January 2020, come at a time of friction in the decades-old alliance between Saudi Arabia and the United States as President Joe Biden puts pressure on Riyadh over its human rights record and the ruinous Yemen war.
    “The heinous Houthi assaults on civilians and vital infrastructure demonstrate lack of respect for human life and disregard for peace efforts,” the U.S. embassy in the kingdom said in an Arabic-language Twitter post.
    “The United States stands by Saudi Arabia and its people.    Our commitment to defend the Kingdom and its security is firm.”
    The Houthis have been battling a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen for six years in a conflict largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    In new incidents on Monday, the coalition said it had intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile fired
towards Khamis Mushait – in south Saudi near the Yemen border – and an explosive drone fired towards the kingdom’s southern region.
    Saudi Defence Ministry spokesman Colonel Turki al-Malki, who also speaks for the coalition, said on Al Arabiya TV channel that Iran was smuggling missiles and drones to the Houthis.    The group and Tehran have in the past rejected such charges. [D5N2JU016]
    Riyadh has repeatedly said that Iran’s ballistic missile programme and support for regional proxies including in Yemen should be part of any talks aimed at reviving a nuclear pact with Iran that Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump quit.
    The Houthi movement said its operation on Sunday using 14 drones and eight ballistic missiles also attacked military targets in the Saudi cities of Dammam, Asir and Jazan.
    The coalition said it destroyed 12 Houthi drones, without specifying locations in the kingdom, and two ballistic missiles launched towards Jazan.
    The Saudi defence ministry later said it had intercepted an armed drone coming from the sea before it could hit its target at Ras Tanura.    Shrapnel from a ballistic missile fell near the residential compound used by Aramco.
    The two sites in the Eastern Province are located on the Gulf coast across from Iran and near Iraq and Bahrain, regional base of the U.S. Navy.    Yemen lies nearly 1,000 km (600 miles) southwest on the Gulf of Aden.
    Eastern Province has most of Aramco’s production and export facilities.    In 2019, Saudi Arabia, the world’s top oil exporter, was shaken by a big attack on oil installations just a few km (miles) from the facilities targeted on Sunday, which Riyadh blamed on Iran, a charge Tehran denies.
    The 2019 attack, which was claimed by the Houthis but which Riyadh said did not originate from Yemen, forced Saudi Arabia to temporarily shut more than half of its crude output.
    The United States later sent American troops and military equipment to bolster the kingdom’s air and missile defences.
    The Houthis have stepped up attacks as the United States and United Nations are pushing for a truce to revive stalled peace talks.    Biden has declared a halt to U.S. support for offensive operations in Yemen but said Washington would continue to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.
    On Sunday, the Saudi-led coalition said the Houthis were emboldened after the Biden administration revoked terrorist designations on the group imposed by Trump.
    Last week, the U.S. Treasury Department imposed sanctions on two Houthi military leaders in the first punitive measures against the group by Biden’s administration following the spike in attacks on Saudi cities and battles in Yemen’s Marib region.
    The Yemen war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.    The Houthis, who have controlled the capital since 2014, say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
(Reporting by Gulf team, Ellen Francis and Maher Chmaytelli in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

3/8/2021 Looming China Extradition Deal Worries Uighurs In Turkey by Daren Butler
An Ethnic Uighur demonstrator wearing a protective face mask to prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), takes part in a gathering
on the occasion of International Women's Day to protest China's treatment of Uighurs, in Istanbul, Turkey March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Joining hundreds of women in Istanbul to protest at China’s treatment of Uighurs, Nursiman Abdurasit tearfully thinks of her jailed mother in Xinjiang and fears that Uighurs like her in Turkey may one day be sent back under an extradition deal.
    Beijing approved an extradition treaty between the two nations in December and with the deal awaiting ratification by Ankara’s parliament, activists among some 40,000 Uighurs living in Turkey have stepped up efforts to highlight their plight.
    Abdurasit came to Turkey to study in 2015 and lost contact with her family four years ago.    Last summer she discovered her parents and two brothers had been given long jail sentences on suspicion of unspecified “terrorism-related activities.”
    “I have been living with the knowledge that my mother has been in a detention centre for the last four years, experiencing repression,” she said at a protest to mark Women’s Day on an Istanbul seafront, near China’s Istanbul consulate.
    The headscarved 32-year-old said she recalled International Women’s Day was her mother’s happiest day, when the family would give her presents, until she received the 13-year jail sentence.
    Around her, the 1,000-strong crowd held up photos of missing relatives and waved the blue-and-white flags of the independence movement of East Turkestan, the name by which the movement refers to Xinjiang.
    U.N. experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in northwest China’s Xinjiang region and the United States said in January China has committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighurs.
    China denies accusations of abuses in Xinjiang, and has said the complexes it set up in the region provided vocational training to help stamp out Islamist extremism and separatism.
    “China says that what we are doing is a crime, ‘what you are doing is separatism, disparaging the state’,” said Abdurasit, voicing concern about the consequences of the extradition deal waiting in a Turkish parliamentary commission.
    “If this agreement is ratified, we could be extradited for this crime. So we are worried,” said the woman, who lives in a small Istanbul flat with her Uighur husband and six-year-old daughter.
    Worries among Uighur Muslims living in Turkey have been exacerbated by Ankara’s dependence on China for COVID-19 vaccines, having received 15 million doses from China’s Sinovac Biotech and ordered tens of millions more.
    However, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu has denied that the extradition agreement would lead to Uighurs being sent back, describing it as a routine according similar to ones Turkey has with other countries.
    A Chinese embassy spokesperson said last month that Uighurs who have been holding regular protests near China’s diplomatic premises in Turkey in recent months were trying to deceive Turkish people and damage bilateral relations.
    “These people’s aim with their made-up lies is to attack the Chinese government’s Xinjiang policies, blacken China’s image and exploit the problems related to Xinjiang,” he said.
    The embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the protest on Monday.
(Additional reporting by Bulent Usta and Mehmet Emin Caliskan; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alison Williams)

3/8/2021 Lebanon’s Deadlock Ignites Street Protests For Seventh Day
Demonstrators gather during a protest against the fall in Lebanese pound currency and
mounting economic hardships, in Sidon, Lebanon March 8, 2021. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s president told security forces to prevent roadblocks after protesters shut main roads across the country for a seventh straight day on Monday in anger at more than a year of economic crisis and months of political paralysis.
    Measures agreed in a meeting with security and government officials included ordering a crackdown on anyone violating monetary and credit laws, including foreign exchange bureaus, a statement said.
    Since the Lebanese pound, which has lost 85% of its value, tumbled to a new low last week, protesters have blocked roads daily.
    “We have said several times that there will be an escalation because the state isn’t doing anything,” said Pascale Nohra, a protester on a main highway in the Jal al-Dib area.
    As Lebanon’s financial crisis erupted in late 2019, a wave of mass protest rocked the country, with outrage boiling over at leaders who have overseen decades of state graft.
    Tens of thousands of jobs have been lost, bank accounts have been frozen and many have been plunged into poverty.
    On Monday, three main roads leading south into the capital were blocked while in Beirut itself, protesters briefly closed a road in front of the central bank.
    Local media reported gun shots being fired in Beirut’s central Martyrs’ square, but it was unclear what the source was and there were no injuries reported.
    In Tyre in the south, one man tried to burn himself by pouring gasoline on his body but civil defence members stopped him in time, the state news agency said.
    In Tripoli in the north, one of Lebanon’s poorest cities, demonstrators built a brick wall one metre high to prevent cars from passing through allowing a pathway for emergency cases.
    Lebanon’s army chief held a separate meeting with military commanders at which he stressed the right to peaceful protest but without damage of public property.
    General Joseph Aoun warned of an unstable security situation, adding military officers were also suffering economic hardship.    “The officer also is suffering and is hungry, to the officials I say, where are you going?    What are you waiting for?    What are you planning to do?” he said in a statement.
    “The new developments on the financial and security fronts must be tackled quickly,” the presidency statement said.
    After a port explosion devastated whole tracts of Beirut in August and killed 200 people, Caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government resigned.    But the new prime minister-designate, Saad al-Hariri, is at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun and has been unable to form a new government that must carry out the reforms needed to unlock international aid.
    On Saturday, Diab threatened to quit even caretaker work to try to push for the formation of a new government.
    Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rai hit at politicians in his Sunday sermon: “How can the people not revolt when the price of one dollar has surpassed 10,000 Lebanese pounds in one day, how can they not revolt when the minimum wage is $70?
    Rai has called for an U.N.-sponsored international conference to help Lebanon.
(Reporting By Maha El Dahan, Laila Bassam, Ellen Francis and Beirut bureau; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean)

3/10/2021 Netanyahu To Visit UAE Thursday, May Meet Saudi Crown Prince: Israel’s Kan
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu adjusts his mask during a news conference after his meeting with the Israeli citizen
no. 5,000,000 to get the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2021. Miriam Alster/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday and may meet the Saudi crown prince there in an opportunity to showcase new Gulf ties before a closely contested election in Israel, its public broadcaster Kan said.
    The report was not immediately confirmed by Netanyahu’s office or by the UAE.    Kan said he would hold talks with Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan and that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman might join them.
    Israel established formal relations with the UAE and Bahrain last September – only its third and fourth normalisation deals with Arab states in over 70 years – as part of a U.S.-brokered agreement. The three countries share common concerns about Iran.
    Saudi Arabia, a Gulf powerhouse and Islam’s birthplace, encouraged the rapprochement but has stopped short of recognising Israel itself.
    It was not immediately clear if Netanyahu, on what Israeli media said would be a one-day visit, would also go to Bahrain, as he had planned to do during a previously scheduled one-day trip to the Gulf in February which he postponed due to the coronavirus crisis.
    Netanyahu, largely running in politically polarised Israel’s fourth election in two years on his role in its rapid COVID-19 vaccination programme, has also made his drive to forge new relations in the Gulf region a centrepiece of his campaign.
    Israeli tourists and business executives flocked to the UAE before a national lockdown in Israel largely closed its main international airport, in Tel Aviv, in late January.    Restrictions were eased on Sunday.
    In an interview with Israeli Army Radio on Tuesday, Netanyahu called on voters to re-elect him on March 23 so that he could achieve “more peace agreements” in the area, while ensuring that Iran “doesn’t arm itself with nuclear weapons.”
    Iran denies its nuclear programme is aimed at developing atomic weaponry.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Rami Ayyub, Mark Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

3/10/2021 U.S. And Israel To Hold Consultative Group Meeting Thursday: White House
FILE PHOTO: White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan delivers remarks during a press briefing
inside the White House in Washington, U.S., February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Tom Brenner
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The U.S. and Israel will hold its first virtual strategic consultative group meeting on March 11, the White House announced on Wednesday.     The meeting will be led by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and Israeli National Security Advisor Meir Ben-Shabbat, and will focus on regional issues, the statement added.
(Reporting by Pete Schroeder)

3/10/2021 Tunisia’s Parliament Speaker Urges Dialogue To End Political Crisis by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, speaks during an interview
with Reuters in his office, in Tunis, Tunisia, March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui
    TUNIS (Reuters) – The speaker of Tunisia’s parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, said he backs calls for a new national dialogue to address the country’s political standoff and constant disputes over the constitution.
    Speaking to Reuters in an interview, Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda party, reaffirmed his preference for a parliamentary political system and said the standoff was endangering urgent economic reforms.
    “There is a state of crisis that imposes dialogue… There needs to be a political dialogue on the constitution. And an economic and social dialogue on the mode of development,” he said in the interview late on Tuesday.
    Ghannouchi has been one of Tunisia’s main political players since the 2011 revolution that ended autocratic rule and ushered in democracy but only stood for public office for the first time in 2019 when he entered parliament and became speaker.
    That election returned a deeply fragmented parliament in which Ennahda, as the biggest party, secured only a quarter of seats.    A separate presidential election the same month was won by Kais Saied, an independent.
    The result has been 18 months of political turmoil, while Tunisia’s public debt has soared and little progress has been made on economic reforms sought by foreign lenders whose funds are critical to financing the deficit.
    “The constitution needs to be amended towards becoming either a completely presidential or parliamentary system.    We support a parliamentary system,” said Ghannouchi.
    He also called for an amended electoral law that would make it easier for big parties to win more seats and ensure greater stability.
    A dialogue has already been proposed by Tunisia’s powerful labour union, which has a million members and was part of a civil society grouping that won a Nobel peace prize in 2015 for helping to end an earlier political crisis.
    However, the idea, initially embraced by Saied, has made little headway.    Ghannouchi had already called for a national dialogue on economic reforms but has not previously backed the idea of inclusive talks on the political system.
    The latest crisis was triggered by Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi’s decision to sack four cabinet members allied to Saied, who has in turn refused to swear in their replacements.
    Ghannouchi rejected calls to replace Mechichi and start afresh with a new cabinet, saying this would further delay economic reforms.
    “We support a small cabinet like this one that can carry out the necessary reforms,” he added.
    The dispute echoes other clashes between presidents and prime ministers since the adoption of the 2014 constitution that shared power between the two branches of state.
    Disputes were meant to be resolved through a constitutional court of 12 judges appointed by parliament, the president and a judicial committee, but it has yet to be formed due to disagreements.
    Ghannouchi said he hoped to bring together party leaders this week for another attempt at choosing members of the court: “It is a way out of the crisis.” (Reporting by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/10/2021 Where’s Magufuli? Tanzanian Leader’s Absence Fuels Health Concern by David Lewis and Duncan Miriri
FILE PHOTO: Tanzania's re-elected President John Pombe Magufuli holds a spear and shield from the elders after he was sworn-in for the
second term at the Jamhuri stadium in Dodoma, Tanzania November 5, 2020. Tanzania State House Press/Handout via REUTERS
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania’s main opposition leader has demanded information on the health of President John Magufuli, a prominent COVID-19 sceptic whose absence from public view has brought speculation he is receiving medical treatment abroad.
    Tanzania’s government has made no official comment.
    The Nation newspaper in neighbouring Kenya reported that an African leader not seen in public for nearly two weeks was being treated for COVID-19 on a ventilator at Nairobi Hospital, a private hospital in the Kenyan capital.
    It cited unidentified political and diplomatic sources for the report and did not identify the leader.
    Magufuli, a 61-year-old leader nicknamed “The Bulldozer,” was last seen in public on Feb. 27 looking his normal self as he swore in a new chief secretary at State House in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam.
    He has been out of public view for periods in the past.
    “The president’s wellbeing is a matter of grave public concern.    What’s it with Magufuli that we don’t deserve to know?,” opposition leader Tundu Lissu said in a tweet late on Tuesday as rumours flew on Tanzanian social media.
    “It’s a sad comment on his stewardship of our country that it’s come to this: that he himself had get COVID-19 and be flown out to Kenya in order to prove that prayers, steam inhalations and other unproven herbal concoctions he’s championed are no protection against coronavirus!” added Lissu, without providing evidence.
    On Wednesday, Lissu told Reuters that multiple sources had told him that Magufuli was in Nairobi Hospital but that there were now plans afoot to move him to India.
    Reuters was unable to confirm the accounts from the Nation or Lissu.    Kenya’s Foreign Ministry and Nairobi Hospital both said they had no information to disclose.
    Magufuli’s director of communications Gerson Msigwa and government spokesman Hassan Abbas did not respond to Reuters messages left seeking comment.
    Magufuli has played down the threat of COVID-19 in Tanzania and scoffed at global panic.    He urged Tanzanians to put faith in prayer and homespun remedies such as steam inhalation rather than vaccines, which he said were dangerous and part of a Western conspiracy.
    “Vaccines are not good.    If they were, then the white man would have brought vaccines for HIV/AIDS,” he said earlier this year.    Last year he dismissed coronavirus testing kits, which he said had returned positive results on a goat and pawpaw fruit.
    Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data in May last year when it said it had 509 cases and 21 deaths, according to data held at the World Health Organization, which has called on the country to share its information.
    Fuelling concern about a possible hidden epidemic, a top opposition politician on Tanzania’s autonomous Zanzibar archipelago, Seif Sharif Hamad, died last month of what his party said was COVID-19.
    Even as COVID-19 spread around Africa, Tanzanians were still allowed to gather, for example to watch sport.
    Magufuli was first elected in 2015 and beat Lissu to win re-election last year. He has faced accusations from Western countries and opposition parties of eroding democracy, which he denies.
    Magufuli has a history of heart issues, according to a senior Tanzanian medic close to the government who asked not to be identified, and a private security official in Kenya with extensive official contacts in Tanzania.
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and David Lewis; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Peter Graff and Philippa Fletcher)

3/10/2021 Children Lose Parents As Thousands Flee After Equatorial Guinea Blast by Aaron Ross
Drone footage shows damaged buildings after explosions in Bata, Equatorial Guinea, in this
screengrab taken from a video from March 9, 2021. ASONGA TV/via REUTERS TV
    (Reuters) – Callers seeking the parents of lost children have been regularly dialling in to radio and television programmes since a series of explosions levelled much of Equatorial Guinea’s largest city and sent thousands fleeing for the countryside.
    Three days on, residents of Bata are still coming to grips with the full scale of a tragedy that has killed at least 105 people and injured more than 600 others.
    Drone footage aired on state television showed block after block of public housing in the coastal city either completely destroyed or close to it, the remnants of their roofs and walls strewn across the neighbourhood’s dirt roads.
    “There are many children without parents,” said a teacher in Bata, who asked not to be named for fear of reprisals from the authorities in the tightly-controlled central African country.    “In the long (term) what do we do with those children?
    The reclusive government blamed the explosions on fires set by farmers living near the military base and the negligent handling of dynamite stocks by the military unit guarding them.
    It has decreed three days of national mourning from Wednesday, declared Bata a catastrophe zone, unblocked 10 billion ($18.19 million) CFA francs for the response and appealed for international aid.
    Firefighters continued to comb the rubble on Wednesday for bodies as onlookers wept, state television showed.    The authorities appealed for donations of blood and basic goods.
    A five-year old girl was pulled on Wednesday from the rubble of a house in the military camp where the blast occurred, Equato-Guinean media AhoraEG said.
    Officials have been forced to turn to refrigerated containers to store bodies, said the teacher and Alfredo Okenve, a human rights activist who lives in exile in Europe.
    Okenve said his information indicated the number of deaths was between 150 and 200, significantly higher than the government’s official toll of 105.
    Virgilio Seriche, an official at the information ministry, denied that bodies were being stored in containers and said authorities were providing up-to-date information about the number of confirmed deaths.
    “The reliable data is what the government is publishing about this incident, not what comes from other sources,” he told Reuters.
    Bata residents are traumatised from the explosions, which lasted for hours on Sunday, and fearful of additional blasts.
    The first explosion “was so big that all of us and the people around us were shouting: ‘This is a bomb, this is a bomb!'” said the teacher.
    “People were crying, shouting, running, trying to stay somewhere, but it was panic.    We started to see police cars and firemen and people bleeding.    It was awful.”
    The health ministry said in a tweet that it was deploying psychiatrists and psychologists.
    The United Nations said on Wednesday that the World Health Organization and children’s agency UNICEF had mobilised teams to control infection and provide logistical support.    Spain has sent a first batch of emergency aid.
    The former Spanish colony has been run by President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, Africa’s longest-serving leader, since 1979.
    It is the Central African country’s worst tragedy in recent memory, and while the government, charitable organisations and private citizens have kept everyone fed and sheltered for now, most of Equatorial Guinea’s 1.4 million people live in poverty.
    The country is also suffering a double economic shock from the coronavirus pandemic and a drop in the price of crude oil, which provides about three-fourths of state revenue.
    State media has provided wall-to-wall coverage of the disaster, including the appeals over the lost children, a rarity in a country that human rights activists consider one of Africa’s most repressive and where bad news is often suppressed.
    Okenve said the scale of the tragedy had left the government with no choice.
    “If there is information coming out, it is because it is impossible to control,” he said.
($1 = 549.9000 Central African CFA franc BEAC)
(Reporting by Aaron Ross in DAKAR; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/10/2021 Libyan Parliament Backs Unity Government, Advancing Peace Plan by Ayman al-Warfali
FILE PHOTO: Libya's new Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh gestures as he speaks in
parliament in Sirte, Libya March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Esam Omran Al Fetori
    SIRTE, Libya (Reuters) – Libya’s long-divided parliament on Wednesday approved an interim government mandated to bring the fractured country together after a decade of chaos and violence, and to oversee elections in December as part of a U.N.-backed peace plan.
    The parliament’s approval of Prime Minister Abdulhamid Dbeibeh’s cabinet by 132 votes to two against, at a session in a war-battered frontline city, represents the biggest opportunity in years for a resolution to Libya’s conflict.
    “Through this vote, it became clear that the Libyans are one unit,” Dbeibeh told parliament afterwards.
    However, huge hurdles remain and the manner of Dbeibeh’s own appointment and the size of his cabinet have drawn criticism in Libya with accusations of corruption and influence peddling that spoilers could leverage to deny his legitimacy.
    On the ground, Libya’s streets, businesses and state institutions remain in the shadow of myriad armed factions and split between two rival administrations, while foreign powers backing either side have kept their guns in place.
    Amending the constitution and holding free elections in 2021 will be an immense challenge, though all sides have formally committed to do so.
    “If we come out of this with one government and one set of institutions then we’re already in a far superior place than we’ve been for the last five years,” said Tarek Megerisi of the European Council on Foreign Relations.
    The parliament session was in Sirte, where front lines stabilised last summer after the Government of National Accord (GNA) pushed Khalifa Haftar’s eastern-based Libyan National Army back from Tripoli.
    Both the GNA and the eastern administration welcomed the vote and said they were ready to hand power over to the new government.    Parliament speaker Aguila Saleh said Dbeibeh’s cabinet would be sworn in next week.
    It was parliament’s first full session in years after it split between eastern and western factions soon after being elected in 2014 – three years after an uprising that toppled Muammar Gaddafi plunged the oil-producing country into chaos.
    A ceasefire has held since the autumn, but the main road across the front lines from Sirte to Misrata remains closed and lawmakers coming from the west had to fly in from Tripoli.
    Russia’s Wagner mercenaries, sent to Libya to support Haftar and accused of lacing civilian areas with deadly booby traps when pulling out of Tripoli last year, remain entrenched around Sirte and other parts of the country.
    Haftar was also backed by the United Arab Emirates and Egypt, while Turkey supported the GNA. Dbeibeh said on Tuesday that economic deals the GNA struck with Turkey should stand.
    Turkey, Egypt and the UAE have each welcomed the move, as has the United States and European Union.    The United Nations hailed it as a “historic day.”
    Critics of the process say it has merely rearranged the tangle of alliances and enmities among power brokers who have dominated Libya for years, without disrupting their ability to loot its wealth or spoil unfavourable settlements.
    They are also angry that the accusations of corruption in Dbeibeh’s appointment have not been formally debated.    He was chosen by the 75 members of a U.N. political forum that met in Tunis and Geneva and voted on leadership candidates.
    Some forum delegates said colleagues were offered money. Dbeibeh, along with three members of a presidency council also selected in Geneva, has promised not to seek further office in the election.
    Still, Libya stands on the cusp of a first unified government in years and with all sides formally committed to elections.
    On Tuesday, the first civilian airline flight in six years took place between the cities of Benghazi and Misrata – tangible evidence of detente.
    “It is good for us to have one government…but it is more important for the government to abide by the agreement and bring the country to elections,” said Khaled Al-Ajili, 42, a businessman in a Tripoli cafe.
(Reporting by Ayman al-Warfali in Sirte, Reuters Tripoli newsroom and Angus McDowall in Tunis Writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

3/11/2021 Gaza Fishermen Killed By Israeli Drone Caught In Nets, Hamas Says
A picture taken with a drone shows Palestinian fishing boats near Gaza's seaport in Gaza City February 1, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Three Palestinian fishermen who died in an offshore blast on Sunday had encountered an explosive-laden Israeli drone that had fallen into the sea and blew up in their nets, the Hamas-run Interior Ministry in Gaza said on Thursday.
    An Israeli military spokeswoman had no immediate comment. At the time of the blast, the Israeli military had denied it had any involvement in the incident.
    The incident came at a time when Palestinian militants have been test-firing rockets into the sea, and a Gaza-based human rights group, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, said on Sunday the fishing boat may have been hit by accident.
    But Eyad Al-Bozom, the Gaza Interior Ministry’s spokesman, said no Palestinian rocket had hit the fishing boat, and that parts of an Israeli quadcopter drone that carried explosives were discovered in its nets.    The drone had blown up as the fishermen were lifting their nets, killing all three.
    Bozom said the drone had probably been in the water since an Israeli attack on a Palestinian naval craft on Feb. 22 off Gaza.
    The Israeli military said at the time its forces noticed suspicious naval activity off Gaza’s shore and thwarted a “potential threat to Israeli naval vessels,” without elaborating on the weapons used.
    The Israeli military rarely comments publicly on the use of explosives-carrying drones.
    Hamas, an Islamist militant group, took control of Gaza in 2007, and the seaside strip, home to 2 million Palestinians, has since been under a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt, which cite security concerns for the measure.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Peter Graff)

3/11/2021 Lebanon’s Politicians Show No Sign Of Saving Their Country, France Says
French Foreign Affair Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian speaks during a news conference at the Ministry
of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    PARIS (Reuters) – France’s foreign minister said on Thursday time was running out to prevent Lebanon collapsing and that he could see no sign that the country’s politicians were doing what they could to save it.
    France has spearheaded international efforts to rescue the former French protectorate from its deepest crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war by trying to use Paris’ historical influence to persuade squabbling politicians to adopt a reform roadmap and form a new government to unlock international aid.
    “I would be tempted to qualify Lebanese politicians as guilty of not helping a country in danger,” Jean-Yves le Drian told a news conference in Paris.
    “They all committed to act to create an inclusive government and committed to implementing indispensable reforms.    That was seven months ago and nothing is moving.    I think it’s not too late, but the delays are very small before collapse.
    Prime minister-designate Saad al-Hariri is at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun and has been unable to form a new government since October.
    Groups of protesters have been burning tyres daily to block roads since the Lebanese currency tumbled to a new lows, deepening popular anger over Lebanon’s financial collapse.
    “It’s up to the Lebanese authorities to take their destiny in hand knowing that the international community is looking with concern,” Le Drian said. “There is still time to act today, but tomorrow will be too late
(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)

3/11/2021 Shock And Uncertainty After Death Of Ivory Coast PM Bakayoko by Media Coulibaly and Ange Aboa
People walk past a newspaper stand a day after the death of Ivory Coast's Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, in Abidjan,
Ivory Coast March 11, 2021. The newspaper title (L) reads "Ivory Coast in mourning, Goodbye Hambak". REUTERS/Luc Gnago
    ABIDJAN (Reuters) – Ivory Coast faced shock and uncertainty on Thursday following the death of Prime Minister Hamed Bakayoko, the West African nation’s second premier to die in office in less than eight months.
    A close ally of President Alassane Ouattara, Bakayoko, who died of cancer a few days after his 56th birthday, was appointed prime minister in July 2020 after the death of his predecessor Amadou Gon Coulibaly, Ouattara’s handpicked successor.
    Although Ouattara named his chief of staff Patrick Achi as interim prime minister on Monday while Bakayoko was in hospital, Bakayoko’s passing leaves a vacuum for Ouattara to fill as he continues his search for a potential successor.
    “It will be difficult to replace him because of his standing, his way of doing things,” Abdijan resident Maturin Bamouni said.    “Even when they are not from his political side, he still managed to sort things out.”
    A central figure in Ivorian politics over the past two decades as the country was plunged into a prolonged conflict and a partition, Bakayoko, a jovial character with roots in media and showbiz, emerged as a conciliatory figure, able to talk to all sides of the conflict.
    “Bakayoko meant everything for Ivorians, a minister who listened to the whole population, even the opposition,” Abdijan resident Kevin Bigore told Reuters.
    His capacity to gain the trust of all sides including former rebel soldiers who staged a series of mutinies in 2017, threatening a fragile peace in the world’s top cocoa producing nation, saw him appointed as defence minister in 2017, and kept the portfolio when he became prime minister.
    He ended the mutinies and carried out reforms that helped keep soldiers away from the political scene during the October 2020 presidential election, said Abidjan-based historian and military analyst Arthur Banga.
    “He succeeded in building trust between the soldiers, the chain of command and the regime, which contributed a lot to the stability observed from 2017 until now,” Banga said.
    Guillaume Soro, a former rebel leader who later led a government with Bakayoko as a minister before falling out with the current government, said he had lost a friend and a brother.
    “The circumstances of life have unfortunately led us to take different political paths, opposed and sometimes conflicting, but we have known, above all, to keep and preserve our brotherhood and our mutual affection,” Soro said.
(Reporting by Loucoumane Coulibaly and Ange Aboa; Writing by Cooper Inveen; Editing by Bate Felix and Giles Elgood)

3/11/2021 Israel Aerospace, UAE Weapons Maker Team Up On Anti-Drone Tech
FILE PHOTO: The logo of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), the country's biggest defence contractor, is seen at their offices next
to Ben Gurion International airport, near Or Yehuda, Israel February 27, 2017. Picture taken February 27, 2017. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) said on Thursday it would jointly develop an advanced drone defence system with the United Arab Emirates’ state-owned weapons maker EDGE.
    Israel and the UAE formalised relations last year, brought closer by commercial interests and concern over Iran.
    State-owned IAI, a major Israeli defence firm, said in a statement that the companies will develop a Counter-Unmanned Aircraft System “tailored to the UAE market, with wider ranging benefits for the MENA region and beyond.”
    Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi movement, which recently stepped up cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, has in the past threatened to launch strikes on the UAE.
    The UAE had been Riyadh’s main partner in the Saudi-led military coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015 against the group, but a senior Emirati official said in February that it had ended its military involvement in Yemen last October.
    The war has been in a military stalemate for years and in 2019 the UAE scaled down its presence in Yemen following attacks that year on tankers in Gulf waters, including off its shores.
    The UAE already has an advanced anti-missile interception system, the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defences (THAAD).
    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.
(Writing by Dan Williams and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Alexander Smith and Jan Harvey)

3/11/2021 Turkey, Russia, Qatar To Push For Political Resolution In Syria by Maher Chmaytelli, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Tom Balmforth
Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani, Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and
Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attend a meeting in Doha, Qatar March 11, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI/ANKARA/MOSCOW (Reuters) – Turkey, Russia and Qatar are making a joint attempt to promote a political solution to Syria’s 10-year conflict, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday.
    “Today we launched a new trilateral consultation process,” Cavusoglu said after talks in Doha with Russian and Qatari foreign ministers.    “Our goal is to discuss how we can contribute to efforts towards a lasting political solution in Syria.”
    All three ministers emphasised in their meeting that the only solution to the conflict, in which hundreds of thousands of people have been killed and millions displaced, was a political settlement in line with United Nations resolutions, he said.
    Turkey and Qatar have backed fighters who sought to topple Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, while Moscow provided military support which helped Assad seize back most of the country.
    Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said the three countries were not seeking to replace efforts which Turkey, Russia and Iran had jointly been making since 2017 to reduce fighting in Syria and discuss a political solution.
    “I can only welcome Qatar’s desire to make its contribution to creating the conditions for overcoming the current tragic situation in Syria,” he said.
    Qatari minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said they had also discussed mechanisms for delivering humanitarian aid across the whole of Syria, adding “there is a crucial need to lessen the suffering of the Syrians.”
    He said the reasons for Syria’s suspension from the Arab League in 2011 remain, while Cavusoglu said recent international engagement with Assad’s government hindered efforts for a political solution by giving it more legitimacy.
    In a joint statement after their talks, the ministers urged U.N. agencies and the World Health Organization to prioritise COVID-19 vaccinations inside Syria and to “enhance” efforts for delivering humanitarian aid.
    They also stressed their commitment to preserving Syria’s independence and territorial integrity.
    Cavusoglu said Turkey would host the next round of the talks.
(Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli and Ghaida Ghantous in Dubai, Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Tom Balmforth in Moscow; Editing by Dominic Evans and Gareth Jones)

3/11/2021 Israel Says Netanyahu’s First UAE Visit Postponed, Stirs Rights Spat With Jordan by Dan Williams and Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media after his meeting with the Israeli citizen no. 5,000,000 to get
the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 8, 2021. Miriam Alster/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM/AMMAN (Reuters) – An announcement by Israel that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had postponed a first visit to the United Arab Emirates on Thursday due to a lag in Jordanian overflight rights drew a rare rebuke from Amman over a contested Jerusalem holy site.
    An Abu Dhabi appearance would have allowed Netanyahu to put his imprimatur on Israel-UAE ties that were formalised last year – a foreign policy flourish as he seeks re-election on March 23.
    The UAE had not formally confirmed the planned visit, which leaked to Israeli media on Wednesday.    According to a statement issued by Netanyahu’s office, he and Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan agreed to reschedule.
    A hold-up in overflight permission from Amman for Netanyahu’s plane “apparently” stemmed from the cancellation of a visit by Jordanian Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah to Jerusalem’s Al Aqsa mosque compound on Wednesday over a dispute regarding security arrangements at the site, the statement said.
    Permission eventually came through but too late for Netanyahu’s itinerary, which included meeting his visiting Hungarian and Czech counterparts later on Thursday, it said.
    Jordanian officials were not immediately available for comment on the overflight issue.    But Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi confirmed the crown prince’s cancelled al Aqsa visit – which would have been the first there by Jordan’s future king.
    State TV quoted Safadi as saying Israeli authorities had tried to change a programme agreed with Amman in a manner that it deemed harmful to Palestinian and Muslim rights of worship.
    “The crown prince did not want to allow Israel to impose restrictions on Muslims,” Safadi was quoted as saying.
    Jordan’s ruling Hashemite dynasty is the custodian of the Al Aqsa compound, an icon of the Palestinian statehood struggle and the third holiest site in Islam.    Israel, which made peace with Jordan in 1994, maintains security control around the site, which Jews revere as the vestige of their two ancient temples.
    Jordan says Israel has no sovereign rights over the compound and has long chafed at organised visits there by religious Jews.
    Netanyahu had been due to visit the UAE and Bahrain – which also has newly established ties with Israel – last month but postponed that trip citing COVID-19 travel restrictions.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

3/12/2021 U.S., Israel Meet To Discuss Iran Nuclear Deal by OAN Newsroom
White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan, second from right, and Secretary of State Antony Blinken, left, attend a virtual meeting with President Joe Biden, right,
and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador in the Roosevelt Room of the White House, Monday, March 1, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)
    The U.S. and Israel held their first strategic consultative group meeting regarding Iran.    The meeting Thursday came after Biden and U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken received back lash from Israeli officials for their push to rejoin the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal.
    The meeting was led by National Security adviser Jake Sullivan for the first round of discussions amid Biden’s hopes of reviving the 2015 nuclear deal without alienating Israel.
    “We feel the best path forward is a diplomatic path and that’s why we are working with our European partners to see what is possible along that front,” stated White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki.    “We also believe that it’s an opportunity to expand on the JCPOA and work to address additional concerns we have in the region.”
    However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal is dangerous and he does not agree with the Biden administration’s goal of negotiating with Iran.    President Trump pulled the out of the deal after Obama went against Israel and joined the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action back in 2015.
    “From the Israeli point of view, it’s very clear it’s a very bad agreement, which allowed the Iranians to go on with their enrichment system,” stated Yaakov Amidror of the Jewish Institute for National Security of America.    “Now they have much better synthesis than they had before the agreement.”
    Blinken has remained vague in comments regarding the Biden administration’s plan of action with Iran, but pledged to formally consult with Congress prior to lifting sanctions on Iran.    Meanwhile, Psaki said the White House will consistently brief Israel on the nations plans to move forward with Iran if negotiations with the regime move forward.

