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

    This file is attached to from “Beast That Came Out Of The Sea” - Chapter Eight by Jim A. Cornwell, Copyright © 1995, all rights reserved.
    This link will take you back to Astronomical Events To Appear Between 2014 Through 2017 A.D. or continue to King Of The South 2022 March-April


    So as 2020 has passed do we know who the "King of the South in 2020" is?
    The phrase “king of the South” is found in the Bible in only one location — Daniel 11, which is also the chapter containing the most detailed prophecy in the Bible.    The first mention of this ruler is found in verse 5, where we find that “the king of the South shall become strong” and that “His dominion shall be a great dominion.”    Who was this king?    Who will he be in the “time of the end” spoken of in verse 40?    To answer these questions, we need a little background information.    One of the first considerations is the setting of this prophecy.    Daniel received the message in “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia,” which was 537 or 536 B.C. according to The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (Daniel 10:1).    The prophecy of Daniel 11 begins with verses 2-4, which describe what would happen in the Persian and Greek Empires after Daniel was given this vision, and continues through “the time of the end” (verse 40).
    The Persian Empire refers to any of a series of imperial dynasties that were centred in Persia/Iran from the 6th century B.C. Achaemenid Empire era to the 20th century AD in the Qajar dynasty era.    Know that Ancient Persia is modern Iran.
    Achaemenid Empire (550–330 BC) also called the First Persian Empire, in Western Asia founded by Cyrus the Great.    It ranges from the Balkans and Eastern Europe proper in the west to the Indus Valley in the east, it was larger than any previous empire in history, incorporating various peoples of different origins and faiths, it is notable for its successful model of a centralised, bureaucratic administration (through satraps under the King of Kings), for building infrastructure such as road systems and a postal system, the use of an official language across its territories, and the development of civil services and a large professional army.    The empire's successes inspired similar systems in later empires.
    By the 7th century BC, the Persians had settled in the south-western portion of the Iranian Plateau in the region of Persis, which came to be their heartland.    From this region, Cyrus the Great advanced to defeat the Medes, Lydia, and the Neo-Babylonian Empire, establishing the Achaemenid Empire.    Alexander the Great, an avid admirer of Cyrus the Great, conquered most of the empire by 330 BC.    Upon Alexander's death, most of the empire's former territory came under the rule of the Ptolemaic Kingdom and Seleucid Empire, in addition to other minor territories which gained independence at that time.    The Iranian elites of the central plateau reclaimed power by the second century B.C. under the Parthian Empire.
    The Achaemenid Empire is noted in Western history as the antagonist of the Greek city-states during the Greco-Persian Wars and for the emancipation of the Jewish exiles in Babylon.    The historical mark of the empire went far beyond its territorial and military influences and included cultural, social, technological and religious influences as well.
    Despite the lasting conflict between the two states, many Athenians adopted Achaemenid customs in their daily lives in a reciprocal cultural exchange, some being employed by or allied to the Persian kings.    The impact of Cyrus's edict is mentioned in Judeo-Christian texts, and the empire was instrumental in the spread of Zoroastrianism as far east as China.    The empire also set the tone for the politics, heritage and history of Iran (also officially known as Persia).    The image below shows you the area for the "King of the South."
    So based on the above information I would acknowledge that the "King of the South" will come out of that area.
    As you may have noted that in 2019 I claimed that individual will be: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
    The reason was his image of the pentagram a Satanic symbol which is at the top of Erdogan’s Tek Devlet (One State) monument in Turkey, which is a pentagram, a satanic symbol, and believed in beheading, and Shriah Will Rise Again, religious education, Koranic courses, Arabic and Ottoman lessons, Islamization of all schools, sharia education and finally compulsory worship services in all schools
    Could Recep Tayyip Erdogan be the upcoming antichrist and may fit the description and then may not be the final antichrist.    The Bible tells us there are “many antichrists” (1 John 2:18); many believe there will be the single antichrist, and we are rapidly approaching the end of time as we know it, before the great tribulation begins.
    All of the antichrists have the same modus operandi (mode of operation).
    As Erdogan has tried to be a force in the South and has shown hints of hypocrisy along the way, and August 2014, he has steadily become dictatorial, and enacted laws to give him excessive powers.
    “And in his estate shall stand up a vile person, to whom they shall not give the honor of the kingdom, but he shall come in peaceably and obtain the kingdom by flatteriesDaniel 11:21.
    The Bible, in a number of instances, refers to the antichrist as the “Assyrian.”    A good part of Turkey was included in the Assyrian Empire, which also persecuted God’s people.
    “Therefore, thus saith the Lord God of hosts, Oh My people who dwell in Zion, be not afraid of the Assyrian; he shall smite you with a rod and shall lift up his staff against you, after the manner of Egypt.    For yet a little while and the indignation shall cease and My anger in their destructionIsaiah 10:24-25.
    “And this man shall be the peace, when the Assyrian shall come into our land and when he shall tread in our palaces; then shall we raise against him seven shepherds and eight principal menMicah 5:5.
    Erdogan announced, “The Al-Aqsa Mosque is the honor of 1.7 billion Muslims, not just Palestinians, and the Muslim world cannot wait to remain indifferent to the restrictions imposed on the Al-Aqsa Mosque,” which is situated on the historical Jewish Temple Mount.
    Erdogan’s real crimes are buying the Russian S-400 missile system for Turkey, refusing to accept US support for America’s Kurdish YPG allies and allowing Islamist fighters to pour over Turkey’s border into Syria along with a load of weapons, mortars and missiles.    Erdogan said Turkey will work with the Syrian people directly to help achieve peace in the war-torn country.    He went on to clarify this does not mean he is willing to work with the Syrian government.
    “Russia takes the necessary measures against a (possible) threat by Syrian regime in Idlib, and as Turkey, we are taking all kind of measures against radical groups in Idlib,” stated President Erdogan.    “We are also taking joint action with Russia if it is necessary.”    His remarks come almost a month after Turkish and Russian forces announced a demilitarized zone in the Idlib province.
    In December, President Donald Trump’s called Tayyip Erdogan that he was pulling U.S. troops from Syria has stunned Turkey and left it scrambling to respond to the changing battlefield on its southern border, and delivered a standard warning to the Turkish president over his plan to attack U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in northeast Syria, in the course of the conversation Trump reshaped U.S. policy in the Middle East, abandoning a quarter of Syrian territory and handing Ankara the job of finishing off Islamic State in Syria.
    The following image below is seen at so you can tell by the verses above who are the countries today.
    So lets see what will happen in 2022 regarding the King of the South:


1/1/2021 South Africa’s Anti-Apartheid Veteran Tutu To Be Laid To Rest In State Funeral by Wendell Roelf
People arrive at St. Georges Cathedral to pay respects to late Archbishop Desmond Tutu during
his lying in state, in Cape Town, South Africa, December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a hero of the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, will be laid to rest on Saturday in an official state funeral in St George’s Cathedral, Cape Town, where for years he preached against racial injustice.
    President Cyril Ramaphosa is expected to deliver the main eulogy for Tutu, whose death on Sunday aged 90 triggered an outpouring of tributes from around the world.
    Tutu, awarded the Nobel Peace prize in 1984 for his non-violent opposition to white minority rule, was known for his infectious laugh and easy-going manner but they belied a steely resolve to fight for the downtrodden during the darkest hours of apartheid and beyond into the 21st century.
    Widely revered across South Africa’s racial and cultural divides for his moral integrity, Tutu never stopped fighting for his vision of a “Rainbow Nation,” in which all races in post-apartheid South Africa could live in harmony.
    “Without forgiveness, there’s no future,” the charismatic cleric once said.
    Hundreds of well-wishers queued on Thursday and Friday to pay their last respects to Tutu as he lay in state at the cathedral in a simple, closed pine coffin with rope handles, in accordance with his wishes for a frugal funeral.
    As Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, Tutu turned St George’s into a refuge for anti-apartheid activists during the turbulent 1980s and 1990s when security forces brutally repressed the mass democratic movement.
    His body will be cremated in a private ceremony after Saturday’s requiem mass and will then be interred behind the pulpit from where he once denounced bigotry and racial tyranny.
    Church bells have tolled daily this week at St George’s in honour of the man often described as South Africa’s “moral compass.”    Many would refer to Tutu as “Tata” or father.
    “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid and seldom without humour, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless,” is how long-time friend and former president Nelson Mandela, who died in December 2013, described his friend.
(Editing by James Macharia Chege and Gareth Jones)

1/1/2022 Mali Proposes Five-Year Election Delay To West African Bloc
FILE PHOTO: Mali's Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation Abdoulaye Diop speaks during a meeting with
Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia November 11, 2021. Yuri Kochetkov/Pool via REUTERS
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mali’s interim authorities proposed to its West African neighbours that a transition back to democracy following a 2020 military coup be extended by five years, the foreign minister said in comments broadcast on Saturday.
    The transitional government initially agreed to hold presidential and legislative elections in February 2022, 18 months after Colonel Assimi Goita led the overthrow of President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita.
    It has made little progress since then, blaming disorganisation and a rash of Islamist violence.    A conference charged with recommending an election timetable said on Thursday the polls should be delayed by between six months and five years.
    Following a meeting with Ghana President Nana Akufo-Addo, the chair of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said he had proposed the upper bound of that interval.
    “What was retained was a duration of five years.    That’s the issue that was presented,” Diop said in comments broadcast by the state-run television network.    “But it’s a question of indicating that this period, it’s the maximum.”
    An ECOWAS spokesperson was not immediately available for comment.    The organisation is struggling to hold the line against military coups in a region that until recently appeared to have shed its reputation as Africa’s “coup belt.”
    Goita staged a second coup in May 2021 when he pushed aside the interim president that had taken over after Keita’s ouster and took the job himself.    Guinea’s military also overthrew President Alpha Conde in September.
    ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on Malian officials over election delays and promised more if Mali did not produce a plan for February elections by the end of 2021.
    Mali’s actions have also deepened tensions with former colonial power France, which has thousands of soldiers deployed across West Africa’s Sahel region to battle Islamist insurgents.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/2/2022 U.S. Cuts Off Ethiopia, Mali, Guinea From Africa Duty-Free Trade Program
FILE PHOTO: Tadele Abate, 37, weaves a fabric at the Sammy Ethiopia hand made garments, hand-woven
textiles and basketry factory in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, October 14, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Saturday cut Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea from access to a duty-free trade program, following through on President Joe Biden’s threat to do so over alleged human rights violations and recent coups.
    “The United States today terminated Ethiopia, Mali and Guinea from the AGOA trade preference program due to actions taken by each of their governments in violation of the AGOA Statute,” the U.S. Trade Representative’s office said in a statement.
    Biden said in November that Ethiopia would be cut off from the duty-free trading regime provided under the U.S. African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) due to alleged human rights violations in the Tigray region, while Mali and Guinea were targeted due to recent coups.
    The suspension of benefits threatens Ethiopia’s textile industry, which supplies global fashion brands, and the country’s nascent hopes of becoming a light manufacturing hub. It also piles more pressure on an economy reeling from the conflict, the coronavirus pandemic, and high inflation.
    “The Biden-Harris Administration is deeply concerned by the unconstitutional change in governments in both Guinea and Mali, and by the gross violations of internationally recognized human rights being perpetrated by the Government of Ethiopia and other parties amid the widening conflict in northern Ethiopia,” the USTR statement said.
    The AGOA trade legislation provides sub-Saharan African nations with duty-free access to the United States if they meet certain eligibility requirements, such as eliminating barriers to U.S. trade and investment and making progress toward political pluralism.
    “Each country has clear benchmarks for a pathway toward reinstatement and the Administration will work with their governments to achieve that objective,” it added.
    The Washington embassies of the three African countries did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Ethiopia’s Trade Ministry said it November it was “extremely disappointed” by Washington’s announcement, saying the move would reverse economic gains and unfairly impact and harm women and children.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom and Scott Malone; Editing by Scott Malone and Sandra Maler)

1/2/2022 Palestinian Rockets Explode Off Tel Aviv Coast, Military Says
Israeli fishermen stand by the shore of the Mediterranean Sea following rockets fired by Palestinian militants in Gaza, causing an
explosion off the shore of Tel Aviv, according to Israel's military, in Tel Aviv, Israel January 1, 2022. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Palestinian militants in Gaza fired two rockets toward the Mediterranean Sea on Saturday, causing an explosion off the shore of Tel Aviv and drawing Israeli strikes, Israel’s military said.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Gaza militants for the rocket firing or comment from Hamas, the Islamist armed group that rules the coastal Palestinian enclave.    Police said there were no casualties or damage caused by the early morning explosion.
    After dark fell, Israel’s military said it struck at “terrorist targets in the Gaza Strip.”
    Hamas Radio said some of the group’s security posts and a training camp were targeted by Israeli aircraft and tanks.    There were no immediate reports of casualties.
    Hamas has occasionally test-fired rockets, launching them toward the sea.    Hamas-affiliated Paltimes news website said, however, that the launch was probably caused by a malfunction.
    The Israel-Gaza frontier has been largely quiet since an 11-day war in May.    But on Wednesday, gunfire from Gaza that wounded an Israeli civilian drew tank fire from the Israeli military, wounding three Palestinians.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Neil Fullick, Peter Graff and Sandra Maler)

1/2/2022 Fire Erupts At South African Parliament Building In Cape Town by Nqobile Dludla and Wendell Roelf
FILE PHOTO: Flags fly outside Parliament in Cape Town, South Africa, February 13, 2018. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – A fire erupted at the South African parliament in Cape Town on Sunday, with media coverage showing flames coming from the roof of the building and a plume of smoke that could be seen from some miles away.
    It wasn’t immediately clear if anyone was in the building.
    The fire was on the third storey of the building and initial reports indicated that it started in the office space and spread towards a gym, said Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security.
    The roof area had caught alight and the National Assembly building was on fire too, Smith said.
    TV pictures showed emergency services at the scene.    Smith said that included six firefighting appliances and about 36 firefighters.
(Reporting by Nqobile Dludla in South Africa, Jahnavi Nidumolu in Bengaluru; Writing by Neil Fullick: Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/2/2022 Omicron Could Lead Israel To Herd Immunity, Health Official Says by Maayan Lubell
A medical worker prepares to give 62-year-old Moshe Geva Rosso a fourth dose of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) vaccine after Israel's Health Ministry approved a second booster for the immunocompromised,
at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel December 31, 2021. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel could reach herd immunity amid surging Omicron infections, its top health official said on Sunday, as the country approved the use of Merck & Co’s molnupiravir anti-viral pill for COVID-19 patients.
    The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused a wave of coronavirus cases across the globe.    Worldwide infections have hit a record high, with an average of just over one million cases detected each day between Dec. 24 and 30, according to Reuters data.
    Deaths, however, have not risen in kind, bringing hope the new variant is less lethal.
    Daily cases in Israel are expected to reach record highs in the coming three weeks.
    “The (infection) numbers will have to be very high in order to reach herd immunity,” Nachman Ash, director-general of the Health Ministry, told 103 FM Radio.    “This is possible but we don’t want to reach it by means of infections, we want it to happen as a result of many people vaccinating.”
    The head of the health ministry’s coronavirus task force, Salman Zarka, said herd immunity was far from guaranteed, because experience over the past two years showed that some COVID-19 patients who recovered were later reinfected.
    Herd immunity is the point at which a population is protected from a virus, either through vaccination or by people having developed antibodies by contracting the disease.
    Around 60% of Israel’s 9.4 million population are fully vaccinated – almost all with Pfizer /BioNTech’S vaccine – according to the Health Ministry, which means they have either received three doses or have had their second dose recently.
    But hundreds of thousands of those eligible for a third inoculation have so far not taken it. Watching severe morbidity closely, Ash is considering allowing a fourth vaccine dose for people over 60, following its approval last week for immune-compromised and elderly people in care homes.
    In a statement, the Health Ministry said it had authorised the use of the molnupiravir pill for COVID-19 patients over 18 years of age and signed a supply contract with Merck & Co for its supply, with the first shipment due soon.
    Molnupiravir was authorised by the United States last month for certain high-risk adult patients and has been shown to reduce hospitalisations and deaths by around 30% in a clinical trial.    In November, Britain became the first country in the world to approve molnupiravir.     Israel said last month it ordered 100,000 units of Pfizer’s Paxlovid anti-viral pill for people aged 12 and older at risk of serious disease.
    Around 1.3 million coronavirus cases have been documented in Israel since the start of the pandemic.    But between two to four million people may well be infected by the end of January when the Omicron wave could subside, according to Eran Segal, data scientist at the Weizmann Institute of Science and an adviser to the government.
    Over the past 10 days, daily infections have more than quadrupled.    Severe cases have also climbed but at a far lower rate, rising from about 80 to around 100.
    In Germany, the head of the country’s association of senior hospital doctors said that the Omicron variant could ease pressure on its health system if it turns out to produce milder illness, even though infections are rising.
(Writing by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Ari Rabinovitch and)

1/2/2022 Security Forces Fire Tear Gas At Protesters In Sudan - TV
FILE PHOTO: Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's
coup in Khartoum, Sudan December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Security forces fired tear gas at anti-military protesters in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, televised images showed, as demonstrators marched towards the presidential palace in the 12th round of major protests since a coup on Oct. 25.
    Internet and mobile services appeared to be disrupted in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Sunday ahead of planned protests against military rule, Reuters witnesses said.
    All bridges directly connecting to Khartoum were also closed, one Reuters witness said.
    Sunday’s protests come after six people died and hundreds were injured in nationwide demonstrations against military rule on Thursday.    The death toll since the security forces’ crackdown began in October is now 54, the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors said.
    The military took power in an Oct. 25 coup that ended a power-sharing deal with civilian political forces.    That deal, agreed in 2019, was supposed to pave the way for a transitional government and eventually elections following the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
    Protests against military rule have continued even after Abdallah Hamdok was reinstated as prime minister last month.
    The demonstrators have demanded the military play no role in government during a transition to free elections.
    Some people managed to post images on social media showing protests in several other cities, including Ad-Damazin and Port Sudan.
    Al Hadath TV quoted an adviser to military leader Abdel Fattah Al-Burhan as saying the military would not allow anyone to pull the country into chaos and that continued protests were a “physical, psychological, and mental drain on the country” and “would not achieve a political solution.”
    On recent occasions when communications have been disrupted, sources at telecoms companies have told Reuters that authorities demanded providers cut their services.    Officials could not immediately be reached for comment on Sunday.
    In a televised speech on Friday, Burhan said disputes over power and the loss of lives meant everyone “should use the voice of reason."
    “The only way to rule is by popular mandate through elections,” Burhan said.
    Sudan’s Sovereign Council, which Burhan leads, on Friday denounced the violence that accompanied Thursday’s protests, adding it had ordered authorities to take all legal and military measures to avoid a recurrence and “nobody will go unpunished.”
    Last week, the council reinstated powers of arrest and detention to the intelligence service.
(Reporting by Khartoum Bureau; editing by Mark Potter and Louise Heavens)

1/2/2022 Daily COVID Cases In Saudi Arabia Above 1,000, Continue To Climb In UAE
FILE PHOTO: A technician hangs N95 face masks to be sterilized with UVC light, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak,
at the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    (Reuters) – Daily coronavirus cases in Saudi Arabia have climbed above 1,000 for the first time since August, while daily infections in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) haven crossed the 2,500-level.
    Authorities in the two Gulf Arab states did not break down the cases by COVID-19 variant.    Both countries confirmed their first known case of the Omicron variant in early December.
    Saudi Arabia, the largest Gulf state with a population of around 30 million, on Sunday registered 1,024 new coronavirus infections and one death. Daily cases had fallen below 100 in September.
    Neighbouring UAE, a tourism and commercial hub now marking its peak tourism season and hosting a world fair, announced 2,600 new coronavirus cases and three deaths.
    Daily infections in the UAE rose above 2,000 on Dec. 29, after having fallen below 100 in October.
    The UAE said on Saturday it would ban non-vaccinated citizens from traveling abroad from Jan. 10 and that fully vaccinated citizens would also require a booster shot to be eligible to travel.
    The latest daily COVID figures are still below a peak of nearly 4,000 hit in the UAE last January when visitors flocked to the country, and a record of over 4,700 in Saudi Arabia in June 2020, according to Reuters data.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Mark Potter)

1/2/2022 Speaker Asks Tunisian President For News Of Arrested Ennahda Official
FILE PHOTO: Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, speaks to supporters during a rally
in opposition to President Kais Saied, in Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) – The speaker of Tunisia’s suspended parliament, Rached Ghannouchi, said he had asked President Kais Saied in a letter to reveal the whereabouts and condition of Ennahda party official Noureddine Bhairi, who was arrested on Friday.
    Members of the moderate Islamist party said Bhairi had been in poor health, and that they had received information that he had not been allowed to take his regular medication since his arrest.
    Pictures and videos published by Ennahda members and supporters on Facebook showed people gathering in front of the hospital in Bizerte, saying Bhairi had been taken there.
    The Interior Ministry has not confirmed Bhairi’s arrest, saying only that two unnamed people have been placed under house arrest to protect national security.
    No officials in Saied’s administration were immediately available to comment.
    Ennahda, which has accused Saied of a coup for suspending parliament in July and accumulating executive powers, said plainclothes agents had seized Bhairi on Friday morning.
    Since Saied’s intervention, several senior politicians and business leaders have been detained or prosecuted, many of them on charges of corruption or defamation.
    Rights groups have criticised some of those arrests and the use of military courts to hear cases.
    Saied has promised to uphold the rights and freedoms won in Tunisia’s 2011 revolution, which ushered in democracy and triggered “Arab Spring” uprisings across the region.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Writing by Ahmad Elhamy; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/2/2022 Russian Jets Bomb Rebel-Held Idlib In Syria, Witnesses Say by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
FILE PHOTO: An aerial view of Kafr Arouk camp for internally displaced after a heavy rainfall in Idlib, Syria
December 20, 2021. Picture taken with a drone on December 20, 2021. REUTERS/Khalil Ashawi/File Photo
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Russian jets bombed areas near the northwestern Syrian city of Idlib on Sunday, witnesses and rebel sources said, marking a new year flare-up for the last opposition-held bastion.
    War planes flying at high altitude, which tracking centres said were Russian Sukhoi jets, dropped bombs on several towns and a main water pumping station serving the overcrowded city of Idlib, whose wider population is more than a million.
    No immediate comment was available from Russia or the Syrian army, which says it targets the hideouts of militant groups who control the region but deny any attacks on civilians.
    An official at the city’s water utility service said it was out of action as a result of the strikes.
    A senior U.N. official who confirmed the water station was “badly damaged” in an air strike said such attacks worsened the humanitarian plight of millions of displaced Syrians.
    “Continued destruction of civilian infrastructure will only cause more suffering of civilians.    Attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure must stop,” U.N. deputy regional humanitarian coordinator Mark Cutts said in a tweet.
    Witnesses said the strikes in the last 24 hours in the rebel-held enclave also hit livestock and poultry farms close to the Bab al Hawa border crossing with Turkey.
    “The Russians are focusing on infrastructure and economic assets.    This is to add to the suffering of people,” Abu Hazem Idlibi, an official in the opposition administration, said.
    Other targets included villages in the Jabal al-Zawiya region in the southern part of Idlib province, with no immediate reports of casualties, residents and rescuers said.
    A series of raids after midnight on Saturday hit makeshift camps that house thousands of displaced families near Jisr al Shuqhur, west of Idlib with two children and a woman were killed and 10 civilians wounded, the civil defence service said.
    There has been a relative lull in air strikes since November after a renewed Russian-led campaign followed by Turkish army reinforcements inside the enclave raised the prospect of a wider resumption of violence.
    A deal brokered nearly two years ago between Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al Assad’s forces, and Turkey, which supports opposition groups, ended fighting that had displaced more than a million people within a few months.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Alexander Smith and Lisa Shumaker)

1/2/2022 Sudan’s Political Strife
FILE PHOTO: People march to the presidential palace, protesting against military rule following last
month's coup in Khartoum, Sudan December 19, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Sudan’s Abdalla Hamdok has resigned as prime minister after failing to nominate a government under a deal with military coup leaders.
    Below is a timeline of the country’s political upheavals:
    Dec 19, 2018 – Hundreds protest in the northern city of Atbara against soaring bread prices, and demonstrations spurred by a broader economic crisis quickly spread to Khartoum and other cities.    Security services respond with tear gas and gunfire.
    April 11, 2019 – The army overthrows Bashir, ending his three decades in power and detaining him.    Hundreds of thousands demonstrate to demand a handover to civilians.
    June 3, 2019 – Security forces raid a sit-in protest outside the defence ministry in Khartoum. Opposition-linked medics say more than 100 people were killed in the assault.
    Aug 17, 2019 – Civilian groups that backed the uprising sign a deal to share power with the military during a transitional period leading to elections.    Later in the month Abdalla Hamdok, an economist and former U.N. official, is appointed to head a government.
    Dec 14, 2019 – A court convicts Bashir on corruption charges and sentences him to two years of detention in a reform facility.
    March 9, 2020 – Prime Minister Hamdok survives an assassination attempt in Khartoum.
    Aug 31, 2020 – Transitional authorities strike a peace agreement with some rebel groups from the restive, western Darfur region and from the southern regions of South Kordofan and Blue Nile, but two key groups don’t join the deal.
    Oct 23, 2020 – Sudan joins other Arab states in agreeing to take steps to normalise ties with Israel in a U.S.-brokered deal.    Less than two months later, the United States removes Sudan from the list of countries that it considers sponsors of terrorism.
    June 30, 2021 – Sudan wins approval for relief on at least $56 billion in foreign debt after carrying out economic reforms under the supervision of the International Monetary Fund.
    Sept 21, 2021 – Amid unrest in eastern Sudan, transitional authorities say they have foiled an attempted coup blamed on Bashir loyalists and mutinous soldiers, setting off bitter recriminations between civilian and military factions.
    Oct 25, 2021 – Security forces detain Hamdok and several other top civilians in pre-dawn raids. Army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan announces that the civilian government and other transitional bodies have been dissolved.
    Nov 21, 2021 – After several mass rallies against the coup, military leaders and Hamdok announce a deal for his reinstatement as prime minister. Hamdok says he has returned to prevent further bloodshed and protect economic reforms.
    Jan 2, 2022 – Hamdok announces he is resigning after failing to name a government amid continuing anti-military protests.
(Editing by Sonya Hepinstall and Diane Craft)

1/3/2022 Israel’s Jerusalem Post Website Hacked On Soleimani Assassination Anniversary
A view of the Jerusalem Post website after it was hacked is shown in this
screen grab obtained January 3, 2022. The Jerusalem Post Website/via REUTERS
(Corrects site of Soleimani’s killing, paragraph 2)
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Israel’s Jerusalem Post newspaper said on Monday its website had been hacked, in what it said was an apparent threat to the country.
    Instead of displaying a main news page, the website showed an illustration that appeared to recall top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, who was assassinated in a U.S. drone strike in Iraq on this day in 2020.
    The illustration showed a bullet-shaped object shooting out of a red ring worn on a finger, an apparent reference to a distinctive ring Soleimani used to wear.
    The Jerusalem Post, an English-language daily, tweeted that it was working to resolve the issue.
    “We are aware of the apparent hacking of our website, alongside a direct threat (to) Israel,” it said.
    Its mobile app did not appear to be affected, and other major Israeli news websites were working normally.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan)

1/3/2022 Israel To Offer Fourth COVID Vaccine Shot To Over 60s, Medical Staff by Maayan Lubell
A medical worker prepares to give 62-year-old Moshe Geva Rosso a fourth dose of the coronavirus disease
(COVID-19) vaccine after Israel's Health Ministry approved a second booster for the immunocompromised,
at Sheba Medical Center in Ramat Gan, Israel December 31, 2021. REUTERS/Nir Elias
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday that Israel would offer a fourth dose of COVID-19 vaccine to people over 60 and to medical staff as it faces a surge in Omicron variant infections.
    Israel last week approved a fourth dose of the vaccine developed by Pfizer and BioNTech, a second booster, for people who are immune-compromised and the elderly living in care homes.
    “We now have a new layer of defence,” Bennett said in a televised news conference, adding that Israel’s top government medical official, whose approval is needed to expand the booster campaign, had signed off on the latest move.
    “Israel will once again be pioneering the global vaccination effort,” Bennett said.
    Earlier, the Health Ministry’s Director-General Nachman Ash said Israel could reach herd immunity as Omicron infections mounted and Merck & Co’s molnupiravir anti-viral pill was approved for use in COVID-19 patients over 18.
    Herd immunity is the point at which a population is protected from a virus, either through vaccination or by people having developed antibodies by contracting the disease.
    The highly transmissible Omicron variant has caused a wave of coronavirus cases, with worldwide infections hitting a record high, with an average of just over one million cases detected each day between Dec. 24 and 30, Reuters data showed.
    Deaths, however, have not risen to the same degree, raising hopes that the new variant is less lethal, a view Bennett also echoed in describing the second booster as largely a bid to prevent serious illness among the elderly.
    Daily cases in Israel are expected to reach record highs in the coming three weeks.    Bennett said that up to 50,000 people might soon be infected each day, while eligibility for testing could be tightened to help relieve long lines at testing stations.
    “The (infection) numbers will have to be very high in order to reach herd immunity,” Ash told 103 FM Radio earlier.    “This is possible but we don’t want to reach it by means of infections, we want it to happen as a result of many people vaccinating.”
    The head of the health ministry’s coronavirus task force, Salman Zarka, said herd immunity was far from guaranteed, because experience over the past two years showed that some COVID-19 patients who recovered were later reinfected.
    Israel’s health ministry says around 60% of its 9.4 million population are fully vaccinated, almost all with the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which means they have either received three doses or have recently had their second.
    But hundreds of thousands of those eligible for a third inoculation have so far not taken it.     Over the past 10 days, daily infections have more than quadrupled.    Severe cases have also climbed, but at a far lower rate, rising from about 80 to around 100.
(Editing by xxxxx)

1/3/2022 Sudan’s Hamdok Quits As Premier After Failing To Restore Civilian Government
FILE PHOTO: Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's
coup in Khartoum, Sudan December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok said on Sunday he was resigning, six weeks after returning to his post in a deal with military coup leaders he argued could save a transition toward democracy.
    Hamdok, who had failed to name a government as protests continued against the military takeover in October, said a roundtable discussion was needed to produce a new agreement for Sudan’s political transition.
    “I decided to give back the responsibility and announce my resignation as prime minister, and give a chance to another man or woman of this noble country to … help it pass through what’s left of the transitional period to a civilian democratic country,” Hamdok said in a televised address.
    The announcement throws Sudan’s political future even deeper into uncertainty, three years after an uprising that led to the overthrow of long-time leader Omar al-Bashir.
    An economist and former United Nations official widely respected by the international community, Hamdok became prime minister under a power-sharing agreement between the military and civilians following Bashir’s overthrow.
    Ousted and placed under house arrest by the military during a coup on Oct. 25, he was reinstated in November.
    But the deal for his return was denounced by many in the civilian coalition that had previously supported him and by protesters who continued to hold mass demonstrations against military rule.
    On Sunday Hamdok said he had tried in vain to forge a consensus between deeply divided factions that would have allowed for the completion of a peace process signed with some rebel groups in 2020, and the preparation of elections in 2023.
    “I have tried as far as I am able to spare our country the danger of slipping into disaster,” Hamdok said.    “Despite all that was done to bring about the desired and necessary agreement to fulfill our promise to the citizen of security, peace, justice and an end to bloodshed, this did not happen.”
    In the latest rallies on Sunday, hours before Hamdok’s speech, security forces fired tear gas at demonstrators in Khartoum as protesters marched toward the presidential palace.
    At least three people were killed, bringing to 57 the death toll in protests since the Oct. 25 coup, a doctors’ committee aligned with the protest movement said.    Six died and hundreds were injured in nationwide demonstrations on Thursday.
    The military has said it will allow peaceful protests, and will hold to account those found responsible for violence.
    Among the economic reforms Hamdok oversaw were the removal of costly fuel subsidies and a sharp devaluation of the currency.
    Those enabled Sudan to qualify for relief on at least $56 billion of foreign debt and a long-running economic crisis had shown signs of easing. The coup put the debt relief deal in doubt and froze extensive Western economic backing for Sudan.
    On his return as prime minister in November, Hamdok said he wanted to preserve the economic steps taken by the transitional government and halt bloodshed after rising numbers of casualties from the crackdown on protests.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdalla, Sarah El Safty, Nafisa Eltahir and Khartoum Bureau; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Kevin Liffey, Mark Porter and Daniel Wallis)

1/3/2022 Botswana’s President In Isolation After Testing Positive For COVID-19
Botswana's President Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi speaks during the 76th session of the United Nations
General Assembly at the U.N. headquarters in New York, U.S., September 23, 2021. Spencer Platt/Pool via REUTERS
    GABORONE (Reuters) – Botswana’s President Mokgweetsi Masisi is in mandatory self- isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 in routine testing, a government spokesperson said on Monday.
    “The president does not have any symptoms and will continue to receive close medical monitoring by his medical doctors,” John-Thomas Dipowe, acting permanent secretary for Government Communications, said in a statement.
    Vice President Slumber Tsogwane will assume the president’s responsibilities until further notice while Masisi is in isolation, Dipowe said.
    New coronavirus infections have risen sharply in the diamond-rich Southern African country since the detection of the Omicron variant late last year, to an average of 2,500 every three days from under 300 over the same period before Omicron.
    But health officials say hospitalisations have not spiked.
    Botswana has managed to fully vaccinate 71% of its eligible population of around 1.3 million people.
    Health officials said on Dec. 29 that Botswana would start to administer booster doses while the age limit for vaccination was reduced to 12 years from 18 years.
(Reporting by Brian Benza; Editing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo and Gareth Jones)

1/3/2022 South African Police Charge Man With Arson Over Damaging Blaze At Parliament
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters work after a fire broke out in the Parliament in
Cape Town, South Africa, January 2, 2022. Elmond Jiyane/GCIS/Handout via REUTERS
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – South African police said on Monday they had charged a man with arson over a fire that caused extensive damage to the national parliament building in Cape Town, as firefighters struggled to extinguish the last remains of the blaze.
    The fire broke out early on Sunday at the parliamentary complex, some of which dates back to 1884 and includes the National Assembly, or lower House of Parliament.
    It caused the collapse of the roof of a part of the complex housing the upper chamber, or National Council of Provinces (NCOP), on Sunday and gutted an entire floor, though there were no reports of anybody being hurt in the incident.
    A 49-year-old suspect arrested in connection with the blaze is expected to appear in court on Tuesday and will face charges of housebreaking and theft as well as arson, an elite police unit known as the Hawks said in a statement.
    “It is alleged that he gained entrance through the window in one of the offices,” Hawks spokesperson Nomthandazo Mbambo told eNCA television, adding that investigations were continuing into how the suspect had managed to evade security at the parliament.
    “There is a possibility of other charges being added as there was a security breach here,” Mbambo said.
    Jean-Pierre Smith, a Cape Town mayoral committee member responsible for safety and security, said firefighters were still dealing on Monday with “hotspots on the 4th floor of the National Assembly which is still smouldering.”
    “Lots of books and bookshelves (are) smouldering,” he said, adding that the interior of the National Assembly had been extensively destroyed by fire, water, heat and smoke.
    The National Assembly is situated in what is known as the New Wing, which suffered the worst damage in the blaze.    The fire was more quickly contained on Sunday in the Old Wing, parliamentary authorities said.
(Reporting by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo in Johannesburg; Editing by Gareth Jones)

1/3/2022 Houthis Seize ‘Hostile’ Vessel Off Yemen That Saudis Say Carried Medical Equipment
Military equipment is seen on a ship seized by Yemen's Houthi rebels off the Yemen's Red Sea coast in a frame grab
from video handed out by the Houthi's media center on January 3, 2022. Houthi Media Office/Handout via Reuters
    (Reuters) - The Iran-aligned Houthi movement that controls northern Yemen hijacked a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo vessel which it said was engaged in “hostile acts” but which the Saudis said was carrying hospital equipment.
    The ship was heading to the Saudi port of Jizan, just north of Yemen, from the Yemeni Red Sea island of Socotra when it was attacked just before midnight on Sunday, Saudi state news agency SPA reported, quoting coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Malki.
    Saudi Arabia is leading a military coalition that has been battling the Houthis for more than six years.    The alliance has accused the Houthis of attacking shipping in the Red Sea, one of the world’s busiest maritime lanes leading to the Suez Canal.
    The cargo ship was hijacked off the western Yemeni port of Hodeidah, the coalition said.
    The Houthis’ military spokesman, Yahya Sarea, confirmed seizure of the vessel which he said was carrying military equipment and engaged in “hostile acts targeting the security and stability of the Yemeni people.”    He added that the crew, “of different nationalities,” were still on board.
    In a press briefing broadcast on the group’s Masirah TV, Sarea shared photos and videos that he said they were of the seized ship showing armoured vehicles, weapons and ammunition. He added the vessel had been taken to the Houthi-controlled port of Salif, north of Hodeidah.
    SPA said the vessel was carrying equipment from a shuttered field hospital.
    The United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) said late on Sunday it had received reports of an attack on a vessel near Yemen’s port of Ras Isa, which lies slightly north of Hodeidah, and an investigation was under way.
    In an advisory issued at 2150 GMT, 0050 local time, UKMTO – part of Britain’s Royal Navy – advised mariners to exercise extreme caution in the area.
    It put the vessel’s position at approximately 23 nautical miles west of Ras Isa oil terminal in the Red Sea.
    The last attack near Ras Isa was in late 2019 when the Houthis briefly seized a Saudi-flagged ship and two South Korean vessels.
(Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Raya Jalabi; Editing by Jacqueline Wong, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)

1/3/2022 Turkey’s Erdogan Says He Will Visit Saudi Arabia In February
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses businesspeople during a meeting in Istanbul,
Turkey January 3, 2022. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Presidential Press Office/Handout via REUTERS
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday he will make a visit next month to Saudi Arabia, whose ties with Ankara have been strained in recent years.
    Asked about resolving issues in exports to Saudi Arabia as he left a trade event, Erdogan said he would travel to the Gulf state in February.
    “He is expecting me in February. He made a promise and I will make my visit to Saudi Arabia in February,” he said in a video posted on social media, without giving a name.
    Exports to Saudi Arabia have plunged in recent years due to the fraught ties between the countries. Turkey is now working to mend relations with regional powers, including the United Arab Emirates, as its economy grapples with a currency crash and soaring inflation.
    The Saudi government’s media office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Erdogan had sought a meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman during a visit to Qatar last month.    The meeting did not take place then, but people familiar with the plan said there could be one soon.
    Saudi Arabia imposed an unofficial boycott on Turkish imports in 2020, as political tensions over the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince, spilled into trade between the two regional powers.
    After Saudi agents killed Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October 2018, Erdogan had said that the order came from the “highest levels” of the Saudi government, although he did not name Prince Mohammed, who is Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler.
    A U.S. intelligence assessment released in February found that the crown prince approved the killing – a charge Saudi Arabia rejects.
    Saudi Arabia and Turkey have in recent months been working to mend ties after having been rivals for years over differences on regional issues and political Islam.
    Turkey’s overall exports rose 32.9% in 2021, while the trade deficit dropped to $45.9 billion, data showed on Monday.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Angus MacSwan)

1/3/2022 Drone Attack On US Base Foiled, Iraqi Security Sources Say
The remains of the wreckage of a drone are seen at Baghdad airport, Baghdad, Iraq,
January 3, 2022. Pictures obtained by a Coalition official/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Two armed drones were shot down on Monday as they approached an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. forces near Baghdad’s international airport, Iraqi security sources said, adding that nobody was hurt in the incident.
    The attack came as Iran and its allies in Iraq marked the second anniversary of the assassination of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
    Soleimani was killed in a drone strike near Baghdad airport ordered by then-U.S. president Donald Trump.
    Commenting on the attack, an official of the U.S.-led international military coalition said the base’s defence system had engaged “two fixed-wing suicide drones.    They were shot down without incident.”
    “This was a dangerous attack on a civilian airport,” the coalition official said in a brief statement.
    There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.    Armed groups that some Iraqi officials say are backed by Iran have claimed responsibility for similar incidents in the past.
    Footage provided by the coalition official showed what the official said was debris of two fixed-wing drones destroyed in the attack, with writing clearly visible on the wing of one drone reading “Soleimani’s revenge.”
    Soleimani, head of an elite overseas unit of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, was killed along with Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis on Jan. 3, 2020, in a U.S. drone strike on his convoy at Baghdad airport.
    Hundreds of supporters of Iran-backed militia groups gathered on Sunday at Baghdad airport to mark the anniversary of Soleimani’s death and to chant anti-American slogans.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed, writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Kevin Liffey and Gareth Jones)

1/3/2022 Hezbollah’s Criticism Of Saudi Not In Lebanon’s Interest – PM by Timour Azhari
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati gestures during a news conference on the latest developments in
the country, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon December 28, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati Monday said criticism of Saudi Arabia by the leader of Lebanon’s Iran-backed Hezbollah group did not serve the national interest or represent the country’s official stance.
    Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf Arab states withdrew ambassadors and expelled Lebanese envoys in October and November over what the kingdom later said was arch-foe Hezbollah’s dominance of the Lebanese state.
    In a speech, Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hasan Nasrallah accused Saudi Arabia’s king of terrorism on Monday.
    “King, the terrorist is the one who has exported … Daeshi ideology to the world, and it is you,” Nasrallah said, using an acronym for Islamic State, the hardline Islamist group that declared a caliphate straddling parts of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
    Mikati responded in a statement, distancing himself from the Hezbollah leader.
    “What … Nasrallah said about the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this evening does not represent the position of the Lebanese government and most Lebanese.    It is not in Lebanon’s interest to offend any Arab country, especially the Gulf states."
    “For God’s sake, have mercy on Lebanon and the Lebanese people and stop the hateful sectarian and political rhetoric.”

    Lebanese officials including President Michel Aoun, a Hezbollah ally, and Mikati have called for dialogue with Saudi Arabia to resolve the diplomatic crisis, which has piled onto an economic meltdown now in its third year.
    Saudi Arabia has called on Lebanon to end “terrorist Hebzollah’s” influence over the state.
    Mikati’s government contains several ministers backed by Hezbollah and its ally the Amal movement.
    Mikati formed a government in September with the aim of negotiating an International Monetary Fund (IMF) support programme and kickstarting economic recovery.
    But he has been unable to convene Cabinet since Oct. 12 amid demands by Hezbollah and Amal to limit the probe into the deadly August 2020 Beirut blast.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/4/2022 Israeli Military Helicopter Crashes Off Country’s Coast, Two Dead
Policemen speak with Israelis as they hold parts of a military helicopter at the shore after it crashed off the
coast of the Mediterranean near Haifa as local media said, Israel January 3, 2022. REUTERS/ Rami Shlush
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - An Israeli military helicopter crashed off the coast of northern Israel during a training flight late on Monday, killing two pilots, the military said.
    A third crew member, an aerial observer, was injured and evacuated to a hospital, the military said.
    The air force commanding officer opened an investigation into the crash and ordered a temporary discontinuation of training flights, as well as the use of the maritime Panther helicopter.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Himani Sarkar)

1/4/2022 Palestinian Prisoner Ends 141-Day Hunger Strike - Officials by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Relatives of Palestinian prisoner Hisham Abu Hawash, who is held by Israel, celebrate after he ended
his hunger strike, in Dura, in the Israeli occupied West Bank, January 4, 2022. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    GAZA (Reuters) – A Palestinian prisoner on Tuesday ended a hunger strike that lasted nearly five months after Israel agreed not to extend his detention, his family and Palestinian officials said, although Israeli officials did not confirm a deal had been made.
    Hisham Abu Hawash, 40, was arrested by Israel in October 2020 and began his hunger strike in protest of his detention without charge.
    An Israeli security official speaking on condition of anonymity described him as an operative of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad militant group and said he was “arrested for involvement in terrorist activity.”
    Abu Hawash was hospitalized in December.    The Islamic Jihad threatened to launch attacks against Israel if he died, raising concerns of renewed violence after an 11-day war in May between Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza.
    “We congratulate the free (man), Abu Hawash,” Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh posted on Twitter, “for gaining his freedom by force of his will.”
    Abu Hawash’s lawyer Jawad Boulos said Israel had agreed not to extend his detention beyond Feb. 26.    Egypt helped mediate the deal, Palestinian officials said. Dozens gathered outside Abu Hawash’s home in the occupied West Bank city of Hebron to celebrate.
    Abu Hawash accepted the terms, his family said.
    Spokespeople for Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the Shin Bet domestic security agency, the military and the Prisons Authority did not immediately comment.
    Abu Hawash is one of hundreds of Palestinians in Israeli “administrative detention,” in which suspects in militant activities can be held for up to 60 days without charge. That period can be extended if a court approves.
    Israel says such measures are required to prevent violence in cases where there is insufficient evidence to prosecute, or where going to court would risk exposing the identity of secret informants.
    The United Nations, European Union and rights groups have criticised the practice.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Additidonal reporting by Ali Sawafta in Ramallah; Editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/4/2022 U.S., Europeans Warn Sudan’s Military Against Excluding Civilians In Transition
FILE PHOTO: Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's
coup in Khartoum, Sudan December 30, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States, Norway, Britain and the EU warned Sudan’s military on Tuesday that they would not support a new prime minister unless a broad range of civilians are involved, threatening to withhold economic aid.
    A credible government and parliament were necessary for the renewal of economic assistance, a statement by the so-called Troika countries and the EU said.    They said they would look to accelerate efforts to hold those impeding the democratic process accountable if progress was not made.
    The warning follows the resignation two days ago of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, who had served from 2019 until an Oct. 25 coup and was reinstated on Nov. 21 in an agreement with the military widely rejected by protesters.
    “Sudan’s people have spoken as loudly and clearly as they did in 2019.    They reject authoritarian rule and want the transition toward democracy to continue.    Sudan’s leaders must now show they are listening,” the statement said.
    In his resignation speech, Hamdok said he had tried and failed to bring disparate forces together to agree on a path forward for the transition that began with the toppling of Omar al-Bashir in April 2019.
    The U.S., Norway, UK and EU called on the Sudanese to select new civilian leadership and work on the timing and process for remaining transitional tasks, including groundwork for elections and the legislative and judicial branches of government.
    “Unilateral action to appoint a new Prime Minister and Cabinet would undermine those institutions’ credibility and risks plunging the nation into conflict,” the statement read.
    They also said they would continue to hold military authorities responsible for human rights violations and that they expect security services and other armed groups to refrain from violence against peaceful protesters and civilians.
    Security forces fired tear gas on Tuesday to disperse large crowds demonstrating against military rule and the deaths of protesters in the capital Khartoum and neighboring cities, eyewitnesses told Reuters.
    The demonstrations, the 13th round of protests since the coup, were called by a local “resistance committee” in Khartoum’s twin city of Omdurman.    Some 57 people have been killed in protests against military rule since October, according to medics.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis and Eric Beech in Washington and Nafisa Eltahir in Khartoum; editing by Grant McCool)

1/4/2022 South African Inquiry Points To Systemic Corruption During Zuma Era by Alexander Winning
FILE PHOTO: Former South African President Jacob Zuma sits in court during his corruption trial in
Pietermaritzburg, South Africa, October 26, 2021. Jerome Delay/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – A South African corruption inquiry pointed to systemic graft during former President Jacob Zuma’s tenure in the first part of its report published on Tuesday, after more than three years of investigations involving more than 300 witnesses.
    The inquiry chaired by senior judge Raymond Zondo was established in 2018 to examine allegations of high-level graft during Zuma’s nine years in power from 2009, after scandals and sleaze had overshadowed South Africa’s politics for years.
    Zuma denies wrongdoing and has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, leading to his imprisonment in July for contempt of court. He was placed on medical parole in September before being ordered back to jail by the high court – a decision he is appealing.
    The allegations levelled against Zuma include that he allowed businessmen close to him – brothers Atul, Ajay and Rajesh Gupta – to plunder state resources and influence policy, in what is widely referred to in South Africa as “state capture
    The Guptas, who also deny wrongdoing, left South Africa after Zuma was ousted before the end of his second term by now-President Cyril Ramaphosa’s allies on the executive of the governing African National Congress party to which they both belong.
    The first instalment of the Zondo commission’s report focused on alleged corruption involving state airline South African Airways (SAA) and related entities, a media company controlled by the Guptas and the revenue service.
    On SAA, it said the airline declined into “an entity racked by corruption and fraud” while Zuma was in power.    Two former finance ministers told the inquiry that the SAA chairwoman at the time was retained because of the personal preferences of Zuma.
    “This is the antithesis of accountability. President Zuma fled the Commission because he knew there were questions that would be put to him which he would not have been able to answer,” the report said.
    Spokespeople for Zuma and SAA did not immediately answer phone calls seeking comment.
    The inquiry found the Guptas employed “a calculated strategy … to appropriate public funds from state-owned enterprises” and said the influence that they exerted over Zuma was “considerable.”
    It said the revenue service, SARS, was “systemically and deliberately weakened, chiefly through the restructuring of its institutional capacity, strategic appointments and dismissals of key individuals, and a pervasive culture of fear and bullying.”    It cited Zuma and a former SARS commissioner as playing critical roles in dismantling it.    SARS did not immediately respond to an e-mailed request for comment.
    Addressing public procurement broadly, the inquiry said there were patterns of abuse at every stage and that governance had collapsed at state companies.
    It recommended the government publish a national charter against corruption in public procurement, establish an independent anti-corruption agency, ensure protection for whistleblowers and that legislation on political party funding be amended.
    Two further parts of the report will be submitted to Ramaphosa by the end of February.
    At a ceremony at the Union Buildings, the seat of government, Ramaphosa promised a plan to implement the inquiry’s recommendations by the end of June after Zondo handed him the first part of the report.
    Ramaphosa has made tackling corruption a priority since taking over from Zuma, although some opposition politicians have criticised him for doing too little to stop the rot when he was Zuma’s deputy between May 2014 and February 2018.
    Zondo declined to comment on the report’s contents at Tuesday’s ceremony.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; Editing by Alison Williams and Alex Richardson)

