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Thread: The Oh-So-Fun Middle East!

  1. #111
    Saudi king slams Iran, US Jerusalem move at Arab summit

    Agence France-Presse / 07:59 AM April 16, 2018

    DHAHRAN, Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia’s King Salman on Sunday slammed Iran’s “blatant interference” in the region and lashed out at the US over Jerusalem as Arab leaders met in the kingdom for their annual summit.

    The 82-year-old monarch dubbed the Arab League meet the “Jerusalem summit” as he took aim at Washington’s decision to recognize the disputed city as the capital of Israel and transfer the US embassy from Tel Aviv.

    The final statement released by the league declared the move “null and illegitimate”.

    Under the auspices of Riyadh, seventeen heads of state from across the Arab world - not including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad - gathered in the eastern Saudi city of Dhahran, home to Saudi oil giant Aramco, as world powers face off over Syria and tensions rise between Riyadh and Tehran.

    The meeting opened only 24 hours after a barrage of strikes launched by the United States, Britain and France hit targets they said were linked to chemical weapons development in Syria, which was suspended from the league seven years ago.

    A seat marked “Syrian Arab Republic” sat empty in the hall.

    Saudi Arabia’s king turned his attention with long-time foe Iran — only 160 kilometers (100 miles) across the Gulf from Dhahran.

    “We renew our strong condemnation of Iran’s terrorist acts in the Arab region and reject its blatant interference in the affairs of Arab countries,” the king said.

    And despite being a stalwart ally of the United States, the ruler also criticized US President Donald Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and shift the US embassy there.

    “We reiterate our rejection of the US decision on Jerusalem,” Salman said. “East Jerusalem is an integral part of the Palestinian territories.”

    Donation diplomacy

    Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir however insisted Riyadh would maintain “strong, strategic” ties with Washington.

    “There is no contradiction with having very strong strategic ties with the US while telling your friends where their policy should change,” Jubeir said in response to a question by AFP.

    “That’s what friends are for.”

    At a preliminary meeting in Riyadh on Thursday, Arab ministers focused heavily on blocking the embassy move, unanimously condemning Trump’s decision and moving to block Israel’s bid to secure at seat at the UN Security Council this June.

    King Salman, whose country has for decades declared a policy of support for the an independent Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, on Sunday announced a $150 million donation for the maintenance of Islamic heritage in the eastern part of the holy city.

    Saudi Arabia’s powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the 32-year-old son of the king and heir to the region’s most powerful throne, had days earlier said Israel also had a right to its own state during a tour of the United States.

    Proxy wars with Iran

    Riyadh and Shiite rival Tehran back opposing sides in a range of hotspots across the mainly Sunni Muslim Middle East, including Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Saudi Arabia’s southern neighbor, Yemen.

    Both parties in the Yemen war have drawn harsh condemnation from the United Nations. Saudi Arabia and its military allies landed on a UN blacklist last year for the killing and maiming of children.

    A Security Council resolution aimed at Iran’s failure to block supplies of missiles to Yemen’s Huthi rebels, which the insurgents regularly fire at Saudi Arabia, was vetoed in February by Russia.

    The summit also comes with Saudi Arabia and Qatar locked in a months-long diplomatic standoff, with Riyadh accusing Doha of supporting Islamist extremists and being too close to Iran.

    Both states have supported US-led air raids against Syrian chemical weapons facilities.

    Tensions have eased slightly in recent months but Qatar still only sent its representative to the Arab League to the Dhahran summit.

    Among the leaders in attendance was Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, who walked the red carpet and was greeted by King Salman.

    Bashir is wanted by the International Criminal Court for five counts of crimes against humanity, three counts of genocide and two counts of war crimes.

    Summits of the Arab League, established in 1945, rarely result in action. The last time the bloc made a concrete move was in 2011, when it suspended Syria’s membership over the Assad regime’s role in the war.

    Syria’s war, the most complex of the region’s conflicts, is the main point of contention pitting Riyadh and its allies, who mainly back Sunni rebels, against regime backer Iran and its Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

    Gulf Arab states have made massive donations to Syria but have not officially offered asylum to Syrians. / cbb

  2. #112
    Understand? / ¿Entiendes?

  3. #113
    ^ LOL indeed...


    Israel marks 70 years as a nation as new and old challenges lurk

    Agence France-Presse / 08:29 AM April 19, 2018

    JERUSALEM - Israel celebrated 70 years since the country’s foundation on Wednesday, lauding its improbable economic success and military prowess, but facing a range of political and security challenges.

