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April 13, 2018

The former Prime Minister of Jordan, Taher Al-Masri, has called for the Palestinian Authority to be dissolved and for its leader, Mahmoud Abbas, to resign.

Al-Masri explained during a seminar held yesterday at the Palestinian Center for Policy Research and Strategic Studies in Al-Bireh, central West Bank, that dissolving the Palestinian Authority or Abbas’ resignation are the most feasible option for the Palestinians.

He warned of the increasing dangers facing Jerusalem by the Israeli Judaisation plans and called to strengthen the steadfastness of the Palestinian people and their unity “especially in light of the decline of the Arab position regarding the Palestinian cause”.

He also called to make every effort to end Palestinian division and achieve reconciliation.

The Jordanian official praised the Marches of Return in Gaza and called for their expansion to include other parts of Palestine.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180413-former-jordan-pm-calls-to-dissolve-pa-abbas-resignation/.

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March 19, 2018

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, buoyed by his army’s capture of a Kurdish stronghold in northwest Syria, threatened to extend the offensive against separatist Kurdish militants to eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

Turkey’s military will shift their campaign to several towns under the control of the Syrian Kurdish YPG militia, including Manbij, Kobani, Tal Abyad, Rasulayn and Qamishli, “until this terror corridor is fully eliminated,” Erdogan said Monday. Turkey’s threat to attack Manbij, where U.S. troops are based, has put Ankara at loggerheads with Washington, and talks between the NATO allies have so far yielded no agreement. The U.S. also has a diplomatic presence in Kobani.

Erdogan on Sunday claimed victory in the cross-border operation he launched in January to expel the YPG from Afrin, a town along the Turkish border. While the loss of Afrin delivered a major blow to the YPG’s hopes to establish a contiguous autonomous region, Turkey has resolved to clear the separatist fighters from other areas near its frontier.

Turkish authorities see the YPG as an extension of PKK militants who have used bases in northern Iraq as a springboard for attacks on Turkish targets in a decades-long war for autonomy.

Erdogan Threat

Turkey has served notice to the Iraqi government in Baghdad that its forces would attack the major PKK camp on Mount Sinjar near the Syrian border unless Iraq takes action.

“If you are going to handle this, you do it,” Erdogan said in remarks directed at Iraq. “If you can’t handle it, then we may suddenly enter Sinjar one night and clear out the PKKs there.”

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said earlier that Turkish and Iraqi armies would carry out a joint offensive against the PKK bases in northern Iraq, probably after Iraqi elections set for May 12.

Turkey has had hundreds of troops deployed at the Bashiqa training based near the northern Iraqi city of Mosul since the end of 2014. It has also had a tank battalion stationed near the Iraqi frontier town of Bamerni for about two decades, and has frequently sent planes and troops across the border to target the PKK.

The U.S., meanwhile, expressed deep concern over reports that many residents had fled Kurdish-majority Afrin under threat of attack from the Turkish army and allied rebel forces.

“This adds to the already concerning humanitarian situation in the area, with United Nations agencies reporting a displaced population in or from Afrin district in the hundreds of thousands, who now require immediate shelter and other assistance to meet basic needs,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said in an emailed statement on Monday.

“We have repeatedly expressed our serious concern to Turkish officials regarding the situation in Afrin.”

Source: Bloomberg.

Link: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2018-03-19/erdogan-vows-to-extend-offensive-to-east-syria-northern-iraq.

June 09, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — The Afghan Taliban announced a three-day cease-fire over the Eid al-Fitr holiday at the end of the holy month of Ramadan, a first for the group, following an earlier cease-fire announcement by the government.

A statement released Saturday by the Taliban said that they would defend themselves in case of any attack. They say foreign forces are excluded from the cease-fire and Taliban operations would continue against them.

The statement added that the leadership of the Taliban may also consider releasing prisoners of war, if they promise not to return to the battlefield. Mohammad Haroon Chakhansuri, spokesman for the Afghan president, welcomed the cease-fire announcement during a news conference in Kabul.

“We hope that (the Taliban) will be committed to implementing their announcement of the cease-fire,” he said. “The Afghan government will take all steps needed to make sure that there is no bloodshed in Afghanistan.”

“The government of Afghanistan is hopeful that this process will become a long term process and will result in a sustainable peace,” Chakhansuri added. Afghan President Ashraf Ghani on Thursday announced a weeklong cease-fire with the Taliban to coincide with the holiday.