1/4/2022 South Africa Parliament Blaze Contained; National Assembly ‘Completely Destroyed’ by Wendell Roelf
Zandile Christmas Mafe, a suspect accused of breaking into Parliament when the fire started, appears in
the Cape Town Magistrate Court, in Cape Town, South Africa, January 4, 2022. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Authorities said on Tuesday they had finally contained a suspected arson fire at South Africa’s parliament building after a second-day flare-up that completely destroyed the lower house National Assembly chamber.
    A 49-year-old man accused of setting the fire appeared in court to face five charges including arson and possession of an explosive device.    A lawyer for suspect Zandile Christmas Mafe said he denied the accusations and would plead not guilty.
    The National Assembly in the New Wing of the parliament complex was “completely destroyed from bottom right through to the top,” Cape Town City Chief Fire Officer Ian Schnetler told journalists.    “It is going to take a lot of rehabilitation to get that back to where it was.”
    In a statement, city officials said the fire had been brought under control at midnight.
    “Teams are now working their way through the maze-like building, room-for-room, as they attempt to locate and extinguish” hot spots, the statement said.
    “This is a lengthy process, as some rooms are needing to have their interior wooden cladding pulled apart, in order to identify any concealed hot spots.”
    The fire initially broke out on Sunday.    By Monday, authorities had withdrawn some fire trucks and said they were putting out embers, only for the flames to flare up again causing more extensive damage to the New Wing.
    The fire also caused the partial collapse of the roof of the Old Wing, which dates back to 1884 and houses the upper chamber, the National Council of Provinces.
    Magistrate Zamekile Mbalo ordered suspect Mafe, a resident of Cape Town’s largest township Khayelitsha, held in custody for seven days until Jan. 11 for a bail hearing.    Prosecutors said they would oppose bail.
    Eric Ntabazalila, spokesperson for the Western Cape Province’s National Prosecuting Authority, declined to say what kind of explosive device was found with Mafe.    Authorities have not disclosed any possible motive for setting the blaze.
    “My client denies and rejects these charges and therefore he is pleading not guilty and he will continue to plead not guilty,” Mafe’s lawyer Luvuyo Godla told journalists on the steps of Cape Town Magistrate’s court.
    Officials have said important sections of the complex were saved, including a museum with art works and heritage objects, and an embroidered tapestry telling the story of the Eastern Cape on the ground floor of the Old Assembly Building.
(Reporting by Wendell Roelf; Additional reporting and writing by Olivia Kumwenda-Mtambo; Editing by Robert Birsel and Michael Perry)

1/5/2022 Rocket Hits Military Base Near Baghdad Airport, No Casualties – Military
An unfired rocket found by the Iraqi Army is pictured after a Katyusha rocket hit an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. forces
near Baghdad's international airport, in Baghdad, Iraq January 5, 2022. Iraqi Media Security Cell/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) - A Katyusha rocket hit an Iraqi military base hosting U.S. forces near Baghdad’s international airport on Wednesday, Iraqi security and military sources said.
    An Iraqi military statement said it found a rocket launcher with one rocket in al-Jihad district in western Baghdad near the airport.
    The sources said that nobody was hurt in the incident.
    U.S. officials have warned in recent weeks they expected an uptick in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, in part because of the second anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
    While there were no immediate claims of responsibility for recent attacks, Iraqi militia groups aligned with Iran vowed to retaliate for killing Soleimani and Iraqi militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis.
    Wednesday’s attack is the second one this week targeting the base near Baghdad’s international airport after an attack by two drones was foiled on Monday.
    Two explosive-laden drones were also shot down on Tuesday by Iraq’s air defenses as they approached the Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces, west of Baghdad.
    Soleimani was killed on Jan. 3, 2020 in a drone strike near Baghdad airport ordered by then-U.S. president Donald Trump.
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that Trump must face trial for the killing or Tehran would take revenge.
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Jacqueline Wong and Tomasz Janowski)

1/5/2022 Doctors Say Lives Are Lost In Hospitals In Ethiopia’s Tigray Due To Dwindling Supplies, Blame Blockade by Katharine Houreld and Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: An infant who was injured in an air strike which killed dozens of people in the town
of Tagogon in Ethiopia's Tigray region, is treated by a member of the medical staff at the Ayder Referral
Hospital, in Mekelle, Ethiopia, June 23, 2021 in this handout picture obtained by REUTERS
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – In the largest hospital in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, a child wounded in an air strike bled to death after doctors ran out of gauze and intravenous fluids. A baby died because there were no fluids for dialysis.
    Doctors at the Ayder Referral Hospital in the regional capital Mekelle, which is under the control of Tigrayan forces fighting the central government, told Reuters by phone the lack of supplies is largely the result of a months-long government aid blockade on the northern region.
    “Signing death certificates has become our primary job,” the hospital said in a Tuesday presentation prepared for international aid agencies and shared with Reuters.
    Notes and documents in the presentation included case summaries, lists of missing drugs and medical supplies, and photographs of wounded and malnourished patients.    Reuters also interviewed three doctors, who asked not to be identified for fear of retribution by Ethiopian officials.
    The doctors identified 117 deaths and dozens of complications, including infections, amputations and kidney failure, which they said were linked to shortages of essential medicines and equipment.
    They did not provide dates for most of them.
    War erupted in November 2020 after relations nosedived between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the party that dominated national politics until Abiy’s appointment and controls most of the region.    The conflict has killed thousands of people and driven millions more from their homes.
    Government spokesman Legesse Tulu on Monday reiterated Ethiopia’s position that no blockade had been imposed.    He did not respond to questions about the shortages reported by Ayder.
    “What is happening in Tigray currently is the sole responsibility of TPLF,” Legesse told Reuters.
    He accused the TPLF of looting equipment and medicines at more than a dozen hospitals and 100 health centres when its forces invaded the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar last year before being pushed back in December.
    A TPLF spokesman declined to comment.    The TPLF has previously denied looting health facilities and blamed the government for shortages of humanitarian supplies.
    Ethiopia’s health minister also had no comment.
    Ethiopia’s health minister and a TPLF spokesman did not respond to requests for comment.    The TPLF has previously denied looting health facilities and blamed the government for shortages of humanitarian supplies.
    The United Nations first sounded the alarm about lack of access to Tigray in December 2020, when government forces took control of Mekelle after battling rebellious forces loyal to the TPLF for three weeks.
    Access for its trucks has ebbed and flowed since then but declined significantly after government forces withdrew from most of the region at the end of June, according to reports by U.N. humanitarian agency OCHA.
    Abiy’s government has repeatedly rejected accusations by the United Nations and other aid organizations that it is preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching Tigray.
    The government has restricted media access since July. Some aid agencies have been barred, and most communications to the region are down.
    Two international aid agencies reached by Reuters did not respond to requests for comment about the Tuesday presentation, which was issued on behalf of all of Ayder hospital’s staff.
    A senior doctor at Ayder told Reuters that about 80-90% of Tigray’s hospitals and clinics were not functioning.    The United Nations says more than 90% of the region’s 5.5 million people need humanitarian assistance and 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions.
    Some supplies reached Tigray’s main cities during the first eight months of the conflict, when the region was under government control.    But little food and almost no medical supplies have arrived since the government pulled back in late June, doctors said.
    They blamed what U.N. and U.S. officials have described as a de facto government blockade.    The United Nations estimates at least 100 trucks of aid must enter Tigray each day to keep up with needs. Less than 12% of that has arrived since July, OCHA said last week.
    There are three main routes into Tigray, but bridges along two of them were blown up as the Ethiopian military withdrew, OCHA reports said.    Convoys attempting to use the remaining land route, through Afar, have faced lengthy security checks and bureaucratic delays that can last weeks.    Authorities often do not allow fuel and medication to get through, according to OCHA reports.
    At the end of December, Afar authorities unloaded and distributed aid supplies from five of 20 trucks that had been waiting at the Afar border town of Abala for two weeks for clearance to enter Tigray, an OCHA report said.
    The World Food Programme told Reuters it would run out of food and fuel in Tigray by mid-January.
    Afar regional government spokesman Ahmed Koloyta did not respond to requests for comment.
    Government spokesman Legesse said trucks that entered Tigray had not returned and were being used by Tigrayan forces.
    Ayder has not received a resupply of medicine or equipment since June, the three doctors told Reuters. The 500-bed hospital is running out of everything from oxygen to antibiotics to therapeutic food for malnourished children, they said. Its scanners no longer work.
    The percentage of children under 5 admitted with severe malnutrition nearly doubled to over 41% in October.
    Three-month-old Surafeal Mearig weighed 3.4 kg at birth but is now 2.3 kg, hospital records show. A photograph shared by his parents shows his ribs protruding, eyes sunken in his skull.
    A paediatrician said the boy’s parents earned a good living before the war.    The father worked as a construction company cashier and his mother in a bank.    Neither is working now, according to the case notes.
    The mother’s milk has dried up and they cannot afford formula, the paediatrican said.    The hospital will run out of food soon.
    About 82% of essential drugs were available at the hospital a year ago, compared to 17.5% by the end of 2021, the documents state.    Among those that have run out – insulin, oxygen and most cancer drugs.
    A malnourished baby girl arrived from the town of Abi Adi with pneumonia and kidney disease, the notes show.    The hospital could not give her dialysis because it had run out of intravenous fluids.    She was one of 35 deaths recorded among dialysis patients since the war started.    The dialysis department said it was reusing equipment meant for one patient between five.
    One doctor described to Reuters seeing trauma patients succumb to deadly infections because most antibiotics had run out.    He recounted the case of an 8-year-old girl who arrived with a head wound on Dec. 12 after the emergency department had run out of gauze, gloves and pain medications.
    Staff first used their bare hands to try to staunch her bleeding, and finally scrounged some sutures from another department, but there were no intravenous fluids or blood supplies for a transfusion.    She died in her mother’s arms, case notes show.
    The girl’s mother told hospital staff she was injured in a government airstrike on Mekelle as she was watching cartoons at home, a doctor said in the notes.
    Reuters could not independently confirm the account.    Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane did not respond to requests for comment but has previously denied that the government is targeting civilians.
(Katharine Houreld reported from Nairobi and Giulia Paravicini from Milian; Dawit Endeshaw contributed reporting from Addis Ababa; editing by Alexandra Zavis, Angus MacSwan and Howard Goller)

1/5/2022 Drone Attack On U.S. Forces Foiled West Of Baghdad
The remains of the wreckage of a drone that was shot down are seen at Ain al-Asad air base
in Anbar province, Iraq January 4, 2022. Iraqi Media Security Cell/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) –
(This January 4 story corrects year when Soleimani was killed in 10th paragraph to 2020, not 2021)
    Two explosive-laden drones were shot down on Tuesday by Iraq’s air defenses as they approached the Ain al-Asad air base, which hosts U.S. forces, west of Baghdad, an official of the U.S.-led international military coalition said.
    U.S. officials in recent weeks had warned that they expected an uptick in attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria, in part because of the second anniversary of the killing of top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani.
    A similar attack was foiled on Monday, when Iraqi air defenses downed two drones as they approached a base hosting U.S. forces near Baghdad’s international airport.
    Separately, another coalition official told Reuters that the coalition had carried out strikes against an “imminent threat” after they saw several rocket launch sites near the Green Village in Syria.
    While this official did not say which country in the coalition carried out the strikes or who was responsible for the launch sites, Iranian-backed militia forces have occasionally targeted U.S. forces in both Iraq and Syria.
    In Washington, the Pentagon said the coalition strikes in Syria were not carried out by aircraft, but did not provide more details on the threat.
    “I’m not in a position now to get into specific attribution.    That said, we continue to see threats against our forces in Iraq and Syria by militia groups that are backed by Iran,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters.
    The United States is leading the international military coalition fighting Islamic State militants in Iraq and in Syria.
    There are roughly 900 U.S. troops in Syria and another 2,500 in Iraq.
    Soleimani was killed on Jan. 3, 2020, in a drone strike near Baghdad airport ordered by then-U.S. president Donald Trump.
    Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi said on Monday that Trump must face trial for the killing or Tehran would take revenge.
(Reporting Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Idrees Ali and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Maher Chmaytelli; Editing by Howard Goller and Rosalba O’Brien)

1/5/2022 China’s Foreign Minister Visits Kenya Amid Unease Over Rising Debt by Duncan Miriri
FILE PHOTO: China's Wang Yi, state councillor and foreign minister, waves as he leaves a
news conference in Tokyo, Japan, November 24, 2020. REUTERS/Issei Kato/Pool/File Photo
    NAIROBI (Reuters) - China’s foreign minister began a visit to Kenya on Wednesday, where the government has relied on Chinese loans to develop infrastructure but faces criticism over the resulting debt burden.
    The Kenyan foreign ministry described the visit by Wang Yi, who is also state councillor, as “historic.”    It said security, health, climate change and green technology transfer would be discussed and new bilateral agreements would be signed.
    Kenya is the second of three stops on Wang’s African tour, after Eritrea and before Comoros. Eritrea joined Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a long-term plan to fund and build infrastructure linking China to the rest of the world, in November.
    China has lent African countries billions of dollars as part of the BRI, including $5 billion for the construction of a modern railway from the Kenyan port of Mombasa.
    That model has been evolving, partly under the strain of the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic fallout and partly because of a backlash from African critics against rising debt levels.    China is shifting from hard infrastructure loans to efforts to boost trade.
    Among critics of Kenya’s reliance on Chinese funding is Kimani Ichung’wah, a ruling party lawmaker who has become a critic of the government.
    “It is a debt trap and they should start renegotiating,” he told Reuters before Wang’s visit, complaining that the interest rates on Chinese loans was exorbitant.
    Ichung’wah is backing William Ruto, estranged deputy to President Uhuru Kenyatta, to take over the presidency in an election scheduled for August, and said that if Ruto won his government would seek new terms for the loan repayments.
    Eritrea, one of the poorest and most isolated nations in the world, is involved in the conflict in Tigray in northern Ethiopia that has destabilised the Horn of Africa region.
    Lina Benabdallah, an expert on China-Africa relations at Wake Forest University in the United States, said Wang’s visit signalled Beijing’s interest in restoring stability to the Horn and in improving access to Africa via Eritrea’s Red Sea ports.
    Peter Kagwanja, a professor of international relations at the University of Nairobi, said the Comoros stop was also likely linked to trade interests. The Indian Ocean archipelago sits on the rim of a maritime trade route known in China as the Maritime Silk Road and considered strategically important by Beijing, he said.
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri, editing by Estelle Shirbon, Timothy Heritage and Angus MacSwan)

1/5/2022 COVID Testing Policy Put Under The Microscope As Omicron Sweeps World by Alistair Smout and Maayan Lubell
A girl is tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a drive-through site as Israel faces
a surge in Omicron variant infections in Jerusalem January 3, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    LONDON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Britain and Israel are overhauling their COVID-19 testing policies as governments seek to reduce the burden on laboratories and struggle with tight supplies of kits amid soaring infection rates fuelled by the Omicron variant.
    This time last year, vaccines offered hope that the pandemic could be over by now.    But Omicron has brought new challenges, including overloading public health systems, even if – as many scientists say – it leads to less severe illness than the earlier Delta variant.
    Demand for testing kits has squeezed supply.    Last week, queues formed outside pharmacies in Spain’s capital Madrid in what has become a common scene since Omicron began driving up infections.    Madrid, whose conservative government has put supporting the hospitality sector at the top of its agenda, is opting for increased testing and no restrictions on socialising.
    A surge in demand for tests has led to issues in Italy and Britain.    The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) said that 100,000 more PCR booking slots per day had been made available since mid-December and that capacity had been doubled to 900,000 PCR and LFD test kits a day.
    People in England who test positive for COVID-19 on rapid lateral flow device (LFD) tests will not need to confirm their results with a follow-up PCR test if they are not showing symptoms, the UKHSA said on Wednesday.
    A record-high one in 15 people had COVID-19 in England in the week ending Dec. 31, estimates published by the Office for National Statistics showed on Wednesday.
    “While cases of COVID continue to rise, this tried-and-tested approach means that LFDs can be used confidently to indicate COVID-19 infection without the need for PCR confirmation,” said agency Chief Executive Dr Jenny Harries.
    PCR tests are processed in a lab and can be used to determine which variant a person has, while a LFD can be used at home and gives an indication of infectivity within half an hour.
    Virologists and experts said the move was logical given the incredibly high infection rates as long as LFD supplies were sufficient as they identify the majority of people who are at their most infectious and need to isolate.
    “There is really no need to confirm (a positive LFD test) with a PCR, a step that not only wastes time but costs a lot of money and uses up laboratory resources that could be better used elsewhere,” said John Edmunds, a professor of mathematical modelling of infectious diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
    But the authorities will have less data about the spread of different variants as PCR swabs are used for genotyping and sequencing.
    Israel changed its quarantine and testing policy as part of efforts to save resources and ensure continued protection for vulnerable people.
    PCR tests will be earmarked for people aged 60 and over or with weak immune systems, while those at lower risk will be checked with rapid antigen tests, the health ministry said.
    “This is a significant change intended to identify risk populations sooner, intervene and prevent severe disease,” ministry director-general Nachman Ash told a news conference.
    Until now, those exposed to confirmed COVID-19 carriers have been required to take official tests.    If found to be positive, they must submit to police-enforced quarantine rules.
    The United States reported nearly a million new coronavirus infections on Monday, the highest daily tally of any country in the world and nearly double the previous U.S. peak set a week earlier.
    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Tuesday backed its week-old guidance for people seeking to end their COVID-19 isolation at five days, adding they could take a rapid antigen test if they want to and can access one, but it is not a requirement.
    The agency had been pressured by health experts to institute a test requirement after it cut in half its guidance last week for people to isolate after a COVID-19 infection to five days from 10.
    Spain, Portugal and Britain have also slashed the mandatory isolation period for people who test positive for COVID-19 amid fears that lengthy quarantines could paralyse economies.
    Ireland will drop its requirement for vaccinated arrivals to have proof of a negative COVID-19 test and return to seeking proof of vaccination or recent infection upon entry, Prime Minister Micheál Martin said.
    Nearly 294 million people have been reported to be infected by the coronavirus globally and more than 5.8 million have died, according to a Reuters tally.
    Infections have been reported in more than 210 countries and territories since the first cases were identified in central China in December 2019.
    A “supersonic” rise in French COVID-19 infections is set to continue in the coming days and there are no signs of the trend reversing, a government spokesman said on Wednesday.
    Interactive graphic tracking global spread of coronavirus: open in an external browser.
    Eikon users can click for a case tracker.
(Reporting by Reuters bureaux; Writing by Josephine Mason and Nick Macfie; Editing by Catherine Evans and Alexandra Hudson)

1/6/2022 Satterfield To Take Up Post As U.S. Special Envoy For Horn Of Africa
FILE PHOTO: U.S. Assistant Secretary for Near Eastern Affairs, Jeffrey Feltman, attends
a news conference in Benghazi August 20, 2011. REUTERS/Esam Al-Fetori/File Photo
    (Reuters) – U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman will step down from his post and David Satterfield, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role in coming days, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement.
    Reuters reported exclusively on Wednesday that Feltman, 62, would step down from his post this month after more than nine months in the job and would be replaced by Satterfield.
    Blinken said that the department intended for Feltman’s appointment as special envoy to be less than a year, adding that he would continue to serve in an advisory role.
    Satterfield, a veteran of the U.S. Foreign Service with more than four decades of experience, has had a challenging post as U.S. ambassador in Turkey, where he navigated a strained bilateral relationship between the two NATO allies.
    Turkey’s increasing drone exports, most recently to Ethiopia, will be a common thread in Satterfield’s old and new roles. Washington in December raised with Turkey its sales of armed drones to Ethiopia.    Sources said there was mounting evidence the government used the weapons against rebel fighters.
    “Ambassador Satterfield’s decades of diplomatic experience and work amidst some of the world’s most challenging conflicts will be instrumental in our continued effort to promote a peaceful and prosperous Horn of Africa and to advance U.S. interests in this strategic region,” Blinken said.
    Feltman, a veteran U.S. diplomat, assumed the post in April and quickly found himself in the middle of two major crises – Ethiopia’s deepening civil war between forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the army of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as well as a military coup in Sudan in October.
(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington and Kanishka Singh in Bengaluru, Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

1/6/2021 Jordan MPs Back Constitutional Reforms To Revitalise Politics by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Members of parliament attend a parliament session in Amman, Jordan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Jehad Shelbak
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Jordan’s parliament on Thursday approved government-backed constitutional reforms intended to revitalise the country’s stagnant political life, although some opposition deputies slammed the changes as incapable of strengthening democracy.
    The changes were approved by a majority of 104-8 after a marathon debate over the measures, originally proposed by a royal committee appointed by King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally and the ultimate decision maker in the country of 10 million.
    Independent politicians say the reforms are an attempt by the authorities to restore public trust in the state and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
    One of the most significant amendments paves the way for a prime minister to be chosen by the assembly’s largest single party, rather than one handpicked by the monarch, officials say.
    The demand has been a leading plank of a reformist agenda favoured by a mix of Islamist and tribal figures.    Other changes give political parties a bigger role, allow wider representation of women and lower the age for elected deputies to 25 years.
    “We are progressing in the plans to modernise the political system and pave the way towards party based governments,” Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh told the assembly.    The monarch launched the reform drive after a crisis shook the tribally based political establishment last April when former crown prince Hamza was accused of agitating against Abdullah, after he criticized the country’s leaders as corrupt.
    The confrontation exposed fault-lines within the kingdom, which in recent years has witnessed civil unrest triggered by a worsening economy and demands for wider political freedoms and an end to rampant corruption.
    Abdullah, who has ruled since 1990 and can dissolve parliament and appoint governments, has said in recent years he hoped one day to become a constitutional monarch.
    Liberal politicians say the monarch has been forced to opt for timid steps toward democracy, constrained by a conservative bureaucracy and a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political and economic benefits.
    Some lawmakers in the assembly, which is dominated by pro-government deputies and seen by many as a rubber stamp legislature, said the changes violated the constitution and the country’s decades old parliamentary system.
    “This is a coup against the (original) constitution and messing up with our parliamentary monarchical system and an encroachment on all powers,” Saleh al Armouti, who argued against the changes in the heated session.
(Reporting by Suleiman al Khalidi Additional reporting by Jehad Abu Shalbak and Hams Rabah, Editing by William Maclean)

1/6/2022 China Plans Peace Envoy For Conflict-Riven Horn Of Africa by Duncan Miriri
FILE PHOTO: The Chinese national flag is seen in Beijing, China April 29, 2020. REUTERS/Thomas Peter
    MOMBASA, Kenya (Reuters) -China said on Thursday it would appoint a special envoy to foster peace in the turbulent Horn of Africa and wanted to shift focus on the continent to trade over infrastructure.
    Foreign Minister Wang Yi made the comments in Kenya, which has been active in diplomatic efforts to halt war in Ethiopia since late 2020 between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s federal government.
    He also visited Eritrea, which borders the northern Tigray region and has been an ally of Abiy in a conflict that has killed thousands of people, uprooted hundreds of thousands, and spread hunger.
    “To share political consensus and to coordinate actions, China will appoint a special envoy of the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs for the Horn of Africa,” Wang told a news conference in the port city of Mombasa, via an interpreter.
    Horn of Africa nations should decide their own destiny and convene a peace conference, Wang added.    The region’s other major war is in Somalia where Islamist militants al Shabaab are battling a Western-backed government.
    China has traditionally been more focused on economic development and trade in Africa than politics and diplomacy, and Wang gave no further details of the envoy’s role.
    Beijing wants to help develop Eritrea’s Red Sea coastline, he added, without elaborating on that either.
    Eric Olander, managing editor of The China Africa Project website and podcast, saw the visit to Eritrea as strategic in China’s rivalry with the United States, which has imposed sanctions on Eritrea for its role in Tigray.
    “This is part of a big push to rally countries against the use of sanctions,” he said.    “I think they (China) feel they’re gaining momentum against the U.S.
    State Department spokesman Ned Price said Washington was aware of reports that China will appoint a special envoy, adding that the United States will work with all partners who share objectives in promoting peace and security in the region.
    U.S. Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman met Abiy on Thursday, Price told reporters.    He said Washington hopes any positive momentum can be quickly realized after the talks. [nS0N2T500Z]
    Feltman will step down from his post this month after more than nine months in the job, and David Satterfield, the outgoing U.S. ambassador to Turkey, will take up the role, Reuters reported on Wednesday.
    Chinese officials signed six agreements with Kenyan counterparts, including one allowing Kenyan farmers to export fresh avocados to China.    That will enable Kenya to narrow its considerable trade imbalance with China, said Rachel Omamo, Kenya’s foreign minister.
    Kenya will receive a donation of 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses from China, both sides said, part of 1 billion extra doses pledged to Africa by China late last year.
    China has been shifting from offering African nations hard infrastructure loans towards increasing trade.    “It is never about what China wants to do, it is about what Africa wants to do,” he said.
    The continent’s needs were expanding from the building of roads and railways, Wang said, citing the need for vaccines and export opportunities.
    Analysts have also attributed the slowdown in Chinese infrastructure lending in Africa to China’s own economic troubles and a commodity price crash that has complicated African debt servicing.
    China’s interests in the Horn include its naval base in Djibouti, overlooking a key global shipping route.    Beijing has granted large loans to landlocked Ethiopia, which relies on Djibouti’s port for trade.
    The region is also threatened by instability in South Sudan, where China has substantial oil investments, and spillover from Somalia that has brought deadly attacks in neighbouring Kenya.
    After Kenya, Wang was due to travel to Comoros, an Indian Ocean archipelago.    “They (China) see the Indian Ocean as a contested space, so it’s a priority,” Olander said.    “Wang simply going to a tiny country like Comoros is symbolic in itself.”
(Reporting by Duncan Miriri and Joe Bavier; Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington; Writing by Estelle Shirbon; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne and Andrew Heavens)

1/6/2022 Coalition Pushes Against Houthi Inroads In Yemen’s Marib And Shabwa
FILE PHOTO: An armed man walks at the site of a Saudi-led air strike
in Sanaa, Yemen December 24, 2021. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    ADEN (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition engaged in Yemen has retaken several areas in the energy-prducing provinces of Marib and Shabwa to repel advances by the Houthi movement in fierce fighting that has stymied United Nations-led peace efforts.
    Battles have intensified since the start of the year after the coalition sent reinforcements to Shabwa, where inroads by the Iran-aligned Houthi group had cut off access to the Saudi-backed government’s last northern stronghold in Marib.
    Marib, in central Yemen, has for over a year been the focus of the seven-year war.    The government holds the province’s main city and nearby oil and gas infrastructure.
    Pro-coalition Yemeni forces, including the UAE-backed Giants Brigade, restored control on parts of Assilan in Shabwa and are pushing towards Bayhan.    Dozens have been killed on both sides in the past week’s fighting, two military sources told Reuters.
    Pro-government fighters have also retaken some areas on the southern and western outskirts of Marib city, three other military and tribal sources said.
    Marib city is home to three million people, including nearly 1 million who fled other parts of Yemen after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in late 2014, prompting the coalition to intervene months later.
    Coalition warplanes have carried out intense air strikes in Yemen, including on Houthi military targets in the capital Sanaa.    The group meanwhile has kept up cross-border drone and missile attacks on Saudi cities.
    The conflict is largely seen in the region as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.    The Houthis say they are fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
(Reporting by Mohamed Ghobari; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

1/6/2022 Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian Gunman In West Bank Clash – Military
Mourners react as they attend the funeral of Palestinian gunman Baker Hashash, who was killed by Israeli forces
during a clash, in Nablus in the Israeli occupied West Bank, January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    NABLUS, West Bank (Reuters) -Israeli forces shot and killed a Palestinian gunman on Thursday during a clash in the occupied West Bank, the military and Palestinian officials said.
    The incident occurred in the Palestinian city of Nablus, which the military said soldiers had entered to detain a Palestinian, whom it did not identify.
    “Some Palestinian gunmen began firing at the soldiers, prompting them to respond and kill one of them,” a military spokesman wrote on Twitter.    “The wanted man was arrested.    There were no casualties among our forces.”
    The gunman was identified as Bakeer Hashash, a member of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah movement, the group said.    Activists distributed posters of Hashash clutching an M16 assault rifle.
    Abbas blamed Israel for the death.    “All sides must bear responsibility before the situation spirals out of control,” he said.
    Abbas’s security forces organised a military funeral march for Hashash in Nablus, attended by hundreds of Palestinians.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Ali Sawafta and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Kim Coghill, William Maclean)

1/7/2022 UN: Air Strike Kills Three In Eritrean Refugee Camp In Ethiopia
FILE PHOTO: A van drives within the Mai-Aini refugee camp near the Eritrean boarder
in the Tigrai region in Ethiopia, February 10 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    NAIROBI (Reuters) – An air strike hit a refugee camp in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region, killing three Eritrean refugees, including two children, the United Nations said on Thursday.
    The strike on Wednesday hit Mai Aini refugee camp near the southern Tigrayan town of Mai Tsebri, the United Nations said.
    “Three Eritrean refugees, two of them children, were killed,” the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) head Filippo Grandi said in a statement, adding that four other refugees were injured.
    The United Nations did not specify who carried out the strike but only the Ethiopian government has air power in the area.
    Government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and military spokesperson Getnet Adane did not immediately respond to requests for comment.    The government has previously denied targeting civilians.
    At least 146 people have been killed and 213 injured in air strikes in Tigray since Oct. 18, according to a document prepared by aid agencies and shared with Reuters.
    The document was based on evidence collected by regional aid workers as well as witness testimonies, according to two of its compilers.    It records 41 air strikes, with the deadliest being on Dec. 16 strike in the town of Alamata that killed 38 and wounded 86.
    It did not say how many of those killed were civilians and Reuters could not independently verify the figures.
    The 14-month-old war in northern Ethiopia between the federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who used to dominate Ethiopian politics, has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions.
    Last month, Tigrayans forces withdrew from neighbouring regions, which they had invaded in July.    Air strikes on the Tigray region have continued and the United Nations says no humanitarian aid is able to enter the region.
    About 150,000 Eritrean refugees live in Ethiopia and some have been targeted by belligerents on both sides of the conflict and cut off from aid for months at a time.
    A Reuters investigation in November revealed that Eritrean refugees had endured targeted killings, gang rapes and looting by both the TPLF and Eritrean forces, who entered the conflict on the side of the Ethiopian federal government.
(Reporting by Ayenat Mersie; editing by Katharine Houreld, Jason Neely and Angus MacSwan)

1/7/2022 Mauritania Grants Bail To Ailing Ex-President Amid Graft Probe
FILE PHOTO: Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz waits for the arrival of the French
President at Nouakchott airport, Mauritania, July 2, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via Reuters/File Photo
    NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) – Mauritanian authorities have released former President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz on bail for medical reasons, the justice ministry said on Friday, amid an investigation into allegations of high-level corruption during his time in office.
    Abdel Aziz, 65, who stepped down in 2019 after serving two five-year terms, was moved from house arrest to state custody in June. He has previously denied the corruption allegations.
    In late December he was admitted to a hospital in the capital Nouakchott for heart treatment and his family have called for his evacuation abroad.
    The justice ministry said the bail decision was based on a doctor’s report that Abdel Aziz needed a stress-free environment and a special diet.
    He will remain under judicial and medical supervision, it said in a statement.
    His lawyer Mohameden Ichidou welcomed the move as “a step forward which will allow us to continue to demand the release of an innocent man who is seriously ill.”
    Abdel Aziz came to power in Mauritania, a vast desert country of fewer than five million people, in a 2008 coup and was an important ally of Western powers fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region.
    He was replaced by a political ally, current president Mohamed Ould Ghazouani, but quickly found that his government’s actions, including deals on offshore oil projects, came under scrutiny by parliament.
    Former prime minister Ismail Ould Cheikh Sidiya and his entire government resigned amid the parliamentary investigation into the allegations last year.
(Reporting by Kissima Diagana; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; editing by Grant McCool)

1/7/2022 Ethiopian Government Says It Will Begin Dialogue With Political Opposition
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian students confront federal riot police outside Tegbareed Industrial
Technology College near Addis Ababa's Mexico Square June 7, 2005. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopian government said on Friday that it will begin dialogue with political opposition figures after announcing a list of prominent opposition leaders to be released from prison.     “The key to lasting peace is dialogue,” said the statement issued by the government communications office.    “One of the moral obligations of a victor is mercy.”
(Reporting by Dawit Endeshaw, Editing by Franklin Paul)

1/7/2022 Ethiopia Frees More Top Opposition Leaders From Prison
FILE PHOTO: Jawar Mohammed (L), an Oromo activist and a media mogul arrives at the
Lideta First Instance Court with Bekele Gerba, an Oromo Congress Federalist Party deputy President,
for their court hearing in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia July 16, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has freed two leading opposition figures from prison, state broadcaster EBC said on Friday, after the Balderas for Genuine Democracy opposition party announced the release of its leader Eskinder Nega.
    Jawar Mohammed, who also owns a media company, and Bekele Garba, were granted “amnesty” by the authorities, alongside several other political activists who were arrested and charged with various crimes in 2020, the     Ethiopia Broadcasting Corporation said in a tweet.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri, Eiting by Timothy Heritage)

1/8/2022 U.N. Launches Sudanese Talks Push To End Post-Coup Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Protesters march during a rally against military rule, following last month's
coup in Khartoum North, Sudan, January 6,2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – The United Nations said on Saturday it would invite Sudanese military leaders, political parties and other groups to take part in discussions aimed at ending a crisis unleashed by a coup in October.
    U.N. mediation in the weeks after the coup succeeded in reinstating Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok, but his resignation last week deepened uncertainty around Sudan’s political future and a transition towards elections scheduled for 2023.
    Neighbourhood-based resistance committees, political parties and other pro-democracy groups have carried out an ongoing campaign of protests under a “no negotiation” slogan, and crackdowns by security forces have left at least 60 dead.
    “All measures taken to date have not succeeded in restoring the course of this transformation,” U.N. Special Representative Volker Perthes said in a statement announcing the launch of the U.N.-facilitated dialogue initiative.
    “The … repeated violence against largely peaceful protesters has only served to deepen the mistrust among all political parties in Sudan,” he added.
    Sudan’s military, armed movements, political parties, civil society and resistance committees will be invited to participate, the U.N. statement said.
    Unless a new course towards a transition and credible elections can be charted, more instability within and beyond Sudanese borders is likely, analysts and diplomats have said
    The Quad group, comprising Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain and the United States, voiced backing for the U.N. effort.
    “We strongly support this UN-facilitated, Sudanese-led dialogue initiative,” a group statement said.    “We urge all Sudanese political actors to seize this opportunity to restore the country’s transition to civilian democracy.”
    Sudan’s main civilian opposition coalition, the Forces of Freedom and Change (FFC), said in a statement it welcomed “any international effort that contributes to achieving the goals of the Sudanese people in combating the coup and establishing a civil and democratic state.”
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Moaz Abd-Alaziz; Editing by Helen Popper)

1/8/2022 Saudi-Led Coalition Says Houthi Actions Turn Yemen Ports Into Legitimate Targets
FILE PHOTO: An oil tanker docks at the port of Hodeidah, Yemen October 17, 2019. REUTERS/Abduljabbar Zeyad
    CAIRO (Reuters) - The Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen believes the use by Houthi forces of two ports as military bases would turn them into legitimate military targets, coalition spokesman Brigadier General Turki al-Malki said on Saturday.
    The ports of Hodeidah and Salif are controlled by the Iran-aligned Houthi movement and the Saudi-led coalition has said the Houthis use them as launching points for military and marine operations.
    “We do not want to target the ports … We want to reach a comprehensive political solution,” al-Malki told a press conference, but added that if the Houthis use any civilian sites they forfeit immunity thus making the ports targets.
    In what appeared to be a denial of the coalition accusations, Houthi deputy foreign minister Hussein al-Ezzi said that a United Nations mission has been carrying out daily and weekly visits to the ports of Hodeidah province since the Stockholm agreement, the group’s Al-Masirah TV reported on Saturday after the coalition press conference.
    The Stockholm agreement was signed in 2018 between Yemen’s warring parties, aiming to keep the ports operational.
    Air and sea access to Houthi-held areas is controlled by the Saudi-led coalition, which intervened in Yemen in early 2015 after the movement ousted the internationally recognised government from the capital Sanaa.
    Houthi forces on Sunday hijacked a United Arab Emirates-flagged cargo vessel that they said was engaged in “hostile acts,” but which the military alliance led by Riyadh said was carrying hospital equipment, part of a struggle to assert control over imports into the country.
    Restrictions on the import of fuel and other goods into Yemen, where 16 million people don’t have enough food reliably available and millions are on the brink of famine, have been a key point of contention in the conflict.
    The Houthis said on Wednesday that the coalition had diverted to a Saudi port a fifth fuel vessel heading for Hodeidah.
(Reporting by Yomna Ehab and Ahmed TolbaWriting by Moataz MohamedEditing by Toby Chopra, David Holmes and Frances Kerry)

1/8/2022 Aid Workers Say Ethiopia Air Strike In Northwest Tigray Killed 56 People
A survivor of an air strike by Ethiopian government forces receives treatment at the Shire Shul General
hospital in the town of Dedebit, in northern region of Tigray, Ethiopia January 8, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - An air strike in Ethiopia’s Tigray region killed 56 people and injured 30, including children, in a camp for displaced people, two aid workers told Reuters on Saturday, citing local authorities and eyewitness accounts.
    Military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.    Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not respond to a request for comment.
    The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month conflict with rebellious Tigrayan forces.
    The spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that has been fighting the central government, Getachew Reda, said in a tweet that “Another callous drone attack by Abiy Ahmed in an IDP (Internally Displaced People) camp in Dedebit has claimed the lives of 56 innocent civilians so far.”
    The strike in the town of Dedebit, in the northwest of the region near the border with Eritrea, occurred late on Friday night, said the aid workers, who asked not to be named as they are not authorised to speak to the media.
    Earlier on Friday, the government had freed several opposition leaders from prison and said it would begin dialogue with political opponents in order to foster reconciliation.
    Both aid workers said the number of dead was confirmed by the local authorities. The aid workers sent Reuters pictures they said they had taken of the wounded in hospital, who included many children.
    One of the aid workers, who visited Shire Suhul General Hospital where the injured were brought for treatment, said the camp hosts many old women and children.
    “They told me the bombs came at midnight.    It was completely dark and they couldn’t escape,” the aid worker said.
    Ethiopian federal troops went to war with rebellious Tigrayan forces in November 2020.    Since the war erupted, Reuters has reported atrocities by all sides, which the parties to the fighting have denied.
    One of the aid workers said that one of the wounded in Friday’s strike, Asefa Gebrehaworia, 75, burst into tears as he recounted how his friend was killed.    He was being treated for injuries to his left leg and hand.
    Fighting had forced Asefa out of his home and now the air strike had destroyed the camp, where even though he was facing hunger at least he had shelter, he told the aid worker.    He had arrived in the camp for displaced people from the border town of Humera.
    Before the latest strike, at least 146 people have been killed and 213 injured in air strikes in Tigray since Oct. 18, according to a document prepared by aid agencies and shared with Reuters this week.
    In Friday’s reconciliation move, the government freed opposition leaders from several ethnic groups.    They included some leaders of the TPLF.
    The U.S. government said Abiy had outlined the steps he is taking towards national reconciliation to its outgoing special envoy for the region, Jeffrey Feltman, when he visited Ethiopia this week.
    “We welcome the release of prisoners as a positive move in that context,” said a spokesperson for the State Department.
    The European Union said that while the release of opposition leaders was a positive move, it was concerned by the ongoing conflict in Tigray, citing the latest air strike.
    “All parties must seize the moment to swiftly end the conflict and enter into dialogue,” the bloc said in a statement issued by its high representative for foreign affairs, Josep Borrell.
    The TPLF expressed scepticism about Abiy’s call for national reconciliation.
    “His daily routine of denying medication to helpless children and of sending drones targeting civilians flies in the face of his self-righteous claims,” its spokesman Getachew tweeted on Friday.
    The TPLF accuses federal authorities of imposing an aid blockade on the region, leading to hunger and shortages of essentials like fuel and medicines.    The government denies blocking the passage of aid convoys.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom, Additional reporting by Daphne Psaledakis in Washington, Writing by Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld; Editing by Frances Kerry and Helen Popper)

1/8/2022 South Africa Should Step Up COVID-19 Vaccinations, President Ramaphosa Says
FILE PHOTO: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addresses a press conference after the G20 Compact with
Africa conference at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany August 27, 2021. Tobias Schwarz/Pool via REUTERS
    JOHANNESBURG (Reuters) – South Africa should step up COVID-19 vaccinations, President Cyril Ramaphosa said on Saturday, urging members of his governing African National Congress (ANC) party to fight vaccine hesitancy in communities.
    Nearly 40% of South Africa’s adult population has been fully vaccinated, higher than in many other African countries but less than the government had hoped for by this stage. Late last year, the government deferred some vaccine deliveries as the pace of inoculations slowed.
    “We can do better as South Africans, so I therefore urge all of us who have not yet been vaccinated, let us go out in our great numbers (and get the vaccine),” Ramaphosa told an ANC anniversary event.
    “The recovery of our economy is very much dependent on many of us being vaccinated.”
    The ANC wants a policy on vaccine mandates to be finalised, Ramaphosa added.
    He had raised the possibility of vaccine mandates for certain places and activities in late November after local scientists alerted the world to the Omicron coronavirus variant, but that is yet to be implemented despite months of talks between the government, businesses and trade unions.
    “We now need to give our people an incentive to go and be vaccinated, because that is the only defence and shield that we have,” he said.
    The president, who contracted COVID-19 in December, said he had gone through “quite a lot of health difficulties” after testing positive but being vaccinated helped him stay out of hospital.
    The ANC’s priorities for 2022 include addressing unemployment and poverty, restoring the party’s credibility and intensifying the fight against corruption, Ramaphosa continued.
    A series of sleaze and corruption scandals under his predecessor, former president Jacob Zuma, tarnished the reputation of Africa’s oldest liberation movement.
    Ramaphosa has made tackling graft a priority since taking over from Zuma as head of state in February 2018, although some opposition politicians have criticised him for doing too little to stop the rot when he was Zuma’s deputy.
    The ANC is due to hold a leadership contest at the end of this year at which Ramaphosa is expected to seek re-election.
(Reporting by Alexander Winning; editing by Clelia Oziel)

1/9/2022 About 200 Dead In Attacks In Northwest Nigeria, Residents Say
FILE PHOTO: Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari speaks during the 75th anniversary celebrations
of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) at UNESCO
headquarters in Paris, France, November 12, 2021. Julien de Rosa/ Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    MAIDUGURI, Nigeria (Reuters) - An estimated 200 people or more have been killed in villages in the northwestern Nigerian state of Zamfara during deadly reprisal attacks by armed bandits following military air strikes on their hideouts this week, residents said on Saturday.
    Residents gained access to the villages on Saturday after the military captured the communities to organise mass burials, they told Reuters.    The state government said 58 people had been killed during the attacks.
    Ummaru Makeri, a resident who lost his wife and three children during the attack, said around 154 people had been buried including several vigilantes who were killed.    Residents said the total death toll was at least 200.
    Reuters reported on Friday that at least 30 people had been killed in the Anka local government area in Zamfara, when more than 300 armed bandits on motorbikes stormed eight villages and started shooting sporadically on Tuesday.
    The military said it had conducted air strikes in the early hours of Monday on targets in the Gusami forest and west Tsamre village in Zamfara state, killing more than 100 bandits including two of their leaders, following intelligence reports.
    One resident who declined to be identified told Reuters the attacks on the villages could be linked to the military strikes.
    There have been a series of attacks in northwest Nigeria, which has seen a sharp rise in mass abductions and other violent crimes since late 2020 as the government struggles to maintain law and order.
    In a separate incident, 30 students abducted from their college in the northwestern Nigerian state of Kebbi were freed on Saturday, a spokesman for the Kebbi governor said, without providing details.
    President Muhammadu Buhari said in a statement on Saturday the military had acquired more equipment to track down and eliminate criminal gangs that have been subjecting people to a reign of terror, including through the illegal imposition of taxes on communities under siege.
    “The latest attacks on innocent people by the bandits is an act of desperation by mass murderers, now under relentless pressure from our military forces,” Buhari said.
    Buhari added that the government would not relent in its military operations to get rid of the bandits.
(Reporting by Maiduguri newsroom; Additional reporting by Camillus Eboh and Felix Onuah in Abuja; Writing by Chijioke Ohuocha; Editing by David Holmes and Paul Simao)

1/9/2022 Egypt Frees Activist Ramy Shaath After He Renounces Nationality, Family Says
Egyptian-Palestinian rights activist Ramy Shaath is seen in this undated handout photo
obtained by Reuters on January 8, 2022. Free Ramy Shaath Campaign/Handout via REUTERS
    CAIRO (Reuters) -Egyptian authorities have freed Egyptian-Palestinian rights activist Ramy Shaath from more than 900 days of detention after forcing him to renounce his Egyptian nationality, his family said in a statement on Saturday.
    The statement said Shaath, who was a member of several secular political groups in Egypt and a co-founder of Egypt’s pro-Palestinian BDS movement, was released on the evening of Jan. 6 and handed to a representative of the Palestinian Authority in Cairo before being flown to Jordan.
    Shaath flew from Jordan to France on Saturday. Shaath’s French wife Celine Lebrun Shaath, who was deported from Egypt following his arrest, had lobbied the French government to pressure Egypt to release him.
    Later on Saturday, Ramy Kamel, a prominent Coptic Christian activist detained in Egypt since November 2019 on charges including joining a terrorist group and spreading false news, was also released following a decision by the public prosecutor, a judicial and a security source said.
    There was no immediate comment from Egyptian authorities on the releases.
    A statement from Shaath’s family said: “If we are glad that the Egyptian authorities heard our call for freedom, we regret that they forced Ramy to renounce his Egyptian citizenship as a precondition for his release that should have been unconditional.”
    Shaath was arrested in Egypt in June 2019 and held in pre-trial detention alongside other activists on accusations of aiding a terrorist group.
    His detention came amid a continuing crackdown on political dissent under Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi that has swept up liberal critics as well as Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood whose ouster Sisi led in 2013.
    Sisi and his supporters have said that there are no political prisoners in Egypt, and that security measures were necessary to stabilise the country after a 2011 uprising.
    In a statement last month, several NGOs questioned President Emmanuel Macron on the fate of Shaath, a year after the French leader said he had brought up his case with Sisi.
    However, Macron made it clear at the time that human rights would not be a condition for economic and military ties with Cairo.
    France said in May it would deliver 30 Rafale warplanes to Egypt from 2024 in a 4 billion euro ($4.8 billion) deal, as it strengthened its military partnership with Cairo.
(Reporting by Aidan Lewis and Haithem AhmedEditing by Frances Kerry and Paul Simao)

1/9/2022 Sudanese Security Forces Fire Teargas At Anti-Coup Protesters – Witnesses by Nafisa Eltahir
A Sudan flag is being flown as protesters march during a rally against the military rule, following
last month's coup in Khartoum, Sudan, January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Sudanese security forces fired teargas at activists protesting in their thousands against the country’s military rulers on Sunday, according to three witnesses in major cities.
    Thousands of demonstrators marched from Omdurman to Bahri, two cities adjoining the capital Khartoum, chanting slogans denouncing military leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, who took power in a coup on Oct. 25 that upended a transitional power-sharing deal with civilians.
    Separate protests were held in Khartoum and cities in other regions of Sudan.    One witness in Khartoum and one in Bahri said security forces also threw stun grenades at protesters.
    One man was killed after being hit in the neck by a teargas canister, said a Sudanese doctors association aligned with the protest movement, though it did not specify where the death took place.
    That brought the number of civilians killed by security forces to 62 since the coup, according to the doctors, who have also accused the military of repeatedly raiding medical facilities treating injured protesters and attacking staff.
    A police spokesman contacted by Reuters for comment about the reports of violence said a statement from security forces was expected, declining to comment further.
    The military has justified the coup as a “correction” needed to stabilise the transition to elections from a power-sharing arrangement the military and civilians struck following the toppling of former President Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
    It has said that peaceful protests are permitted and that those responsible for causing casualties will be held to account.
    Omdurman has recently seen more violence than other areas because authorities have moved to suppress frequent rallies against the coup, said Sahar, a young woman protesting there who declined to give her full name.
    “In the last few demonstrations there’s been a lot of violence: teargas, stun grenades, gunfire, people being run over, and we saw women being targeted,” she said.
    On Saturday, a member of the military-appointed ruling council who had threatened to resign over violence against protesters chaired a meeting of the Khartoum state security committee, state news agency SUNA reported.
    The committee expressed regret over attacks on health facilities and pledged to protect them, SUNA said.
    The United Nations said on Saturday that it would invite military leaders, political parties and other groups to take part in talks aimed at resolving the crisis.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Pravin Char)

1/9/2022 Jerusalem Church Leader Says Israeli Extremists Threaten Christian Presence In City by Stephen Farrell
Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III arrives at the Church of the Nativity
to celebrate Christmas according to the Eastern Orthodox calendar, in Bethlehem in the Israeli
occupied West Bank, January 6, 2022. Picture taken January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Mussa Qawasma
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – The Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem has accused radical Israeli groups of threatening the presence of Christians in the holy city, in remarks that Israeli officials rejected as baseless.
    In a column in the Times of London on Saturday, His Beatitude, Theophilos III, said he believed the aim was to drive the Christian community from Jerusalem’s Old City, which has sites sacred to Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
    Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City, along with the West Bank and Gaza Strip in a 1967 war.    It annexed East Jerusalem after the war in a move that has not won international recognition.
    “Our presence in Jerusalem is under threat,” the patriarch wrote in the article, published a day after the Greek Orthodox celebration of Christmas.
    “Our churches are threatened by Israeli radical fringe groups.    At the hands of these Zionist extremists the Christian community in Jerusalem is suffering greatly, he said.
    “Our brothers and sisters are the victims of hate crimes.    Our churches are regularly desecrated and vandalised.    Our clergy are subject to frequent intimidation.”
    By singling out extremists as Israeli, Theophilos’s criticism was more personal and trenchant than that of a collective statement issued by the heads of other churches in Jerusalem before Christmas.
    Their statement spoke of “frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups” but stopped short of identifying them as Israeli.
    A U.S. State Department report published last year on religious freedom around the world said Christian clergy and pilgrims continued to report instances of ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem harassing or spitting on them.
    Church groups have for some time reported attacks of vandalism at religious sites in the city.    Theophilos did not accuse any radical groups by name or cite specific incidents.    He did not provide evidence that they were Israeli, or that their goal was to drive Christians from the city.
    On Sunday, an Israeli official said the reality on the ground for Christians was completely different from that described by the patriarch, citing a Foreign Ministry statement on Dec 22 that rebutted the earlier church leaders’ claims.
    “Since the day it was established, the State of Israel has been committed to freedom of religion and worship for all religions, as well to ensuring the freedom of access to holy sites,” the ministry statement said.
    “The statement by Church leaders in Jerusalem is particularly infuriating given their silence on the plight of many Christian communities in the Middle East suffering from discrimination and persecution.”
    In his column, Theophilos said the radicals that he criticised “are not representative of the state of Israel or the Jewish people,” and called on Jerusalem to remain a diverse “mosaic community” of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
(This story corrects to add dropped word in headline.)
(Reporting by Stephen Farrell; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel)