    The anniversary of the proclamation of the state of Israel by founding father David Ben-Gurion began at sundown on Wednesday under the Hebrew calendar, but falls on May 14 according to the Western calendar.

    At the traditional Jerusalem torch-lighting ceremony kicking off what Israelis call Independence Day, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomed what he called “real seeds of peace” he said were beginning to sprout among some of Israel’s Arab neighbours.

    He did not elaborate, but there have been signs of warming ties, particularly with Saudi Arabia which — like Israel — sees Iran as a growing threat.

    “Our hand is outstretched in peace to all of our neighbours who want peace,” Netanyahu said in Hebrew.

    “And to our enemies who think that we are a passing phenomenon, I have news for you: In 70 years from now you fill find here a country seven times stronger than what we have done so far. This is just the beginning!”

    The ceremony will be followed throughout the evening by open-air concerts, public dancing and fireworks across Israel.

    Earlier, at a remembrance day ceremony, Netanyahu spoke of the “barbaric zealotry of radical Islam” and reiterated warnings about Iran and its presence in neighbouring Syria.

    He has said that Israel cannot accept the Islamic republic entrenching itself militarily in the war-torn country, where Tehran is backing President Bashar al-Assad’s regime.

    An air strike attributed to Israel on April 9 at Syria’s T-4 airbase left 14 people dead, including seven Iranian personnel.

    Ali Akbar Velayati, foreign policy adviser to Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, threatened a response.

    Israel has refused to confirm or deny the strike, though satellite photographs were distributed this week through Israeli media purporting to show Iranian drones at airfields in Syria.

    Some Israeli analysts interpreted the move as a message to Iran that Israel could strike its positions if it carries out an attack against the Jewish state.

    Israel also alleges that a drone which penetrated its airspace in February was sent by Iran “armed with explosives and was tasked to attack”.

    It was shot down by an Israeli helicopter, and Israel in retaliation attacked what it said were the drone’s Iranian control systems in Syria.

    “The Israeli defence establishment understands that the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard is most likely to be the designated unit that will try to wage an attack against Israel,” an Israeli security source said this week, declining to comment further.

    Israel has also reduced its air force’s participation in an exercise in the United States next month, with army radio reporting the decision was due to the tensions.

    Gaza protests

    But beyond its concerns over Iran, Israel is also facing protests and clashes along its border with the Gaza Strip that have led to intense scrutiny of its open-fire rules.

    Israeli forces have killed 34 Palestinians and wounded hundreds of others since the protests began on March 30. There have been no Israeli casualties.

    Tens of thousands have taken part in the main protests, but a smaller number of Gazans have approached the border fence, throwing stones and rolling burning tyres at Israeli forces.

    Israel says firebombs and explosive devices have also been used.

    It has pledged to stop infiltrations, attacks and damage to the fence, and alleges there have been attempts at all three.

    Israel also alleges Hamas, the Islamist movement that runs the Gaza Strip and with whom it has fought three wars since 2008, is using the protests as cover to carry out violence.

    Palestinians however say protesters are being shot while posing no threat to soldiers, while the European Union and UN chief Antonio Guterres have called for an independent investigation.

    The protests are set to last six weeks, but they peak on Fridays after the main weekly Muslim prayers.

    They are likely to escalate around May 14, when the United States is expected to move its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

    The embassy move has deeply angered the Palestinians, who see the Israeli-annexed eastern sector of the city as the capital of their future state.

    On Wednesday evening, the Israeli defence ministry said security inspectors at a crossing from the north of the occupied West Bank found a bomb concealed in a Palestinian lorry, apparently meant for an Independence Day attack inside Israel.

    The ministry’s Twitter account said that the inspectors located “a powerful explosive device” hidden in the vehicle’s roof.

    Still, even with security threats a constant concern, Israelis were also taking account of their successes, having built the so-called “start-up nation” with its strong hi-tech industry and the most powerful military in the Middle East. /cbb

  4. #114
    From The Atlantic Monthly ...

    Jamal Khashoggi’s Murder Haunts Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince

    By Robin Wright

    October 2, 2019

    Twelve minutes before Jamal Khashoggi arrived at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a year ago today, two men in a fifteen-member government hit squad discussed the mechanics of dismembering a body.

    “Is it possible to put the body in a bag?” Maher Mutreb, an intelligence aide to a senior adviser of the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, asked the others.