A statement sent from the president’s office on Thursday said the government’s cease-fire will begin on 27 Ramadan, or June 12 on the Western calendar, and last through the Eid al-Fitr holiday, until around June 19, adding the cease-fire does not include al-Qaida or the Islamic State group.

The palace statement referred to a gathering of Afghanistan’s top clerics last week in which they issued a decree against suicide attacks and called for peace talks. A suicide bomber struck just outside the gathering as it was dispersing, killing at least seven people and wounding 20 in an attack claimed by the Islamic State group.

The Taliban had denounced the gathering, insisting that its jihad, or holy war, against foreign invaders was justified. It instead urged the clerics to side with it against the “occupation.” NATO has led international security efforts in Afghanistan since 2003. It wound down its combat mission in 2014 but its Resolute Support mission comprises almost 16,000 troops from around 40 countries.

The conflict has been at a stalemate for several years, and NATO’s best chances of leaving lie in the Taliban agreeing to peace talks and eventually joining the government. The Trump administration has sent additional troops to try to change the course of America’s longest war.

On Friday, senior U.S. officials said they will intensify combat against the Islamic State affiliate in the country during the Kabul government’s temporary halt to attacks on the Taliban. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said this could, for example, allow the U.S. to partially shift the focus of aerial surveillance from the Taliban to IS fighters as well as al-Qaida extremists, who remain a threat 17 years after the U.S. invaded. Mattis spoke to reporters during a break in a NATO defense ministers meeting.

In the meantime, Taliban insurgents have continued to carry out attacks. Just hours before the Taliban’s announcement, at least 17 soldiers were killed when their checkpoint came under attack by Taliban fighters in western Herat province, said Gelani Farhad, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Farhad said one soldier was wounded. He added that eight insurgents were killed and more than a dozen others were wounded in the gun battle in Zewal district. In northern Kunduz province, at least 13 local policemen were killed early Saturday when their checkpoint came under an attack by Taliban fighters, said Nematullah Temori, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Temori said seven others were wounded in Qala-e Zal district. Around 10 insurgents were also killed and nine others wounded during the battle, he said. In eastern Nangarhar province, a possible candidate for a district council seat was killed when his vehicle was destroyed by a sticky bomb Saturday, said Mohammad Nasim, Rodat district governor.

The Islamic State group claimed responsibility for the attack in a statement posted on its news agency Aamaq website. Nasim said that Ghulam Mohiadin was a district level official for the education department and planned to run for the district council later this year.

Both the Taliban and Islamic state group are active in eastern Afghanistan, especially in Nangarhar. In northern Sari Pul, at least six public protection forces were killed after a checkpoint came under an attack by Taliban fighters, said Zabi Amani, spokesman for the provincial governor.

Amani said that seven other forces were wounded in the attack late Frday night near Sari Pul city. “Insurgents have set fire to two military Humvees as well as the checkpoint,” he said. He said there was a report of a single Taliban casualty but the group has not commented.

April 30, 2018

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A coordinated double suicide bombing hit central Kabul on Monday morning, killing 25 people, including an AFP photographer and a cameraman for a local TV station, the Afghan police said.

At least 45 people were wounded in the twin attacks, according to Kabul police spokesman, Hashmat Stanekzai, who also added that four policemen were among those killed. The attack was the latest in a relentless string of deadly large-scale bombings and assaults that have struck in Kabul and elsewhere in Afghanistan so far this year. No one immediately claimed responsibility for Monday’s attack, but both Taliban and Islamic State group are active and have repeatedly claimed attacks in Kabul.

The suicide blasts took place in the central Shash Darak area, which is home to the NATO headquarters and a number of embassies in Afghanistan. Stanekzai, the police spokesman, said the first suicide bomber was on a motor bike. The second explosion was meant to hit those rushing to the scene of the attack to help the victims of the first blast.

He said the second attacker was on foot, in a crowd of reporters that had rushed to the scene of the first attack, pretending to be one of the media. He then detonated his explosives while still among the reporters, the spokesman said, intentionally targeting journalists.

Agence France-Presse reported that the news agency’s chief photographer in Kabul, Shah Marai, was among those killed. AFP said Marai died in a blast that struck a group of journalists who had rushed to the scene of the earlier suicide attack in Kabul.

Sediqullah Tawhidi, an official form the Afghan Journalist Safety Committee, said a cameraman form the local TOLO TV also was killed. Police officer Jan Agha said the journalists died in the second blast, which also wounded two police officers.