1/9/2022 West African Bloc Imposes Economic Sanctions On Mali Over Election Delay
Leaders from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) attend an extraordinary summit to discuss a proposal
by transitional authorities in Mali to delay elections and a return of the constitutional rule in Accra, Ghana
January 9, 2022. Ange Servais Mahouena/Ivory Coast Presidential Press Service/Handout via REUTERS
    ACCRA (Reuters) – West Africa’s main regional bloc will close borders with Mali and impose sweeping economic sanctions in response to delays holding promised elections after a 2020 military coup, the president of the bloc’s commission said on Sunday.
    The announcement followed an extraordinary summit of the leaders of the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) in the Ghanaian capital Accra.
(Reporting by Christian Akorlie; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

1/9/2022 Ethiopia’s Rebellious Tigray Party Accuses Eritrea Of Attacking Its Forces
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia's Government Communications Affairs Office Minister Getachew Reda addresses
a news conference on the violent protests that have been taking place in the Oromiya Region from
last November, in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa February 25, 2016. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the party that controls most of the northern Ethiopia region of Tigray, on Sunday accused Eritrea of attacking its troops.
    “The Eritrean military launched fresh attacks against our forces yesterday in Sigem Kofolo… located in Northwestern Tigray close to Sheraro town,” TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda wrote on Twitter.
    Reuters could not verify the alleged attack as the communication network is down in the area. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
    Ethiopia’s military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum did not respond to a request for comment.
    War broke out in the mountainous region of 5 million people 14 months ago, pitting Tigrayan forces against federal troops backed by their Eritrean counterparts.
    Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki told the state-run Eri-TV on Saturday that his troops would strive to prevent Tigrayan forces from attacking his country, or threatening the stability of Ethiopia.
    Eritrean forces fought against Tigrayan forces since the start of the war in support of Abiy’s troops, but both nations spent the first five months of the war denying the Eritrean presence.
    The Eritrean troops withdrew from most of the region in June, the same month that Ethiopian federal troops also withdrew.
    Last month, Tigrayan forces withdrew from neighbouring regions they had invaded in July, in a step towards a potential ceasefire.
    Reuters has reported atrocities by all sides, including Eritrea, which the parties to the fighting have denied.
    The conflict in northern Ethiopia has killed thousands of civilians and displaced millions.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom; Writing by Duncan Miriri; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/9/2022 Iraq’s New Parliament Elects Speaker In First Step Towards Establishing A Govt by Ahmed Rasheed and Haider Khadim
Iraqi lawmakers attend the first session of the new Iraqi parliament
in Baghdad, January 9, 2022. Iraqi Parliament Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s new parliament elected Sunni lawmaker Mohammed al-Halbousi as speaker on Sunday, marking an important step towards establishing a new government three months after a national election.
    The first session of parliament since the Oct. 10 election, however, was disrupted earlier in the day as competing political Shi’ite blocs each claimed to hold a parliamentary majority and as the acting speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashahadani, suddenly fell ill and was taken to hospital, forcing the session to be briefly adjourned.
    When the session resumed Halbousi was elected for a second term as speaker, defeating Mashahadani, a former speaker of the first parliament set in 2006.    Halbousi won with 200 votes, according to a statement from 329-seat parliament.
    Mashahadani was in hospital under surveillance for fatigue but was discharged after a couple of hours, parliament’s office said in a statement.
    Parliament now has 30 days from the first session to elect the country’s new president, who will then ask the largest bloc in parliament to form a government.
    There were heated debates and shouting among lawmakers over which party had the most number of seats.
    Iran-backed Shi’ite political coalition Fatah and the State of Law coalition, which is led by former Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, submitted a document to the acting speaker requesting that their coalition be the largest bloc in parliament.
    Lawmakers from Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party, which came first in the October election, strongly objected to the request, defending their position as the largest bloc.
    “The debate between Shi’ite parties over which bloc is the largest in parliament has disrupted the session and forced a brief delay,” said Jamal Kojar, a Kurdish lawmaker.
    Sadr is a populist who has positioned himself as a staunch opponent of both Iran and the United States.    His bloc, already the biggest in parliament before the October election, will expand to 73 seats from 54. Its main rival for years, the Fatah bloc of factions linked to pro-Tehran militia, saw its parliamentary representation collapse in the election to just 17 seats from 48.
    However, some lawmakers could yet switch factions and parliament’s presidency will ultimately decide which is the biggest faction.
    Hakim al-Zamili, who ran for Sadr’s party, was elected as Halbousi’s first deputy speaker.    Shakhwan Abdulla from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was voted for as a second deputy.
    Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim parties rejected the elections of the parliament speaker and deputies on Sunday, pledging to resort to the supreme court to contest the legality of the appointments.
    “What happened today inside the parliament is illegal and will have dire consequences on the state level,” said Fatah lawmaker Humam al-Tamimi.
    Under Iraq’s governing system in place since the post-Saddam Hussein constitution was adopted in 2005, the prime minister is a member of the Shi’ite majority, the speaker is a Sunni and the largely ceremonial role of president is held by a Kurd.
(This story corrects typo in byline)
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Susan Fenton)

1/9/2022 West African Nations Sever Links With Mali Over Election Delay by Christian Akorlie
FILE PHOTO: Colonel Assimi Goita, leader of Malian military junta, attends the Economic Community of West
African States (ECOWAS) consultative meeting in Accra, Ghana September 15, 2020. REUTERS/ Francis Kokoroko
    ACCRA (Reuters) – West African nations will close their borders with Mali, sever diplomatic ties and impose tough economic sanctions in response to its “unacceptable” delay in holding elections following a 2020 military coup, the 15-state regional bloc said on Sunday.
    The fresh measures from the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) represent a significant hardening of its stance towards Mali, whose interim authorities have proposed holding elections in     December 2025 instead of this February as originally agreed with the bloc.
    In a communique issued after an emergency summit in the Ghanaian capital Accra, ECOWAS said it found the proposed timetable for a transition back to constitutional rule totally unacceptable.
    This schedule “simply means that an illegitimate military transition government will take the Malian people hostage,” ECOWAS added.
    The organisation said it had agreed to impose additional sanctions with immediate effect.
    These included the closure of members’ land and air borders with Mali, the suspension of non-essential financial transactions, the freezing of Malian state assets in ECOWAS commercial banks and recalling their ambassadors from Bamako.
    Meanwhile, regional monetary union UEMOA instructed all financial institutions under its umbrella to suspend Mali with immediate effect, severing the country’s access to regional financial markets.
    There was no immediate response from the Malian authorities, who have blamed the delay partly on the challenge of organising a democratically robust vote amid a violent Islamist insurgency.
    Special forces commander Assimi Goita was one of several colonels who overthrew Malian President Boubacar Ibrahim Keita in August 2020, after which the interim authorities promised an 18-month transition to civilian rule.
    Goita staged a second coup in May 2021 when he pushed aside the interim president and took the job himself.
    The tougher response from ECOWAS reflects the pressure the organisation is under to show it can protect democracy from a backslide to military rule after West and Central Africa saw four coups within 18 months.
    The new measures will be gradually lifted only after an acceptable election timeframe is finalised and progress is made towards implementing it, ECOWAS said.
    Under previous sanctions, Mali’s ECOWAS membership is suspended and members of the transitional authority and their relatives are subject to travel bans and asset freezes.
    Immediately after Keita was ousted, ECOWAS temporarily closed its borders with Mali and halted financial flows – short-term sanctions that caused a sharp fall in imports to the landlocked country.
    Mali’s political upheaval has also deepened tensions with former colonial power France, which has thousands of soldiers deployed across West Africa’s Sahel region to battle Islamist insurgents.
(Additional reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky, Frances Kerry and Pravin Char)

1/10/2022 Iraq’s New Parliament Elects Speaker In First Step Towards Establishing A Govt by Ahmed Rasheed and Haider Khadim
Iraq's newly elected for a second term as speaker of Parliament Mohammed al-Halbousi, Hakim al-Zamili, who was elected as
Halbousi?s first deputy speaker, and Shakhwan Abdulla, who was voted as a second deputy, attend the parliament headquarters
in Baghdad, January 9, 2022. Picture taken January 9, 2022. Iraqi Parliament Media Office/Handout via REUTERS
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq’s new parliament elected Sunni lawmaker Mohammed al-Halbousi as speaker on Sunday, marking an important step towards establishing a new government three months after a national election.
    The first session of parliament since the Oct. 10 election, however, was disrupted earlier in the day as competing political Shi’ite blocs each claimed to hold a parliamentary majority and as the acting speaker, Mahmoud al-Mashahadani, suddenly fell ill and was taken to hospital, forcing the session to be briefly adjourned.
    When the session resumed Halbousi was elected for a second term as speaker, defeating Mashahadani, a former speaker of the first parliament set in 2006.    Halbousi won with 200 votes, according to a statement from 329-seat parliament.
    Mashahadani was in hospital under surveillance for fatigue but was discharged after a couple of hours, parliament’s office said in a statement.
    Parliament now has 30 days from the first session to elect the country’s new president, who will then ask the largest bloc in parliament to form a government.
    There were heated debates and shouting among lawmakers over which party had the most number of seats.
    Iran-backed Shi’ite political coalition Fatah and the State of Law coalition, which is led by former Prime     Minister Nuri al-Maliki, submitted a document to the acting speaker requesting that their coalition be the largest bloc in parliament.
    Lawmakers from Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr’s party, which came first in the October election, strongly objected to the request, defending their position as the largest bloc.
    “The debate between Shi’ite parties over which bloc is the largest in parliament has disrupted the session and forced a brief delay,” said Jamal Kojar, a Kurdish lawmaker.
    Sadr is a populist who has positioned himself as a staunch opponent of both Iran and the United States.    His bloc, already the biggest in parliament before the October election, will expand to 73 seats from 54.    Its main rival for years, the Fatah bloc of factions linked to pro-Tehran militia, saw its parliamentary representation collapse in the election to just 17 seats from 48.
    However, some lawmakers could yet switch factions and parliament’s presidency will ultimately decide which is the biggest faction.
    Hakim al-Zamili, who ran for Sadr’s party, was elected as Halbousi’s first deputy speaker.    Shakhwan Abdulla from the Kurdistan Democratic Party (KDP), was voted for as a second deputy.
    Iran-backed Shi’ite Muslim parties rejected the elections of the parliament speaker and deputies on Sunday, pledging to resort to the supreme court to contest the legality of the appointments.
    “What happened today inside the parliament is illegal and will have dire consequences on the state level,” said Fatah lawmaker Humam al-Tamimi.
    Under Iraq’s governing system in place since the post-Saddam Hussein constitution was adopted in 2005, the prime minister is a member of the Shi’ite majority, the speaker is a Sunni and the largely ceremonial role of president is held by a Kurd.
(This story corrects typo in byline)
(Reporting by Ahmed Rasheed; Writing by Ahmed Rasheed; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Susan Fenton)

1/10/2022 U.N. Starts Talks In Sudan To Resolve Post-Coup Crisis by Nafisa Eltahir
FILE PHOTO: A Sudan flag is being flown as protesters march during a rally against the military rule,
following last month's coup in Khartoum, Sudan, January 9, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) -The United Nations said it was starting consultations in Sudan on Monday to try to salvage the country’s move to democracy after a military coup.
    U.N. officials was contacting parties to look for a way forward, and the army had raised no objections to the initiative, U.N. special representative Volker Perthes told reporters.    “We want to move quickly,” he said.
    The U.N. plan amounts to the only substantial effort at present to resolve the political crisis.
    The military takeover in October wrecked a power-sharing arrangement with civilian leaders that was meant to pave the way to elections after the overthrow of leader Omar al-Bashir in 2019.
    The coup also halted a Western-backed opening up of the economy after decades of isolation and sanctions.
    Protesters have regularly taken to the streets demanding civilian rule, and medics aligned with the protest movement say more than 60 people have died in clashes with security services.
    “I do hope that these consultations can become something like a confidence-building measure and would help to at least reduce the violence,” Perthes said.
    Protest groups and the political parties ousted by the coup have so far refused to negotiate directly with the military.
    So the United Nations would start by approaching groups individually, in the hope of moving onto to a second phase of direct or indirect negotiations, Perthes said.
    The first sessions on Monday afternoon would involve civil society groups.    “We will have every day a mix of stakeholders we are talking to,” he said.
    U.N. officials have asked the groups to present their visions for a way forward, with the aim of producing a consensus on points of agreement and disagreement at the conclusion of talks.
    Perthes said that only Bashir’s former ruling party and the Sudanese Communist Party had rejected the initiative outright, while the military had not objected to the process.
    He said it would be tricky to set a timeframe for concluding talks and starting negotiations and that if one or two more weeks were needed, hard deadlines would not be imposed.    “Time is precious, we know that.    There’s a lot of pressure on the situation in Sudan and on us.”
    Unless a new course for the transition and a path to credible elections is found, Sudan’s economic plight could worsen and instability could spread inside and outside its borders, analysts and diplomats say.
    Perthes told Reuters he would find ways to make use of offers of support from international players including the United States and Saudi Arabia, both key donors, and that others including European states and Kenya had also offered backing.
    “The U.S., the Saudis, and a couple of others are very heavily involved, they helped in developing some ideas,” he said.
    More mass protests against the military are planned, with another round expected on Wednesday.
(Reporting by Nafisa EltahirWriting by Aidan LewisEditing by Mark Heinrich and Andrew Heavens)

1/10/2022 Jordan MPs Back Constitutional Reforms To Revitalise Politics by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Members of parliament attend a parliament session in Amman, Jordan January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Jehad Shelbak
(Corrects date in para 9 of Jan. 6 story to 1999, from 1990)
    AMMAN (Reuters) -Jordan’s parliament on Thursday approved government-backed constitutional reforms intended to revitalise the country’s stagnant political life, although some opposition deputies slammed the changes as incapable of strengthening democracy.
    The changes were approved by a majority of 104-8 after a marathon debate over the measures, originally proposed by a royal committee appointed by King Abdullah, a close U.S. ally and the ultimate decision maker in the country of 10 million.
    Independent politicians say the reforms are an attempt by the authorities to restore public trust in the state and defuse anger over successive governments’ failure to deliver on pledges of prosperity and curbing corruption.
    One of the most significant amendments paves the way for a prime minister to be chosen by the assembly’s largest single party, rather than one handpicked by the monarch, officials say.
    The demand has been a leading plank of a reformist agenda favoured by a mix of Islamist and tribal figures.    Other changes give political parties a bigger role, allow wider representation of women and lower the age for elected deputies to 25 years.
    “We are progressing in the plans to modernise the political system and pave the way towards party based governments,” Prime Minister Bisher al Khasawneh told the assembly.    The monarch launched the reform drive after a crisis shook the tribally based political establishment last April when former crown prince Hamza was accused of agitating against Abdullah, after he criticized the country’s leaders as corrupt.
    The confrontation exposed fault-lines within the kingdom, which in recent years has witnessed civil unrest triggered by a worsening economy and demands for wider political freedoms and an end to rampant corruption.
    Abdullah, who has ruled since 1999 (eds: not 1990) and can dissolve parliament and appoint governments, has said in recent years he hoped one day to become a constitutional monarch.
    Liberal politicians say the monarch has been forced to opt for timid steps toward democracy, constrained by a conservative bureaucracy and a tribal power base which sees reforms as a threat to political and economic benefits.
    Some lawmakers in the assembly, which is dominated by pro-government deputies and seen by many as a rubber stamp legislature, said the changes violated the constitution and the country’s decades old parliamentary system.
    “This is a coup against the (original) constitution and messing up with our parliamentary monarchical system and an encroachment on all powers,” Saleh al Armouti, who argued against the changes in the heated session.
(Reporting by Suleiman al Khalidi Additional reporting by Jehad Abu Shalbak and Hams Rabah, Editing by William Maclean)

1/10/2022 Israel’s Netanyahu And Olmert Face Off In Court In Defamation Case
Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert attends a preliminary hearing of the defamation lawsuit
filed against him by Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanya, his wife Sara and son Yair,
in Magistrate Court in Tel Aviv, Israel, January 10, 2022. Avshalom Sassoni/Pool Via REUTERS
    TEL AVIV (Reuters) – A judge on Monday proposed a compromise in a defamation case former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched against predecessor Ehud Olmert, a Netanyahu spokesman said.
    Netanyahu, now Israel’s opposition leader, is demanding 837,000 shekels ($269,000) in damages, in a lawsuit revolving around comments Olmert made in two Israeli media interviews last year that Netanyahu, his wife and elder son are mentally ill.
    Those remarks, Netanyahu said in bringing the case, were “ugly, blatant lies” that slandered the family.
    At a preliminary hearing attended by both former leaders, Olmert was asked by the judge for the basis of his remark that “what cannot be fixed is the mental illness of the prime minister, his wife and elder son,” according to published reports by Israeli journalists at the session in Tel Aviv.
    Olmert replied that he had consulted with experts and people close to the Netanyahu family before making the remarks, the reports said.
    Proposing a compromise, Judge Amit Yariv suggested that Olmert state that his comments about the family’s mental health were only an opinion rather than a fact, a spokesman for Netanyahu said, adding that the Netanyahus agreed to the idea.
    There was no immediate indication that Olmert would accept the compromise.
    Netanyahu’s wife Sara and their son Yair, a vocal right-wing figure on social media, were also at the session.
($1 = 3.1161 shekels)
(Writing by Jeffrey Heller, Editing by William Maclean)

1/10/2022 Israel Not Bound By Any Nuclear Deal With Iran, Bennett Says
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett attends a cabinet meeting at the Prime
Minister's office in Jerusalem, Israel, December 19, 2021. Abir Sultan Pool/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Monday that Israel would not be bound by any nuclear deal with Iran and would continue to consider itself free to act “with no constraints” against its arch-foe if necessary.
    Indirect talks between Iran and the United States on salvaging the 2015 Iran nuclear deal resumed a week ago in Vienna. France’s foreign minister said on Friday that progress had been made, although time is running out.
    “In regard to the nuclear talks in Vienna, we are definitely concerned … Israel is not a party to the agreements,” Bennett said in public remarks, in a briefing to a parliamentary committee.
    “Israel is not bound by what will be written in the agreements, if they are signed, and Israel will continue to maintain full freedom of action anywhere any time, with no constraints,” he said.
    Israel has called on world powers to maintain a credible military option against Iran while they pursue an agreement.
    Some experts have questioned whether Israel, on its own, has the military capabilities to halt what it says is an Iranian quest for nuclear weapons.    Iran denies that it seeks atomic arms.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Maayan Lubell, William Maclean)

1/10/2022 Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid Tests Positive For COVID-19
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid attends a news conference with Britain's Foreign Secretary Liz Truss
at the Foreign Commonwealth & Development Office in London, Britain, November 29, 2021. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said on Monday he had tested positive for COVID-19 but was in good health.
    Lapid, who heads the largest party in the government, was isolating at home, according to a spokesperson.
    “I feel great because I am vaccinated.    Go get vaccinated, put on a mask, we will get through this together,” he wrote on Twitter.
    Lapid was the main architect in forming Israel’s ruling coalition and is slated to take over as prime minister next year in a rotation agreement with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Sandra Maler)

1/11/2022 Tunisia Press Union Says State TV Bars Political Parties by Tarek Amara
Demonstrators carry flags and banners during a protest against the Tunisian President Kais Saied's
seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, September 26, 2021. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s journalists’ union said on Tuesday that state television had barred all political parties from entering its buildings or taking part in talk shows since President Kais Saied seized most powers in July.
    Mehdi Jlassi, who heads the Tunisian National Syndicate of Journalists, told Reuters the restrictions were the first since the 2011 revolution that ended the autocratic rule of President Zine El Abidine     Ben Ali and introduced democracy.
    Saied dismissed government and suspended parliament in July.    Rights groups have since reported a crackdown including the detention of lawmakers.
    “Since July 25, there has been a political decision to prevent all parties from entering television …, which is a very dangerous and unprecedented matter that seriously threatens freedom of the press and perpetuates individual power,” Jlassi said.
    The limits on politicians appearing on state television channel al-Wataniya had previously been noted by some activists and opponents.
    Al-Wataniya head Aouatef Sagrouni strongly denied “any political decision to ban hosting parties.”
    “On the contrary, the main news bulletin, and the only political programme at prime time, covers all parties’ activities, with no exceptions,” she told Reuters.
    Al-Wataniya’s main news bulletin has covered protests against Saied.
    However, the station has not featured political guests since the July power grab, which Saied said was necessary to stop the state collapsing after years of political party feuding and policymaking paralysis.
    He has started preparing a new constitution, which he says he will put to a referendum in June.
    On Monday, Saied criticised Tunisia’s local media, saying they “lie, lie like news bulletins.”
    Only state media representatives were invited by the presidency to a news conference with the Algerian president last month.
    State news agency TAP still issues coverage critical of the authorities and gives space to the president’s political opponents.
    Saied, who became prominent as a law professor appearing on media shows to talk about the constitution after 2011, says he respects all freedoms and rights and will not become a dictator.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Mark Heinrich and Frank Jack Daniel)

1/11/2022 Lebanese Judge Imposes Travel Ban On Central Bank Governor Amid Probe by Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam
Lebanon's Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh speaks during an interview for Reuters
Next conference, in Beirut, Lebanon November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) -A Lebanese judge said on Tuesday she had imposed a travel ban on central bank governor Riad Salameh, who is at the centre of investigations into alleged fraud and other misconduct launched after Lebanon was plunged into a deep financial crisis.
    Salameh, who said he had no knowledge of the ban and denied any wrongdoing, is being probed by the authorities in Lebanon and at least four European countries, including a Swiss inquiry over alleged money laundering.
    Salameh, who has been governor for almost three decades, has stayed in his post even as the economy has been crushed by a mountain of debt, the currency has collapsed and swathes of the nation have been driven into poverty.
    Judge Ghada Aoun told Reuters she had imposed the ban as part of a Lebanese investigation she was leading into Salameh’s conduct and said the next step would be to seek to question him.
    When asked about allegations ranging from fraud to abuse of public funds being investigated in the Lebanese probe, Salameh said: “These cases raised against me personally are part of the campaign to fool the public opinion.”
    “All the actions of the central bank are executed according to the law of money and credit and thus are not the actions of one person that takes decisions by himself,” he told Reuters.
    A judicial source said Aoun’s probe included investigating alleged fraud and complaints about the governor’s actions by depositors, who have been locked out of savings held by Lebanese banks.
    The investigation also included looking at the central bank’s “financial engineering” operations, a range of mechanisms that amounted to offering banks lavish returns over several years to attract dollars into Lebanon, the source said.
    The Lebanese judge was also probing the renting of a Paris apartment by the central bank as a back-up server room for a decade at what was considered an inflated rate, the source said.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari and Laila Bassam; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/11/2022 S. African Prosecutors Charge Parliament Fire Suspect With Terrorism
FILE PHOTO: Firefighters work at the parliament as the fire flared up again,
in Cape Town, South Africa, January 3, 2022. REUTERS/Sumaya Hisham/File Photo
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – The suspect in a fire that gutted parts of South Africa’s 138-year-old parliament building this month was charged with terrorism on Tuesday, appearing in court for a case officials have described as an attack on the country’s democracy.
    Zandile Mafe, 49, had already been charged with arson in connection with the fire that started on Jan. 2, but the additional charge of terrorism was added because he had also been caught with an explosive device, the prosecution said.
    The blaze caused the roof of the newer part of the building to collapse, and also damaged the Old Wing dating back to 1884, when the Cape was under British colonial rule.
    Built in the ornate Victorian neo-classical style, against the backdrop of Table Mountain, the stately red-and-white parliament building is also one of Cape Town’s tourist draws.
    Some sections containing important heritage, like a museum with artworks, were saved, however.     The case was adjourned until Feb. 11 and Mafe ordered to be detained in a psychiatric institute, after pleas from his defence council that he suffers from mental illness.    Dozens of protesters gathered outside the court building in central Cape Town, saying Mafe was innocent.
    South Africa’s parliament has played a crucial role in South Africa’s transition over the past three decades from undemocratic white minority rule to a place where highly progressive legislation has been passed, helping roll back repressive apartheid-era policies.
(Reporting by Shafiek Tassiem; Writing by Tim Cocks, Editing by William Maclean)

1/11/2022 Turkey’s Economic Woes Are Hurting Erdogan – Polls by Ali Kucukgocmen
FILE PHOTO: People shop at an open market in Istanbul, Turkey, January 4, 2022. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – More Turks now believe an opposition alliance is better suited than President Tayyip Erdogan and his ruling AK Party (AKP) to end the economic turmoil that has engulfed their country, according to a slew of opinion polls published this month.
    Under pressure from Erdogan and despite high inflation, the central bank has slashed interest rates by 500 basis points since September, triggering a currency crisis that saw the lira plunge last month to 18.4 to the dollar, its weakest level ever.
    Inflation has jumped to a 19-year high of 36%, seriously eroding earnings, especially of working and lower middle class Turks who form the electoral base of the Islamist-rooted AKP.
    The government has introduced fiscal measures to ease the currency volatility, but the lira is still 46% weaker than a year ago and Erdogan, who wants to boost exports and credit, has refused to change course despite growing public discontent.
    Surveys by Metropoll Research show the approval rating for Erdogan, who has led Turkey for 19 years and faces elections by mid-2023, is its lowest since 2015, at 38.6%.    His popularity trails that of three potential presidential rivals, they show.
    A poll by Sosyo Politik Field Research Centre put support for the AKP at 27%, against 37% who said they voted for the party in the last parliamentary election in 2018. The AKP’s nationalist ally in parliament, the MHP, was on 6.3%, down from 7.3% who said they voted for the party in 2018.
    The main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) had 22.9% support and its IYI Party ally had 10.3%, while the pro-Kurdish Democratic Peoples’ Party (HDP) had 9.4%. More than 11% were undecided.
    An ORC Research poll conducted last week showed AKP-MHP support totalled 38.7%, lagging CHP-IYI on 39.5%.    Support stood at 8.4% for the HDP, which informally backed the opposition coalition in 2019 municipal elections that saw the AKP lose control of Istanbul and Ankara, Turkey’s biggest cities.
    Around two thirds of respondents told Sosyo Politik the economy was Turkey’s biggest problem. More than half said the government’s recent measures would not improve the economy.
    A second Metropoll survey showed 36.7% believed the opposition coalition was best placed to manage the economy against 35.4% for AKP-MHP.
    Around 38% of respondents said they admired Erdogan – who received more than 52% in the 2018 presidential election – while Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, both from the CHP, scored 60% and 51% respectively.
    IYI Party leader Meral Aksener was on 38.5%.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Gareth Jones)

1/11/2022 Sudanese Medics Shaken By Attacks On Hospitals Treating Anti-Coup Protesters by Nafisa Eltahir
Norwegian ambassador to Sudan Therese Loken Gheziel and Swedish ambassador to Sudan Signe Burgstaller take
a tour of Khartoum Teaching Hospital with its director Elfatih Abdallah, following reports of attacks by
security forces against the hospital, in Khartoum, Sudan January 10, 2022. REUTERS/El Tayeb Siddig
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – On the afternoon of Dec. 30, security forces banged on the windows of Khartoum Teaching Hospital then fired tear gas into an emergency room packed with protesters injured in a nearby demonstration.
    “We were around the corner trying to hide, it came right past our heads,” said a nurse who asked to withhold her name for fear of retribution.    “We couldn’t breathe and had to rush out.”
    Attacks on medical facilities seen during an uprising in Sudan three years ago have re-emerged during rallies against an October coup, deepening anger among the protest movement and further straining a chronically under-resourced health system.
    The coup ended an agreement between the military and major political parties to share power following a 2019 uprising that toppled Omar al-Bashir after three decades of autocratic rule.
    Continuing violence against demonstrations could complicate efforts to resolve a standoff between military leaders and a large protest movement that wants civilian rule.
    Hundreds of protesters have been injured since the coup, mainly from live gunshot and tear gas canisters, and at least 63 have died, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors (CCSD), a medics’ union aligned with protesters.
    Military leaders justify their coup as saving Sudan from chaos and have said they will protect the right to peaceful protest.    In a statement on Saturday, the Khartoum State security committee expressed regret at the “violations” of hospital grounds and committed to providing high-ranking officers inside facilities to monitor any breaches.
    Assaults on medical facilities have centred on hospitals which lie along main protest routes and routinely treat injured protesters.
    Near Khartoum Teaching Hospital, security forces have repeatedly tried to disperse protesters and chase them down side streets as they march towards the presidential palace, about 1.2 km (0.75 miles) away.
    Khartoum Teaching Hospital has been attacked with tear gas three times, said its director Dr. Elfatih Abdallah.
    “This is immoral, inhumane, and not acceptable at all,” he said, pointing at a circular dent in the wall caused by a tear gas canister.
    Patients and their friends and relatives have also been assaulted and arrested inside the hospital, and security forces have chased protesters into wards, said deputy hospital director Emad Mamoun.
    Asked for comment, a police official who requested not to be named said: “We do not assault any doctors and doctors are well-respected by us as we consider them colleagues.    We do not assault citizens as our role is to protect them.”
    Medics say it is not always clear which part of Sudan’s security apparatus is responsible.    They say that even when security forces do not enter the hospital, tear gas is often fired nearby, making it difficult to work.
    CCSD has accused security forces of besieging hospitals and blocking the entrance and exit of ambulances during protests.
    On Sunday, medics marched in lab coats to submit a report to the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights documenting more than 20 alleged incidents of security forces impeding medical care across the country since the coup.
    The attacks caused the caretaker health minister to submit his resignation, though colleagues later persuaded him to stay.
    While the security presence at protests on Sunday was lighter than usual, witnesses said they saw tear gas fired once more near Khartoum Teaching Hospital.
    During a visit to the hospital to show solidarity with medical staff, Norwegian Ambassador Therese Loken Gheziel said attacks would impede the international community’s engagement with authorities.
    “Trust has to be rebuilt, people need to see justice, and the violence has to stop.    Then we can facilitate consultations,” she said.
(Additional reporting by Eltayeb Siddig; Editing by Aidan Lewis and Andrew Cawthorne)

1/12/2022 Nigeria Lifts Twitter Ban From Midnight, Government Official Says by Felix Onuah
FILE PHOTO: The Twitter logo is displayed on a screen on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange
(NYSE) in New York City, U.S., September 28, 2016. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid/File Photo
    ABUJA (Reuters) - Nigeria will lift a ban on Twitter from midnight after the social media platform agreed to open a local office, among other agreements with authorities in the West African country, a senior government official said on Wednesday.
    The Nigerian government suspended Twitter on June 4 after it removed a post from President Muhammadu Buhari that threatened to punish regional secessionists.    Telecoms companies subsequently blocked access to users in Nigeria.
    Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, director general of the National Information Technology Development Agency said in a statement that Buhari had given approval to lift the suspension.
    “Twitter has agreed to act with a respectful acknowledgement of Nigerian laws and the national culture and history on which such legislation has been built…,” Abdullahi’s statement said.
    The company would work with the federal government and the broader industry “to develop a Code of Conduct in line with global best practices, applicable in almost all developed countries,” it said.
    “Therefore, the (federal government) lifts the suspension of the Twitter operations in Nigeria from midnight of 13th January 2022.”
    Abdullahi, who also chaired a joint technical committee of Nigerian and Twitter officials, said the U.S. company agreed to appoint a country representative to engage with Nigerian authorities and comply with local tax obligations.
(Writing by MacDonald DzirutweEditing by Chris Reese and Grant McCool)

1/12/2022 Tunisia’s Ennahda Party Calls For Protests, Defying A Decision To Ban Gatherings
A tunisian flag flutters outside the building of the moderate Islamist
Ennahda party headquarters in Tunis, Tunisia, July 29, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s main opposition Ennahda party on Wednesday called for supporters to protest on Friday against President Kais Saied, defying a government decision to ban all gatherings.
    The government said earlier it was re-imposing a night curfew, banning all gatherings for two weeks and discouraging people from travelling abroad to stop the rapid spread of COVID-19 cases.
    The Islamist party said it will protest against “the nascent dictatorship that perpetuates the monopoly of power and authority and seeks to strike the free judiciary.”
(Reporting By Tarek Amara; Editing by Chris Reese)

1/12/2022 U.N. Mission Says It Spoke To Crew Members From Emirati Vessel Seized By Houthis
A view of a ship seized by Yemen's Houthi rebels off the Yemen's Red Sea coast in a frame grab from
video handed out by the Houthi's media center on January 3, 2022. Houthi Media Office/Handout via Reuters
    CAIRO (Reuters) – A United Nations mission said on Wednesday it has spoken to crew members from an Emirati vessel that was seized by the Yemeni Houthi movement earlier this month.
    “As part of its routine weekly patrol, (the UN Mission to support the Hudaydah Agreement) visited As-Salif port and neighbouring areas this afternoon.    The patrol team saw the RWABEE vessel from a distance and spoke to its crew members,” the mission said on Twitter.
    Yemen’s Houthis say the Emirati cargo vessel that they seized in the Red Sea had been carrying military hardware, but the Saudi-led coalition, fighting the Iranian-aligned Houthis, says the ship had been carrying medical equipment.
(Reporting by Ahmad Elhamy)

1/12/2022 Palestinian-American Man, 80, Found Dead After Being Held In Israeli Raid by Ali Sawafta
Men stand next to a poster of Palestinian Omar Abdalmajeed As'ad, 80, in Jiljilya
village in the Israeli-occupied West Bank January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman
    JILJILYA, West Bank (Reuters) - An 80-year-old Palestinian-American man was found dead after being detained and handcuffed during an Israeli raid on an occupied West Bank village, Palestinian officials and relatives said on Wednesday.
    The U.S. State Department said that Omar Abdalmajeed As’ad was a U.S. citizen and that it had sought clarification from Israel over the incident. His body was found in Jiljilya in the early morning with a plastic zip-tie still around one wrist.
    The Israeli military said it had carried out an overnight operation in the village, and that a Palestinian was “apprehended after resisting a check.”    It said he was alive when the soldiers released him.
    “The Military Police Criminal Investigation Division is reviewing the incident, at the end of which the findings will be transferred to the Military General Advocate Corps,” it said in a statement.
    As’ad was a former Milwaukee, Wisconsin, resident who lived in the United States for decades and returned to the West Bank 10 years ago, his brother told Reuters.
    State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters: “We support a thorough investigation into the circumstances.”    He said the State Department had expressed its condolences to the family and offered to provide consular assistance.
    As’ad’s family delayed the funeral until Thursday to allow a post-mortem. Islam Abu Zaher, a local doctor who said he had tried to resuscitate As’ad but found no pulse, said there were no obvious signs of injury and the cause of death was unclear.
    “It is possible that he suffered a heart attack or some form of panic,” Abu Zaher told Reuters, noting that As’ad had previously undergone open heart surgery and cardiac catheterisation.    “We would need to perform an autopsy.”
    Jiljilya village council head Fouad Qattoum said As’ad was returning home after visiting relatives when Israeli soldiers stopped his car, bound him, blindfolded him and led him away to a building still under construction.    Another villager said he saw Israeli soldiers walking As’ad away around 3 a.m.
    As’ad’s body was found more than an hour later, according to vegetable seller Mamdouh Elaboud, who said he was himself detained for 20 minutes, then released.
    “After the soldiers were gone, we noticed someone on the ground,” Elaboud, 55, told Reuters.    “He was lying face down on the ground and when we turned him over we found an elderly man with no sign of life.”
    In a Facebook post, Palestinian Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh blamed Israeli forces for the man’s death and called it a crime.
    Israeli military spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Amnon Shefler said the military “will investigate this event in a thorough and professional manner, acting in line with our values and protocols.”
(Reporting by Ali Sawafta in Jiljilya and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza: Additional reporting by Simon Lewis and Rami Ayyub in Washington; Writing by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem; Editing by Peter Graff and Howard Goller)

1/12/2022 Car Bomb In Somali Capital Kills Eight – Ambulance Services Director by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh
Civilians look at the wrecked vehicles at the scene of an explosion in the
Hamarweyne district of Mogadishu, Somalia, January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) -A car bomb exploded on a road leading to the airport in the Somali capital Mogadishu on Wednesday, killing at least eight people, the head of the city’s ambulance services said.
    Mogadishu resident Mohamed Osman said the shock of the blast hit the walls and roof of a mosque he was praying in nearby.
    “When I came out of the mosque, I saw several old houses collapsed, body parts on the street, hands, legs,” Osman told Reuters.
    “Destroyed cars, burnt Tuk tuks (rickshaws); all this mess and loss of lives in a minute, I survived.”
    It was not immediately clear who was responsible for the bombing.
    Osman said he had seen nine bodies at the scene.    Abdikadir Abdirahman, director of Aamin Ambulance service, put the death toll at eight.
    “A car bomb targeted a convoy, including bullet proof cars using Avisione street, we do not who owns the convoy.    We carried eight dead people from the scene,” Abdirahman told Reuters.
    Earlier, a Reuters photographer saw four bodies and four damaged cars and two motor rickshaws while Ahmed Nur, a shopkeeper nearby, said he had seen at least five bodies.
    A paramedic was seen attending to at least one wounded person, Reuters photographs from the scene showed.
    In the past, al Qaeda-linked al Shabaab group has taken responsibility for similar attacks.
    The group aims to overthrow the central government and impose a strict interpretation of Islamic law.    It carries out frequent gun and bomb attacks on security and government targets, but also on civilians.
    It also carries out attacks against African Union peacekeeping troops.
(Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by George Obulutsa, Editing by William Maclean)

1/12/2022 Desert Tree Planting Sows Discord Within Israel’s Coalition by Ammar Awad
Israeli security forces detain a Bedouin man during a protest against forestation at the Negev
desert village of Sawe al-Atrash, southern Israel January 12, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    SAWE AL-ATRASH, Israel (Reuters) – Government-sponsored tree planting in an Israeli desert has set off violent protests by Bedouin Arabs who see the forestation as discriminatory encroachment by the state, sowing discord within Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s ethnically mixed coalition.
    Coming days before the Jewish arbor festival of Tu Bishvat, the drive to turn the sandy expanses of the southern Negev green hails back to Israel’s founding pioneer narratives.
    But the nomadic Bedouin claim private ownership over nationalised land being zoned and accuse Israeli courts of enabling expropriations as part of a campaign of disenfranchisment that has kept many of their community in off-the-grid breeze-block encampments.
    The diggers rolled this year despite an appeal by Mansour Abbas, a Bennett coalition partner from Israel’s Arab minority, for a deferral “while we work on a decent plan that would grant Bedouin citizens honourable lives and livelihoods.”
    “A tree is not more important than a person,” he tweeted.
    Authorities have said the flattening of the dunes and planting of trees is necessary for conservation and modernisation.
    At the Negev village of Sawe al-Atrash, Bedouin scuffled with riot police on Wednesday after a night in which authorities said protesters blocked roads, stoned motorists and forced a train to halt by piling rocks on its tracks.
    Mansour’s United Arab List (UAL) party was boycotting parliamentary votes, a coalition spokesman said.    If sustained, that could deny Bennett his razor-thin majority and bolster the Jewish-nationalist opposition.
    Asked how far UAL was willing to go, party lawmaker Iman Khatib Yassin said: “All the way.”
    “We came into this partnership hoping to find partners who understand that Arab citizens of the country have a basic right and deserve basic rights on their lands,” she told Kan radio, while stopping short of any threat to quit the coalition.
    Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, a centrist, urged a halt to the contested forestation.    Despite successive governments’ pledges of equitable Negev investment, “the Bedouin problem has been forsaken,” he said in a statement.
    The religious-rightist Bennett did not comment.    His ideologically kindred housing minister, Zev Elkin, saw no need to heed such calls.    “These are state lands,” Elkin told 103 FM radio.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alexandra Hudson)

1/13/2022 Facebook Owner To ‘Assess Feasibility’ Of Human Rights Review On Ethiopia Practices by Elizabeth Culliford
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and leader of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF)
party Debretsion Gebremichael are pictured on the Maleda Local News papers, showing the conflict
marking one year, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 3, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Facebook owner Meta Platforms said on Thursday it would “assess the feasibility” of commissioning an independent human rights assessment into its work in Ethiopia, after its oversight board recommended a review of how Facebook and Instagram have been used to spread content that heightens the risk of violence there.
    The board, set up by the company to address criticism over its handling of problematic material, makes binding decisions on a small number of challenging content moderation cases and provides non-binding policy recommendations.
    Meta has been under scrutiny from lawmakers and regulators over user safety and its handling of abuses on its platforms across the world, particularly after whistleblower Frances Haugen leaked internal documents that showed the company’s struggles in policing content in countries where such speech was most likely to cause harm, including Ethiopia.
    Thousands have died and millions have been displaced during a year-long conflict between the Ethiopian government and rebellious forces from the northern Tigray region.
    The social media giant said it has “invested significant resources in Ethiopia to identify and remove potentially harmful content,” as part of its response to the board’s December recommendations on a case involving content posted in the country.
    The oversight board last month upheld Meta’s original decision to remove a post alleging the involvement of ethnic Tigrayan civilians in atrocities in Ethiopia’s Amhara region.    As Meta had restored the post after the user’s appeal to the board, the company had to again remove the content.
    On Thursday, Meta said while it had taken the post down, it disagreed with the board’s reasoning that it should have been removed because it was an “unverified rumor” that significantly increased the risk of imminent violence.    It said this would impose “a journalistic publishing standard on people.”
    An oversight board spokesman said in a statement: “Meta’s existing policies prohibit rumors that contribute to imminent violence that cannot be debunked in a meaningful timeframe, and the Board made recommendations to ensure these policies are effectively applied in conflict situations.”
    “Rumors alleging an ethnic group is complicit in atrocities, as found in this case, have the potential to lead to grave harm to people,” they said.
    The board had recommended that Meta commission a human rights due diligence assessment, to be completed in six months, which should include a review of Meta’s language capabilities in Ethiopia and a review of measures taken prevent the misuse of its services in the country.
    However, the company said not all elements of this recommendation “may be feasible in terms of timing, data science or approach.”    It said it would continue its existing human rights due diligence and should have an update on whether it could act on the board’s recommenation within the next few months.
    Reuters’ previous reporting on Myanmar and other countries has investigated how Facebook struggled to monitor content across the world in different languages.    In 2018, U.N. human rights investigators said the use of Facebook had played a key role in spreading hate speech that fueled violence in Myanmar.
    Meta, which has said that it was too slow to prevent misinformation and hate in Myanmar, has said that the company now has native speakers worldwide reviewing content in more than 70 languages which work to stop abuse on its platforms in places where there is a heightened risk of conflict and violence.
    The board also recommended that Meta rewrite its value statement on safety to reflect that online speech can pose a risk to the physical security of persons and their right to life.    The company said it would make changes to this value, in a partial implementation of the recommendation.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Culliford; Editing by Nick Zieminski)

1/13/2022 Erdogan Tells EU Envoys Bloc Ignored Turkey’s Efforts To Improve Ties
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses the media after a cabinet meeting
in Ankara, Turkey, December 20, 2021. Murat Cetinmuhurdar/PPO/Handout via REUTERS
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday told ambassadors from the European Union that the bloc had not provided meaningful support in battling migration and that it had not reciprocated Turkey’s efforts to improve relations.
    Ties between Ankara and the bloc reached a boiling point in 2019 due to a dispute between Turkey and EU member Greece over maritime jurisdiction and rights to offshore energy resources in the eastern Mediterranean.
    Ankara and Athens, NATO allies, have since resumed talks to address their differences, easing tensions and establishing what both Turkey and the bloc have called a “positive agenda,” though the move has yielded little improvement in cooperation.
    Speaking to ambassadors from EU countries at a meeting in Ankara, Erdogan said Turkey wanted to set ties with the bloc on a “more solid foundation,” but had been subjected to “stalling tactics.”
    “I want to state with sadness that we did not receive the response we wanted from the EU side to these steps,” he said.
    In March 2016, the EU reached an agreement with Turkey to stem the flow of refugees into the bloc and for Ankara to host Syrians fleeing the war their country in return for billions of euros for projects.
    Turkey currently hosts some 4 million Syrian refugees, the world’s largest refugee population, and has said it will not accept any more migrants.
    “Turkey has not received meaningful support from the EU in its battle with migration,” Erdogan said, adding it would not be possible to have “deepened cooperation” on the issue as long as the terms of the 2016 agreement were not updated.
    “The crisis in Belarus has shown once again that the bloc is devoid of a sustainable policy in battling migration,” he added, referring to a dispute between Minsk and the EU over millions of migrants stranded at their borders.
    He also said political turmoil in Bosnia, caused by Bosnian Serb leader Milorad Dodik’s separatist moves, was exacerbated by shortcomings in the bloc’s perspective of membership, adding that the region was “giving signals of returning to the negative environment of the 1990s.”
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Daren Butler and Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/13/2022 With Most Gaza Homes Wrecked By War Still In Ruins, Smiles For The Lucky Few by Nidal al-Mughrabi
Egyptian bulldozers make ground for the Egyptian-funded housing project
in northern Gaza Strip, January 10, 2022. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – Palestinian Zeyad Abu Odah watched with a smile as his four-storey house, destroyed in an Israeli air strike in last May’s fierce fighting, was slowly being rebuilt in Gaza’s Beach refugee camp.
    He is one of the lucky few. Only 50 of 1,650 homes wrecked in an 11-day war between Gaza militants and Israel are being restored, leading to frustration among Palestinians at the slow pace of reconstruction eight months after the conflict ended.
    “When things started to move, we began to feel better.    In six to seven months we will return to our house with our children and families,” Abu Odah, 60, said, as construction workers put the finishing touches to the first floor.
    Abu Odah’s extended family of 50 members has been living in four separate homes since the conflict.
    Gaza officials estimate that it will take $479 million to rebuild homes and infrastructure damaged in the war.    Qatar and Egypt have each pledged $500 million for reconstruction in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the Hamas militant group.
    Naji Sarhan, Gaza’s deputy housing minister, said only $100 million had been made available so far and that, with Qatari funds, reconstruction had begun on 50 of 1,650 destroyed homes.    Sarhan cited Israeli pressures, but did not elaborate.
    “It is clear the Israeli occupation is exerting political pressure and making obstacles,” he told Reuters.
    COGAT, the Israeli Defence Ministry’s liaison office to the Palestinians, did not respond to a request for comment.
    Israel, which controls the main commercial crossing into Gaza, has said reconstruction would be linked to achieving a deal for the handover of two Israeli civilians and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers believed to be held by Hamas.
    But in an apparent bid to lower tensions with the group, it recently allowed more construction materials into Gaza to rebuild homes destroyed or damaged during last year’s war.
    Sarhan also pointed at the lack of broader Arab and international support for the reconstruction process beyond Qatar, Egypt and the United Nations.
    “Reconstruction process is slow and doesn’t meet our ambitions,” Sarhan said.
    Israeli air strikes partly damaged another 59,000 homes during the conflict, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run government.    Some homes in Israel were damaged by rockets launched by the Islamist Hamas and by fellow militant groups.
    The United Nations Relief and Works Agency UNRWA, which aids two thirds of Gaza’s two million people, has also helped repair the damaged houses of refugees.
    Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem said the group had conveyed to Egypt, Qatar and the United Nations its displeasure with the pace of reconstruction, blaming it on Israeli restrictions.
    “Continuing at this pace means the continuation of the suffering of the Palestinian people and therefore, there can’t be a real calm as long as this continues this way,” said Qassem.
    Egyptian bulldozers and engineers have begun work in the northern Gaza Strip at the first of three large housing projects funded by Cairo.
    Sarhan said the Egyptian “cities” would house nearly 4,000 families.    There was no time frame for when construction would finish.
    The cities would serve low-income people as well as hardship cases and some of those who had lost their homes in the conflict, he added.
    Palestinian officials say 250 people, including 66 children, were killed by Israeli air strikes on Gaza in May.    Israeli officials say 13 people, including two children, were killed in Israel by Palestinian rockets.
(Writing by Nidal Almughrabi; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

1/13/2022 Protesters Block Lebanon’s Roads To Protest Economic Crash, Soaring Prices by Mohamed Azakir and Ahmed al Kerdi
Lebanese army soldiers deploy in an attempt to open a road blocked by drivers during a protest against spiralling
petrol prices and worsening economic conditions, in Sidon, Lebanon January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanese truck and bus drivers and others blocked main roads in the capital and other areas on Thursday in protest at the failure of politicians to address an economic crisis that has sent the currency into tailspin and driven prices sky high.
    Lebanon’s pound has collapsed since 2019 when the economy crumpled under a mountain of debt.    Yet a cabinet formed in September with a promise to start fixing the economy has not met for three months as rivals argue about the conduct of a probe into the devastating 2020 Beirut port blast.
    “I tell everyone that if there is a protest or demonstration against this situation, go to the street.    If we wait for our leaders or parties, no one will care,” said Mohamed al-Muqdad, 58, at a demonstration at a main intersection in a Beirut suburb.
    “I want any official – the president, the prime minister, the speaker of parliament – to try to live for one day with the salary of a poor worker.    Let’s see how they will do it,” he said as dozens of trucks blocked traffic.
    Similar actions clogged routes elsewhere in the country.
    The Lebanese pound, which was freely exchanged in shops and banks at 1,500 to the dollar until the crisis erupted in 2019, has crumbled and was trading on the unofficial market on Thursday at about 31,500.
    A once comfortable middle class salary can now barely feed a family.
    “The rise in the exchange rate … caused very big problems.    It made the Lebanese hungry, it made all citizens poor, citizens can’t afford filling up with fuel anymore.    People can’t afford buying bread or food.    Where are we heading?” said Fadi Abou Chakra, spokesman for Lebanon’s fuel stations union.
    President Michel Aoun has been trying to galvanise the multiple sectarian factions to hold a national dialogue conference, but talks this week so far only drew support from close allies.    Some opponents said such a conference should wait until after a May parliamentary election.
(Reporting by Mohamed Azakir and Ahmed al-Kerdi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