3/12/2021 Gunmen Abduct 30 Students In Northwest Nigeria As Payoffs ‘Boomerang’ by Garba Muhammad
FILE PHOTO: A soldier sits on one of the trucks used to bring back the girls who were kidnapped from a boarding school in the
northwest Nigerian state of Zamfara, following their release in Zamfara, Nigeria, March 2, 2021. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde/
    KADUNA, Nigeria (Reuters) – Gunmen kidnapped around 30 students in an overnight raid on a forestry college in northwest Nigeria, an official said on Friday, the fourth mass school abduction since December in a country where violence is on the increase.
    An armed gang broke into the Federal College of Forestry Mechanization, located on the outskirts of Kaduna city near a military academy, at around 11:30 p.m. (2230 GMT) on Thursday, Kaduna state’s security commissioner, Samuel Aruwan said.
    After a distress call, the army rescued 180 people in the early hours of Friday but “about 30 students, a mix of males and females, are yet to be accounted for,” he said.
    “A combined team of army, air force, police and DSS (Department of State Services) troops are conducting an operation to track the missing students.”
    The city is the capital of Kaduna state, part of a region where banditry has festered for years.    Hours before the kidnapping, Nigeria’s federal government said it would “take out” abductors after earlier criticising local deals to free victims.
    Kaduna resident Haruna Salisu said he had heard sporadic gunshots at around 11:30 p.m. on Thursday from the area of the compound, where the concrete perimeter wall had a large hole in it on Friday.
    “We were not panicking, thinking that it was a normal military exercise being conducted at the (nearby) Nigerian Defence Academy,” he said by phone.
    “We came out for dawn prayers, at 5:20 a.m., and saw some of the students, teachers and security personnel all over the school premises.    They told us that gunmen raided the school and abducted some of the students.”
    On Friday morning, relatives of students gathered at the gates of the college, which was surrounded by around 20 army trucks.
    The trend of abduction from boarding schools was started by the jihadist group Boko Haram, which seized 270 schoolgirls from a school at Chibok in the northeast in 2014.    Around 100 of them have never been found.
    Armed criminal gangs seeking ransom have since carried out copycat attacks.
    Within the last few weeks, 279 schoolgirls were freed after being abducted from their boarding school at Jangebe in northwest Nigeria’s Zamfara state.    In the north-central state of Niger, 27 teenage boys were released after being kidnapped from their school, along with three staff and 12 family members.    One student was shot dead in that attack.
    Military and police attempts to tackle the gangs have had little success, while many worry that state authorities are making the situation worse by letting kidnappers go unpunished, paying them off or providing incentives.
    In Zamfara, state government officials said they had given ‘reformed bandits’ access to land for cattle grazing, while also building schools and medical facilities.    They do not specifically identify the recipients as kidnappers.
    In late February, the presidency said President Muhammadu Buhari had urged state governments to “review their policy of rewarding bandits with money and vehicles, warning that the policy might boomerang disastrously.”
    Buhari held talks with security officials and traditional leaders on Thursday to discuss the country’s multiple security challenges.    The national security adviser, Babagana Monguno, after the talks said the government would take a tough stance on criminal gangs.
    “The new direction of government is to come out with full force.    We have decided to apply the full weight of the law.    We will come down on them wherever we locate them and take them out,” he told reporters in the capital, Abuja, without providing further details.
    The unrest has become a political problem for Buhari, a retired general and former military ruler who has faced mounting criticism over the rise in violent crime, and replaced his long-standing military chiefs earlier this year.
(Additional reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa, Alexis Akwagyiram in Lagos, Felix Onuah in Abuja, and Maiduguri Newsroom; Writing by Kevin Liffey and Alexis Akwagyiram; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/12/2021 Turkey Plans To Host Afghan Peace Talks In April
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu attends a news conference following a meeting with Qatar's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign
Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani and Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Doha, Qatar March 11, 2021. Russian Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey plans to host Afghanistan peace talks in Istanbul in April, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Friday, and Ankara will appoint an Afghanistan special envoy.
    Cavusoglu’s comments come after the United States shared a draft peace plan calling for replacing Afghanistan’s government with a power-sharing interim administration pending elections under a new constitution.
    The U.S. proposal is intended to jump-start stalled talks in Doha between the Taliban and a team including Afghan officials on a political settlement to decades of conflict.
    Cavusoglu said Turkey had previously been asked by Afghan officials, the Taliban and the negotiation team to host talks, and this week’s decision came after a U.S. proposal for Turkey to host a meeting.
    “This is not a meeting that is an alternative to the Qatar process, it is a complement to that,” state-owned Anadolu news agency quoted Cavusoglu as saying.    "We will carry this out in coordination with brotherly Qatar, but it will be in Turkey.”
    He said the aim was for talks between the Taliban and the government to continue in a “goal-oriented” way.    The exact date in April, and the content of the talks, were being discussed.
    Cavusoglu also said Turkey had been sending messages to the Taliban and the negotiating team, calling for violence in the country to stop for talks to yield results.
    The Taliban and the Afghan government have been negotiating in Qatar to reach a peace deal.    Those talks resumed in January after an almost month-long break, but negotiators and diplomats say there has been little progress since then.
    Russia also plans to hold a conference on Afghanistan in Moscow later this month, the TASS news agency said on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Dominic Evans)

3/12/2021 Turkey Says It Has Restarted Diplomatic Contacts With Egypt
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan looks on as he addresses the media after the Friday
prayers in Istanbul, Turkey March 12, 2021. Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey has resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt and wants to further cooperation, Turkish leaders said on Friday, after years of tension since the Egyptian army toppled a Muslim Brotherhood president close to Ankara.
    Any thaw in ties between the two regional powerhouses could have repercussions around the Middle East, where Cairo and Ankara have sought to influence events in various hotspots and stand on opposing sides in a Mediterranean maritime dispute.
    Two Egyptian intelligence sources said Turkey had proposed a meeting to discuss cooperation, but suggested the contacts were still only preliminary.
    President Tayyip Erdogan said the contacts were “not at the highest level, but right below the highest level.    We hope that we can continue this process with Egypt much more strongly.”
    Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu was quoted as saying by state-owned Anadolu news agency: “We have contacts with Egypt both on the intelligence level and the foreign ministry level … Contacts at the diplomatic level have started.”
    Relations with Cairo have been frosty since Egypt’s army ousted Mohammed Mursi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president and an ally of Erdogan, after protests in 2013.
    An Egyptian security official received a phone call from a Turkish intelligence official on Thursday, setting out Turkey’s desire for a meeting in Cairo to discuss economic, political and diplomatic cooperation, the Egyptian intelligence sources said.
    The Egyptian official welcomed the call and promised to respond as soon as possible, the Egyptian sources said.
    The call followed unofficial contacts between Egyptian and Turkish security officials in which communications between the two sides were discussed.    The issue of maritime borders, a source of tension between Turkey and other east Mediterranean countries, was not raised, according to the sources.
    Rebuilding trust will be hard. As well as the tensions over the ousting of Mursi and Mediterranean disputes, Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry said last week the Arab League expressed its “categorical rejection” of Turkish military interventions in Syria, Iraq and Libya.
    Cavusoglu’s comments come as Turkey seeks to repair strained relations with several regional powers.    He said on Friday Ankara would reciprocate if Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates take “positive steps” to overcome recent tensions.
    Ties with Riyadh have been strained over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in 2018 and a row between Turkey’s ally Qatar and other Gulf Arab states. Trade has collapsed under an informal boycott by Saudi businesses.
    Turkey has also been at odds with the United Arab Emirates over the conflict in Libya, and both countries have accused each other of disrupting regional stability.
    “There is no reason for our ties with Saudi Arabia not to be fixed.    If they take positive steps, we will take positive steps.    The same goes for the UAE.    We don’t want to fight with anyone,” Cavusoglu said.
    Khashoggi was killed and dismembered by Saudi operatives in 2018 and a U.S. intelligence report found Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman approved the operation.
    “We never blamed the Saudi Arabian leadership,” Cavusoglu said.    At the time, Erdogan said the operation was ordered at the “highest levels” of the Saudi government.    Erdogan spoke to King Salman in November and they agreed to resolve differences through dialogue, Turkey’s presidency said.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu in Ankara and Mohamed)

3/12/2021 U.S. Joins West In Rare Criticism Of Egypt On Human Rights Abuses by Stephanie Nebehay
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi attends the opening ceremony of floating bridges and
tunnel projects executed under the Suez Canal in Ismailia, Egypt May 5, 2019. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    GENEVA (Reuters) – Western countries on Friday called on Egypt to end the prosecution of activists, journalists and perceived political opponents under counter-terrorism laws, and to unconditionally release them.
    The United States, which has observer status at the U.N. Human Rights Council, was among 31 signatories of the joint statement on Egypt, the first since 2014, which called on the government to lift curbs on freedoms of expression and assembly.
    Egypt is a close ally of the United States, but the Biden administration has vowed to speak out about human rights violations and abuses of the rule of law worldwide.
    President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who ousted the Muslim Brotherhood from power in 2013, has overseen an extensive crackdown on political dissent that has steadily tightened in recent years.    Sisi has said there are no political prisoners in Egypt and that stability and security are paramount.
    “We urge Egypt to guarantee space for civil society – including human rights defenders – to work without fear of intimidation, harassment, arrest, detention or any other form of reprisal,” Finland’s ambassador Kirsti Kauppi said, reading out the statement to the Geneva forum.
    “That includes lifting travel bans and asset freezes against human rights defenders – including EIPR staff,” she said, referring to three activists from the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights arrested last November after briefing senior diplomats in Cairo.
    Egypt’s foreign ministry had said EIPR was operating illegally, an accusation the group denies.
    The trio have been provisionally released, but the arrests galvanized support for the move in the council, activists and diplomats said.
    “It’s been seven years since there has been any kind of collective action on Egypt at the Human Rights Council, all the while the situation has declined sharply – this is a crucial step,” Kevin Whelan, Amnesty International representative to the UN in Geneva, told Reuters.
    “We’re at the point where the survival of the human rights movement in Egypt is at stake.”
    Most of the signatory countries are European, joined by Australia, Canada and New Zealand.    No countries from the African or Middle East region backed the statement.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Editing by William Maclean)

3/12/2021 Saudi King Salman Sacks Haj Minister In Royal Decrees
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Haj Minister Mohammed Benten speaks during a virtual news conference, following the outbreak of
the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia June 23, 2020. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    LONDON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman dismissed Mohamed Benten as minister for the haj and umrah, a position with a leading role in organising Islam’s annual pilgrimage, a royal decree carried by state news agency (SPA) said on Friday.
    State minister, Issam ben Saeed, was appointed acting minister.
    Haj and Umrah, which generated billions of dollars each year before the pandemic, is a major source of income for the Saudi government.
    “Mohammed Saleh ben Taher Benten, Minister of Haj and Umrah shall be relieved form his position,” SPA said in a tweet, without giving reasons behind the decision.    Benten was appointed minister in 2016.
    The kingdom, which stakes its reputation on its guardianship of Islam’s holiest sites in Mecca and Medina and its peaceful organisation of the haj, sharply scaled back last year’s haj to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, after barring Muslims abroad from the rite for the first time in modern times.
    Companies operating in the sector have been hit hard by the government’s preventive measures.    Before the pandemic, more than 1,300 hotels and hundreds of stores buzzed around the clock to cater to pilgrims visiting the holy cities of Mecca and Medina.
    Earlier this week, Jabal Omar Development Company, one of Saudi Arabia’s largest listed property developers, secured 1.6 billion riyals ($427 million) in loans from Banque Saudi Fransi backed by a Finance Ministry guarantee, after being hit hard by the Mecca lockdown.
    Earlier this week, SPA said King Salman approved a range of initiatives aimed at assisting firms and individuals operating in the sector to mitigate COVID-related financial and economic effects they incurred during the lockdown.
    Separately, the royal decrees also included relieving the head of the General Aviation Authority, Abdulhadi al-Mansouri, from his position and appointing him at a foreign ministry post.
    Abdulaziz al-Duaelij was appointed as new head of the aviation authority.
(Reporting by Marwa Rashad; Editing by Alison Williams, William Maclean)

3/12/2021 U.S. Yemen Envoy Says Ceasefire Plan Before Houthi Leadership, Urges Response by Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledakis
FILE PHOTO: Houthi soldiers march during a funeral procession for Houthi fighters killed in recent fighting against
government forces in Marib province, in Sanaa, Yemen February 17, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A “sound plan” for a nationwide ceasefire in Yemen has been before Houthi leadership for “a number of days,” but it appears the group is prioritizing a military offensive to take Marib, the U.S. special envoy on Yemen, Tim Lenderking, said on Friday.
    “I will return immediately when the Houthis are prepared to talk,” Lenderking told the Atlantic Council think tank after a visit to the region to revive efforts to end the six-year conflict that is widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    “The U.S. and U.N. – we urge the Houthis to respond,” he said.    “If we cannot make progress now, the country will spiral into greater conflict and instability.”
    A Saudi Arabia-led military coalition intervened in Yemen in 2015 after the Iran-allied Houthi group ousted the country’s government from the capital Sanaa.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system.
    “We now have a sound plan for a nationwide ceasefire with elements that would immediately address Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation directly,” Lenderking said.    “That plan has been before the Houthi leadership for a number of days.”
    The Houthis, however, have recently pushed toward the gas-rich region of Marib, aiming to take the government’s last stronghold in the north of Yemen.    The United Nations has warned that millions of civilians are at risk.
    “Tragically, and somewhat confusingly for me, it appears that the Houthis are prioritizing a military campaign to take Marib … over suspending the war and moving relief to the Yemeni people,” Lenderking said.
    He announced that the United States would restore humanitarian aid funding for northern Yemen, and said Washington would work with the governments of Yemen and Saudi Arabia to find a way to deliver fuel to the Yemenis who need it most.
    The United Nations describes Yemen as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.
    Some 80% of Yemenis need help, with 400,000 children under the age of 5 severely malnourished, according to U.N. data.    For much of its food, the country relies on imports that have been badly disrupted over the years by all warring parties.
    The people’s suffering has been worsened by an economic and currency collapse, and by the COVID-19 pandemic.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay and Daphne Psaledaki; writing by Michelle)

3/15/2021 Kosovo opens embassy to Israel in Jerusalem
    PRISTINA, Kosovo – Kosovo’s Foreign Ministry said Sunday it has opened its embassy to Israel in the disputed city of Jerusalem.    A statement said the move was made after the establishment of diplomatic ties with Israel on Feb. 1 and a Kosovo-Serbia summit held at the White House in September.    Palestinians claim east Jerusalem, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war and later annexed, as the capital of a future state.
    Kosovo becomes the first European country and Muslim-majority one to establish its embassy in Jerusalem.

3/16/2021 Israel’s Arabs Stage Flash Mob To Highlight Fatal Shootings In Their Community by Sinan Abu Mayzer and Rami Ayyub
FILE PHOTO: An Arab Israeli protester breaks the window of a passing car during a protest against a wave of violence in their communities,
where they say police have turned a blind eye to crime, in northern town of Umm el Fahm, Israel March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    UMM AL-FAHM, Israel (Reuters) – At Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Circle, buzzing on a Saturday afternoon, around a dozen young people suddenly began to collapse slowly and theatrically to the ground, to the shock and confusion of Israelis out shopping or enjoying a coffee.
    “Did it scare you?” flash mob organiser Mohamd Jabarin asked those watching, and proceeded to explain the intention – to draw attention to a surge of shootings within Israel’s Arab community and accuse police of failing to tackle the violence.
    At least 24 Arab citizens of Israel have been shot dead this year, mostly by unknown assailants from within their towns and villages.    The shootings, most often crime and gang related, have become a defining issue for the 21% minority ahead of a March 23 national election.
    The largest expression of the frustration and anger felt by the community has come through anti-violence protests by tens of thousands in Umm al-Fahm and other Arab towns.
    But the flash mobs are an attempt to raise awareness of the shootings in the heart of Jewish Israeli towns.
    Demonstrators accuse the police of turning a blind eye to the violence, which they say is a result of poverty and years of underinvestment in their minority communities.
    Israel’s police say they investigate all shootings and are continuing their work to gather illegal weapons, arrest all criminals and bring them to justice.
    “The only solution for the inaction of the police … is to take to the streets and mobilise the Palestinian Arab people,” said Enab Mhajne, 19, at the Umm al-Fahm protest on Friday.
    Behind her protesters waved Palestinian flags, an unusual sight on the streets of Israel.
    Israel’s Arabs – Palestinian by heritage, Israeli by citizenship – are mostly descended from the Palestinians who lived under Ottoman and then British colonial rule before staying in Israel after the country’s creation in 1948.
    Some Arab politicians have advocated working with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to address the violence.
    Posters of Netanyahu have begun appearing in Arab neighbourhoods of cities like Haifa with a slogan bearing the Arabic slogan “We are with you.”
    Netanyahu, who many Arabs accuse of discrimination against their community, has pledged 100 million shekels ($30.24 million) to combat violence in Arab localities.
    But Luna Hasan, another one of the flash mob organisers, said Arabs should focus on collective action to address the shootings, rather than rely on any one politician.
    “Arabs are represented in every aspect of the economy, in almost every aspect of life in Israel … we deserve safety, and we deserve protection,” Hasan, 24, said.
($1 = 3.3073 shekels)
(Writing by Rami Ayyub; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/16/2021 ‘A Blessing From God’: Iraqi Truffle Hunters Unearth Desert Harvest by Ahmed Saeed and Alaa al-Marjani
A truffle seller sits at a market in the city of Samawa, Iraq, February 22, 2021. REUTERS/Alaa Al-Marjani
    SAMAWA DESERT, Iraq (Reuters) – “Here it is, the truffle, a blessing from God!” Zahra Buheir carefully digs out a desert truffle from the sandy earth and shows it off between her calloused fingers.
    “Rain came, and then thunder, bringing truffles up to the surface,” the 72-year-old said.
    Braving the harsh weather of Iraq’s southern desert, as well as left-behind land mines, Buheir and her family of seven have spent weeks hunting for the seasonal truffles that have provided them with an income for generations.
    Fetching its hunters up to $7 a kilo this year, Iraq’s desert truffle is cheaper than its rarer European cousins that can cost hundreds of dollars or more a kilo.
    But with Iraq’s economy in crisis, the local variety are a big help to Buheir and her family.
    This year the rain came late and Buheir could only find about a kilo of truffles a day, one tenth of what she would dig up in a good year.
    Turning over stones and poking the earth with her bare hands, Buheir’s granddaughter, 5-year-old Riyam, accompanied her parents to learn a trade and the desert lifestyle.
    “When there is no work, truffles are a source of income.    And we are happy here,” said Riyam’s father Mohsen Farhan, who cherishes the weeks he spends with his family in their tent in the desert.
    Learning to hunt for truffles these days also involves understanding the desert’s dangers.
    “We are afraid of wolves, there are a lot here.    And there are mines.    A while ago, someone died,” Farhan said.
    Remnants from the Gulf war in 1991, unexploded devices beneath the earth could be mistaken for truffles by the inexperienced eye.
    Every few days, Hussein Abu Ali, drives into the desert from the city of Samawa to take the truffles to market.
    There, Ali Tajj al-Din sells them at auction, each with a different name according to size.
    “These are walnuts, eggs, oranges, and here is the pomegranate, the biggest one,” he said.
    This year, scarcity has pushed up prices and truffles that don’t sell locally are exported to wealthier Gulf countries.
    But customers at Samawa’s “Beit al-Hatab” restaurant relish its weekly truffle speciality.
    “We fry or grill them, but the favourite dish is truffles on rice,” said restaurant owner Fawwaz Hatab.
(Writing by Charlotte Bruneau; Editing by Giles Elgood)

3/16/2021 Mozambique Militants Beheading Children As Young As 11, Save The Children Says
A woman, called Elsa by UK-based aid group Save the Children, walks with a child in a displacement camp in the northern Mozambique
province of Cabo Delgado, in this handout picture taken January 26, 2021. Rui Mutemba/Save the Children/Handout via REUTERS.
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Children as young as 11 are being beheaded in Mozambique, UK-based aid group Save the Children said on Tuesday, as part of an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and forced many magnitudes more from their homes.
    Save the Children said it had spoken to displaced families who described “horrifying scenes” of murder, including mothers whose young sons were killed.    In one case, the woman hid, helpless, with her three other children as her 12-year-old was murdered nearby.
    “We tried to escape to the woods, but they took my eldest son and beheaded him,” the 28-year-old, who Save the Children called Elsa, is quoted as saying.
    “We couldn’t do anything because we would be killed too.”
    Another mother, a 29-year-old Save the Children calls Amelia, said her son was just 11 when he was killed by armed men.
    Reuters could not immediately reach Mozambique police or government spokespeople for comment.
    Mozambique’s northernmost province of Cabo Delgado has since 2017 been home to a festering insurgency, linked to Islamic State, that has escalated dramatically in the past year.
    While beheadings have always been a hallmark of the attacks, throughout 2020 the insurgents began regularly engaging the military to capture and hold key towns.
    Brutality also continued, with mass killings including the murder of around 52 people at once in the village of Xitaxi in April.
    Altogether almost 2,700 people on all sides have died in the violence, according to the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a consultancy that tracks political violence.    Almost 670,000 people have been displaced, Save the Children said.
    The United States last week declared the Mozambique group a foreign terrorist organisation over its links to Islamic State, saying the group reportedly pledged allegiance to it as early as 2018.    Islamic State claimed its first attack in Cabo Delgado in June 2019.
    The U.S. embassy in Mozambique on Monday said U.S. special forces will train Mozambican marines for two months, with the country also providing medical and communications equipment, to help Mozambique combat the insurgency.
    Amnesty International found earlier in March that war crimes were being committed by all sides in the conflict, with government forces also responsible for abuses against civilians – a charge the government has denied.
    Chance Briggs, Save the Children’s country director in Mozambique, said reports of attacks on children “sicken us to our core.”
    “The violence has to stop and displaced families need to be supported as they find their bearings and recover from trauma,” Briggs continued.
(Reporting by Emma Rumney; Additional reporting for Manuel Mucari, William Maclean)

3/16/2021 Lebanon’s Protesters Back On Streets As Currency Hits New Low
A demonstrator carries a national flag along a blocked road, during a protest against the fall in Lebanese pound currency
and mounting economic hardships, near the Central Bank building, in Beirut, Lebanon March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Protesters burned tyres and blocked roads in Beirut on Tuesday as the Lebanese currency crashed past a new milestone.
    Market dealers said the Lebanese pound was trading at around 15,000 to the dollar, having lost a third of its value in the last two week to stand at barely a 10th of what it was worth in late 2019, when Lebanon’s economic and financial crisis erupted.
    Banks have blocked access to dollar deposits, and poverty is spreading – but fractious politicians have yet to launch a rescue plan that could unlock foreign aid.
    “Let them wake up now. Please have mercy on us, we’re begging you!” said one protester, Hussein Makieh.    “Look at us, we’re starving.    We’re dying.    The middle class is gone.    There’s 3% of the country, the thieves, living off it.”
    Parliamentary committees discussed an emergency loan for the state-run electricity company after the energy minister warned that, without more money, the lights would go out across Lebanon by the end of the month.
    The lawmakers only managed to promise $200 million out of a requested $1 billion, and that amount now needs parliament’s approval to go through.
    The caretaker prime minister, Hassan Diab, said there were efforts to secure credit as fuel for electricity generation was running out.    He also said subsidies on basic goods were covered until June.
    The prospect that those subsidies could be scrapped has sparked fears of rising hunger and warnings of catastrophe from the United Nations.
    An official source who declined to be named told Reuters that $1.0-1.5 billion remained in the pot for subsidies, which cover items including wheat, fuel and medicine.
    The source said foreign reserves now stood at around $16 billion, compared to a central bank estimate of $19.5 billion in August.
    Lebanon’s already dire predicament deepened last August when a blast at Beirut’s port devastated large parts of the city, killing 200 people and prompting Diab’s cabinet to resign.
    But his designated successor, veteran politician Saad al-Hariri, is at loggerheads with President Michel Aoun and has yet to form a new government, which must carry out reforms before it can unlock foreign aid.
    “We’re absolutely sick of this!” yelled one protester, standing near a barricade of garbage trucks and bonfires blocking a road in the capital.
    “We’re hungry – we’re finished!
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan, Ellen Francis, Issam Abdallah, and Mohammed Azakir; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/16/2021 New Piece Of Dead Sea Scrolls Jigsaw Discovered After 60 Years by Ari Rabinovitch
A recently-discovered scroll fragment of an ancient biblical text is seen at Israel
Antiquities Authority laboratories in Jerusalem March 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli archaeologists racing against treasure hunters to search caves near the Dead Sea have discovered a trove of artefacts, including fragments of a biblical text, the like of which has not been seen for decades.
    The finds, preserved by the hot, dry air of the Judean desert, also include the 6,000-year-old partly mummified skeleton of a child, and a perfectly intact, finely woven basket dating back 10,500 years that the Israel Antiquities Authority said on Tuesday was likely to be the oldest in the world.
    The Authority has overseen a survey of more than 100 km (65 miles) of cliffs and the caves carved or eroded into them.
    The fragments of parchment, about 2,000 years old, bear biblical verse, written in Greek, and match a scroll discovered about 60 years ago called the “Book of the 12 Minor Prophets.”
    That scroll is one of a trove of ancient Jewish texts called the Dead Sea Scrolls that were found in 1947 by local Bedouin in the caves of Qumran, about 20 km east of Jerusalem.
    The collection, which has come to include texts discovered elsewhere along the western shore of the Dead Sea, provided a window into Jewish society and religion before and after the time of Jesus.
    A flurry of exploration followed their discovery but the search eventually petered out – until recently, when new pieces of scrolls and parchment appeared on the black market.
    The likelihood that antiquities robbers had found a new trove spurred the Authority into action.
    Since 2017, crews have been abseiling down marl and limestone cliffs and using drones to map hundreds of caves and hollows.
    Many were filled with centuries of sand and debris, and about a dozen thought to be likely hiding places were excavated fully.
    The new fragments of manuscript were found in the “Cave of Horror,” which years ago yielded up the 1,900-year-old skeletons of Jewish rebels who had fought against the Roman Empire.
    “These are new pieces of the puzzle and we can add them to our greater picture of the period and of the text,” said Oren Ableman of the Antiquities Authority’s Dead Sea Scrolls Unit.
    “Even though these pieces are small, they did give us some new information that we did not know before.”
    The fragments allowed the reconstruction of 11 lines of text, and provided insight into the parchment the text is written on.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

3/18/2021 Israeli Town Abuzz With Delivery Drones In Coordinated Airspace Test
Delivery drones are seen midair during a demonstration whereby drones from various companies flew in a joint airspace and were
managed by an autonomous control system in Haifa, in an open area near Hadera, Israel March 17, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    HADERA/HAIFA, Israel (Reuters) – The skies above the Israeli town of Hadera were abuzz with delivery drones on Wednesday as national authorities tested a central control room for safely coordinating the small pilotless aircraft with each other as well as with planes and helicopters.
    The popularity of the cheap, low-flying drones, and their potential for ferrying anything from pizzas to prescription drugs between businesses and homes, has stirred fears of mid-air collisions or crashes that could cause casualties on the ground.
    “This is an opportunity for the regulators to learn what is needed to establish delivery drones as a daily reality, and for the drone operators to learn what is expected of them in turn,” said Hagit Lidor of the Israel Innovation Authority, one of several state agencies involved in the test.
    In the first live trial of a two-year test phase launched in January, rural Hadera’s airspace was turned over to five private firms that flew drones on criss-cross runs designed to test the responses of a control room in the city of Haifa, 56 km (35 miles) away.
    To keep the drones – which went up 20 at a time – no more than 120 metres (yards) above ground and no less than 60 metres (yards) apart, the control-room staff sent alerts and rerouting instructions to their operators electronically.
    “For the first time, we are managing airspace as a single entity, synthesising drone operators with established civil and military aviation,” said Lidor.
    She added regulated commercial drone deliveries in Israel were unlikely before 2023, when the testing is due to end and related matters like legislation would have to be addressed.
    Organisers said helicopters or planes were not a planned part of Wednesday’s trial but may be involved in a follow-up in June.    Piloted aircraft more commonly seen at low altitudes around Hadera are crop-dusters and paragliders.    The drones were told to steer clear of these by at least a 1 km (half a mile).
    All of the drones were equipped with parachutes, to ensure safe landings should they suffer malfunctions, Lidor added.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

3/18/2021 Lebanon’s Hariri Says New Cabinet, IMF Necessary To Halt Collapse
Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri speaks at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon March 18, 2021.
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad al-Hariri said on Thursday after a meeting with President Michel Aoun that forming a government that could re-engage with the IMF was the only way to halt the country’s financial collapse.
    The meeting took place after a heated exchange on Wednesday night between the two top politicians, who have been at loggerheads for months over cabinet formation.
    Aoun asked Hariri to form a new government immediately or make way for someone else in a televised speech, and Hariri hit back by telling him that if he could not approve his cabinet line-up then he should call an election.
    On Thursday, Hariri’s tone was more positive after saying a further meeting was scheduled for Monday and that he saw “an opportunity to be seized.”
    “The main priority of any government is to prevent the collapse that we are facing today… that we proceed to start halting the collapse with the IMF and regain the trust of the international community,” he told reporters.
    Lebanon’s talks with the IMF stalled last year over a row among Lebanese government officials, bankers and political parties over vast financial losses.
    The Lebanese pound has sunk by 90% in the country’s worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war.    It has plunged many into poverty and endangered imports as dollars grow scarce.
    Politicians have since late 2019 failed to agree a rescue plan to unlock foreign cash which Lebanon desperately needs.
    “We are really looking at the abyss, seeing it very clearly, and I think it’s either now or never,” Mohanad Hage Ali of the Carnegie Middle East Center said, alluding to the urgency of forming a new government able to make reforms.
    He added that major political parties, including Aoun’s ally, the Iran-backed Hezbollah movement, were re-evaluating their positions as delays worsen the economy’s free-fall and unrest grows.
    A French diplomat said on Wednesday that France, which has led aid efforts to its former colony, and its partners will seek to ramp up pressure on Lebanese politicians in the coming months.
    The currency has crashed so fast in recent weeks, losing a third of its value, that grocery shops closed on Wednesday and bakeries cautioned they may have to follow suit.
    Many pharmacies shut their doors on Thursday and flashed neon strike signs, the latest sector of the economy to voice frustration.
    Ali Obaid, a Beirut pharmacist, said he could no longer keep up with expenses.    “Pharmacies will close permanently if this continues,” he said.    Comments that subsidies – including on fuel, wheat and medicine – may soon end have also triggered panic buying.
    Cars lined up outside gas stations earlier this week, and scenes of brawls over subsidised goods at supermarkets have heightened fears among Lebanese over their most basic needs.
    The sharp descent of the pound sent protesters into the streets this month, blocking roads in anger at an entrenched political elite that has dominated since the civil war.
(Reporting by Maha El Dahan in Beirut and Ellen Francis in Dubai with additional reporting by Samia Nakhoul, Imad Creidi and Mohamed Azakir in Beirut; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Angus MacSwan)

3/19/2021 Palestinian Killed By Israeli Troops During Clashes: Witness
FILE PHOTO: A man holds a Palestinian flag stained with blood of a mortally wounded Palestinian during a protest against
Israeli settlements, in Beit Dajan in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta
    BEIT DAJAN, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli troops shot dead a Palestinian on Friday as demonstrators protesting against Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank hurled rocks at soldiers, a Reuters witness said.
    The man was shot in the head during a protest near the villlage of Beit Dajan, near Nablus, and was taken to a hospital where he later died, the Palestinian health ministry said.
    The Israeli military said it was examining the incident.
    A Reuters photographer said a group of Palestinians threw stones at two Israeli soldiers posted at the protest, and the soldiers then opened fire.
    The Israeli military said that “dozens of Palestinian rioters hurled rocks” at its troops, who “responded with riot dispersal means and by firing into the air.”
    “We are aware of reports regarding a Palestinian casualty.    The cause of the injury is still unknown.    The incident is being examined,” it said.
    Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    The protest in Beit Dajan, near the city of Nablus, was a weekly demonstration against Israel’s West Bank settlements.
    The Palestinians, who have limited self-rule in the West Bank, say Israel’s settlements there will deny them a viable state.    Most countries view the settlements as illegal under international law.
    Israel disputes this, citing security needs as well as biblical and historical ties to the land. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
(Reporting by Raneen Sawafta in Beit Dajan, Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Writing by Rami Ayyub, Editing by Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