Kabul chief of police Dawood Amin said the area of Kabul that was targeted, which includes many foreign offices, was quickly sealed off and authorities were investigating. Mohammad Mousa Zahir, director of Wazir Akbarkhan Hospital, said several people suffering injuries from the blasts were being treated at the hospital.

The local Islamic State group affiliate and the more firmly established Taliban carry out regular attacks around the country, with the Taliban usually targeting the government and security forces and IS targeting members of the country’s the Shiite minority, whom the affiliate perceives as apostates. Large-scale attacks by the Taliban and the Islamic State group have also hit the Afghan capital, the seat of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani’s government.

The relentless underscore the struggles that Afghan security forces have faced to reign in the militant groups since the United States and NATO concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. Both groups want to establish strict Islamic rule in Afghanistan.

Last week, an Islamic State suicide bomber attacked a voter registration center in Kabul, killing 60 people and wounding at least 130 others. There were 22 women and eight children among the fatalities.

And the month before, an IS suicide bomber targeted a Shiite shrine in Kabul where people had gathered celebrating the Persian new year. That attack killed 31 people and wounded 65 others.

June 28, 2018

TANGIERS, Morocco (AP) — Hundreds of protesters marched in Morocco’s capital Wednesday to denounce the convictions of a charismatic protest movement leader and three other activists, all given the maximum prison sentence of 20 years over mass demonstrations touched off by the death of a fish seller.

The show of public anger over the convictions signaled anew that the discontent among Moroccans, originally anchored in the northern Rif region, was shared around the North African kingdom. Protesters in the capital, Rabat, gathered in front of the parliament building and then marched up a central avenue. Earlier in the day, there were protests in the northern town of Hoceima, the center of the Hirak Rif movement that represents the biggest challenge to the kingdom since the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings.

“Take us all to jail,” “We are all Rif” and “State, beware” were among the chants repeated by the many hundreds of protesters in Rabat as dozens of police office surveyed the crowd. Hirak Rif leader Nasser Zefzafi and the three activists were convicted late Tuesday of threatening state security. Fifty other activists in the 2017 Hirak Rif protests received sentences ranging from one to 15 years for lesser charges.

Mohammed Ziane, who represented the activists before they suspended their legal defense, said they would appeal. “The verdict will certainly not comfort spirits, especially since the Hirak demands have not been met,” Ziane said. “To send people to prison for 20 years for asking for their rights is clearly meant to scare. But we can already see it’s not scaring people.”

Protesters demanded that King Mohammed VI fulfill promises he made last year to build a school, a university and a hospital in the neglected Rif region. “May the people live, and may those who abuse power fall,” protesters cried out.

Zefzafi’s father told The Associated Press by telephone that his son received news of his conviction and sentence in a Casablanca prison five hours after the verdict. “He told me when I visited today that he doesn’t care if they imprison him for 20 or 30 years as long as he still believes in the cause,” Ahmad Zefzafi said.

He said his son smiled, adding that “hearing that the people are rallying behind him in protest makes him prouder to be where he is.” The seeds of the protest began in October 2016 when an impoverished fish seller in the Berber Rif region was crushed to death trying to retrieve a valuable swordfish seized by police and tossed into a garbage truck.

Zefzafi, who was arrested in June 2017 after a manhunt, quickly became the movement’s public face, demanding development and the creation of jobs in the Rif region, which has lagged economically. The uprising briefly spread to other parts of Morocco.

The Rif maintains a strong identity apart from Morocco, due largely to a brief stint as an independent republic from 1921-1926, when its legendary rebel leader, Abd el-Krim, defeated the Spanish army.

In 1959 and 1984, the current king’s father, Hassan II, crushed uprisings in the Rif — and never set foot in the region. Son Mohammed has traveled there. Soon after the 2017 protests, the Moroccan monarch promised development projects for the region and pardoned some of the hundreds of protesters who had been detained.

June 17, 2018

The Municipality of Sirte has called all the displaced people of the city in Libya and abroad to return to their city and open a new page.

On its Facebook page on Friday, the municipality said that it will coordinate with the Ministry of Local Government, the Ministry of Displacement and Displaced People’s Affairs, and the Ministry of Interior to facilitate the return of the displaced people of the city.

The municipality hinted in its statement to the possibility of providing passports to the citizens of Sirte displaced abroad who do not have one, calling on them to take this opportunity in the Eid to come to terms and move forward.