    “No. Too heavy, very tall, too,” Salah al-Tubaigy, a forensic chief at the Saudi Interior Ministry, replied. “Actually, I’ve always worked on cadavers. I know how to cut very well. I have never worked on a warm body though, but I’ll also manage that easily. I normally put on my earphones and listen to music when I cut cadavers. In the meantime, I sip on my coffee and smoke. After I dismember it, you will wrap the parts into plastic bags, put them in suitcases and take them out.”

    A few minutes later, according to an audio recording made by Turkish intelligence, Mutreb asked if the “animal to be sacrificed” had shown up. He had. Khashoggi, a Saudi exile who criticized the kingdom’s crown prince in his columns for the Washington Post, had come to visit the consul-general and get papers that he needed to marry his Turkish fiancée. He was instead escorted into a side room, informed that he was being whisked off to Saudi Arabia, and ordered to e-mail his son, telling him not to worry if he couldn’t reach his father. Khashoggi refused.

    “If you don’t help us, you know what will happen eventually,” Mutreb told him.

    “There is a towel there,” Khashoggi said. “Will you have me drugged?”

    “We will put you to sleep,” Tubaigy replied.

    As he was being drugged, Khashoggi pleaded, “Do not keep my mouth closed. I have asthma. You will suffocate me.” They were his last words, according to a transcript of the recording released last month by Sabah, a Turkish newspaper.

    The audio indicates that Khashoggi struggled as a plastic bag was put over his head. Members of the hit squad barked orders, in Arabic. “He’s raising his head.” “Keep pushing.”

    Twenty-five minutes after Khashoggi arrived at the consulate, as his fiancée waited for him outside, Tubaigy turned on his cadaver saw. The dismemberment of Khashoggi’s body took thirty minutes, according to two Sabah journalists who chronicled the grisly execution in their book, “Diplomatic Atrocity: The Dark Secrets of the Jamal Khashoggi Murder.” They reported that his body was taken out of the building in five suitcases.

    A year later, the body still has not been recovered. Nor has justice been served. After a growing global outcry, eleven Saudis were charged; five face the death penalty. But the kingdom has never published their names. The trial in Saudi Arabia is not open to the public or the press. Saud al-Qahtani, the crown prince’s right-hand man and the alleged mastermind of the murder, was not charged. He was fired—or so the crown prince’s government claimed—but he has otherwise disappeared. The kingdom refused to coöperate with a six-month United Nations investigation of the case, led by Agnès Callamard, of France. Despite the conclusion by the C.I.A. that bin Salman had a role in the murder, the crown prince still has the full support of the Trump Administration and a host of foreign leaders, from Russia to Japan, as he continues to consolidate the powers of the Saudi state, military, intelligence agencies, economy, and royal court.

    In recent interviews, the crown prince has issued a buck-stops-here kind of mea culpa for the murder, while still denying that he had any advance knowledge or other role in it. Asked if he ordered the hit, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes,” “Absolutely not. This was a heinous crime. But I take full responsibility as a leader in Saudi Arabia, especially since it was committed by individuals working for the Saudi government. And I must take all actions to avoid such a thing in the future.”

    The crown prince’s denial was dismissed by human-rights groups and many who track the kingdom. “Let’s assume it was a rogue operation. He has all the rogues. And they know where the body is,” Bruce Riedel, a former C.I.A. analyst and the author of “Kings and Presidents: Saudi Arabia and the United States since FDR,” told me. “He lied—straight-faced.” Human Rights Watch said that, instead of providing transparency in the crime or the judicial process, “Saudi authorities are doubling down on repression and continuing to silence independent Saudi voices that Khashoggi sought to defend.”

    The U.N. report, issued in June, called the extrajudicial execution “an international crime” over which “other States should claim universal jurisdiction”— potentially taking the case beyond Saudi Arabia and the eleven men who have currently been charged. The report concluded that “every expert consulted finds it inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the Crown Prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched.”

    Yet Khashoggi’s execution has taken a toll on the ambitious crown prince, who recently turned thirty-four. “Jamal did not die in vain,” Riedel said. “His ghost haunts the royal palace.” This week, memorial vigils are being held near Saudi diplomatic posts around the world, from Washington and London to Istanbul. Social media has been abuzz with reminders of the murder and memories of Khashoggi, who had evolved from a government spokesman into the most prominent critic of the crown prince. At a conference in London last December, Callamard, the U.N. rapporteur, reflected, “The fact that the killing of Jamal Khashoggi is still making the news, that needs to continue, because that’s what is going to annoy the hell out of them and be the mosquito in the tent that they can’t ever get rid of.”