3/19/2021 ‘How To End A War You Didn’t Win’: Yemen’s Houthis Seek Saudi Concessions by Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: A woman looks as she sits with her children at a camp for internally displaced people on
the outskirts of Sanaa, Yemen March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemen’s Houthis say a U.S. plan for a ceasefire in their six-year war against a Saudi-led military coalition does not go far enough, and are ramping up pressure on Riyadh to lift a sea and air blockade before any truce deal is agreed.
    With the United Nations warning of a looming large-scale famine, U.S. special envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking toured the region this month to press the warring sides to agree a nationwide truce to revive U.N.-sponsored peace talks on ending the conflict.
    But making clear the Houthis believed the plan must go further, Chief Houthi negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters: “We have discussed all these proposals and offered alternatives. We continue to talk.”
    Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition that intervened in Yemen in March 2015, has been trying for over a year to exit the war but wants more assurances from the armed Houthi movement on the security of its borders and on curbing the influence of its rival, Iran, in Yemen.
    Tehran denies arming the Houthis.
    A main sticking point is the Houthi demand that the coalition lift the blockade – which has largely contributed to Yemen suffering the world’s worst humanitarian crisis – before any truce deal is agreed, three sources involved in the talks said.
    The Saudi-led coalition controls Yemen’s airspace and waters, including off the Houthi-held Hodeidah port on the Red Sea which handles more than 70% of Yemen’s imports.    The Houthis hold most of northern Yemen, including the capital Sanaa.
    “The issue is seen as an existential threat in Saudi Arabia.    Free shipping and daily flights between northern Yemen and Iran would cause real anxiety in Riyadh,” said a source familiar with the talks.    “It is a case study on how to end a war that you didn’t win.”
    Lenderking has not provided details in public of what he called a “sound plan.”    But Abdulsalam said it included allowing flights to Sanaa airport from some destinations with prior coalition authorisation.
    He said the Houthis agreed to inspection of ships heading to Hodeidah and verification of bank transfers and goods’ origins, but that the coalition says port revenues must go to Yemen’s Saudi-backed government.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson said Lenderking has presented a fair proposal for a nationwide ceasefire, with elements that would immediately address Yemen’s dire humanitarian situation.
    “The Houthis must demonstrate their willingness to adopt and adhere to a comprehensive, nationwide ceasefire and enter negotiations,” the spokesperson said.
    The challenge, the sources and analysts said, is finding middle ground.
    “From what I understand, the Saudis are willing to make concessions,” said Peter Salisbury, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group.    “But there is a lot of devil in the details to be worked out, in terms of what a ceasefire looks like and what an easing of restrictions looks like.”
    The stakes are high as the Houthis step up missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, including on oil facilities, and make gains in an offensive to take Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region, the last stronghold of the internationally recognised government that the Houthis ousted from power in Sanaa.
    Biden has said the United States will no longer support offensive operations by the coalition while continuing to help Saudi Arabia defend itself.
    “I think the military escalation in Marib and elsewhere shows that Iran wants to pressure the U.S. indirectly on the nuclear file, I do not see another reason for it,” a Saudi official, who declined to be named, said.
    Abdulsalam rejected this.
    Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said this month that Tehran supports a truce in Yemen “with lifting of the blockade.”
    Biden aims to restore a 2015 international nuclear pact with Iran that his predecessor Donald Trump quit in 2018, but Washington and Tehran cannot agree on who should move first.
    The Biden administration has used a carrot and stick approach on Yemen, including lifting terrorist designations on the Houthis imposed by the Trump administration and later sanctioning two of the group’s military leaders.
    Lenderking has said Washington will work with the Yemeni and Saudi governments to find a way to deliver fuel to Yemenis and restore humanitarian aid funding for the north.
    But time is running out.    Fuel shortages have knocked out water pumps, generators in hospitals and disrupted aid supplies in a country where 80% of the population need help.
    U.N. special envoy Martin Griffiths said on Tuesday that no fuel imports had been permitted to enter Hodeidah since January.
    As of March 17, at least 13 fuel tankers were held — some for more than six months — by coalition warships off Hodeidah despite them having U.N clearance, U.N. data showed.
    Four ships cancelled and left without docking at the port after waiting for months.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington; Editing by Ghaida Ghantous and Timothy Heritage)

3/19/2021 First Female President Urges Tanzanians To Unite After Death Of COVID Sceptic Magufuli
Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor
John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Friday the country should unite and avoid pointing fingers after the death of John Magufuli, her COVID-19 sceptic predecessor, urging the east African country to look forward with hope and confidence.
    Wearing a red hijab, she took her oath of office on the Koran in a ceremony at State House in the commercial capital Dar es Salaam.    She is the first female head of state in the country of 58 million.
    Vice president since 2015, Hassan gave a brief and sombre address after she was sworn in, addressing a heavily male crowd that included two former presidents and uniformed officers.
    “This is a time to bury our differences, and be one as a nation,” she said.    “This is not a time for finger pointing, but it is a time to hold hands and move forward together.”
    The remarks appeared aimed at dispelling a national mood of uncertainty that developed after Magufuli, criticised by opponents as a divisive and authoritarian figure, disappeared from public view for 18 days before his death was announced.
    His absence from national life drew speculation he was critically ill with COVID-19.    Magufuli died of heart disease, Hassan said when announcing his death on Wedneday.
    Among the first challenges facing Hassan, 61, will be a decision on whether to procure COVID-19 vaccines.    Under her predecessor, the government said it would not obtain any vaccines until the country’s own experts had reviewed them.
    World Health Organisation (WHO) head Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus tweeted congratulations to Hassan and said he looked forward to working with her to keep people safe from COVID-19.    Tanzania stopped reporting coronavirus data in May last year, frustrating the WHO.
    Hassan will also have the task of healing a country polarized during the Magufuli years, analysts said.    She may face challenges building a political base to govern, given competing factions in her ruling party jostling for primacy after Magufuli centralised power around himself, analysts say.
    Tanzania’s main opposition leader Tundu Lissu, living in exile in Belgium, said without providing evidence that Magufuli had died of COVID-19, and called his death a cautionary tale.
    Lissu cited medical, diplomatic, and security sources in Tanzania and Kenya for his information.
    “Populism can be very dangerous … when it is anti-science,” he told Reuters in an interview, pointing to other world leaders who have played down the virus, such as Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro and former U.S. President Donald Trump.
    The opposition leader, who lost last year’s election to Magufuli, survived an attack by unknown gunmen in Tanzania’s administrative capital Dodoma in 2017 and underwent treatment in Belgium where he went into exile.
    Government spokesman Hassan Abbasi did not immediately respond to a phone call and text message seeking comment on Lissu’s remarks.
    Described as a soft-spoken consensus-builder, Hassan will be the first president born in Zanzibar, the archipelago that forms part of the union of the Republic of Tanzania.
    Her leadership style is seen as a potential contrast from Magufuli, a brash populist who earned the nickname ‘Bulldozer’ for muscling through policies and who drew criticism for his intolerance of dissent, which his government denied.
    She praised the late leader in her remarks, describing him as her mentor, but also thanked the opposition for their “wishes of strength, comfort and solidarity” after Magufuli’s death.
    She later visited Magufuli’s widow Janet.
    Lawyer Fatma Karume said Hassan’s remarks suggested she was taking pains to sound conciliatory and not to isolate Magufuli’s supporters.
    Elsie Eyakuze, a columnist and consultant, said Hassan’s inauguration made many Tanzanians happy.    “This is just not some kind of token appointment.    She’s a competent woman, she’s been working for four decades in a public capacity,” she said.
    Rights groups say Magufuli’s six-year-rule was marred by arbitrary arrests, suspension of critical television and radio stations and the blocking of social media and other abuses.
    DaMina Advisors, a political risk advisory firm, predicted the new president was likely to make a public U-turn on her predecessor’s policy of COVID-19 denial and his generally negative attitudes toward foreign investors.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; writing by Elias Biryabarema and Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in Brussels)

3/19/2021 Turkish Police Arrest Pro-Kurdish HDP Officials
FILE PHOTO: People shout slogans during a demonstration to protest against the court case launched for closure of the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples' Democratic
Party (HDP) in Istanbul, Turkey March 18, 2021. Placards read: " People's struggle for democracy does not stop. HDP cannot be shut down". REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish police detained three district heads of the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) and seven others in Istanbul on Friday over alleged links to militants, police said, two days after a court case began over banning the party.
    Separately, Turkey’s Human Rights Association (IHD) co-chairman Ozturk Turkdogan was arrested by police at his home, IHD said, prompting human rights groups to call for his release.    Turkdogan was then released on Friday evening, the association said.
    A prosecutor filed a case with the Constitutional Court on Wednesday demanding a ban on the HDP, the culmination of a years-long crackdown against parliament’s third-largest party.    The HDP called it a “political coup.”
    State-owned Anadolu news agency said on Friday that police arrested the 10 people over alleged links to Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants – deemed a terrorist group by Turkey, the European Union and the United States.    Prosecutors have ordered 12 arrested in total, including former provincial heads of the HDP, it said.
    Media reports said Turkdogan was detained as part of those raids.    Human Rights Watch Turkey director Emma Sinclair-Webb called for his immediate release on Twitter, addressing the country’s foreign and justice ministers.
    “In Brussels you talk about dialogue with civil society but the reality at home is dawn raids and arrest of human rights defenders,” she said.
    European Council President Charles Michel is scheduled to hold a video conference with President Tayyip Erdogan and European Commission head Ursula von der Leyen on Friday.    EU leaders are then due to discuss strained ties with Turkey at a summit next week.
    Police in Istanbul staged raids in four areas and detained two top HDP officials in the district of Kagithane as well as its Besiktas district head among 15 suspects sought, the city’s police headquarters said.
    Erdogan unveiled a “human rights action plan” this month, saying Ankara would strengthen the right to a fair trial and the right of freedom of expression.    Critics say the plan fails to tackle an erosion of human rights in the country, however.
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Hugh Lawson)

3/19/2021 Separated By Politics, A Gaza Family Longs For Mother’s Day Reunion by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Zainah El-Haroun
Palestinian woman Niveen Gharqoud sits with her son Amir at their home in the
central Gaza Strip March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA/QALQILYA (Reuters) – Sunday is Mother’s Day across most of the Middle East but, for the third year running, Gaza resident Niveen Gharqoud will be forced to spend it without four of her five children.
    They haven’t met since 2018, when she sent them to live with their father Sami in Qalqilya, a West Bank city east of the military wall that separates Israel from the occupied Palestinian territories.
    She lives in Juhr Edeek, a village just west of a separate border fence that isolates the Gaza Strip.    In between the two barriers is Israel, which she is not allowed to cross.
    So the only way Gharqoud and the one child who still lives with her can bridge the 120 km (75 miles) gap is electronically.
    “One hour is all I need to be with my children,” Gharqoud said as she prepared for her Mother’s Day cellphone call.    “Nothing will satisfy me but to be with my children on Mother’s Day.”
    Behind the family’s separation is a complex system of restrictions that Israel applies in the territories that it captured and occupied in a 1967 war.
    Israel says it needs the system to protect its own citizens.    Palestinians say it is unfair and arbitrary.
    Gharqoud hoped the bulk of her family would be better off outside Gaza, and that she could join them later.
    “(But) three years of attempts didn’t work for me,” she told Reuters.    “A checkpoint is standing between my children and me.”
    COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians, said it limits to “humanitarian-exceptional cases only” the number of Palestinians allowed to travel to Israel and the West Bank from Gaza because the enclave is controlled by Islamist militant group Hamas.
    COGAT said Gharqoud’s application to travel was denied “after being carefully examined” because it did not meet the necessary criteria.
(Reporting by Nidal Almughrabi in Gaza and Zainah El-Haroun in Qalqilya; Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by John Stonestreet)

3/19/2021 Turkey’s Erdogan Says Biden Comments On Putin ‘Unacceptable’
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a joint news conference following talks with
Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Russia March 5, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that Joe Biden’s comments about Russia’s Vladimir Putin, in which he said he thought he was a killer, were “unacceptable” and unfitting of a U.S. president.
    In a TV interview broadcast on Wednesday, Biden said “I do” when asked if he believed Putin was a killer, prompting U.S.-Russia ties to sink to a new low.    Putin later responded that “he who said it, did it.”
    “Mr. Biden’s statements about Mr. Putin are not fitting of a president, and a president coming out and using such remarks against the president of a country like Russia is truly unacceptable, not something that can be stomached,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.
    “In my opinion, Mr. Putin has done what is necessary by giving a very, very smart and elegant answer,” he added.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington, NATO allies, have been strained over a host of issues in recent years including Turkey’s record on human rights and freedoms, its acquisition of Russian defence systems and policy differences in Syria.
    The United States, which along with other western allies has accused Ankara of straying from NATO and the western bloc, last year imposed sanctions on Turkey over the Russian defences.    Turkey called that a “grave mistake.”
    Erdogan, who had a close relationship with former President Donald Trump, has yet to speak to Biden since he took office in January.
    Turkey and Russia have developed strong strategic relations in recent years despite backing opposing sides in conflicts in Syria and Libya.    Erdogan has frequently met with and held calls with Putin, whom he calls a friend.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Frances Kerry)

3/19/2021 Analysis: Move To Ban Kurdish Party Shows Erdogan’s March To Nationalism by Daren Butler
FILE PHOTO: Supporters of Selahattin Demirtas, a jailed former co-leader of the pro-Kurdish Peoples' Democratic Party (HDP), wave party flags as they
gather for a press statement outside the Istanbul Justice Palace, the Caglayan Courthouse, in Istanbul, Turkey February 3, 2021. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – In the early days of peace talks with Kurdish militants in 2013, Turkey’s then-Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke out against ethnic divisions and declared, “we are a government that has trampled on every kind of nationalism.”
    Eight years on, long after the talks collapsed in a surge of violence, analysts say Erdogan, now president, is dependent on his nationalist allies in parliament led by Devlet Bahceli.
    This has limited his political options, fuelled autocratic moves and alienated Kurds across the country, they say.
    Erdogan’s long pivot from boosting Kurdish rights to a hard pact with nationalist Turks was reinforced this week when a top prosecutor moved to ban the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) over militant ties, after months of calls to do so from Bahceli’s Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).
    Cengiz Candar, who wrote a report examining how to end the decades-old insurgency before the peace process, said the timing of the HDP charges, just before an MHP congress, showed Bahceli’s heavier hand in decision-making.
    “It illustrates that Turkish autocracy is getting much more repressive against the Kurds and… even more nationalistic,” the veteran political commentator told Reuters.    “Either Erdogan is their (MHP’s) hostage, or acts in unison with them.”
    “The tunnel into which the government has pushed Turkey is getting even darker.    We don’t see light at the end.”
    Echoing that view, HDP co-leaders Pervin Buldan and Mithat Sancar said in a statement the AKP had “presented a gift to the MHP congress through the judiciary, and the prosecutors have acted upon political instructions.”
    The government says Turkey’s judiciary is independent.
    Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP), in power since 2002, itself narrowly survived a closure case in 2008.    He has spoken out in past years against shutting parties, including the ban on another pro-Kurdish party in 2009.
    But since the ceasefire with Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants ended in 2015, Erdogan has taken a harder line.    Thousands of HDP members have been arrested in a crackdown and many of its lawmakers and mayors unseated and jailed.
    Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said the HDP had “organic ties” to the PKK.    The HDP, Turkey’s third-largest party, denies PKK links.
    More than 40,000 people have been killed in the conflict the PKK launched in 1984.    It is designated a terrorist group by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
    In Erdogan’s early years as leader, inspired by hopes of taking Turkey into the EU, he expanded political and cultural rights for Kurds, who make up some 20% of the country’s 84 million population.
    Erdogan has defended his alliance with the MHP, saying it showed personal and political differences could be overcome in the national interest.
    But polls show support has slipped for the AKP and MHP as the government battles the economic fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.    Elections are not scheduled until 2023.
    Gonul Tol, director of the Middle East Institute’s Turkey programme, said Erdogan had sought to divide the opposition by pursuing a policy of criminalising the HDP since 2015.
    The move to shut it down “upped the ante,” she said, after the government was criticised for a failed mission to rescue 13 Turkish captives, soldiers and police in Iraq last month.    Ankara says they were executed by PKK militants there.
    “Erdogan and his nationalist ally will continue to use the Kurdish card to keep their base together,” Tol said.
    “They are hoping to keep the Kurdish voter at home in the next elections by shutting down the HDP, but it might very well backfire (and) mobilize Kurdish voters to support the opposition.”
    Galip Dalay, a fellow at the Bosch Academy, said the timing of the closure case will not play well politically for the AKP.
    “(It) will make the prospect of Erdogan finding new partners more difficult amongst opposition political actors,” he said.
    Dalay said the president’s options appeared limited to his nationalist alliance, which is shedding support, or returning to a parliamentary system that was replaced by a presidential one in 2018, when the AKP and MHP agreed their alliance.
    “This move burns further bridges between the governing AK Party and the Kurds, and contributes to the Kurds’ sense of political alienation,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Jonathan Spicer and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

3/22/2021 Saudi Arabia Proposes Ceasefire In Yemen, Houthis Sceptical by Aziz El Yaakoubi
People walk in the old quarter of Sanaa, Yemen March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia presented a new peace initiative on Monday to end the war in Yemen, including a nationwide ceasefire and the reopening of air and sea links, but its Houthi enemies said the offer did not appear to go far enough to lift a blockade.
    The initiative, announced by Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, would include reopening Sanaa airport, and allow fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port, both of which are controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthis.
    Political negotiations between the Saudi-backed government and the Houthis would be restarted, he told a news conference, It would take effect when the Yemeni sides accepted.
    Yemen’s internationally recognised government issued a statement welcoming the offer.
    But the Houthis said the initiative provided “nothing new,” as it still fell short of their demand for a complete lifting of the blockade on Sanaa airport and Hodeidah port.
    “We expected that Saudi Arabia would announce an end to the blockade of ports and airports and an initiative to allow in 14 ships that are held by the coalition,” Houthi chief negotiator Mohammed Abdulsalam told Reuters.
    A “humanitarian right” should not be used as a pressure tool, he said.
    The group would continue to talk with the Saudis, the United States and mediator Oman for a peace agreement, he said.
    The war has killed more than 100,000 people, many of them civiilians, according to The Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED), a database that tracks violence in Yemen.
    The conflict, widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, has been stalemated for years and has left 80% of Yemen’s population reliant on aid.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
    Saudi Arabia, which leads a military coalition battling the movement, has been under increasing pressure to put an end to the six-year-old conflict since U.S. President Joe Biden signalled Washington would no longer support the intervention and as the United Nations warns of a looming famine in Yemen.
    The United Nations welcomes the Saudi “intention to undertake a number of measures to help end the conflict in Yemen,” U.N. spokesman Farhan Haq said on Monday, stressing that “it’s still early days.”
    Haq said the proposal is aligned with the U.N. initiative and that special envoy Martin Griffiths would now follow up with the warring parties.
    Prince Faisal said Riyadh would work with the international community to press the Houthis “to accept and come to the negotiating table” and that the Saudi-led coalition would continue to face Houthi assaults “with the necessary response.”
    The movement has stepped up drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia, including on oil facilities, and a ground offensive to seize Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region.    The coalition has responded with air strikes on Houthi military sites.
    The Houthis demand the lifting of the blockade, which they blame for what the United Nations describes as the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.    The Saudi-led coalition and aid agencies have accused the group of obstructing aid efforts.
    The coalition has said the port and airport must be restricted to prevent weapons from reaching the Houthis who control the capital and most populous areas.
    Riyadh’s announcement did not specify which air routes would be permitted to Sanaa, or whether the imports through Hodeidah port would be subject to additional pre-authorisations.
    The United Nations has already set up a mechanism in Djibouti to inspect ships before they dock at Hodeidah port, but coalition warships hold up most vessels despite U.N. clearance.
    Prince Faisal said tax revenues from the port would go to a joint bank account in Hodeidah’s branch of Yemen’s central bank.
(Additional reporting by Lisa)

3/22/2021 Egyptian Feminist And Author El-Saadawi Dies At 89
FILE PHOTO: Egyptian writer Nawal el-Saadawi during an interview with Reuters in Cairo May 23, 2001. REUTERS/Mona Sharaf/
    CAIRO (Reuters) – Egyptian feminist and writer Nawal el-Saadawi, a leading voice on women’s rights in the Arab world who was detained for her views and had some of her works banned, has died aged 89.
    Saadawi died in hospital in Cairo on Sunday and was buried at a funeral attended by relatives, her agent said.
    Saadawi was born on Oct. 27, 1931, and graduated from Cairo University’s faculty of medicine.
    In her autobiography “A Daughter of Isis,” she described growing up in a patriarchal culture where girls were subjected to abuses including child marriage and female genital mutilation (FGM).
    After being subjected to the procedure herself as a young girl, she became an early campaigner against FGM while working as a doctor in the 1950s and 1960s.
    Later, she railed against religious authorities, Islamists and governments for their defence of conservative values and wrote dozens of books that addressed taboos including sexuality and prostitution.
    “After travelling all over the world … I discovered that girls are brought up in a very similar way – we are all in the same boat.    The patriarchal, religious, capitalist system is universal,” Saadawi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in 2018.
    Saadawi’s views repeatedly landed her in trouble with the authorities in Egypt.
    She was dismissed from the health ministry in the 1970s and jailed in 1981 after criticising President Anwar Sadat, shortly before his assassination.    In the 1990s she spent a spell in exile after death threats from Islamist militants.
    Many of her books, which include “Women and Sex” and “The Hidden Face of Eve,” were translated abroad.
    But in Egypt, where she was often depicted as a troublemaker advocating Western views, some of her works were denounced and pulled from circulation.
    Saadawi married and divorced three times and is survived by two children, writer Mona Helmy and film director Atef Hatata.
(Reporting by Sameh Elkhatib; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/22/2021 Saudi-Led Coalition Targets Houthi Missiles’ Workshops In Yemen’s Sanaa: State Media
Saudi Arabia's Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud speaks during a news conference
in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 22, 2021. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen said late on Sunday it had destroyed Houthi workshops for assembling ballistic missiles and drones in the capital Sanaa, Saudi state media reported.
    “The operation aims to neutralize and destroy the sources of an impending attack and to protect civilians from hostile attacks,” the coalition added.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah and Ahmed Tolba; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

3/22/2021 As Global Markets And Allies Reel, Turkey’s Erdogan Looks Inward by Dominic Evans and Ece Toksabay
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan talks to media after attending Friday prayers
at Hagia Sophia Grand Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey August 7, 2020. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – With twin shocks announced in the dead of night, President Tayyip Erdogan sacked Turkey’s central bank chief and pulled out of a treaty to protect women, stunning financial markets and Western allies.
    As he languishes in opinion polls, that international alarm may be of less concern to Turkey’s longest-serving leader than the response of conservative voters whose support underpins his nearly two decades in power — but has been slowly slipping.
    Polls show combined backing for his Islamist-rooted AK Party (AKP) and nationalist MHP allies falling well below 50%, leaving him with an uphill struggle to claw back votes ahead of elections due by 2023.
    By dismissing a central bank governor who hiked interest rates and pulling out of a treaty he portrayed as opposing family values, Erdogan is positioning himself as a defender of ordinary Turks, analysts say.
    Pro-government media and supporters on Twitter said Erdogan was taking a stand against foreign “tutelage.”
    “The era of formatting Turkey with a Western mind is over,” Ibrahim Karagul, editor of the Yeni Safak newspaper wrote after Erdogan’s weekend moves.    “The era of remote control from Western capitals … will come to an end.”
    The Istanbul Convention which Turkey is leaving pledged to prevent domestic violence and promote equality, but many conservatives in Turkey say it undermined family structures, encouraging violence.    Some were hostile to its stance against discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation.
    Opponents of former central bank governor Naci Agbal said his hawkish attitude on interest rates would benefit only foreign investors, at the expense of Turkish workers and businesses.
    Erdogan has also always championed low interest rates to promote economic growth and argued, contrary to orthodox economics, that high rates drive up inflation.
    The president has not spoken in public in the last three days, as he prepares to address an annual AK Party meeting which aims to seize the domestic political initiative.
    “He’s going to drive a really nativist message that he is representing Turkey’s core values against the corrupt values coming from the West,” said Soner Cagaptay, a director at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    Erdogan’s actions came in the same week that a prosecutor filed a case to close the pro-Kurdish opposition Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) following demands from his MHP nationalist allies to disband it for alleged links to militants.
    The move was criticised by Turkey’s Western allies for undermining democracy, but the presidency said the HDP had “organic ties” to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), designated a terrorist group by the United States and European Union.    The government also says the judiciary is independent.
    “The irony is that Erdogan’s most autocratic turn so far also comes at a time of his charm offensive towards Europe and the United States,” Cagaptay said.
    Turkey is trying to calm tensions with the European Union over a maritime dispute with EU members Greece and Cyprus, and says it has resumed diplomatic contacts with Egypt.    Ankara also says it wants good relations with the Biden administration, although Erdogan and the new U.S. president have yet to speak.
    At home, however, Erdogan was continuing “to play on religion and nationalism to try to shore up his core support,” said Fadi Hakura, a Turkey expert at Chatham House in London.
    With voters increasingly focused on the impact of rising prices and slow growth, analysts and pollsters say Erdogan will struggle to win back significant support without an economic upturn.
    “Closing down the HDP or cancelling the Istanbul convention will not be enough to ramp up support for the AK Party, as long as the economy is bad,” said Mehmet Ali Kulat, owner of polling firm Mak Danismanlik.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Catherine Evans)

3/24/2021 South Saudi Arabia Proposes Ceasefire With Houthi Rebels by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Aug. 22, 2020 file photo, tribesmen loyal to Houthi rebels raise their weapons during a protest against the
agreement to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, in Sanaa, Yemen. Saudi Arabia announced a plan
Monday, March 22, 2021, to offer Yemen’s Houthi rebels a cease-fire in the country’s yearslong war. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed, File)
    Saudi Arabia has been taking steps to end what’s been called the “world’s worst humanitarian crisis” in Yemen.    On Monday, Saudi officials proposed a ceasefire to the Houthi rebel group along with economic incentives to lay down their arms.
    The plan aims to reopen a major international airport in Yemen that hasn’t been fully open since 2015.    Additionally, Saudi Arabia said they would deposit taxes from oil imports from a Yemeni port into a joint account.
    However, analysts are unsure whether the proposal will be accepted.    They cited similar efforts that fell through last year.
Our message, and my message in particular and that of every Yemeni on the street, is for this war to stop, for this pain to stop, for the blood being shed on my land to stop,” stated Yemeni resident Qabous al-Houkely.    “We dream of peace, we dream of security…to the whole world, please listen to our message.”
    In the meantime, United Nations officials are gearing to help mediate the ceasefire if both parties come to an agreement.

3/24/2021 Turkish Women Say Their Safety ‘Hanging In The Balance’ After Treaty Exit by Ece Toksabay and Mert Ozkanbr>
Veterinarian Yagmur Denli treats a cat at a veterinary clinic in Ankara, Turkey March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Beaten by her former boyfriend, Yagmur Denli found healing in her work treating animals and safety in the protection offered by an international treaty on women, once championed by Turkey and now abruptly abandoned by its president.
    Denli went to the police with pictures of her bruises and won a two-month restraining order against her abuser.
    “The level of violence had increased, evolving into torture.    It wasn’t easy to break up, with all the threats and insults, so I took legal action,” the 33-year-old veterinarian told Reuters.
    While prosecutors looked into Denli’s case, she said the restraining order was automatically renewed under the terms of a European convention on preventing violence against women and domestic abuse, known as the Istanbul Convention after the Turkish city where it was drafted in 2011.
    In the early hours of Saturday, President Tayyip Erdogan stunned European allies with an unscheduled overnight announcement that Turkey was withdrawing from the convention which it had been the first nation to sign.
    “The convention was greatly useful to me as it helped me get over this very quickly.    Both the restraining order… and the swift legal process,” Denli said.    “I felt safer, I felt protected.    Today, we are all hanging in the balance.”
    World Health Organization data shows 38% of women in Turkey are subject to violence from a partner in their lifetime, compared to 25% in Europe.
    Femicide rates, for which there are no official figures, roughly tripled in Turkey over the last 10 years according to a monitoring group.    So far this year 78 women have been murdered by men or died under suspicious circumstances, it said.
    The convention seeks to prevent violence against women, including domestic violence, and bring an end to legal impunity for perpetrators.
    But conservatives in Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party say the text, which stresses gender equality and forbids discrimination on grounds of sexual orientation, undermines family structures and encourages violence.
    Officials said this week domestic law would protect Turkish women, not foreign treaties.
    “Those who object to the Istanbul Convention do not want the kinds of protection that are provided by the state when women face domestic violence,” Feride Acar, an academic who helped draft the Istanbul Convention, told Reuters.
    “They think it interferes with the free acts of men who claim an entitlement over women.”
    When she woke on Saturday to hear about Turkey’s decision, Acar said she felt traumatised.    “This is very upsetting, and it makes me very very unhappy, fearful of the future and very hopeless,” she said.
    Her concerns were echoed by Ankara’s Western allies, who denounced what they described as a baffling and unwarranted decision which risked undermining the rights of Turkish women.
    Istanbul-based lawyer Rezan Epozdemir, who has represented relatives of femicide victims, said Turkey was heading in a “very shocking direction” by leaving the treaty.    “I find it very unfortunate, and legally wrong, that Turkey withdrew its signature,” he told Reuters.
    Denli said violence against women and children was increasing in Turkey and in her case, the treaty had provided security which ensured she was swiftly protected from her ex-partner.
I don’t know if it will be replaced, or what will replace it, but I live in fear.”
(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul, Editing by Dominic Evans and Alexandra Hudson)

3/24/2021 Netanyahu’s Future Uncertain Amid Israeli Election Stalemate by Ari Rabinovitch and Rami Ayyub
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a speech to supporters following the announcement of exit polls
in Israel's general election at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospects for another term looked uncertain on Wednesday after partial results from a national election projected no clear path to victory.
Not even his stewardship of Israel’s world-beating COVID-19 vaccination rollout – a central pillar of his campaign – proved enough for Netanyahu to break through the political deadlock that has seen four elections in two years.
    With about 88% of votes counted it appeared that Netanyahu, 71, would have to cobble together a coalition from a combination of right-wing allies, ultra-Orthodox parties, ultra-nationalists, Arabs and defectors to secure another term.
    Should a hard-right government emerge, it would likely be at loggerheads with the Democratic administration of U.S. President Joe Biden over issues such as Palestinian statehood and U.S. engagement with Israel’s arch-enemy Iran over its nuclear programme.
    Some centre-left parties made a better showing than expected after highlighting longstanding corruption allegations against Netanyahu – which he denies – and accusing him of mishandling the early months of the pandemic.
    But like Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc it fell short of a governing majority in the 120-member parliament.    And it has a less clear route to forming a coalition, having to unite parties from different wings of the political spectrum.
    Immediately after polls closed on Tuesday, Netanyahu claimed victory and said he hoped to form a “stable right-wing government.”    But as first results trickled in and seemed to shift against him, he did not repeat the claim in his televised post-election speech.
    One potential kingmaker is Naftali Bennett, 48, a former defence minister who favours annexing parts of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    Bennett’s hawkish Yamina party is projected to win seven seats.    He remained non-committal after the vote, saying only he would do “what is good for Israel.”
    Yohanan Plesner, head of the Israel Democracy Institute, predicted political paralysis and said a fifth national election was possible.
    “It seems quite clear that Israelis are split right down the middle with respect to the main question that divides Israeli politics, which is pro and against Mr Netanyahu,” he said.
    “The period of uncertainty, deadlock and paralysis is expected to accompany us for the foreseeable future.”
    Visting Tubas in the Israeli-occupied West Bank on Wednesday, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said the outcome “does not really give any hope for peace” and that the Israeli political system had shifted to the right.
    “What is needed really from the future prime minister of Israel is somebody who is ready to stand up and say that he is ready to end occupation,” Shtayyeh told Reuters.    “We have to break this status quo.”
    Netanyahu has sealed historic deals with several Arab nations to normalise ties, but Israel and the Palestinians have not held direct negotiations since 2014, when peace talks broke down.    Each side accuses the other of intransigence over core issues such as Jerusalem and Jewish settlements.
    Tuesday’s vote followed three inconclusive elections in which neither Netanyahu nor his centre-left opponents won a stable majority in the 120-seat parliament.
    Netanyahu’s Likud is now projected to emerge as the largest party with 30 seats, down from 36.    The opposition centrist party Yesh Atid, headed by Yair Lapid, is set to be second with 18 seats.
    Lapid, 57, had hoped there would be enough parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc to oust the veteran premier, in power since 2009.
    It usually falls to the biggest party to try to form a government, and that could take weeks of back-room dealings.
    Netanyahu may have to woo Jewish religious allies as well as far-rightists and possibly even the the United Arab List (UAL), an Islamist party forecast to win five seats.
    UAL leader Mansour Abbas, 46, has advocated working with Netanyahu to address the needs of Israel’s 21% Arab minority – a position rejected by most Arabs.
    “We are not in anyone’s pocket.    We are prepared to engage with both sides (Netanyahu and Lapid),” Abbas told Tel Aviv radio station 103 FM.    Israeli media reported that he had agreed to meet Lapid later this week.
    Israel’s shekel was flat against the dollar and stocks slipped on Wednesday.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Ari Rabinovitch, Ali Sawafta and Dan Williams; Editing by Gareth Jones)

3/24/2021 No Clear Winner In Israeli Election, But Netanyahu Could Have Edge: TV Exit Polls by Jeffrey Heller and Stephen Farrell
The results of the exit polls in Israel's general election are shown on a screens at Yair Lapid's
Yesh Atid party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to secure a solid parliamentary majority in Israel’s election on Tuesday but a potential deal with a rival rightist could make him the eventual winner, TV exit polls showed.
    Not even a campaign in which Netanyahu showcased Israel’s world-beating COVID-19 vaccination rollout could break through two years of political deadlock underscored by four elections.
    Israel’s centre-left made a better showing than expected, according to the exit polls, after highlighting longstanding corruption allegations against Netanyahu and accusing him of mishandling the pandemic.
    But like Netanyahu’s traditional bloc of right-wing and Jewish religious parties, it also came up short of a governing majority in the 120-member parliament.
    The stalemate could herald lengthy coalition-building talks or even a fifth election.
    On social media, Netanyahu, 71, claimed “a huge victory” for the right-wing and his Likud party.    But the TV projections did not bear that out.
    The political survival of Israel’s longest-serving leader appeared to rest with 48-year-old Naftali Bennett, a defence minister in a previous Netanyahu government and leader of the nationalist Yamina party.
    A former Netanyahu aide who has long sought to replace him at the helm, Bennett remained noncommittal about his intentions immediately after polling stations closed.
    “I will do only what is good for the state of Israel,” Bennett was quoted as saying by a spokesman.
    Bennett, a high-tech millionaire, has said he would not serve under the centre-left group’s most likely leader, 57-year-old Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid party.    He also gave no firm public promise during the campaign to join up with Netanyahu, for what exit polls indicated would be only a slim majority.
    After the exit polls were broadcast, Bennett said he received a telephone call from Netanyahu and told him, “we will await the final results” before deciding on his next political steps.
    Netanyahu also phoned conservative political allies and urged them to join a “strong, stable right-wing government,” a spokesman said.
    Netanyahu had campaigned on his leadership credentials based on a programme that has enabled nearly 50% of Israelis to receive two vaccine shots already.
    But charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, which Netanyahu has denied in his ongoing trial, as well as economic strife Israelis suffered during three nationwide coronavirus lockdowns have weighed on his popularity.
    Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a non-partisan think tank, said the exit polls showed the country remained divided and that a fifth national ballot remained a real option.
    “At the same time, if Bennett joins his coalition, Netanyahu is closer than ever to a narrow government including the most extreme elements of Israeli society,” Plesner said.
    According to the exit polls, Lapid’s Yesh Atid took second place with 16-18 parliamentary seats to 31-32 for top finisher Likud.
    The dominant political figure of his generation, Netanyahu has been in power continuously since 2009.    But the Israeli electorate is deeply polarised, with supporters hailing him as “King Bibi” and opponents holding up placards calling him “Crime Minister.”
    Israel’s swift vaccine drive allowed it to reopen much of its economy before the election, and Netanyahu had promised voters and businesses more cash stipends and millions more doses of vaccine.
(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell, Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell; Editing by Howard Goller)