Source: The Libya Observer.

Link: https://www.libyaobserver.ly/inbrief/sirte-urges-its-idps-return-home.

June 17, 2018

Militants from the Sudan Liberation Movement (SLM) headed by Minni Minnawi are fighting alongside Khalifa Haftar’s forces in the Libyan city of Derna, Sudanese news website Bajnews reported Saturday, confirming that a number of them were killed.

The news website quoted a cousin for one of the militants as saying that his relative was killed with other Sudanese rebels while fighting under Minnawi armed group to support Haftar’s forces in Derna.

The website added that the family of the killed militant is currently receiving condolences on his death in Darfur.

The Sudanese Government has accused the armed rebel movements of fighting in Libya in exchange for military equipment and money; however, the SLM movement denied these allegations and confirmed their presence on Sudanese territory.

Source: The Libya Observer.

Link: https://www.libyaobserver.ly/inbrief/sudanese-rebels-are-fighting-alongside-dignity-operation-libya%E2%80%99s-derna.

July 08, 2018

KUWAIT CITY (AP) — Kuwait’s highest court on Sunday ordered an opposition leader and two lawmakers imprisoned for 3 ½ years over the 2011 storming of parliament amid that year’s Arab Spring protests, in a case involving nearly 70 politicians, activists and others.

Over a dozen people received prison time in the ruling by Kuwait’s Court of Cassation, while the others were released on bail or found not guilty. Tiny, oil-rich Kuwait, which has a history of representational government and toleration for protests, has been caught up in a wider crackdown on dissent across the Gulf Arab states, whose monarchical rulers were alarmed by the pro-democracy protests that swept the region seven years ago.

Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, the ruling emir of the U.S.-allied nation, has said Kuwait must “protect our national unity and ward off the risks of sedition.” The defendants were initially acquitted in the yearslong case, but a shock court decision in November resurrected the charges against them. That decision accused the defendants of using violence against police officers, destroying government property and inciting violence, charges they long have denied.

Among those sentenced Sunday to 3½ years was Musallam al-Barrack, an opposition leader who left prison in April 2017 after serving a two-year sentence on separate charges. Al-Barrack had left Kuwait before the sentencing. He could not be immediately reached for comment.

Two serving lawmakers, Waleed Tabtabai and Jamaan Herbish, both Islamists, received the same 3½-year sentence, along with six former legislators and five activists. Three others received two years in prison.

In a bid to insulate Kuwait from the unrest elsewhere in the region in 2011, the emir ordered 1,000 dinar ($3,559) grants and free food coupons for every Kuwaiti. That came on top of Kuwait’s cradle-to-grave entitlements for it citizens, which the OPEC member is able to afford because it holds the world’s sixth-largest known oil reserves — despite being smaller than the U.S. state of New Jersey.

Allegations swirled at the time that some lawmakers had been bribed $350 million by the government to sway their votes, along with rumors that they were involved in embezzling state funds. Kuwait’s then-Prime Minister Sheikh Nasser Mohammed Al Sabah, Sheikh Sabah’s nephew, who also faced allegations, survived a no-confidence vote.

Amid strikes and confrontations with police, protesters briefly entered parliament on Nov. 16, 2011, waving flags and singing the country’s national anthem. The activists were initially charged after the storming of the parliament but a lower court in 2013 ruled they had no criminal intent during the incident. However, a surprise appeals court ruling last November sentenced dozens of defendants to prison terms of as much as nine years.

Since then, family members of those charged have held regular nightly protests in front of parliament. While anti-government protests are illegal across other Gulf Arab states, Kuwait has stood out among its neighbors for its representational politics dating back to the 1930s, making the court case that much more surprising.

Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

JUNE 14, 2018

BENGHAZI, Libya/LONDON (Reuters) – The major Libyan oil ports of Ras Lanuf and Es Sider were closed and evacuated on Thursday after armed brigades opposed to the powerful eastern commander Khalifa Haftar stormed them, causing a production loss of 240,000 barrels per day (bpd).

At least one storage tank at Ras Lanuf terminal was set alight following the early morning attack, an engineer told Reuters. Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) declared force majeure on loadings from both terminals.

The clashes between forces loyal to Haftar’s Libyan National Army (LNA) and rival armed groups continued throughout the day south of Ras Lanuf, where the LNA was targeting its opponents with air strikes, local sources said.

Military sources said the LNA had withdrawn from both ports.