1/14/2022 Ex-Officer Jailed For Syrian War Crimes After Landmark German Trial by Erol Dogrudogan and Joseph Nasr
FILE PHOTO: Syrian defendant Anwar R. arrives at a court for the first trial of
suspected members of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad's security services for crimes
against humanity, in Koblenz, Germany, April 23, 2020. Thomas Lohnes/Pool via REUTERS
    KOBLENZ, Germany (Reuters) - A German court on Thursday jailed a Syrian ex-intelligence officer for life for murder, rape and crimes against humanity, handing down the first ever conviction for state-backed torture committed during Syria’s civil war after a landmark trial.
    Anwar Raslan was found guilty on 27 of out 58 counts of murder, rape and sexual assault carried out at a Damascus prison run by a unit of President Bashar al-Assad’s security services that he headed.
    The 58-year-old, a colonel when he defected to the Syrian opposition in 2012 and who prosecutors said was granted asylum in Germany two years later, had denied all charges.
    The Assad government denies it tortures prisoners.
    The trial was held under Germany’s universal jurisdiction laws, which allow courts to prosecute crimes against humanity committed anywhere in the world.
    Prosecutors supported by the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights (ECCHR) had gathered evidence since 2016 from nearly 50 Syrian torture survivors living in Germany, and from others based elsewhere in Europe, the ECCHR – an NGO founded by lawyers in 2007 – said.
    Mariam Alhallak, whose son died during interrogations by government agents after being abducted at Damascus University in 2012, the year after the war began, welcomed the verdict.
    “It means a lot to me because I have a feeling that justice is happening,” she said outside the court in the western German city of Koblenz, one of a group of Syrian mothers holding pictures of children they said were killed or tortured in Syrian government facilities.
    “It’s a small step toward the justice we hope will be achieved: accountability for all those who committed violations, including the criminals who killed my son.”
    UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet hailed what she called “a landmark leap forward” in pursuing justice for the serious human rights violations perpetrated in Syria.
    “This is a clear example of how national courts can and should fill accountability gaps for such crimes wherever they were committed,” she said in a statement from Geneva, urging other states to employ the same princples of extra-territorial jurisdiction.
    Inside the court Raslan, dressed in a black jacket and wearing glasses and a white face mask, gave a brief, wry smile as he waited for the verdict to be read out after a police officer removed his handcuffs.
    Syrian human rights lawyers said he had defected to Turkey before moving on in 2014 to Germany, where he contacted police saying he feared former colleagues could take his life. He was arrested by German authorities in 2019.
    The verdict against Raslan, which will give hope to survivors of atrocities committed during the war after attempts to establish an international tribunal for Syria failed, was the second handed down during the trial, which began in April 2020.
    Last year, another former member of the Syrian intelligence services was sentenced to 4-1/2 years in jail for abetting the torture of civilians.
    “The trial demonstrates that accountability for the Assad regime’s heinous atrocities is possible … if national prosecutors and judges choose to act,” said Eric Witte of the Open Society Justice Initiative, which supported several witnesses in the case.
    “As much as we welcome the outcome of this trial, we must not forget that the cruelty of the crimes proved in court continues to this day in Syria.”
    A second trial of a Syrian doctor suspected of crimes against humanity, including torturing prisoners at a military hospital in the city of Homs in 2011 and 2012 and killing one using a lethal injection, opens in Frankfurt next week.
    At the U.N. Security Council, Russia and China have vetoed attempts by Western powers to refer the Syrian crisis to the International Criminal Court, leaving survivors of torture and chemical weapons attacks with limited options to seek justice.
    But some of the estimated 800,000 Syrians living in Germany have opposed the Koblenz trial, saying it discourages defections by Syrians who may have more evidence of crimes committed by the government, after Raslan was encouraged by senior opposition members to change sides.
    “It is natural that Syrians are going to have different views on how to seek justice,” said Witte.    “Some want an amnesty and to save the trial for Bashar al-Assad and his top officers.”
(Additional reporting by Riham Alkousaa in Berlin and Stephanie van den Berg in Amsterdam; Writing by Joseph Nasr; Editing by Mike Collett-White and John Stonestreet)

1/14/2022 UN Rights Office Decries Ethiopia Air Strikes, Says 108 Killed This Month by Emma Farge
FILE PHOTO: A woman stands in line to receive food donations, at the Tsehaye primary school,
which was turned into a temporary shelter for people displaced by conflict, in the
town of Shire, Tigray region, Ethiopia, March 15, 2021. REUTERS/Baz Ratner/File Photo
    GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) on Friday expressed alarm at “multiple, deeply disturbing reports” of air strikes in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, saying at least 108 civilians had been killed since the start of January.
    Liz Throssell, an OHCHR spokesperson, described numerous attacks, including on a private minibus, an airport and a camp for displaced people, saying that at least 59 people died in the camp strike, making it the most lethal one.
    “At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force,” Throssell told Geneva-based journalists.
    U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said later on Friday that he was “heartbroken by the suffering of the Ethiopian people,” appealing again for the parties to stop fighting.
    “All people who need humanitarian aid must receive it as quickly as possible.    It’s time to start dialogue and reconciliation,” he posted on Twitter.
    Throssell called on Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians in line with international law which requires verification that targets are military.
    “Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes,” she said.
    Ethiopia’s military spokesperson Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesperson Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged strikes.
    The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month-old conflict with rebellious Tigrayan forces.    The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that is fighting the central government is not believed to have the air power to carry out strikes.
    A U.N. World Food Programme official warned at the same briefing that its operations in northern Ethiopia “are about to grind to a halt” because of intense fighting nearby.
    “With no food, no fuel, no access, we are on the edge of a major humanitarian disaster,” said the WFP’s Thomson Phiri.
(Reporting by Emma Farge in GenevaAdditional reporting by Dawit Endeshaw, George Obulutsa and Michelle NicholsEditing by William Maclean and Matthew Lewis)

1/14/2022 Tunisians Protest Against President, As Journalists Complain Of Police Abuse by Tarek Amara
Police officers check a suitcase as demonstrators are expected to protest against the Tunisian President
Kais Saied's seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisian police sprayed water cannons into crowds and beat back protesters with batons as they dispersed more than 1,000 demonstrators trying to reach central Tunis on Friday, while journalists covering the protests against the president complained of police violence and abuse.
    A heavy police presence prevented many protesters who were demonstrating against President Kais Saied from gathering in Habib Bourguiba Avenue, the main street in central Tunis that is the traditional focal point for protests, including during the 2011 revolution that brought down former President Ben Ali Zine El Abidine and ushered in a period of democratic transition.
    On Jan. 14th, the 12th anniversary of the date of Ben Ali’s exile and formerly a national holiday in Tunisia, police dispersed several different groups of protesters, at least one of which had hundreds of demonstrators, Reuters witnesses said, kicking and pushing them to force them back.    Reuters images shows police firing water cannons at people sitting down in the street.
    The Interior Ministry said 1,200 people had protested and said its forces had exercised restraint.
    “Today Saied’s only response to opponents is with force and the security forces… it is so sad to see Tunisia like an army barracks on the date of our revolution,” said opposition activist Chayma Issa, referring to the large presence of security forces.
    Opposition parties are protesting against President Saied’s suspension of parliament last year, and his assumption of executive power and moves to rewrite the constitution, which they call a coup.
    “Preventing free Tunisians from protesting on the revolution anniversary is shameful… and is an attack on freedoms and represents a big decline under the coup authorities,” said Imed Khemiri, an Ennahda member of the suspended parliament.
    The French newspaper Liberation said that its reporter in Tunisia Mathieu Galtier was subjected to severe violence by policemen when he was filming a violent attack on a protester and they confiscated his phone later.
    “They started hitting me, I was on the ground, curled up in a fetal position.    I was screaming that I was a journalist.    One of them doused me with gas … They kicked me and they took my phone, my press card,” the newspaper quoted its reporter.
    Hakaekonline, a local news website, said also that the police seized the phone of its correspondent and viewed her private messages and photos while she was filming during the protest.
    Earlier on the day, the owner of the Business News newspaper Nizar Bahloul said that a videographer was arrested before he was later released.
    The interior ministry was not immediately available for comment on these allegations.
    Friday’s protest was in defiance of a ban on all indoor or outdoor gatherings the government put in place on Tuesday to address a new wave of COVID-19 cases.
    Though Saied’s assumption of power in July appeared popular at first among some Tunisians after years of economic stagnation and political paralysis, growing demonstrations indicate he has since lost some support.
    Tunisia’s economy remains mired by the pandemic, and there has been little progress in gaining international support for the fragile public finances, while the government Saied appointed in September has announced an unpopular 2022 budget.
    Friday falls on what Tunisians had previously marked as the anniversary of the revolution, the day former autocratic Ben Ali fled the country.    Saied decreed last year the anniversary would fall on the December date of a street vendor’s suicide that triggered the uprising.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara and Mohamed Argoubi, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by William Maclean and Aurora Ellis)

1/15/2022 New U.S. Horn Of Africa Envoy To Visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan And Ethiopia
FILE PHOTO: Acting U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, David Satterfield,
prepares ahead of his address to the 11th Annual International Institute for National
Security Studies (INSS) Conference in Tel Aviv, Israel January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - The new U.S. envoy to the Horn of Africa, David Satterfield, and Assistant Secretary Molly Phee will visit Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Ethiopia next week, the State Department said on Friday, calling on Addis Ababa to help end conflict in the country.
    “They will encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities … and laying the foundation for an inclusive national dialogue,” it said in a statement.
    On Friday, the United Nations human rights office expressed alarm at “multiple, deeply disturbing reports” of air strikes in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, saying at least 108 civilians had been killed this year.
    Satterfield and Phee, whose is responsible for African affairs, will visit the three nations between Monday and Thursday, the State Department said.
    In the Saudi capital Riyadh, they will back a “civilian-led transition to democracy” for Sudan and in the country’s capital Khartoum will meet pro-democracy activists as well as military and political leaders among others.
    Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets in Sudan demanding a return to civilian rule since an Oct. 25 coup ended a power-sharing arrangement that began in 2019.
    “Their message will be clear: the United States is committed to freedom, peace and justice for the Sudanese people,” the statement said.
(Reporting by Costas Pitas; Editing by William Mallard)

1/15/2022 Hezbollah, Amal End Boycott Of Lebanon’s Cabinet Amid Economic Crisis
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese national flag flutters in Beirut, Lebanon, August 18, 2020. REUTERS/Hannah McKay
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Powerful Lebanese groups Hezbollah and Amal said on Saturday they would end a boycott of cabinet sessions, opening the way for ministers to meet after a three-month gap that has seen the economic crisis deepen and currency collapse further.
    The groups, which back several ministers in a government made up of members from across the political and sectarian spectrum, said the decision was driven by a desire to approve the 2022 budget and to discuss an economic recovery.
    The groups had been refusing to attend cabinet sessions in a dispute over the handling of an investigation into the huge Beirut port blast in 2020.
    The failure to hold cabinet meetings has delayed talks on a recovery plan with the International Monetary Fund, seen as vital to unlocking international support to lift the country out of a crisis that has driven swathes of the nation into poverty.
    Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group that has a well-armed militia, and Amal, another Muslim Shi’ite group, have sought the removal of a judge who has been overseeing the blast probe.
    They have accused Judge Tarek Bitar of bias after he sought to question two senior Amal figures charged over the blast.
    Bitar, who does not make public statements, has been quoted by the families of blast victims as saying he would press on with his investigation that has repeatedly been stalled by a slew of lawsuits filed by powerful suspects in the case.
    Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose post is held by a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s sectarian political system, said in a statement he welcomed the decision to end the boycott and would call for a cabinet meeting as soon as he received a draft 2022 budget from the Finance Ministry.
    A government source told Reuters there was not expected to be cabinet session in the coming week as budget preparations were still under way and figures for a financial recovery plan were being drawn up.
    Mikati has said his government was seeking to sign a preliminary agreement for an IMF support programme in February.
    An IMF spokesperson told Reuters that virtual talks would be held with Lebanese authorities in the last week of January.
(Reporting by Timour Azhari; Writing by Moataz Mohamed; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/15/2022 Ethiopia Says WHO Chief Has Links To Rebellious Tigrayan Forces
FILE PHOTO: Villagers return from a market to Yechila town in south central Tigray walking past scores
of burned vehicles, in Tigray, Ethiopia, July 10, 2021. REUTERS/Giulia Paravicini/File Photo/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia’s foreign ministry has called on the World Health Organization (WHO) to investigate its leader for supporting rebellious forces fighting the Ethiopian government.
    WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who previously served as the Ethiopian health minister and foreign minister, said earlier this week that aid was being blocked from getting through to his home region of Tigray, where rebellious forces are fighting the central government.
    “Tedros Adhanom’s moral, legal and professional standing that threatened WHO’s organisational standing,” Ethiopia said in a statement late on Thursday.    “He has spread harmful misinformation and compromised WHO’s reputation, independence, credibility which is evident from his social media postings.”
    The WHO said in an emailed response to Reuters request for comment that it was aware that Ethiopia’s foreign affairs ministry had sent a diplomatic communication, called a note verbale.
    It said the WHO “will continue to ask the Ethiopian government to allow access to deliver humanitarian supplies and services to the 7 million people in Tigray, Ethiopia…
    The “WHO and partners have been repeatedly calling for urgent and unimpeded access to deliver humanitarian heath supplies and services to the people in Tigray.”
    The government has denied blocking aid and has accused the rebellious forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of requisitioning trucks sent in previously.
    Ethiopia’s army chief has previously accused Tedros of trying to procure arms and diplomatic backing for the TPLF.    He denied that.
    Thousands have been killed in the conflict in Tigray, which spread to two neighbouring regions in northern Ethiopia before Tigrayan forces were forced to withdraw back to Tigray in December.
    The United Nations says the government is operating a de facto blockade of humanitarian aid to Tigray; no trucks have entered the region since Dec. 15.    More than 90% of the population needs food aid and doctors told Reuters last week that many people – including malnourished children – are dying because no medicine has been permitted to enter Tigray.
    On Thursday, Tedros tweeted “People in #Tigray #Ethiopia, living under de facto blockade for over a year, are dying from lack of medicine & food, & repeated drone attacks. @WHO & partners call for safe, unimpeded access to deliver humanitarian aid to the millions of people in great need.”
    The WHO said that its main call and that of the international community was to get access to those affected and for all parties to use political action to achieve peace and security.
    “This is true for Tigray and elsewhere in northern Ethiopia,” it said.
    Ethiopia’s foreign ministry said Tedros failed to show integrity and professionalism and was a member of the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics for nearly 30 years before Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s appointment in 2018.
    “Tedros encourages the TPLF in his media engagements and celebrates what is presumed to be a military success of the group, besides engaging in selective outrage where he discriminately addresses the humanitarian concerns in Ethiopia,” the ministry said.
    The government designated TPLF a terrorist group after the war erupted in November 2020.    Tedros, a Tigrayan, was a member of the TPLF.    Abiy also served as an intelligence chief under the previous TPLF-led government.
    Tedros was elected the WHO’s first African director general in May 2017 with strong Ethiopian and African support.    He ran again as the sole nominee in October.    Ethiopia withheld its support and 28 other countries appointed Tedros for a second five-year term.
(Reporting by Addis Ababa Newsroom and Emma Farge in GenevaWriting by George ObulutsaEditing by Katharine Houreld, Alex Richardson and Frances Kerry)

1/15/2022 Israeli Finance Minister Tests Positive For Coronavirus
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman speaks to the media during the weekly cabinet
meeting at the prime minister's office in Jerusalem August 1, 2021. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli Finance Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Saturday that he had tested positive for COVID-19 and would self-isolate but continue working from home.
    “I feel good and will isolate in the next few days,” Lieberman said on Twitter.    Foreign Minister Yair Lapid tested positive on Monday.
    Lieberman has faced some public criticism for not providing more government aid to businesses as the Omicron variant has pushed Israeli infection rates to new highs, keeping many employees in isolation and customers at home.
    “I will continue to pursue responsible economic policies from home, keep track of the data and plan future steps,” Lieberman, 63, tweeted in an apparent response to the criticism.
    On Jan. 10, Lieberman posted a photo of himself receiving a fourth COVID-19 vaccination dose.    Israel began administering a second round of boosters to immune-compromised people in late December, expanding the campaign to its over-60-year-olds and medical staff in January.
    The Health Ministry says that a first booster increases protection seven days after the shot but has not yet released data on the effectiveness of a fourth dose.
    Israel, population 9.4 million, has confirmed around 1.7 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 8,000 deaths.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Frances Kerry)

1/16/2022 Israel’s Netanyahu Discusses Plea Bargain In Graft Trial, Source Says by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Leader of Israeli Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the inaugural event of the Abraham Accords Caucus attended
by Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, in the Knesset, Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem October 11, 2021. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Former Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is negotiating a plea bargain to end his corruption trial, a source briefed on the matter said on Sunday, but talks have snagged over a condition that would remove him from politics.
    Netanyahu, who lost power in June after 12 consecutive years as premier and is now opposition leader, has pleaded not guilty to charges of bribery, breach of trust and fraud in three cases for which he was indicted in 2019.    All are being tried together.
    The source said Netanyahu, 72, was discussing a deal with Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit under which he would plead guilty to reduced charges and have any resulting jail term commuted to community service.
    But the talks have hit a bump over Netanyahu’s demand to be spared a conviction carrying a “moral turpitude” clause, which under Israeli law would force him to quit politics for years, said the source, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity.
    The State Attorney’s Office declined to comment.    A lawyer for Netanyahu, who has denied all wrongdoing and accused prosecutors of a politically motivated witch-hunt, did not immediately reply to a request for a comment.
    Netanyahu has vowed to unseat his successor, Naftali Bennett, a nationalist straddling a coalition of highly diverse parties.
    Likud failed to form a new government last year in part because kindred parties refused to join Netanyahu, citing the ongoing trial.
    With his legal troubles behind him, Netanyahu might in theory be able to muster a broad new rightist coalition.    If he were barred from politics, right-wing members of Bennett’s coalition could opt to form a new government with a Likud party under new leadership.
    The idea of a plea bargain was promoted by a former Supreme Court president, Aharon Barak.
    He told Kan radio it would ease the pressure on the justice system, which has spent years defending itself against allegations from Netanyahu loyalists that he was being denied due process.
    A spokesperson for Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party said he did not know about any such negotiations.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Kevin Liffey)

1/16/2022 U.N. Mission In Mali Grounds Flights Amid Sanctions Restrictions
FILE PHOTO: A MINUSMA logistics convoy is pictured in Kidal, Mali
February 16, 2017. MINUSMA/Sylvain Liechti handout via REUTERS
    DAKAR (Reuters) – The United Nations’ peacekeeping mission in Mali has grounded its flights amid discussions over sanctions that have shut air and land borders to the West African country.
    The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the regional monetary union sanctioned Mali last week after its interim government, installed in the wake of coups in 2020 and 2021, proposed delaying planned elections by up to four years.
    “MINUSMA has to temporarily suspend all flights.    We are in discussion with our Malian partners on the new mechanism for approving MINUSMA flights,” a spokesperson said, adding that he expected a resolution very quickly.”
    MINUSMA has over 13,000 troops trying to contain violence in the north and centre of the large West African country, where Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State carry out regular attacks on civilians, soldiers and U.N. bases.
    Delivery of aid will also be hindered, the spokesperson said.
    The mission has recorded about 230 fatalities since 2013, making it the deadliest of the United Nations’ peacekeeping missions.
(Reporting By Edward McAllister; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

1/16/2022 Somali Government Spokesperson Wounded In Suicide Bomb Attack - Police, State Media by Abdi Sheikh and Feisal Omar
A paramedic handles a body bag at the scene of an explosion
Mogadishu, Somalia January 16, 2022. REUTERS/Feisal Omar
    MOGADISHU (Reuters) - Somalia’s government spokesperson was wounded on Sunday in an explosion at a road junction set off by a suicide bomber in the capital Mogadishu, police and the national news agency said.
    The al Qaeda-linked Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, in comments on its Andalus radio station, claimed responsibility for the attack on Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu, who was rushed to hospital and reported to be in stable condition.
    At the scene of the blast, the remains of the suicide bomber were scattered on the ground close to Moalimuu’s four-wheel-drive vehicle with its back windows blown off.
    Prime Minister Mohammed Hussein Roble, in whose office Moalimuu works, called the bombing an “odious terrorist attack” in a statement on Twitter.
    Nasra Bashir Ali, state media special correspondent in Roble’s office, tweeted that the bomber targeted Moalimuu as he was passing in his vehicle, and that his injuries were not life-threatening.
    Al Shabaab frequently carries out gun and bomb attacks on Somali security and government targets, but also on civilians.
    It aims to topple the U.N.-backed central government and impose its own harsh interpretation of Islamic law.    It also carries out attacks on African Union peacekeeping troops.
(Reporting by Feisal Omar and Abdi Sheikh; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/17/2022 UAE Fuel Truck Blast Kills Three, Yemen Houthis Claim Attack by Ghaida Ghantous and Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: A helicopter flies over the downtown skyline, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, as seen from
the Cleveland Clinic hospital in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, April 20, 2020. REUTERS/Christopher Pike
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Three fuel trucks exploded, killing three people, and a fire broke out near Abu Dhabi airport on Monday in what Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group said was an attack deep inside the United Arab Emirates, the region’s commercial and tourism hub.
    If confirmed, a Houthi drone strike on the UAE capital would take the war between the group and a Saudi-led coalition to a new level, and may hinder efforts to contain regional tensions as Washington and Tehran work to rescue a nuclear deal.
    The UAE, a member of the coalition, has armed and trained local Yemeni forces that recently joined fighting against the Houthis in Yemen’s energy-producing Shabwa and Marib regions.
    “With (nuclear) negotiators running out of time, the risk of a deterioration in the region’s security climate is rising,” said Torbjorn Soltvedt, Principal MENA Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.
    The Houthi movement has frequently launched cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but has claimed few such attacks on the UAE, mostly denied by Emirati authorities.
    Three people were killed and six wounded when three fuel tanker trucks exploded in the industrial Musaffah area near storage facilities of oil firm ADNOC, state news agency WAM said.    It said those killed were two Indians and a Pakistani.
    ADNOC later said an incident at its Mussafah Fuel Depot at 10:00 am local time had resulted in a fire and that it was working with authorities to “determine the exact cause.”
    “ADNOC is deeply saddened to confirm that three colleagues have died.    A further six colleagues were injured and received immediate specialist medical care,” it said in a statement.
    Police closed the road leading to the area, where unverified footage on social media had shown thick black smoke.
    “Initial investigations found parts of a small plane that could possibly be a drone at both sites that could have caused the explosion and the fire,” Abu Dhabi police said.
    An Etihad Airways spokesperson said a small number of flights were briefly disrupted at Abu Dhabi airport due to “precautionary measures,” but normal operations quickly resumed.
    The Houthi’s military spokesman said the group launched a military operation “deep in the UAE.”    Its chief negotiator, Mohammed Abdulsalam, whom Houthi-run media said was currently visiting Tehran, warned the UAE against “tampering in Yemen
    If confirmed, a Houthi strike could potentially derail UAE and wider Gulf dialogue with Iran, said UAE political analyst Abdulkhaleq Abdulla.
    “The UAE is not going to take this very lightly,” he said, adding it was still too early to assess Abu Dhabi’s response.
    Riyadh and Abu Dhabi had moved to engage directly with Iran in recent months to avoid any wider conflict that could hurt regional economic ambitions.    The Yemen war is seen as a proxy fight between Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia and Shi’ite Iran.
    The Abu Dhabi stock market index ended 0.1% lower after the news.    The index had gained as much as 0.3% in early trade.
    The incidents coincided with a visit to the UAE by South Korean President Moon Jae-in.    A Blue House official said a summit between Moon and Abu Dhabi’s crown prince was cancelled due to an “unforeseen and urgent matter of state.”
    Given the range of Houthi attacks against Saudi Arabia it was not “technically surprising” the group would be able to hit UAE targets, said Jean-Loup Samaan, senior research fellow at National University of Singapore’s Middle East Institute.
    Saudi Arabia and Bahrain condemned what they described as a “cowardly, terrorist” attack.    There was no immediate comment from Iranian officials, but Iran’s Tasnim news agency reported it as an “important operation.”
(Additional reporting by Maha El Dahan, Lisa Barrington, Aziz El Yaakoubi, Saeed Azhar, Raya Jalabi, Parisa Hafezi, Hyonhee Shin and Moataz Mohamed; Editing by William Maclean)

1/17/2022 Palestinian Threatens To Burn Sheikh Jarrah Home Rather Than Be Evicted
A Palestinian holds a molotov cocktail as he takes to the roof of a home, threatening to blow up the dwelling with a gas balloon
after Israeli police arrive to carry out an eviction order, in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of
East Jerusalem January 17, 2022. The Jerusalem municipality plans to build a school at the site. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian facing eviction by Israeli police from the flashpoint East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah threatened on Monday to blow up gas canisters at his home rather than let his family be forced out.
    Scores of police in riot gear surrounded the property from early morning during an hours-long stand-off.    Roads were sealed off around the area, about 1 kilometer (one-half mile) north of Jerusalem’s Old City walls, where clashes often erupted last year between Palestinians and Jewish settlers.
    Jerusalem’s municipality expropriated the land to build a school, in an area Israel captured and occupied in a 1967 war, along with the rest of East Jerusalem, and later annexed. An Israeli court ruled in favour of the eviction.
    “I will burn the house and everything in it, I will not leave here, from here to the grave, because there is no life, no dignity,” Mahmoud Salhiyeh said as he stood on the roof of the building, surrounded by gas canisters.
    “I’ve been in battle with them for 25 years, they sent me settlers who offered to buy the house and I did not agree.”
    A tree-lined area of sandstone homes, foreign consulates and luxury hotels, Sheikh Jarrah has become an emblem of what Palestinians regard as an Israeli campaign to force them out of East Jerusalem.
    Israeli Internal Security Minister Omer Bar-Lev said on Monday a court had ruled the case was one of illegal squatting.
    “You can’t hold the stick at both ends by both demanding that the municipality take action on welfare for Arab residents and oppose the building of educational establishments for their welfare,” Bar-Lev wrote on Twitter.
    As Sheikh Jarrah residents and activists monitored the situation from nearby rooftops, the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, located opposite the home, tweeted that Consul-General Diane Corner had joined other diplomats to “bear witness to the ongoing eviction.”
    The consulate said that such evictions in occupied territory, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, were against international humanitarian law.    It urged the Israeli government to “cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”
(Reporting by Ammar Awad, Dedi Hayun, Ilan Rosenberg and Stephen Farrell in Sheikh Jarrah, Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

1/17/2022 Turkish Court Acquits German Journalist Tolu
FILE PHOTO: German journalist Mesale Tolu addresses a news conference
at Stuttgart airport, Germany, August 26, 2018. REUTERS/Ralph Orlowski
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Monday acquitted German journalist Mesale Tolu of terrorism charges, she said on Twitter, in a case that lasted nearly five years and added to strains between Ankara and Berlin at the time of her detention.
    Tolu was detained in April 2017 as part of a crackdown following a coup attempt in July 2016 and was held in jail for eight months before being released.    She had been accused of publishing terrorist propaganda and membership of a terrorist organisation.
    “After four years, eight months and 20 days: acquitted on both charges!” she tweeted.
    “In a state of law, such a trial would not have taken place in the first place.    The verdict cannot make up for the repression and the time in prison,” Tolu added.
    Relations between the NATO partners soured after Germany condemned Turkey’s arrests following the failed coup of some 50,000 people, and the suspension or firing of 150,000 others, including teachers, judges and soldiers.
    Around a dozen people who hold German citizenship were also jailed in Turkey under the crackdown.    Germany is home to some 3 million people of Turkish heritage.
    Ties improved again after Turkey released German-Turkish journalist Deniz Yucel in 2018 and lifted a travel ban against Tolu months after her release.
(Reporting by Mehmet Emin Caliskan; Writing by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/17/2022 Turkish Court Keeps Kavala In Jail Despite European Watchdog’s Move by Ali Kucukgocmen
Lawyers, opposition lawmakers and supporters gather in front of the Justice Palace, the Caglayan
Courthouse, as a Turkish court holds a hearing of philanthropist Osman Kavala and 15 others over their
role in nationwide protests in 2013, in Istanbul, Turkey, January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Dilara Senkaya
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) - A Turkish court on Monday rejected a request to release philanthropist Osman Kavala who has spent more than four years in jail without conviction, despite a European human rights watchdog moving against Ankara over his detention.
    Kavala has remained in detention despite initially being acquitted of charges over nationwide protests in 2013 focused on Istanbul’s Gezi Park.    The ruling was overturned last year and combined with charges in another case related to a coup attempt in 2016.    He denies any wrongdoing.
    Kavala, 64, is now on trial with 51 others in a combination of three separate cases.
    The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has called for Kavala’s release over a lack of reasonable suspicion that he committed an offence, ruling that his detention served to silence him.
    The Council of Europe (CoE) told Turkey in December it was preparing “infringement proceedings” over its failure to release Kavala, a move that could lead to Ankara’s suspension from the body.
    A panel of three judges rejected releasing Kavala by a majority vote and set the next hearing on his detention for Feb. 21. Kavala was detained on Oct. 18, 2017.
    Human rights groups have said the case has political motivations and is part of a crackdown on dissent under President Tayyip Erdogan.    The government rejects this and says Turkey’s courts are independent.
    Kavala has not attended the last two hearings.    He said in October that there was no possibility of a fair trial after Erdogan said Turkey would not release “bandits, murderers and terrorist” in relation to the case.
    Ilkan Koyuncu, Kavala’s lawyer, said his client had lost faith in the judiciary.
    Milena Buyum, Turkey campaigner for Amnesty International, called on the Council of Europe to act.
    “Refer this stubborn refusal to implement the binding (ECHR) judgment back to the court under infringement proceedings,” she said on Twitter, referring to the first step in the process.
    Erdogan threatened in October to expel the ambassadors of 10 countries, including the United States, Germany and France, after they reiterated the ECHR ruling seeking Kavala’s release.
    Mucella Yapici, a co-defendant who has twice been acquitted of charges related to the 2013 protests, rejects the current indictment.
    “We have been tried since 2015 with some nonsensical indictments.    It is as if we are extras here in a staged played the end of which is already determined,” the 70-year-old Yapici said.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen;Writing by Daren Butler;Editing by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Jonathan Spicer and Toby Chopra)

1/17/2022 Lebanese Cabinet To Meet Next Week After Three-Month Gap, Al Jadeed TV Says
FILE PHOTO: A garbage bin placed by taxi drivers blocks a road during a protest against spiraling
petrol prices and worsening economic conditions, in Sidon, Lebanon January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Aziz Taher
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months on Jan. 24, a Lebanese television channel reported on Monday, after a gap in which the country’s economic crisis has deepened and efforts to revive talks with the IMF have stalled.
    Economy Minister Amin Salam said work on the 2022 budget would be at the top of the agenda when ministers gather next week, Al Jadeed TV reported, after two major political groups ended a boycott that had prevented cabinet sessions.
    The cabinet, formed in September, had promised to start work on resolving a deep economic crisis and on reviving talks with the International Monetary Fund.    But it has not met since Oct. 12.
    Hezbollah and Amal, two powerful groups which back several ministers, had been boycotting the cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut port in 2020.    They announced an end to the boycott on Saturday.
    Hezbollah, an Iran-backed group that has a well-armed militia, and Amal, another Muslim Shi’ite group, have sought the removal of a judge who has been overseeing the blast probe.
    Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it finally collapsed under a mountain of debt.    Its currency has been in tailspin, plunging to a new low last week, and swathes of the nation have been driven into poverty.
    Prime Minister Najib Mikati, whose post is held by a Sunni Muslim under Lebanon’s sectarian political system, has said his government would seek to sign a preliminary agreement for an IMF support programme in February.
    An IMF spokesperson told Reuters that virtual talks would be held with Lebanese authorities in the last week of January.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/17/2022 Seven Killed In Crackdown On Rallies In Sudan’s Capital – Medics by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok attends a news
conference in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Organisers of anti-military rallies in Sudan’s capital Khartoum announced an escalation of protests after security forces used gunfire and teargas on Monday to disperse demonstrations against a coup and medics said seven people had been killed.
    Security forces fired volleys of tear gas as they blocked thousands of protesters from advancing on Khartoum’s presidential palace, and several injured civilians could be seen bleeding heavily in the street, a Reuters witness said.
    They also fired live ammunition and stun grenades, said the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a group of medics aligned with the protest movement, which reported seven deaths.
    Medics told Reuters that many others were being treated for injuries at Khartoum hospitals.
    “The military prepared a massacre for us today, and all we’ve done is ask for civilian rule and democracy,” said Mohamed Babaker, a 19-year-old student.
    A police spokesman said a statement would be released later.    Government sources put the death toll from Monday at three.
    Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding a return to civilian rule since the military coup on Oct. 25 ended a power-sharing arrangement agreed after Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir fell during a popular uprising in 2019.
    Medics say at least 70 people have died in clashes with security forces since the coup.
    A security and defence committee formed under the ruling council commended security services on Monday for their “restraint” and protection of civilians, paying tribute to a police officer killed in protests on Thursday.
    It said in a statement that it would establish an anti-terrorism force to counter “potential threats,” without elaborating.
    On Monday, protesters had gathered some two km (1.25 mile) from the palace, blocking a main road in the Al Diyum neighbourhood and burning tires before starting their march.
    Civilian political parties announced two days of civil disobedience in protest against Monday’s violence.    Resistance committees organising protests in Khartoum and in its twin city of Omdurman across the Nile called on people to blockade local streets.
    Last week the United Nations began consultations to try to break a deadlock between military leaders and pro-democracy civilian groups and avert the risk of further instability.
    After the coup military leaders reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in an attempt to safeguard economic reforms, but he resigned earlier this month.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; writing by Sarah El Safty and Aidan Lewis; editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean)

1/17/2022 Seven Dead In Crackdown On Anti-Coup Rallies In Sudan - Medics by Khalid Abdelaziz
FILE PHOTO: Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok attends a news
conference in Paris, France, May 17, 2021. REUTERS/Sarah Meyssonnier
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Protest organisers in Sudan’s capital Khartoum announced two days of strikes and civil disobedience after security forces used gunfire and teargas on Monday to disperse demonstrations against a coup and medics said seven people had been killed.
    The toll marked one of the bloodiest days since pro-democracy groups began a campaign of anti-military protests following the Oct. 25 coup, and threatened to deepen the gulf between military leaders and a large protest movement.
    Security forces fired volleys of tear gas as they blocked thousands of protesters from advancing on Khartoum’s presidential palace, and several injured civilians could be seen bleeding heavily in the street, a Reuters witness said.
    They also used live ammunition and stun grenades, said the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, a group of medics aligned with the protest movement that reported the seven deaths.
    Medics told Reuters that many others were being treated for injuries at Khartoum hospitals.
    “The military prepared a massacre for us today, and all we’ve done is ask for civilian rule and democracy,” said Mohamed Babaker, a 19-year-old student.
    A police spokesman said a statement would be released later.    Government sources put the death toll from Monday at three.
    Huge crowds have regularly taken to the streets demanding civilian rule since the coup ended a military-civilian power-sharing arrangement agreed to after Islamist autocrat Omar al-Bashir fell during an uprising in 2019.
    Military leaders reinstated Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok in November in an attempt to safeguard economic reforms, but he resigned earlier this month.
    Medics say at least 70 people have been killed by security forces since the coup.
    “What is happening in Sudan now is a full-fledged crime … the free world must act,” Faisal Mohamed Salih, a former information minister in the transitional government after Bashir’s fall, said in a social media post.
    A security and defence committee formed under Sudan’s ruling council commended security services for their “restraint” and protection of civilians, paying tribute in a statement to a police officer killed in protests on Thursday.
    It said it would establish an anti-terrorism force to counter “potential threats,” but did not elaborate.U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said on Twitter the United States was “concerned by reports of escalating violence.”
    He noted that Assistant Secretary of State Molly Phee and new Special Envoy David Satterfield “are headed to Khartoum and will reiterate our call for security forces to end violence and respect freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
    Civilian groups called for two days of general strikes and civil disobedience starting on Tuesday to protest the latest violence. Resistance committees organising protests in Khartoum and its adjoining cities of Omdurman and Bahri called on people to barricade local streets.
    Last week, the United Nations began consultations to try to break a deadlock between military leaders and pro-democracy civilian groups and avert the risk of further instability.
(Writing by Sarah El Safty and Aidan Lewis; additional reporting by Nafisa Eltahir in Khartoum and David Shepardson in Washington; editing by Mark Heinrich, William Maclean and David Gregorio)

1/17/2022 Faltering Beirut Port Blast Probe Faces Risk Of New Obstruction
A general view shows the grain silo damaged during the 2020 Beirut
port explosion, in Beirut Lebanon January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – An investigation into the devastating 2020 explosion at Beirut port, which has struggled to make progress amid resistance from top politicians, may face a further obstruction to its work that could leave the probe in limbo by preventing any indictments.
    Judge Tarek Bitar’s investigation into the massive blast, which killed more than 215 people and deepened Lebanon’s economic crisis, has been suspended repeatedly by lawsuits brought by senior politicians who he has sought to question.
    Hezbollah, a powerful group with an armed militia, has led the campaign to remove Bitar, accusing him of bias after he pursued some of its political allies.
    In the latest twist, a lawsuit brought by former minister Youssef Finianos, one of the senior figures Bitar wants to interrogate, has been left in limbo by the retirement last week of Judge Roukoz Rizk, who was hearing it, judicial sources say.
    “While this lawsuit is not decided, the investigating judge cannot issue the indictment,” a judicial source said.
    There can be no ruling in the case, which the source said accuses Bitar of “a grave error” in conducting the probe, until a replacement is found for Rizk, who reached mandatory retirement age.
    Politicians typically pick judges in Lebanon, which Nizar Saghieh of watchdog Legal Agenda said could allow them to leave the position open and the case pending.
    Such a move could stymie the probe.
    Bitar’s opponents accuse him of bias and of overstepping his powers.    His supporters see his efforts as a bold attempt to hold senior officials to account in a country where impunity has been entrenched since the end of the 1975-1990 civil war.
    The investigation is currently frozen due to a separate lawsuit.
    Families of blast victims protested outside the Beirut headquarters of the judiciary on Monday to demanding the probe move more quickly and for the swift replacement of Rizk.
    “We want to reach justice, we don’t want to wait for years,” said Kayan Tlais, who lost his brother in the blast.
    Hezbollah and its allies had been boycotting cabinet meetings for three months, saying they wanted Bitar removed. On Saturday, a few days after Rizk retired, the group and its allies said they were ending the boycott.
    Heiko Wimmen of Crisis Group said described lawsuits that have been hindering progress as “legal theatre” and said obstructing the probe would further damage public trust in the nation’s institutions.
    “It’s very clear that Judge Bitar will not be allowed to summon anybody, let alone indict anybody,” he said.    “Whoever doesn’t want this investigation to go anywhere has succeeded in that.”
(Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Edmund Blair)

1/18/2022 More Than A Dozen Dead In Coalition Strikes On Yemen’s Sanaa
Rescuers search for survivors under the collapsed roof of a house hit by
Saudi-led air strikes in Sanaa, Yemen, January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN, Yemen (Reuters) – An air strike killed about 14 people in a building in the Yemeni capital of Sanaa, residents said on Tuesday, during strikes across the city launched by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthi group.
    The alliance strikes on Houthi-held Sanaa followed an attack claimed by the Iran-aligned Houthis on Monday on coalition partner the United Arab Emirates, in Abu Dhabi, in which three people were killed.
    The coalition also said it intercepted eight drones launched toward Saudi Arabia on Monday.
    Early on Tuesday, the coalition said it had begun air strikes against strongholds and camps in Sanaa belonging to the Houthi group, Saudi state media said.
    The strikes appeared to be the deadliest since 2019 on Sanaa.
    The strike that killed about 14 people, according to initial estimates, was on the home of a Houthi military official.
    It killed him, his wife, his 25-year-old son, other family members and some unidentified people, a medical source and residents told Reuters.
    Coalition strikes around the city had killed a total of about 20 people, the deputy foreign minister for the Houthi administration, which holds much of northern Yemen, said on Twitter.
    Houthi-run Al Masirah TV said strikes had damaged houses, killed at least a dozen people and wounded about a>     The UAE has armed and trained Yemeni forces that recently joined fighting against the Houthis in Yemen’s energy-producing regions of Shabwa and Marib.
    Monday’s Houthi-claimed attack on two sites in the UAE set off explosions in fuel trucks, killed three people and ignited a blaze near Abu Dhabi airport.
    In response, the UAE said it reserved the right to respond to “terrorist attacks and criminal escalation.”
(This story corrects paragraph 6 to remove “former” from military official’s description in paragraph 6, and adds that he was Houthi)
(Reporting by Alaa Swilam and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Robert Birsel)

1/18/2022 Undersea Cable Fault Could Cut Off Tonga From Rest Of The World For Weeks by Praveen Menon and Tom Westbrook
A satellite image shows ash covered homes and buildings after the main eruption of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha'apai volcano,
in Nuku'alofa, Tonga, January 18, 2022. Satellite Image ©2022 Maxar Technologies/Handout via REUTERS
    WELLINGTON/SYDNEY (Reuters) – The South Pacific archipelago of Tonga could spend days, or even weeks, cut off from the rest of world because of difficulties in repairing its sole undersea communications cable, which an operator said was ruptured during a massive volcanic eruption.
    The challenge underlines the vulnerability of undersea fibre-optic cables, which have become the backbone of global communications, thanks to a capacity to carry data that is about 200 times that of satellites.
    Saturday’s explosion of the Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai volcano sent tsunami waves across the Pacific Ocean so that connectivity was lost on the line, operated by Tonga Cable Ltd, in waters about 37 kilometres (23 miles) offshore.
    But the repair of Tonga’s critical 827-km (514-mile) fibre-optic link to Fiji depends on the arrival of a specialised ship now days away in Port Moresby, the capital of Papua New Guinea.
    “Typically, all things going well, it would take around two weeks,” said Craige Sloots, marketing and sales director at Southern Cross Cable Network, which connects to the Tonga cable at Fiji.
    That covers the eight or nine days the Reliance, the specialist cable repair ship in Port Moresby, will take to reach the affected area, while the crew also needs safety clearance for the repairs, he added.
    “Its ability to repair would also be dependent, as you would expect, on any volcanic activity,” Sloots, who is based in Sydney, told Reuters.
    “Fault-finding by Fintel and Tonga Cable Ltd on Sunday afternoon seems to confirm a likely cable break,” added Sloots, referring to Fiji’s telecoms provider.
    The Reliance, owned by U.S. firm SubCom, a builder of underwater cable networks that is the repair contractor for more than 50,000 km (31,070 miles) of cable in the South Pacific, has completed five-yearly maintenance in Singapore.
    It is in Port Moresby en route to its base in New Caledonia.
    SubCom, owned by U.S. private equity firm Cerberus Capital Management, said it was working with Tonga Cable Ltd to mobilise the Reliance for the cable repairs, while it evaluated crew and ship safety.
    Fixing a break in a fibre-optic cable on land is easy for an experienced technician, but repairing a cut in one on a seabed is far more complicated.
    Cable operators must first locate the fault by seeing how far a pulse of light travels down the cable before it bounces back at the break.
    Then a repair ship heads to the site of the break, where it sends down a submersible or deep water hook to grab the cable and pull it up to make the repair.
    More than 99% of global international data traffic is still carried on a network of about 280 submarine cables stretching more than a million kilometres (621,000 miles).
    In 2019, Tonga spent more than a week cut adrift from the web, when the undersea cable was damaged, reportedly by a ship’s anchor.    After that outage, it signed a 15-year deal for satellite connectivity.
    But prohibitive costs limit the use of satellites across the archipelago for most people apart from government, officials and some businesses.
    The use of satellite phones has also been affected by the ash still blanketing the country after the eruption.
    Australia and New Zealand Banking Group Pacific spokeswoman Victoria Kanevsky said Tonga country head David Dudley could only dial out on his satellite phone, and get signals only when he was down at the waterfront in the capital, Nuku’alofa.
    Digicel, an international mobile network provider, said it had set up an interim system on the main island of Tongatapu using the University of the South Pacific’s satellite dish, which could allow limited 2G coverage.
    Worried relatives overseas still face an agonising wait for news.
    “We just wait and pray and hope that communications come back soon because we don’t know anything,” said Pauline Lavulo, whose husband Aqulia is a pastor to the Tongan community in Sydney.
    “Every Tongan … wherever we are in the globe, we still have family back home.”
(Reporting by Praveen Menon and Tom Westbrook; Writing by Jane Wardell; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

1/18/2022 Israel Sticks With 4th Vaccine Shot, Sees Omicron Wave Waning In A Week by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: A medical worker prepares a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) vaccine
as Israel kicks off a coronavirus vaccination drive, at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center
(Ichilov Hospital) in Tel Aviv, Israel December 20, 2020. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will continue to offer a fourth COVID-19 vaccine shot despite preliminary findings that it is not enough to prevent Omicron infections, a senior health official said on Tuesday, predicting contagions stoked by the variant will wane in a week.
    The fastest country to roll out vaccinations a year ago, Israel last month started offering a fourth shot – also known as a second booster – to its most vulnerable and high-risk groups.    It has held off on expanding the offer to the wider population.
    A preliminary study published by Israel’s Sheba Medical Center on Monday found that the fourth shot increases antibodies to even higher levels than the third but “probably” not enough to fend off the highly transmissible Omicron.
    Health Ministry director-general Nachman Ash described those findings as “unsurprising, to a degree,” as Omicron infections had been logged in some people after they received fourth doses.
    But “protection from serious morbidity, especially for the elderly population and at-risk population, is still afforded by this vaccine (dose), and therefore I call on people to keep coming to get vaccinated,” he told Army Radio.
    In a statement on Tuesday, Sheba Medical Center said that even though the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines in use today did not provide optimal infection protection against Omicron, “it is important to continue vaccinating the at-risk population.”
    As elsewhere, Israel has seen COVID-19 cases spiral due to Omicron.    But it has logged no deaths from the variant, and Ash said there had been no increase in the number of COVID-19 patients on ECMO machines – a gauge of the most critical cases.
    “In another week we will begin seeing a drop in the numbers, but we still have two or three difficult weeks ahead,” he said, adding that some Health Ministry computers had been overloaded by the volume of testing data since Sunday, disrupting COVID-19 updates.
    Hoping to reduce strain on the economy, Israel on Monday cut the mandatory quarantine period for COVID-19 carriers to five days.    To conserve PCRs and reduce queuing at public testing sites, it has encouraged more use of home antigen kits.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Andrew Heavens and Frank Jack Daniel)

1/18/2022 Nigeria Adds New Charges As Biafran Separatist Leader Kanu’s Trial Resumes
FILE PHOTO: Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) leader Nnamdi Kanu is seen with his counsel
at the Federal high court Abuja, Nigeria January 20, 2016. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde
    ABUJA (Reuters) – The lawyer of an outlawed Nigerian separatist leader, whose trial is due to resume on Tuesday, accused authorities of extending his client’s time in custody by filing new charges against him.
    Nnamdi Kanu heads Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), a group he founded in 2014 that is pressing for the secession of the Igbo ethnic group’s homeland, which covers part of southeast Nigeria.
    An attempt by the homeland to secede as the Republic of Biafra in 1967 – the year that Kanu was born – triggered a three-year civil war that killed more than 1 million people.
    Nigerian authorities view IPOB as a terrorist group and last year accused it of a string of attacks on police stations and government offices in the southeast.    The group denies this and has called the accusations an attempt to force it to disband.
    Kanu, a British citizen, was arrested in 2015 but disappeared while on bail in April 2017.
    Authorities say social media commentaries that he posted and broadcasts that he made on separatist Radio Biafra before he was recaptured encouraged attacks on security forces.
    Kanu has pleaded not guilty to all seven charges that he faces, which include terrorism, calling for secession and knowingly broadcasting falsehoods about President Muhammadu Buhari.
    Kanu’s lawyer, Ifeanyi Ejiofor, said on Tuesday that prosecutors had now served the defence team with an amended charge sheet running to 15 counts.
    The amended sheet represented “the worst kind of abuse of legal process” and was designed to delay the trial and keep Kanu in detention, Ejiofor said in a statement.
    Nigerian security forces have prevented the media and some of Kanu’s supporters from attending his trial.
    Kanu appeared in court in Abuja last June 29 after being detained in an undisclosed country.    His lawyer alleged he was captured and mistreated in Kenya. Nairobi has denied involvement.
(Reporting by MacDonald Dzirutwe; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/18/2022 Half Of Global Cyber Defence Investment Has Been In Israel – PM Bennett
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks during a press conference at the
Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, January 2, 2022. Emil Salman/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Around half of global cyber defence investment in past few years has been in Israel, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said on Tuesday.
    Speaking by video to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Bennett said that as more work is done remotely, companies will be increasingly vulnerable to cyber attacks.
    “This means we need good cyber defence and Israel has massively invested in cyber defence technologies,” Bennett said.
    “I believe roughly half or almost half of the global investments in cyber companies over the past few years has been in Israel.    So Israel has become a powerhouse in cyber defence.    I see a bunch of opportunities and we intend to seize them.”
(Reporting by Steven Scheer and Dan Williams, Editing by Louise Heavens)

1/18/2022 Israeli Police Under Fire Over Reported Use Of Pegasus To Hack Israelis by Steven Scheer
FILE PHOTO: The logo of Israeli cyber firm NSO Group is seen at one of its branches
in the Arava Desert, southern Israel July 22, 2021. REUTERS/Amir Cohen
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s parliament will seek an explanation from police over the force’s reported use of a controversial hacking tool against citizens of the country, a senior legislator said on Tuesday.
    Without citing sources, the Calcalist financial daily said police have possessed the Pegasus spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group – which is now on a U.S. government blacklist — since 2013.
    Calcalist said the police used it against targets including anti-government protest leaders, sometimes without the required court warrants.
    The report added a new domestic angle to global pressure on Israel following allegations that Pegasus has been abused by some foreign client governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians.
    Responding to the Calcalist report, Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai said the force had acquired third-party cyber technology, but he stopped short of confirming or denying any usage of Pegasus.
    All such monitoring activity, he said in a statement, “is carried out according to law … (and) for example, in the case of covert listening, a request is filed with a court, which examines the matter.”
    He denied the newspaper’s report that police had used spyware against, among others, leaders of so-called “Black Flag” protests last year that demanded the resignation of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial on corruption charges he denies.
    On Israel’s Channel 12 TV news, legislator Meirav Ben Ari said the parliamentary public security committee she chairs would convene as early as next week to question police about the Calcalist report.
    “Many members of parliament have approached me today.    This is a very disturbing incident, raising concerns about violation of privacy and democracy as a whole,” Ben Ari said.    “The police, as they do whenever they come to my hearings, will explain.”
    NSO said it could not confirm or deny any existing or potential customers.    It said it does not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers nor is it involved in any way in the system’s operation.
    “NSO sells its products under license and regulation to intelligence and law enforcement agencies to prevent terror and crime under court orders and the local laws of their countries,” it said.
    Last month, a group of U.S. lawmakers asked the Treasury Department and State Department to sanction NSO and three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
    In November, Apple sued NSO, saying that it violated U.S. laws by breaking into the software installed on iPhones.
    NSO has also faced either legal action or criticism from Microsoft Corp, Facebook parent Meta Platforms Inc, Google parent Alphabet Inc and Cisco Systems Inc.
(Reporting by Steven Scheer, Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Jonathan Oatis)