3/26/2021 Suez Ship Rescuers Weigh Time And Tide With Risk Of Tip Or Tear by Anthony Deutsch
FILE PHOTO: Stranded container ship Ever Given, one of the world's largest container ships, is seen
after it ran aground, in Suez Canal, Egypt March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany/
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The Dutch emergency response team hired to free the vast ship blocking the Suez canal has pulled off some dramatic recoveries, including lifting Russia’s Kursk nuclear submarine from the Barents Sea floor, but says this is one of the trickiest.
    Weighing 200,000 tonnes without cargo, the Ever Given is the heaviest vessel that Smit Salvage, a subsidiary of the Dutch marine services company Boskalis contracted in the rescue, has faced in its nearly 180-year history.
    With real-time emergency response crews across the globe, Smit Salvage has helped recover or salvage dozens of wrecks and free stranded cargo ships, ferries and tankers.
    While lives are not at stake this time, the vast economic interests in one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes make the urgency of the situation critical.
    Boskalis chief executive Peter Berdowski, who has compared the operation to saving a beached whale, will need to come up with a plan that is acceptable to the ship owner, insurance companies, and the Egyptian, state-owned Suez Canal authority.
    The Ever Given has grounded at both ends and initial attempts to shift it with tugs showed it would not budge easily from its position wedged diagonally across a narrow stretch of the canal.
    “It is a difficult puzzle, because the ship is currently being strained by unnatural forces.    We don’t want it to tip or tear in half during the salvage,” he said.
    Experts are divided on how much of a help the narrow window of a spring tide in coming days will be in efforts to refloat the vessel, which can carry up to 20,000 containers.
    Clemens Schapeler with global logistics platform Transporeon said: “I think the most likely outcome is that it will be refloated on Sunday or Monday.    But the worst case (stuck for weeks) is a real possibility.”
    The Suez Canal authority is mobilising dredging vessels to remove underwater sand or other material beneath the bow and stern ends.    The hardness of that material and the ability to position the dredging vessels effectively will determine how quickly that operation goes.
    A core team from the Netherlands boarded the ship on Thursday and collected initial readings and is calculating the best options.
    Officials involved in the operation told Reuters the most obvious first step will be to remove large fuel and ballast to lighten the vessel, in combination with dredging away sand and to then attempt to pull it afloat.
    If those initial measures fail and the ship remains stuck, it will need to have its cargo of several thousand shipping containers removed in a job that officials warned could take weeks.
    In 2012, Smit and Italy’s Tito Neri removed bunker fuel from the cruise vessel Costa Concordia, which had been carrying over 4,000 passengers and crew when it hit a rock and encountered stability problems while passing Tuscany’s Isle of Giglio.
    “Time is the deciding factor here.    The ship itself is undamaged, but there is massive consequential damage from the blockade,” said Peter Berdowski, chief executive of Boskalis.
    “The time factor has rarely weighed so heavily as it does now with the Ever Given,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Bart Meijer, Toby Sterling and Jonathan Saul; editing by Philippa Fletcher)

3/26/2021 Train Collision Kills 32 People, Injures Dozens In Egypt – Ministry
People inspect the damage after two trains have collided near the city of Sohag, Egypt, March 26, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    CAIRO (Reuters) – At least 32 people were killed and 91 injured when two trains collided in central Egypt on Friday, health ministry officials said.
    “Unknown individuals” triggered the emergency brakes on one of the trains causing it to stop, the rail authority said.    The second train, which was travelling in the same direction, crashed into the first from behind, it added.
    Pictures showed train carriages derailed, several of them badly damaged, above a channel of water, as crowds looked on.
    The public prosecutor’s office said it had ordered an investigation into the crash which took place close to the Nile-side town of Tahta, about 365 km (230 miles) south of Cairo.
    Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi mourned the victims of the crash in a statement posted on his official social media and said those responsible would be punished.
    Sisi also told Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouly to head to the site of the crash with the ministers of health and social solidarity, state television reported.
    The health ministry said 32 people had died and dozens of ambulances were taking casualties to local hospitals.    A health ministry spokesman said 91 people were injured.
    Egypt has one of the oldest and largest rail networks in the region and accidents involving casualties are common.
    In the country’s worst train disaster, a fire tore through seven carriages of an overcrowded passenger train in 2002, killing at least 360 people.
(Reporting by Nadine Awadalla, Ahmed Tolba, Momen Saeed Atallah, Lilian Wagdy, and Ahmed Mohamed Hassan; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

3/26/2021 Men Forced To Rape Family Members In Ethiopia’s Tigray, U.N. Says by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: The United Nations logo is seen on a window in an empty hallway at United Nations headquarters during the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly
high-level debate, which is being held mostly virtually due to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic in New York, U.S., September 21, 2020. REUTERS/Mike Segar
    NEW YORK (Reuters) -More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations said on Thursday, warning that the actual numbers were likely to be much higher due to stigma and a lack of health services.
    “Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence,” Wafaa Said, deputy U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to U.N. member states in New York.
    She said at least 516 rape cases had been reported by five medical facilities in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro, Shire and Axum.
    “Given the fact that most health facilities are not functioning and also the stigma associated with rape, it is projected that actual numbers are much higher,” she added.
    A dozen top U.N. officials called on Monday for a stop to indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians in Tigray, particularly calling out reports of rape and “other horrific forms of sexual violence.”
    Fighting in Tigray broke out in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has also said troops from neighboring Eritrea were in the region.
    The Ethiopian government takes the allegations of sexual violence “very seriously” and has deployed a fact-finding mission, Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador, Taye Atskeselassie Amde, told Reuters.
    “Ethiopia has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual crimes and anyone found responsible for the despicable acts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.
    Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh Mohammed and Eritrea’s information minister, Yemane Gebremeskel, did not respond to calls and messages requesting comment on the U.N. remarks on Thursday.
    The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million.
    “Most of the internally displaced people left with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing.    They are generally traumatized and tell stories of the difficult journey they took in search of safety.    Some reported walking for two weeks and some as far as 500 km,” Said said on Thursday.
    “Of the people who traveled with them, some were reportedly killed, particularly youngsters, people were reportedly beaten, women were subject to rape, some were pregnant and delivered on the way losing their babies,” she said.
    The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities, while U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described acts carried out as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected Blinken’s allegation.
    This week, Abiy acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed and said any soldiers committing crimes would be punished.
    Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women and looted households and crops.     Eritrea has not responded to queries on reports of atrocities.
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Additional reporting by Addis Ababa newsroom; Editing by David Gregorio and Peter Cooney)

3/26/2021 Explainer: How Israel Voted And Who Matters Now by Rami Ayyub and Maayan Lubell
FILE PHOTO: An Arab-Israeli man casts his ballot as he votes in Israel's
general election, in Kafr Manda, northern Israel March 23, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s fourth election in two years has produced yet another stalemate, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor those seeking to topple him reaching a majority in parliament.
    A final vote tally gives neither the government nor the opposition a clear path to victory, setting up weeks of coalition negotiations and possibly a fifth election.
    NETANYAHU ‘S Likud party lost six seats in the election – falling to 30 in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset.
    This makes him more reliant on right-wing rivals who will demand concessions during coalition horse-trading.
    He campaigned on a world-beating COVID-19 vaccine rollout.
    But such is the polarisation in Israeli politics that even this could not break the stalemate.    Netanyahu’s supporters love ‘King Bibi’.    Critics highlight corruption charges that led to the tag ‘Crime Minister.’    Netanyahu has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
    YAIR LAPID, 57, and his centre-left party Yesh Atid – “There is a Future” – came second, with 17 seats.
    The former finance minister and TV host campaigned to “bring sanity” back to Israel, a not-so-subtle dig at Netanyahu.
    But he must unite disparate parties from across the political spectrum.
    NAFTALI BENNETT, 49, who heads the ultra-hawkish Yamina – “Rightward” – party won seven seats.
    The former Netanyahu aide, defence minister and high-tech millionaire is vying to take over from his former boss as leader of the Israeli right.
    Bennett has positioned himself as a king-maker, refusing to commit to Netanyahu or against him.
    BEZALEL SMOTRICH, 41, heads the far-right Religious Zionism party, which won six seats.
    It includes Itamar Ben-Gvir, a former activist with the now-outlawed Kach movement, which advocated that Israel expel Arabs.    It also includes a member of the Noam movement, which opposes LGBT rights and recognition of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel.
    The party includes hardline settlers, and rejects any territorial concessions to the Palestinians, further jeopardising the already slim chances of progress on a two-state solution if Netanyahu needs them for support.
    MANSOUR ABBAS, 46, an Islamist member of Israel’s 21.5% Arab minority whose United Arab List won four seats.
    Mansour shook the Arab political establishment by leaving a unity coalition and saying he was open to working with Netanyahu.
    But no Arab party has ever joined a ruling Israeli coalition.    The far-right Smotrich has said he will not sit alongside Abbas.
    GIDEON SAAR, 54, a former cabinet minister who quit Likud to set up the New Hope party, was hoping to establish himself as an alternative to Netanyahu but landed only six seats.
    Like Likud, his party opposes Palestinian statehood.
    In his hunt for more parliamentary seats, Netanyahu will likely urge New Hope defectors to come back ‘home’ to Likud.
    Shas, mostly representing ultra-Orthodox Jews of Middle Eastern origin, won nine seats.
    United Torah Judaism, mostly representing ultra-Orthodox Jews of European origin, won seven seats.
    Defence Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party did better than expected, picking up eight seats after he lost many supporters by entering a unity government with Netanyahu.
    Israel’s left-wing Labor party also beat expectations, winning seven seats.
    Meretz, another left-wing party, won six seats.
    The far-right party Yisrael Beitenu – “Israel is our Home” whose leader Avigdor Lieberman is often at odds with Netanyahu’s religious partners, won seven seats.
    The Joint List coalition of mostly Arab lawmakers won six seats, losing ground after the Islamist faction split away.
    Official results will be presented on Wednesday to Israel’s president, who will task a leader to try to form a government.
    That nominee has up to 42 days to put a coalition together.    If he or she fails, the president asks others to try.
    If nobody succeeds, Israel goes to a fifth election.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell, Stephen Farrell and Rami Ayyub; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama)

3/26/2021 Analysis: Lebanon Frozen By Political Intransigence As It Hurtles Towards Collapse by Samia Nakhoul and Maha El Dahan
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds a Lebanese flag during a protest against the fall in Lebanese
pound currency and mounting economic hardships, in Beirut, Lebanon March 12, 2021. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Just 18 months have passed since mass protests against Lebanon’s political class brought down one government, and nearly eight more months since a huge explosion destroyed the port of Beirut and toppled its successor.
    Since then the currency has lost 90 per cent of its value, inflation has driven more than half the population below the poverty line, the country has defaulted on its debts, and banks have all but cut clients off from their dollar deposits.
    Scenes of shoppers brawling over scarce goods, protesters burning tyres to block roads, and hundreds of shuttered businesses are now commonplace.
    A vibrant Beirut has turned into a ghost-town in eerie darkness, as the outgoing energy minister warns that a total black-out is looming as fuel for electricity runs out.
    Yet even as Lebanon hurtles towards outright collapse, in the worst crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, bickering politicians are either unwilling or unable to form a government.
    Saad al-Hariri, the Sunni Muslim three-time prime minister designated by parliament to form a cabinet, stormed out of his 18th meeting with President Michel Aoun this week.    He said Aoun’s Christian party, led by the president’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, wanted to dictate cabinet seats and have veto power over decisions.
    “As of today you have to satisfy Gebran Bassil’s conditions; he has the pen of the president,” said one government source.
    Hariri, son of Rafik al-Hariri, the post-war premier assassinated in 2005, has called for a technocrat cabinet that must enact reforms long demanded by the IMF and donor countries such as the United States and France. He is backed by the Shi’ite Amal party, led by influential House Speaker Nabih Berri and others.
    Overshadowing what might otherwise look like a sectarian squabble over sharing the diminishing pie of Lebanon’s spoils system is the power of Hezbollah, the Iran-backed Shi’ite group that dominates Lebanon politics and underpins Aoun’s presidency.
    Like other Arab countries such as Iraq and Syria, Lebanon has long been an arena of proxy competition between Shi’ite Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, with traditionally influential Christians divided between the two.
    With a new administration in Washington reassessing policy towards Iran, the regional balance of power is shifting.    For now, Hezbollah, as Iran’s main client, appears reluctant to back a new governmnent that might be seen as offering a concession to Saudi-and Western-backed rivals such as Hariri.
    While it agrees on the need for a government, Hezbollah is not ready to pressure Aoun and risk its alliance with his large Christian party.
    The most optimistic scenario would see a capable government, able to regain local and international confidence, and implement reforms international lenders have demanded, such as an overhaul of the wasteful power sector, audit of the central bank and restructuring of the bloated public sector.
    “Everyone knows what fiscal and monetary reforms are needed,” a senior official source told Reuters.
    The pessimistic scenario would see a further collapse in the pound and plummeting economic growth, already measured at minus 25% of GDP by the IMF last year and minus 19% of GDP by the World Bank.
    The economy is shrinking so fast it is difficult to measure precisely, but on present trends this year’s contraction is set to be around 10% of GDP, the source said.
    The remaining foreign exchange reserves estimated at $16 billion are draining away: with roughly $500 million a month on fuel, wheat and medicine subsidies; $75 million to $100 million a month spent by the state, and at least $100 million a month when the Central Bank intervenes in the currency market.
    Some officials, diplomats and politicians are inclined towards pessimism: “I don’t think the parties want a solution,” the senior official source said.
    “It’s not so important who the prime minister is, what matters is the criteria and implementation, regaining confidence and credibility,” he said.    “The current government started by persuading the parties to go to the IMF (and) any successor government will have to do the same.    They have no choice.”
    As long as the paralysis continues, it is hard to fathom how bad the situation can get.    Dan Azzi, former chief executive of Standard Chartered Bank in Lebanon, said a scenario could evolve in which the currency tumbles further, all basic functions of government cease to exist and chaos spreads.
    “If we continue like this…total control will be lost on society.    This means you are driving down a road and someone with a weapon can stop you kill you, take your car, money and wife.”
    Nabil Boumonsef, deputy editor-in-chief of An-Nahar daily, said: “I don’t see any solutions, I see an open-ended crisis.”
    While Hariri blames Aoun’s demands for holding up a government, the president has so far remained intransigent.
    Sources who meet Aoun quote him as saying he is not responsible for the financial crisis: as power has been held for most of the last three decades by Hariri, Hariri’s father and Berri, they should be the ones making concessions, the president believes.
    The sources say Aoun’s attitude has hardened since Washington imposed sanctions on his son-in-law Bassil, the man he was grooming as a contender for president.
    “There is total change. He’s not ready to make any concessions at all,” one visitor said.
    The scale of financial losses and a planned audit of state finances turned into a point of friction in Lebanon last year, bringing IMF talks to a halt, as top bankers and lawmakers torpedoed the outgoing government’s draft recovery plan.
    Western donors have made clear they won’t bail out Lebanon without reforms to tackle enshrined corruption and the crushing debt, and revive IMF talks.
    Gulf Arab states that once funnelled money to Lebanon have shut the taps, wary of the expanding role of Iran’s client Hezbollah.
    Despite the meltdown, the parties that form the ruling elite appear more concerned with securing seats in next year’s parliamentary elections than enacting reforms, diplomats and sources close to power say.
    “For them it’s a political game.    It’s about who’s going to win.    The total collapse, the economic and social costs are not a priority for them.    It’s a battle of existence for them, they think they can discuss the costs later,” a source close to government sources said.
    “They think they can last a bit longer – but nobody knows where the breaking point is,” added another political source.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Editing by Peter Graff)

3/29/2021 Lebanon Approves $200M Loan For Power Generation by OAN Newsroom
    Lebanese Prime Minister-Designate Saad Hariri, speaks to journalists after his meeting with
Lebanese President Michel Aoun, at the Presidential Palace in Baabda, east of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Bilal Hussein)
    The Lebanese Parliament approved a $200 million loan to purchase electricity after its energy ministry warned it was running out of cash.    On Monday, the government announced it approved the loan to buy power following a warning the funds for electricity generation would be exhausted in April.
    The loan will help power the country for up to two and a half months.    This came after one of Lebanon’s four main electricity producers was shut down due to a lack of fuel.
Lebanon’s Fmr Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil attends the 18th International Oil Summit in Paris.
/ AFP PHOTO / ERIC PIERMONT (Photo credit should read ERIC PIERMONT/AFP via Getty Images)
    “This means Lebanese make up for it with generators that run on diesel that’s 30% more expensive than the fuel that’s bought by the electricity company,” former Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said.    “And therefore the effect on foreign reserves money will be bigger when any of these plants are shut down.”
    Lebanon was forced to turn to emergency funds as it has been facing its biggest financial crisis since the civil war.

3/31/2021 Israeli PM Netanyahu Calls On Rivals To Join Him by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Wednesday, March. 24, 2021 file photo, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waved to his supporters after the first exit
poll results for the Israeli parliamentary elections at his Likud party’s headquarters in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, file)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on his rivals to join him to finally build a coalition government.
    Reports on Wednesday said Israel’s president is set to meet with party leaders before deciding which party will be mandated with forming the next government.
    Netanyahu’s Likud party is the largest with 30 seats, but they don’t have the 61 seats needed to form a coalition.    Altogether his opponents secured 57 seats, also coming short.
    The heads of two other parties haven’t declared who they will support yet.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attended a cabinet meeting at Chagall State Hall in the
Knesset (Israeli parliament) in Jerusalem on May 24, 2020. (Photo by ABIR SULTAN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)
    “I say, let’s put the personal feelings in the past, let’s build a stable right-wing government which will hold on for years,” Netanyahu stated.    “The state of Israel and its future – this is what truly matters.”
    The president called on the party leaders to form alliances, citing the citizens’ call for unconventional alliances, cooperation between sectors and professionalism.

3/31/2021 President Of Egypt Sends Hopeful Message To The World As Traffic Resumes Through Suez Canal by OAN Newsroom
In this photo released by Suez Canal Authority, the Ever Given, a Panama-flagged cargo ship is accompanied by Suez Canal tugboats as it moves in the
Suez Canal, Egypt, Monday, March 29, 2021. Salvage teams on Monday set free a colossal container ship that has halted global trade through the
Suez Canal, bringing an end to a crisis that for nearly a week had clogged one of the world’s most vital maritime arteries. (Suez Canal Authority via AP)
    The president of Egypt assured the world that everything is back to normal at the Suez Canal.    In a news conference Tuesday, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said the traffic of delayed ships will hopefully be cleared in three days, although experts have said it could take much longer to resolve.
    His remarks came after the massive container ship called the Ever Given ran aground in the major waterway, resulting in the global trade disruption for nearly a week.    He added, the Egyptian government is working on connecting the Red Sea and the Mediterranean.
    “What I want to say is that we (want to) connect the Mediterranean with the Red Sea through a network of ports and monorail, (which is) a very modern and advanced railway network,” said President al-Sisi.
    Meanwhile, around 400 ships are reportedly estimated to have been stuck behind the Ever Given and may take weeks to be cleared.    This comes as global insurers said they are expecting to see a “large loss” after the massive cargo ship blocked the vessels.

4/2/2021 OPEC, Russia Agree To Drop Oil Prices To Wipe Out Competition by OAN Newsroom
FILE – An official of a Saudi oil company watches progress at a rig at the al-Howta oil field near Howta, Saudi Arabia. (AP Photo/John Moore, File)
    International oil cartel OPEC and its allies said they may drop crude prices again in response to an unfriendly stance by the Biden administration and attempts by Iran to reenter the market.
    “The reality that remains that global picture is far from even and the recovery is far from complete,” stated Prince Abdulaziz bin Salman, the Saudi Arabian Minister of Energy.
    During Thursday’s meeting in Vienna, OPEC and Russia agreed to increase oil output in the coming three months to balance out oil prices and remove unnecessary competition from the market.
    The decision came after China and Iran agreed to a $20 billion trade deal that would help Iran increase its own oil production amid ongoing sanctions and then sell it to China.
    Despite the potential threat from that new partnership, OPEC officials insisted they remain committed to maintaining control over the global energy market.
    “In this situation, we should be monitoring the market carefully and we should be on top of things,” stated Russian Federation Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.    “Not allowing the market to overheat, but at the same time not allowing the market to be oversupplied.”
    OPEC said the upcoming increase in the oil supply will reduce prices from the current $60 per barrel, but it will keep them at a comfortable level above $40 per barrel.

4/5/2021 Egypt Holds ‘Parade Of Mummies’ To Reignite Tourist Interest by OAN Newsroom
A convoy of vehicles transporting royal mummies is seen in Cairo, Egypt, Saturday, April 3, 2021. Egypt held a parade celebrating the transport
of 22 of its prized royal mummies from Egyptian Museum to he newly opened National Museum of Egyptian Civilization. (AP Photo)
    The Egyptian government held an impressive show of its ancient legacy by bringing out the mummies of its past rulers to public display.
    Egyptian authorities displayed a total of 22 mummies carried in nitrogen-filled capsules as part of their relocation to the newly established National Museum of Egyptian Civilization on Sunday.    The mummies of 18 pharaohs and four queens date back mostly to the New Kingdom period.
    “When I visit the museum of Islamic arts I look at Islamic arts, and when I visit the Greek-Roman museum I can look at items from this period,” stated Abdelazeem Abdelrazek, director of Heavy Stones Labs.    “If I visit the Egyptian museum, I can view Pharaonic artifacts, but the museum of National civilization includes items from all of these eras in one place.”
    Egyptian officials said the Parade of the Mummies is designed to reignite tourist interest in their country following a massive drop in tourist revenues due to COVID-19 lockdowns.

4/6/2021 Sceptical President Invites Netanyahu To Form Next Israeli Government by Jeffrey Heller
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he delivers a speech to supporters following the announcement of
exit polls in Israel's general election at his Likud party headquarters in Jerusalem March 24, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -A sceptical president invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday to form a new government, after another inconclusive election deepened political stalemate in Israel.
    The country’s longest-serving leader, in power without interruption since 2009, now faces the tough challenge of enlisting enough allies for a governing coalition.
    Under law, Netanyahu will have 28 days to do so, with the possibility of a two-week extension before President Reuven Rivlin picks another candidate or asks parliament to choose one. Continued deadlock could ultimately result in a new election.
    Announcing on television his choice of Netanyahu, Rivlin cast doubt on his prospects for success and on whether any other prospective candidate could complete the task.
    “To my great regret, I have the impression that none of the candidates, at this stage, has a real chance of putting together a government, one that would win a confidence vote in parliament,” Rivlin said.
    He noted that he was legally bound to make the nomination nonetheless.
    Netanyahu struck an upbeat note, however, telling his conservative Likud faction: “The task is not easy but not impossible.    The goal is within reach.    I reckon we can do it.”
    Israel’s election on March 23, its fourth in two years, ended with neither a Netanyahu-led rightist and religious bloc nor a prospective alliance of his opponents capturing a parliamentary majority.
    In consultations Rivlin held with political parties on Monday on granting the coalition-building mandate, Netanyahu received more endorsements than his challengers.
    In his televised remarks, Rivlin said that under Israeli law, Netanyahu, as the incumbent, was not disqualified from being assigned the task despite his indictment on corruption charges.
    Rivlin made the announcement as Netanyahu’s trial entered its second day in a Jerusalem courthouse.
    Charged with bribery, breach of trust and fraud, Netanyahu has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the prosecution of an attempted coup” aimed at ousting a “strong, right-wing prime minister.”
    “The president fulfilled his duty and he had no choice, but granting Netanyahu the mandate is a shameful stain on Israel,” Netanyahu’s strongest rival, centrist politician Yair Lapid, said.
    Netanyahu, backed by 52 of parliament’s 120 members, has tried to break the stalemate by urging two right-wing rivals – former defence chief Naftali Bennett and veteran politician Gideon Saar – to join him.
    Bennett, addressing his Yamina faction, wished Netanyahu success in his task, but the possible kingpin politician remained non-committal on whether he would enter into such an alliance.
    “We will come, with goodwill, to any coalition talks in order to establish a stable, right-wing government,” Bennett said.    “I pledge that whatever government is created, regardless of who puts it together, we will make sure that it represents all Israeli citizens.”
    Saar, leader of the New Horizon faction, has publicly ruled out serving under Netanyahu, saying a change in national leadership was imperative.
    Lapid, who heads the Yesh Atid party, said on Monday he had proposed a coalition deal to Bennett.    Under the arrangement, Bennett would serve first as prime minister and then Lapid would take over.
    Bennett, who has seven seats in parliament to Lapid’s 17, said such a government must reflect the right-wing sentiment of most Israeli voters rather than just be a patchwork alliance of parties from the right, centre and left.
(Editing by Mike Collett-White)

4/6/2021 Gunmen Free More Than 1,800 Inmates In Attack On Nigerian Prison by Tife Owolabi
Burnt vehicles are seen outside the Nigeria police force Imo state command headquaters after gunmen attacked and set
properties ablaze in Imo State, Nigeria April 5, 2021. Picture taken April 5, 2021. David Dosunmu/Handout via REUTERS
    YENAGOA, Nigeria (Reuters) – More than 1,800 prisoners are on the run in southeast Nigeria after escaping when heavily armed gunmen attacked their prison using explosives and rocket-propelled grenades, the authorities said.
    Nigerian police said it believed a banned separatist group, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), was behind the attack in the city of Owerri, but a spokesman for the group denied involvement.
    The secessionist movement in the southeast is one of several serious security challenges facing President Muhammadu Buhari, including a decade-long Islamist insurgency in the northeast, a spate of school kidnappings in the northwest and piracy in the Gulf of Guinea.
    Buhari said the attack, in a city near the oil-rich Niger Delta region that is the mainstay of Africa’s top crude exporter and biggest economy, was an “act of terrorism.”    He ordered security forces to apprehend the fleeing prisoners.
    The attackers stormed the facility at around 2:15 a.m. (0115 GMT) on Monday, according to the Nigerian Correctional Service said.
    “The Owerri Custodial Centre in Imo state has been attacked by unknown gunmen and forcefully released a total of 1,844 inmates in custody,” its spokesman said in a statement late on Monday.
    The police said attackers used explosives to blast the administrative block of the prison and entered the prison yard.
    “Preliminary investigations have revealed that the attackers… are members of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB),” said Frank Mba, a spokesman for the Nigeria Police Force.
    IPOB wants independence for a region in southeast Nigeria it calls Biafra.    One million people died in a 1967-70 civil war between the Nigerian government and secessionists there.
    In recent months security in the region has deteriorated.    Several police stations have been attacked since January, with large amounts of ammunition stolen and reports of the IPOB’s paramilitary wing, the Eastern Security Network (ESN), clashing with the military.
    But an IPOB spokesman told Reuters the group did not carry out the prison raid.
    “IPOB and ESN were not involved in the attack in Owerri, Imo state.    It is not our mandate to attack security personnel or prison facilities,” the IPOB spokesman said in a phone call.
(Reporting by Tife Owolabi in Yenagoa and Anamesere Igboeroteonwu in Onitsha; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh in Abuja; Writing by Tom Hogue and Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

4/6/2021 Tanzania’s New President Lifts Media Ban
FILE PHOTO: Tanzania's new President Samia Suluhu Hassan takes oath of office following the death of her predecessor
John Pombe Magufuli at State House in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania March 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – Tanzania’s new President Samia Suluhu Hassan said on Tuesday she would lift a ban on all media in the country, a radical shift from a press crackdown implemented by her late predecessor John Magufuli.
    Under Magufuli, who Hassan said died of heart disease at 61, rights groups said press freedom had nosedived.    He had shut down newspapers and websites, jailed journalists and warned them that there were limits to their press freedom.
    “I have heard there are media that were banned.    Reopen them, we should not give them room to say we are shrinking press freedom,” the president told officials at the State House in the capital Dar es Salaam.
    “We should not ban the media by force.    Reopen them, and we should ensure they follow the rules,” she added.
    Last June, the government revoked the license of the opposition-leaning newspaper Tanzania Daima, accused of spreading false information and violating journalism ethics.
    The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said last year that since March 2019, Tanzanian authorities suspended at least three other media outlets.
    Some activists welcomed Hassan’s decision to lift the media ban but urged her to amend laws stifling press freedom.
    “Well put, however, repressive laws have to be repealed…,” tweeted Maria Sarungi, a renowned activist and director of Kwanza TV, one of the media organizations banned under Magufuli.
(Reporting by Nairobi newsroom; Editing by Bernadette Baum)

4/6/2021 Conflict And COVID-19 Drive Hunger To Record Levels In Congo
FILE PHOTO: A girl carries cassava leaves on her back as she walks back home from the field in
Beni, Democratic Republic of Congo, October 8, 2019. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) – A record 27.3 million people in Democratic Republic of Congo, or about one-third of its population, are suffering from acute hunger, largely because of conflict and the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Nations said on Tuesday.
    The figure makes Congo home to the most people needing urgent food assistance in the world, the World Food Programme (WFP) and the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) said in a joint statement.
    Besides conflict and the pandemic, the number also rose because the latest analysis covered more people than previous ones.
    “For the first time ever we were able to analyse the vast majority of the population, and this has helped us to come closer to the true picture of the staggering scale of food insecurity in the DRC,” Peter Musoko, WFP’s country representative, said.
    “This country should be able to feed its population and export a surplus.    We cannot have children going to bed hungry and families skipping meals for an entire day,” he said.
    The worst-hit areas were in the eastern provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, as well as the central Kasai provinces, all of which have been affected by conflict.
    People forced by fighting to flee their home have returned to find their crops destroyed.    Some have been surviving by eating only taro, a root that grows wild, or cassava leaves boiled in water, the statement said.
    Militia violence has persisted in Congo for decades, particularly in the eastern borderlands with Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda, despite the official end to a civil war in 2003.
    Of the 27.3 million going hungry, about 6.7 million people were in the ’emergency’ phase, which is the last one before famine, an analysis by the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) found.
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aaron Ross and Barbara Lewis)

4/6/2021 Tunisian President Resists Parliament’s Bid To Create Constitutional Court
FILE PHOTO: Tunisian President Kais Saied takes the oath of office in Tunis, Tunisia, October 23, 2019. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s president said on Tuesday that he opposed parliament’s attempt to set up a constitutional court, which he said was merely a bid to settle scores.
    A smooth transition from autocratic rule to democracy in 2011 brought about a new constitution in 2014, which provided for a court to be set up within a year to adjudicate constitutional disputes.
    However, politicians have been unable since then to agree the names of 12 judges.    Now, with President Kais Saied in deadlock with Prime Minister Hichem El Mechichi and Mechichi’s ally, Parliamentary Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, the speaker has launched a new bid to establish the court in the hope that it might end the political paralysis.
    But in a speech on Tuesday, Saied said the deadline for this had expired.
    “After more than five years, after a deep sleep, they’ve remembered about the Constitutional Court … I will not accept a court formed to settle accounts,” he said.
    “They have missed the deadlines … Anyone wanting me to violate the constitution is looking for a mirage.”
    The constitution requires the president, parliament and the judiciary each to name four judges to the court, which then needs the approval of parliament and the signature of the president.
    Saied’s comments are likely to escalate the political tensions, just as Tunisia attempts to cope with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has ravaged its economy and left it with a fiscal deficit of more than 11% last year.
    The dispute has been building since the 2019 election delivered a fragmented parliament and brought a political outsider to the presidency.
    Saied refused this year to approve a reshuffle that included the dismissal of ministers close to him including the interior minister, Taoufik Charefddine.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/6/2021 Israeli Troops Kill Palestinian Driver In Disputed Incident
The daughter of Palestinian Osama Mansour is comforted as she mourns during her father's funeral
in Biddu village, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    RAMALLAH, West Bank (Reuters) – Israeli soldiers shot dead a Palestinian motorist who they said tried to ram them at a checkpoint in the occupied West Bank on Tuesday – an account disputed by his wife, who was with him in the car.
    Salem Eid, the mayor of Biddu village, where the man lived, said Palestinians may raise the incident at the International Criminal Court, whose prosecutor announced last month it would formally investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories.
    In a statement, the Israeli military said the vehicle accelerated towards a group of soldiers “in a way that endangered their lives” and they responded with gunfire “to thwart the threat
    The Palestinian health ministry said the man, identified as 42-year-old Osama Mansour, had been killed and his wife had sustained bullet fragment injuries.    The military statement said no troops were hurt in the late night incident.
    “They told us to stop the car and we stopped and turned it off,” the man’s spouse, Sumaya Mansour, 35, told Palestine TV.    “Then they looked at us and told us to go, we turned the car on and moved and all of them started shooting at us.”
    Asked about the woman’s account, an Israeli military spokesman said: “The attempted car-ramming attack carried out earlier this morning is being investigated by the commander of the Binyamin Regional Brigade.”
    Eid challenged the military’s accusation that the driver had carried out an attack, noting that he was a father of five and his wife was with him in the vehicle.
    The Palestinian Foreign Ministry denounced the incident, describing it as “a field execution.”
    Citing security concerns, Israel maintains a network of military checkpoints in the West Bank, territory it captured in the 1967 Middle East war.
    Anti-Israeli violence in the West Bank has included car rammings as well as shootings.    Rights groups have documented incidents in which they said Israeli troops were unjustified in opening fire at Palestinians they perceived as posing a threat at checkpoints.
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah, Suhaib Salem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/6/2021 Suez Canal May Expand Southern Channel, Chairman Says by Nadeen Ebrahim and Patrick Werr
A ship is seen after sailing through Suez Canal, in Ismailia, Egypt April 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
    ISMAILIA, Egypt (Reuters) -The Suez Canal Authority is considering expanding the southern section of the waterway where the container ship Ever Given became stranded, its chairman said on Tuesday.
    It is also looking into procuring cranes that could potentially offload cargo at heights of up to 52 meters, Osama Rabie told Reuters in an interview.
    “Our procedures are sound, we are just aiming to improve the service,” he said.
    The 400-metre-long (1,310 ft) Ever Given became grounded diagonally across the southern section of the canal during high winds on March 23.    It remained stuck for six days, preventing hundreds of ships from passing and significantly impacting global trade flows.
    After it was dislodged, the ship was taken to a lake that separates two sections of the canal where the Suez Canal Authority (SCA) has been conducting investigations.
    Rabie said data from the ship’s recorders had been removed and handed over to an investigation committee, and that the ship would travel on once the procedures were completed.
    “We are talking about two or three more days, God willing.    But we won’t take much time,” he said.
    The committee investigating the grounding was made up of five or six members with law, maritime, salvage, and administration expertise, he said, adding that it had caused Egypt great damage.
    “We used about 15 tug boats, for six days.    We worked 24 hours a day.    We used two dredgers.    We used assistance launches,” Rabie said.    “The canal was closed for six days.    That alone caused great harm.”
    The SCA has said that it will continue to take ships of the Ever Given’s size and is reinforcing its ability to deal with future problems.
    “We will try to get two more tug boats, with pulling power of more than 200 tonnes – 250, 280, depending,” Rabie said.
    The authority was also studying and planning a possible expansion of the southern part of the canal, the area where the Ever Given got stuck.
    “If there is a 250-metre part that needs expansion, maybe we will make it 400 metres,” Rabie said.
(Reporting by Nadeen Ebrahim and Patrick Werr in Ismailia, additional reporting by Mahmoud Mourad in Cairo; Writing by Nadine Awadalla and Aidan Lewis; Editing by John Stonestreet, Philippa Fletcher and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