The LNA took control of Es Sider and Ras Lanuf along with other oil ports in Libya’s oil crescent in 2016, allowing them to reopen after a long blockade and significantly lifting Libya’s oil production.

More than half the storage tanks at both terminals were badly damaged in previous fighting and have yet to be repaired, though there have been regular loadings from Es Sider.

Libya’s National Oil Corporation (NOC) said it had evacuated all staff from the two terminals “as a precautionary measure.” The immediate production loss was around 240,000 bpd and the entry of a tanker due at Es Sider on Thursday was postponed, it said.

NOC Chairman Mustafa Sanalla said the output loss was expected to rise to 400,000 bpd if the shutdown continued, calling it a “national disaster” for oil-dependent Libya.

A military source said the three-pronged attack was launched by the Benghazi Defense Brigades (BDB), a group that has previously tried to take the oil crescent and advance on Benghazi, which has been fully controlled by Haftar since late last year.

The NOC blamed Ibrahim Jathran, who headed an armed group that blockaded oil crescent terminals for three years before being forced out by the LNA, and who appeared in a video posted on social media on Thursday announcing the start of a campaign.

“We announce the preparation of our ground forces and supporting forces in the oil region, and our objective is to overturn the injustice for our people over the past two years,” he said, standing in a camouflage jacket in an unidentified desert area.

“The past two years have been catastrophic for people in the oil crescent because of the presence of the system of injustice which is the other face of terrorism and extremism.”

BILLIONS LOST

The NOC says Jathran’s previous blockades cost Libya tens of billions of dollars in lost revenue. He is sought by judicial authorities in Tripoli for the blockades and attempts to export oil independently.

Repeated previous attempts by the LNA’s opponents to retake the oil crescent have failed, and it is unclear how much military and local, tribal support Jathran or BDB forces currently have.

However, the LNA, which is the dominant force in eastern Libya and rejects an internationally recognized government in the capital, Tripoli, stirred some resentment with arrests when it moved into the oil crescent in 2016, and has recently been stretched thin.

Since last month it has been waging a campaign to take control of Derna, the last city in the east to elude its control.

France, which hosted an international summit last month to set a roadmap for elections in Libya, said it “condemned with the utmost firmness the offensive conducted today by extremist elements in the oil crescent”.

Thursday’s clashes were not affecting any oilfields, the military source said. The LNA had at least five men killed and around six wounded, he said.

A local resident said he had heard the sound of heavy clashes and air strikes at dawn and had seen a large fire at the Ras Lanuf tank farm.

Crude exports from Ras Lanuf stood at 110,000 bpd in May, while exports from Es Sider were around 300,000 bpd, according to oil analytics company Vortexa.

The Minerva Lisa oil tanker, which was due to arrive at Es Sider to load a crude cargo on Thursday, was advised to stay outside the port, a source familiar with the matter said.

The tanker, chartered by trader Petraco, was seen turning away from the port on Thursday morning without loading, according to Reuters ship tracking.

A second tanker, the Seascout, is expected to arrive at the port on June 18.

Libya’s oil production recovered last year to just over 1 million bpd and has been mostly stable, though it remains vulnerable to shutdowns and blockades at oil facilities.

National output is still well under the more than 1.6 million bpd Libya was producing before a 2011 uprising led to political fragmentation and armed conflict.

Reporting by Ayman al-Warfalli, Ahmad Ghaddar, Aidan Lewis and John Irish; Writing by Aidan Lewis; Editing by Mark Potter, David Evans and Diane Craft

Source: Reuters.

Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-libya-security-oil/attack-shuts-major-libyan-oil-ports-slashing-production-idUSKBN1JA23I.

June 19, 2018

The President of Algeria’s Agricultural Chamber in the El Oued Province, Bakar Hamid, said his country is experiencing a frantic propaganda campaign aimed at damaging the national economy.

The official made his remarks during an interview with local eChorouk newspaper after some countries returned agricultural products imported from Algeria.

Hamid explained that it is necessary to counter such campaigns with all available means so that Algeria can impose its presence in the global market to improve its economy.

He explained that none of the products exported from El-Oued province had been returned, adding, however, that one exporter has exported dates to 12 countries and none of them were returned.

Hamid added that Algeria applies international health standards and any product destined for export should be granted a health certificate in accordance with the agreement signed between the two countries.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20180619-official-warns-of-frenzied-campaign-against-algeria-economy/.