    In the past year, Saudi Arabia’s image has suffered, at a moment when the kingdom needs allies to sell it arms and investors to modernize its oil-centric economy. Bin Salman’s “Vision 2030” plan, which calls for the creation of new robot-run cities and industries, does not yet have the necessary funds. Among the kingdom’s illusions are plans, announced last month, to convert one of the hottest and most desolate terrains on earth into one of the world’s top-five tourist attractions. The crown prince’s plan to generate cash by launching an I.P.O. for Aramco, the world’s largest oil company, has been repeatedly delayed. Meanwhile, despite its oil resources, Saudi Arabia faces high youth unemployment, the very condition that has fuelled extremism across the Middle East.

    Riedel told me that Khashoggi’s murder may have cost the kingdom most in Washington. “For seventy-five years, the Saudis did everything they could to maintain bipartisan support in Washington—and now they’ve lost that,” he said. “The crown prince has lost not only the Democrats but also a significant number of Republicans.”

    Khashoggi’s cold-blooded killing and the kingdom’s troubled war in Yemen have intensified doubts in Congress about Saudi Arabia. An attack last month on two Saudi oil installations, which temporarily crippled half the country’s petroleum production, did little to generate sympathy, even after the United States and Europe blamed Iran for the nighttime air strikes. After a trip to the kingdom last month, Senator Todd Young, an Indiana Republican, said, “Saudi Arabia is an important strategic partner, but not one we will support at any cost.” He and Senator Angus King, an Independent of Maine, met with the young Saudi leader. “As we told the Crown Prince, public actions, not private assurances, will show that the Saudi Arabia is interested in seriously addressing the trust deficit between the Kingdom and the United States Congress,” King said, in a statement.

    The Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, chastised President Trump for fawning over the crown prince. “They’re sitting across from the person who chopped up a reporter and dissolved his remains in chemicals,” she said. “I don’t see any responsibility for us to protect and defend Saudi Arabia.”

    In the traumatic last seconds of his life, Khashoggi probably never imagined the rippling impact that his death would have across the globe. Whatever else the crown prince does in the decades ahead, the murder of his most articulate critic will forever define his legacy—with lingering impact on his kingdom, too.

  5. #115
    Turkey opens ground assault on Syria's Kurds; U.S. Republicans turn on Trump

    Mert Ozkan

    AKCAKALE, Turkey (Reuters) - Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies attacked Kurdish militia in northeast Syria on Wednesday, pounding them with air strikes and artillery before starting a cross-border ground operation that could transform an eight-year-old war.

    The assault began days after U.S. President Donald Trump pulled American troops out of the way, prompting denunciations from senior members of his own Republican Party who say he abandoned the Syrian Kurds, loyal allies of Washington.

    “The Turkish Armed Forces and the Syrian National Army have launched the land operation into the east of the Euphrates river as part of the Operation Peace Spring,” the Turkish defense ministry tweeted after nightfall, following a day of pounding the area from the air.

    Turkish media reported troops entering Syria at four points, two of them close to the Syrian town of Tel Abyad and two close to Ras al Ain further east.

    Turkey told the United Nations Security Council in a letter seen by Reuters that its military operation would be “proportionate, measured and responsible.” The 15-member body will meet on Thursday to discuss Syria at the request of the five European members, Britain, France, Germany, Belgium and Poland.

    Thousands of people fled Ras al Ain toward Hasaka province, held by the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The Turkish air strikes killed at least five civilians and three fighters from the SDF and wounded dozens of civilians, the SDF said.

    Reuters journalists at Akcakale on the Turkish side of the frontier watched as explosions struck Tel Abyad. After dark, the red flare of rockets could be seen fired across the border into Tel Abyad, and flames burned near the town. Explosions from Tel Abyad could be heard eight hours into the bombardment. A witness reached by telephone said civilians were fleeing en masse.

    SDF fighters repelled a ground attack by Turkish troops in Tel Abyad, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Twitter.

    The assault on the Kurds - for years Washington’s main allies on the ground in Syria - is potentially one of the biggest shifts in years in the Syrian war that has drawn in global and regional powers. The Kurds played a leading role in capturing territory from Islamic State, and now hold the largest swathe of Syria outside of the hands of President Bashar al-Assad.

    Russia, Assad’s strongest foreign ally, urged dialogue between Damascus and Syria’s Kurds.

    Trump’s decision to pull forces out of the way was denounced by some Kurds as a “stab in the back”.