4/6/2021 Three-Way Talks Over Ethiopian Dam Fail In Kinshasa – Statements
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Grand Renaissance Dam is seen as it undergoes construction work on the river
Nile in Guba Woreda, Benishangul Gumuz Region, Ethiopia September 26, 2019. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    KINSHASA/CAIRO (Reuters) -Egypt and Sudan said on Tuesday that the latest round of talks with Ethiopia over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in Kinshasa have ended with no progress made.
    Delegations from the three countries were meeting in the Democratic Republic of Congo hoping to break a deadlock in negotiations over a project Ethiopia says is key to its economic development and power generation.
    Egypt fears the dam will imperil its supplies of Nile water, while Sudan is concerned about the dam’s safety and water flows through its own dams and water stations.
    Before the meetings began, Egypt had said they represented the last chance to re-start negotiations before Ethiopia begins to fill the dam for the second year in a row after seasonal rains begin this summer.
    Sudan’s foreign minister Mariam al-Sadig al-Mahdi told reporters on Tuesday that Ethiopia’s insistence on such unilateral moves represents a violation of international law.
    “This Ethiopian intransigence requires Sudan to consider all possible options to protect its security and its citizens,” the Sudanese irrigation and water resources ministry said in a statement.
    Ethiopian water minister Seleshi Bekele did not respond to texts and calls seeking comment.
    Sudan and Egypt were aligned on a proposal to include the European Union, United States and United Nations in the negotiations, as an addition to current African Union mediators.
    Both countries said Ethiopia rejected the proposal during the meeting, as well as other suggestions to re-start negotiations.
    “This position reveals once again Ethiopia’s lack of political will to negotiate in good faith,” Egyptian foreign ministry said in a statement.
    Sudan, which is also locked in a border dispute with Ethiopia, had hosted Egypt for air force training exercises that concluded on Saturday.
    Last week, Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said there would be “inconceivable instability in the region” if Egypt’s water supply were affected by the dam.
    “Without a new approach to negotiations, there becomes space for Ethiopia to impose a fait accompli and put all the peoples of the region in grave danger,” said al-Mahdi.
(Reporting by Hereward Holland in Kinshasa, and Mahmoud Mourad, Nadine Awadalla, and Nafisa Eltahir in Cairo, and Khalid Abdelaziz in Khartoum; Editing by David Goodman and Jonathan Oatis)

4/6/2021 Turkey Summons Chinese Ambassador Over Response To Uighur Claims
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator wearing a mask participates in a protest against Chinese State Councilor
and Foreign Minister Wang Yi's visit, in Istanbul, Turkey, March 25, 2021. REUTERS/Kemal Aslan/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) -Turkey called in China’s ambassador on Tuesday after his embassy said it had “the right to respond” to opposition leaders who criticised China’s treatment of Uighur Muslims three decades ago.
    The politicians, IYI Party leader Meral Aksener and Ankara mayor Mansur Yavas of the main opposition CHP, had marked what they called the 31st anniversary of a brief uprising by Uighurs against the government in China’s far west.
    Aksener said on Twitter “we will not remain silent about their persecution” and martyrdom.    Yavas said “we still feel the pain of the massacre” in 1990.
    Ambassador Liu Shaobin was summoned to the ministry after a his embassy tweeted a statement in response.
    “The Chinese side determinedly opposes any person of power that in any way challenges China’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and strongly condemns this,” it said.    “The Chinese side reserves its legitimate right to respond.”
    Many of the 40,000 Uighurs in Turkey have criticised the government’s approach to Beijing after China approved an extradition treaty in December which they fear may lead to them being sent back to China to face vague charges which they deny.
    Hundreds protested as China’s foreign minister visited Ankara last month.
    U.N. experts estimate at least a million Uighurs and other Muslims are held in detention centres in northwest China’s Xinjiang.    The United States said in January China had committed “genocide and crimes against humanity” by repressing Uighurs.
    Aksener and Yavas are seen as potential rivals to President Tayyip Erdogan in elections slated for 2023.
(Reporting by Yesim Dikmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; writing by Jonathan Spicer; editing by Ece Toksabay and Philippa Fletcher)

4/7/2021 Qatar Airways Considers Buying Boeing 777X Freighter by OAN Newsroom
FILE – In this Nov. 7, 2019 file photo, a Qatar Airways jet approaches Philadelphia
International Airport in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)
    Top Boeing customer Qatar Airways recently expressed interest in a potential new freighter from the U.S. aviation manufacture, while urging engine-maker General Electric to invest in future technology as pressure builds on airlines to reduce emissions.
    Plans for a freighter 777X have been delayed as Boeing wrestles with certification delays and weak demand for its passenger version.    The chief executive for Qatar Airways told an online event the Gulf carrier would “definitely be interested to look into” a freighter 777X, however, he had not been notified by Boeing about plans to launch it.
    “Some of these agreements involve Qatar Airways purchasing Boeing 777X freighters and large cabin aircraft from Gulfstream Aerospace,” stated Akbar al-Baker, Qatar Airways CEO.    “And all officially signed for in a ceremony at the White House on the 9th of July 2019.”
    He went on to say Qatar Airways would need to start replacing older 777X jets by the time Boeing or rival Airbus launch any new aircraft programs.
    European plane-maker Airbus is also gauging airline interest in a freighter version of its A350 passenger jet, which would reportedly target a market key to Boeing if launched.
    Qatar Airways has ordered 65 777X jets, according to Boeing’s website, and Baker said the airline would receive its first three in 2023 following delays.    Boeing said earlier this year the jet would start deliveries in 2023, three years later than initially planned, with a longer and costlier certification process.

4/8/2021 U.S., Iraq Do Not Agree On Troop Withdrawal Timeline by OAN Newsroom
FILE – A U.S. Army soldier guards a position at Camp Swift, northern Iraq. (AP Photo/Susannah George)
    The last troops stationed in Iraq still don’t know when they are coming home.    On Wednesday, U.S. and Iraqi officials said the most recent round of talks did not result in a timeline for the withdrawal of the last 2,500 service members in the country.
    The discussion marked the third meeting between the two nations and the first during the Biden administration.    When asked about the progress of the plan, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby shifted the blame onto Iraq by saying troops were only there by invitation.
    “This is a mutual decision by the Iraqi government and the United States government.    And again, Pierre, we are there at the invitation of the Iraqi government.    And the mission is singly focused on going after ISIS and particularly and you saw this in the communique.    Our role is, is advise and assist.”
    President Trump began talks in the summer of last year, affirming that the U.S. presence in Iraq had gone on long enough and our troops were needed back home.

4/8/2021 Palestinian Refugees Welcome U.S. Decision To Restart Aid by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: A worker pushes a cart as people wait to receive food supplies at an aid distribution center run by
United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), at Beach refugee camp in Gaza City April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Palestinian refugees on Thursday welcomed the U.S. announcement that it will renew humanitarian aid, marking a break with the Trump era.
    President Joe Biden’s administration said on Wednesday that it will provide $235 million to the Palestinians and restart funding for the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), which assists 5.7 million registered Palestinian refugees.
    It was the clearest sign yet of Biden’s apparent intent to repair ties with the Palestinians, who boycotted the Trump White House for most of his tenure, accusing him of pro-Israel bias.
    “We are happy,” said Ahmed Odeh in Bethlehem’s Deheisheh refugee camp in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.    “The former American administration tried to stop these funds to the Palestinian people.”
    “Any funding for the refugee camps and the refugees is out of good will and is good for us … people are not working or making money, especially during the pandemic,” said Subhi Allian, 71, outside an UNRWA clinic in Far’a refugee camp near Tubas.
    Most UNRWA-registered refugees are descendants of 700,000 Palestinians who were driven out of their homes or fled fighting in the 1948 war that led to Israel’s creation.
    Many want the right to return to their families’ former lands in pre-1948 Palestine, lands which now lie in Israel.    Israel rejects any such right as a demographic threat to its Jewish majority.
    In a Twitter video late on Wednesday, Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Ambassador to the United States and the United Nations, voiced “disappointment and objection” about the renewal of funding to the refugee agency without reforming it.
    UNRWA schools regularly use materials that incite against Israel and the twisted definition used by the agency to determine who is a refugee only perpetuates the conflict,” he said.    “It should not exist in its current form.”
    The Biden plan will provide $150 million to UNRWA and agency officials hope it will lead to more donations from the United States and others.
    However, UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini told Reuters that the agency would “still struggle” amid reduced donations from elsewhere and cuts to their overseas development budgets by Australia and Britain.
    Two priorities were COVID-19 and Lebanon, where last week he found residents of the country’s largest Palestinian refugee camp to be more desperate than he had ever known them.
    “When I was in Ein al-Hilweh people were saying … that either ‘we die from COVID or we die from hunger’ or the last choice would be to try to cross the sea to go to Cyprus,” he told Reuters.
    “Basically, they say the situation today is between three different types of death for the people.    That’s how desperate and stressful the situation is.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Additional reporting by Mohammed Abu Ganeyeh in Bethlehem and Raneen Sawafta in Tubas; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/8/2021 France And EU Ponder Sanctions For Lebanese Politicians, Diplomats Say by John Irish and Robin Emmott
FILE PHOTO: A demonstrator holds up a national flag during a protest in Beirut, Lebanon
March 6, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    PARIS/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – France and the European Union are putting together proposals that could see asset freezes and travel bans imposed on Lebanese politicians to push them finally to agree on a government to rescue their country from economic collapse.
    An explosion last August destroyed entire neighbourhoods of Beirut, and the government that resigned as a result has not been replaced, just as decades of patronage, corruption and mismanagement have left Lebanon almost bankrupt.
    France has spearheaded efforts to help the territory it once administered, but has so far failed to force its many sectarian groups to agree on a cabinet, let alone start the reforms that might unlock foreign aid.
    As many senior Lebanese politicians have homes, bank accounts and investments in the EU, and send their children to universities there, a withdrawal of that access could be a lever to focus minds.
    “Concrete proposals are being developed against the very people who have abandoned the general interest in favour of their personal interests,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told lawmakers on Tuesday.
    “If certain political actors don’t assume their responsibilities, we won’t hesitate to assume ours.”
    Two diplomats said Le Drian’s staff were investigating how the European Union could set up a sanctions regime involving travel bans and asset freezes.
    At an EU foreign ministers’ meeting on March 22, he also asked EU High Representative Josep Borrell to work on an options paper, a senior EU member state diplomat in Brussels said.
    “The French are trying to Europeanise the Lebanon issue. It’s not something they can handle alone – or, at least, their solo efforts haven’t paid off so far,” the diplomat said.
    “Sanctions haven’t been discussed directly, but if they are a way to change behaviour, they can’t be ruled out.    Lebanon needs a functioning government.”
    There is some support for the idea in Lebanon itself, where citizens are ever angrier as their living standards collapse while their leaders squabble.
    “For Lebanese politicians, EU sanctions would have a pragmatic and serious weight because they are often in Europe,” former culture minister Ghassan Salame said after co-signing a column with 100 Lebanese civil society members in the French paper Le Monde, urging France to freeze assets.
    But the diplomats said Paris was still wary and had yet to define targets.    They also said putting such a regime in place could take time.
    “It has to be coherent in terms of who they target, if they want this to have any impact and take into account Lebanese realities.    It has to be evenly spread,” said a third diplomat.
    The United States has already imposed sanctions on three leading politicians allied to Hezbollah, the Iranian-backed armed movement that wields enormous power in Lebanon.
    Two of the diplomats said the EU would also have decide whether and how to target Hezbollah, whose leaders are less likely to have interests in the EU that could be blocked.
    “The French got the message across to officials here about the possibility of sanctions … but so far it lacks teeth,” a senior Lebanese political source said.
(Additional reporting by Ellen Francis in Beirut; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

4/8/2021 Court Sentences Acting Muslim Brotherhood Leader To Life In Prison
FILE PHOTO: The Muslim Brotherhood's Mahmoud Ezzat attends a news conference in Cairo May 30, 2010. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh
    CAIRO (Reuters) – An Egyptian court sentenced Mahmoud Ezzat, the former acting leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, to life in prison on Thursday, months after he was detained in a Cairo apartment.
    Security forces arrested Ezzat last August in a raid in Cairo’s Fifth Settlement district, the latest blow to a movement that has been the target of a crackdown since it was forced from power in 2013.
    Ezzat was sentenced on charges of inciting violence and supplying firearms during clashes outside the Brotherhood’s headquarters between its supporters and opponents in 2013, a judicial source said.    Other senior Brotherhood members have been sentenced to life in prison in the same case.
    Ezzat’s lawyer could not immediately be reached.    At the time of Ezzat’s arrest, the Brotherhood said he had been pursued on “false political charges.”
    Ezzat was an influential former deputy to Brotherhood leader Mohamed Badie, and considered a hardliner within the group.    He became acting leader after Badie’s arrest in August 2013.
    Ezzat had previously been sentenced to death and to life in prison in absentia, but faces retrials following his detention.
    Other senior members of the group have been jailed or left the country.
    Egyptian authorities accuse the Brotherhood of promoting militancy and subversion, accusations it strongly denies.
(Reporting by Haithem Ahmed, Writing by Aidan Lewis, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/8/2021 Italy’s Draghi Accuses ‘Dictator’ Erdogan, Draws Turkey’s Condemnation
FILE PHOTO: Italy's Prime Minister, Mario Draghi speaks during a joint press conference with Italy’s Economy Minister and Italy's Minister
for Labour and Social Policy following a Cabinet meeting in Rome, Italy, March 19, 2021. Alberto Pizzoli/Pool via REUTERS
    ROME (Reuters) – Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday accused Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan of humiliating European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen this week and said it is important to be frank with “dictators,” drawing condemnation from Ankara.
    Von der Leyen and European Council President Charles Michel met Erdogan in Ankara on Tuesday.    The Commission chief was clearly taken aback when the two men sat on the only two chairs prepared, relegating her to an adjacent sofa.
    “I absolutely do not agree with Erdogan’s behavior towards President von der Leyen.    … I think it was not appropriate behavior and I was very sorry for the humiliation von der Leyen had to suffer,” Draghi told reporters.
    “With these, let’s call them what they are – dictators – with whom one nonetheless has to coordinate, one has to be frank when expressing different visions and opinions,” he added.
    The Italian ambassador to Ankara was summoned to the foreign ministry over Draghi’s comments, Turkey’s state-owned Anadolu news agency reported, and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu slammed the remarks.
    “We strongly condemn the appointed Italian Prime Minister Draghi’s unacceptable, populist discourse and his ugly and unrestrained comments about our elected president,” Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter.
    Earlier on Thursday, Cavusoglu said that the seating at the meeting was arranged in line with the bloc’s demands and international protocol and that Turkey was being subject to “unjust accusations.”
(Reporting by Angelo Amante, Gavin Jones and Daren Butler in Istanbul; Editing by Crispian Balmer and Will Dunham)

4/9/2021 ‘How Can We Not Be Tense?’ Turkey’s Coronavirus Infections Soar by Daren Butler and Tuvan Gumrukcu
FILE PHOTO: Health workers chat with Hakki Karakaya and his wife Ferdane Karakaya, an elderly couple living
in Deliler village near Elmadag, after administering the Sinovac's CoronaVac COVID-19 vaccine at their home as nationwide
vaccination continues for seniors, in Ankara, Turkey March 3, 2021. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan/File Photo
    ISTANBUL/ANKARA (Reuters) – The red letters scrolling across the front of Fikret Oluk’s bus say: “Stay Home Turkey.”    But the Istanbul driver said passengers are ignoring rules and overcrowding, sometimes without masks, even as coronavirus infections rocket.
    Turkey – which has the highest level of daily new COVID-19 cases in Europe and the Middle East – again tightened measures last week to contain the rapid spread after calls for action by doctors and opposition politicians.
    Among the rules are a limit of 69 passengers on Oluk’s busy urban bus route.    When 89 are aboard, he says he draws the line.
    “But unfortunately people do not listen.    They attack us and put us in a difficult position,” said the driver of 10 years.
    “How can we not be tense?    Our lives are currently dependent on these masks.    But unfortunately, just like people don’t think about themselves, they don’t think about us either,” he said.
    Interviews with Turks who have received a vaccine and those waiting for one show a mix of fear and frustration with record COVID-19 deaths and infections, which neared 56,000 on Thursday alone, and an uneven adherence to the rules.
    The head of the Turkish Medics Association told Reuters she believed the biggest misstep of President Tayyip Erdogan’s government was broadly easing restrictions in March as daily case numbers fell below 10,000.    She said this sacrificed the gains made over the winter, calling the approach “social murder”
    “We called this a ‘social murder’ because they already know what will cause these deaths, they do not have any preventative measures,” Sebnem Korucu Fincanci said, adding that intercity travel, manufacturing and public transportation should be halted.
    Erdogan and his government came under fire last month for a party congress with thousands of people, many of whom were seen violating social distancing rules and not wearing or improperly wearing masks.    Opposition parties and critics accused Ankara of undermining efforts to curb infections.
    Nurettin Yigit, head doctor at a specially-built pandemic hospital in Istanbul, said the impact on the health system of the latest surge had been less than in previous waves and called the timing “unlucky.”
    “The moment we began this controlled normalisation, the entry of other mutations from other countries started,” he told Reuters as medical staff administered vaccines to patients. He attributed the rise partly to people travelling domestically.
    Ankara has blamed coronavirus variants for the surge in infections, saying some 85% of total cases across the country are from the variant first identified in Britain, as well as a lack of commitment to measures such as social distancing and mask wearing.
    On Friday, Health Minister Fahrettin Koca told the Hurriyet daily that the solution to the “serious rise” in infections was to speed up vaccinations, adding he aimed to have all citizens over 20 years old vaccinated by July.
    Fincanci called Ankara’s vaccination goals unrealistic and criticised what she called the inaccurate reporting of case and death numbers.    “They have to be realistic, they have to be transparent,” she said.
    Turkey has administered around 18 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines so far, roughly enough to cover about 11% of the population, according to a Reuters tally.
    The government has dismissed criticisms over its handling of the pandemic and the measures it has implemented, saying public health is the priority.
    It has adopted fresh stay-at-home orders for weekends and will halt dining at restaurants starting Tuesday for the Islamic fasting month of Ramadan.
    But the country has remained largely open for business since last June and many have hit the streets and cafes as the weather has warmed – worrying some who have stayed home.
    “I haven’t drank tea in a cafe for 11 months.    I don’t leave the house,” said Mehmet Tut, 62, sitting outside a hospital treatment room after receiving his first vaccine shot on Friday.
    “We will still be careful as we wait for the second dose” even as others are not taking enough precautions, he said.    “They expect everything from the state but it is up to us.    If we are careful we won’t get sick.”
(Additional reporting by Yesim Dikmen, Bulent Usta and Mert Ozkan; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

4/11/2021 Report: Israeli Security Forces Suspected Of Causing Blackout Of Iran’s Main Nuclear Enrichment Facility by OAN Newsroom
This satellite photo from Planet Labs Inc. shows Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility on Wednesday, April 7, 2021. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)
    Israeli security forces are setting their sites on Iran as they look to halt their nuclear capabilities.
    Commemorating Israel’s independence day on Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu highlighted the fight against Iran’s nuclearization.    This came after reports suggested Israeli hackers caused a blackout on Iran’s main nuclear enrichment facility.
    Iranian officials called the blackout an act of “nuclear terror.”
    However, Netanyahu called Israel’s nuclear disarmament efforts a matter of national security and regional stability.
JERUSALEM, ISRAEL – NOVEMBER 21: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pictured on November 21, 2012
in Jerusalem, Israel. (Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Getty Images)
    “The fight against Iran’s nuclearization and its proxies is a massive task.    The situation that exists today doesn’t mean it will be the same situation tomorrow,” Netanyahu stated.    “It is very difficult to explain what we have done here, in this transition from nothingness to being the world power, yes, world power which we’ve built here.”
    In the meantime, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin reaffirmed America’s commitment to helping Israel achieve its security goals.
WASHINGTON, DC – SEPTEMBER 16: U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified before the Senate Armed Services
Committee on Capitol Hill September 16, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
    Additionally, American diplomats are expected to hash out details of a nuclear deal with Iranian officials later this week.

4/12/2021 Pentagon chief: ‘Ironclad’ US commitment to Israel- Pentagon chief: ‘Ironclad’ US commitment to Israel by Robert Burns ASSOCIATED PRESS
    TEL AVIV, Israel – U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Sunday declared an 'enduring and ironclad' American commitment to Israel, reinforcing support at a tense time in Israeli politics and amid questions about the Biden administration’s efforts to revive nuclear negotiations with Israel’s archenemy, Iran.
    Austin’s first talks in Israel since he became Pentagon chief in January come as the United States seeks to leverage Middle East diplomatic progress made by the Trump administration, which brokered a deal normalizing relations between Israel and several Arab states.
    After meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Tel Aviv, Austin said he had reaffirmed 'our commitment to Israel is enduring and ironclad.'    Austin made no mention of Iran. Gantz, in his own remarks while standing beside Austin, said his country views the United States as a 'full partner' against threats, 'not the least, Iran.'    Neither official took questions from reporters.
    'The Tehran of today presents a strategic threat to international security, the entire Middle East and to the state of Israel,' Gantz said in his prepared statement.    'We will work closely with our American allies to ensure that any new agreement with Iran will security the vital interests of the world and of the United States, prevent a dangerous arms race in our region and protect the state of Israel.'
    Yoel Guzansky, a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies, a Tel Aviv think tank, said Austin’s visit is important in part because it is the first by a member of President Joe Biden’s Cabinet.
    'They want to show that they did come here with clean hands and they want to listen,' Guzansky said.    'They want to listen to Israel’s worries and perhaps other partners’ worries about the negotiation about Iran.'
    Austin is steeped in the finer points of Middle East defense and security issues.    He served four years as head of U.S. Central Command, capping a 41-year Army career that included commanding U.S. forces in Iraq.
    Flying overnight from Washington, Austin arrived in Tel Aviv in the tense aftermath of the country’s fourth inconclusive election in the past two years.    Israeli President Reuven Rivlin last week gave embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the difficult task of trying to form a new government.
    The key backdrop to Austin’s visit is the Israeli government’s concern about the Biden administration’s attempt to work out an arrangement to reenter the Iran nuclear deal, which in Israel’s view is fatally flawed.    Netanyahu has for years described Iran as an existential threat to his nation due to Iran’s alleged pursuit of a nuclear weapon and its support for militant groups like Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
    Netanyahu, leading a state with its own secret nuclear weapons program, has accused Iran of seeking nuclear weapons to use with its ballistic missiles.
    By coincidence or not, Austin’s arrived as Iran reported that its underground Natanz nuclear facility lost power Sunday just hours after starting up new advanced centrifuges capable of enriching uranium faster.    If Israel caused the blackout, it would further heightens tensions between the two nations, already engaged in a shadow conflict across the wider Middle East.
U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, center-left, speaks with Franciscan monks outside the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, traditionally
believed to be the burial site of Jesus Christ, Sunday in Jerusalem’s Old City. Ahmad Gharabli/AFP via Getty Images

4/12/2021 Syrian Air Force May Have Dropped Chlorine Bomb On Town In Rebel Area In 2018: Chemical Arms Watchdog by Anthony Deutsch
FILE PHOTO: The headquarters of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) is
pictured in The Hague, Netherlands, October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo
    AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – The global chemical weapons watchdog has “reasonable grounds to believe” that Syria’s air force dropped a chlorine bomb on a residential neighbourhood in the rebel-controlled Idlib region in February 2018, a report released on Monday said.
    There was no immediate comment from the Syrian government.    Syria and its military ally Russia have consistently denied using chemical weapons during President Bashar al-Assad’s decade-old conflict with rebel forces, saying any such attacks were staged by opponents to make Damascus look like the culprit.
    The new report by the OPCW chemical weapons watchdog’s investigative arm said no one was killed when the cylinder of chlorine gas, delivered in a barrel bomb, hit the Al Talil neighbourhood in the city of Saraqib in February 2018.
    However, on the night of Feb. 4, a dozen people were treated for symptoms consistent with chemical poisoning, including nausea, eye irritation, shortness of breath, coughing and wheezing, it said.
    Chlorine is not an internationally banned toxin, but the use of any chemical substance in armed conflict is banned under the 1997 Chemical Weapons Convention, the implementation of which is overseen by the OPCW watchdog based in The Hague.
    A crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrators by Assad in 2011 mushroomed into civil war, with Russia and Iran supporting his government and the United States, Turkey and some Arab adversaries of Damascus backing some of the many rebel groups.
    In April 2020, the OPCW’s Investigation and Identification Team (IIT) concluded that Syrian warplanes and a helicopter had dropped bombs containing chlorine and sarin nerve gas on a village in Syria’s Hama region in March 2017.
    The latest report by the IIT also implicated Syrian government forces.    It concluded that “there were reasonable grounds to believe” a chlorine cylinder was dropped from a helicopter.
    “During ongoing attacks against Saraqib, a military helicopter of the Syrian Arab Air Force code named Alpha-253,” under the control of the Tiger Forces, hit eastern Saraqib by dropping at least one cylinder.    The cylinder ruptured and released a toxic gas, chlorine, which dispersed over a large area, affecting 12 named individuals,” the report said.
    The Tiger Forces are an elite Syrian military unit generally used in offensive operations in the war, which has largely subsided with Assad having wrested back most territory with crucial Russian and Iranian support.
    “All elements indicated the presence of Tiger Forces in the vicinity of Saraqib.    They found that a helicopter was just flying above the bombed area at the moment of the gas release,” a summary of the OPCW report said.
    It said that samples collected from the scene were examined and other possible means of chlorine contamination considered, but the OPCW team said nothing was found to indicate that the incident was staged by Assad’s adversaries.
    The team identified individuals believed to be involved in the alleged attack but did not release their names.
    Between 2015 and 2017, a joint United Nations-OPCW team known as the Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM) found that Syrian government troops had used the nerve agent sarin and chlorine barrel bombs on several occasions, while Islamic State militants were found to have used mustard gas.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

4/12/2021 Chad Count Votes As Deby Seeks Sixth Term After 30 Years In Power by Mahamat Ramadane and Joel Kouam
A woman casts her ballot at the pooling station during the presidential election
in N'Djamena, Chad April 11, 2021. REUTERS/ Media Coulibaly
    N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – Vote counting has started in Chad after a tense presidential election on Sunday that is likely to see President Idriss Deby extend his three-decade rule, despite signs of growing discontent over his handling of the nation’s oil wealth.
    Election officials began counting ballots at a polling station in centre of the capital N’Djamena immediately after polls closed, watched by a group of observers, a Reuters reporter said.
    The election commission has until April 25 to announce provisional results.
    Deby, 68, was the first to cast his ballot at a polling station in the capital N’Djamena.    He is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and an ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist militants in West and Central Africa.
    “I’m calling on all Chadians to come out and vote for the candidate of their choice who will have to tackle the major challenges facing our country over the next six years,” Deby told journalists after voting.
    Deby seized power in 1990 in an armed rebellion, and in 2018 pushed through a new constitution that could let him stay in power until 2033 – even as it reinstated term limits.
    He has relied on a firm grip over state institutions and one of the region’s most capable militaries to maintain power. Deby said recently he knew in advance that he would win again “as I have done for the last 30 years.”
    “Many of you, my daughters and sons, were not yet born when I took power in 1990,” he said at his final campaign rally on Friday.    “You have asked me to be a candidate for this sixth term.”
    Among Deby’s six rivals is former prime minister Albert Pahimi Padacke, but several leading opponents are boycotting the race, including the 2016 runner-up Saleh Kebzabo, who has vowed to make Chad “ungovernable” if Deby wins.
    Observers are closely watching the turnout after several recent anti-government demonstrations turned violent.    A heavy military presence patrolled the capital on Sunday.
    In the Moursal and Chagoua southern neighbourhoods of N’Djamena, considered as opposition strongholds, few voters had shown up at polling stations by mid-morning.
    Jules Ngarbatina, a resident of Moursal said were scared of coming out in large numbers because they feared reprisals from other who supported the boycott.
    Yacine Abderaman Sakine, leader of the Reformist Party, who joined the call for a boycott, said Chadians were tired of pretending that elections are free and fair.
    “The lack of enthusiasm in polling stations today is a strong message to those who confiscate power by force,” Sakine told Reuters.
    On Friday authorities said they had arrested several people, including at least one opposition leader, for what they said was a plot to assassinate politicians and bomb polling stations and the electoral commission headquarters.
    The opposition said the arrests showed mounting repression under Deby.    The government rejects the accusations of human rights abuses.
    Chad has come under increasing public pressure over a flagging economy as low prices for its main export, oil, in recent years forced cutbacks in public spending and sparked labour strikes.
(Writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix; Editing by Susan Fenton, Gareth Jones and David Evans)

4/12/2021 Turkey Calls On Canada To Review Defence Industry Restrictions
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks as he gives a joint statement with High Representative
of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell (not pictured), ahead of a meeting
at the EEAS in Brussels, Belgium, January 21, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged NATO ally Canada on Monday to review defence industry restrictions which it imposed on Ankara last year.
    Canada suspended exports of some drone technology to Turkey last October while it probed allegations that the equipment was being used by Azeri forces involved in fighting with Armenia.
    Turkey’s foreign ministry at the time described it as a double standard and President Tayyip Erdogan said it was not in line with the spirit of their alliance.
    Cavusoglu’s ministry said he raised the restrictions issue with Canadian Foreign Minister Marc Garneau in talks.
    “He conveyed concerns about Canada’s stance on defence industry restrictions imposed on Turkey and requested their review,” the foreign ministry said.
    The parts under embargo include camera systems for Baykar armed drones.    Export licences were suspended in 2019 during Turkish military activities in Syria.    Restrictions were then eased, but reimposed during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
    Canadian arms control group Project Ploughshares said air strike video released by Baku at the time indicated drones were equipped with imaging and targeting systems made by L3Harris Wescam, Canada-based unit of L3Harris Technologies Inc.
    Turkey’s military exports to its ally Azerbaijan jumped six-fold last year.    Sales of drones and other military equipment rose to $77 million in September alone before fighting broke out in the Nagorno-Karabakh region, data showed.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)

4/12/2021 Lebanese Ministers Expand Claim In Maritime Area Dispute With Israel
FILE PHOTO: A base for U.N. peacekeepers of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) is pictured in
Naqoura, near the Lebanese-Israeli border, southern Lebanon November 11, 2020. REUTERS/Aziz Taher/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) -Two senior Lebanese cabinet ministers on Monday signed a document expanding Lebanon’s claims in a row with Israel over their maritime border that has held up hydrocarbon exploration in the potentially gas-rich area.
    The amendment would add around 1,400 square km (540 square miles) to the exclusive economic zone claimed by Lebanon in its original submission to the United Nations.
    Negotiations between old foes Lebanon and Israel were launched in October to try to resolve the dispute.    The talks, a culmination of three years of diplomacy by the United States, have since stalled.
    The document signed by the caretaker public works and transport minister and the defence minister now needs to be signed off by the caretaker prime minister and president ahead of a request to the United Nations for a formal claim to register the new coordinates for the maritime zone.
    “I expect it will be signed as everyone, the minister of defence and the prime minister and the president are concerned about this,” minister of public works Michel Najjar told a news conference.
    Israel already pumps gas from huge offshore fields but Lebanon has yet to find commercial gas reserves in its own waters.
    Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said Lebanon’s latest move would derail the talks rather than help work towards a common solution.
    “Unilateral Lebanese measures will, of course, be answered with parallel measures by Israel,” he said in a statement.     Lebanon, in the throes of a deep financial meltdown that is threatening its stability, is desperate for cash as it faces the worst economic crisis since its 1975-1990 civil war.
    “We will not give up any inch of our homeland or a drop of its waters or an inch of its dignity,” Najjar> (Reporting By Maha El Dahan; additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Dominic Evans, Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

4/12/2021 Hamas Elects Former Chief Meshaal To Head Diaspora Office by Nidal al-Mughrabi
FILE PHOTO: Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal gestures as he announces a new policy document
in Doha, Qatar, May 1, 2017. REUTERS/Naseem Zeitoon
    GAZA (Reuters) – Former Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal was elected to be head of the Palestinian Islamist group’s office in the diaspora, a spokesman said on Monday.
    Meshaal, 64, who survived an Israeli assassination attempt in 1997, was head of the political bureau until 2017 when he was replaced by Ismail Haniyeh, 59, who is based in Gaza.
    Although Hamas’s power base is in Gaza, which it has controlled since 2007, it also has many followers among refugees and others in the Middle East and elsewhere.    In 2012 Meshaal angered close Hamas ally Syria when he left Damascus because of Iranian-backed President Bashar al-Assad’s war against rebels who were Sunni Muslims, like Hamas.
    Akram Atallah, a Palestinian analyst, said the move was not likely to cause a significant shift in Hamas’s position as Meshaal was broadly aligned with Haniyeh, both in terms of their more pragmatic approach to Arab and Western countries, and in their attitudes to the Mideast conflict.
    “When it comes to Hamas’s policy towards Israel, I don’t see hardliners and moderates.    I believe there is an agreement over that,” Atallah said.
    Hamas opposed Palestinian-Israeli peace accords signed in the 1990s and is regarded as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the West.    Hamas leaders say their fight against Israel is “legitimate resistance.”
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; editing by Grant McCool)