1/18/2022 Roads In Sudan’s Capital Barricaded As Strike Against Protest Deaths Starts
Protesters walk in front of barricades during a two-day general strike and civil disobedience
campaign in response to demonstrators' deaths against military takeover on
Oct. 25, 2021 in Khartoum, Sudan January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Protesters erected barricades across roads in Sudan’s capital Khartoum on Tuesday and some shops and offices were shut as a two-day general strike and civil disobedience campaign began in response to demonstrators’ deaths.
    Neighbourhood resistance committees and political parties called the strike after seven people were killed in Khartoum on Monday in one of the deadliest days to date in a series of demonstrations against a military takeover on Oct. 25.
    Protesters are demanding the military, which had been sharing power with civilian groups before the coup, quit politics completely.
    “It is our duty to resist them until we are victorious or they rule an empty country after they have killed us all,” the Khartoum State resistance committees said in a statement.
    Police confirmed the seven deaths on Tuesday, saying they used minimum force and had faced “systematic aggression.”    Military leader General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan promised an investigation.
    At least 71 people have been killed and more than 2,000 injured by security forces since the coup, according to medics aligned with the protest movement.
    On Tuesday morning, stone and brick barricades impeded access to some major roads in eastern and southern Khartoum, and the adjoining cities of Bahri and Omdurman.    Protesters set fire to car tyres in some places and traffic was lighter than usual.
    Groups representing doctors, teachers, engineers, and pilots announced support for the strike, as did resistance committees outside the capital, aiming to pressure authorities by cutting off state revenues and bringing life to a standstill.
    Sudan is suffering a long-running economic crisis and Western nations that had supported a transition towards democratic elections after the toppling of Omar al-Bashir in 2019 suspended economic support following the coup.
    In eastern and southern Khartoum just under half of businesses appeared closed, including some pharmacies, construction stores, and restaurants.    Banks in the capital were not noticeably affected.
    Several Western nations and the United Nations, which is pushing for negotiations to resolve the political crisis, expressed concern at Monday’s deaths.
    “Through disproportionate use of force and continued detention of activists and journalists, the military authorities are demonstrating that they are not ready to find a negotiated and peaceful solution to the crisis,” the European Union said in a statement.
(Reporting by Nafisa Eltahir and Khalid Abdelaziz, Editing by Aidan Lewis and Angus MacSwan)

1/18/2022 Turkey’s Erdogan Working On Steps To Boost Interest In Lira, Media Say
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets people during the opening ceremony
of Eurasia Tunnel in Istanbul, Turkey, December 20, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said he was pleased with the lower volatility of the lira and that the government was working on steps to increase interest in the currency, state media reported on Tuesday.
    “Slowly, in a gradual way and without haste, the lira will get firmer, interest rates will fall in the same way, and 2022 will be our brightest year,” the state-owned Anadolu news agency and other media reported him as telling reporters during his visit to Albania on Monday.
    The lira has mostly stabilised this month after plunging 44% against the dollar last year.    It was 1.6% weaker at 13.65 against the dollar at 1535 GMT on Tuesday, slightly extending losses after Erdogan’s comments.
    “We are quite pleased with the lessening volatility in the exchange rate,” he said.    “Our additional work is continuing on maintaining stability in financial markets and boosting interest in the lira.”
    “I take the view that interest rates are the cause and inflation the result. This result indeed is showing itself: inflation is on the verge of falling,” Erdogan said, repeating his unorthodox view on the link between rates and inflation.
    However, annual inflation surged to 36.1% last month, its highest in the 19 years that Erdogan has been in power.    Economists see inflation reaching 50% in the first half of the year.
    The inflation surge has been fuelled by the lira’s slide. The currency weakness has in turn been driven by the central bank’s move to slash its policy rate by 500 basis points to 14% since September.    It will hold its next policy meeting on Thursday and is expected to keep the rate steady.
    After the lira slumped to a record low of 18.4 against the dollar on Dec. 20, Erdogan announced a scheme to support the currency by offering lira deposit accounts which would compensate savers for losses caused by further lira weakness.
(Reporting by Tuvan GumrukcuWriting by Daren ButlerEditing by Paul Simao)

1/18/2022 Israel Offers UAE Security, Intelligence Support After Deadly Houthi Attack
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem, Israel December 12, 2021. Tsafrir Abayov/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel has offered security and intelligence support to the United Arab Emirates against further drone attacks after a deadly strike by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, according to a letter released on Tuesday by Israel’s leader.
    Three people were killed and six wounded on Monday when three tanker trucks exploded in Abu Dhabi, the UAE capital.    A Houthi military spokesman said the group fired “a large number” of drones and five ballistic missiles in the attack.
    On Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett condemned what he described as a “terrorist drone attack
    His spokesman attached a copy of a condolence letter he sent on Monday to the UAE’s de facto leader, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan.
    “We stand ready to offer you security and intelligence support in order to help you protect your citizens from similar attacks,” Bennett wrote.    “I have ordered the Israeli security establishment to provide their counterparts in the UAE with any assistance, should you be interested.”
    The UAE, along with Bahrain, signed U.S.-brokered normalisation agreements with Israel at the White House in 2020.    The two Gulf nations and Israel share common concerns about Iran and its allied forces in the region.
    “Israel is committed to working closely with you in the ongoing battle against extremist forces in the region, and we will continue to partner with you to defeat our common enemies,” Bennett said in his message to Sheikh Mohammed.
    Bennett and Sheikh Mohammed held talks in Abu Dhabi in December last year, the first ever public meeting between the two men.
(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/19/2022 Israeli Police Evict Palestinians, Tear Down East Jerusalem Home by Stephen Farrell
Members of the Israeli border police speak with a Palestinian man at the site of a demolished house
in the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli police forcibly evicted a Palestinian family from their home in a flashpoint East Jerusalem neighbourhood on Wednesday before a digger tore down the property, ending a standoff that has drawn international attention.
    Resident Mahmoud Salhiyeh took to the roof of the house in Sheikh Jarrah on Monday, threatening to blow it up with gas canisters if he and his family – who he said have lived there for decades – were forced out.
    Police who had been deployed to the area then withdrew, leaving family members and activists maintaining a vigil inside and on top of the building.
    But armed officers returned before dawn on Wednesday, clearing everyone from the site.    A mechanical digger demolished the property, leaving behind a mound of concrete and twisted metal strewn with furniture, family photographs, ornaments and children’s toys.
    Jerusalem municipal authorities had expropriated the plot on which the house stood, which lies in an area of East Jerusalem that Israel captured and occupied in a war in 1967 and later annexed.
    Israel regards all of Jerusalem as its capital, but Palestinians claim the east of the city as the capital of a future state.
    Witnesses said some 25 people were detained at the property and a Reuters journalist saw police carrying away gas canisters before dawn.
    Police said several people were arrested “on suspicion of violating a court order, violent fortification and disturbing public order.”
    Mohammed Salhiyeh, a relative, said he had been unable to contact Mahmoud or anyone else who lived in the house.
    “Their phones are all off, we can’t reach them,” he told Reuters.    He said the evicted family had made no plans to relocate.    “They didn’t have a plan to go anywhere, they didn’t think it was an option,” he said.
    Mahmoud Salhiyeh says he has been fighting court battles over the plot for 25 years.
    A joint statement by the police and the Jerusalem municipality said the family had been given “countless opportunities” to hand over the land since an evacuation order was served in 2017.
    It said the authorities were enforcing a court-approved eviction order of “illegal buildings built on grounds designated for a school for children with special needs.”
    A tree-lined area of sandstone homes, foreign consulates and luxury hotels, Sheikh Jarrah lies 1 kilometre (half a mile) north of Jerusalem’s Old City walls.
    The area has seen clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinian families facing eviction, turning it into an emblem of what Palestinians regard as an Israeli campaign to force them out of East Jerusalem.
    One international activist who watched the early morning demolition said: “I am devastated.    You see livelihoods being destroyed in front of your eyes, and now the house is gone.”
    The site is across from the British Consulate in East Jerusalem, which said on Monday that evictions in occupied territory, in all but the most exceptional circumstances, were against international humanitarian law.
    It urged the Israeli government to “cease such practices which only serve to increase tensions on the ground.”
(Additional reporting by Roleen TafakjiWriting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kim Coghill and John Stonestreet)

1/19/2022 Tunisian Police Killed Man In First Death Of Protests, Opposition Says by Tarek Amara
FILE PHOTO: Demonstrators are hit by a water cannon during a protest against Tunisian President Kais Saied's
seizure of governing powers, in Tunis, Tunisia, January 14, 2022. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) - A Tunisian man died in hospital on Wednesday from injuries inflicted by police, activists and the main opposition Ennahda party said, in what would be the first death related to protests against President Kais Saied’s assumption of extra powers.
    A Tunis court investigating the death said the man, found in a coma on Mohamed V Street in the capital, was taken to hospital on Friday and died on Wednesday.    A court statement made no mention of whether the man was one of the demonstrators.
    The court said the man’s body bore no visible signs of violence and would be handed to forensic examiners to determine the cause of death.    An investigation had been opened, it added.
    There was no immediate comment from the interior ministry.
    The Ennahda Islamist party said in a statement, however, that Ridha Bouziane, who is one of its members, was subjected to severe violence, which resulted in severe bleeding in his brain.
    Police deployed water cannons and batons against protesters on Friday, as Saied faced growing discontent over his suspension of parliament last July and subsequent rule by decree.
    “Ridha Bouziane, who took part in the January 14 protest died in a hospital in the capital after suffering serious injuries as a result of the excessive violence by police in the demonstration,” the Citizens Against the Coup coalition said.
    Ennahda said it holds President Saied and his interior minister fully responsible for Bouziane’s death, and said it will prosecute those involved in this crime.
    Samir Ben Amor, a lawyer for arrested protesters, also said Bouziane died due to police violence, though no more specifics were given.
    Saied has said he will uphold all freedoms during a transitional period to a new constitution later this year.
    Friday’s protest defied a COVID-19 ban on gatherings.
(Reporting By Tarek Amara;Editing by Angus McDowall, Andrew Cawthorne, William Maclean and Jonathan Oatis)

1/19/2022 Yemeni Family Lives In Abandoned Shop As War, Hunger Drags On
Family members of Ismail Hassan, displaced by war in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, eat lunch at
their shelter in Sanaa, Yemen January 17, 2022. Picture taken January 17, 2022. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Ismail Hassan, a Yemeni father of ten, houses his family in an abandoned shop and scavenges recyclable items from rubbish bins to feed them.
    Living in the capital Sanaa after fleeing his hometown four years ago, Hassan is one of millions of Yemenis battling with increasing poverty and hunger as peace eludes the seven-year conflict and cash-strapped aid organisations struggle to keep assistance flowing.
    The World Food Programme (WFP) has since January reduced food rations for 8 million people due to funding shortages, warning the cuts would push more people into starvation.
    Over a communal lunch of rice and bread in the small former shop, Hassan says he strives to put food in their mouths, but can give little else.
    “The most important thing to me is providing them with food,” he said, adding that he cannot afford to put his seven school-aged children into education, even in government schools.
    The family has been getting some food aid every two months, he said, but it is not enough.
    “A sack and half of wheat, two cans of (cooking) oil, a bag of salt, a bag of sugar, and a bag of lentils.    That’s it,” he said inside his sparse, crowded shelter.
    Back in their old home in the Red Sea port city of Hodeidah, before war forced them to move, Hassan said they had food.
    “We used to have meat, fish, chicken, molokhiya … There was everything.    But now circumstances have imposed this on us.”
    Yemen is divided between the Iran-aligned Houthi group in the north, which also controls Sanaa, and the internationally recognised government in the south.
    Fighting, inflation, displacement and impediments to imports have plunged the already poor country deep into hunger.    Around 5 million are at risk of famine, the WFP has said.
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

1/19/2022 Chad Frees Rebels Ahead Of National Peace-Building Talks by Mahamat Ramadane
Twenty-two prisoners attend their release ceremony marking the beginning of the release
of around two hundred and fifty members of rebel groups and other prisoners of war,
at Klessoum prison in N'Djamena, Chad, January 18, 2022. REUTERS/Mahamat Ramadane
    KLESSOUM PRISON, Chad (Reuters) – Chad’s transitional authorities on Tuesday released the first of some 250 members of armed groups it has promised to free from prison under an amnesty aimed at fostering dialogue after the battlefield death of President Idriss Deby last April.
    Justice Minister Ahmat Mahamat Alhabo led a short ceremony at Klessoum prison near the capital N’Djamena, granting the immediate release of 22 detainees convicted of taking up arms against the central government in the past 10 years.
    Rebel groups have been invited to join national peace-building talks scheduled for mid February, but the main group – the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) – said it would only take part if the interim government made gestures of peace.
    “This pardon agreement is to be welcomed because it is a pledge to restore trust between the sons and daughters of Chad and to bring about much-needed social peace,” the minister told reporters after handing each prisoner an amnesty certificate.
    Chad’s Transitional Military Council is led by Mahamat Idriss Deby, who seized power after his father was killed while visiting troops fighting an insurgency in the north.
    He has said the national talks are a necessary precursor to presidential and legislative elections.
(Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Bill Berkrot)

1/19/2022 Gambian President Barrow Vows Economic Progress At Start Of Second Term
Gambia's President Adama Barrow walks during his inauguration ceremony
at the Presidential Palace in Banjul, Gambia, January 19, 2022. REUTERS/Stringer
    BANJUL (Reuters) – Gambian President Adama Barrow on Wednesday pledged to work to jumpstart the economy and ensure broad-based development gains as he was sworn in for a second five-year term in office.
    Barrow, 56, came to power in 2017 by unseating his autocratic predecessor Yahya Jammeh at the polls.    He comfortably won re-election last month with 53% of the first-round vote.
    During his first term, he improved relations with many foreign countries that had cooled under Jammeh’s 22-year tenure and worked to restore civil liberties that were repressed during that period.
    He faced a challenge reviving the economy of mainland Africa’s smallest country.    The coronavirus pandemic pushed the economy into recession in 2020, keeping away tourists from its white-sand beaches.
    Growth is estimated to have bounced back to around 5% last year.
    “Today we can comfortably conclude that my election to another five years is a vote of confidence in my government, a vote of acknowledgment of my achievements,” said Barrow, dressed in a white cap and robe, after being sworn in before an audience that included several other West African heads of state.
    “2022 to 2027 is a period to press on for accelerated growth, expansion and advancement.    The focus now centers on economic development,” he said.
    He reiterated a previous commitment to introduce a new constitution.    He has previously said it would introduce presidential term limits but has not said whether that would prevent him from seeking additional terms.
    Debates about presidential term limits have flared in several of Gambia’s West African neighbours, including Ivory Coast and Guinea, whose presidents in 2020 used constitutional changes as reset buttons on their tenures in order to stay beyond the two-term limit.
    Barrow had pledged as a candidate in 2016 to only serve three years if he was elected but later went back on that commitment.
(Reporting by Pap Saine; Writing by Aaron Ross; Editing by Richard Chang)

1/20/2022 Biden Says Administration Mulling Re-Designating Yemen’s Houthis A Terrorist Group by Jonathan Landay
FILE PHOTO: A Shi'ite Houthi fighter sits behind sandbags near a checkpoint
in Sanaa December 17, 2014. REUTERS/Mohamed al-Sayaghi/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Joe Biden said on Wednesday his administration is considering re-designating Yemen’s Houthi movement as an international terrorist organization following drone and missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates claimed by the group.
    His comment at a news conference came shortly after the Emirati Embassy said on Twitter that UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba urged the Biden administration to restore the designation in response to Monday’s strikes on Abu Dhabi airport and a fuel depot.
    Asked if he supported returning the Iran-aligned Houthis to the U.S. list of foreign terrorist organizations, from which they were removed nearly a year ago, Biden replied, “The answer is, it’s under consideration.”
    But he conceded that “it’s going to be very difficult” to end the conflict pitting the Houthis against Yemen’s internationally recognized government and a Saudi-led military coalition, to which the UAE belongs.
    Biden’s comment reflected the lack of progress toward ending the war since he launched an initiative shortly after taking office a year ago to bolster U.N. efforts to restart peace talks and end what the United Nations calls the world’s worst humanitarian disaster.
    The UAE welcomed Biden’s comment, the Emirati Embassy said on Twitter.    The “case is clear – launching ballistic and cruise missiles against civilian targets, sustaining aggression, diverting aid to Yemeni people,” it said.
    Saudi Arabia’s ambassador to Yemen, Mohammed Al-Jaber, said on Twitter on Thursday that the United Nations and global community must not show leniency and hold the Houthi movement accountable because “it encourages other terrorist organisations to act similarly.”
    As part of the initiative he launched last year, Biden appointed veteran U.S. diplomat Timothy Lenderking a special envoy.    The State Department also reversed a last-minute Trump administration decision placing the Houthis on the U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups, subjecting them to financial sanctions.
    Three people were killed in Monday’s drone and missile attack claimed by the Houthis.
    In response, the Saudi-led coalition on Tuesday staged air strikes on the Houthi-held capital, Sanaa, killing at least 20 people including civilians, according to Houthi media and residents – one of its deadliest attacks since 2019.
    Otaiba held “broad” consultations with Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, on the situation that included discussions of the Houthi attack, a National Security Council spokesperson said.
    The Emirati Embassy said that Otaiba was accompanied by the top UAE intelligence official, Ali al Shamsi.
    The embassy, in a second Twitter post responding to Biden’s consideration of the terrorist designation, said Otaiba pressed the case for re-designating the Houthis in his meeting with Sullivan.
    Lenderking began a new mission to the Gulf on Wednesday in a bid to reinvigorate the peace process and tamp down the surge in violence, the State Department said in a statement.
    The envoy “will press the parties to de-escalate militarily and seize the new year to participate fully in an inclusive U.N.-led peace process,” it said.
    U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin on Wednesday spoke with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the Pentagon said.
    “Austin conveyed his condolences for the loss of life, and underscored his unwavering support for the security and defense of UAE territory against all threats,” the Pentagon said.
(Reporting by Jonathan Landay, Alexandra Alper, Idrees Ali, and Susan Heavey; Additional reporting by Andrea Shala, Lisa Barrington and Ghaida Ghantous;Editing by Mark Heinrich, Jonathan Oatis and Leslie Adler)

1/21/2022 Israel’s Attorney General Orders Probe Into Police Spyware Allegations
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces his decision regarding indictment of Prime Minister
Benjamin Netanyahu over alleged corruption, in Jerusalem November 21, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel’s attorney general has ordered an investigation into police surveillance tactics amid reports that law enforcement improperly used a disputed hacking tool.
    A report by the Calcalist financial daily describing misuse by police of the Pegasus spyware made by Israel’s NSO Group – a company now on a U.S. government blacklist – has already spurred parliament to seek an explanation from police officials.
    In a letter to the police commissioner made public, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said an initial examination into the matter did not turn up evidence of systemic misuse of surveillance technologies.
    He said it was a challenge, however, to track down specific cases described in the media due to the lack of identifying information.
    Calcalist, without citing sources, reported that police used Pegasus against targets including anti-government protest leaders, sometimes without the required court warrants.
    “It is difficult to overstate the seriousness of the alleged violation of fundamental rights,” Mandelblit said.
    The report added a new domestic angle to global pressure on Israel following allegations that Pegasus has been abused by some foreign client governments to spy on human rights activists, journalists and politicians.
    Mandelblit said he had formed a team led by his deputy to investigate the issue “in a systematic and thorough manner.”
    Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai said on Thursday police were carrying out an internal investigation that so far had not uncovered any misuse.
    “If it turns out there were specific cases that deviated from procedures, we will act to improve and to fix, with complete transparency and cooperation with all groups,” he said.
    NSO has said it could not confirm or deny any existing or potential customers.    It says it does not operate the system once sold to its governmental customers nor is it involved in any way in the system’s operation.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Mark Potter)

1/21/2022 Lebanese Museum Returns Artefacts From Syria’s Ancient City Of Palmyra
Roman artifacts from the ancient city of Palmyra are pictured during a handover ceremony
hosted by Lebanon's National Museum in Beirut, Lebanon January 20, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Five Roman artefacts from the ancient city of Palmyra, a site damaged during Syria’s decade-long conflict, were returned to Damascus on Thursday by a private Lebanese museum where they had been on display since 2018.
    The limestone statues and carved funerary stones dating from the Roman second and third centuries AD were returned at the initiative of a private Lebanese collector, Syrian antiquities chief Mohamed Nazir Awad said at a handover ceremony hosted by Lebanon’s National Museum in Beirut.
    The collector, Jawad Adra, acquired them from European auction houses before Syria’s war began in 2011, Awad said, describing his actions as “a generous initiative.”
    The pieces, which had been on display at the Nabu Museum in northern Lebanon, were returning to “their original homeland,” the Syrian official added.
    During the Syrian conflict, the site of Palmyra, one of the most important cultural centres in the ancient world, fell under the control of the Islamic State group, which blew up some of its major monuments, including the Arch of Triumph.
    Syria’s ambassador to Lebanon, Ali Abdul Karim, said talks were underway to arrange the return of other artefacts from the National Museum in Beirut to Syria.
(Reporting by Maya Saad; Editing by Tom Perry and Edmund Blair)

1/21/2022 Explosion Kills 13, Flattens Village In Ghana Mining Region by Cooper Inveen and Christian Akorlie
Debris of houses and other buildings that were destroyed when a vehicle carrying mining explosives detonated
along a road in Apiate, Ghana, January 21, 2022. Picture taken with a drone. REUTERS/Cooper Inveen
    APIATE, Ghana (Reuters) - At least 13 people were killed and scores injured when a truck carrying explosives to a gold mine in western Ghana detonated, flattening a rural community, the police said on Friday.
    Smouldering timber and torn-up sheet metal marked where hundreds of houses had stood in Apiate, a settlement about 200 km (130 miles) west of the capital Accra. Thursday’s blast left a crater roughly 20 meters (66 ft) wide.    Doors and roofs were blown off other buildings, a Reuters reporter at the scene said.
    Rescue workers combed the site while excavators dug through the larger piles of dirt and debris.
    “We’ve seen damage to lives and property here that is just indescribable,” said Daniel Adu-Gyamfi, a student from a nearby mining college who came to volunteer with the response team.
    “Yesterday … you could see human remains all over the place.”
    About 180 people were injured by the explosion, police said.
    In a video apparently filmed by a bystander in Apiate, people can be seen walking towards a fire on the side of the road when a powerful explosion ripped through the settlement.
    It was not immediately clear what caused the accident.    Police said a motorcycle crashed into the truck, then caught fire, and a government statement suggested a roadside power transformer could have played a role.
    The truck was owned by a Spanish company called Maxam that was transporting explosives to the Chirano gold mine, run by Toronto-based Kinross Gold Corporation, police said.
    The ministry of lands and natural resources said in a statement that Maxam would be suspended from manufacturing, transporting or supplying explosives for mining operations pending the outcome of investigations into the incident.
    The ministry also ordered the suspension of Ghana’s chief inspector of mines, who is responsible for supervising explosives use in the sector.
    Maxam, which has 140 subsidiaries operating in more than 50 countries, has not responded to requests for comment.
    Kinross said it planned to provide support to the response efforts and relief items to those affected.
    Kwesi Ofori, director of public affairs for the Ghana Police Service, told reporters earlier on Friday that the transport of the explosives had followed proper procedure, and the truck had a police escort.
    Police are treating the site as a crime scene while they investigate, he said, without providing details.
    The death toll could have been much worse.
    There was a pause between the collision and the explosion, which gave the driver time to tell the community that they were in danger, said police spokesperson Ofori.
    Teachers in a nearby school were among the first informed, and evacuated the children.
    “(The driver) also announced to most community members to move out, including the moto rider,” Ofori said.
    The government earlier on Friday said the death toll was 17, mistakenly counting four people who are alive but in critical condition, Ofori said.
    In a visit to Apiate, near the towns of Bawdie and Bogoso, Vice President Mahamudu Bawumia applauded the rescue efforts and said the government was working to set up temporary housing for those who lost their homes.
    “We will learn lessons and those are going to be much later on.    For now we are very concerned about how to complete this rescue effort,” he said.
(Reporting by Christian Akorlie and Cooper Inveen; Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton, Edward McAllister and Aaron Ross; Editing by John Stonestreet, Frank Jack Daniel and Daniel Wallis)

1/21/2022 S. African Court Postpones Ruling On Objection To Amazon HQ On Sacred Land
Members of the Khoi, an indigenous group, picket outside the high court during a hearing,
as they oppose development of the new Africa headquarters and residential buildings of U.S. retail
giant Amazon, in Cape Town, South Africa, January 21, 2022. REUTERS/Shafiek Tassiem
    CAPE TOWN (Reuters) – A South African court on Friday postponed a ruling on a lawsuit from descendants of South Africa’s earliest inhabitants, the Khoi and San, to try to halt construction of Amazon’s new Africa headquarters on what they say is sacred land.
    The 70,000-square metre development in Cape Town includes plans for a hotel, retail offices and homes, and with Amazon – which employs thousands of people in data hubs in the city – its main tenant.    But it has faced a backlash from Khoi and San community leaders, who say they represent the majority of their people.
    The Khoi and the San were the earliest inhabitants of South Africa, the latter roaming as hunter gatherers for tens of thousands of years, and the former joining them as pastoralists more than 2,000 years ago.
    “The judgement has been reserved and we will probably get the judgement next week,” one of the lawyers said.
    The proposed building site lies at the confluence of two rivers, the Black River and the Liesbeek, that is sacred to both groups, and objectors fear it will also block their view to the equally sacred Lion’s Head, part of Table Mountain.
    Not everyone identifying with these groups are against the project – an association of Khoi and San who support the development are among the respondents in the case.
    They and the other respondents, which include the project developer Liesbeek Leisure Properties Trust, the City of Cape Town and Western Cape Province, argue they have fulfilled all regulatory requirements and it is unreasonable to jettison the prospect of investment and jobs from a major tech company in a country in which a third of people are out of work.
(Reporting by Shafiek Tassiem and Wendell Roelf; Writing by Tim Cocks; Editing by Susan Fenton)

1/21/2022 U.S. Treasury Imposes More Sanctions On Hezbollah-Linked Lebanese Individuals
FILE PHOTO: Signage is seen at the United States Department of the Treasury
headquarters in Washington, D.C., U.S., August 29, 2020. REUTERS/Andrew Kelly
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Friday imposed sanctions on three Lebanese nationals and 10 companies it said were part of an international Hezbollah network, accusing them of evading sanctions on the powerful group with an armed militia that is designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by Washington.
    The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it designated Adnan Ayad, who it said was a Hezbollah member and businessman, as well as other members of an international network of facilitators and companies connected to him and his business partner, Adel Diab, who was designated by Washington on Tuesday.
    Friday’s move comes after the United States on Tuesday imposed sanctions on three businessmen, including Diab, with ties to Hezbollah, saying their activity as financial facilitators for the Iran-backed group was exploiting Lebanon’s economic resources at a time of crisis for that country.
    “Treasury is committed to disrupting Hizballah’s illicit activity and attempts to evade sanctions through business networks while the group doubles down on corrupt patronage networks in Lebanon,” Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian Nelson said in the statement on Friday.
    Lebanon’s economy has been in crisis since 2019 when it collapsed under a mountain of debt.    Its currency plunged to a new low last week, and swaths of the country have been driven into poverty.
    Lebanon’s Cabinet will hold its first meeting in three months next week, local media reported on Monday, after Hezbollah and another group, Amal, ended their boycott of the Cabinet over the weekend.
    The two groups, which back several ministers, had been boycotting the Cabinet in a dispute over the conduct of an investigation into a huge explosion at Beirut’s port in 2020.
(Reporting by Susan Heavey and Daphne Psaledakis; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

1/22/2022 Saudi-Led Coalition Denies Targeting Detention Centre In Yemen’s Saada
A man walks on the collapsed roof of a detention center hit
air strikes, in Saada, Yemen Jaunary 21, 2022. REUTERS/Naif Rahma
    CAIRO (Reuters) – The Saudi-led coalition fighting Iran-aligned Houthis in Yemen denied targeting a detention centre in Yemen’s Saada province, saying the facility hit was not a site restricted from strikes, the Saudi official news agency SPA reported on Saturday.
    A Reuters witness said several people, including African migrants, died in the Friday attack that reportedly killed at least 60 people
    “The coalition will inform the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in Yemen (OCHA) and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) on the facts and details,” the state news agency said, citing a coalition spokesman.
    He said the target in Saada was not on no-targeting lists agreed upon with the OCHA, was not reported by the ICRC and did not meet the standards stipulated by the Third Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War.
(Reporting by Ahmad Elhamy; Editing by William Mallard)

1/22/2022 U.N. Chief Condemns Deadly Saudi-Led Coalition Strike In Yemen
Damage after an airstrike hit a temporary detention centre is seen in Saada, Yemen,
January 21, 2022 in this still image obtained from a video. Video recorded with a drone.
    SAADA/NEW YORK, Yemen (Reuters) -United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned air strikes by a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen on Friday that reportedly killed at least 60 people in a detention center in the Houthi-held Saada province.
    A Reuters witness said several people, including African migrants, died in the attack. Guterres’ spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, said further deadly air strikes had been reported elsewhere in Yemen with children among those killed.
    “An airstrike on telecommunications facilities in Hodeidah has also significantly disrupted vital internet services across much of the country,” Dujarric said in a statement.    “The Secretary-General calls for prompt, effective and transparent investigations into these incidents to ensure accountability.”
    Save the Children said in a statement that three children were reportedly killed in the western city of Hodeidah.
    The Saudi-led military coalition has been fighting the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Yemen since 2015.    The coalition said the report of dozens of deaths on Friday would be investigated “using an internationally approved, independent process.”
    It has intensified air strikes on what it says are Houthi military targets after the group carried out an unprecedented assault on coalition member the United Arab Emirates on Monday and further missile and drones launches at Saudi cities.
    During a news conference earlier on Friday, Guterres said: “This escalation needs to stop.”
    Dujarric said Guterres reminds all parties that they are obliged to “ensure that civilians are protected against the dangers arising from military operations, adhering to the principles of proportionality, distinction and precaution.”
    The U.N. Security Council condemned the Houthi attack on the UAE and other sites in Saudi Arabia in a statement on Friday after a closed-door meeting, requested by the UAE. The UAE joined the 15-member council this month for a two-year term.
    Asked about the air strikes on Yemen on Friday, UAE U.N. Ambassador Lana Nusseibeh told reporters: “The coalition undertake to abide by international law and proportionate response in all its military operations.”
    U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke with Saudi Foreign Minister Faisal bin Farhan al Saud on Friday to reaffirm a U.S. commitment to help Gulf allies improve their defence and underscored “the importance of mitigating civilian harm,” the State Department said.
    Later, Blinken said in a separate statement that the heightening of the conflict was of “great concern” to the United States and called on all sides to de-escalate.
    The conflict, in which the coalition intervened after the Houthis ousted the internationally-recognised government from the capital Sanaa, has killed tens of thousands of people, displaced millions and pushed Yemen to the verge of famine.
(Reporting by Yemen team and Michelle Nichols in New York; Writing by Michelle Nichols and Ghaida Ghantous; additional reporting by Costas Pitas in Los Angeles; Editing by William Maclean and Daniel Wallis)

1/22/2022 Turkish Journalist Arrested On Charge Of Insulting Erdogan - CNN Turk
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers his speech at the Albanian
Parliament, in Tirana, Albania, January 17, 2022 REUTERS/Florion Goga/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – A Turkish court on Saturday ordered well-known journalist Sedef Kabas to be jailed pending trial on a charge of insulting President Tayyip Erdogan, CNN Turk said, targeting her with a law under which tens of thousands have been prosecuted.
    Police detained Kabas at around 2 a.m. (2300 GMT) and took her first to Istanbul’s main police station before transferring her to the city’s main courthouse, where a court subsequently ruled in favour of her formal arrest, the broadcaster said.
    The alleged insult was in the form of a palace-related proverb that Kabas expressed both on an opposition television channel and on her Twitter account, drawing condemnation from government officials.
    “The honour of the presidency’s office is the honour of our country… I condemn the vulgar insults made against our president and his office,” Fahrettin Altun, head of Turkey’s Communications Directorate, wrote on Twitter.
    Merdan Yanardag, chief editor of the Tele 1 channel on which Kabas made the comment, sharply criticised her arrest.
    “Her detention overnight at 2 a.m. because of a proverb is unacceptable,” he wrote on Twitter.     “This stance is an attempt to intimidate journalists, the media and society.”
    The law on insulting the president carries a jail sentence of between one and four years.
    Last October, Europe’s top human rights court called on Turkey to change the legislation after ruling that a man’s detention under the law violated his freedom of expression.
    Thousands have been charged and sentenced over the crime of insulting Erdogan in the seven years since he moved from being prime minister to president.
    In 2020, 31,297 investigation were launched in relation to the charge, 7,790 cases were filed and 3,325 resulted in convictions, according to Justice Ministry data.    Those numbers were slightly lower than the previous year.
    Since 2014, the year Erdogan became president, 160,169 investigations were launched over insulting the president, 35,507 cases were filed and there were 12,881 convictions.
(This story was refiled to edit headline)
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editing by Alex Richardson)

1/22/2022 Kuwaiti Minister Visits Beirut In First Gulf Arab Trip Since Rift by Nayera Abdallah
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati gestures during a news conference on the latest developments in
the country, at the government palace in Beirut, Lebanon December 28, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Kuwait’s foreign minister visited Beirut on Saturday in the first trip by a senior Gulf Arab official since a diplomatic rift last year, saying he had delivered confidence-building proposals to Lebanon in a message coordinated with Gulf states.
    Long strained by the influence of the Iran-backed Lebanese group Hezbollah, Lebanon’s ties with Gulf Arab states were plunged into a new crisis in October by comments from a former Lebanese minister criticising Saudi-led forces in Yemen.
    Kuwait was one of several members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, that responded to George Kordahi’s remarks by expelling the Lebanese ambassador and recalling its envoy to Beirut.
    Speaking after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati, Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah said ties with Beirut had not been severed and relations were now in a phase of confidence-building measures.
    He said he had delivered proposed confidence-building steps to Mikati and the Lebanese foreign minister and “the brothers in Lebanon should study them and know how to deal with these matters.”
    “All the GCC states are sympathetic and in solidarity with the Lebanese people … the Kuwaiti move is a Gulf move,” Sheikh Ahmad said.
    Saudi Arabia and fellow Sunni-led Gulf Arab monarchies once spent billions of dollars in aid in Lebanon, and still provide jobs and a haven for much of Lebanon’s huge diaspora.
    But the friendship has been strained for years by the growing influence of the heavily armed Shi’ite group Hezbollah.    The diplomatic rift added to the difficulties facing Lebanon as it struggles with a financial crisis that the World Bank has described as one of the sharpest depressions ever recorded.
    Sheikh Ahmad said the visit was “to support Lebanon and bring Lebanon out of all that it is going through, to help it overcome these difficulties, and to restore, God willing, the measures to build confidence with Lebanon.”
    The GCC called on Lebanon in December to prevent Hezbollah from conducting “terrorist operations,” strengthen its military and ensure that arms were limited to state institutions.
    Kordahi resigned in December.
    Lebanese governments have long declared an official policy of disassociation from wars in the Middle East, even as Hezbollah has become involved in regional conflicts, deploying fighters to Syria to help President Bashar al-Assad.
    Sheikh Ahmad said disassociation must be “in word and deed.”
    On Sunday, he is expected to meet President Michel Aoun and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, both political allies of Hezbollah.
    Aoun and Mikati have called for dialogue with Saudi Arabia to resolve the diplomatic crisis.
(Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Nayera Abdallah and Tom Perry; Editing by Gareth Jones and Alex Richardson)

1/23/2022 ‘Another Crime’ Say Survivors Of Coalition Strikes On Yemeni Detention Centre
People injured by air strikes on a detention center lie on hospital
beds in Saada, Yemen, January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Naif Rahma
    SAADA, Yemen (Reuters) - Yemeni detainee Mohammed Ali Salem was lucky that a missile fired by warplanes of the Saudi-led coalition on the next ward caused a wave strong enough to shatter the door of his own cell.
    That was how he was able to escape before a second bomb fell.
    “When they struck Ward 8, the door opened and we walked out… the door opened from the pressure and we walked out.    God granted us safety, thank God,” he said, recounting the strikes that targeted the detention centre where he was held on Friday at dawn.
    Others, wrapped in white body bags, weren’t that lucky. At least 60 people were killed when missiles hit a detention centre in the Yemeni province of Saada, the stronghold of the Houthi group that has been at war with a Saudi-led coalition since 2015.
    A Reuters witness said several people, including African migrants, were killed in a raid.
    Save the Children said in a statement that three children were also reportedly killed by air strikes on Friday in the western city of Hodeidah.
    The strikes, which followed missile and drone strikes on the United Arab Emirates earlier this week, have caused an international uproar and brought back attention to a forgotten and deadly conflict.
    The Saudi-led coalition denied on Saturday targeting the detention centre, saying the facility was not on no-targeting lists agreed upon with the United Nations and did not meet the standards stipulated by the Third Geneva Convention for Prisoners of War.
    The strikes, the deadliest in more than two years, came amid an unprecedented escalation in the seven-year-old conflict with clashes raging over the control of Yemen’s oil-rich regions Shabwa and Marib, and uptick in corss-border attacks.
    The strikes on Abu Dhabi followed dozens of similar attacks on Saudi Arabian cities with armed drones and ballistic missiles.
    In Saada, hundreds of people gathered around lined-up body bags on Saturday near concrete rubble of the detention centre, seeking information about their relatives.    Some were checking the bodies hoping to identify their loved ones.
    “We came from Amran province on a visit to find out that the prison has been hit by warplanes.    This is a another crime to be added to their other crimes,” said Salman Badi, one of the relatives.
    Sultan al-Qahim, one of the wounded with burns on his face, said he lost consciousness after a third bomb fell.
    “I was setting with my mates in our ward and then the warplane came and hit with a first strike.    And a while later, two more air strikes hit.    After that, nothing,” he said in the Republican hospital in Saada, where most of the wounded have been treated.
(Reporting Reuters TV, writing by Aziz El Yaakoubi;)

1/23/2022 Ghana Blast Leaves Survivors With Cuts And Questions by Cooper Inveen and Francis Kokoroko
Diana Essandoh, 25, whose husband died in an explosion when carrying mining explosives
detonated along a road in Apiate, sits with her children and mother-in-law, at a shelter
for displaced victims in Bogoso, Ghana, January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Francis Kokoroko
    APIATE, Ghana (Reuters) – Nancy Nyarko was preparing porridge at her roadside stall near the edge of the village of Apiate in Ghana’s western mining region when she heard a loud noise close by.
    Looking up, she saw a motorbike had collided with a large truck and caught fire, Nyarko said, her right hand and left leg wrapped in bandages.
    The crash happened at 13:25 on Jan 20.    In less than an hour Apiate was reduced to a wasteland of rubble, timber and twisted metal, a 20m (65 ft) crater yawning at its core from an explosion.    At least 13 people were dead and nearly 200 injured.
    What residents didn’t know was that the truck, owned by the Spanish company Maxam, contained 10 tons of explosives meant to blast rock in the Chirano gold mine, run by Toronto-based Kinross Gold Corporation, around 140 km (87 miles) further north.
    The explosion exposed the risk of transporting mining goods in poor areas with limited emergency response.
    The truck was on fire for 45 minutes before the blast, in which time residents were allowed to walk to the scene to take photos and video without police or firemen holding them back, eight eye witnesses said.
    Survivors were left with cuts and lingering questions about extent of safety precautions and the speed and effectiveness of the authorities’ response.
    “The truck stopped and the driver got out and started waving,” Nyarko said.
    “He ran into a shop and told the people to get out.    I couldn’t hear him from where I was but I could see him gesturing for people to get away, so I also decided to leave,” Nyarko said.
    Ghana Police spokesman Kwesi Ofori told Reuters the truck had been escorted by a Maxam car with a flashing security light in front, and a police car behind.
    A police document, shared by Ofori, showed the escort was carrying 10 tons of explosive and signed off by the regional command in Tarkwa on Jan. 19.    The truck driver and policeman told a nearby school to evacuate its pupils and a fuel station to shut down, Ofori said.
    “When he saw what happened, the policeman quickly reversed far away and started alerting people to be careful about what was happening,” Ofori said.
    “The escort police also alerted the fuel station and they shut.    That also could have been a major disaster,” Ofori said.
    Nancy and seven other witnesses of the accident said they did not recall seeing a police escort and a Maxam car with a flashing light, or that a policeman helped warn the villagers.
    The manager of the GOIL fuel station, Fred Antwi, said he did not speak to any police officers, and police from the station in Bogosoro, around a mile away, didn’t arrive until after the blast.
    Maxam did not respond to a request for comment. A Kinross spokesperson said the vehicle was under the sole supervision of Maxam.
    Kojo Oppong Nkrumah, Ghana’s minister of information, said police had initiated an inquiry into the sequence of events and facts surrounding the incident.
    Many villagers fled but, as videos shared on social media show, curious spectators walked towards the flames.
    At least eight witnesses said the truck was burning for 45 minutes before it exploded.    Police said the interval between the crash and blast was 15-20 minutes.
    “I spoke with the driver as he tried to call the fire service,” said Kwame Mensa, his face patched with plasters.
    “He kept saying something was about to happen.    We called and called, but by the time they came, the worst had already happened.”
(Reporting by Cooper Inveen and Francis Kokoroko; additional reporting Christian Akorlie and Hereward Holland; writing by Hereward Holland; Editing by Alistair Bell)

1/23/2022 Kuwaiti Minister Says Visit Aims To Rebuild Trust With Lebanon
FILE PHOTO: Kuwait's Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah gestures after meeting with
Lebanon's Prime Minister Najib Mikati in Beirut, Lebanon January 22, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Kuwait’s foreign minister said on Saturday he was visiting Lebanon to rebuild trust with the country and show solidarity with the Lebanese people, adding that the move had been coordinated with other Gulf countries.
    Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah’s visit to Beirut was the first by a senior Gulf Arab official since a diplomatic rift over comments made by a former Lebanese government that were critical of Saudi Arabia’s role in the Yemen war.
    Sheikh Ahmad was speaking after meeting Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati.
(Reporting by Nayera Abdallah; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Catherine Evans)

1/23/2022 As Soldiers Mutiny In Burkina Faso, Government Dismisses Talk Of Coup by Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault
People hold a Burkina Faso flag as hundreds gather in downtown Ouagadougou to show support for the military,
in Burkina Faso, in this still image taken from video on January 23, 2022. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Sustained gunfire rang out from military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinying soldiers demanded more support for their fight against Islamist militants and protesters ransacked the headquarters of President Roch Kabore’s political party.
    The government called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army had seized power or detained Kabore.
    A spokesperson for the mutineers said they were demanding “appropriate” resources and training for the army in its fight against militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State and the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs.
    Frustration in the West African gold producing country has grown in recent months over deteriorating security.    The deaths of 49 military police in a militant attack in November prompted violent street protests calling for Kabore to step down.
    Protesters in the streets of the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday urged the soldiers to go further, chanting “Free the country!
    The mutiny underlines the threat posed by growing Islamist insurgencies across West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid strip of land beneath the Sahara Desert.
    The militants have seized control of swathes of territory across Burkina Faso and its neighbours, Mali and Niger.    In some cases, they force residents to abide by their harsh interpretation of Islamic law.
    Heavy gunfire was first heard on Sunday at Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt, as early as 5:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), Reuters reporters said.
    Hundreds of people later came out in support of the mutineers.    At the Lamizana camp, where a crowd of about 100 sang the national anthem and chanted, the soldiers responded by firing into the air.    It was not clear if this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or to disperse them.
    In downtown Ouagadougou, near the Place de la Nation, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters.
    Soldiers also fired into the air at an air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport, according to Reuters reporters.    The U.S. embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.
    Elsewhere in Ouagadougou, protesters burned and looted the headquarters of Kabore’s People’s Movement for Progress (MPP), a Reuters reporter said.
    The spokesperson for the mutineers, who addressed reporters in front of Lamizana camp, called for better welfare for wounded soldiers and their families.
    Burkina Faso’s government confirmed gunfire at some military camps but denied reports on social media that the army had seized power.
    Speaking on national television, Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reasons for the gunfire were still unclear.
    “The head of state has not been detained; no institution of the country has been threatened,” Simpore said.    “For now, we don’t know their motives or what they are demanding.    We are trying to get in contact with them,” he said.
    Kabore was not seen in public.    His Twitter account issued a single tweet on Sunday to encourage Burkina Faso’s national soccer team in its Africa Cup of Nations match against Gabon later in the day. It made no mention of events at home.
    NetBlocks, an internet blockage observatory, said web access had been disrupted as of around 10 a.m.    A spokesperson for the airport said flights had not been cancelled.
    Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea, where the army removed President Alpha Conde last September.
    The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.
    Burkinabe authorities arrested a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government.
    The arrests followed a shake-up within the army’s leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an effort by President Kabore to shore up his support within the military.
    Rising violence in Burkina Faso driven by Islamist attacks killed over 2,000 people last year.
    Anti-government demonstrations were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and the police intervened to disperse the hundreds of people who tried to assemble in Ouagadougou.
    The government has suspended mobile internet service on several occasions, and the tense situation in November led the U.N. special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.
    Among the inmates at the Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere, who was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison for his role in a failed 2015 coup.
(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault, additional reporting by Ange Aboa; Writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix; Editing Raissa Kasolowsky, Pravin Char and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

1/23/2022 Yemenis Struggle Without Internet For Third Day After Air Strikes
People wait outside TeleYemen company to get satellite internet connection amid an
outage of internet service in Sanaa, Yemen January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    SANAA (Reuters) – Most of Yemen faced a third day without internet on Sunday after air strikes on the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, the main landing point for the country’s undersea web connection, damaged its telecoms infrastructure.
    In the capital Sanaa, Majid Abdullah said he was unable to receive money from relatives in Saudi Arabia at an exchange office as a result of the ongoing outage.
    Seven years of conflict have divided Yemen between an internationally-recognised government based in the southern city of Aden, and the Iran-aligned Houthi group in Sanaa.
    “I don’t know what to do. We eat and drink from the (money sent by) expatriates abroad,” he said.
    The war in Yemen has killed tens of thousands of people and displaced millions, while economic collapse has pushed millions into poverty and parts of the country to the brink of famine.
    The government’s communications ministry said on Sunday that it was ready to re-connect territory under its control via another undersea cable which lands in Aden, where parts of the city still have internet services.    Some organisations have access to satellite internet.
    Muammar Abdullah, a Yemeni living in Saudi Arabia, said he was not able to make daily checks on his family in Sanaa, which have become important after an increase in coalition air strikes, as a result of the internet being down and must instead make costly international calls.
    And cut off from her internet chats with friends and family, university student Maha Muhammad in Sanaa has turned to the TV.
    “We went back to watching television to follow the news.    I used to rely on websites and social networking sites for the latest war developments,” she said.
    It remains unclear when repairs in Hodeidah will be carried out, or what needs to be done.
    “If safety is guaranteed, and we get guarantees that the strikes are not resumed, our engineers are ready to do the repairs,” Ali Nagi, CEO of the TeleYemen telecoms company Nosary, told Reuters from Sanaa.
(Reporting by Reuters Yemen team; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/23/2022 Sudanese Women’s Rights Activist Osman Detained In Raid, Her Sister Says
Family of prominent Sudanese women's rights campaigner Amira Osman is seen after arresting
her at home in Khartoum, Sudan January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) – Armed men detained prominent Sudanese women’s rights campaigner Amira Osman in a nighttime raid on her home in Sudan’s capital Khartoum, her sister said on Sunday.
    Osman’s detention comes after what activists say has been a campaign of arrests of civil society and pro-democracy figures since a military takeover in October.
    The United Nations mission in Sudan said on Twitter it was outraged by Osman’s arrest, citing a “pattern of violence against women’s rights activists” that risked reducing their participation in politics.
    Sudanese security officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    Some high profile political figures have been released since the Oct. 25 coup, but activists say others have remained in detention and arrests have continued.
    About 15 armed, masked men wearing civilian clothes abducted Osman after storming her house in Al Riyadh neighbourhood late on Saturday night, her sister Amani Osman told Reuters.
    “We don’t know where she is or the security agency that took her.    We are worried about the nature of her arrest and her critical health condition,” she said, adding that Osman had been partially paralysed in an accident some years ago.
    Osman campaigned for women’s rights in Sudan under the Islamist rule of former President Omar al-Bashir, who was ousted during an uprising in 2019.
    She was arrested in 2013 under public order laws for refusing to wear a headscarf, and was convicted and fined in 2002 for wearing trousers.
    Women played a prominent role in the protests that led to Bashir’s overthrow.    A transitional government later repealed the public order law used to regulate women’s dress and behaviour, though some other restrictive laws remained.
(Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Alexander Smith)

1/23/2022 Lebanon Keen On Maintaining “Best Relations” With Gulf States – President Aoun
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's President Michel Aoun is pictured as he delivers a televised speech at the
presidential palace in Baabda, Lebanon December 27, 2021. Dalati Nohra/Handout via REUTERS
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon is keen to maintain “the best relations” with the Gulf Arab states, President Michel Aoun said in a tweet on Sunday.
    Aoun also said a proposal by the Kuwaiti foreign minister on building confidence with the Gulf states would be discussed before an appropriate position was announced.
(Reporting by Enas Alashray; Writing by Lina Najem)