    Trump called the Turkish assault a “bad idea” and said he did not endorse it. He expected Turkey to protect civilians and religious minorities and prevent a humanitarian crisis, he said.

    But one of Trump’s closest fellow Republican allies, Senator Lindsey Graham, said failing to support the Kurds would be “the biggest mistake of his presidency”.

    Representative Liz Cheney, a Republican hawk, said: “The U.S. is abandoning our ally the Kurds, who fought ISIS (Islamic State) on the ground and helped protect the U.S. homeland. This decision aids America’s adversaries, Russia, Iran, and Turkey, and paves the way for a resurgence of ISIS.”

    Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, announcing the start of the action, said the aim was to eliminate what he called a “terror corridor” on Turkey’s southern border.

    European and Arab countries called on Ankara to halt.

    Turkey had been poised to enter northeast Syria since the U.S. troops who had been fighting alongside Kurdish-led forces against Islamic State started to leave.

    A Turkish security source told Reuters the military offensive, dubbed “Operation Peace Spring”, opened with air strikes. Turkish howitzer fire then hit bases and ammunition depots of the Kurdish YPG militia. Turkey says the YPG, the main component of the U.S.-backed SDF, is a terrorist group linked to Kurdish insurgents that have fought in Turkey for years.

    The artillery strikes, which also targeted YPG gun and sniper positions, were aimed at sites far from residential areas, the Turkish source said.

    The Turkish army has hit a total of 181 militant targets with air strikes and howitzers since the start of the operation, the defense ministry said on Wednesday.

    Explosions also rocked the Syrian border town of Ras al Ain, according to a reporter for CNN Turk. The sound of warplanes could be heard above and smoke rose from buildings in the town, the CNN reporter said.

    Turkish media said several mortar shells had landed on the Turkish side of the border but there were no casualties.


    World powers fear the Turkish action could open a new chapter in Syria’s war and worsen regional turmoil. Ankara has said it intends to create a “safe zone” in order to return millions of refugees to Syrian soil.

    In the build-up to the offensive, Syria had said it was determined to confront any Turkish aggression.

    The SDF controls much of the territory that once was held by Islamic State and holds thousands of Islamic State fighters and tens of thousands of their relatives in detention.

    It halted operations against Islamic State because of the Turkish offensive, two U.S. officials and a Kurdish source said.

    One of the prisons where ISIS detainees are held was struck by a Turkish air strike, the SDF said on Twitter.

    The Kurdish-led authority in northern Syria declared a state of “general mobilization” before calling on its people to head toward the border “to fulfill their moral duty and show resistance in these sensitive, historic moments”.

    Erdogan’s communications director Fahrettin Altun said Turkey had no ambition in northeastern Syria except to neutralize the threat against Turkish citizens and to liberate the local people from what he called “the yoke of armed thugs”.

    Turkey was taking over leadership of the fight against Islamic State in Syria, he said.

  6. #116
    Yemen to become world's poorest country if war continues – U.N.

    'If fighting continues through 2022, Yemen will rank the poorest country in the world,' according to a United Nations Development Programme report

    Agence France-Presse


    Published 12:00 AM, October 11, 2019

    Updated 12:00 AM, October 11, 2019

    DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – War-ravaged Yemen is on course to become the world's poorest country if the conflict persists, the United Nations said in a report.

    "If fighting continues through 2022, Yemen will rank the poorest country in the world, with 79% of the population living under the poverty line and 65% classified as extremely poor," according to the United Nations Development Programme report, published Wednesday, October 9.

    Because of the war, poverty in Yemen has jumped from 47% of the population in 2014 to a projected 75% by the end of 2019.

    Yemen, long the poorest country in the Arabian Peninsula, plunged into war after Huthi rebels seized the capital Sanaa in late 2014.

    A Saudi-led military coalition launched a blistering offensive months later to prop up the internationally-recognized government of Abedrabbo Mansour Hadi against the Iran-aligned insurgents.

    The fighting has since killed tens of thousands of people, most of them civilians, and pushed Yemen to the brink of famine.

    It has also displaced millions and left more than two thirds of the population in need of aid.

    The UN has previously described Yemen as the world's worst humanitarian crisis.

    "Not only has the war made Yemen the largest humanitarian crisis in the world, it has plunged it into a harrowing development crisis too," UNDP Yemen's resident representative, Auke Lootsma, said in a statement on Wednesday.

    "The ongoing crisis is threatening to make Yemen's population the poorest in the world – a title the already suffering country cannot afford." –

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