4/15/2021 Car Bomb Blast Kills Four In Baghdad’s Sadr City – Police
People inspect the site of a car bomb attack in Sadr City district of Baghdad, Iraq April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Wissam al-Okili
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) -Four people were killed and 20 wounded in a car bomb attack on Thursday in the Sadr City neighbourhood of Baghdad, Iraqi police and medical workers said.
    The car was parked at a busy second-hand equipment market in the mainly Shi’ite Muslim district, police said.
    An Iraqi military statement said the blast had killed one civilian, wounded 12 others and set several vehicles on fire.    A second statement by the military said only one person, the driver, had died. Medics in Sadr City put the death toll at four.
    Black smoke rose from the market place after the blast and ambulances rushed to save the wounded, Reuters witnesses said.    Police cordoned off the site of the blast shortly afterwards.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. It was the second big deadly bombing to hit Baghdad this year after a suicide attack claimed by Islamic State militants killed at least 32 people in a crowded market in January.
    Large bomb 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.
    The January blast was the most deadly in three years.
    Thursday’s attack comes during an election year, a time when tension between rival Iraqi political groups has often caused violence.
    The populist cleric Moqtada al-Sadr, after whom Sadr city is named and who commands a following of millions of Iraqis, counts among his enemies both Islamic State and rival Shi’ite parties with militias backed by Iran.
    On Wednesday, separate violence linked to regional rivalries saw an explosives-laden drone target U.S. forces at Iraq’s Erbil airport in northern Iraq and a separate rocket attack kill a Turkish soldier at a military base nearby.
(Reporting by Baghdad newsroom; Editing by John Davison, Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)

4/15/2021 Africa CDC Says Cannot Predict When Second COVID-19 Shots Will Arrive
FILE PHOTO: A man displays a vial AstraZeneca's COVISHIELD vaccine as the country receives its first batch of coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) vaccines under COVAX scheme, in Accra, Ghana February 24, 2021. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
    NAIROBI (Reuters) -Many Africans who have received their first COVID-19 vaccine do not know when they will get a second shot because deliveries are delayed, the continent’s top public health official said on Thursday.
    “We cannot predict when the second doses will come and that is not good for our vaccination programme,” John Nkengasong, the head of the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), told reporters on Thursday.
    Africa lags behind most other regions in COVID-19 vaccinations, with just less than 14 million doses having been administered on the continent of 1.3 billion, according to the Africa CDC.
    Ghana, for example, has administered around 742,000 doses of the 815,000 shots it has so far received and will run out by the end of next week.
    “Even if Ghana had the money, they will not know where to go get the vaccine, that’s the challenge,” said Nkengasong.
    So far, the majority of the vaccines available in African countries have been delivered via the World Health Organization-backed COVAX facility.    COVAX aims to deliver 600 million shots to some 40 African countries this year, enough to vaccinate 20% of their populations.
    The majority of those doses are AstraZeneca shots produced by the Serum Institute of India (SII).    But last month, India suspended its exports to meet rising domestic demand amid a surge in COVID-19 cases.
    That has caused great uncertainty for Africa’s vaccination rollout.
    The African Union signed a deal last month with Johnson & Johnson.    But those doses will not begin arriving until the third quarter, and Nkengasong said last week that Africa would find it hard to bridge the gap in the meantime.
    “We are in a bind as a continent,” he said on Thursday.    “Access to vaccines has been limited for us.”
    He said he hopes India, where new infections have topped 200,000 a day, will lift its restriction as soon as possible.
    Speaking about the delays in shipments of more doses via COVAX from India, Richard Mihigo, immunization programme coordinator for the WHO in Africa, said that COVAX was working to ensure that countries that received their first instalment of vaccines in early March would also soon receive their second instalment.
    People who have received their first jab are already benefiting from some protection from the virus, the Africa CDC’s Nkengasong said, and he urged nations to use their doses before they expire.
    On Tuesday, a South Sudanese government official told Reuters that it would not use the 59,000 vaccines it had received last month as a donation from the MTN Group, a South African mobile operator.    The vaccines expired on April 13, the official said.
    And on Wednesday, a health official in Malawi said it would destroy more than 16,000 vaccines it had received via the same donation scheme because they had expired, Agence France-Presse reported.
    Nkengasong said that SII, manufacturer of the AstraZeneca doses in question, had told the Africa CDC that the expiry date could be extended to June or July.    But he said the disease control body had urged African governments to use the relatively small number of doses as quickly as possible.    He told reporters he had not heard of Malawi’s decision.
(Reporting by Maggie Fick; Additional reporting by Bate Felix in Dakar; Editing by Alison Williams and Hugh Lawson)

4/15/2021 Fly-Past Celebrates Israel’s Independence Amid A Return To Normality by Stephen Farrell
FILE PHOTO: People watch as Israeli Air Force planes fly in formation during an aerial show as part of the celebrations for Israel's
Independence Day marking the 73rd anniversary of the creation of the state, at a park in Jerusalem April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Military jets and helicopters flew in formation over Israel on Thursday as the country marked its independence day freer of coronavirus restrictions than a year ago.     The customary barbecue and beach holiday celebrations were back in evidence for families who were locked down under a mandatory curfew in 2020.
    In a video address Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promoted Israel’s diplomatic and medical achievements over the past year.
    He singled out the COVID-19 inoculation rollout, with more than half of Israelis fully vaccinated, although the country is still short of the sought-after “herd immunity.”
    “Many restrictions that we were compelled to impose last year have been lifted.    Life is returning to normal, the economy is growing again,” Netanyahu said.
    The celebrations for the 73rd anniversary of Israel’s 1948 independence provided a moment of national unity for a polarised and exhausted Israeli electorate less than a month after a fourth inconclusive election in two years.
    Netanyahu has been given the first go at assembling a ruling coalition, but amid the unprecedented political stalemate a fifth election is possible.
    The celebrations began late on Wednesday during the back-to-back Memorial Day and Independence Day holidays.
    They included flag-waving Israeli soldiers marching in formation to form the number 73, a Star of David and a syringe.
    Ahead of Independence Day, the Central Bureau of Statistics issued updated population figures of 9.327 million, of which 6.894 million (73.9%) are Jewish and 1.966 million (21.1%) Arab, with 5% “other.”
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Alison Williams)

4/15/2021 Turkish Foreign Minister Briefs Afghan Counterpart On NATO Talks
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu looks on during a joint statement with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs
and Security Policy Josep Borrell (not pictured), ahead of a meeting at the EEAS in Brussels, Belgium, January 21, 2021. Stephanie Lecocq/Pool via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Thursday briefed his Afghan counterpart Mohammad Hanif Atmar on NATO discussions in which the allies agreed to withdraw their forces from Afghanistan by Sept. 11.
    NATO allies agreed the withdrawal plan on Wednesday in coordination with a U.S. pull-out by Sept. 11, and pledged to mirror American plans to start removing troops on May 1 after two decades of war.
    Cavusoglu attended the talks at NATO’s headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday over Afghanistan, ahead of a peace summit planned from April 24 in Istanbul that would include the United Nations and more than 20 countries.
    “Our Minister briefed his counterpart on developments from the Resolute Support Mission Framework Nations and NATO Council meetings held on April 14, as well as about what will happen in the coming period,” Turkey’s foreign ministry said.
    The two ministers also discussed the peace process in the phone call, it said.
    In a televised interview on Thursday, Cavusoglu said NATO was discussing how to support Afghanistan in the coming period.
    “Whether it will be under a different mission – not the Resolute Support Mission – or whether a group of nations will be here, with NATO or other institutional support, or whether there will be another structure, on a bilateral or individual level, these all need to be discussed,” he said.
    Earlier on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken flew to Kabul to show support for the Afghan government a day after President Joe Biden announced that he was pulling out U.S. forces.
    The foreign troop withdrawals have raised concerns that Afghanistan could erupt again in full-scale civil war, providing al-Qaeda space in which to rebuild and plan new attacks on U.S. and other targets.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Gareth Jones)

4/15/2021 U.S. Envoy: Border Talks With Israel Will Help Crisis-Hit Lebanon
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale speaks after meeting with Lebanon's
President Michel Aoun at the presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon April 15, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) -The United States stands ready to facilitate maritime border talks between Lebanon and Israel that will have benefits for the crisis-hit Lebanese economy, a U.S. envoy said on Thursday.
    On a visit to Beirut, Under Secretary of State David Hale blamed Lebanese leaders for failing to end a deadlock in cabinet talks to tackle the collapse, which has crashed the currency.    He warned that “those who continue to obstruct” progress open themselves up to punitive actions, without naming individuals.
    As part of its pressure campaign on Tehran, Washington escalated sanctions last year against Lebanese allies of Hezbollah, hitting former ministers on charges of corruption and ties to the Iran-backed group, which it classifies as terrorist.
    Hale accused Hezbollah and Iran of undermining the state after meeting on Thursday with Lebanese President Michel Aoun, a political ally of the group whose son-in-law became a target of U.S. sanctions.
    Hale said that talks with Iran on reviving a 2015 nuclear deal could foster regional stability but “would only be the beginning of our work” as the United States addresses “the other elements of Iran’s destabilising behavior.”
    While pledging not to abandon U.S. interests in Lebanon, Hale said resolving a maritime border dispute with Israel would “have potential to unlock significant economic benefits for Lebanon."
    The two neighbouring enemies launched negotiations last year, a culmination of years of U.S. diplomacy, which have since stalled.    The dispute has held up offshore exploration in the eastern Mediterranean.    While Israel pumps gas from offshore fields, Lebanon has yet to find commercial reserves.
    A statement issued by the Lebanese presidency later said Aoun had asked to accredit international experts to draw border lines according to international law for the area and asked that no oil and gas exploration work be done in the waters in the meantime.
    A Lebanese draft decree expanding the country’s claims by around 1,400 square kilometers has been approved by the caretaker prime minister and two senior ministers and is awaiting presidential and full cabinet approval.
(Reporting by Beirut bureau; Editing by Toby Chopra and Gareth Jones)

4/16/2021 Iraq Attacks Deepen Security Woes As Global, Local Rivals Clash by John Davison and Ahmed Rasheed
FILE PHOTO: A firefighter inspects the site of a car bomb attack in Sadr City district of Baghdad, Iraq April 15, 2021. REUTERS/Wissam al-Okili/File Photo
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – A series of attacks in Iraq this week illustrates the increasingly dangerous tangle of local and regional rivalries confronting the country’s security in an election year, Iraqi security and government officials say.
    The violence appears linked to militias seeking to help ally Iran oppose Western and Gulf Arab adversaries in a tussle for influence playing out across the Middle East, as well as to growing domestic strains head of elections in October, they say.
    Drone and rocket attacks in northern Iraq by pro-Iran groups indicated that militias are expanding the arsenal they are prepared to deploy against U.S. forces stationed in the country.
    The strikes also for the first time killed a Turkish soldier, and a rare car bomb blast in Baghdad afterwards showed that security forces are struggling to keep a lid on local violence after years of relative calm in the capital.
    Rivalry between Iran and the United States remains the biggest destabilising factor, despite the departure of former President Donald Trump and his tough rhetoric and fresh talks on Iran’s nuclear programme among world powers, the officials said.
    Wednesday’s attack on U.S. forces at Erbil International Airport was the first time an explosives-laden drone was used against a U.S. target in Erbil, an Iraqi security official said.
    “Drone use is a worrying development.    We’re seeing a change in the way (U.S.) targets in the Kurdistan region are hit, as a message that these groups can choose the time and place of their assaults without being stopped,” the official said.
    The security official, an Iraqi military officer and a government official all blamed militia groups supported by Iran for the attack.
    They said it was likely retaliation for a recent attack on Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, widely believed to be carried out by U.S. ally Israel. Israel has not formally commented.
    “This was related to the Natanz incident, and the negotiations with the United States.    It’s to show Iran’s ability to strike back and the need for negotiations to bear fruit – that there’s a cost for Israeli attacks against Iran and a cost for negotiations going nowhere,” the government official said.
    Militia supporters cheered the attack but no group has claimed it so far.
    Iraqis often pay the price for escalating U.S.-Iran tension, said Jassim al-Hilfi, an Iraqi lawmaker.    “This is the second time in just a few weeks that (pro-Iran) militias have been able to target Erbil.    They don’t want Iraq to be secure,” he said.
    Iran and the United States this month agreed to indirect talks over Tehran’s nuclear programme, eyeing a possible return to an international pact that Trump abandoned in 2018 before piling sanctions on Iran and killing its top commander Qassem Soleimani in a drone strike in Baghdad last year.
    Since President Joe Biden took office, Iraqi militias have pressed their demand that a remaining force of 2,500 U.S. troops leave Iraq, and have continued attacks against the United States and its regional allies, deploying more sophisticated> TURKEY TENSION RISES
    Several Western officials, one Iraqi militia official and an Iranian security source said a thwarted drone attack against Saudi Arabia in January was launched from Iraq, part of an increase in attacks by Iranian proxies against the Gulf kingdom.
    Iran has not commented on recent attacks against U.S. forces, but has previously denied involvement in such strikes.
    Several little-known pro-Iran groups have released statements claiming some previous attacks against U.S. targets.
    The killing on Wednesday of a Turkish soldier in a rocket attack on Turkish troops stationed in northern Iraq – a separate attack to Erbil but at around the same time – also complicates Iraq’s fragile security.
    Turkey has been waging a campaign against separatist Kurdish PKK militants who operate in southern Turkey but are based in the mountains of neighbouring northern Iraq.    The PKK has Iraqi allies aligned with the Iran-backed paramilitaries.
    Iran-backed militias this year ramped up their rhetoric against the Turkish presence, calling Turkish troops an occupying force which, like the Americans, must leave.    No group immediately claimed the attack that killed the Turkish soldier, but analysts say it was carried out by pro-Iran militias.
    “Militias seem to have opened a new front with Turkey and drew blood.    They might be inviting trouble,” said Bilal Wahab, a Fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
    Iran’s proxies see Turkish incursion there as a threat to their gateway to Syria, a key smuggling route for weapons, personnel and goods.
    Iran and Turkey might not have the appetite for escalation.    “We’ll see if this attack on a Turkish base is swept under the rug, or whether it will be a game-changer,” Wahab said.
    Turkish authorities did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The increasingly complex strategic picture heaps pressure on Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi, who has tried in vain to curb militia power and wants a peaceful, free general election in October.    Added to his plate are domestic rivalries in a country where violence has often spiked during election years.
    In January, Baghdad’s deadliest suicide bombing for three years, claimed by Islamic State, ripped through a central market killing more than 30 people.
    On Thursday, a car bombing killed at least four – the second incident to shatter the relative calm Baghdad has enjoyed since Islamic State’s 2017 defeat.    No group claimed Thursday’s blast and security forces have not yet publicly identified a culprit.
    Some Iraqi politicians say the blast was Islamic State trying to cause chaos.    Others say it could be rival Shi’ite armed groups seeking to intimidate each other ahead of the vote.
    Either way, it shows armed groups can move weapons around Baghdad under the noses of security forces, analysts say.
    “The government … has neither the political ability to deter militias from carrying out attacks nor the security wherewithal to stop them and hold them accountable when attacks happen,” Wahab said.
    A spokesman for the Iraqi government did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
(Reporting by John Davison, Ahmed Rasheed; writing by John Davison, Editing by William Maclean)

4/16/2021 Greece Says Wants Positive Agenda With Turkey After Ministers’ Spat
FILE PHOTO: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias hold
a news conference in Ankara, Turkey April 15, 2021. Turkish Foreign Ministry/Handout via REUTERS
    ATHENS (Reuters) -Greece’s centre-right government said on Friday it wanted a “positive agenda” with Turkey despite differences, a day after their foreign ministers clashed during a news conference, while President Tayyip Erdogan defended Ankara’s response.
    The statement from the Greek foreign ministry appeared aimed at easing the atmosphere after an ill-tempered exchange between Foreign Minister Nikos Dendias and his Turkish counterpart Mevlut Cavusoglu.
    The argument between two foreign ministers laid bare the deep differences between Athens and Ankara over issues ranging from maritime zones and energy to the status of Cyprus.
    “There is a clear will of (Prime Minister Kyriakos) Mitsotakis’ government to promote a positive agenda,” the foreign ministry said in a statement, adding that Greece was interested in “a range of cooperation, especially in the economic sector.”
    “There were, and there are, differences,” it said, adding that Greece was committed to upholding international law.
    The statement followed an unusually open spat on Thursday, with both ministers trading accusations as they stood side by side at a media briefing during Dendias’ visit to Ankara.
    Erdogan said he himself had met with Dendias on Thursday in a “friendly atmosphere” but that the tone had shifted during the Greek minister’s joint news conference with Cavusoglu.
    “In the face of Dendias’s behaviour and attitude, our foreign minister reminded him of his place,” Erdogan told reporters.
    “He couldn’t act softly (anymore). So he (Cavusoglu) finished the job by taking the necessary stance and making the necessary remarks.    Of course, we don’t find this (Dendias’s attitude) appropriate.”
    Greece and Turkey are NATO allies but are at odds over many issues, from competing claims over the extent of their continental shelves in the Mediterranean to air space, energy resources, ethnically split Cyprus, and the status of some islands in the Aegean.
    Tensions flared last summer when Turkey sent a drilling ship to contested Mediterranean waters, but have eased slightly after Ankara withdrew the vessel and the countries resumed bilateral talks over their disputes following a five-year hiatus.
(Reporting by Lefteris Papadimas; additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen in Ankara; Editing by Nick Zieminski, Ece Toksabay and Gareth Jones)

4/16/2021 Food Prices Soar In West Africa Amid Conflicts And COVID, WFP Says
FILE PHOTO: Zonabo Sore, 11, who fled from attacks of armed militants in Sahel region carries her sixteen-month-old nephew Housein, who suffers
from malnutrition, as his twin brother Hassan is being examined at hospital in Kaya, Burkina Faso November 23, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    Dakar (Reuters) – Food prices in West Africa have jumped more than 30% since last year to their highest levels in nearly a decade due to coronavirus lockdowns and a decline in cereal production, the World Food Programme (WFP) said Friday.
    More than 31 million people are expected to become food insecure between June and August, raising the risk of a health emergency as the region contends with conflicts and COVID-19, the U.N. organisation said in a statement.
    “Soaring prices are pushing a basic meal beyond the reach of millions of poor families who were already struggling to get by,” said Chris Nikoi, WFP’s Regional Director for West Africa.
    Across the region, prices of local staples such as rice are nearly 40% higher than five-year averages and in some countries staples cost more than double their average price, WFP said.
    Attacks by Islamist militants have escalated in the Sahel region, an arid belt to the south of the Sahara Desert, driving people off farmland in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger and cutting access to supplies.
    WFP said almost 6.5 million people in those countries faced crisis or emergency levels of food insecurity in coming months.
    The Sahel region alone accounts for approximately half of the 10 million children under five in West Africa who are acutely malnourished in West Africa, WFP said.
    About 800,000 of the nearly 2.7 million people WFP has identified as being at risk of famine are in Nigeria’s arid northeastern states, where millions have been displaced by the long-running Boko Haram insurgency.
    Up to 65,000 people in Nigeria’s northeast are currently on the run after an attack by armed groups on Wednesday killed at least eight people and injured a dozen more.
(Reporting by Cooper Inveen and Stephanie)

4/16/2021 With Food And Fuel, Hezbollah Braces For The Worst In Lebanon Collapse by Laila Bassam and Ellen Francis
FILE PHOTO: A Hezbollah flag and a poster depicting Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah
are pictured along a street, near Sidon, Lebanon July 7, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Hashisho/File Photo
    BEIRUT, (Reuters) – Lebanon’s Hezbollah has made preparations for an all-out collapse of the fracturing state, issuing ration cards for food, importing medicine and readying storage for fuel from its patron Iran, three sources familiar with the plans told Reuters.
    The moves, responding to a grave economic crisis, would mark an expansion of services provided by the armed movement to its large Sh’ite support base, with a network that already boasts charities, a construction firm and a pension system.
    The steps highlight rising fears of an implosion of the Lebanese state, in which authorities can no longer import food or fuel to keep the lights on.    They underline Hezbollah’s growing role in tackling the emergency with services that the government would otherwise provide.
    The plan chimes with worries in Lebanon that people will have to rely on political factions for food and security, in the way many did in the militia days of the 1975-1990 civil war.
    In response to a question about Hezbollah’s plans, Leila Hatoum, an adviser to the caretaker prime minister, said the country was “in no condition to refuse aid” regardless of politics.
    The sources from the pro-Hezbollah camp, who declined to be named, said the plan for a potential worst-case scenario has gathered pace as an end to subsidies looms in the coming months, raising the spectre of hunger and unrest.
    Lebanon’s currency has crashed as the country runs out of dollars, with no state rescue in sight.    Food prices have shot up 400%.
    Fights in supermarkets are now commonplace, as are people rummaging through trash.    A brawl over food packages this week killed one person and injured two others.
    Hezbollah’s plan would help shield its communities – not only members but also mainly Shi’ite residents of districts it dominates – from the worst of the crisis, the sources said.    It could also contain any restlessness among core supporters, analysts say.
    Hezbollah, which with its allies has a majority in parliament and government, did not respond to a request for comment.
    “The preparations have begun for the next stage…It is indeed an economic battle plan,” said one of the sources, a senior official.
    Already, the new ration card, seen by Reuters, helps hundreds of people buy basic goods in the local currency – largely Iranian, Lebanese and Syrian cheaper items at a discount up to 40%, subsidised by the party, the sources said.
    The card – named after a Shi’ite Imam – can be used at co-ops, some of them newly opened, in the southern Beirut suburbs and parts of southern Lebanon where Hezbollah holds sway.    The sources did not elaborate on the budget or recipients.
    An Iran-funded paramilitary force which critics once called “a state within a state.”    Hezbollah has grown more entangled in Lebanese state affairs in recent years.
    Washington, which deems Hezbollah a terrorist group, has ramped up sanctions to choke off its sources of funding, including what it estimates as hundreds of millions of dollars from Tehran every year.
    Iranian funding keeps Hezbollah better off than many in the country’s mosaic of parties, including those opposed to its arsenal.    Some factions have issued aid baskets to their patronage communities, but the Iran-backed network remains outsized in comparison.
    “They’re all doing it…But Hezbollah’s scope is much bigger and more powerful, with more resources to deal with the crisis,” said Joseph Daher, a researcher who wrote a book on Hezbollah’s political economy.    “This is more about limiting the catastrophe for its popular base.    It means the dependency on Hezbollah particularly will increase.”
    And while Hezbollah gives ration cards, the state, hollowed out by decades of graft and debt, has talked up the idea of such a card for poor Lebanese for nearly a year without acting.
    Ministers have said the need for parliamentary approval has stalled the cabinet’s plan for cards.
    Photos on social media of shelves stacked with canned goods, reportedly from one of Hezbollah’s co-ops, spread across Lebanon last week.
    Fatima Hamoud, in her 50s, said the ration card allows her once a month to buy grains, oil and cleaning products for a household of eight.    “They know we’re in bad shape,” she said.    “Without them, what would we have done in these tough times.”
    A second Shi’ite source said Hezbollah had filled up warehouses and launched the cards to extend services outside the party and plug gaps in the Lebanese market, where cheap alternatives are more common than pre-crisis.
    He said the card offers a quota, based on the family size, for needs like sugar and flour.
    The goods are backed by Hezbollah, imported by allied companies or brought in without customs fees through the border with Syria, where Hezbollah forces have a footing since joining the war to back Damascus alongside Iran.
    The source added that Hezbollah had similar plans for medicine imports.    Some pharmacists in the southern suburbs of Beirut said they had received training on new Iranian and Syrian brands that popped up on the shelves in recent months.
    Two of the sources said the plan included stockpiling fuel from Iran, as Lebanon’s energy ministry warns of a possible total blackout.    The senior official said Hezbollah was clearing storage space for fuel in next-door Syria.
    “When we get to a stage of darkness and hunger, you will find Hezbollah going to its back-up option…and that is a grave decision.    Then Hezbollah will fill in for the state,” said the senior official.    “If it comes to it, the party would’ve taken its precautions to prevent a void.”
(Writing by Ellen Francis, Editing by William Maclean)

4/16/2021 Ramadan Prayers Held At Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa, With Israeli Restrictions
A Palestinian woman prays in front of the Dome of the Rock in the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary and to Jews as Temple Mount in Jerusalem's Old City, on the
first Friday of the holy month of Ramadan, as coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease around the country, April 16, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Tens of thousands of Muslims flocked to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque on the first Friday of Ramadan, but worshippers were angered by Israeli restrictions that denied access to West Bank Palestinians without COVID-19 vaccination documents.
    From early morning Palestinian residents of cities such as Bethlehem and Ramallah in the occupied West Bank lined up at Israeli checkpoints to have their entry permits and vaccination status examined before being admitted to Jerusalem.
    Other worshippers from East Jerusalem and Arab cities in Israel had easier access, as they are included in Israel’s world-beating vaccination roll-out.
    The restrictions were criticised by Palestinian officials. Ikrima Sabri, who led Friday prayers, accused Israel of “exploiting the coronavirus pandemic to intervene in the affairs of the blessed Aqsa mosque” and the Palestinian Foreign Ministry said Israel turned Jerusalem’s Old City into a “military base.”
    But Israeli officials said they restricted to 10,000 the number of vaccinated Palestinians entering from the West Bank because of “high morbidity rates” from coronavirus in Palestinian Authority areas.
    “The measures are being taken to allow freedom of worship and religion on one hand, and on the other hand, prevent to the extent possible the spread of COVID-19 in the region,” said a statement from COGAT, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians.
    Al-Aqsa Mosque is one of the most sensitive sites in the Middle East conflict.    It sits atop the Old City plateau known to Muslims worldwide as al-Haram al-Sharif, or The Noble Sanctuary, and to Jews as Har ha-Bayit, or Temple Mount.
    Israel captured and occupied it along with the rest of East Jerusalem in a 1967 war, later annexing it.
    Israel regards the whole of Jerusalem as its capital and the centre of the Jewish faith.    But Palestinians claim East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state, and Muslims regard Al-Aqsa as the third holiest site in Islam, behind Mecca and Medina.
    The pandemic has added a medical faultline to the religious and political ones: Israel has inoculated more than half its population, but the Palestinians’ programme lags far behind.
    Palestinians and rights groups accused Israel of ignoring its duties as an occupying power.
    After the criticism Israel extended its vaccination campaign to Palestinians working in Israel or its West Bank settlements, but the Israeli government says that under the Oslo peace accords, the Palestinian Authority is responsible for the areas where it has limited self-rule.
    Despite the tensions the noonday prayers passed without serious incident, as Jerusalem shows signs of returning to normal after a year of lockdowns and restrictions.
(Reporting by Sinan Abu Mayzer and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem; Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Giles Elgood)

4/16/2021 South Eritrea Admits Presence In Ethiopia’s Tigray, Tells U.N. Withdrawing by Michelle Nichols
FILE PHOTO: A burned tank stands near the town of Adwa, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 18, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner
    NEW YORK (Reuters) – Eritrea told the United Nations Security Council on Friday that it has agreed to start withdrawing its troops from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, acknowledging publicly for the first time the country’s involvement in the conflict.
    The admission in a letter to the 15-member council – and posted online by Eritrea’s Ministry of Information – comes a day after U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock said the world body had not seen any proof that Eritrean soldiers have withdrawn.
    “As the looming grave threat has been largely thwarted, Eritrea and Ethiopia have agreed – at the highest levels – to embark on the withdrawal of Eritrean forces and the simultaneous redeployment of Ethiopian contingents along the international boundary,” Eritrea’s U.N. Ambassador Sophia Tesfamariam wrote.
    Eritrean forces have been helping Ethiopian federal government troops fight Tigray’s former ruling party in a conflict that began in November.    However, until now Eritrea has repeatedly denied its forces are in the mountainous region.
    Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed last month acknowledged the Eritrean presence and the United Nations and the United States have demanded that Eritrean troops withdraw from Tigray.
    “Neither the U.N. nor any of the humanitarian agencies we work with have seen proof of Eritrean withdrawal,” Lowcock told the Security Council on Thursday.    “We have, however, heard some reports of Eritrean soldiers now wearing Ethiopian Defense Force uniforms.”
    The conflict has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands more from their homes in the region of 5 million.
    Lowcock said there were “widespread and corroborated reports of Eritrean culpability in massacres and killings.”    Eritrean soldiers opened fire in an Ethiopian town on Monday, killing at least nine civilians and wounding more than a dozen others, a local government official told Reuters.
    The Security Council has been briefed privately five times since the conflict began.    According to Lowcock’s briefing notes on Thursday, he told the body that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war, the humanitarian crisis has deteriorated in the past month and people are now dying of hunger in Tigray.
    “We heard false allegations of the ‘the use of sexual violence and hunger as a weapon’,” Tesfamariam wrote on Friday.    “The allegations of rape and other crimes lodged against Eritrean soldiers is not just outrageous, but also a vicious attack on the culture and history of our people.”
    She said the priority should be the delivery of aid to civilians in Tigray.
(Additional reporting by the Nairobi newsroom; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

4/18/2021 Nearly 100 People Injured After Train Derails In Egypt, 11 People Left Dead
Security forces look inside a passenger train that derailed injuring some 100 people, near Banha, Qalyubia province, Egypt, Sunday,
April 18, 2021. At least eight train wagons ran off the railway, the provincial governor’s office said in a statement. (AP Photo/Fadel Dawood)
    Multiple people were killed and nearly 100 were injured after a passenger train derailed in Egypt.    According to reports Sunday, 11 people were dead and 98 injured as a result of the train derailment in Banha, Egypt.
    Local media in Egypt said multiple carriages were overturned about 25 miles north of Cairo.    Officials from the health ministry reported that 14 people were discharged from the hospital after they received treatment for minor injuries.
People gather at the site where a passenger train derailed injuring at least 100 people,
near Banha, Qalyubia province, Egypt, Sunday, April 18, 2021. (AP Photo/Tarek Wagih)
    Officials added, 60 ambulances rushed those injured to three different hospitals in the province.
    “We don’t know what happened exactly,” a witness stated.    “The carriages derailed, many people died.    There are many people under the derailed carriages and we cannot get them out.    We don’t know what to say.    We are tired.    There have been four train accidents in one month.”
    This came after nearly 20 people were killed and nearly 200 were injured when two trains collided in late March.
    Furthermore, the cause of the crash has remained under investigation.

4/19/2021 Israel’s Netanyahu Loses Vote On Key Parliamentary Committee
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at a ceremony for fallen soldiers of Israel's wars at the
Yad Lebanim House on the eve of Memorial Day, in Jerusalem, April 13, 2021. Debbie Hill/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu lost an important vote on Monday over who gets to join a powerful committee in parliament, dealing him a setback as he tries to form a new government following an inconclusive election.
    Netanyahu has about two more weeks to try bring together a ruling coalition. Defeat in the vote indicated the veteran leader still has some way to go to secure a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.
    The vote was to decide who will join the Arrangements Committee, which, in the absence of a new government, controls the legislative agenda.
    After a motion floated by Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud was rejected in a close vote, his centrist rival, Yair Lapid, managed to pass his own proposal giving stronger representation to the anti-Netanyahu bloc.
    One small Islamist party that has expressed openness to working with Netanyahu, making it a potential kingmaker, voted with Lapid.
    President Reuven Rivlin on April 6 asked Netanyahu to form a government, and gave him 28 days to do so.    If unsuccessful, Netanyahu can ask Rivlin for a two-week extension, before the president taps another candidate or asks parliament to nominate one.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

4/19/2021 Rwanda Says France Bears Responsibility For Enabling 1994 Genocide by Clement Uwiringiyimana
FILE PHOTO: President Paul Kagame and first lady Jeanette Kagame light the Rwandan genocide flame of hope, known as the "Kwibuka" (Remembering),
to commemorate the 1994 Genocide, at the Kigali Genocide Memorial Center in Kigali, Rwanda April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana/File Photo
    KIGALI (Reuters) – France was aware that a genocide was being prepared in Rwanda ahead of the 1994 killings and the French government bore a significant responsibility for enabling it, the Rwandan government said in a report published on Monday.
    Between April and July of 1994, some 800,000 people were slaughtered, mainly from the ethnic Tutsi minority but also some Hutus.
    “The message of the Rwandan Foreign Affairs Minister today is a key step in getting our two countries closer,” a French presidential advisor told reporters on Monday in response to the Rwandan report.
    Ever since the genocide, critics of France’s role have said that then-President Francois Mitterrand failed to prevent the massacres or even supported the Hutu-led government that orchestrated the killings.
    “The French Government bears significant responsibility for enabling a foreseeable genocide,” the Rwandan government wrote in its report published on its main website.    The report was drafted by Robert F. Muse and the Washington, D.C., law firm Levy Firestone Muse LLP, which was hired by Rwanda to investigate France’s role in connection with the genocide.
    Rwanda’s report comes on the heels of a similar report by French commission released in March which said France had been blinded by its colonial attitude to Africa to events leading up to the genocide and consequently bore “serious and overwhelming” responsibility.
    The commission cleared France of complicity in the genocide.
    The Rwandan report said while in the end the responsibility lay in those who actually carried out the genocide, the French government helped establish the institutions they eventually used to carry out the killings.
    “Ultimately, this report cannot be the final word on the French government’s role in Rwanda.    That word will arrive after the French government makes public all of its documents and allows all of its officials to speak freely,” the report said.
    Early this month, France said it will open the Rwanda archives of former French President Francois Mitterrand, as part of an effort to better understand the nation’s role in the African country during the genocide.
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Additional reporting Matthieu Protard in Paris; Editing by Aurora Ellis)

4/19/2021 Chad’s Deby Wins Sixth Term As Army Fends Off Rebel Advance by Mahamat Ramadane
People drive past a Chad army tank near presidential palace, as fighters from the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT)
appeared to be moving toward the capital according to the United States, in N'djamena, Chad April 19, 2021. REUTERS/ Stringer
    N’DJAMENA (Reuters) – Chad’s veteran leader Idriss Deby has won a sixth term as president, provisional election results showed on Monday, as the army said it had beaten back a column of insurgents advancing on the capital N’Djamena.
    Deby, 68, took 79.3% of the vote from the April 11 election after top opposition leaders boycotted to protest his efforts to extend his 30 years in power.
    Deby seized power in an armed rebellion in 1990. He is one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders and a close ally of Western powers battling Islamist militants in West and Central Africa.
    But he has faced repeated insurgencies in the desert north and is also dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents.
    The rebel group Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), which is based across the northern frontier with Libya, made inroads south after attacking a border post on election day and calling for an end to Deby’s presidency.
    But it appeared to suffer a sharp setback over the weekend.    Chad’s military spokesman Azem Bermendao Agouna told Reuters army troops had killed more than 300 insurgents and captured 150 on Saturday in Kanem province, around 300 km (186 miles) from N’Djamena. Five government soldiers were killed and 36 were injured, he said.
    Reuters was not able to independently verify the tallies of casualties or reach the insurgents.    The rebels’ leader, Mahamat Mahadi Ali, told Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Monday that his forces had made “a strategic retreat
    Chadian state television on Sunday showed images of burnt vehicles and a small number of corpses dusted with sand.    A crowd of soldiers cheered next to what state television said was dozens of captured rebel fighters, who sat with their hands tied behind their backs.
    The unrest has raised alarm bells among Western countries which have seen Deby as an ally in the fight against Islamist extremist groups, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.
    The United States ordered all of its non-essential embassy staff to leave the country on Saturday.    The British government had urged its citizens to leave the previous day.
(Reporting by Mahamat Ramadane; Writing by Cooper Inveen and Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and Alistair Bell)

4/19/2021 ‘A Very Good Weird’: Israel Drops Outdoor COVID Mask Order by Dan Williams
Pedestrians walk on a boulevard as Israel rescinds the mandatory wearing of face masks outdoors in the latest return to relative normality, boosted
by a mass-vaccination campaign against the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, in Tel Aviv, Israel April 18, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israelis went about barefaced on Sunday after the order to wear masks outdoors was rescinded in another step towards relative normality thanks to the country’s mass-vaccination against COVID-19.
    With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 – the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel – having received both doses, contagions and hospitalisations are down sharply.
    But entry by foreigners is still limited and non-immune Israelis who return from abroad must self-isolate, due to concern virus variants could challenge the vaccine.    The Health Ministry said it had detected seven cases of a new Indian variant in Israel, whose potency was being assessed.
    “We are leading the world right now when it comes to emerging from the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told reporters.    “(But) we have still not finished with the coronavirus.    It can return.”
    The police-enforced wearing of protective masks outdoors, ordered a year ago for non-exercise activities, was scrapped.    But the Health Ministry said the requirement still applied for indoor public spaces and urged citizens to keep masks to hand.
    “Breathing Freely,” read the cover headline of the mass-circulation daily Israel Hayom.
    “Being without a mask for the first time in a long time feels weird.    But it’s a very good weird,” Amitai Hallgarten, 19, said while sunning himself at a park.    “If I need to be masked indoors to finish with this – I’ll do everything I can.”
    With Israeli kindergarteners, elementary and high school students already back in class, middle school pupils who had been kept at home or attended class sporadically returned to pre-pandemic schedules.
    Teachers were instructed to continue ventilating classrooms and to maintain social distancing in lessons and breaks.    Extra-curricular activities such as children’s theatres remain off-limits.
    “This is still a non-vaccinated population (children under the age of 16) that we want to safeguard,” Health Ministry official Sharon Alroy-Preis told Israel’s Army Radio.
    Israel counts East Jerusalem Palestinians among its 9.3 million population and has administered the vaccines there.
    The 5.2 million Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the Islamist Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip have been receiving limited supplies of vaccines provided by Israel, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, the global COVAX vaccine-sharing scheme and China.