1/24/2022 Burkina Faso President Kabore Detained At Military Camp, Sources Tell Reuters by Thiam Ndiaga
Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Christian Kabore holds his final campaign rally ahead of the
presidential election, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, November 20, 2020. REUTERS/Zohra Bensemra
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Burkina Faso President Roch Kabore has been detained at a military camp by mutinying soldiers, two security sources and a West African diplomat said on Monday, following heavy gunfire around his residence on Sunday night in the capital Ouagadougou.
    Several armoured vehicles of the presidential fleet, riddled with bullets, could be seen near the president’s residence on Monday morning.    One was spattered with blood.    Residents of the president’s neighbourhood reported heavy gunfire overnight.
    The government had denied rumours on Sunday that a coup was under way as sustained gunfire rang out for hours from several military camps, with mutinying soldiers demanding more support for their fight against Islamist militants.
    Government sources could not immediately be reached on Monday.    Frustration has risen in the West African country in recent months due to the frequent killing of civilians and soldiers by the militants, some of whom have links to Islamic State and al Qaeda.
    Protesters had come out to support the mutineers on Sunday and ransacked the headquarters of Kabore’s political party.    The government declared a curfew from 2000 GMT to 0530 GMT until further notice and closed schools for two days.
(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga and David Lewis; Writing by Bate Felix and Nellie Peyton; Editing by Peter Graff)

1/24/2022 Mali Asks Denmark To Immediately Withdraw Troops Deployed There by Tiemoko Diallo
FILE PHOTO: A soldier from the new Takuba force stands with a Malian soldier during a patrol near
Niger border in Dansongo Circle, Mali August 23, 2021. REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie/File Photo
    BAMAKO (Reuters) -Mali’s government said on Monday it had asked Denmark to immediately withdraw troops deployed to the West African nation as part of a French-led counter-terrorism task force because it was not consulted and the deployment failed to follow protocol.
    “The government of Mali notes with astonishment, the deployment on its territory of a contingent of Danish special forces within the Takuba force,” the government said in a statement.
    It said the deployment took place without its consent, and without consideration of the additional protocol applicable to the task force, adding that Denmark should immediately withdraw the troops.
    The statement said all partners in the task force needed a prior accord with the government before deployments in Mali.
    The decision comes amid tension between Mali and its international partners including regional bodies and the European Union that have sanctioned Mali after the transitional government failed to organise elections following two military coups.
    Tensions have escalated also over allegations that transitional authorities have deployed private military contractors from the Russia-backed Wagner Group to Mali, which some EU countries have said was incompatible with their mission.
    A statement on the Danish defence ministry website said on Monday that about 90 personnel including surgeons and the Danish army special forces, logistics support were deployed.    Their mandate was supposed to last until early 2023, it said.
    The Takuba Task Force was established as a partial successor to a French counter-terrorism operation in the West African Sahel region that French President Emmanuel Macron has started to reduce from its initial 5,000-strong force.
    The task force is comprised of some 14 European countries, which provide special forces, logistical and tactical support to work alongside regional troops for targeted operations against Islamist militants.
    The forces are expected to help Mali and West Africa Sahel neighbours Burkina Faso and Niger tackle jihadist militants linked to the Islamic State and al Qaeda who have occupied swathes of territory in the tri-border area of the countries.
    “The aim is to stabilize Mali and parts of the Liptako-Gourma three-country area encompassing localities in Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, and to ensure the protection of civilians against terrorist groups,” the Danish statement said.
(Reporting by Tiemoko Diallo, John Irish and Bate Felix Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Leslie Adler and Sandra Maler)

1/24/2022 Yemen’s Houthis Fail In Second Missile Attack On UAE by Alexander Cornwell, Alaa Swilam and Phil Stewart
Remains of ballistic missile that was intercepted in an industrial area are seen, in south
of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2022. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) -Yemen’s Houthi movement, aligned with Iran, launched a missile attack at the United Arab Emirates on Monday that targeted a base hosting the U.S. military but was thwarted by U.S.-built Patriot interceptors, U.S. and Emirati officials>     The attack, which sent U.S. troops into bunkers, was the second in a week on the UAE, the tourism and commercial hub of the Gulf region. On Jan. 17, the Houthis hit a fuel depot in Abu Dhabi, killing three people.
    The Houthis, battling a Saudi-led military coalition that includes the UAE, have said they aim to punish the Gulf state for backing militias that are blocking their attempts to capture oil-producing regions in Yemen.
    A Houthi military spokesperson said the group had fired Zulfiqar ballistic missiles at al-Dhafra airbase, used by U.S. forces, and other “sensitive targets.”    He said it had also launched drones towards Dubai.
    “We advise foreign companies and investors in the UAE to leave as it has become unsafe,” he said, adding the group was ready to “meet escalation with escalation.”
    The foreign ministry of the UAE, part of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), called the attack a “criminal escalation” and said it had a right to respond.
    The U.S. military said it had fired multiple Patriot missile interceptors at two inbound missiles, and acknowledged simultaneous efforts by UAE’s military.
    “The combined efforts successfully prevented both missiles from impacting the base,” said a spokesperson at U.S. Central Command who represents U.S. forces in the Middle East.
    The Emirati ambassador to Washington, Yousef al Otaiba, tweeted that close cooperation with the United States had helped to deflect the attack, and the U.S. State Department reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to strengthen the defenses of its Saudi and Emirati partners.
    U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price, however, said the Houthi attacks on the UAE and Saudi Arabia, along with Saudi-led coalition airstrikes in Yemen, represented a “troubling escalation” in violence, and he called anew for a ceasefire.
    Price declined to say if U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration would accede to a UAE request to restore the Houthis to a U.S. list of foreign terrorist groups, reimposing financial sanctions on them.    Biden said last week the request was under consideration.
    But Price noted that the group was striken from the list last February out of concerns the sanctions could result in cuts in humanitarian aid and commerical imports of food and other necessities to Houthi-controlled areas.
    “We are taking a look at the appropriate response,” he said.
    The Houthis have repeatedly carried out cross-border missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, but by targeting the UAE they have raised the stakes of a conflict largely seen as a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.
    Air strikes on Yemen, which the Saudi-led coalition says are aimed at crippling Houthi capabilities, killed at least 60 people in Saada province on Friday, and about 20 people in the Houthi-held capital Sanaa on Tuesday.
    The U.S. embassy issued a rare security advisory for the UAE, urging its citizens to “maintain a high level of security awareness.”
    “This is absolutely an escalation and changes the regional dynamic,” said Karen Young, director at the Middle East Institutes’ Economics and Energy Programme.
    “The safety of the GCC now has risk calculations that approach what we know in other parts of the Middle East,” she said, citing potential risks to energy pipelines and production facilities as well as civil aviation.
    Dubai’s main stock index closed down nearly 2%, while Abu Dhabi’s ended the day flat.    Higher oil prices were providing support to markets, analysts said.
    The attacks have rattled some Abu Dhabi residents.
    “Overall I feel safe but I don’t know how it will escalate,” said 19-year-old American medical student Tahlia Rivera.
    The UAE published a video of what it said was an F-16 warplane destroying a Houthi missile launcher in Yemen.
    The Houthis on Monday said they had also attacked Saudi Arabia, which reported material damage from remnants of an intercepted missile in a southern industrial area.
    On Sunday night, a missile fell in another southern region, injuring two foreigners.
    The coalition intervened in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government from Sanaa.    The group says it is fighting a corrupt system and foreign aggression.
(Additional reporting by Lilian Wagdy, Lisa Barrington and Saeed Azhar and Jonathan Landay and Phil Stewart in Washington; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Clarence Fernandez, Michael Perry, Kirsten Donovan, William Maclean, Kevin Liffey and Richard Chang)

1/24/2022 Three Killed As Sudanese Security Forces Crack Down On Protest by Khalid Abdelaziz
Protesters march during a rally against military rule following last month's coup
in Khartoum, Sudan, January 24, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin Abdallah
    KHARTOUM (Reuters) - Three demonstrators were killed on Monday when Sudanese security forces fired live rounds and teargas during protests against military rule that attracted tens of thousands of people across the country, medics said.
    Such protests, along with barricades throughout the capital and a general strike last week, have continued since the military took power on Oct. 25, ending a partnership with civilian political parties since the removal of Omar al-Bashir as Sudan’s ruler in 2019.
    Some 76 civilians have been killed and more than 2,000 injured in crackdowns on the protests, according to the Central Committee of Sudanese Doctors, which is aligned with the protest movement, mainly by gunshots and teargas canisters.
    “Our people are protesting peacefully and using all forms of nonviolent resistance towards a free, democratic and just country, only to be confronted by the military with the worst crimes,” the doctors’ group said.
    Two protesters were killed in a protest in Khartoum, one shot in the chest and the other in the head, the group said.    Other protesters were injured in the capital Khartoum and the city of Omdurman, they said.
    Police could not immediately be reached for comment.
    Sudan’s military leaders have said the right to peaceful protest is protected.    The Sovereign Council, Sudan’s highest authority, run by the military, received a briefing on the work of a committee investigating protester deaths, it said in a statement.
    The violence has deepened the deadlock between pro-democracy groups and the military leadership.
    A Reuters witness saw security forces using teargas and stun grenades as protesters stood 1.2 km (0.75 miles) from the presidential palace.
    In the cities of Bahri and Omdurman, Reuters witnesses saw a heavy security presence and teargas fired on a main road.
    The protests were called by neighbourhood resistance committees, which advocate a stance of “no legitimacy, no negotiation, no partnership” towards the military.
    One committee reported the arrest of at least four members.    Another said its headquarters were raided.
    Large protests were held in the city of Madani, where witnesses said protesters marched towards the house of a protester killed on Friday before heading to the state government building.
    The third protester was killed there, with gunshots to the head and shoulder, the doctors’ committee said.
    Social media users shared images of other protests in the cities of El Fasher, Shendi, and Elobeid.
    Last week, the United States condemned the use of force against protesters, saying it would consider additional measures to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.
    Military leader Abdelfattah al-Burhan has appointed deputy ministers to a caretaker government which passed this year’s budget
    On Monday, Abdelghani Alnaeem, former deputy foreign minister under Bashir, confirmed he and more than 100 other diplomats and administrators fired as part of an anti-corruption task force had been reinstated by a judge.    “This is a positive step,” he said.
    The Sovereign Council on Monday formed a committee to look into appeals of decisions by the taskforce, which was a key point of tension between the military and civilian politicians.
(Additional reporting by Moaz Abd-Alaziz; writing by Nafisa Eltahir; Editing by Alex Richardson, Timothy Heritage and Richard Chang)

1/25/2022 Yemen’s Internet Service Returns After Four-Day Outage Following Air Strike
People wait outside TeleYemen company to get satellite internet connection amid an
outage of internet service in Sanaa, Yemen January 23, 2022. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah
    ADEN (Reuters) -Internet services were largely restored in Yemen on Tuesday, residents said, after a four-day outage following Saudi-led coalition air strikes which damaged telecoms infrastructure.
    The Iran-aligned Houthi group’s communications ministry said services had returned to all provinces after initial repairs.
    “To all friends and loved ones: We missed you,” the Houthis’ deputy foreign minister, Hussein al-Ezzi, said on Twitter, praising efforts to repair the damage.
    Internet blockage observatory NetBlocks said at 2200 GMT on Monday that services were starting to be restored.
    Seven years of conflict have divided Yemen between an internationally recognised government based in the southern city of Aden, and the Houthi group that largely controls the north.
    The coalition said its strikes on Friday were aimed at Houthi military capabilities in the Red Sea city of Hodeidah, the main landing point for the country’s undersea web connections.
    The outage hindered money transfers by Yemenis outside the country. The war and ensuing economic collapse has pushed millions into poverty and parts of Yemen to the brink of famine.
    The communications ministry statement, carried by the Houthi-run Saba news agency, called on the United Nations to send equipment to ensure the service returns to full capacity.
(Reporting by Reyam Mokhashef and Mohammed Ghobari; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous and Lisa Barrington;Editing by Robert Birsel and Andrew Heavens)

1/25/2022 Israel Says It Hopes For Ties With S.Arabia, Indonesia, But No Deals Imminent
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid shakes hands with United Arab Emirates' Foreign Minister
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan in Abu Dhabi, UAE, June 29, 2021. WAM/Handout via REUTERS.
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel’s top diplomat said on Tuesday it hopes to build on its 2020 U.S.-brokered accords with four Muslim nations and establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and Indonesia, but such deals would take time.
    Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest two sites, and Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population, have conditioned any eventual normalisation with Israel on the addressing of the Palestinians’ quest for statehood on territory captured by Israel in the 1967 Middle East war.
    On Army Radio, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said Israel is looking to “expand the Abraham Accords to additional countries” beyond the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.
    “If you’re asking me what the important countries that we’re looking at are, Indonesia is one of them, Saudi Arabia of course, but these things take time,” he said.
    Lapid added that “smaller countries” he did not identify could normalise relations with Israel in the coming two years.
    Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said on Tuesday he would visit the United Arab Emirates, the first country to normalise ties with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords, on Jan. 30-31, and meet with its leaders.
    Despite the absence of official ties, Saudi Arabia agreed in 2020 to allow Israel-UAE flights to cross its territory.    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s El Al Israel Airlines plane flew through Saudi airspace when he visited Abu Dhabi last month.
    A covert visit to Saudi Arabia in November 2020 by then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confirmed by Israeli officials but publicly denied by Riyadh.    Both Israel and Saudi Arabia share concerns over their common enemy, Iran.
    Both Saudi Arabia and Indonesia condemned Israel’s air strikes in Gaza during 11 days of hostilities with Palestinian militants in May 2021.    More than 250 Palestinians were killed in Gaza.    Rockets fired by Hamas and other militant groups killed 13 people in Israel.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Stanley Widianto in Jakarta; Editing by Jeffrey Heller, Mark Heinrich and Kevin Liffey)

1/26/2022 UAE Discussing Defence Upgrade After Houthi Attacks- Envoy To U.N
FILE PHOTO: Residents and civil defence officials stand near cars and buildings damaged
by shrapnel from the intercepted ballistic missile that landed in an industrial area, in south
of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2022. Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates may upgrade its defensive capabilities after missile attacks by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, while continuing diplomacy with Tehran to reduce regional tensions, a senior UAE diplomat said.
    The Emirati envoy to the United Nations, Lana Nusseibeh, told CNN on Tuesday that UAE intelligence showed the two assaults – the first on the regional commercial and tourism hub – had originated from Yemen, and there was also a need to stem illicit flows of weapons and funds to the group.
    A Saudi-led military coalition, which includes the UAE, accuses Iran of supplying the Houthis with arms, which both Tehran and the group deny.
    Monday’s strike, aimed at a base in Abu Dhabi hosting U.S. forces, was thwarted by American-built Patriot interceptors, after a deadly attack a week earlier on the capital.
    Nusseibeh confirmed ongoing security discussions with Washington but declined to provide details.    The UAE uses the U.S. anti-missile interception system THAAD.
    “Our ability to intercept and deflect these attacks is world class,” she said.    “There can always be upgrades and improvements and… additional intelligence cooperation and I think these are the fields we’re looking at with our (U.S.) partners.”
    She said the UAE, which has urged Washington to reinstate a terrorist designation of the Houthis, was also discussing with partners increasing pressure on the group to engage with stalled U.N.-led peace efforts.
    “That means listing them again on sanctions regimes … potentially listing additional figures, it means stopping the illicit flow of weapons and finance to them.”
    The Houthis said they are punishing the UAE for backing forces battling the group in energy-producing regions, after the UAE in 2019 largely distanced itself from Yemen.
    The Houthis have repeatedly launched attacks on Saudi Arabia in the war, seen as a proxy conflict between Riyadh and Tehran.
    Nusseibeh said the Houthis would not succeed in undermining the UAE’s safe-haven status.
    The UAE, which has been engaging with Iran, would continue diplomacy aimed at de-escalation, she said, while reserving the right to defend itself “defensively and offensively” in the Yemen conflict.
(Reporting by Ghaida Ghantous; editing by John Stonestreet)

1/26/2022 UNICEF Says Fears Grow Over Fate Of 850 Children In Besieged Syrian Prison by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
as Syrian Democratic Forces affiliates clash with the Islamic State militants outside a prison in Hasaka,
Syria January 22, 2022, in this screen grab taken from a video. Video recorded January 22, 2022. North Press
    AMMAN (Reuters) – Fears are growing for hundreds of children in a Syrian prison seized by Islamic State inmates, after six days of clashes with Kurdish-led fighters seeking to regain control of the facility, the United Nations children’s agency said on Tuesday.
    About 850 children are caught in the crossfire as Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) aided by U.S. troops attempt to storm the prison in Hasaka city after it was seized by militants last Thursday, leaving dozens dead.
    “Every day counts.    It’s very hard to even imagine what atrocities these children are witnessing,” Juliette Touma, UNICEF’s Middle East and North Africa regional advocacy and communications head, told Reuters.
    “The children’s lives are in immediate risk,” Touma said.
    Dozens of Islamic State fighters escaped into the surrounding area in last Thursday’s attack, which included detonating a car bomb near the prison gates, while other inmates took over part of the facility.
    The SDF says the death tally now stands at around 200 inmates and 27 of its fighters, while over 550 militants have surrendered.    Clashes continue with militants still holed up in some buildings.
    The UN’s children’s agency said fighting must end immediately to allow safe passage for the 850 minors, some as young as 12.    UNICEF could not verify if any of the children were among the casualties cited by the SDF.     The children were detained during U.S. backed campaigns that finally drove Islamic State from its last territorial enclave in Syria in 2019.
    U.S. Human Rights Watch and other rights groups have long criticised the Kurdish-led forces who control large swathes of northeast Syria for holding children in overcrowded, makeshift prisons in inhumane conditions.
    The Hasaka prison is the largest of several where the SDF holds thousands without charges or trial and includes civilians who resist forced conscription.
    The mass detentions in recent years have fuelled growing resentment by Arab tribal members who accuse the Kurdish forces of racial discrimination, a charge denied by the Kurdish-led forces that rule their areas.
    The fighting has also forced over 45,000 civilians, mostly women and children, to flee from their homes in districts near the prison.
    “These families fled in such a hurry with almost nothing on them in harsh winter weather.    Many have already been displaced and fled violence from other parts of Syria,” Touma added.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; editing by Richard Pullin)

1/27/2022 Denmark Starts Pulling Troops Out Of Mali – Foreign Minister
FILE PHOTO: Denmark's Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod speaks during a news conference as the country
is to temporarily close its embassy in Afghanistan's capital, Kabul, and evacuate the
employees, in Copenhagen, Denmark, August 13, 2021. Ritzau Scanpix/Nils Meilvang via REUTERS
    COPENHAGEN (Reuters) – Denmark will start pulling its troops out of Mali, after the African country’s transitional junta government this week insisted on an immediate withdrawal, Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said on Thursday.
    “We can see that the Malian transitional government, or the coup generals, last night sent out a public statement where they again reiterated that Denmark is not welcome in Mali, and we of course will not put up with that, so therefore we have decided to withdraw our soldiers home,” Kofod told journalist at a press briefing in Copenhagen.
    Denmark had sent 105 military personnel to Mali earlier this month, after what it said was a “clear invitation” by Mali.
    But the Malian government said this week it was surprised by the Danish presence, because a decision had yet to be made on a request from Denmark in June to deploy troops.
    France and 14 other countries urged Mali late on Wednesday to allow Danish special forces to remain in the African country.
(Reporting by Nikolaj Skydsgaard, Stine Jacobsen and Jacob Gronholt-Pedersen; Editing by Toby Chopra and Bernadette Baum)

1/27/2022 Israel Sees Holocaust Tropes In COVID Protests Fuelling Anti-Semitism by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Protesters attend a left wing May Day demonstration, as the spread
of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues in Leipzig, Germany, May 1, 2021.
The placard reads "Nazis out!". REUTERS/Matthias Rietschel/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Protesters against COVID-19 measures who liken themselves to Jews under Nazi persecution are stoking global anti-Semitism, the Israeli government said in a report marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
    Such Holocaust tropes have become “widespread” and, along with violent demonstrations linked to Israel’s May war in Gaza, were main factors behind physical or online attacks on Jews in Europe and North America last year, said the 152-page report by the Diaspora Affairs Ministry.
    Several U.S. and British politicians nL1N2U51L1 have in recent months apologised after suggesting vaccine or lockdown policies recalled Hitler’s regime. Some demonstrators against pandemic curbs have worn yellow stars like those the Nazis forced on European Jews.     Such displays showed factual knowledge of the genocide was eroding, the report said, adding that some COVID-19 agitators have been “consuming and disseminating anti-Semitic conspiracy theories that Jews are responsible for the crisis and are using it for oppression, global domination, economic gain, etc.”
    Expanding on the findings, Diaspora Affairs Minister Nachman Shai said Holocaust distortion or trivialisation is itself anti-Semitic and can sometimes lead to actual endangerment of Jews.
    “There are people so fraught with hate who can, when faced with such imagery, be tipped over into action,” he told Reuters.
    The Combat Antisemitism Movement (CAM), a U.S.-based non-profit, said that in 2020 and 2021 it had found 63.7 million engagements – participation, sharing or “liking” – during online discussions linking the pandemic to the Holocaust.
    Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust memorial, has urged world leaders to come out against such discourse – a call apparently heeded by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, who on Monday said the yellow star protests were “reprehensible.”
    “COVID brought Holocaust trivialisation to a summit,” said Yad Vashem chairman Dani Dayan.    “Things like that, sometimes done by politicians, by public figures, are despicable and Yad Vashem is very clear in demanding those persons retract.”
    Former Israeli Chief Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, whose parents and brother were among the six million Jews killed by the Nazis and who himself survived a concentration camp as a child, had a more personal appeal during a Reuters interview.
    “Please leave the word ‘Holocaust’ for the Holocaust – and nothing but it,” he said.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

1/27/2022 Tunisian Opposition Leader Warns Of Social Explosion
FILE PHOTO: Parliament Speaker Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda,
poses during an interview with Reuters in his office, in Tunis, Tunisia, March 9, 2021.
Picture taken March 9, 2021. REUTERS/Jihed Abidellaoui/File Photo     TUNIS (Reuters) – The speaker of Tunisia’s suspended parliament, who also heads the main opposition party, warned on Thursday of a social situation that “threatens to explode” six months after what he calls a coup by the president.
    Rached Ghannouchi, head of the moderate Islamist Ennahda, said President Kais Saied’s suspension of parliament, assumption of executive powers and move to rewrite the constitution had isolated Tunisia.
    Ghannouchi was speaking in an online meeting of some parliament members, the first since Saied froze the chamber in July and a more assertive sign of defiance against the president.
Members from Ennahda, Heart of Tunisia and Karama parties, as well as at least one independent parliamentarian, attended.    Several other parties boycotted the meeting.
    “The coup led to stifling international isolation… price inflammation and a social situation that threatens to explode,” Ghannouchi said.
    The meeting was to mark the anniversary of the 2014 democratic constitution, which Saied says he will replace through a process that has started with an online consultation.
    Tunisia faces a looming public finances crisis after years of stagnation but painful reforms needed to secure international assistance risk sparking social unrest.    Unemployment is running at about 18%, up from 15% in 2019, but is far worse in Tunisia’s impoverished interior, where it exceeds 30% in some cities.
    Anger over economic conditions has frequently boiled over into street protests or clashes between demonstrators and police during the decade since Tunisia’s revolution.
    Meanwhile, Saied has failed to attract bilateral help from foreign states, with donors demanding a more inclusive approach to both political change and economic reforms needed to win aid.
    Saied has said there is no going back to the suspended parliament and said last month that he expected an election in December to replace the chamber.
    The government he appointed in September has announced a public finance law that includes some of the reforms sought by donors, but which has been criticised by opposition parties.
(This story removes from paragraph 5 a reference to the “cessation of support from financial partners” wrongly sourced to Ghannouchi.)
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

1/27/2022 Qatar’s Top Envoy Visits Iran As Tehran And Washington Consider Direct Nuclear Talks by Parisa Hafezi and Andrew Mills
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani looks on during
a news conference with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken following a signing ceremony
at the State Department in Washington, DC on November 12 , 2021. Olivier Douliery/Pool via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Qatar’s top diplomat visited Iran on Thursday, Iranian state media reported, days before Qatar’s ruling emir holds talks in Washington at a crucial time for efforts by Tehran and major powers to revive a 2015 nuclear pact.
    The visit by Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani’s comes after his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amirabdollahian on Monday said Tehran is ready to consider direct talks with Washington if it feels it can get a “good nuclear deal.”
    However, Iran’s state news agency IRNA said the visit was not intended to help set up direct talks with Washington.
    “Although Doha and Tehran are experiencing good and close relations, this visit … has fuelled some misconceptions.    Some are fabricating it to facilitate direct talks with the United States,” IRNA said.
    The United States and Iran have held eight rounds of indirect talks in Vienna since April aimed at reinstating the pact that lifted sanctions against Tehran in exchange for restrictions on its nuclear programme.
    After then-U.S. President Donald Trump quit the nuclear deal in 2018 and reimposed harsh sanctions, Iran gradually started violating the pact’s nuclear curbs.
    Significant gaps remain about the speed and scope of returning to the deal, including Iran’s demand for a U.S. guarantee of no further punitive steps, and how and when to restore curbs on Iran’s atomic work.
    Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, will hold talks with U.S. President Joe Biden on Jan. 31 including on efforts to salvage the pact.    The minister, Sheikh Mohammed, is expected in Washington on Friday in advance of the emir’s visit.
    Iran’s hardline President Ebrahim Raisi emphesized the importance of “deepening ties between regional countries” in a meeting with Sheikh Mohammed, who invited the president to attend Gas Exporting Countries Forum summit in February in Doha.
    Amirabdollahian previously met Sheikh Tamim and Sheikh Mohammed in Doha on Jan. 11. During that visit, he asked Qatar to broker the release of dual-national Iranian-Americans and Iranian-Europeans jailed in Iran, a person with knowledge of the discussions told Reuters this week.
    Reuters could not establish if Qatar agreed to the request, but the Gulf Arab state has actively helped release foreign prisoners in other countries in the past.
    The lead U.S. nuclear negotiator told Reuters on Sunday that securing the nuclear deal is unlikely unless Tehran releases four U.S. citizens Washington says it is holding hostage.
    While ruling out any U.S. preconditions, Iran said on Monday that Tehran and Washington can reach “a lasting agreement on both separate paths (the Vienna talks and the prisoner exchange) if the other party has the will.”
    Iranian officials on Thursday declined to comment on the matter but Tehran has repeatedly said it is ready for a full prisoner exchange with Washington.
    Tehran denies holding people for political reasons.    It has accused many of the dual-nationals and foreigners in its jails of espionage. Tehran says Iranians detained in the U.S., mostly for breaking sanctions, are being unjustly held.
(Reporting by Parisa Hafezi in Dubai and Andrew Mills in Doha; Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Frank Jack Daniel and Nick Macfie)

1/27/2022 Jerusalem’s Holy Sites And West Bank Carpeted In Rare Snow
Children build a snowman in front of the Dome of the Rock, located in Jerusalem's Old City on the compound known to Muslims as Noble Sanctuary
and to Jews as Temple Mount during a snowy morning in Jerusalem's Old City, January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Ammar Awad
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A rare heavy snowfall covered Jerusalem, some of northern Israel and hilly areas in the occupied West Bank overnight into Thursday, shutting down roads and schools.
    Worshippers had to trudge through inches of snow to reach the holy sites in Jerusalem’s walled Old City, including the snow-capped Dome of the Rock and the Western Wall.
    Heavy snow is rare in the city, so children went out into the streets to watch the flakes falling and hurl snowballs at each other.
Abed Shabany, 39, took his two sons to play on a hill overlooking Jerusalem. As he reversed his Jeep through inches of slush, other parents kept themselves warm brewing coffee on gas canisters in their boots.
    “I haven’t seen anything like this for years,” he said.    “There’s no school today so I’m just going around with the kids making snowmen and snowballs.    I think it’s a good sign. It will be a good year, I hope.”
Municipality cherry-pickers were out in the city centre, sawing off broken and dangerous branches, with much less traffic on the roads than usual.
    Police closed off several main highways leading to Jerusalem, and bus services inside the city were suspended.
    Throughout the night, 210 snow ploughs worked to clear the city streets, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion told Israel Army Radio on Thursday morning.    The snow piled up to a height of about 20 centimeters (8 inches), according to Israeli media.
    Before arriving in Jerusalem, the winter storm swept through the Mediterranean region, from Greece across Turkey and into Syria.
(Reporting by Ammar Awad and Ronen Zevulun in Jerusalem, writing by Stephen Farrell in Jerusalem and Henriette Chacar in Haifa; editing by Mark Heinrich)

1/28/2022 Malawi President Changes Finance Minister In Reshuffled Cabinet
FILE PHOTO: Malawi's President Lazarus Chakwera speaks during the UN Climate Change
Conference (COP26) in Glasgow, Scotland, Britain, November 1, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    BLANTYRE (Reuters) – Malawi’s President Lazarus Chakwera has changed the southern African country’s finance minister in a reshuffled cabinet, a government statement showed, with the post going to economist and former trade minister Sosten Gwengwe.
    Analysts say Gwengwe is a loyalist of Chakwera’s Malawi Congress Party and the move to drop his predecessor Felix Mlusu could show that Chakwera wants to bolster his party’s position within the ruling alliance.
    Gwengwe is more of a political force than Mlusu, having served as former president Joyce Banda’s running mate in the 2014 election which she lost.
    The change of finance minister follows Chakwera’s decision earlier this week to dissolve his entire cabinet because several ministers were implicated in corruption scandals.    He then appointed a partial cabinet but did not reassign some key portfolios like finance.
    Mlusu was not one of those accused of graft and Chakwera did not give a reason for taking the finance minister post away from him.
    Among other cabinet appointees announced in the government statement, Ibrahim Matola was made energy minister, Albert Mbawala mining minister and Nancy Tembo foreign affairs minister.
(Reporting by Frank Phiri; Writing by Alexander Winning; Editing by Kim Coghill)

1/28/2022 Rwanda To Re-Open Border With Uganda As Relations Thaw by Clement Uwiringiyimana
FILE PHOTO: Rwandan president Paul Kagame addresses delegates
at the Africa CEO Forum in Kigali, Rwanda March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Jean Bizimana
    KIGALI (Reuters) – Rwanda will re-open on Monday a border crossing with Uganda that was shuttered nearly three years ago, even as tensions rise between the central African neighbours, fuelled by accusations of espionage and support for each other’s dissidents.
    Rwanda had repeatedly accused Uganda of supporting rebel groups planning to topple the government in Kigali while Kampala accused Rwanda of carrying out illegal espionage activities in Uganda.
    In a statement on Twitter on Friday, Rwanda’s foreign ministry said the country would re-open the common border on Jan. 31.
    “Rwanda has taken note that there is a process to solve issues raised by Rwanda, as well as commitments made by the government of Uganda to address remaining obstacles,” it said in the statement.
    Various attempts, including mediation efforts by Angola, to restore normal relations and open the border had yielded little.
    The border closure in March 2019 had severely disrupted the trade links in the region.
    For its external trade, Rwanda primarily relies on a transport corridor that runs from the Indian ocean port of Mombasa through Kenya and Uganda. The same road also funnels goods through Rwanda to Burundi and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
    Rwanda and Uganda have long harboured mutual suspicions and hostilities, partly stemming from historical ties between both countries’ politics and security.
    Paul Kagame, Rwanda’s current leader, grew up in Uganda and participated in the a guerrilla struggle that brought Uganda’s president Yoweri Museveni, 77, to power.
    The move to re-open the border followed a meeting in Kigali last week between Kagame and Museveni’s son, Muhoozi Kainerugaba who is also a general in the military and who the public widely believes is being prepared to take over from his long-serving father.
    A resumption of normal trade at the two countries’ border crossing is potentially a much needed impetus for jump-starting regional economies battered by effects of COVID-19 containment measures.
    Rwanda and Uganda are members of regional trade bloc East African Community alongside Kenya, Tanzania, Burundi and South Sudan.
(Reporting by Clement Uwiringiyimana; Writing by Elias Biryabarema; Editing by George Obulutsa and Lincoln Feast.)

1/28/2022 Five Dead, 30 Hurt In Missile Strike On Yemen’s Marib-State Media
FILE PHOTO: A view of a street is seen in the city of Marib, Yemen
April 7, 2021. Picture taken April 7, 2021. REUTERS/Ali Owidha
    ADEN (Reuters) – At least five people were killed and 34 injured in what Yemeni-government media said was a Houthi missile strike on Marib city on Wednesday night, state news agency SABA said on Friday.
    A resident and a medical source said a missile on Wednesday had fallen next to a military building in the al-Matar area.
    Marib city is the Yemeni government’s last northern stronghold. It sits in an energy-producing region which has been the focus of fighting over the past year, during which Iran-aligned Houthi forces advanced towards the city.
    The fighting for Marib has dashed U.N.-led ceasefire efforts as both sides ramped up military operations.
    Aid agency Save the Children late on Thursday said 28 civilians had been killed or injured and that international law must be respected in Yemen’s seven-year conflict.
    “Civilians must be spared the horrors of ongoing fighting,” it said in a Twitter post.
    In the past few weeks the Houthis have launched a number of missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia, which leads a coalition backing the government’s fight against the Houthis, and two unprecedented attacks on the United Arab Emirates, a coalition member.
    The Saudi-led coalition has in recent weeks stepped up air strikes on Houthi areas in Yemen, including on a detention centre which killed around 90 people.
(Reporting by Muhammad Ghobari; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Michael Perry)

1/28/2022 W. African Bloc Suspends Burkina Faso After Military Coup by Thiam Ndiaga and Christian Akorlie
FILE PHOTO: New Military Leader Of Burkina Faso, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, delivers a speech in
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, January 27, 2022, in this screengrab taken from video. REUTERS TV via REUTERS
(Corrects to “Guinea” from “Burkina Faso” in paragraph 6)
    OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - West Africa’s main regional bloc on Friday suspended Burkina Faso from its governing bodies over this week’s military coup but stopped short of imposing any sanctions, its member states said in a statement.
    Burkina Faso’s army overthrew President Roch Kabore on Monday, presenting the latest test to the 15-member Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has struggled to mount an effective response to a series of coups in the region over the past 18 months.
    A delegation of ECOWAS defence chiefs will travel to Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on Saturday, followed by a ministerial mission a few days later, the statement said.
    Heads of ECOWAS member states will reconvene for another summit in Ghana’s capital Accra on Feb. 3 to discuss the findings of the two delegations.
    ECOWAS and its international allies have condemned the coup in Burkina Faso, which they fear could further destabilise a country beset by Islamist violence, but find themselves with limited leverage.
    The bloc’s decision to not sanction Burkina Faso contrasted with its response to coups in Mali and Guinea, with which ECOWAS member states closed borders and imposed some economic sanctions after military takeovers in May and September.
    ECOWAS sanctions on the juntas in Mali and Guinea have done little to sway their behaviour, however, nor did they deter the latest coup.
    The bloc could still choose to sanction Burkina Faso when members reconvene next week.
    Pro-democracy activists say ECOWAS is suffering from a crisis of credibility, with West Africans losing faith in regional leaders they see as manipulating the democratic process and failing to alleviate poverty or contain Islamist violence.
    In opening remarks to the summit, Ghana’s President Nana Akufo-Addo, the acting ECOWAS chairman, acknowledged the organisation has work to do convincing people of the benefits of democracy.
    “The happenings in the region tell us that not everybody has accepted democracy as the preferred mode of governance,” Akufo-Addo said.
    He added that the rest of the world was looking to ECOWAS “to be firm in this matter.”
    ECOWAS imposed sanctions against Mali and Guinea following military takeovers in August 2020 and September 2021, respectively.
    It significantly tightened the sanctions on Mali this month after the transitional government there went back on an earlier commitment to hold elections in February.    The new restrictions included closing member states’ borders with Mali and freezing most financial transactions.
    But the hard line has arguably backfired by boosting the junta’s support at home.    Protests against the sanctions drew tens of thousands into the streets.
    As in Mali, Burkina Faso’s coup was in part precipitated by public frustration with insecurity caused by an insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.
    The violence has killed thousands and displaced millions across the Sahel region in recent years.
    The coup leader, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Damiba, said on Thursday that Burkina Faso would return to constitutional order “when the conditions are right.”
    The European Union has said it would follow ECOWAS in imposing sanctions on Mali.    Asked by Reuters on Friday whether it also planned to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell skirted the question.
(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; Additional reporting by Ayenat Mersie in Nairobi, Ange Aboa in Abidjan and Cooper Inveen in Accra; Writing by Nellie Peyton; Editing by Aaron Ross, Hugh Lawson, Angus MacSwan, William Maclean and Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/28/2022 Lebanon Will Not ‘Hand Over’ Hezbollah Arms At Gulf Meeting, Minister Says by Laila Bassam
FILE PHOTO: Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib gestures as he speaks during an interview with Reuters at
his office at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beirut, Lebanon November 2, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s foreign minister said he was not going “to hand over” Hezbollah’s weapons during a meeting this weekend with Gulf Arab counterparts that want Beirut to rein in the Iran-backed Lebanese Shi’ite group in exchange for improved ties.
    In a nod to Gulf concerns, Lebanon will however say that the country will not be “a launchpad for activities that violate Arab countries,” according to sources familiar with a draft government letter responding to Gulf terms for improved ties.
    Lebanon is due at the meeting in Kuwait on Saturday to deliver its response to the terms for thawing relations, which have suffered as the heavily armed Hezbollah has grown more powerful in Beirut and the region.
    “I am not going (to Kuwait) to hand over Hezbollah’s weapons.    I am not going to end Hezbollah’s existence, it is out of the question in Lebanon.    We are going for dialogue,” Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib told Al Jazeera.
    Hezbollah supports Iran in its regional struggle for influence with U.S.-allied Gulf Arab states, which say the group has aided the Iran-aligned Houthis who are fighting a Saudi-led coalition in Yemen.
    Founded by Iran’s Revolutionary Guards in 1982, Hezbollah has a militia more powerful than Lebanon’s army and has backed pro-Iran allies in the region, including Syria.
    The group and its allies also exercise major sway over Lebanese state policy.
    The terms delivered to Beirut on Jan. 22 by the Kuwaiti foreign minister include setting a time frame for implementing U.N. Security Council resolutions, among them Resolution 1559 which was adopted in 2004 and calls for the disarmament of non-state militias in Lebanon.
    A draft of the government’s response seen by Reuters sidesteps the issue, expressing Lebanon’s respect for U.N. resolutions “to ensure civil peace and national stability.”
    But it mentions no specific U.N. resolution or any steps to implement them.
    Bou Habib told Al Jazeera implementing resolution 1559, which would require Hezbollah’s disarmament, “will take time.”
    The Gulf rift has added to the difficulties facing Lebanon as it struggles with a financial crisis that the World Bank has described as one of the sharpest depressions ever recorded.
    Saudi Arabia and its fellow Gulf Arab monarchies once spent billions of dollars in aid in Lebanon before ties soured.
    Ties hit new lows last October when Saudi Arabia and several other Gulf states expelled Lebanese ambassadors in response to comments by a former Lebanese government minister criticising the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen.
    The visit to Beirut last week by Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Ahmad Nasser al-Mohammad al-Sabah was the first since the rift.    He said Lebanon must not be a platform for hostile acts or words toward Gulf Arab states, and that members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) were sympathetic to the Lebanese people.
    In the draft letter, Lebanon commits “verbally and actually” to a policy of disassociation from regional conflicts – a policy adopted by successive governments even as Hezbollah has deployed fighters to Syria.
    It also pledges to strengthen measures being taken by Lebanon in cooperation with other Arab states to prevent drug smuggling to Gulf Arab states.
    Hezbollah’s adversaries accuse it of links to regional drugs trade – something it denies.    The GCC in December called on Lebanon to tighten border controls and take measures to deter drug smuggling via exports into Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states.
(Reporting by Laila Bassam, Tom Perry and Nayera Abdallah in Beirut and Alaa Swilam in Cairo; Writing by Nayera Abdallah and Tom Perry; Editing by Grant McCool and Matthew Lewis)

1/29/2022 Turkey’s Erdogan Replaces Justice Minister, States Institute Head
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (R) is pictured with Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag during the
International Istanbul Law Congress in Istanbul, Turkey, October 17, 2016. REUTERS/Murad Sezer/File Photo
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan named Bekir Bozdag, a member of his ruling AK Party, as Justice Minister, and also replaced the chief of statistics Institute TUIK, the Official Gazette said on Saturday.
    It said former Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul had resigned, but did not give a reason.
    Bozdag, 56, had served as justice minister under Erdogan between 2013-2015 and 2015-2017, before being a deputy prime minister until 2018, when the role was abolished as part of constitutional changes that gave Erdogan sweeping executive powers.
    “I thank our President Mr Tayyip Erdogan for entrusting the post of Justice Minister to me… May God help us,” Bozdag said on Twitter on Saturday.
    Erdogan also removed Sait Erdal Dincer as TUIK chairman less than a year after his appointment, and named Erhan Cetinkaya to replace him, the Gazette said.
    Opposition parties and critics have accused TUIK of meddling with official data, such as inflation, for political reasons.    The institute has dismissed the allegation, but researchers have begun alternative inflation calculations.
    Embroiled in a currency crisis, Turkey had been dogged by soaring inflation that is expected to hit a near 20-year high around 47% in January, a Reuters poll showed on Friday.
(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Diane Craft and John Stonestreet)

1/29/2022 U.S. Plans To Reroute $67 Million In Aid Towards Lebanon’s Armed Forces by Patricia Zengerle
FILE PHOTO: An army soldier helps a schoolgirl get to her parents, after a gunfire
erupted in Beirut, Lebanon October 14, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir//File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States plans to reroute $67 million of military assistance for Lebanon’s armed forces to support members of the military as the country grapples with financial meltdown.
    According to a notification sent to Congress, the State Department intends to change the content of previously appropriated foreign military funding for Lebanon to include “livelihood support” for members of the Lebanese military, citing economic turmoil as well as social unrest.
    “Livelihood support for (armed forces) members will strengthen their operational readiness, mitigate absenteeism, and thus enable LAF members to continue fulfilling key security functions needed to stave off a further decline in stability,” said the notification to Congress, seen by Reuters.
    Washington is the biggest foreign aid donor to Lebanon. U.S. officials had pledged additional support in October.
    The news was praised in Washington.
    “It is in the United States’ national security interest to help these servicemen make ends meet and continue supporting the Lebanese people, and I’m really glad to see the administration putting our security assistance dollars to Lebanon toward that goal,” Democratic Senator Chris Murphy said in a statement.
    Sunni Muslim leader Saad al-Hariri announced his departure from Lebanese politics this week, opening the way for the Shi’ite Hezbollah to extend its sway over the country.
    Hariri’s departure opens a new phase in Lebanon’s politics, governed by a system of sectarian power-sharing, and adds to uncertainty in a country suffering a financial crisis that marks its biggest threat to stability since the 1975-90 civil war.
    More than half of Lebanon’s 6 million people have fallen into poverty.    The World Bank says it is one of the sharpest modern depressions, with the currency plunging more than 90% and the financial system paralyzed.
    Discontent has been brewing in the security forces as Lebanon’s currency has slumped, driving down soldiers’ wages.    Many have taken extra jobs, and some have quit.
(Reporting by Patricia Zengerle; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk; Editing by Nick Macfie and Rosalba O’Brien)

1/30/2022 Israeli President Herzog Visits The UAE For The First Time
FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrives outside Downing Street to meet Britain's
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, in London, Britain, November 23, 2021. REUTERS/Toby Melville
(Refiles with dropped letter in paragraph 3)
    DUBAI (Reuters) - Israeli President Isaac Herzog arrived in the United Arab Emirates on Sunday on the first such visit, his office said, seeking to strengthen Gulf ties at a time of heightened regional tension as world powers try to revive a nuclear deal with Iran.
    The UAE, along with Bahrain, signed U.S.-brokered normalisation agreements with Israel, dubbed the “Abraham Accords,” in 2020.    The two Gulf states and Israel share common concerns about Iran and its allied forces in the region.
    En route to the UAE President Herzog’s plane flew over Saudi Arabia, which he said was “truly a very moving moment.”    Riyadh and Israel do not have diplomatic ties, but Israel has said it would like to establish a relationship with the kingdom which is home to Islam’s two holiest sites.
    The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial post. Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the UAE in December.
    The president was greeted on arrival in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi by Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan.
    “I will be meeting the leadership of the United Arab Emirates, at the personal invitation of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince,” Herzog said earlier.
    “I wish him well and I am grateful for his courage and bold leadership, carving out a peace agreement with Israel and sending a message to the entire region that peace is the only alternative for the peoples of the region.”
    President Herzog will also be meeting Jewish communities in the UAE, which is the region’s commercial and tourism hub.
    Israel on Jan. 18 offered security and intelligence support to the UAE against further drone attacks after a deadly strike by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group, according to a letter released on Tuesday by Israel’s leader.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell and Lisa Barrington; Editing by William Mallard and Raissa Kasolowsky)

1/31/2022 Israeli President Presses On With Dubai Visit After UAE Intercepts Missile by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Israeli President Isaac Herzog and Foreign Minister of the United Arab Emirates,
Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan, talk as they walk through an airport in Abu Dhabi, United Arab
Emirates January 30, 2022. Amos Ben-Gershom/Government Press Office (GPO)/Handout via REUTERS
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Israel’s president spoke at Dubai’s Expo 2020 world fair on Monday on the first presidential visit to the United Arab Emirates, despite the Gulf state overnight saying it had intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Houthis.
    The UAE became the first Gulf state to normalise relations with Israel under a U.S.-brokered normalisation agreement, dubbed the “Abraham Accords,” in 2020.    Gulf neighbour Bahrain then followed.
    “I hope and I believe that more and more nations will soon follow the UAE lead and join the Abraham Accords,” Isaac Herzog said at an event amid tighter than usual security at the Expo site.
    The presidency in Israel is a largely ceremonial post.    Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the UAE in December.
    The UAE and Israel share concerns about Iran and its regional allies, and also see the agreements as a way to boost their economies.
    “Already our trade has exceeded over $1 billion, more than 120 agreements were signed and a $100 million (research and development) fund was established recently,” Herzog said in a speech at the six-month long world fair in Dubai emirate where UAE and Israeli flags were raised and both countries’ national anthems were played.
    He said 250,000 Israelis had so far visited the UAE and he hoped Emiratis would reciprocate once COVID-19 restrictions eased.
    Herzog landed in the UAE capital Abu Dhabi on Sunday where he discussed security and bilateral relations with the UAE’s de facto leader.
    That night, at 20 minutes past midnight, the UAE said it intercepted a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group; the third such attack on U.S.-allied UAE in the past fortnight.
    UAE authorities did not say whether the missile was aimed at Abu Dhabi or Dubai.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Kim Coghill and Mark Potter)

2/1/202 Israel blasts Amnesty apartheid accusation - Foreign minister calls rights group ‘radical organization’ by ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Israel on Monday called on Amnesty International not to publish an upcoming report accusing it of apartheid, saying the conclusions of the London-based international human rights group are “false, biased and antisemitic.”
    Amnesty is expected to join the New York-based Human Rights Watch and the Israeli rights group B’Tselem in accusing Israel of the international crime of apartheid based on its nearly 55-year military occupation of lands the Palestinians want for a future state and because of its treatment of its own Arab minority.
    Israel dismissed the other reports as biased but is adopting a much more adversarial stance this time around.
    Foreign Minister Yair Lapid has said Israel expects intensified efforts this year to brand it as an apartheid state in international bodies and hopes to head them off.
    In a statement issued Monday, he said Amnesty “is just another radical organization which echoes propaganda, without seriously checking the facts,” and that it “echoes the same lies shared by terrorist organizations.”
    “Israel isn’t perfect, but we are a democracy committed to international law, open to criticism, with a free press and a strong and independent judicial system,” Lapid said.
    Amnesty did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
    The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Amnesty’s report “denies the state of Israel’s right to exist as the nation state of the Jewish people.”
    “Its extremist language and distortion of historical context were designed to demonize Israel and pour fuel onto the fire of antisemitism,” it added.
    Neither Human Rights Watch nor B’Tselem compared Israel to South Africa, where an apartheid system based on white supremacy and racial segregation was in place from 1948 until the early 1990s.    Instead, they evaluate Israel’s policies based on international conventions like the Rome Statute, which defines apartheid as “an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group.”
    They argue that Israel’s various policies in the territories under its control are aimed at preserving a Jewish majority in as much of the land as possible by systematically denying basic rights to Palestinians.    Israel says its policies are aimed at ensuring the survival and security of the world’s only Jewish state.
    The International Criminal Court is already investigating potential war crimes committed by Israel and Palestinian militants in the occupied territories.
    After last year’s Gaza war, the U.N. Human Rights Council set up a permanent commission of inquiry to investigate abuses in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza, including “systematic discrimination and repression based on national, ethnic, racial or religious identity.”
    Israel has accused both the ICC and the U.N. rights body of being biased against it.
A Palestinian man carries an olive tree as he crosses illegally into Israel
near the West Bank town of Hebron last March. ODED BALILTY/AP FILE