4/19/2021 U.S. Says Chad Rebels Heading Towards Capital From North
A Chad army tank is seen on the street, as fighters from the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) appeared
to be moving toward the capital according to the United States, in N'djamena, Chad April 19, 2021. REUTERS/Stringer
    N’DJAMENA (Reuters) -The United States said rebel fighters in Chad appeared to be moving towards the capital N’Djamena and ordered non-essential staff to leave, warning of possible violence.
    A spokesman for the rebel Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) said its fighters had “liberated” the province of Kanem, some 220 km (136 miles) from the capital N’Djamena, but the government denied this.
    “The authors of these false statements are not even on the ground, but somewhere in Europe,” the government said in a message posted to Facebook.
    A day earlier the British government urged its citizens to leave Chad because of information that two rebel convoys on the move, one near the town of Faya, some 770 km (478 miles) northeast of N’Djamena, and another by the town of Mao, the provincial capital of Kanem.
    On Sunday morning, a Reuters reporter saw large numbers of heavily armed Chad security forces patrolling the streets of the capital.
    Partial election results showed President Idriss Deby on course to extend his three decades in power, despite signs of growing discontent over his handling of the nation’s oil wealth.
    Deby has won a majority in all but two of the 84 departments announced so far, and secured a plurality in the other two, with 28 departments remaining, according to the Independent National Election Commission (CENI).
    Deby, who seized power in 1990 at the head of an armed rebellion, is a staunch ally of France and the United States in the fight against Islamist militants in the arid Sahel region.
    “Due to their growing proximity to N’Djamena and the possibility for violence in the city, non-essential U.S. government employees have been ordered to leave Chad by commercial airline,” the U.S. State Department said in a statement late on Saturday.
    Chad’s army said it had destroyed a rebel convoy in the north of Kanem province on Saturday afternoon.
    “The column was totally decimated,” army spokesman Azim Bermandoa Agouna said in a statement late on Saturday.
    FACT, which is based on Chad’s northern frontier in Libya, attacked a Chadian border post on the evening of April 11, just as polling stations were closing.
    FACT spokesman Kingabe Ogouzeimi de Tapol said rebels had “liberated” Kanem and were still trying to root out remaining state security forces.
    “We reassure the population of the city of N’Djamena and its surrounding area, in particular diplomatic personnel, United Nations staff, partners, and expatriates working in Chad, to remain calm and to avoid any non-essential travel outside the city,” Ogouzeimi said in a statement posted to Facebook.
    A group of 14 opposition leaders, who had called for their supporters to boycott the election, signed a petition on Sunday calling for a ceasefire to allow for an “inclusive national dialogue.”
(Reporting by Mahamat Ramadane; Writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Joe Bavier, David Goodman, Raissa Kasolowsky and Daniel Wallis)

4/20/2021 Chad Leader Deby, Key Western Ally, Killed In Battle by Mahamat Ramadane
FILE PHOTO: Chad's President Idriss Deby attends a working session of the G5 Sahel summit
in Nouakchott, Mauritania, June 30, 2020. Ludovic Marin /Pool via REUTERS
    N’DJAMENA (Reuters) -Chad’s President Idriss Deby, who ruled his country for more than 30 years and was an important Western ally in the fight against Islamist militants in Africa, was killed on Monday in a battle against rebels in the north.
    His son, Mahamat Idriss Deby, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers, army spokesman Azem Bermendoa Agouna said on state television on Tuesday.
    Deby, 68, took power in a rebellion in 1990 and was one of Africa’s longest-ruling leaders, surviving numerous coup attempts and rebellions.    His death could deepen Chad’s problems, as well as those of its allies.
    On the domestic front, the military is divided and the opposition bridling against years of repressive rule.
    Internationally, France and the United States will be hoping their counter-terrorism efforts are not now pushed off course.
    France said that it had lost “brave friend” and Chad “a great soldier.”    The White House offered “sincere condolences” to the people of Chad and supported “a peaceful transition of power in accordance with the Chadian constitution.”
    Deby was killed just after he was declared winner of a presidential election that would have given him a sixth term in office.    Most of the opposition boycotted the vote.
    Deby, who often joined soldiers on the battlefront in his military fatigues, visited troops on the frontline on Monday after rebels based across the northern frontier in Libya advanced hundreds of kilometres (miles) south toward the capital N’Djamena.
    “Marshal Idriss Deby Itno, as he did each time that the institutions of the republic were gravely threatened, took control of operations during the heroic combat led against the terrorists from Libya. He was wounded during the fighting and died once repatriated to N’Djamena,” Bermendoa said.
    He did not comment on the exact time or cause of death, but funeral arrangements issued by the government said Deby died on Monday.
    The government and National Assembly have been dissolved and a nationwide curfew imposed from 6 p.m. to 5 a.m., Bermendoa said.
    “The National Council of Transition reassures the Chadian people that all measures have been taken to guarantee peace, security and the republican order,” he said.
    The military council said it would lead a transition for a period of 18 months leading to free and fair elections.
    Deby had pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that would have allowed him to stay in power until 2033.    He said before last week’s election: “I know in advance that I will win, as I have done for the last 30 years.”
    He was dealing with mounting public discontent over his management of Chad’s oil wealth and crackdowns on opponents. In the election results, Deby claimed 79% of the vote.
    People in N’Djamena reacted to the news of Deby’s death with fear that fighting could break out in the city, a Reuters witness said, although the streets were quiet in the afternoon.
    Western countries had counted on Deby as an ally in the fight against Islamist militants, including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.
    France, the former colonial power, had based its Sahel counter-terrorism operations in N’Djamena.    Chad announced in February the deployment of 1,200 troops to complement 5,100 French soldiers in the area.
    The French presidency praised Deby and affirmed its support for Chad’s stability and territorial integrity.    In a statement, it noted the formation of the interim council headed by Mahamat Idriss Deby but said it hoped there would be a quick and peaceful return to civilian rule.
    Déby’s death could mean tremendous uncertainty for Chad, said Nathaniel Powell, author of a history of French military involvement in Chad.
    “The swift announcement of the establishment of a military council and naming his son Mahamat as head of state however indicates regime continuity,” Powell told Reuters.
    “This probably aims to counter any coup-making efforts from within the security establishment and to reassure Chad’s international partners.”
    A regional diplomat said the naming of Deby’s son as interim president was problematic as the speaker of parliament should have taken power on his death.
    “That in itself is a coup,” the diplomat said.    “He has been grooming the son for some time.”
    The latest rebel actions had already caused alarm in Washington and other Western capitals.
    Fighters of the Libya-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) attacked a border post on election day on April 11, then advanced south through the vast country.
    The Chadian military appeared to have slowed its progress about 300 km (185 miles) from N’Djamena.
    The rebels acknowledged they suffered losses on Saturday but said they were back on the move on Sunday and Monday.
    Deby loved to visit troops on the frontlines.    He joined the army in the 1970s when Chad was engaged in a long civil war.    He received military training in France and returned to Chad in 1978, throwing his support behind President Hissène Habré and eventually becoming commander-in-chief of the armed forces.
    He seized power in 1990, leading a rebel army in a three-week offensive staged from neighbouring Sudan to topple Habre, who was accused of widespread human rights abuses.
(Additional reporting by Madjiasra Nako in N’Djamena, Aaron Ross in Dakar, David Lewis in Nairobi and Jonathan Landay and Susan Heavey in Washington; Editing by Edward McAllister, Angus MacSwan and Sonya Hepinstall)

4/20/2021 Campaigners Claim Victory As EU Court Backs The Way Malta Chooses Judges by Foo Yun Chee
FILE PHOTO: A general view of Malta's Courts of Justice building in Valletta, Malta,
November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Guglielmo Mangiapane/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Europe’s top court ruled on Tuesday that Malta’s system for appointing judges aligned with EU standards, in a case which campaigners said had forced the government to carry out reforms.
    The ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) came after Repubblika, an organisation which campaigns to protect justice and the rule of law in Malta, challenged the country’s system of appointing judges in a national court.
    That court then sought guidance from the Luxembourg-based CJEU on whether the Maltese system complies with the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights and the CJEU set out the criteria to guarantee judicial independence and impartiality.
    The CJEU judges said it was not counter to EU law for a prime minister to appoint members of the judiciary as long as an independent body assessed candidates and gave an opinion.
    The Maltese requirement that the prime minister must provide the reasons for choosing a candidate not put forward by the independent body was an additional safeguard, they said.
    Maltese Prime Minister Robert Abela welcomed the ruling.
    “It demonstrates that our reforms have been recognised and our judicial system has been effectively strengthened for the benefit of our citizens,” he said in a tweet.
    Campaign group Repubblika said the government would not have carried out the reforms if it had not brought the case in 2019.
    “In fact, a week ago, for the first time, judges were nominated for appointment without the government having anything to do with their selection,” Repubblika said.
    The ruling, which came amid criticism of moves by fellow-EU members Poland and Hungary to control judicial appointments, noted EU states had committed to upholding the rule of law and said they must not undermine the independence of the judiciary.
    The CJEU last month backed the right of Polish judges applying to join the country’s Supreme Court to appeal against the opinions of a body which reviews candidates, underlining a rift over the rule of law between the country and the bloc.
    In reaction to Tuesday’s ruling, Polish Deputy Justice Minister Sebastian Kaleta said the European Commission demands standards of Poland that it does not demand of other countries.
    “We will… consistently defend Poland’s right to self-determination,” he said.    “We hope that today’s decision will end this largely non-legal dispute, this political dispute,” he added, referring to Poland’s clashes with the EU over the rule of law.
    The European Commission has long accused Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban of undermining freedoms of courts, media, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and academics, as well as of violating the law with his restrictive migration policies.
(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, additional reporting by Anna Koper and Alan Charlish in Warsaw; editing by Philippa Fletcher and Ed Osmond)

4/20/2021 Iran Welcomes Iraqi Mediation With Gulf States – Ambassador
FILE PHOTO: The Iranian flag waves in front of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) headquarters, before the
beginning of a board of governors meeting, in Vienna, Austria, March 1, 2021. REUTERS/Lisi Niesner/File Photo/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Tuesday it welcomes Iraqi mediation to help mend its ties with Gulf Arab states, following reports that Saudi and Iranian officials had held discussions in Iraq.
    The remarks by the Iranian ambassador to Baghdad came a day after Iran’s foreign ministry said that Tehran always welcomed dialogue with its arch-rival Saudi Arabia, without confirming that talks had been held.
    Iran and Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic ties in 2016 and have been engaged in several proxy wars in the region as they vie for influence.
    “The Islamic Republic (of Iran) supports Baghdad’s mediation to bring Tehran closer to countries with which we have faced challenges or with which ties have cooled, and Iraqi officials have been notified of this,” Iraj Masjedi, Iran’s ambassador to Iraq, was quoted as saying by the state news agency IRNA.
    Asked about any progress in talks, Masjedi said: “We have not yet reached clear results and significant progress.    Let us wait for the work to go forward and we can see practical results.”
    A senior Iranian official and two regional sources had told Reuters that Saudi and Iranian officials held discussions in Iraq in a bid to ease tensions as Washington works to revive a 2015 nuclear pact with Tehran and end the Yemen war.
    Saudi authorities have not responded to a Reuters request for comment on the talks.
    Iraqi national security adviser Qasim al-Araji met the Saudi envoy to Baghdad, Abdulaziz al-Shammari, on Tuesday and reviewed the political and security situation in the region and “ways to end the differences in a way that serves the interests of the region’s countries and peoples,” Iraq’s INA state news agency said.
    Sunni power Saudi Arabia had opposed the international nuclear accord with Shi’ite Iran for not tackling Tehran’s missiles programme and regional behaviour.
    It has called for a stronger deal this time around at talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States and Iran back into compliance with the pact, which then U.S. President Donald Trump quit in 2018.    Tehran has breached several nuclear restrictions set by the deal after Trump reimposed sanctions.
    President Joe Biden’s administration is also pressing for a ceasefire in Yemen, which is grappling with what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.
(Reporting by Dubai newsroom; Editing by William Maclean and Peter Graff)

4/20/2021 Idriss Deby, Chad’s President And West’s Ally Against Islamists by Aaron Ross
FILE PHOTO: Chad President Idriss Deby watches a rally in N'Djamena April 15, 2006. REUTERS/Claire Soares
    (Reuters) – In 30 years as Chad’s president, Idriss Deby emerged as one of Africa’s wiliest political survivors, holding on to power through rebellions that reached as far as his palace gates and establishing himself as a key military ally of Western powers.
    But it was in an apparent moment of triumph, just hours after he was declared the winner of an April 11 election, that the 68-year-old former army officer met his end, killed in battle fighting rebels in the desert north.
    Deby had ruled for three decades by centralising power around his family and Zaghawa ethnic group.
    Key to his hold on power was Chad’s formidable military, which he used to assure control at home and win friends abroad.
    In 2013, he deployed 2,000 troops to northern Mali to participate in a French-led mission to push back al Qaeda-linked fighters, making Chad the only African country to quickly deploy an effective fighting force.
    Earlier this year, Deby dispatched 1,200 troops to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali where Islamist militants are expanding their influence, while farther south Chadian forces fought against Nigeria’s Boko Haram militants.
    That won him the gratitude of former colonial master France, which has more than 5,000 troops across West Africa’s arid Sahel region to battle militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State and is looking for an eventual exit strategy.
    “France lost a brave friend,” President Emmanuel Macron’s office said in statement.    “It expresses its strong attachment to Chad’s stability and territorial integrity.”
    French forces have intervened on several occasions to bail Deby out of danger, most recently in 2019 when French warplanes took out a column of rebels that was crossing the desert from Libya.
    Idriss Deby Itno was born on June 18, 1952, in northeastern Chad. He joined the army in the 1970s when the country was going through a long-running civil war and received military training in France, where he earned a pilot’s licence.
    He returned to Chad in 1978 and threw his support behind the president, Hissène Habré, rising to become chief of the armed force.
    In 1990, he seized power, leading a rebel army swathed in desert headgear in a three-week offensive launched from neighbouring Sudan’s Darfur region.
    Since then, Deby has fended off more than a half-dozen rebellions and attempted coups.    His closest call came in 2008, when rebels from Darfur reached the capital N’Djamena and besieged the presidential palace before France intervened to help push them back. WARTIME LEADER
    Deby frequently cast himself as a wartime leader. He would often don military fatigues and pay visits to soldiers on the battlefront.
    Diplomats and analysts said Deby had been grooming his adopted son, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno – named on Tuesday as interim leader – to eventually take over, but had given little indication he intended to step down anytime soon.
    He pushed through a new constitution in 2018 that would have allowed him to stay in power until 2033 – even as it re-instated term limits.    Last year, he took the title of “Field Marshal.”
    But he faced mounting discontent at home over his management of Chad’s oil wealth, crackdowns on opponents and alleged corruption.
    Low crude prices in recent years ate into government revenues, forcing cutbacks to services that led to public sector strikes.
    Most of Deby’s main opponents boycotted the latest election, whose lead-up was marred by deadly clashes between opposition supporters and security forces.
(Reporting by Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by David Lewis; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Alex Richardson)

4/20/2021 Ramadan Helps Egyptian Women Bakers Make Ends Meet
Nour El-Sabah, 35, prepares traditional food with her family to sell during the holy month
of Ramadan in Beni Suef, Egypt, April 10, 2021. REUTERS/Hayam Adel
(Corrects age of Nour al-Sabah Mohammed to 58 (not 35) in first paragraph)
    BENI SUEF, Egypt (Reuters) -For 58-year-old Nour al-Sabah Mohammed and her crew of bakers, business is brisk during the holy month of Ramadan.
    The women travel by train to Cairo to sell their home-baked bread, piled high on metal trays, as well as eggs, vegetables, and cheese, produced by neighbours in a farming village near the city of Beni Suef, about 150 kilometres (90 miles) to the south.
    During Ramadan, when fasting Muslims indulge in large family meals after sunset and stock up on supplies well in advance, the women double their usual output.
    Mohammed’s daughter and daughter-in-law make the two-and-a-half hour train trip to Cairo twice a week to sell from spots on the pavement that they’ve occupied for the last five years.
    They set off at 10 p.m., leaving their children in the village and returning the following evening once they’ve sold out.
    Back in Beni Suef, they distribute the earnings to other producers, each of whom made about 30 Egyptian pounds ($1.91) from the recent sale of 15 kilograms (33 lbs) of bread, along with the other products.
    “This way we work hard for our living and we make each other stronger,” said Noura Hassan, Mohammed’s daughter-in-law.    “It’s also a good thing that these women are helping out their husbands and their children.” ($1 = 15.6975 Egyptian pounds)
(Reporting by Hayam Adel; Writing by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Alex Richardson)

4/20/2021 Zimbabwe Parliament Votes To Scrap Presidential Running Mate Rule
FILE PHOTO: Zimbabwean President Emmerson Mnangagwa has his temperature taken as he arrives for the presentation of the
2021 National Budget at the parliament in Harare, Zimbabwe, November 26, 2020. REUTERS/Philimon Bulawayo/File Photo
    HARARE (Reuters) – Zimbabwe’s parliament approved legislation on Tuesday removing a clause in the constitution on electing vice presidents, a move which the opposition says is intended by President Emmerson Mnangagwa to concentrate power in the presidency.
    The parliament also extended the tenure of senior judges, who will now be appointed by the president in consultation with the judicial service commission, instead of being subjected to public interviews as is the case now.
    In 2013, Zimbabweans voted for a new constitution including a clause stipulating that the vice president should be elected together with the president, but the clause was suspended for 10 years in a compromise between the ruling ZANU-PF party and the opposition.
    ZANU-PF used its two-thirds majority in parliament on Tuesday to remove the provision, saying that electing vice presidents as well as the president would create multiple centres of power that could destabilise the government.
    The removal of the clause means a president will continue to appoint his or her deputy and that in the event of the president dying in office or being incapacitated, the ruling party will convene to choose a successor.
    Mnangagwa’s opponents say that having elected vice presidents would ensure a smooth succession and avoid political instability.
    The lack of a clear succession plan in ZANU-PF led to a coup in 2017 by the military, which supported Mnangagwa and was opposed to a faction that had coalesced around the wife of the late former leader Robert Mugabe.
    Under the changes affecting the judiciary, judges of the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Court will now retire at 75, instead of at 70, and only judges seeking to be appointed to the bench for the first time will undergo public interviews.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe, Editing by Timothy Hertage)

4/20/2021 Battle For Yemen’s Marib Scrambles U.S. Push For Truce by Jonathan Landay and Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: A view of the Safer oil refinery in Marib, Yemen
September 30, 2020. Picture taken September 30, 2020. REUTERS/Ali Owidha/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The battle for Yemen’s gas-rich Marib region is complicating U.S. efforts to reach a ceasefire needed to end a six-year-old war and secure a foreign policy win for President Joe Biden, two sources familiar with the talks and a diplomat said.
    A U.N./U.S. peace initiative presented by Saudi Arabia in March proposed a nationwide ceasefire and the reopening of air and sea links, to bolster efforts to end a devastating conflict widely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Riyadh, which leads a military coalition battling Yemen’s Houthi movement, has been under increasing pressure to end the war since Biden signalled Washington would no longer support the intervention and as the United Nations warns of looming famine.
    But the initiative has been stuck since Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis made a series of counter-proposals, including for a phased truce that could allow them sufficient time to seize Marib, the Saudi-backed government’s last northern stronghold.
    Potentially crippling the peace initiative, fighting has intensified in recent days as the Houthis push their offensive to take Marib, which if successful would strengthen the movement’s hand in any future political negotiations.
    “Probably the Houthis, given a choice between a ceasefire and taking Marib, would choose to take Marib,” said a senior diplomat based in the region.
    The peace initiative can only be saved by a “mutually hurting stalemate” in which Houthi losses reach a point where they lose tribal support, the diplomat said, adding the group has replaced seasoned fighters lost to coalition bombs with inexperienced youth.
    U.S. envoy Tim Lenderking and U.N. envoy Martin Griffiths have been touring the region for discussions to try to break the deadlock and secure a ceasefire, but so far without success.
    The U.N./U.S. initiative would reopen Sanaa airport, and allow fuel and food imports through Hodeidah port, both of which are controlled by the Houthis.    But the movement said last month that these steps would not go far enough.
    Two people involved in the talks told Reuters the main issue now is sequencing, since the Houthis insist on a full lifting of the blockade followed by a gradual ceasefire: a halt to Houthi attacks on Saudi Arabia and coalition airstrikes on Yemen, and then a truce with Yemen’s government.
    Coalition airstrikes are the only thing keeping Marib, home to major oil and gas fields, from falling, since Houthi forces, now 15 km (9 miles) west of the city, have more advanced weaponry than pro-government troops, military sources said.
    Hundreds of fighters from both sides have been killed in the desert plain, but military and local sources say the Houthis have lost more in the war’s most deadly clashes since 2018.
    The Houthis, who seized swathes of Yemen’s conventional military when they ousted the government from the capital Sanaa in late 2014, have sent thousands of fighters to the Kasara and Mushaja areas near Marib city whose terrain provides some cover, pro-government military and local sources said.
    The fighting has displaced some 13,600 people in the region since February, according to the United Nations, which said four displacement camps were shut after being hit by shelling, injuring dozens and compounding overcrowding.
    Marib hosts a quarter of Yemen’s four million refugees.
    The war has killed tens of thousands of people in Yemen, and caused what the United Nations describes as the world’s largest humanitarian crisis with millions facing famine.
    But Saudi Arabia has also felt the impact of the war.    It has faced a barrage of Houthi drone and missile strikes, and is seeking security guaranties along its border as it tries to contain the influence of arch-rival Iran.
    Saudi and Iranian officials discussed Yemen during direct talks this month aimed at easing tensions, six years after diplomatic ties were severed, sources said.
    Michael Knights, an expert on Gulf military affairs with the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, said Saudi Arabia has enough reserves of U.S.-supplied precision-guided munitions to keep defending Marib, but time remained a factor.
    The Houthis, who already control most big urban centres, have a window of time to press their offensive during hazy summer weather that reduces coalition air operations.
    “If the Houthis take it, they’re going to take it in the next three months,” Knights said, adding that the group is advancing in pulses to seize ground and reinforce positions.
    “The Houthis view Marib as a knockout blow.    It makes them into a state with resources, a coastline, and most of the population.    Whereas if you’re (Saudi-allied Yemeni president) Hadi, it knocks you out of the game,” he added.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay in Washington and Aziz El Yaakoubi in Dubai, Additional reporting by Mohammed Ghobari in Aden; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous, Editing by William Maclean)

4/21/2021 Erdogan Replaces Turkish Trade Minister, More Cabinet Moves Expected by Orhan Coskun and Ezgi Erkoyun
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gives a statement after a meeting in Ankara, Turkey,
April 5, 2021. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan named a prominent member of Turkey’s ruling AK Party, Mehmet Mus, as trade minister on Wednesday and split another ministry into two, in what officials said was the first move in an expected broader cabinet shuffle.
    In a presidential decree Ruhsar Pekcan, the cabinet’s highest-profile woman, was replaced as trade minister by Mus, who is close to former finance minister and Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, a divisive party figure.
    The decree, published in the Official Gazette, gave no reason for the change, but it comes after opposition politicians accused Pekcan’s ministry of buying supplies from her family-owned company and called on her to resign.
    The Trade Ministry confirmed a purchase of sanitisers had been made, but said in a statement on Tuesday the choice was based on price alone and not due to “the name of the company making the sale.”
    It said the sale, worth some 500,000 lira ($62,000), had been carried out in line with relevant regulations.
    Erdogan’s overnight changes come amid speculation over a wider cabinet reshuffle, after he changed the country’s top economic management in November, including the central bank governor.
    A senior government official told Reuters that further changes to four or five ministries are expected after the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, which ends mid-May.
    “There was generally a cabinet reshuffle expectation and that is still valid.    But Pekcan’s sanitisers incident was not acceptable,” the official said, adding Erdogan will make the final decision on any further changes.
    Mus, an AK Party member since 2011 who was deputy chairman in charge of the economy, was among the first to defend Albayrak’s record and call for him to remain in office when Albayrak abruptly resigned as finance minister in November.
    A rapid turnover in the last two months at powerful state and financial institutions have left other Albayrak allies in top spots, including Salim Arda Ermut, the new chief executive at Turkey Wealth Fund.
    Foreign investors pulled back from Turkey due to unorthodox policies under Albayrak’s watch, including the sale of some $128 billion in foreign currency via state banks in 2019 and 2020 that badly depleted the central bank’s reserves.
    “Mus was close to Albayrak,” said a person close to the AK Party who also requested anonymity.
    “The cabinet reshuffle expectation did not end with this move.    The president is sorting out the timing,” the person added.
    According to the decree, Erdogan also established two new ministries by splitting the Family, Labour and Social Policies Ministry into two separate ministries.
    He appointed Derya Yanik as Family and Social Policies Minister and Vedat Bilgin as Labour and Social Security Minister, replacing Zehra Zumrut Selcuk.
($1 = 8.1122 liras)
(Additional reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen and Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Jonathan Spicer; Editing by Dominic Evans and Bernadette Baum)

4/21/2021 South African Ex-President Zuma’s Legal Team Quits Ahead Of Corruption Trial
FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Jacob Zuma attends the memorial service for Zulu King
Goodwill Zwelithini in Nongoma, South Africa, March 18, 2021. Phill Magakoe/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – Former South African President Jacob Zuma’s legal team has quit less than a month before he goes on trial on corruption charges, local publication News 24 said on Wednesday.
    Zuma and French arms company Thales are due in court on May 17 on charges related to a $2 billion arms deal from the 1990s, when he served as deputy president.
    Zuma is being tried on 16 charges of racketeering, fraud, corruption and money laundering.    He denies wrongdoing in the case.    Thales has said it has no knowledge of any transgressions committed by its staff over the awarding of the contracts.
    News 24 said the firm representing Zuma, Mabuza Attorneys, had filed a formal withdrawal notice with the Pietermartizburg High Court on Wednesday morning. The firm had declined to give reasons for the withdrawal, the news agency said.
    Mabuza Attorneys, and Zuma’s lawyer Muzi Sikhakhane, did not answer telephone calls and text messages from Reuters seeking confirmation. A spokesman for Zuma also did not respond.
    The 16 charges Zuma faces were reinstated in March 2018, a month after the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party kicked Zuma out of office after a presidency tainted by graft allegations and sovereign credit-rating downgrades.
(Reporting by Mfuneko Toyana; Editing by Peter Graff)

4/21/2021 Chad In Turmoil After Deby Death As Rebels, Opposition Challenge Military by Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane
People drive past a Chad army tank near the presidential palace, after Chad's President Idriss Deby, who ruled the country for more than 30 years and was
an important Western ally, was killed on the frontline in a battle against rebels in the north, in N'djamena, Chad April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Oredje Narcisse
    N’DJAMENA, April 21 (Reuters) – The son of Chad’s slain leader Idriss Deby took over as president and armed forces commander on Wednesday as rebel forces threatened to march on the capital, deepening the turmoil in a country vital to international efforts to combat Islamist militants in Africa.
    The political opposition also denounced the military’s takeover of control, calling the move a coup d’etat and rejecting its plan for a transition.    Labour unions called on workers to go on strike.
    Deby, 68, was killed on Monday on the frontline in a battle against fighters of the Libyan-based Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a rebel group formed by dissident army officers.
    His death shocked the nation and raised concerns among Western allies, notably France and the United States, who had counted on him as an ally in their fight against Islamist groups including Islamic State and Boko Haram.
    Deby had been in power since 1990 and had just been declared winner of a presidential election that would have given him a sixth term in office.    His son, General Mahamat Idriss Deby, was named interim president by a transitional council of military officers just after news of his death was announced.
    General Deby, 37, moved to consolidate his position on Wednesday, with the council issuing a new charter in place of the country’s constitution granting him the functions of president and also naming him as head of the armed forces.
    The council’s vice-president, Djimadoum Tirayna, had said earlier that the army wanted to return power to a civilian government and hold free and democratic elections in 18 months.
    He reiterated that on Wednesday, saying in a statement the military was “in no way seeking to seize power.”
    But the FACT rebels rejected the military’s plan and said they would press on with their offensive.
    “Chad is not a monarchy.    There can be no dynastic devolution of power in our country,” FACT said in a statement.
    The rebel forces poured over the vast country’s northern border last weekend.
    A spokesman for the group – which is not linked to jihadists – said they were now in Kanem region about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) north of N’Djamena and that their aim was to bring democracy to Chad after years of authoritarian rule by Deby.
    FACT claimed responsibility for the injuries that killed Deby on Monday.    An ex-army officer who often joined soldiers on the battlefront, Deby was visiting troops who had held up the rebel advance in intense fighting over the weekend.
    He was wounded by gunfire in the village of Mele near the town of Nokou, more than 300 km (190 miles) north of N’Djamena, and evacuated to the capital where he later died, said the FACT spokesman, who requested anonymity.
    “We don’t want to seize power to hold power.    Our objective is for democratic transitions to be a reality,” he said.    He said the group was preparing to march on N’Djamena to “free the people from a system that is undemocratic.”
    Opposition politicians, many of whom boycotted the election, also called for a return to civilian rule.
    About a dozen party leaders who met on Wednesday condemned what they called “the institutional coup d’etat conducted by the generals” and “the monarchist devolution of power.”
    In a statement, they called for a transition led by the people through dialogue.
    “We do not see ourselves in this military transition.    Our position is a return to constitutional order and a civil transition to ease tensions and to organise elections in due course,” Dinamou Daram of the Socialist Party Without Borders, told Reuters.
    Opposition leader Succes Masran said a campaign of civil disobedience would be launched from Friday.    The main labour organisation, the Union of Syndicates of Chad, also rejected the military takeover and called for a strike.
    “The executive bureau asks all workers to stop working and to remain vigilant until the situation is clarified,” it said.
    Deby had won friends abroad by sending his well-trained army to fight jihadists including Boko Haram in the Lake Chad Basin and groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel.
    His main ally, France, has about 5,100 troops based across the region as part of international efforts to fight the militants, including its main base in N’Djamena.    The United States also has military personnel there.
    Paris said it had lost a courageous friend and an important ally. President Emmanuel Macron will go to Deby’s funeral.
    Nigeria’s foreign minister said it was willing to help a dialogue, but that while an early return to democratic rule was the ultimate goal, the immediate objective was the stabilisation of Chad and the region.
    Human Rights Watch criticised the West’s relationship with Deby, saying that for years it had propped up Déby’s government for its support for its security operations while turning a blind eye to his repression.
    “The potentially explosive consequences of President Déby’s death cannot be underestimated – both for the future of Chad and across the region,” it said in a statement.
    In N’Djamena, schools and some businesses were open on Wednesday but many people stayed home and the streets were quiet.
    Authorities imposed a nightly curfew and closed land and air borders after Deby’s death was announced.    A 14-day period of national mourning is being observed.
    Ordinary citizens also voiced their frustrations.
    “We must make sure that this military council does not take over power," said Djimadoum Ngarteri, a teacher.    “And to all those fighting with weapons, it is time to lay down their weapons. We the Chadians are fed up. We do not need people who take power with weapons.”
(Reporting by Madjiasra Nako and Mahamat Ramadane in N’Djamena, Nellie Peyton, Aaron Ross and Edward McAllister in Dakar, writing by Angus MacSwan, editing by Nick Tattersall)

4/21/2021 Syrian President Assad To Run For Re-Election In May – State Media
FILE PHOTO: Syria's President Bashar al-Assad speaks as he meets with the Syrian cabinet in Damascus, Syria
in this handout picture released by Sana on March 30, 2021. SANA/Handout via REUTERS
(Corrects in lead to run for fourth term instead of third)
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Syrian President Bashar al-Assad on Wednesday submitted documents to run for a fourth term in an election scheduled for May 26, parliament’s speaker said on state media.
    Parliament announced the election on Sunday. Washington and the Syrian opposition have denounced it as a farce designed to cement Assad’s authoritarian rule.
    Assad’s family and his Baath party have ruled Syria for five decades with the help of the security forces and the army, where his Alawite minority dominate.
    This year is the 10th anniversary of a crackdown on pro-democracy protesters which triggered a civil war that has left much of Syria in ruins.
    The multi-sided conflict has sucked in world powers, killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions more, but is now nearing its end with Assad, supported by Russian and Iranian allies, back in control of most of the country.
    Candidates must have lived in Syria for the last 10 years, which prevents opposition figures in exile from standing.
(Story corrects in lead to run for fourth term instead of third)
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by John Stonestreet and Angus MacSwan)

4/21/2021 S. Africa’s UCT Campus Salvaging Books From Burned Library by Wendell Roelf
Firemen walk through the burnt out remains of Jagger Library at the University of Cape Town
in Cape Town, South Africa, April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Staring helplessly as flames from a weekend wildfire on the slopes of Table Mountain spread and razed the University of Cape Town’s library, chief librarian Ujala Satgoor was back amid the smouldering ruins on Tuesday to try and salvage what was left.
    One of Cape Town’s worst fires in recent memory was brought under control on Monday after burning for more than 24 hours since starting on Sunday, damaging historical sites and forcing people to evacuate their homes.
    Starting on the slopes of Devil’s Peak, another part of Cape Town’s mountainous backdrop, it forced University of Cape Town students to evacuate residences on Sunday as runaway flames set several campus buildings ablaze, including a library housing historic books and scripts.
    “It was horrifying.    It was a deep-seated sadness that this had to happen because some things are irreplaceable,” Satgoor, executive director of libraries at UCT, told Reuters.
    The fire, which apparently started on the roof of the Jagger Library’s cavernous wood-panelled reading room, destroyed about half of works held there, she said. The remaining books, manuscripts and writings on lower floors were saved after five steel doors, triggered as part of the fire alarm system, rolled into place and prevented the fire spreading.
    But that was not before large parts of the African Studies monographed collection of published books was destroyed, as well as rare 19th century dictionaries from around the continent and a valuable African DVD films collection of around 3,500 films.
    “We were very fortunate to digitise the VHS and had them stored as DVDs, but because of copyright we could not replicate,” Satgoor said, adding that the process of digitisation had helped preserve other manuscripts.
    Very special rare and antiquarian materials are housed elsewhere, she said.
    Inside the library, mangled iron works from the collapsed roof hung haphazardly over rows of charred books, some still smouldering, with wisps of smoke as water seeped into every nook.
    Satgoor said library workers were in the process of salvaging the remaining books, but had not anticipated water damage.
    “We will have to remove all materials from the level one store because it is damp already and there is a lot of water,” she said, adding that she hoped to clear all material by Wednesday to prevent mould further damaging the books.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Editing by Dan Grebler)

4/21/2021 U.S. Says Iran Support To Yemen’s Houthis ‘Significant, Lethal’
FILE PHOTO: A Yemeni government fighter fires a vehicle-mounted weapon at a frontline position during
fighting against Houthi fighters in Marib, Yemen March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Owidha
    (Reuters) – Iran’s support for Yemen’s Houthi movement is “quite significant and it’s lethal” and there is no real evidence that Tehran wants to support a constructive resolution to the conflict, U.S. special envoy on Yemen Tim Lenderking told U.S. lawmakers on Wednesday.
    “We would welcome Iran playing a constructive role, if they are willing to do so,” Lenderking said.    “We have not seen any indication of that.”
(Reporting by Michelle Nichols and Jonathan Landay)

4/22/2021 State Dept. Urges Peace Amid Fighting In Chad, East Africa by OAN Newsroom
In this Friday, April 9, 2021 image made from video, Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno, center, attends his final campaign rally
for the recent elections in N’Djamena, Chad. Deby, who ruled the central African nation for more than three decades, was killed
on the battlefield Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in a fight against rebels, the military announced on national television and radio. (AP Photo)
    The State Department has warned of the rising threat of political violence as well as Islamic terror in Central and Eastern Africa.    On Wednesday, the State Department called for de-escalation of military tensions in northeast Africa while pointing out security threats are undermining humanitarian relief efforts in the area.
    “We haven’t seen any evidence that Eritrean troops are withdrawing from Tigray despite the commitments made by both Ethiopia and Eritrea,” stated State Department spokesman Ned Price.    “We urge their immediate, full withdrawal.”
    U.S. diplomats have also condemned the recent killing of Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno who was reelected in an allegedly fraudulent election after 31-years in office.
    “Certainly the violence in Chad is gravely disturbing, but we’re watching closely as the political situation evolves,” Price continued.    “We want to see a peaceful, democratic transition of power to a civilian-led government.”
    The U.S. Intelligence Community warned the Islamic State terror group has been capitalizing on the ongoing conflicts in Central and Eastern Africa.    The State Department noted, regional peace is important to preventing further destabilization of those countries.

4/22/2021 Syrian Missile Explodes In Area Near Israeli Nuclear Reactor, Israel Retaliates by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller
Israeli soldiers survey the area after a Syrian missile exploded in southern Israel, the Israeli
military said, in Ashalim, southern Israel April 22, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -A Syrian missile exploded in southern Israel on Thursday, the Israeli military said, in an incident that triggered warning sirens near the secretive Dimona nuclear reactor and an Israeli strike in Syria.
    An Israeli military spokesman identified the projectile as an SA-5 surface-to-air missile fired by Syrian forces against Israeli aircraft.    He said it overflew its target to reach the Dimona area, 200 km (125 miles) south of the Syrian border.
    The missile did not hit the reactor, exploding some 30 km (19 miles) away, the spokesman added.
    The sirens that sounded overnight in the Dimona area followed weeks of heightened tension between Israel and Iran, a close ally of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, amid renewed global negotiations over Tehran’s nuclear programme.
    For weeks, Israeli media have said air defences around the Dimona reactor and the Red Sea port of Eilat were being strengthened in anticipation of a possible long-range missile or drone attack by Iranian-backed forces.
    In public remarks on Thursday’s incident, Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the anti-aircraft missile was fired from Syria during an Israeli strike there against “assets that could be used for a potential attack against Israel.”
    Gantz said Israel’s anti-missile systems had attempted to intercept the SA-5 but were unsuccessful.
    “In most cases, we achieve other results.    This is a slightly more complex case.    We will investigate it and move on,” he said.    Israeli security sources said the missile exploded in mid-air.
    In response, Israel launched further overnight attacks inside Syria, the military spokesman said, targeting several missile batteries, including the one that fired the SA-5.
    Syria’s state news agency said the country’s air defence system intercepted Israeli rockets over the suburbs of Damascus “and downed most of them.”    Four soldiers were injured and there was some material damage, it said.
    A Syrian military defector said the Israeli strikes targeted locations near the town of Dumair, some 40 km (25 miles) northeast of the capital, where Iranian-backed militias have a presence.    It is an area hit repeatedly in past Israeli attacks.
    Addressing the likelihood of a Syrian anti-aircraft missile overshooting its target and flying a long distance into Israel, Uzi Rubin, an Israeli missile expert, said the scenario was “consistent with the characteristics” of an SA-5.
    “The trajectory of a stray anti-aircraft missile on an unintended descent is very tricky to track,” he told Reuters.
    “Israel’s air defence systems are in theory capable of carrying out such an interception with proper preparation, but it would be at the edge of the capability envelope.”
(Reporting by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Suleiman Al-Khalidi and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez and John Stonestreet)

4/22/2021 Gaza Gravediggers And Medics Stretched As COVID Spikes During Ramadan by Rami Ayyub and Mohammed Salem
FILE PHOTO: Palestinians wait to bury the body of their relative, who died after contracting the
coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at a cemetery, east of Gaza City April 20, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The sick and dying are rapidly pushing Gaza’s hospitals close to capacity amid a surge in COVID-19 cases in the impoverished Palestinian territory, health officials said.
    Palestinians fear a combination of poverty, medical shortages, vaccine scepticism, poor COVID-19 data and mass gatherings during Ramadan could accelerate the increase, which began before the start of the Muslim holy month on April 13.
    Gaza health officials said around 70% of intensive care unit beds were occupied, up from 37% at the end of March.    There were 86 deaths over the past six days, an increase of 43% over the week before.
    “The hospitals are almost at full capacity.    They’re not quite there yet, but severe and critical cases have increased significantly in the last three weeks, which is a concern,” said Dr Ayadil Saparbekov, head of the World Health Organization’s Health Emergencies Team in the Palestinian Territories.
    Gaza’s daily positivity rate reached as high as 43% this week, although Saparbekov said that number could be inflated because a shortage of tests meant they were mostly given to people already showing symptoms.
    Saparbekov also said Gaza does not have the capacity to identify highly infectious COVID-19 variants when testing, meaning there is little data on them.
    Graveyards are also feeling the strain.    In Gaza City, gravedigger Mohammad al-Haresh told Reuters he had been burying up to 10 COVID-19 victims per day, up from one or two a month ago.
    “Wartime was difficult, but the coronavirus has been much harder for us,” said Haresh, who dug graves throughout the 2014 Israel-Gaza war.
    “In war, we would dig graves or bury the dead during a truce or ceasefire.    With the coronavirus, there is no truce.”
    Densely populated and home to 2 million Palestinians, Gaza has for years had limited access to the outside world because of a blockade led by Israel and supported by Egypt.
    Both countries cite security concerns over Hamas, the Islamist militant group that controls the Gaza Strip, saying they want to stop money and weapons entering.
    Palestinians say the blockade amounts to collective punishment and that it has crippled Gaza’s economy and medical infrastructure, with shortages of critical supplies and equipment hampering their ability to tackle the pandemic.
    The situation in Gaza is a stark contrast to Israel, where a world-beating vaccination rollout has led to more than 53% of Israelis being fully vaccinated.
    Amid growing concern, Hamas will on Thursday begin a week of nightly curfews, shutting down mosques that host hundreds of worshippers for Ramadan evening prayers.
    But with around 49% of Gazans unemployed and parliamentary elections slated for May 22, Hamas has held back from more drastic measures that could further damage the economy.
    “We may impose additional measures, but we do not expect at this phase to go into a full lockdown,” Hamas spokesman Eyad Al-Bozom said.
    Health officials say the factors that led to the current spike include the flouting of guidelines for mask-wearing and social distancing and the opening in February of Gaza’s border with Egypt, which may have allowed in new variants.
    Suspicion of vaccines also runs deep.    A majority of Gazans – 54.2% – said they would not take the vaccine, against 30.5% who said they would and 15.3% who were undecided, according to an April 21 survey by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center.
    Just 34,287 people have been vaccinated, even though the enclave has received 109,600 doses since February donated by Russia, the United Arab Emirates and the global COVAX programme.
    “(The) reluctance of many, including medical staff, to be vaccinated remains a key concern,” the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in an April 12 report.
    One Palestinian eligible for Gaza’s initial round of vaccines, Qasem Abdul Ghafoor, said he decided to get the jab to protect himself and his family.
    “The situation here is horrific.    We took it lightly before, but I assure you, it should not be taken lightly,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Stephen Farrell and Mike Collett-White)

4/22/2021 Foreign Leaders Arrive For Chad Leader’s Funeral As Rebels Threaten Advance by Mahamat Ramadane and Madjiasra Nako
FILE PHOTO: The son of Chad's late president Idriss Deby, Mahamat Idriss Deby Itno (also known as Mahamat Kaka) and
Chadian army officers gather in the northeastern town of Kidal, Mali, February 7, 2013. REUTERS/Cheick Diouara/File Photo
    N’DJAMENA (Reuters) -Foreign leaders began to arrive in Chad on Thursday for the funeral of slain president Idriss Deby as France backed the country’s new military leaders in the face of threats from rebels to resume an offensive on the capital.
    The presidents of Guinea and Mali arrived in the capital N’Djamena, state television showed, despite warnings from the rebels that foreign leaders should not attend for security reasons.    French President Emmanuel Macron was also due to travel to Chad overnight for the funeral on Friday.
    A military council led by General Mahamat Idriss Deby took power after his father, who had ruled for 30 years and was a close ally of Western powers in the fight against Islamist militants, was killed in battle with the rebels on Monday.
    General Deby, 37, has said the army will hold democratic elections in 18 months, but opposition leaders have condemned his takeover as a coup d’etat and an army general said many officers were opposed to the transition plan. [nL1N2ME0UY]
    The Libya-based rebels, who are not linked to the Islamists, said on Wednesday they would end a brief ceasefire at midnight and were about 200-300 km (125-190 miles) from the capital.
    They could not be reached for comment on Thursday.    A Chadian military source told Reuters that as of mid-day there was no rebel activity.
    France, Chad’s former colonial ruler, defended the military takeover on Thursday, saying it was necessary for security amid “exceptional circumstances.”
    French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the military was justified in its actions as the speaker of parliament had declined to take charge.
    “Logically, it should be (speaker Haroun) Kabadi…but he refused because of the exceptional security reasons that were needed to ensure the stability of this country,” Le Drian told France 2 television.
    Deby, although criticised by human rights groups for his repressive rule over three decades, was a lynchpin in France’s security strategy in Africa.
    About 5,100 French troops are based across the region as part of international operations to fight Islamist militants and France has its main base in N’Djamena.
    Dissent within the military has raised concerns about stability in Chad.
    “Kaka (Mahamat Deby) only has partial support of the army.    He is young and, unlike his father, has never been a rebel,” said Jerome Tubiana, an analyst specialising on Chad.
    “Within the army, there’s indeed (at least) two groups.”
    Deby, 68, was killed on Monday on the frontline against fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), a group formed by dissident army officers in 2016 which says it is pro-democracy.
    The group warned foreign leaders invited to Deby’s funeral on Friday not to attend for their security.
    Ten African presidents and prime ministers including Guinea’s Alpha Conde, Mali’s Bah Ndaw and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Felix Tshisekedi were due to arrive on Thursday for the funeral, the government said.
    Despite the rebel threat, people went about their business as usual in N’Djamena on Thursday, with some saying they were frustrated and worried about the situation.
    “We are tired of war.    We have seen what is happpening in neighbouring countries like Libya, CAR, Nigeria and Niger.    Every time we find peace to construct the country, a band of discontented people sets us back,” said Issa Mahamat Oumar, a resident of N’Djamena.
    Neighbouring Nigeria reinforced security along its border to avoid a potential influx of Chadians refugees, its defence minister said.    Central African Republic’s army said it was on maximum alert to prevent armed groups from crossing the border.
    Even if FACT is not powerful enough to take on the new military council, the risk of instability is high, said a Western diplomat.
    “This rebel group on its own may not be enough of a threat to bring down the government. But other groups might exploit this moment,” said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Young Deby will probably have to strike some deals to get enough people behind the transition.”
(Additional reporting by David Lewis in Nairobi and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Nellie Peyton and Aaron Ross; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

4/24/2021 Biden Recognizes Armenian Genocide On 106th Anniversary by OAN Newsroom
WASHINGTON, DC – OCTOBER 03: Joe Biden spoke during the 19th Annual HRC National Dinner at Walter E. Washington
Convention Center on October 3, 2015 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Leigh Vogel/Getty Images)
    The White House formally recognized the massacre of Armenians by the Ottoman Empire as a genocide.
    In a statement on Saturday, Joe Biden said “the American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide 106 years ago.”
    The genocide began in 1915 through 1923, with an estimate of 1.5 million deaths.
    Biden went on to say “we honor their story, we do this not to cast blame, but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
    The Armenian prime minister responded, commending the U.S. for its commitment to protecting human rights and universal values.

4/26/2021 Turkey protests ‘genocide’ label by US by Zeynep Bilginsoy, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    ISTANBUL – Turkey’s foreign ministry has summoned the U.S. ambassador in Ankara to protest the U.S. decision to mark the deportation and killing of Armenians during the Ottoman Empire as “genocide.”
    Deputy Foreign Minister Sedat Onal met with David Satterfield late Saturday to express Ankara’s strong condemnation. “The statement does not have legal ground in terms of international law and has hurt the Turkish people, opening a wound that’s hard to fix in our relations,” the ministry said.
    On Saturday, U.S. President Joe Biden followed through on a campaign promise to recognize the events that began in 1915 and killed an estimated 1.5 million Ottoman Armenians as genocide.    The statement was carefully crafted to say the deportations, massacres and death marches took place in the Ottoman Empire.    “We see that pain.    We affirm the history.    We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated,” it said.
    The White House proclamation immediately prompted statements of condemnation from Turkish officials, although Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has yet to address the issue.
    Turkey rejects the use of the word, saying both Turks and Armenians were killed in the fighting, and has called for a joint history commission to investigate.    For years, American presidents have avoided using “genocide” to describe what Armenians call Meds Yeghern, or the Great Crime.

4/26/2021 Biden recognizes ‘genocide’ of 1.5 million Armenians - Declaration could strain US-Turkey relations by Deirdre Shesgreen, USA TODAY
    WASHINGTON – President Joe Biden formally recognized the systematic killing of 1.5 million Armenians by the Ottoman Empire from 1915 to 1923 as an act of “genocide,” a long-sought declaration among Armenian-Americans that could further strain U.S.-Turkey relations.
    “Beginning on April 24, 1915, with the arrest of Armenian intellectuals and community leaders in Constantinople by Ottoman authorities, one and a half million Armenians were deported, massacred, or marched to their deaths in a campaign of extermination,” Biden said in a statement on Saturday marking     Armenian Genocide Remembrance Day. He emphasized the need to recognize and remember such atrocities “so that the horrors of what happened are never lost to history.”
    “The American people honor all those Armenians who perished in the genocide that began 106 years ago today,” he said.    “We honor their story.    We see that pain.    We affirm the history.    We do this not to cast blame but to ensure that what happened is never repeated.”
    Biden promised during his campaign to label the killings a genocide.    But previous presidents have reneged on similar pledges amid fears it would jeopardize U.S.-Turkey relations.
    While largely symbolic, Biden’s declaration is significant because of the potential geopolitical fallout and because it resonates so deeply with the Armenian- American community.
    “President Biden’s affirmation of the Armenian Genocide marks a pivotal milestone in the arc of history in defense of human rights,” Bryan Ardouny, executive director of the Armenian Assembly of America, said in a statement Saturday.    Biden has ended “a century of denial,” he said, in a decision that “recommits the United States to the worldwide cause of genocide prevention.”
    The Armenian genocide began in 1915 during World War I as Turkish leaders began to murder and deport hundreds of thousands of Armenians from the Ottoman Empire.    Though the modern-day Turkish government has taken steps to address the atrocities, it has refused to recognize the scope of the killings and disputes it was a genocide.
    Rep. Adam Schiff, a Democrat whose California district is home to many Armenian-Americans, said he was heartened that Biden’s recognition came while “there are still some genocide survivors alive to witness it.”
    For years, Turkey had deployed an army of high-priced lobbyists to stop Washington from labeling the mass slaughter of Armenians a genocide.    In 2018, two of former President Barack Obama’s advisers said it was a mistake for his administration not to recognize the genocide.
    “Every year there was a reason not to,” Ben Rhodes, who was Obama’s deputy national security adviser, said during a podcast interview.    “Turkey was vital to some issue that we were dealing with, or there was some dialogue between Turkey and the Armenian government about the past.”
    Turkey’s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu, had said Biden would “harm ties” if he made the genocide declaration.    “Statements that have no legal binding will have no benefit, but they will harm ties,” Cavusoglu told the Turkish broadcaster Haberturk.    “If the United States wants to worsen ties, the decision is theirs.”
    That argument seems to have lost its punch.    The U.S.-Turkey alliance has deeply frayed in recent years, particularly after Turkey’s invasion of Syria in 2019.    Another flashpoint: Erdogan’s decision to move forward with Turkey’s decision to purchase a Russian missile system in the face of fierce objections from Washington.
    “Thanks to the hostility Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has engendered through his foreign policy and human rights abuses, there is little desire in Washington to defer to Turkish sensibilities on virtually anything,” said Alan Makovsky, a former State Department official and an expert on Turkey.
    Makovsky, now with the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, said Biden’s declaration will not have a major effect on U.S.-Turkey relations.
    “Turkey will raise a rhetorical fuss for a few days and perhaps delay acting on some routine requests from the U.S. military,” he said.    “But there are too many substantive problems on the U.S.-Turkish plate.”
    Biden spoke with Erdogan on Friday, the first conversation between the two heads of state.    The White House said Biden expressed “his interest in a constructive bilateral relationship” and “effective management of disagreements.”    The White House account did not mention the genocide question but said Biden and Erdogan agreed to meet on the margins of a NATO summit in June.
President Joe Biden spoke Friday to Turkish President Erdogan and expressed hope for a constructive relationship. AFP/GETTY IMAGES FILE PHOTO

4/29/2021 US Navy fires warning shots in Persian Gulf - Three Iranian Guard vessels came too close to patrol ship by Jon Gambrell, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – An American warship fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close to a patrol in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday.    It was the first such shooting in nearly four years.
    The Navy released black-and-white footage of the encounter Monday night in international waters of the northern reaches of the Persian Gulf near Kuwait, Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia.    In it, lights can be seen in the distance and what appears to be a single gunshot can be heard, with a tracer round racing across the top of the water.
    Iran did not immediately acknowledge the incident.
    The Navy said the Cyclone-class patrol ship USS Firebolt fired the warning shots after three fast-attack Guard vessels came within 68 yards of it and the U.S. Coast Guard patrol boat USCGC Baranoff.
    “The U.S. crews issued multiple warnings via bridge-to-bridge radio and loud-hailer devices, but the (Guard) vessels continued their close-range maneuvers,” said Cmdr. Rebecca Rebarich, a spokeswoman for the Mideast-based 5th Fleet.    “The crew of Firebolt then fired warning shots, and the (Guard) vessels moved away to a safe distance from the U.S. vessels.”
    She called on the Guard to “operate with due regard for the safety of all vessels as required by international law.”
    “U.S. naval forces continue to remain vigilant and are trained to act in a professional manner, while our commanding officers retain the inherent right to act in self-defense,” she said.
    The last time a Navy vessel fired warning shots in the Persian Gulf in an incident involving Iran was in July 2017, when the USS Thunderbolt, a sister ship to the Firebolt, fired to warn off a Guard vessel.    Regulations issued last year give Navy commanders the authority to take “lawful defensive measures” against vessels in the Mideast that come within 100 yards of their warships.
    While 100 yards may seem far to someone standing at a distance, it’s very close for large warships that have difficulty in turning quickly, like aircraft carriers.
    The incident Monday marked the second time the Navy accused the Guard of operating in an “unsafe and unprofessional” manner this month alone after tense encounters between the forces had dropped in recent years.
    Footage released Tuesday by the Navy showed a ship commanded by the Guard cut in front of the USCGC Monomoy, causing the Coast Guard vessel to come to an abrupt stop with its engine smoking on April 2.
    The Guard also did the same with another Coast Guard vessel, the USCGC Wrangell, Rebarich said.
    The interaction marked the first “unsafe and unprofessional” incident involving the Iranians since April 15, 2020, Rebarich said.    However, Iran had largely stopped such incidents in 2018 and nearly in the entirety of 2019, she said.
    In 2017, the Navy recorded 14 instances of what it describes as “unsafe and or unprofessional” interactions with Iranian forces.    It recorded 35 in 2016 and 23 in 2015.
The USS Firebolt fired warning shots when vessels of Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard came too close
to a patrol in the Persian Gulf, the U.S. Navy said Wednesday. SPC. CODY RICH/U.S. ARMY VIA AP, FILE

4/30/2021 State Dept. Says Multiple U.S. Citizens Killed In Stampede In Israel by OAN Newsroom
Ultra-Orthodox Jewish men take part in a funeral ceremony in Jerusalem for a victim of an overnight stampede during
a religious gathering in northern Israel, on April 30, 2021. – A massive stampede at a densely packed Jewish pilgrimage site
killed at least 44 people in Israel, blackening the country’s largest COVID-era gathering. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP via Getty Images)
    The State Department has said multiple U.S. citizens were killed in a stampede at a religious festival in Israel.
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised an investigation into the incident, which left at least 45 dead and 100 injured.    Despite warnings to maintain social distancing, large crowds gathered at the Jewish festival during the celebration Lag BaOmer at Mount Meron.
    According to reports, the stampede took place in the men’s section of the festival.
    “We will carry out a thorough, serious and in-depth investigation in order to ensure that such a disaster does not reoccur,” Netanyahu said.

4/30/2021 Medics Work To Identify The 45 Killed In Israeli Stampede by Rami Amichay, Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch
Medics and rescue workers attend to the Lag B'Omer event in Mount Meron, northern Israel, where fatalities were reported among the thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews gathered at the
tomb of a 2nd-century sage for annual commemorations that include all-night prayer and dance, at Mount Meron, Israel April 30, 2021 REUTERS/ Stringer
    MOUNT MERON, Israel (Reuters) -Medical teams worked on Friday to identify 45 people crushed to death in a stampede at a religious festival on the slopes of Israel’s Mount Meron, with children among the dead.
    Witnesses spoke of seeing a “pyramid” of people who were asphyxiated or trampled in a passageway around 3 metres (10 feet) wide at the crowded event in the Galilee.
    Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Jews had thronged to the tomb of 2nd-century sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai for the annual Lag B’Omer commemorations that include all-night prayer, mystical songs and dance.
    The festival was segregated by gender, and medics said the injuries and deaths were concentrated in the men’s section.
    Police asked family members of those who were still missing to provide pictures and personal information to help with the identification process.
    By late afternoon, the Health Ministry said 32 of the dead had been identified.    As sunset neared on Friday the process was halted for 24 hours in observance of the Jewish Sabbath, and would resume on Saturday evening.
    U.S. President Joe Biden spoke with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to offer condolences, and said the United States was working to confirm reports that Americans may have died or been injured.
    Netanyahu called the crush one of the “heaviest disasters” in Israeli history and promised a thorough investigation to ensure it did not happen again. The country will observe a day of mourning on Sunday.
    Crowds had packed the site in northern Israel despite warnings to maintain COVID-19 social distancing.
    Videos posted on social media in the minutes after the crush showed Ultra-Orthodox men clambering desperately through gaps in sheets of torn corrugated iron to escape the crush.
    People who stayed on the scene through the night questioned how the situation so quickly spiralled out of control, though there had been concern for years about safety risks at the annual event.
    “There was some kind of mess, police, screaming, a big mess, and after half an hour it looked like a scene of a suicide bombing attack, numerous people coming out from there on stretchers,” said 19-year-old festival-goer Hayim Cohen.
    “We were going to go inside for the dancing and stuff and all of a sudden we saw paramedics from (ambulance service) MDA running by, like mid-CPR on kids,” 36-year-old pilgrim Shlomo Katz told Reuters.
    An injured man lying on a hospital bed described how the crush began when a line of people in the front of the surging crowd simply collapsed.
    “A pyramid of one on top of another was formed. People were piling up one on top of the other.    I was in the second row.    The people in the first row – I saw people die in front of my eyes,” he told reporters.
    The Mount Meron tomb is considered to be one of the holiest sites in the Jewish world and is an annual pilgrimage site.    The event was one of the largest gatherings in Israel since the coronavirus pandemic began more than a year ago.
    The Justice Ministry said investigators would look into whether there had been any police misconduct connected to the tragedy.
    About a decade ago a government watchdog report found fault with the management of the festival premises, and a “systemic failure” in maintenance that could endanger visitors.    It was not immediately known what steps were taken to remedy the situation.
    A police spokesman said overall capacity at Mount Meron was similar to previous years but that this time bonfire areas were partitioned off as a COVID-19 precaution.    Israel media said that may have created unexpected choke-points on foot traffic.
    As rescue workers tried to extricate the casualties, police shut down the site and ordered revellers out.    The Transportation Ministry halted roadworks in the area to enable scores of ambulances and pilgrim buses to move unhindered.
    Private bonfires at Mount Meron were banned last year due to coronavirus restrictions.    But lockdown measures were eased this year amid Israel’s rapid vaccination programme that has seen more than half of the population fully vaccinated.
(Reporting by Rami Amichay in Mount Meron and Dan Williams and Ari Rabinovitch in JerusalemAdditional reporting by Stephen FarrellWriting by Dan Williams and Ari RabinovitchEditing by Mark Heinrich and Frances Kerry)

4/30/2021 Tunisia To Seek $4 Billion IMF Loan, PM Says by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall
Tunisian Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi speaks during an interview with Reuters in
Tunis, Tunisia April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia will seek a $4 billion loan programme from the International Monetary Fund in talks starting next week, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi told Reuters on Friday, saying politicians faced a “last opportunity” to save the economy.
    Mechichi said he expected talks to last about two months and had “confidence” Tunisia could secure financial support to help it through an economic crisis that has been aggravated by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    “All efforts must be unified in Tunisia because we consider that we have reached the last opportunity and we must use it to save the economy,” he said in an interview.
    He said he wanted a three-year loan programme and added that details of an agreement with powerful labour unions, seen as vital to unlock foreign funding, were still being finalised.
    The finance minister and central bank governor will visit the United States next week to start the negotiations, Mechichi said, and he will also go there when a deal is in place.
    He said Tunisia would rationalise rather than cut subsidies and said it was considering sales of minority stock it holds in some businesses to raise funds for investment in the most important publicly owned companies.
    The IMF has previously said Tunisia should target urgent reforms of state-owned enterprises, subsidies and the large public sector wage bill.
    Tunisia, which adopted democracy after its 2011 revolution, had suffered years of economic stagnation, declining public services and worse living standards even before the pandemic, causing widespread anger and frustration.    Protests took place across the country in January.
    The tourism sector, responsible for about a tenth of Tunisia’s economy, has been shattered by the pandemic and with a slow vaccine roll-out, the government recently introduced new restrictions on international travel.
    But Mechichi said this summer’s tourist season was not already lost, and that the government would develop protocols to ensure visitors’ safety.    He said Tunisia had not yet looked into vaccine passports, but might consider them.
    Mechichi has previously rejected another lockdown after the one imposed last spring, saying Tunisia cannot afford it.    His announcement this month that it would extend curfew hours met widespread opposition and he quickly softened the measures.
    He indicated in the interview, however, that he might be open to a new lockdown if required.    “If the situation pushes us to a radical decision we will take it,” he said.
    Though Tunisia has been feted by Western governments for its democratic transition, international lenders have pushed it to adopt painful economic reforms to reduce chronic fiscal deficits and a large sovereign debt.
    The powerful labour union, UGTT, has opposed some of the reforms sought by lenders and recently said it wanted the government to raise salaries even though Tunisia has one of the world’s largest public sector wage burdens.
    Efforts to agree a reform programme accepted by both unions and lenders have been hampered by years of political squabbling between the government, the elected president and a deeply fragmented parliament.
    “I am well aware that some reforms are unpopular … we will only strive to do what saves the economy from collapse,” Mechichi said.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Angus McDowall; Editing by Chris Reese, Kirsten Donovan and Catherine Evans)

4/30/2021 Palestinian Leader Delays Parliamentary And Presidential Elections, Blaming Israel by Rami Ayyub, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi
Hamas supporters take part in a protest against Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' decision to postpone
planned parliamentary elections, in the northern Gaza Strip April 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Friday postponed planned elections amid a dispute over voting in Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem and divisions in his Fatah party.
    Abbas, 85, issued a presidential decree postponing the May 22 parliamentary and July 31 presidential elections, the official news agency WAFA said.
    He blamed Israel for uncertainty about whether it would allow the elections to proceed in East Jerusalem as well as in the occupied West Bank and Gaza.
    “Facing this difficult situation, we decided to postpone,” Abbas said early Friday after an impassioned speech in which he declared: “Our people are excited for elections.    There is enthusiasm… but what about Jerusalem?    Where is Jerusalem?”
    But many Palestinians regarded the Jerusalem issue as an excuse to avoid elections that Fatah might well lose to its Islamist rivals Hamas, as it did in the last parliamentary ballot in 2006.
    The delay drew immediate criticism from opponents and from would-be voters – no Palestinian under 34 has taken part in national elections.
    It also came on the day that campaigning was due to begin – preparations were already well under way, with thousands of new voters and three dozen party lists registered.
    “As a young Palestinian citizen, I call for conducting elections, and I want my right to elect so I would see new faces, young faces, and see new political stances,” said Wael Deys, from Hebron.
    But the situation has changed since Abbas called the elections in January.
    He and his allies have been weakened by younger challengers from within his own party.    In March jailed Fatah leader Marwan Barghouti and Nasser Al-Qudwa – a nephew of the party’s late founder Yasser Arafat – announced a rival slate of candidates to run against Abbas’s lineup.
    Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh urged Abbas to defy Israel and go ahead with the polls.
    “In Hamas, we don’t want to turn the situation into an internal Palestinian struggle.    We want the language of dialogue, communication and dialogue to prevail among all Palestinians,” said Haniyeh.
    Hamas, which is regarded as a terrorist organisation by Israel and the United States, has controlled Gaza since shortly after the last elections, which triggered a civil war.
    Many saw the timing of the elections as Abbas’s bid to reset relations with Washington after the nadir of the Trump era, and as a long-overdue response to criticism of Abbas’s legitimacy.    He was elected in 2005 and has ruled by decree for more than a decade since his mandate expired.
    He had hinted at the delay for weeks by claiming that Israel had not agreed to permit East Jerusalem Palestinians to vote in the city.
    A spokesman for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said earlier this week that there had been no formal Israeli announcement on whether it would allow Palestinian voting in Jerusalem – as it did during the last elections in 2006 – and Israeli officials said on Thursday that there had been no change.
    After the postponement Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said he had decided to reinstate government staff who resigned from their posts in order to run for the election.
    But such measures are unlikely to stem the criticism.
    “The postponement of legislative elections is illegal.    It was made by a president who lost his legitimacy over a decade,” said Mohammad Dahlan, a former Palestinian security minister and a critic of Abbas.
    European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called the decision “deeply disappointing” and said a new election date “should be set without delay.”
    “The delay will cause a great disappointment among Palestinians, most of (whom) hoped it was time to end the divisions and bring about a change,” said Gaza analyst Talal Okal.    Analysts say that with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict low on Biden’s priority list, Washington prefers to avoid elections that could empower Hamas and anger Israel as U.S. officials press ahead on nuclear talks with Iran.
    Before the postponement State Department Spokesman Ned Price said: “The exercise of democratic elections is a matter for the Palestinian people and for the Palestinian leadership to determine.”
(Writing by Rami Ayyub and Stephen Farrell, additional reporting by Ismael Khader in Ramallah, Yosri al-Jammal in Hebron and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; editing by Richard Pullin and Mike Collett-White)

    This page created on 3/1/2021, and updated each month by 3/31/2021 and 4/30/2021.

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