2/1/2022 Amnesty Accuses Israel Of Enforcing ‘Apartheid’ On Palestinians
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian demonstrator runs past burning tires during a protest over tension
in Jerusalem and Israel-Gaza escalation, near Hawara checkpoint near Nablus in the
Israeli-occupied West Bank, May 14, 2021. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta/File Photo
    (Reuters) – Amnesty International accused Israel on Tuesday of subjecting Palestinians to a system of apartheid founded on policies of “segregation, dispossession and exclusion” that it said amounted to crimes against humanity.
    The London-based rights group said its findings were based on research and legal analysis in a 211-page report into Israeli seizure of Palestinian land and property, unlawful killings, forcible transfer of people and denial of citizenship.
    Israel said the report, the second by an international rights group in less than a year to accuse it of pursuing a policy of apartheid, “consolidates and recycles lies” from hate groups and was designed to “pour fuel onto the fire of antisemitism.”    It accused Amnesty UK of using “double standards and demonization in order to delegitimize Israel.”
    The report drew praise from Palestinians.
    Amnesty said Israel was enforcing a system of oppression and domination against Palestinians “wherever it has control over their rights,” including Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinians in Israeli-occupied territory and refugees living abroad.
    The measures included restrictions on Palestinian movement in territory occupied in the 1967 Middle East war, underinvestment in Palestinian communities in Israel, and preventing the return of Palestinian refugees.
    Alongside forcible transfers, torture and unlawful killings, which Amnesty said were intended to maintain a system of “oppression and domination,” they constitute “the crime against humanity of apartheid.”
    In a statement, Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said “Israel is not perfect, but it is a democracy committed to international law and open to scrutiny” with a free press and a strong Supreme Court.
    “I hate to use the argument that if Israel were not a Jewish state, nobody in Amnesty would dare argue against it, but in this case, there is no other possibility,” he said.
    Bassam Al-Salhe, a member of the Executive Committee of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), said it “confirms and supports the long-standing Palestinian position towards the nature of the Israeli occupation measures.    It reflects the real status on the ground.”
    Israel has cited security concerns in imposing travel restrictions on Palestinians, whose uprising in the early 2000s included suicide bombings in Israeli cities.
    Palestinians seek a state of their own in the West Bank and Gaza, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Gaza, a tiny coastal strip that Israel also took in the 1967 war but left in 2005, is run by Hamas, considered by the West to be a terrorist group.
    The last round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.
    Amnesty said the U.N. Security Council should impose an arms embargo on Israel for killing scores of civilians during weekly protests on the border with Gaza in 2018-19.    Israel has said those protests included attempts by Palestinian militants to breach its border fence.
    Amnesty also called on the International Criminal Court to consider the accusation of apartheid in its investigation into possible war crimes committed by both sides during several bouts of conflict in the Palestinian territories.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/2/2022 Islamic State Hits Back, Aided By Power Vacuum In Iraq And Syria by John Davison
Vehicles of the Iraqi security forces gather near the Iraqi-Syrian border,
January 27, 2022. Picture taken January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    JALAWLA, Iraq (Reuters) – Yousif Ibrahim no longer travels by night along the roads around his hometown of Jalawla in northeastern Iraq.    He fears getting caught up in attacks by Islamic State.
    “The police and army don’t come into our area much anymore.    If they do, they get shot at by militants,” said the 25-year-old, who sells fish for a living in a nearby market.
    Nearly three years after the group lost its final enclave, Islamic State fighters are re-emerging as a deadly threat, aided by the lack of central control in many areas, according to a dozen security officials, local leaders and residents in northern Iraq.
    Islamic State is far from the formidable force it once was, but militant cells often operating independently have survived across a swathe of northern Iraq and northeastern Syria, and in recent months they have launched increasingly brazen attacks.
    “Daesh (Islamic State) isn’t as powerful as it was in 2014,” said Jabar Yawar, a senior official in the Peshmerga forces of Iraq’s northern autonomous Kurdistan region.
    “Its resources are limited and there’s no strong joint leadership,” he told Reuters in the city of Sulaimaniya.    “But as long as political disputes aren’t solved, Daesh will come back.”
    Some fear that could be starting to happen.
    In late January, Islamic State carried out one of its deadliest attacks against the Iraqi army for years, killing 11 soldiers in a town near Jalawla, according to security sources.
    The same day, its militants stormed a prison in Syria under the control of U.S.-backed Kurdish militia in an attempt to free inmates loyal to the group.
    It was the biggest attack by Islamic State since the collapse of its self-declared caliphate in 2019.    At least 200 prison inmates and militants were killed, as well as 40 Kurdish troops, 77 prison guards and four civilians.
    Officials and residents in northern Iraq and eastern Syria lay much of the blame on rivalries between armed groups.    When Iraqi, Syrian, Iranian and U.S.-led forces declared Islamic State beaten, they faced off against each other across the territory it had ruled.
    Now Iran-backed militias attack U.S. forces. Turkish forces bomb Kurdish separatist militants. A territorial dispute rumbles on between Baghdad and Iraq’s autonomous Kurdish region.
    The tensions are undermining security and good governance, causing confusion that Islamic State once thrived on.
    For Ibrahim, that means crossing checkpoints manned variously by Iraqi soldiers and Shi’ite Muslim paramilitaries to get to work in a town controlled until a few years ago by Kurds.
    The remote farmland between each military outpost is where Islamic State militants hide out, according to local officials.
    A similar pattern plays out across the 400-mile corridor of mountains and desert through northern Iraq and into Syria where Islamic State once dominated.
    Towns like Jalawla bear the scars of fierce fighting five or so years ago – buildings reduced to rubble and scarred with bullet holes.    Banners honouring slain commanders from different armed groups jostle for space in town squares.
    In some parts of Iraq where Islamic State operates, the main dispute is between the government in Baghdad and the autonomous northern Kurdish region, home to huge deposits of oil and strategic territory that both sides claim.
    The jihadists’ deadliest attacks in Iraq in recent months have taken place in those areas.
    Dozens of soldiers, Kurdish fighters and residents have been killed in violence that local officials blamed on militants loyal to the group.
    According to Yawar, Islamic State fighters use the no-man’s-land between Iraqi army, Kurdish and Shi’ite militia checkpoints to regroup.
    “The gaps between the Iraqi army and the Peshmerga are sometimes 40 km (25 miles) wide,” he said.
    Mohammed Jabouri, an Iraqi army commander in the province of Salahuddin, said the militants tended to operate in groups of 10-15 people.
    Because of the lack of agreement over territorial control, there are areas where neither the Iraqi army nor Kurdish forces can enter to pursue them, he added.
    “That’s where Daesh is active,” he told Reuters by telephone.
    Iraqi state paramilitary forces aligned with Iran in theory coordinate with the Iraqi army, but some local officials say that does not always happen.
    “The problem is that local commanders, the army and the paramilitaries … sometimes don’t recognise each other’s authority,” said Ahmed Zargosh, mayor of Saadia, a town in a disputed area.
    “It means Islamic State militants can operate in the gaps.”
    Zargosh lives outside the town he administers, saying he fears assassination by Islamic State militants if he stays there at night.
    Islamic State militants at the other end of the corridor of contested territory, in Syria, are taking advantage of the confusion to operate in sparsely populated areas, according to some officials and analysts.
    “Fighters (are) entering villages and towns at night and having complete free rein to operate, raid for food, intimidate businesses and extort ‘taxes’ from the local population,” said Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute think-tank.
    “They’ve got many more local fissures, be they ethnic, political, sectarian, to exploit to their advantage.”
    Syrian government forces and Iran-backed militias hold territory to the west of the Euphrates river and U.S.-backed Kurdish forces are stationed to its east, including where the prison attack occurred.
    The picture on the Iraqi side of the frontier area is no less complex.
    Soldiers and fighters aligned with Iran, Turkey, Syria and the West control different segments of land, with separate checkpoints sometimes just a few hundred feet apart.
    Iran and its proxy militias seek to maintain control of Iraqi-Syrian border crossings that are Tehran’s gateway to Syria and Lebanon, according to Western and Iraqi officials.
    U.S. officials blame those militias for attacking the 2,000 or so American troops stationed in Iraq and Syria fighting Islamic State. Tehran has not commented on whether Iran is involved.
    Turkey, meanwhile, launches drone strikes from bases in northern Iraq against Kurdish separatist militants operating on either side of the border.
    At the peak of its power from 2014-2017, Islamic State ruled over millions of people and claimed responsibility for or inspired attacks in dozens of cities around the world.
    Its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared his caliphate over a quarter of Iraq and Syria in 2014 before he was killed in a raid by U.S. special forces in northwest Syria in 2019 as the group collapsed.
    Armed forces in northern Iraq and northeast Syria say that the sheer number of groups, all enemies of Islamic State, would squash any resurgence.
    In the wake of the prison assault, the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State said in a statement that recent attacks had ultimately made it weaker.
    Not all local communities are convinced.
    “After the Syria prison attack, we’re scared Daesh could come back,” said Hussein Suleiman, a government worker in the Iraqi town of Sinjar, which Islamic State overran in 2014 and where it slaughtered thousands of members of the Yazidi minority.
    “Islamic State came from Syria last time. Iraqi troops and Kurdish forces were here then too, but they fled.”
(Reporting by John Davison, additional reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman, Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Ali Sultan in Jalawla and Sulaimaniya, Iraq, Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Editing by Mike Collett-White and Samia Nakhoul)

2/2/2022 Factbox-After The Fall, Islamic State Strikes From Iraq And Syria Hinterlands
A view of the old city of Mosul and buildings destroyed during past fighting with
Islamic State militants, in Mosul, Iraq February 1, 2022. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Nearly three years after their self-declared caliphate was dismantled and their forces defeated in a battle by the Euphrates river, Islamic State fighters are waging a guerrilla campaign from remote regions of Iraq and Syria.
    The March 2019 battle of Baghouz, by the Syria-Iraq border, ended Islamic State control which once extended across swathes of both countries, including the cities of Raqqa and Mosul.
    It also completed the group’s strategic shift from a force which had ruled over the daily lives of millions of people back to an insurgency launching attacks from the shadows.
    Here is a summary of Islamic State’s status in Iraq and Syria.
    After the killing of Islamic State founder Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in October 2019, the group named his successor as Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Quraishi.
    Beyond Quraishi, an Iraqi who was once held in U.S. custody, little is know of Islamic State’s leadership – partly because it now operates in a secretive structure of autonomous local cells, rather than the centralised administration of the “caliphate
    Last year Iraq captured Sami Jasim, another Iraqi national who was a deputy to Baghdadi and a close aide to Quraishi, in northern Syria with Turkish help.
    The U.S.-led coalition fighting Islamic State said in mid-2019, after the last stand in Baghouz, that the group retained 14,000 to 18,000 members, including 3,000 foreigners, though there have been other varied estimates.
    Analysts say many local fighters may have slipped back into normal life, ready to re-emerge when the opportunity comes.
    “This is an organisation that has retained a significant amount of manpower,” said Charles Lister of the Washington-based Middle East Institute.    “In terms of kinetically operating cells, I imagine we are talking in the very low thousands in both countries together.    But it’s virtually impossible to measure.”
    Islamic State fighters attacked a jail holding militants in the northeastern Syrian city of Hasaka nearly two weeks ago, their biggest operation since the defeat of their caliphate.
    Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces who control the area said 40 of their troops, 77 prison guards and four civilians were killed, as well as 374 Islamic State attackers or detainees, in the attempted jail break.
    Also in late January, IS fighters attacked an Iraqi army base in Diyala, northeast of Baghdad, killing 11 soldiers.
    Meanwhile it has continued targeted assassinations, ambushes, suicide bombings and lesser noticed – but daily – attacks with improvised explosive devices.
    The latest U.S. government report said Islamic State claimed 182 attacks in Iraq and 19 in Syria over a three-month period.    While that was lower than previously, the report noted the group was still able to carry out lethal and complex operations.
    “What we have seen in the last six to 12 months, on both sides of the Syrian and Iraq border, is that (IS) cells have been more willing to launch bolder raids,” Lister said.
    Syria’s 11-year civil war and Iraq’s turbulence since the 2003 U.S.-led invasion have provided fertile ground for Islamic State to embed in populations alienated by political corruption, violence, insecurity and ethnic or religious divisions.
    In Iraq, the hinterlands between central government control and the Kurdish regional government in the north offer opportunities for the group to evade capture.
    Areas of Syria’s eastern desert outside government control also provide a haven for Islamic State, while Syrian Kurdish-led forces that rule northeast Syria are ill-equipped for a counter-insurgency role needed to keep the group from regrouping.
    Islamic State’s past may offer clues to it future plans.
    Its predecessor, Islamic State in Iraq, was largely crushed in 2007-9 when the United States reinforced troops and allied them with local fighters to put down that insurgency.
    The group went underground, playing a long game until growing disenchantment among Iraq’s Sunni Muslim population at the Shi’ite-led government in Baghdad, combined with the conflict in neighbouring Syria, offered fresh opportunity.
    In 2012 and 2013, in a series of operations similar to this month’s Hasaka attack, Islamic State targeted prisons in western and southern Iraq and released hundreds of detainees including prominent militants.
    At the same time, using intimidation, extortion and theft they gained resources and power over local populations – preparing them for the moment in 2014 when they seized control of the city of Mosul and a large part of northern Iraq.
(Reporting by Dominic Evans; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

2/3/2022 U.S. Forces Conduct Raid In Syria, Sources Believe Jihadist Was Target by Suleiman Al-Khalidi
Debris and rubble are seen in the aftermath of a counter-terrorism mission conducted
by the U.S. Special Operations Forces in Atmeh, Syria, February 3, 2022 in this
picture obtained from social media. Courtesy of Mohamed Al-Daher/via REUTERS
    AMMAN (Reuters) – U.S. special forces successfully carried out a counter-terrorism mission in northwest Syria on Thursday, the Pentagon said, a raid which Syrian sources said was believed to have targeted an al Qaeda-linked jihadist.
    Syrian rescue workers said at least 13 people including six children and four women were killed by clashes and explosions that erupted after the raid began, targeting a house in the Atmeh area near the Turkish border.
    “U.S. Special Operations forces under the control of U.S. Central Command conducted a counter-terrorism mission this evening in northwest Syria.    The mission was successful,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said in a statement.
    “There were no U.S. casualties.    More information will be provided as it becomes available.”
    He did not identify the target.
    A number of jihadist groups with links to al Qaeda operate in northwestern Syria, the last major bastion of rebels fighting President Bashar al-Assad in the decade-long Syrian war.    Leaders of the Islamic State group have also hidden out in the area.
    Several rebel sources said they were almost certain the target was a leading jihadist, but could not be sure who.
    Residents said helicopters landed and heavy gunfire and explosions were heard during the raid that began around midnight.    U.S. forces used loud speakers to warn women and children to leave the area, they said.
    A video taken by a resident and seen by Reuters showed the bodies of two apparently lifeless children and a man in the rubble of a building at the location.
    A witness who lives nearby said he saw several bodies at the scene.    “There was blood everywhere,” he told Reuters.    He added that one of the U.S. helicopters appeared to suffer a mechanical failure and was blown up by the U.S. forces.
    A rebel official who declined to be named said the jihadist who was the apparent target of the raid was with his family at the time.
    Witnesses said the raid ended with aircraft, believed to be helicopters, leaving the site but unidentified reconnaissance planes were still hovering in the area.
    Jihadists in northwestern Syria include Huras al-Din (Guardians of Religion), an al Qaeda-affiliated faction whose leaders include foreign fighters.
    U.S. forces have used drones to target the group and other jihadists in the area for years, but Thursday’s operation appeared to be the largest of its kind by U.S. forces in the northwest since Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi died in a U.S. special operations raid in 2019, said Charles Lister, senior fellow with the Washington-based Middle East Institute.
    Islamic State fighters have been re-emerging as a deadly threat, aided by the lack of central control in many areas, according to a dozen security officials, local leaders and residents in northern Iraq.
    The United States has offered rewards for information leading to the identification of senior Huras al-Din leaders.
    The most powerful group in northwestern Syria is Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, the former Nusra Front, which was part of al Qaeda until 2016.
    The rebel official said security from the Hayat Tahrir al-Sham group hurried to the location after the raid.
    The Atmeh area is crammed with tens of thousands of Syrians who have been uprooted in the war and live in makeshift camps or overcrowded housing.
(Reporting by Suleiman Al-Khalidi in Amman; Additional reporting by Humeyra Pamuk and Heather Timmons; Writing by Tom Perry and Michael Perry; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

2/3/2022 UAE Says It Blocked Drone Attack, Little-Known Group Claims Responsibility
FILE PHOTO: UAE flag flies over a boat at Dubai Marina, Dubai,
United Arab Emirates May 22, 2015. REUTERS/Ahmed Jadallah
    DUBAI (Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates said it intercepted three drones that entered its airspace over unpopulated areas early on Wednesday in the fourth such attack on the Gulf commercial and tourism hub in the past few weeks.
    The first three assaults, including a missile attack on Monday during a visit by Israel’s president, were launched by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis in an escalation with a military coalition led by Saudi Arabia and which includes the UAE.
    The Houthis have not yet announced a new operation and Wednesday’s drones attack was claimed by a little-known group calling itself the “True Promise Brigades,” according to U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which follows jihadist websites.
    The group’s only other claim was in January 2021, when it said it launched a drone at Saudi Arabia, which is locked in several proxy conflicts with rival Iran, including in Yemen.
    The UAE defence ministry said it was “ready to deal with any threats” and was taking “all necessary measures” to protect the country which prizes its reputation as a safe business haven.
    On Tuesday, the United States said it was sending fighter jets to assist the UAE after the attacks, one of which was aimed at a base hosting U.S forces and followed a Jan. 17 strike that killed three people in Abu Dhabi.
    The unprecedented attacks on the U.S.-allied country are an escalation in the seven-year Yemen war.    The Houthis had focused cross-border assaults at Saudi Arabia but extended them to the UAE last month after Emirati-backed local forces joined fighting against the group in energy-producing regions.
    If confirmed, the claim by the “True Promise Brigade” could indicate an upswing in violence involving militias seeking to help ally Iran oppose Western and Gulf Arab adversaries, according to some analysts.
    “If Alwiyat al-Waad al-Haq came out of hibernation and did launch drones at the UAE … then this was likely an Iran-directed or at very least Iran-tolerated operation,” Michael Knights at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy said in a Twitter post, using the group’s Arabic name.
    Sunni Muslim Gulf powers have called on global powers trying to salvage a nuclear pact with Iran to also tackle Shi’ite Iran’s regional proxies and missiles programme.
    Tehran has not directly commented on the UAE attacks but has called for a political solution to the Yemen crisis.
    Iran’s foreign minister discussed Yemen with his Emirati counterpart by telephone on Wednesday.
    The UAE largely reduced its military presence in Yemen in 2019 and has been engaging with Tehran under de-escalation efforts largely driven by economic priorities.
(Reporting by Yasmin Hussein and Omar Fahmy; Writing by Saeed Azhar and Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Lisa Shumaker, Clarence Fernandez and Lincoln Feast.)

2/3/2022 Israel Defence Minister Visits U.S. Navy Base In Bahrain
Israeli Defence Minister Benny Gantz arrives during his visit to 5th Fleet Headquarters
Navy Base in Juffair, Bahrain, February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed
    MANAMA (Reuters) – Israel’s defence minister visited the U.S. Navy Fifth Fleet’s headquarters in Bahrain on Thursday, part of an unannounced trip amid heightened Gulf tensions following drone and missile attacks on the United Arab Emirates.
    Israel’s Defence Ministry said on Wednesday Benny Gantz would sign a security cooperation agreement with Bahrain, which along with the UAE normalised relations with Israel in 2020, partly out of shared concerns about Iran.
    Bahrain hosts the Fifth Fleet’s headquarters as well as some operations for CENTCOM, a U.S. military coordination umbrella organisation for the Middle East that Israel joined last year.
    “Against a backdrop of increasing maritime and aerial threats, our ironclad cooperation is more important than ever,” Gantz said on Twitter after the naval base visit.
    Israel this week is joining a 60-nation U.S.-led Middle East naval exercise alongside the UAE and Bahrain and, for the first time, publicly alongside Saudi Arabia and Oman, two counties it has no diplomatic relations with.
    Israel’s defence ministry gave no details of what a security accord with Bahrain would include. Bahrain’s government communications office did not respond to a request for comment.
    Gantz flew to Bahrain for the two-day trip on an Israeli air force transport plane.    It was the first time an Israeli defence chief had visited the Gulf nation or that an Israeli military aircraft had landed there.
    In September, Bahrain hosted Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid for the highest-level visit since the normalisation deals.
    The UAE on Wednesday said it intercepted three drones that entered its airspace over unpopulated areas in the fourth such attack in the past few weeks.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller; editing by John Stonestreet)

2/4/2022 Top ISIS Leader Killed In U.S. Raid In Syria, Targeted Jihadist Detonated Suicide Vest by OAN Newsroom
People inspect a destroyed house following an operation by the U.S. military in the Syrian village of Atmeh,
in Idlib province, Syria, Thursday, Feb. 3, 2022. U.S. special operations forces conducted a large-scale
counterterrorism raid in northwestern Syria overnight Thursday, in what the Pentagon said was a “successful mission.”
Residents and activists reported multiple deaths including civilians from the attack. (AP Photo/Ghaith Alsayed)
    Several people were killed in a U.S. Special Forces counterterrorism raid against a top ISIS leader in Northwest Syria.    Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said there were no U.S. casualties in what has been deemed a “successful mission.”    The goal of the raid was to eliminate ISIS commander Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, also known as Haji Abdullah, near the Turkish border Thursday.    Haji Abdullah was reportedly wearing a suicide vest that detonated during the raid.
    Intelligence showed that Haji Abdullah usually surrounded himself with women and children, so the decision was made to send in a special ops unit. This offered greater danger to U.S. personnel, but less chance of civilian casualties than airstrikes.    Local residents said helicopters hovered overhead asking women and children to leave the area on loudspeakers.    Despite this, six children and four women were reportedly among the 13 dead.
    Thursday’s operation appears to be the largest of its kind by U.S. forces in the region since Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was killed in a special operations raid in 2019.
    While speaking from the Roosevelt Room Thursday, Joe Biden briefly commented on the situation despite the importantance of the mission.    He didn’t take questions following his remarks and, instead, said he was late for his plane to New York where he was headed to discuss a new anti-gun task force.

2/5/2022 Coups, COVID And Climate Test African Leaders At Summit by Giulia Paravicini
FILE PHOTO: African Union Commission Chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat arrives for a meeting at the
33rd Ordinary Session of the Assembly of the Heads of State and Government of the
African Union (AU) in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, February 10, 2020. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – African leaders gather at an African Union summit this weekend to try to forge a coordinated response to the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, and a spate of military takeovers from Sudan to the Sahel region.
    The bloc, formed 20 years ago to promote international cooperation and harmonise member states’ policies, has struggled to address six coups or attempted coups in Africa over the past 18 months, and the power grabs are high on the summit agenda.
    Heads of state from continental heavyweight Nigeria, new AU chair Senegal and Kenya are due to attend, although absentees will include some major figures, like President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa and Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni.
    “Peace and security is seriously threatened in several of our Regions and within some Member States,” AU Commission Chair Moussa Faki Mahamat said on Tuesday in a statement.
    The AU suspended Burkina Faso on Monday following a Jan. 24 military coup there.
    The leaders will also discuss the bloc’s relationship with Israel.    In July, Faki unilaterally accepted Israel’s request for observer status at the AU, prompting criticism by South Africa, whose ruling party strongly backs the Palestinian cause.
    The issue was not resolved at an October meeting and will now be discussed by heads of state.    It is unclear if leaders will vote or merely discuss the issue.
    Nigeria, Algeria, South Africa, and the Southern African regional bloc are pushing for Israel’s status to be revoked, according to an internal memo prepared for the summit and seen by Reuters.
    The Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Morocco and Togo support Israel’s presence, one African diplomat said.
    Ebba Kalondo, a spokesperson in chair Faki’s office, did not respond to a comment request on Israel’s status.
    Sharon Bar-li, head of the Africa division in Israel’s Foreign Affairs Ministry, declined to comment.
    Some diplomats fear the Israel dispute might shift attention from pressing issues like the conflict in Ethiopia and unrest in Sudan following a coup in October.
    The leaders will also discuss climate change, which is aggravating floods, droughts, hot weather and locust invasions, threatening food supplies and driving up hunger and migration.
    The war in Ethiopia, which broke out in November 2020 and has killed thousands, “remains the elephant in the room,” said another diplomat who works for the AU.
    The meeting in Ethiopia’s capital comes just three months after the country declared a state of emergency after rebellious northern forces threatened to march on the capital, and Western and African embassies evacuated citizens.
    The government has since announced plans to lift the emergency, and the rebellious forces have mostly retreated back into the Tigray region, although fighting continues in Afar.
(Reporting by Giulia Paravicini, Editing by Maggie Fick, William Maclean)

2/6/2022 Tunisian President Dissolves Supreme Judicial Council by Tarek Amara
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's President Kais Saied gives a speech at the government's swearing-in ceremony at the
Carthage Palace outside the capital Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2020. Fethi Belaid/Pool via REUTERS
    TUNIS (Reuters) -Tunisian President Kais Saied on Sunday dissolved the Supreme Judicial Council, the body that deals with judicial independence, a move that raises fears about the independence of the judiciary and was sure to anger his opponents.
    Saied’s decision caps months of his sharp criticism of the judges.    Saied has frequently criticized the judiciary’s delay in issuing rulings in cases of corruption and terrorism.    He repeatedly said he would not allow judges to act as if they are a state, instead of being a function of the state.
    Saied called the council a thing of the past, adding he will issue a temporary decree to the council. He gave no details about the decree.
    Last July, Saied dismissed the government and suspended parliament, a move his opponents described as a coup.    He has been broadly criticized after seizing power and rejecting dialogue with all political parties.
    The Supreme Judicial Council is an independent and constitutional institution, formed in 2016. Its powers include ensuring the independence of the judiciary, disciplining judges and granting them professional promotions.
    Last month, Saied revoked all financial privileges for council members.
    “In this council, positions and appointments are sold according to loyalties.    Their place is not the place where they sit now, but where the accused stand,” Saied said in speech in the interior ministry.
    On Sunday, parties and organizations, including the powerful UGTT union, will demonstrate to pressure the judiciary to hold those involved in terrorism accountable, on the ninth anniversary of the assassination of secular politician Chokri Belaid.
    It is expected that Saied’s supporters also will protest in a second demonstration against the Supreme Judicial Council.
    “I tell Tunisians to demonstrate freely. It is your right and our right to dissolve the Supreme Judicial Council,” Saied said.
    Saied’s approval of Sunday’s demonstrations comes even though a government decision to ban all demonstrations remains in effect.
    Last month, police fired water cannons and beat protesters with sticks to break up an opposition protest against Saied, whose seizure of broad powers and declared plans to redraw the constitution have cast doubt on Tunisia’s decade-old democratic system, and hindered its quest for an international rescue plan for public finances.
    The president has initiated an online public consultation before drafting a new constitution that he says will be put to a referendum.    He has not brought major political or civil society players into the process.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler and David Gregorio)

2/6/2022 Energy Minister Says Power Cut In Central Turkey Still Impacts 20,000 Households – Media
Turkish Energy Minister Fatih Donmez makes a speech during a ceremony at Dilovasi port
in the western city of Kocaeli, Turkey, June 20, 2019. REUTERS/Murad Sezer
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Workers were still trying to restore power to some 20,000 households left in the dark for three days in the central Turkish province of Isparta after heavy snow caused disruptions to the electricity grid, Energy Minister Fatih Donmez said on Saturday, according to news website Haberturk.
    “Heavy snow and a blizzard caused serious damage to energy infrastructure… initially 113,236 users were left without electricity in the province…units are working in the field to restore energy to the remaining 20,000 users,” Donmez said.
    The governor’s office in Isparta said some neighbourhoods and villages were still without electricity since the snow started on Thursday but grid maintenance personnel were continuing work on power transmission lines.
    “There is a delay in restoring power… as the disruptions in utility poles occurred in a wide area impacting different lines, transportation to the areas is difficult and snow depth is around 1 metre (yard),” the governor’s office said in a statement.
    The authorities decided to ban use of motorbikes and electric scooters since Thursday and pause face to face education in schools for five days in the city of 450,000 people as of Feb. 7, according to a statement on governor’s office website.
(Reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun; Editing by Kim Coghill)

2/7/2022 Iran Calls Removal Of U.S. Sanctions Its “Red Line” For 2015 Deal Revival
Iran's and U.S.' flags are seen printed on paper in this
illustration taken January 27, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Iran said on Monday removal of U.S. sanctions is Tehran’s red line in talks with world powers in Vienna to revive a 2015 nuclear deal, an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman told a news conference, adding that talks will resume on Tuesday.
    On Friday, the United States restored sanctions waivers allowing international nuclear cooperation with Iran on projects designed to make it harder for Iran’s nuclear sites to be used to develop weapons, although a senior State Department official said that was not a signal Washington was on the verge of reaching an agreement.
    “The issue of removal of sanctions and Iran benefiting from it is Iran’s red line in the talks,” Saeed Khatibzadeh said.
    “Washington has decided to take a step which has no impact on Iran’s economic situation … a responsible (U.S.) government should return to the deal and fulfill its obligations,” he said.
    Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian on Sunday described the U.S. move as “good but insufficient.”
    Iran, which denies ever seeking a nuclear bomb, has gradually violated nuclear limits of the nuclear pact in reaction to then-U.S. President Donald Trump’s 2018 withdrawal from the pact between Tehran and six powers and reimposing of crippling sanctions on Iran.
    Tehran and Washington have held eight round of indirect talks since April in Vienna aimed at reinstating the deal, under which Iran agreed to curb its nuclear programme in exchange for removal of international sanctions that have squeezed its oil exports.
    The talks paused on Jan. 28 as top negotiators returned to their respective capitals for consultations.    U.S. Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley on Sunday said he would soon return to Vienna, insisting the pact could still be revived.
    Khatibzadeh said Iran’s lead nuclear negotiator Ali Bagheri Kani would return to Vienna on Tuesday, when the talks will resume.
(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Toby Chopra and Tomasz Janowski)

2/7/2022 Tunisian Police Close Supreme Judicial Council Offices
FILE PHOTO: A man stands outside the Supreme Judicial Council
building in Tunis, Tunisia February 6, 2022. REUTERS/Zoubeir Souissi
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisian police have locked the doors of the Supreme Judicial Council, its head told Reuters on Monday, a day after President Kais Saied dissolved it, and have stopped staff from entering the building.
    Saied’s announcement has raised fears for the rule of law in Tunisia after his seizure of almost total power last summer in a move his critics have branded a coup, with judges’ associations accusing him of an illegal act that undermines judicial independence.
    “The president has moved to the stage of seizing institutions.    What is happening is very dangerous and illegal,” said council head Youssef Bouzakher.
    Saied has been consolidating his powers since last summer when he suspended parliament, dismissed the prime minister and said he could rule by decree, and he has grown increasingly critical of the judiciary.
    A constitutional law professor before he ran for president in 2019, and the husband of a judge, Saied has accused Tunisia’s judicial hierarchy of being corrupt and serving the interests of political factions.
    He has not embarked on a widescale campaign of arrests or tried to shut down debate inside Tunisia since last year, and has promised to uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy.
    However, security forces have pursued some politicians and business leaders on various charges and have pushed many of the cases through the military rather than civilian courts, raising concerns among rights groups.
    Saied has said he will rewrite the constitution and put it to a referendum this summer but major political parties and civil society groups say any changes he makes should be based on dialogue.
    Tunisia faces a looming crisis in public finances and a dire economy that threaten to hit living standards over the coming months, posing a major challenge to any efforts to enact significant reforms.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall; Editing by Toby Chopra and Alex Richardson)

2/7/2022 Turkey’s Ritual Corpse Washers Say Faith Overcame COVID Fears by Umit Bektas
Eda Elal, a "ghassal", who prepares corpses for burial according to Islamic rituals, rests after preparing a corpse for
burial outside a washing cabin, called a "ghassilhane", where men wash male bodies and women wash female bodies
free of charge in Istanbul, Turkey, December 16, 2021. Picture taken December 16, 2021. REUTERS/Umit Bektas
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Eda Elal has prepared corpses for burial in accordance with Islamic rituals nearly half her life, but says her job as a “ghassal” in Turkey has never been harder than when bodies and illness overwhelmed her during the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Elal, 36, said a sense of spiritual duty helped her continue carrying out the common end-of-life ritual despite exhaustion and fear, especially when she herself fell ill with COVID-19 last year.
    According to the ritual, ghassals pray while washing the body, before placing it in a white shroud ahead of burial.    Corpses arrive from hospitals or homes to a washing cabin, called a “ghassilhane,” where men wash male bodies and women wash female bodies.
    “I have been a ghassal for 16 years.    I have never seen so many dead together.    I have never washed so many corpses in one day.    We were exhausted,” Elal said.
    “Believe me, getting COVID was more difficult than washing someone who died of COVID. Because you are sick yourself, you are waging a battle of life and death,” she said, adding she received therapy for some time because she couldn’t go outside fearing she would be re-infected.
    Istanbul, Turkey’s largest city of some 16 million, has 243 ghassals working in 16 washing cabins that are managed and funded by the municipal government, providing the service for free.
    Elal said two ghassals normally wash five bodies each day, though it was as many as 40 during the worst days of the pandemic.
    Turkey’s daily COVID-19 deaths peaked near 400 in May last year, and now hover just below 200 even as cases are at record highs.
    Ceyhan Tunc, 45, another ghassal, said they were panicked when the pandemic began and debated how to continue their work while keeping safe, but continued once new protective measures were adopted.
    “This is a matter of heart,” said Tunc, who has worked for five years.
    The ghassals are paid by the municipal government but Elal and Tunc said the demanding work is more a responsibility than a source of income.
    “We try to look at this not from a perspective of money and a job, but rather from a religious duty,” Elal said.
    Elal says her father and husband did not at first support her decision, at age 17, to become a ghassal.    But now family is her biggest moral support.
    “I never had regrets about doing this work because preparing the corpse is the last service to a person.    My faith and spirit are satisfied,” Elal said, adding that being with someone in “their final moment” made up for the difficulties.
(Writing by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer and Emelia Sithole-Matarise)

2/8/2022 Negotiators propose two-state confederation - Suggested compromise for Israel, Palestine by Joseph Krauss, ASSOCIATED PRESS
    JERUSALEM – Former Israeli and Palestinian peace negotiators have drawn up a new proposal for a two state confederation that they hope will offer a way forward after a decadelong stalemate in Mideast peace efforts.
    The plan includes several controversial proposals, and it’s unclear whether it has any support among leaders on either side.
    But it could help shape the debate over the conflict and will be presented to a senior U.S. official and the United Nations secretary-general this week.
    The plan calls for an independent state of Palestine in most of the West Bank, Gaza and east Jerusalem, territories Israel seized in the 1967 Mideast war.    Israel and Palestine would have separate governments but coordinate at a very high level on security, infrastructure and other issues that affect both populations.
    The plan would allow the nearly 500,000 Jewish settlers in the occupied West Bank to remain there, with large settlements near the border annexed to Israel in a one-to-one land swap.
    Settlers living deep inside the West Bank would be given the option of relocating or becoming permanent residents in the state of Palestine.    The same number of Palestinians – likely refugees from the 1948 war surrounding Israel’s creation – would be allowed to relocate to Israel as citizens of Palestine with permanent residency in Israel.
    The initiative is largely based on the Geneva Accord, a detailed, comprehensive peace plan drawn up in 2003 by prominent Israelis and Palestinians, including former officials.    Yossi Beilin, a former senior Israeli official and peace negotiator who cofounded the Geneva Initiative, said that by taking the mass evacuation of settlers off the table, the plan could be more amenable to them.
    The Palestinians view the settlements as the main obstacle to peace, and most of the international community considers them illegal.
    Numerous sticking points remain, including security, freedom of movement and – perhaps most critically, after years of violence and failed negotiations – lack of trust.
    The main Palestinian figure behind the initiative is Hiba Husseini, a former legal adviser to the Palestinian negotiating team going back to 1994 who hails from a prominent Jerusalem family.    Other contributors include Israeli and Palestinian professors and two retired Israeli generals.
    Thorny issues such as the conflicting claims to Jerusalem, final borders and the fate of Palestinian refugees could be easier to address by two states in the context of a confederation, rather than the traditional approach of trying to work out all the details ahead of a final agreement.
    “We’re reversing the process and starting with recognition,” Husseini said.
    It’s been nearly three decades since Israeli and Palestinian leaders gathered on the White House lawn to sign the Oslo Accord, setting up the framework to launch the peace process.
Jewish settlers living deep inside the West Bank could either relocate
or become permanent residents in Palestine. ODED BALILTY/AP FILE

2/9/2022 Islamic State Likely To Pick Battle-Hardened Iraqi As Next Leader – Officials, Analysts by Ahmed Rasheed and John Davison
A view shows houses destroyed in past Islamic State militant attacks, in the town of
Sinjar, Iraq January 24, 2022. Picture taken January 24, 2022. REUTERS/Khalid al-Mousily
    BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The next leader of Islamic State is likely to be from a close circle of battle-hardened Iraqi jihadists who emerged in the aftermath of the 2003 U.S. invasion, two Iraqi security officials and three independent analysts said.
    The group of potential successors to Abu Ibrahim al-Quraishi, who blew himself up during a U.S. operation to capture him in Syria last week, includes one commander whom Washington and Baghdad declared killed last year, the Iraqi officials said.
    The death of Quraishi, 45, was another crushing blow to IS two years after the violent Sunni Muslim group lost longtime leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in a similar raid in 2019.
    Quraishi, an Iraqi, never publicly addressed his fighters or followers, avoided electronic communications and oversaw a move to fighting in small devolved units in response to intense pressure from Iraqi and U.S.-led forces.
    But those following Islamic State closely expect it to name a successor in coming weeks, as the group which imposed brutal rule over vast swathes of Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2017 continues a stubborn and deadly insurgency INSIGHT-Islamic State hits back, aided by power vacuum in Iraq and Syria in the Middle East.
    Fadhil Abu Rgheef, an Iraqi expert who advises its security services, said there were at least four possible successors.
    “These include … Abu Khadija, whose last known role was Iraq leader for Islamic State, Abu Muslim, its leader for Anbar province, and another called Abu Salih, of whom there’s very little information but who was close to Baghdadi and Quraishi,” he said.
    “There’s also Abu Yassir al-Issawi, who is suspected to be still alive.    He’s valuable to the group as he has long military experience.”
    Issawi’s death in an air strike in January 2021 was reported at the time by both Iraqi forces as well as the U.S.-led military coalition fighting Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.
    But an Iraqi security official confirmed there were strong suspicions Issawi is still alive.    “If he’s not dead he’d be a candidate, he’s tried and tested in planning military attacks and has thousands of supporters,” the official said.
    The official added that Islamic State was likely carrying out a security sweep for potential leaks that led to the death of Quraishi before convening to choose or announce a successor.
    Hassan Hassan, editor of New Lines magazine which has published research on Quraishi, said the new leader would be a veteran Iraqi jihadist.
    “If they choose one in the coming weeks they’ll have to choose someone from among the same circle … the group that was part of the Anbari group which operated under (the name) ISIS since the early days,” he said.
    Islamic State emerged from the militants that waged an increasingly Sunni Islamist, sectarian-driven insurgency against U.S. troops and Iraqi forces after 2003.
    The Islamic State of Iraq, also known as al Qaeda in Iraq, was an offshoot of the global al Qaeda organisation of Osama Bin Laden and the precursor to ISIS, which took shape in the chaos of Syria’s civil war across the border.
    Baghdadi and Quraishi, both members of al Qaeda in Iraq from the start, did time in U.S. detention in the mid-2000s.    In contrast, none of the four potential successors to Quraishi had been captured by U.S. forces, one security official and one army colonel told Reuters.
    Officials and analysts in various countries agree Islamic State is under more pressure than it’s ever been and will never restore its self-styled caliphate.    But they are divided on how significant a setback Quraishi’s death is for the group.
    Some say the fight against ISIS will suck in the United States and its allies for years to come as it develops into a permanent insurgency with new leaders ready to take the reins.
    “In Syria, Islamic State units work as a devolved network of individual groups in order to avoid them being targeted.    We don’t therefore believe that Quraishi’s death will have an enormous impact,” one of the Iraqi security officials said.
    “It’s also become more difficult to follow them because they’ve long stopped using mobile phones for communication.”
    Since their territorial defeat in Iraq in 2017 and Syria in 2019, Islamic State leaders have found it increasingly easy to move between the two countries, helped by a gap in areas of control between different armed forces, some officials say.
    Security and military officials said the 600 km (372 mile)long border with Syria made it a very hard for Iraqi forces to prevent militants infiltrating via underground tunnels.
    Lahur Talabany, former counter-terrorism chief for Iraq’s autonomous Kurdistan region, said some IS leaders can travel on a route across the full expanse of Iraq.
    “When you see attacks increasing in a particular area I wouldn’t be surprised if somebody important has been through that region,” he told Reuters.    “The caliphate was defeated but ISIS was never eradicated.    I don’t believe we managed to finish the job.”
    Islamic State’s possession of land in Iraq and Syria set it apart from other like-minded groups such as al Qaeda and became central to its mission when it declared a caliphate in 2014, claiming sovereignty over all Muslim lands and peoples.
    Fiercely anti-Western, the group also draws on Sunni-Shi’ite tensions, saying Shi’ites were infidels who deserve to be killed.
    Abu Rgheef said the new leader could have stronger military credentials than Quraishi, who Iraqi officials say was seen by followers as more of an Islamic legal mind than a military man.
    “Attacks and operations will change in character depending on the style of the new leader.    The new one might believe in big and intensive attacks, bombs or suicide bombers,” he said.
    Despite Quraishi’s low profile and operational secrecy, his killing is likely to affect the group’s fighters, analysts say.
    Hassan said Quraishi’s removal would reduce morale.    “ISIS is also locked into personalities and who’s most trusted,” he said.
    Aaron Zelin, senior fellow at the Washington Institute, said a figurehead is very important to ISIS.
    “Whenever a leader of the group is killed, your oath is to the (next) leader, the individual themselves, and not to the group.”
(Ahmed Rasheed reported from Baghdad, John Davison reported from Baghdad, Sulaimaniya and Geneva; additional reporting by Dominic Evans in Istanbul; Writing by John Davison, Editing by William Maclean)

2/9/2022 Chinese Funding Of Sub-Saharan African Infrastructure Dwarfs That Of West, Says Think Tank by Andrea Shalal
FILE PHOTO: A Chinese engineer and a local construction worker work on a section of the
Mombasa-Nairobi standard gauge railway (SGR) in Emali, Kenya October 10, 2015. The China Road
and Bridge Corporation (CRBC) tasked with the construction work at a cost of 3.8 billion
U.S. dollars is due for completion in mid-2017. REUTERS/Noor Khamis/File Photo
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – China’s development banks provided $23 billion in financing for infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa from 2007 to 2020, more than double the amount lent by such banks in the United States, Germany, Japan and France combined, a new study showed.
    The Center for Global Development think tank said a review of 535 public-private infrastructure deals funded in the region in those years showed that China’s investments dwarfed those of other governments and multilateral development banks.
    Nancy Lee, lead author of the paper and a senior policy fellow at the center, said overall public funding for projects in sub-Saharan Africa remained stuck at around $9 billion, well short of what the region needs for roads, dams and bridges.
    “There is a lot of criticism of China,” she said.    “But if Western governments want to boost productive and sustainable investments to meaningful levels, they need to deploy their own development banks and press the multilateral development banks to make these investments a priority.”
    Between 2007 and 2020, China Exim Bank and China Development Bank provided $23 billion in financing, while all other major development finance institutions combined provided $9.1 billion, the report found.
    It noted that the main U.S. development finance agency, now known as the U.S. International Development Finance Corp, lent just $1.9 billion for infrastructure in the region during that period, less than a tenth of what China provided.
    Multilateral development banks like the World Bank provided just $1.4 billion per year on average for public-private infrastructure projects in sub-Saharan Africa from 2016-2020, the report found.
    China’s lending to Africa has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years for lack of transparency and its use of collateralized loans, with economists at the International Monetary Fund and World Bank warning that many low-income countries are facing or already in debt distress.
    But Western countries have been slow to pump up investments despite “much rhetoric,” Lee said.
    The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden in July unveiled a new push to expand business ties between U.S. companies and Africa, with a focus on clean energy, health, agribusiness and transportation infrastructure.    But its ongoing review of trade policies has left the private sector skittish about committing funds.
    More news could come soon.
    A top U.S. trade official last week said Washington had been engaging in robust talks with Kenya as part of its drive to expand trade investment on the African continent, and would have more to say in coming weeks.
(Reporting by Andrea Shalal, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien)

2/10/2022 Turkish Opposition Head Refuses To Pay Power Bill In Price Rise Protest
FILE PHOTO: Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP),
speaks during a news conference in Ankara, Turkey October 11, 2021. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
    ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkey’s main opposition party leader said late on Wednesday he will not pay his electricity bills until President Tayyip Erdogan withdraws recent price increases, as signs of discontent over surging inflation emerged across the country.
    In January, inflation jumped to nearly 50% after a currency crash late last year triggered by Erdogan’s unorthodox low interest rate policy, raising the cost of living for Turks already struggling to make ends meet.
    In response, the government has raised the minimum wage by 50% but also increased the prices of gas, power, petrol and road tolls to account for import price volatility.
    “I will not pay any of my electricity bills from today until Erdogan withdraws the price hikes which he signed on December 31,” Republican People’s Party (CHP) leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu said overnight.
    In a video released on his Twitter account, Kilicdaroglu also called for a reduction in the value-added tax imposed on power bills to 1% from 18%.
    Electricity prices were raised by as much as 125% for high-demand commercial users and by around 50% for lower-demand households at the beginning of January.
    Kilicdaroglu’s announcement came after shopkeepers, city councils and a religious community group spoke out this week about the rising energy bills.
    Some restaurant owners posted notices on windows highlighting ballooning electricity bills, social media posts showed, while Turkey’s Alevi religious minority decided not to pay power bills for their places of worship, known as cemevis.
    The record currency depreciation and soaring prices have hit Erdogan’s opinion poll ratings ahead of elections set for no later than June 2023.    The government says credit, exports and investment will help the country weather inflation.
    Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said this week a new measure on power bills would be announced “very soon.”
(Reporting by Daren Butler; Editng by Robert Birsel)

2/12/2022 Afghan Refugees In UAE Protest For Third Day, Call For U.S. Resettlement by Alexander Cornwell
FILE PHOTO: Evacuees from Afghanistan board a military aircraft during an evacuation from Kabul, in this photo taken on
August 19, 2021 at undisclosed location and released on August 20, 2021. Staff Sgt. Brandon Cribelar/U.S.
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Afghan refugees held in the United Arab Emirates for months since fleeing Afghanistan last year protested for a third day on Friday, calling for resettlement in the United States.
    The demonstrations by hundreds of Afghans began on Wednesday at the centre where they are being housed as months of frustrations with what refugees say is a lack of communication over the resettlement process boiled over.
    A protester told Reuters by phone more refugees had joined the demonstration on Friday, a day after a U.S. official visited the centre and told them it could take years for applications to be processed.
    The official added that many refugees, however, were unlikely to ever be resettled in the United States, according to the protester.
    A U.S. State Department spokesperson confirmed several Afghans had taken part in peaceful demonstrations and that U.S. government officials had met with Afghans this week to discuss their concerns with the resettlement process.
    The spokesperson said U.S. screening and vetting of vulnerable Afghans is continuing and that “safe and orderly” travel to the United States will be facilitated for those who qualify.
    Among the Afghans, advocates say, are those who had worked with the U.S. government and military.    There are also those who had fought in the Afghan forces before the U.S.-led withdrawal last August when the Western-backed government collapsed and the hardline Islamist movement took over the country.
    Ahmad Mohibi, an advocate who has helped Afghans evacuate and who is in contact with several refugees in the UAE, said the Afghans planned to continue peaceful protests.
    The refugees, he said, were appreciative of the care the UAE has provided them but were exasperated by the uncertainty over how much longer they would have to remain in what they say are prison-like conditions at the Abu Dhabi centre.
    The Emirati government has not commented on the protests.
    The UAE agreed with Washington and other Western countries last year to temporarily house Afghan nationals evacuated from Afghanistan as they made their way to a third country.
    It is unclear how many Afghans refugees are being housed in the UAE, though demonstrators and advocates estimate there are 12,000 temporarily living at two locations in Abu Dhabi.
    Afghans have also protested outside a U.S. government representative office at one of the centres in Abu Dhabi, holding banners pleading for freedom and urging the United States to resettle them.
    Mohibi said he was coordinating with other advocates and charities to raise the Afghans’ concerns directly with the U.S. government.
(Reporting by Alexander Cornwell; editing by Grant McCool and Edwina Gibbs)

2/13/2022 Tunisian President Cements Power Over Judiciary
FILE PHOTO: Tunisia's President Kais Saied gives a speech at the government's swearing-in ceremony at the
Carthage Palace outside the capital Tunis, Tunisia February 27, 2020. Fethi Belaid/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    TUNIS (Reuters) - Tunisia’s president cemented his grip over the judiciary on Sunday with a decree that lets him dismiss judges or block their promotion, helping consolidate his power after he seized executive authority last summer in a move his foes call a coup.
    President Kais Saied outraged his opponents and alarmed democratic foreign allies with his announcement last week that he was dissolving the Supreme Judicial Council, a body that guaranteed judicial independence.
    Saied, a former constitutional lawyer and the husband of a judge, has accused the council of acting for political interests and has set up a temporary replacement to oversee judges’ work while he prepares broader changes.
    The judiciary was seen as the last remaining institutional block on Saied’s actions after he suspended the parliament last year and said he could rule by decree.
    Saied has said his actions were temporary and were needed to save Tunisia from a corrupt, self-serving elite that had allowed its economy and politics to stagnate for years and brought the state to the brink of collapse.
    Some Supreme Judicial Council members and other judges demonstrated last week and shut down many courts with a two-day strike in protest at Saied’s moves on the judiciary.
    However, Saied issued a new decree early on Sunday creating a temporary new council, with no fixed term, to oversee the judiciary and saying judges had no right to go on strike.
    The decree also said Saied has the right to object to the promotion or nomination of any judges and is responsible for proposing judicial reforms, effectively giving him sole power over the entire justice system.
    Saied has already seized absolute control over both executive and legislative authority, and his critics accuse him of seeking dictatorial powers.
    He has said he will uphold rights and freedoms won in the 2011 revolution that brought democracy and that he will put a new constitution to a referendum this summer, with new parliamentary elections to follow in December.
    However, with Tunisia facing a rapidly looming crisis in public finances, the Western donors that have previously bailed it out have voiced deep concern at Saied’s moves and have said any political process needs to be inclusive.
    The main opposition Ennahda, a moderate Islamist party that has played a major role in most governments since the revolution and is the largest party in the suspended parliament, has called a protest for later on Sunday in Tunis.
(Reporting By Tarek AmaraWriting by Angus McDowallEditing by Andrew Heavens and Frances Kerry)

2/14/2022 Israeli Forces Kill Palestinian In West Bank Clash, Palestinian Health Ministry Says
FILE PHOTO: A Palestinian demonstrator hurls a stone during a protest against Jewish settlements
near Nablus, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank Feb. 11, 2022. REUTERS/Raneen Sawafta/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israeli forces shot dead a Palestinian during a clash in the occupied West Bank as troops prepared to demolish the home of a man accused of killing an Israeli, the Palestinian Health Ministry and witnesses said on Monday.
    The fighting erupted late on Sunday in the village of Silat al-Harithiya, home to a Palestinian who has been detained and charged with the killing, in a shooting attack on a car, near the Jewish outpost of Homesh on Dec. 16.
    Witnesses said soldiers and Palestinian gunmen exchanged fire after the troops arrived to carry out the demolition.    The Israeli military said it would destroy a floor of the home where the assailant had lived.
    Hundreds of Palestinians threw rocks and petrol bombs at the soldiers, who responded with “riot dispersal equipment and also fired at gunmen they had spotted,” the Israeli military said, without confirming the fatality.
    According to the Palestinian Health Ministry, one Palestinian was killed and 10 were wounded.
    Israel says demolitions carried out at assailants’ homes can help deter future assaults.    Rights groups have denounced the measure, which often targets homes where other family members also live, as collective punishment.
(Reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Jeffrey Heller in Jerusalem; Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Kenneth Maxwell)

2/15/2022 Israeli Prime Minister Lands In Bahrain In First Visit by Dan Williams
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at the
prime minister's office in Jerusalem February 13, 2022. Menahem Kahana/Pool via REUTERS
    MANAMA (Reuters) -Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett arrived in Bahrain’s capital Manama on Monday in the highest-level visit since the countries established relations under a 2020 U.S.-sponsored deal based in part on shared worries about Iran.
    Bennett will meet with Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, his office said.
    “The leaders will discuss additional ways to strengthen bilateral ties … especially the advancement of diplomatic and economic issues, with an emphasis on technology and innovation,” it said in a statement.
    The two-day trip to Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Gulf headquarters, comes amid heightened tensions after missile attacks on the neighbouring United Arab Emirates by Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthis.    Israel also normalised ties with the UAE in 2020.
    Speaking to reporters before take-off, Bennett said he hoped the visit would be a “message of goodwill … and a shared stance against common threats.”
    Israel has stepped up cooperation with the Gulf states.    Manama hosted Israel’s defence minister on Feb. 2 and has said an Israeli military officer will be posted in Bahrain as part of an international coalition.
    The outreach by Bahrain’s Sunni Muslim monarch has been criticised by an opposition led by the Shi’ite majority.    The country has seen protests in solidarity with the Palestinians.
    There were brief protests in several Shi’ite villages ahead of Bennett’s visit, activists told Reuters.
    Footage and photos posted on Bahrain’s dissolved opposition group al-Wefaq’s social media accounts showed dozens of protesters marching, chanting slogans and holding up Bahraini flags.
    Israel has offered to cooperate with its new Gulf partners on air defence, but has not specified whether this might include selling the short-range rocket interceptor Iron Dome.
    Such sales in the past have been subjected to questions of whether the systems would be secure and not be shared with Israel’s enemies.    There has also been concern it would pose a commercial challenge to U.S. defence exports.
    But a U.S. official saw no problem in Washington were Israel to go ahead with Iron Dome sales in the Gulf.
    “There’s a lot of interest in Iron Dome” in the region, said the official, who could not be identified by name.
(Additional reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Alison Williams)

2/16/2022 Yemen Aid Cuts To Deepen As Funds Dry Up, U.N. Warns
FILE PHOTO: People stand in line to receive vouchers at a food distribution center supported
by the World Food Program in Sanaa, Yemen June 3, 2020. REUTERS/Khaled Abdullah/File Photo
    DUBAI (Reuters) – Yemenis face more cuts in humanitarian aid in coming months because of funding shortages that could reduce food rations in a country where millions face starvation, the United Nations aid chief warned, as the war sees its biggest escalation in years.
    Martin Griffiths told the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday that by the end of January nearly two thirds of major U.N. aid programmes had already scaled back or closed.
    “The humanitarian operation … is about to start doing a lot less,” Griffiths said.    “Aid agencies are quickly running out of money, forcing them to slash life-saving programmes.”
    The U.N.’s 2021 Humanitarian Response Plan received only 58% of the requested funds from donors, U.N. data shows.    Competing demands on donors and concerns about aid obstruction in Yemen have contributed to the shortfall, although some donors did step up funds mid-2021 when warnings of famine escalated.
    The nearly seven-year-old war between Yemen’s Iran-aligned Houthi group and a Saudi-led coalition, and ensuing economic collapse, have left 80% of Yemen’s population reliant on help.
    The World Food Programme has since January reduced rations for 8 million of the 13 million people it feeds a month, and Griffiths said rations may be cut further from March, or stopped.
    Efforts for a ceasefire stalled as the warring sides ramp up military operations and resist compromise.    The Houthis want a coalition blockade on areas the group holds lifted ahead of any truce talks, while Riyadh wants a simultaneous deal.
    U.N. Yemen Envoy Hans Grundberg told Tuesday’s briefing he continued to push for de-escalation while starting consultations next week with multiple Yemeni stakeholders.
    “Trust is low and ending this war will require uncomfortable compromises which no warring party is currently willing to make,” Grundberg said.
    The Saudi-led alliance intervened in Yemen in March 2015 after the Houthis ousted the government from the capital, Sanaa, in a conflict in which several Yemeni factions vie for power.
(Writing by Lisa Barrington; Editing by Tomasz Janowski)

2/16/2022 U.S. House Leader Nancy Pelosi Arrives In Israel, Vows Support On Iran
U.S. Speaker of the House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi lays a wreath during an official welcome ceremony
at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem February 16, 2022. Abir Sultan/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi landed in Israel on Wednesday as part of a Congressional delegation to the country, reiterating the United States’ “iron clad” support for Israel’s security.
    “We’re together in the fight against terrorism posed by Iran, both in the region and also its nuclear development,” she said in a speech at the Knesset.    “Israel’s proximity to Iran is a concern to all of us.”
    The Democratic House speaker also said she hoped that the Senate will “very soon” approve the additional funding that the House passed last September for the Iron Dome anti-missile system, which Israel uses to intercept homemade rockets fired from the blockaded Gaza Strip.
    The visit came at a time of heightened tensions following clashes between Palestinians and Jewish settlers in the flashpoint Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem. Israel captured East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in a 1967 war.
    Pelosi reiterated the United States’s commitment to a two-state solution “that enhances stability and security for Israel, Palestinians and their neighbours.”
    She is set to meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday, but her schedule did not include a visit to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
(Reporting by Henriette Chacar in Jerusalem; Editing by Alex Richardson)

2/17/2022 How A Saudi Woman’s IPhone Revealed Hacking Around The World by Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing
FILE PHOTO: Saudi activist Loujain al-Hathloul makes her way to appear at a special criminal
court for an appeals hearing, in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia March 10, 2021. REUTERS/Ahmed Yosri
    WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A single activist helped turn the tide against NSO Group, one of the world’s most sophisticated spyware companies now facing a cascade of legal action and scrutiny in Washington over damaging new allegations that its software was used to hack government officials and dissidents around the world.
    It all started with a software glitch on her iPhone.
    An unusual error in NSO’s spyware allowed Saudi women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul and privacy researchers to discover a trove of evidence suggesting the Israeli spyware maker had helped hack her iPhone, according to six people involved in the incident.    A mysterious fake image file within her phone, mistakenly left behind by the spyware, tipped off security researchers.
    The discovery on al-Hathloul’s phone last year ignited a storm of legal and government action that has put NSO on the defensive.    How the hack was initially uncovered is reported here for the first time.
    Al-Hathloul, one of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent activists, is known for helping lead a campaign to end the ban on women drivers in Saudi Arabia.    She was released from jail in February 2021 on charges of harming national security.
    Soon after her release from jail, the activist received an email from Google warning her that state-backed hackers had tried to penetrate her Gmail account. Fearful that her iPhone had been hacked as well, al-Hathloul contacted the Canadian privacy rights group Citizen Lab and asked them to probe her device for evidence, three people close to al-Hathloul told Reuters.
    After six months of digging through her iPhone records, Citizen Lab researcher Bill Marczak made what he described as an unprecedented discovery: a malfunction in the surveillance software implanted on her phone had left a copy of the malicious image file, rather than deleting itself, after stealing the messages of its target.
    He said the finding, computer code left by the attack, provided direct evidence NSO built the espionage tool.
    “It was a game changer,” said Marczak “We caught something that the company thought was uncatchable.”
    The discovery amounted to a hacking blueprint and led Apple Inc to notify thousands of other state-backed hacking victims around the world, according to four people with direct knowledge of the incident.
    Citizen Lab and al-Hathloul’s find provided the basis for Apple’s November 2021 lawsuit against NSO and it also reverberated in Washington, where U.S. officials learned that NSO’s cyberweapon was used to spy on American diplomats.
    In recent years, the spyware industry has enjoyed explosive growth as governments around the world buy phone hacking software that allows the kind of digital surveillance once the purview of just a few elite intelligence agencies.
    Over the past year, a series of revelations from journalists and activists, including the international journalism collaboration Pegasus Project, has tied the spyware industry to human rights violations, fueling greater scrutiny of NSO and its peers.
    But security researchers say the al-Hathloul discovery was the first to provide a blueprint of a powerful new form of cyberespionage, a hacking tool that penetrates devices without any interaction from the user, providing the most concrete evidence to date of the scope of the weapon.
    In a statement, an NSO spokesperson said the company does not operate the hacking tools it sells – “government, law enforcement and intelligence agencies do.”    The spokesperson did not answer questions on whether its software was used to target al-Hathloul or other activists.
    But the spokesperson said the organizations making those claims were “political opponents of cyber intelligence,” and suggested some of the allegations were “contractually and technologically impossible.”    The spokesperson declined to provide specifics, citing client confidentiality agreements.
    Without elaborating on specifics, the company said it had an established procedure to investigate alleged misuse of its products and had cut off clients over human rights issues.
    Al-Hathloul had good reason to be suspicious – it was not the first time she was being watched.
    A 2019 Reuters investigation revealed that she was targeted in 2017 by a team of U.S. mercenaries who surveilled dissidents on behalf of the United Arab Emirates under a secret program called Project Raven, which categorized her as a “national security threat” and hacked into her iPhone.
    She was arrested and jailed in Saudi Arabia for almost three years, where her family says she was tortured and interrogated utilizing information stolen from her device.    Al-Hathloul was released in February 2021 and is currently banned from leaving the country.
    Reuters has no evidence NSO was involved in that earlier hack.
    Al-Hathloul’s experience of surveillance and imprisonment made her determined to gather evidence that could be used against those who wield these tools, said her sister Lina al-Hathloul.    “She feels she has a responsibility to continue this fight because she knows she can change things.”
    The type of spyware Citizen Lab discovered on al-Hathloul’s iPhone is known as a “zero click,” meaning the user can be infected without ever clicking on a malicious link.
    Zero-click malware usually deletes itself upon infecting a user, leaving researchers and tech companies without a sample of the weapon to study.    That can make gathering hard evidence of iPhone hacks almost impossible, security researchers say.
    But this time was different.
    The software glitch left a copy of the spyware hidden on al-Hathloul’s iPhone, allowing Marczak and his team to obtain a virtual blueprint of the attack and evidence of who had built it.
    “Here we had the shell casing from the crime scene,” he said.
    Marczak and his team found that the spyware worked in part by sending picture files to al-Hathloul through an invisible text message.
    The image files tricked the iPhone into giving access to its entire memory, bypassing security and allowing the installation of spyware that would steal a user’s messages.
    The Citizen Lab discovery provided solid evidence the cyberweapon was built by NSO, said Marczak, whose analysis was confirmed by researchers from Amnesty International and Apple, according to three people with direct knowledge of the situation.
    The spyware found on al-Hathloul’s device contained code that showed it was communicating with servers Citizen Lab previously identified as controlled by NSO, Marczak said. Citizen Lab named this new iPhone hacking method “ForcedEntry.”    The researchers then provided the sample to Apple last September.
    Having a blueprint of the attack in hand allowed Apple to fix the critical vulnerability and led them to notify thousands of other iPhone users who were targeted by NSO software, warning them they had been targeted by “state-sponsored attackers.”
    It was the first time Apple had taken this step.
    While Apple determined the vast majority were targeted through NSO’s tool, security researchers also discovered spy software from a second Israeli vendor QuaDream leveraged the same iPhone vulnerability, Reuters reported earlier this month.    QuaDream has not responded to repeated requests for comment.
    The victims ranged from dissidents critical of Thailand’s government to human rights activists in El Salvador.
    Citing the findings obtained from al-Hathloul’s phone, Apple sued NSO in November in federal court alleging the spyware maker had violated U.S. laws by building products designed “to target, attack, and harm Apple users, Apple products, and Apple.”
    Apple credited Citizen Lab with providing “technical information” used as evidence for the lawsuit, but did not reveal that it was originally obtained from al-Hathloul’s iPhone.
    NSO said its tools have assisted law enforcement and have saved “thousands of lives.”    The company said some of the allegations attributed to NSO software were not credible, but declined to elaborate on specific claims citing confidentiality agreements with its clients.
    Among those Apple warned were at least nine U.S. State Department employees in Uganda who were targeted with NSO software, according to people familiar with the matter, igniting a fresh wave of criticism against the company in Washington.
    In November, the U.S. Commerce Department placed NSO on a trade blacklist, restricting American companies from selling the Israeli firm software products, threatening its supply chain.
    The Commerce Department said the action was based on evidence that NSO’s spyware was used to target “journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers.”
    In December, Democratic Senator Ron Wyden and 17 other lawmakers called for the Treasury Department to sanction NSO Group and three other foreign surveillance companies they say helped authoritarian governments commit human rights abuses.
    “When the public saw you had U.S. government figures getting hacked, that quite clearly moved the needle,” Wyden told Reuters in an interview, referring to the targeting of U.S. officials in Uganda.
    Lina al-Hathloul, Loujain’s sister, said the financial blows to NSO might be the only thing that can deter the spyware industry.    “It hit them where it hurts,” she said.
(Reporting by Joel Schectman and Christopher Bing; editing by Kieran Murray and Edward Tobin)

2/17/2022 EU Launches Reset With Africa After Pandemic Disruption by John Chalmers
FILE PHOTO: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen speaks to officials during a tour of the Pasteur
Institute vaccination and testing facility, in Dakar, Senegal, February 9, 2022. REUTERS/Edward McAllister/File Photo
    BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The EU will welcome more than 40 African leaders to Brussels on Thursday in an effort to reassert its influence on a continent where China and Russia have made hefty investment inroads, and where many felt let down by Europe’s COVID-19 vaccines rollout.
    The European Union will offer several packages of support at the summit to bolster health, education and stability in Africa, and will pledge half of a new 300 billion euro investment drive launched to rival China’s Belt and Road Initiative.
    But the meeting also takes place just as France and its allies fighting Islamist militants in Mali said on Thursday they would begin their military withdrawal from the country.
    The EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said ahead of the two-day meeting – postponed from 2020 because of the pandemic – that the two continents were closely interlinked.
    “African problems are our problems,” he told the European Parliament on Tuesday.    “When we work to try to solve these problems, we work for ourselves as well.”
    European and other wealthy nations were heavily criticised for hoarding protective equipment and later vaccines during the pandemic, with some African leaders saying the slow pace of donations could lead to “vaccine apartheid.”
    There was also dismay over Europe’s travel bans on South Africa after the Omicron variant was detected there late last year.
    Tensions run deeper on other issues between two continents with colonial ties, including over migration flows and the erosion of democracy in several African countries, some of which have recently seen coups d’etat including Mali.
    Although France and its allies said they are starting their military withdrawal from that country, French President Emmanuel Macron insisted the pullback did not constitute a failure of its nine-year mission, adding that neighbouring Niger had agreed to host European forces fighting Islamists in the region.     Ties have worsened since Mali’s military junta went back on an agreement to organise elections in February and proposed holding power until 2025.
    Frank Mattheis, an expert in regional studies at the United Nations University, said the summit would seek to highlight areas where cooperation is promising and avoid thorny issues such as the EU’s relations with Ethiopia, which has cooled over the conduct of pro-government forces in the Tigray conflict.
    The European Commission announced this week that the EU and the Gates Foundation would invest over 100 million euros in the next five years to help set up an African medicines regulator to boost the continent’s drugs and vaccine production.
    The race to establish the African Medicines Agency (AMA) comes after the pandemic exposed the region’s dependence on imported vaccines.
    Africa initially struggled to get COVID vaccines as rich countries snapped up limited supplies.    Deliveries later picked up, but just 10% of Africans are fully vaccinated.
    Just over 5% of medicines, and 1% of vaccines, consumed by Africa’s population of 1.2 billion people are produced locally.    The EU says it will provide support to help Africa produce 60% of the vaccines it needs by 2040.
    Part of the funding for the AMA will come from 150 billion euros to be mobilised for Africa over the next seven years under the EU’s Global Gateway scheme.
    Separately, the European Investment Bank announced on Thursday it would make available 500 million euros in cheap loans to African countries to strengthen healthcare systems.    That credit line is expected to mobilise a total of 1 billion euros in private and public investments, the bank said.
    The initiative was launched in December to strengthen Europe’s supply chains and fighting climate change in sectors including health and energy, priorities that Mattheis said don’t necessarily align with those of African countries.
    “The main objectives are set by the ambitions of the EU’s own agenda, such as diversifying its energy sources, achieving its climate goals, impeding migration and curbing the global influence of China and its Belt and Road Initiative,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Francesco Guarascio in Brussels; Duncan Miriri and Katharine Houreld in Nairobi; Editing by Gareth Jones and Frances Kerry)

2/17/2022 Australia Intends To List Hamas As Terrorist Organisation
FILE PHOTO: Australian Minister for Home Affairs Karen Andrews and U.S. Attorney
General Merrick Garland (not pictured) announce a landmark new law enforcement partnership at the
U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, U.S., December 15, 2021. Leigh Vogel/Pool via REUTERS
    SYDNEY (Reuters) - The Australian government intends to list the entirety of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas as a terrorist organisation under the country’s criminal code, Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews said on Thursday.
    A listing by Australia of the whole group, rather than just its military wing as at present, would bring Canberra’s stance in line with the United States, the European Union and Britain.
    “The views of Hamas and the violent extremist groups listed today are deeply disturbing and there is no place in Australia for their hateful ideologies,” Andrews said in a statement.
    Andrews said she had written to Australia’s state and territory leaders to consult with them on listing the whole of Hamas, “and will finalise the listing as soon as possible.”
    Hamas has political and military wings. It has ruled the Gaza Strip since a brief civil war in 2007 when it expelled forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.    Abbas remains dominant in Palestinian self-ruled areas of the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
    In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Hazem Qassem condemned the Australian decision as biased in favour of Israel.
    “The occupation, which deliberately targets Palestinians everywhere, and violates international and humanitarian laws, is the party that must be classified as a terrorist entity,” he said.
    Hamas was founded in 1987 and opposes the existence of Israel and peace talks, instead advocating “armed resistance” against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
    “I welcome the news that Australia will list Hamas as a terrorist organization in its entirety,” Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said in a statement, thanking Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison for the move.
    Currently the military wing of Hamas, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, is on Australia’s list of terrorist organisations.
    Andrews said Australia had newly listed three other groups as terrorist organisations – Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham and Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham, which are based in Syria, and the Nationalist Socialist Order, a group based in the United States.
    Another four Islamist militant groups – the Abu Sayyaf Group, al Qaeda, al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb, and Jemaah Islamiyah – have been relisted under the code, she said.
(Reporting by John Mair in Sydney, Ari Rabinovitch in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in GazaEditing by Andrew Cawthorne and Mark Heinrich)

2/17/2022 Israel Drops ‘Green Passes’ As Omicron Infections Wane
FILE PHOTO: Medical staff work at the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) ward
at Hadassah Ein Kerem Hospital, in Jerusalem January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel on Thursday dropped a “Green Pass” policy requiring proof of vaccination, recovery from COVID-19 or a negative test to enter some public venues, further rolling back restrictions as a wave of infections recedes.
    The highly contagious Omicron variant of the coronavirus peaked in Israel towards the end of January with daily cases reaching record highs of some 85,000, but numbers have steadily declined since to around 21,000 by Wednesday.
    “The wave has broken,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said at the start of a discussion with health officials on the state of the pandemic where he said Green Passes were being completely scrapped.
    The Green Pass rules had already been cut back on Feb 4. Since then, the digital document had to be shown to gain entry to venues like nightclubs and celebration halls.
    During its previous coronavirus wave, Israel adopted a “Living with COVID” policy.    This has kept the economy and schools largely open, though some sectors suffered and classes were heavily disrupted by employees, customers pupils and teachers falling ill or isolating.
    Bennett said parents would still be obliged to test their children for the virus twice a week with negative tests still required in visit care homes for the elderly.
    Though Omicron has caused proportionally fewer severe infections and deaths than previous strains of the virus, the sheer magnitude of the surge put Israel’s healthcare system under strain, impacting quality of care.
    Some scientists have criticised the government for easing restrictions over the past month rather than taking more measures to slow Omicron.
    Israel, with a population of 9.4 million, has logged around 3.5 million coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic and more than 9,700 deaths. Some experts estimate that up to half the population may have been infected by Omicron.
(Reporting by Maayan Lubell; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

2/20/2022 Skiing In Lebanon Too Steep For Most With Currency In Freefall by Issam Abdallah
People ski at a ski resort in Kfardebian, Lebanon, February 13, 2022. Picture taken February 13, 2022. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah
    BEIRUT (Reuters) – Skiing in Lebanon has long been a luxury for the well-off, but the eastern Mediterranean country’s financial meltdown has thrown most people into poverty and made taking to the slopes even more exclusive.
    The Lebanese pound has lost more than 90% of its value since 2019.
    “Skiing is a hobby for the dollar class, not for us,” said Mohammad Atwi on a recent visit to the mountains.    “We came here to sit and have shisha. The most we spend is 200,000 pounds ($10).”
    Prices for ski passes at the Mzaar ski resort, which boasts panoramic views over the Mediterranean, are listed in dollars in a country where the vast majority earn in pounds.
    An all-day pass runs at $35 on weekdays and $50 at weekends, according to a website listing prices.    That equates to between 700,000 and a million pounds – more than the current monthly minimum wage and a sizeable chunk of an average salary.
    Lebanon is mired in its worst crisis since the 1975-90 civil war, with banks imposing tight restrictions on how much cash savers can withdraw, forcing even those with money to think more carefully before they spend.
    Still, the slopes are packed at weekends with those who can afford it.
    “Skiing has become expensive, especially if you have many kids, but at the end we want to live,” said Delphine Markarian as she walked through the snow with skis strapped to her back.
    “When the weather is nice like this, you ski with your children, they enjoy it and that is what we look for – an experience to be happy with our children.    That’s the most important thing.”
(Reporting by Issam Abdallah; Writing by Timour Azhari; Editing by Nick Macfie)

2/20/2022 Israel To Allow In All Tourists Regardless Of COVID Vaccination Status
FILE PHOTO: Tourists walk at the Ben Gurion International Airport after entering Israel by plane, as coronavirus
disease (COVID-19) restrictions ease, in Lod, near Tel Aviv, Israel, May 27, 2021. REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel will begin allowing entry to all tourists, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated against COVID-19, from March 1, a statement from the prime minister’s office said on Sunday.
    Entry into Israel will still require two PCR tests, one before flying in and one upon landing in Israel, the statement said.
    Currently only COVID-19 vaccinated foreigners are allowed into Israel.
    “We are seeing a consistent decline in morbidity numbers, so this is the time to gradually open up what we were the first in the world to close,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said.
    Israel first shut its borders to foreigners in March 2020.    The number of visitors has slowly risen as the country lifted some restrictions, but they remain well below pre-pandemic levels.
    Some 46,000 tourists entered Israel last month, up from 7,800 a year earlier but way lower than the 333,000 that visited in January 2020.
    “At the same time, we will keep a finger on the pulse, and in case of a new variant we will react quickly,” Bennett said.
(Reporting by Ari Rabinovitch and Steven Scheer; Editing by Jan Harvey)

2/20/2022 Ethiopia Turns On The Turbines At Giant Nile Hydropower Plant by Dawit Endeshaw
FILE PHOTO: Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed attends his last campaign event ahead of Ethiopia's parliamentary
and regional elections scheduled for June 21, in Jimma, Ethiopia, June 16, 2021. REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri/File Photo
    ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) - Ethiopia began producing electricity on Sunday from its Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), a multi-billion-dollar hydropower plant on the River Nile that neighbours Sudan and Egypt have worried will cause water shortages downstream.
    After flicking a digital switch to turn on the turbines in the first phase of the project, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sought to assure those nations that his country did not wish to harm their interests.
    “Ethiopia’s main interest is to bring light to 60% of the population who is suffering in darkness, to save the labour of our mothers who are carrying wood on their backs in order to get energy,” Abiy said.
    Abiy’s government says the project is key to its economic development, but Egypt and Sudan depend on the waters of the Nile and have worried it will affect them.
    Egypt’s Foreign Ministry accused Ethiopia of further violation of a preliminary deal signed between the three nations in 2015, prohibiting any of the parties from taking unilateral actions in the use of the river’s water.
    The first violations of the initial agreement related to the filling of the dam, the ministry said in a statement on Sunday.
    There was no immediate comment from Sudan.
    Ethiopia, the second most populous country on the continent, has the second biggest electricity deficit in Africa according to the World Bank, with about two thirds of the population of around 110 million lacking a connection to the grid.
    The project will ultimately cost $5 billion when it is completed and become the biggest hydropower plant in Africa by generating 5,150 MW of electricity, some of which will be exported to neighbouring nations, the government says.
    The government has so far invested more than 100 billion Ethiopian birr ($1.98 billion) in the project, state-affiliated FANA broadcaster reported.    It is located at a place called Guba in the western Benishangul-Gumuz region.
($1 = 50.6000 birr)
(Additional reporting by Moataz Mohamed in CairoWriting by Duncan MiririEditing by Frances Kerry)

2/21/2022 Turkey’s Opposition Leader Looks To Emerge From Erdogan’s Shadow by Orhan Coskun, Ali Kucukgocmen and Jonathan Spicer
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) speaks during an interview
with Reuters in Ankara, Turkey February 18, 2022. Picture taken February 18, 2022. REUTERS/Cagla Gurdogan
    ANKARA (Reuters) – A veteran Turkish political leader who has struggled for years to have President Tayyip Erdogan voted out of office says it is “very clear” that his dream is drawing nearer, even as doubts remain about whether he will be the main opposition candidate at presidential elections set for 2023.
    In an interview, Kemal Kilicdaroglu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), confidently predicted victory at the polls as Turkey suffers economic hardships brought on by Erdogan’s unorthodox monetary policies.
    The comments reinforce expectations Kilicdaroglu, 73, will be the presidential candidate of a six-party alliance in elections due by June 2023, though polls show several other opposition figures winning more support. [L1N2UR0I1]
    “Of course, five party leaders pronouncing me as candidate would be an honour.    It also means they have trust,” he told Reuters in his office on the 12th floor of the CHP’s headquarters on the outskirts of Ankara.
    The six anti-Erdogan party leaders would discuss their candidate later, but first need to agree on economic, social and other policies for their joint platform.    It is “very obvious and very clear” that whoever they choose will become president, he said.
    Kilicdaroglu said he saw no reason for Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missiles that caused a rift with Washington.    He also said he would overhaul the central bank’s leadership if elected.
    A former economist and civil servant who lacks the president’s fiery charisma, Kilicdaroglu has lingered in Erdogan’s shadow as the CHP, which he has chaired since 2010, suffered repeated defeats.    Erdogan’s favourite target, he has stoically absorbed near daily criticism and even scorn from the man who has dominated the country for nearly two decades.
    Yet Kilicdaroglu and other critics of the country’s authoritarian and Islamist drift sense their time may have come.
    Erdogan’s polls have slid to multi-year lows after his unorthodox interest rate cuts sparked a currency crisis late last year, which in turn sent living costs soaring and deepened poverty especially among the president’s working class base.
    The opposition bloc includes nationalists, liberals and conservatives – though not parliament’s third-biggest party, the pro-Kurdish People’s Democratic Party.
    Can Selcuki of Istanbul-based pollster Turkiye Raporu said Kilicdaroglu has grown “bolder and more aggressive,” showing his determination to be the bloc’s candidate. But he remains the “weakest nominee” of the opposition hopefuls and unless his support grows, Selcuki predicted he could still pull out before the vote.     Bespectacled and low-key, Kilicdaroglu earned the nickname “Gandhi Kemal” for his style, and for strategies such as his vow this month not to pay electricity bills in protest at price hikes in the face of near 50% inflation.     CHP parliamentarian Utku Cakirozer said Kilicdaroglu’s ability to build alliances was key to broadening the opposition platform.    “He is open to building bridges with different parts of society,” he said.
    Though the opposition bloc has not named a presidential candidate, surveys by Metropoll show Kilicdaroglu is far less popular, at 28.5%, than three other possible names and than Erdogan himself, who 37.9% said they preferred in December.
    Ankara Mayor Mansur Yavas and Istanbul Mayor Ekrem Imamoglu, both of the CHP, had popularity of 60.4% and 50.7% respectively, while IYI Party leader and alliance bloc member Meral Aksener had 38.5%.    A previous Metropoll survey showed Kilicdaroglu was the only potential candidate whom Erdogan would beat.
    “These surveys are of no importance for today,” Kilicdaroglu said, adding that Yavas and Imamoglu would continue running the country’s two biggest cities.
    Soaring prices recently – including 50% increases for electricity and 55% for food – have pushed more Turks into poverty.
    The central bank is widely seen to have bowed to Erdogan after he replaced its monetary policy committee with like-minded members.    Asked whether he would replace the committee to give it independence, Kilicdaroglu said: “We would do exactly that.”
    Ankara’s purchase of Russian S-400 land-to-air defences badly strained U.S. relations, prompting Washington to sanction Turkey’s defence industries and oust it from an F-35 production scheme.
    “Who will we use the S-400s for? We haven’t received the answer to this question yet,” Kilicdaroglu said.    “A large amount of money was paid, and they are currently waiting in storage.”
    Erdogan has said Turkey is keeping the missiles despite U.S. objections and the possibility of selling them.     Turkey will send home the millions of Syrian refugees it hosts and re-establish diplomatic ties with President Bashar al-Assad if the opposition alliance wins the elections, Kilicdaroglu said.
    “If needed the United Nations needs to get involved, a 100% guarantee should be received from Assad.    That guarantee needs to be tied to international accords, that he will not attack them, that their material and life security will be preserved,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara, Daren Butler and Birsen Altayli in Istanbul; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Dominic Evans and Alistair Bell)

2/21/2022 Mali’s Workers Feel The Squeeze As Sanctions Take Hold by Paul Lorgerie and Tiemoko Diallo
FILE PHOTO: A view of a building under construction along the Niger river,
in Bamako, Mali February 19, 2022. REUTERS/Paul Lorgerie
    BAMAKO (Reuters) – Mohamed Cisse used to employ hundreds of workers in Mali’s capital Bamako before economic sanctions last month shut borders and cut the lifeblood of his construction business.
    Cement is scarce.    Its key ingredient, clinker, comes from neighbouring Senegal, from which all but essential goods are blocked. Cisse has been forced to shut three of his four building sites.
    The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) meant to send a powerful message to Mali’s military leaders when it imposed the sanctions after the junta delayed plans to hold elections in February following two coups.
    But workers, many of whom have so far supported the junta for ousting unpopular President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in 2020, are worried about the outsized impact on ordinary citizens in one of the world’s poorest countries.
    Hundreds are being laid off; goods for import are stuck in mammoth traffic jams at border crossings; cotton and gold, major economic drivers, cannot reach regional buyers.
    How successful the sanctions are in forcing Mali’s leaders to hold elections sooner, or if they reduce support for the junta, could influence how ECOWAS seeks to punish other coup leaders in Guinea and Burkina Faso who have also snatched power over the past year.
    “We had a lot of hope when we saw these well-trained, well-structured soldiers.    But the situation of this embargo, I would say that it is … 70% the fault of the government, which presented an imprecise (election) timetable,” Cisse said.
    The interim government set up by the junta did not respond to requests for comment.    It had previously said the sanctions were “disproportionate, inhumane, illegitimate and illegal” and will have severe consequences on the population.
    ECOWAS says it is imposing the sanctions because Mali’s leaders said they would delay elections until December 2025, nearly four years later than they originally agreed.
    Malians are accustomed to hardship. A decade-old Islamist insurgency has taken over parts of the north and centre, killing thousands.    The COVID-19 pandemic contributed to a rise in the cost of fuel and other goods.
    But now the economy is under severe strain.    Mali has defaulted on 54 billion CFA francs ($93 million) in interest and principal payments since January, data from the West Africa monetary union’s debt agency Umoa-Titres shows.
    The government says it is unable to meet its obligations because the sanctions have cut it off from regional financial markets.
    “Closing landlocked Mali’s borders, in a country that depends entirely on its coastal neighbours for trade, is nothing short of catastrophic,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, an analyst at risk consultancy Verisk Maplecroft.
    The authorities need tax income to pay about $120 million in yearly government wages, said Modibo Mao Makalou, an economist and former adviser to the ousted president Keita.    But revenues, including from customs duties and income taxes, are under threat, he said.
    Remittances from the region, key to the economy, are also being blocked as wire transfers and bank transfers fail to go through.
    “I think (the government) can last 2-3 months maximum, but the noose must be loosened,” Makalou said, referring to the funds left to be able to pay wages and meet other outgoings.
    While the impact has yet to be shown in hard economic data, Malians are struggling.
    Issiaka Mahmoud Bah, managing director of Bamako-based recruitment firm Golden Resources Management, used to receive resumes from about 25 job applicants per day.    He now gets up to 100.    Meanwhile, the number of employers seeking workers has plummeted, he said.
    Revenues for Sonef, a transport company that buses people from Mali across West Africa, have dropped 80% in recent weeks, said company manager Mamadou Traore.    Its customers, including people who transport dyed fabrics to Ivory Coast or bring in fish from Senegal, cannot travel, he said.
    “We have had to close several stopovers and put dozens of agents on technical unemployment,” he said.
($1 = 582.7500 CFA francs)
(Writing by Edward McAllister; Editing by Bate Felix and Alison Williams)

2/21/2022 Israeli Minister Sees Bilateral Talks With U.S. To “Complement” An Iran Nuclear Deal
FILE PHOTO: Israel's Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli arrives for the weekly
cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, June 27, 2021. Maya Alleruzzo/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel will address its misgivings about an emerging new Iran nuclear deal in future bilateral arrangements with the United States, an Israeli official said on Monday.
    Israel, which is not a party to nuclear negotiations between Iran and world powers in Vienna, has voiced concern that they could produce a revived deal that “create(s) a more violent, more volatile Middle East.”
    Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, a member of Israel’s decision-making security cabinet, said that as a centre-left opposition lawmaker in 2015 she had supported the then-nuclear deal with Iran – which the Trump administration later withdrew from.
    But, she said, “this (emerging) deal is much shorter, with many more sunsets, with many, many more – I would say – bad opportunities, cracks.    And yes, it’s very, very problematic.”
    “So we are doing whatever we can to make it as best as possible,” Michaeli, speaking in English, told the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organisations in Jerusalem.
    “We will have to work on a complementary agreement between Israel and the U.S.”
    She did not elaborate.    Israeli leaders have previously asserted that their country would not be bound by any nuclear deal and could take unilateral military action against their arch-foe if they believed it was required to deny it nuclear weapons.    Iran denies seeking such weapons.
(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Robert Birsel)

2/21/2022 Israel Prime Minister: New Iran Deal Would Be Weaker Than Obama’s JCPOA by OAN Newsroom
Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly cabinet meeting
in Jerusalem, Sunday, Feb. 20, 2022. (AP Photo/Tsafrir Abayov, Pool)
    Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett doubled down on his criticism of international talks to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.    On Sunday, he warned further concessions to the Iranian regime would result in a tumultuous Middle East.    Bennett added, the current terms would allow Iran to develop stadiums of uranium enrichment facilities.
    Joe Biden has made reviving the failed 2015 nuclear deal a top foreign policy priority since taking office and has pushed the international community to support a new agreement.    Meanwhile, Bennett fears Iran’s ulterior motives will put the region in a dubious position.
    “In the meantime, as an advance payment, Iran gets now tens of billions of dollars in frozen assets, in access to new markets,” explained the Israeli official.    “And a lot of this money is going to be directly funneled right away towards attacking Israel, towards attacking our allies, and even attacking American soldiers in the Middle East.”
    Bennett went on to say his country will face the consequences if a deal is reached.

2/22/2022 Saudi Arabia For First Time Marks Its Founding, Downplaying Conservative Roots by Aziz El Yaakoubi
FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman speaks during the Gulf Summit in
Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, December 14, 2021. Bandar Saudi Press Agency/Handout via REUTERS
    RIYADH (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia held celebrations on Tuesday to commemorate for the first time its foundation nearly 300 years ago, choosing a date that downplays the central role played by clerics from the ultra-conservative Wahhabi school of Islam.     The government lined up events that include musical performances on Saudi modern history, fireworks, drone shows and sound effects, with 3,500 performers taking part, state media reported.
    The anniversary marks the day in 1727 when Mohammed bin Saud, founder of the first Saudi state, took over the emirate of Diriyah – a remote town which now lies on the northwest edge of the Saudi capital Riyadh.
    That was about 18 years before what historians generally consider as the beginning of the Saudi state when bin Saud, a tribal leader, forged an alliance with Islamic preacher Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab, whose purist doctrine is often referred to as Wahhabi Islam.
    The agreement with the clergy boosted the legitimacy of the Al Saud rulers in exchange for lavish funding and influence granted to the conservative religious establishment over social issues, education and public morality – powers which have recently been curbed by the country’s de facto leader.
    Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has reined in the religious police, opened the country to concerts and cinemas, lifted a ban on women driving and eased the guardianship system, which gives men significant control over the lives of their female relatives.
    A royal decree last month declared Feb. 22 an official holiday, known as “Founding Day,” to be commemorated every year in recognition of “the commencement of the reign of Imam Muhammad bin Saud” and marking the start of the first Saudi state.
    “Mohammed ibn Abd al-Wahhab is being erased from Saudi history,” said Kristin Diwan, senior resident scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington.
    “This is the new Saudi nationalism.    It celebrates the Al Saud – tying the people directly to the royal family – and downplays the pivotal role played by religion in the founding of the state,” Diwan said.
    Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, an influential advisory body to the government, also approved last month a proposal to amend the law regulating the national flag and anthem.    It was unclear if it will alter the content of the flag which includes the profession of Islamic faith: “There is no god but God; Muhammad is the prophet of God.”
    The kingdom already celebrates National Day on Sept. 23, which commemorates the victory of Al Saud over rival tribes from Hejaz region and the conquest of the two holy sites of Islam, Mecca and Medina, in 1925.    The kingdom was subsequently named the kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1932.
(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi; Editing by Dominic Evans and Nick Macfie)

2/22/2022 Qatar’s Emir Receives Letter From Russia’s Putin Stressing Bilateral Relations – State News Agency
FILE PHOTO: Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani makes a statement while holding a bilateral meeting with U.S.
President Joe Biden in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Leah Millis
    DOHA (Reuters) – Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani received a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday concerning ways to support and strengthen bilateral relations between the two countries as well as issues of mutual interest, the Qatari state news agency said.
    Putin’s letter was delivered to al-Thani by the Russian Energy Minister Nikolay Shulginov, who is currently in Doha attending a gas exporters conference.
(Reporting by Yasmin Hussein; Writing by Lina Najem; Editing by Catherine Evans)

2/23/2022 Demand For Hebrew Lessons Jumps In Gaza As Israel Eases Work Restrictions by Nidal al-Mughrabi
A Palestinian worker waits to leave Gaza Strip through Israeli Erez crossing
in the northern Gaza Strip February 23, 2022. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem
    GAZA (Reuters) – In a brightly lit classroom in Gaza, a teacher spells out Hebrew words on a whiteboard, followed attentively by Maher Al-Farra and dozens of other Palestinians hoping to take advantage of an opening up of employment opportunities in Israel.
    Increased demand for the classes at the Nafha languages centre follows a new offer of work permits by Israel as it has moved to calm border tensions following an 11-day war in May with Hamas, the Islamist group which rules the Gaza Strip.
    It now offers 10,000 permits allowing Gaza residents to cross the border to work in Israel – a new source of income to a region where 64% of the population is estimated to live in poverty and unemployment runs at 50%.
    Ahmed Al-Faleet, the centre’s owner, said the number of people enlisted to learn Hebrew has increased four-fold to reach 160 students per course since Israel began giving work permits in the last quarter of 2021.
    “These courses allow anyone who gets a permit to read signs, documents written in Hebrew, and communicate with (soldiers) on Israeli checkpoints.    If an employer speaks only Hebrew it enables the worker to deal with him,” he told Reuters.
    Some 2.3 million Gazans live in the narrow coastal strip, largely unable to leave to seek work abroad and squeezed by 15 years of restrictions imposed by Israel, which has fought four wars with Hamas and other armed groups since 2008.    Gaza also borders Egypt, which imposes its own restrictions on crossings.
    Before a Palestinian uprising erupted in 2000, some 130,000 Gazans worked in Israel.    Palestinians said Israel had in 2005 barred labourers after pulling troops and settlers from Gaza.
    No one expects the cautious increase in the number of work permits to end the long-running conflict between Israel and Hamas, who fought four wars since the Islamist faction seized control in Gaza in 2007.
    But for the dozens of workers and merchants enrolled in the class at Nafha, the change offers the prospect of earning, in Israel, the equivalent of a week’s wages in Gaza.
    “I came here today to learn Hebrew so I can handle things at my work inside (Israel) easily,” Farra told Reuters.
    Israeli liaison officer Colonel Moshe Tetro said the new jobs would improve Gaza’s economy and “would also serve calm and security stability
    Eassam Daalis, a senior Hamas official, said Israel was eventually expected to offer 30,000 work permits, which economists say could allow workers to earn an average of 500 shekels ($156) a day, equivalent to what some can earn a week working in Gaza.

    “Every week I go back home happy to my family with 2,000 shekels ($625).    I also give to my mother and my father,” said Jamil Abdallah, 31, from Jabalya in northern Gaza.
    Gaza economist Mohammad Abu Jayyab noted that the offer of permits was one of a series of economic steps agreed under a political settlement brokered by Egyptian, Qatari and United Nations negotiators following the May war.
    “These are not unilateral Israeli initiatives,” he said.
    With tensions brewing over clashes between Jewish settlers and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and the eviction of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah the situation could change quickly.
    Israel has tied the offer of more openness to improved security following May’s war and has accused Hamas of investing in building its fighting capabilities rather than resolving the humanitarian problems facing Gaza.
    “If the security situation remains stable and calm the state of Israel would open up more and more,” said Tetro.
(Writing by Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by James Mackenzie and Alison Williams)

2/23/2022 Erdogan Says Turkey-U.S. Talks On F-16s Going Well - Media
FILE PHOTO: Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a joint news conference with Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv, Ukraine February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko/File Photo
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey’s talks with the United States on the modernisation of F-16 fighter jets was going well, Turkish broadcaster HaberTurk and other media reported on Wednesday.
    Ties between Ankara and Washington have been strained in recent years over issues including Turkey’s purchase of Russian S-400 missile systems, which triggered U.S. sanctions.
    Erdogan was quoted as telling reporters on a flight returning from a trip to Africa that the crisis between Ukraine and Russia had shown the necessity of the S-400s purchase, given the security risks in the region.
    Ankara had previously ordered more than 100 U.S. F-35 jets, but Washington removed Turkey from the programme after it bought the S-400s.    Turkey has called the move unjust and demanded reimbursement for its $1.4 billion payment.
    Erdogan has said that payment should be used to finance some of Turkey’s request to buy 40 F-16s and nearly 80 modernisation kits.    President Joe Biden has said the F-16 request had to go through a process in the United States.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Ece Toksabay)

2/23/2022 Erdogan Says Turkey Can Open Borders With Armenia If Yerevan Committed To Normalisation
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan attends a welcoming ceremony at the
Mariyinsky Palace in Kyiv, Ukraine February 3, 2022. REUTERS/Valentyn Ogirenko
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could open its borders with Armenia and re-establish diplomatic ties after years if Yerevan was committed to an ongoing normalisation process between their countries, according to broadcaster NTV and others.
    Last month, Turkey and Armenia held what both hailed as “positive and constructive” talks in Moscow, the first in more than a decade, raising hopes that diplomatic relations can be established and their land border – shut since 1993 – reopened. A second round of talks will be held in Vienna on Thursday.
    “We know Armenia has some concrete expectations like opening the borders and establishing diplomatic ties.    If Armenia can be committed to continuing the process that began with the special envoys, there will be no such thing as closed doors remaining closed for us,” Erdogan told reporters on a flight back from Africa.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Ece Toksabay)

2/23/2022 Turkey’s Erdogan Says Cannot Abandon Ties With Russia Or Ukraine – Media
FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan holds a news conference during the NATO summit
at the Alliance's headquarters in Brussels, Belgium June 14, 2021. REUTERS/Yves Herman/Pool
    ANKARA (Reuters) – President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey could not abandon its ties with Russia or Ukraine, and he criticised Western diplomatic efforts with Moscow as achieving little, broadcaster NTV and others cited him as saying on Wednesday.
    Speaking to reporters on a flight back from Africa, Erdogan repeated his offer to mediate between Russia and Ukraine and said NATO member Turkey, which has good ties with both, would take steps that do not harm its bilateral ties.
    “It is not possible for us to abandon either (country),” he was cited as saying by Turkish broadcasters.    “Our aim is that we take such a step that, God willing, we sort this out without abandoning either one.”
    He called on Ukraine and Russia to resume negotiations, and said NATO needed to “determine its stance” after the summit on Wednesday.
    Russian’s recognition of two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine this week has prompted swift backlash and sanctions from Western powers.    Turkey, which borders both Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, is against sanctions in principle, but has called Russia’s move unacceptable.
(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu; Editing by Jonathan Spicer)

2/23/2022 Lebanon Foils Three Planned Suicide Attacks, Interior Minister Says
FILE PHOTO: Lebanon's Interior Minister Bassam Mawlawi walks at the presidential
palace in Baabda, Lebanon September 13, 2021. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir
    BEIRUT (Reuters) - Lebanese security forces have foiled plans by militants linked to Islamic State to carry out three suicide attacks in Beirut’s southern suburbs, the interior minister said on Wednesday.
    The plans for the attacks involved rocket-propelled grenades and gun fire as well as suicide vests rigged with explosives that would have killed many people, minister Bassam Mawlawi said.
    The militant network involved was affiliated with Islamic State, he said.
    That group, which controlled vast swathes of Iraq and Syria and a stretch of rugged mountains in northeast Lebanon from 2014 to 2017, claimed a twin suicide bombing in Beirut’s southern suburbs in 2015 that killed more than 40 people.
    The area is a support base of the Shiite Iran-backed Hezbollah group, which has fought mainly Sunni militants, including Islamic State, during Syria’s civil war.
    The network in Lebanon, in contact with Islamic State militants in Syria, had been told on Feb. 17 that the operation would be carried out within a few days, the Internal Security Forces (ISF) said in a presentation.
    Two suspects were arrested the same day and are being held in custody, Mawlawi said.    Explosives, weapons and munitions had also been seized.
(Reporting by Mahmoud Mourad and Timour Azhari; Writing by Timour Azhari, Editing by Alex Richardson and Angus MacSwan)

2/24/2022 Tunisia’s Saied Will Bar Foreign Funding For Civil Society
FILE PHOTO: President Kais Saied is pictured in Tunis, Tunisia
September 17, 2019. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed February 24, 2022
    TUNIS (Reuters) – Tunisia’s President Kais Saied said on Thursday he will outlaw foreign funding for civil society organisations as he tries to remake the country’s politics after establishing one-man rule.
    Civil society organisations, including some that have had funding from Western democracies, have played a significant role in Tunisia since the 2011 revolution that introduced democracy.
    “Non-governmental organisations must be prevented from accessing external funds… and we will do that,” Saied said, saying the change was needed to stop foreign interference in the country.
    Last summer Saied suspended the elected parliament and assumed executive power before brushing aside the constitution to say he will rule by decree during an interim period.
    This month he also moved against the country’s judiciary, seen as the last significant Tunisian institution of state still able to act as a check on his power, by dissolving the top judicial council.
    Saied has justified his acts as necessary to save Tunisia from years of political and economic stagnation that came to a head last year amid protests during a COVID-19 spike.    He has denied having dictatorial ambitions.
(Reporting by Tarek Amara, writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

2/25/2022 Zelenskiy Asks Israel To Mediate With Russia, Ukraine Envoy Says by Dan Williams
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett chairs the weekly
cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, February 20, 2022. Tsafrir Abayov/Pool via REUTERS
    JERUSALEM (Reuters) -Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Friday to mediate in the conflict with Russia, the Ukrainian envoy to Israel said, adding that it was latest in a string of so-far fruitless requests from Kyiv.
    “We have been talking to the Israelis for at least the last year about a possible intermediary role for Israel,” Ambassador Yevgen Korniychuk told Reuters.    “Our leadership believes that Israel is the only democratic state that has excellent relations with both countries.”
    Bennett’s spokespeople were not immediately available for comment.    An earlier statement by his office about Bennett’s conversation with Zelenskiy made no mention of any mediation.
    “Bennett reiterated his hope for a speedy end to the fighting, and said that he stands by the people of Ukraine in these difficult days,” the statement said, adding that the prime minister offered Kyiv humanitarian aid.
    Korniychuk said Friday’s phone conversation between the leaders was the fifth time that Zelenskiy had asked Bennett for Israeli mediation, and that he had previously asked former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Israeli President Isaac Herzog.
    Following up with the Israelis after one of the earlier appeals, “I heard (that) this offer was not well-accepted by the Russian side,” Korniychuk said.
    Reached by Reuters, a diplomat at Russia’s embassy to Israel declined comment, saying he was not authorised to speak to the media.
    While calling for a peaceful solution in Ukraine, Israel has been cautious about openly criticising Russia, a major player in the conflict in neighbouring Syria.    It has offered shelter to members of Ukraine’s Jewish community caught up in the fighting.
    Israel, whose main ally is the United States, condemned the Russian invasion on Thursday as “a serious violation of international order” and has since remained largely muted on Moscow’s actions.
    The Israeli ambassador in Moscow was summoned for talks, the Russian embassy in Israel said on Friday.
    “The hope was expressed that Israel would treat with due understanding the reasons that prompted the Russian leadership to decide to conduct a special military operation to protect civilians in Donbass, demilitarize and denazify Ukraine,” the embassy said.
(Additional reporting by Henriette Chacar and Maayan Lubell; Editing by James Mackenzie, Alistair Bell and Sandra Maler)

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