Pro-Government Militant Leader Killed In Mali

Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa.
Mali is the eighth-largest country in Africa.

 

A senior officer in a pro-government Arab armed group was gunned down in northern Mali on Sunday, officials said, casting a shadow over efforts to reassert state control over the strife-torn north. 

The killing comes as Mali’s army is due to redeploy to several cities in the north of the West African country, after rebels captured much of the vast semi-arid area in 2012.

Two unidentified assailants on a motorbike killed Yoro Ould Daha near Tamkoukat, in the north, said Moulaye Abdallah Haidara, the permanent secretary of the pro-government Arab Movement of Azawad (MAA).

Daha was the chief of staff of a branch of the MAA allied to the government in Bamako, according to officials, and was involved in implementing a peace deal between Mali and some rebel groups struck in 2015.

Among other things, the pact provided for former rebels joining the army, which would eventually return north.

Jihadists overtook the anti-government rebellion in 2012, and have since spread the conflict to central Mali and neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

Despite the presence of foreign troops, the government has been struggling to contain the jihadist insurgency, which has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians.

Much of northern Mali remains outside state control.

But in a sign of renewed momentum, the Malian army said Friday that it would redeploy  to the northern city of Kidal before February 10.

The army is due to return to Kidal with units comprised of regulars and former rebels — one of the key components of the 2015 peace plan.

These new units are also due to deploy to other northern cities such as Gao and Timbuktu after they reach Kidal.

Daha, the killed MMA officer, was associated with Gao.

He left the city on Sunday to check on his livestock, according to MMA member Aziz Ould Dida, before getting shot.

Ousmane Maiga, a local leader in Gao, said Daha’s body was in the town’s morgue where members of the local Arab community were also in attendance.

 

AFP

Israel Top Court Allows Arab Lawmaker To Contest Elections

A picture of an Israeli flag,
A picture of an Israeli flag,

 

Israel’s supreme court on Sunday overturned a decision by the country’s elections body to disqualify an Arab lawmaker from running in March elections after accusations she supported “terrorists”.

The central elections committee in January invalidated the candidacy of Heba Yazbak, a member of the Arab Joint List.

Yazbak is a member of the Arab nationalist group Balad and has been in the Knesset since last April’s polls.

A petition alleged she supported armed struggle against Israel and had praised militants who killed Israelis.

Yazbak was targeted in particular over a Facebook post in support of Samir Kantar, a member of the Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah who was convicted of murdering three Israelis, including a four-year-old girl, in 1979.

“There was no ‘critical mass’ of formal evidence to justify disqualifying her,” said the supreme court, which took into account “remorse” expressed by Yazbak.

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party had joined forces with the nationalist Yisrael Beitenu in the petition to disqualify Yazbak.

The two parties seek the disqualification of parties which challenge the Jewish character of Israel or which support armed opposition to the Jewish state.

“Those who want Heba in the opposition and not in government must vote only for Likud,” the Likud party wrote on Twitter after the court’s decision was announced.

Israel’s top court barred two members of the extreme-right party Jewish Power from running in the September 2019 elections over “incitement to racism.”

The March 2 polls are Israel’s third in less than a year, after national polls in April and September failed to yield a governing coalition.

Netanyahu’s right wing Likud party was deadlocked with centrist Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in both the 2019 elections.

Oman’s Longest-Reigning Sultan Qaboos dies At 79

(FILES) In this file photo taken on December 03, 2007 Omani leader Sultan Qaboos bin Said attends the opening of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) summit in Doha. Sultan Qaboos, who ruled Oman for almost half a century, has died at the age of 79, the Omani news agency said January 11, 2020.
Karim JAAFAR / AFP

 

Sultan Qaboos, the longest-reigning leader of the modern Arab world, has died at the age of 79, the royal court said Saturday.

“With great sorrow and deep sadness… the royal court mourns His Majesty Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who passed away on Friday,” the court said in a statement.

Qaboos, who has ruled since 1970 when he deposed his father in a palace coup, had been ill for some time and had been believed to be suffering from colon cancer.

READ ALSO: Oman Govt Swears-in Cousin Of Late Sultan As Royal Ruler

He left no apparent heir. He was unmarried and had no children or brothers.

It is not clear who will succeed Qaboos, whose country has a distinct method of choosing the next ruler.

According to the Omani constitution, the royal family shall, within three days of the throne falling vacant, determine the successor.

If the family does not agree on a name, the person chosen by Qaboos in a letter addressed to the royal family will be the successor.

The sultan should be a member of the royal family, as well as “Muslim, mature, rational and the legitimate son of Omani Muslim parents”.

Local experts say that more than 80 men meet the criteria, but one name stands: Asad bin Tariq.

Tariq, 65, had been appointed deputy prime minister for international relations and cooperation affairs in 2017.

The move was seen as a clear message of support to the sultan’s cousin and “special representative” since 2002.

Qaboos transformed the Arabian Peninsula nation from a backwater into a modern state while pursuing a moderate but active foreign policy.

Having played a role in Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers while preserving its membership in the Saudi-led Gulf Cooperation Council, Oman has emerged as the Gulf’s discreet mediator.

It remains to be seen whether the next ruler will take the same moderate approach in a region often in turmoil.

AFP

Unemployment Fuels Unrest In Arab States – IMF

 

Unemployment and sluggish economic growth are fuelling social tension and popular protests in several Arab countries, the International Monetary Fund said Monday.

The unrest is in turn contributing to slower growth in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, alongside global trade tensions, oil price volatility and a disorderly Brexit process, the IMF said in a report on the regional economic outlook.

Earlier this month it lowered the 2019 forecast for the region — taking in the Arab nations and Iran — to a meagre 0.1 percent from 1.1 percent last year.

The IMF slashed its outlook for the region’s three largest economies — Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates.

The risks around the forecast of earlier this month “are skewed to the downside and are highly dependent on global factors,” the IMF said in its report on Monday.

“The level of growth that countries in the region are having is below what is needed to address unemployment,” said Jihad Azour, the IMF’s director for the Middle East and Central Asia.

“We are in a region where the rate of unemployment at the youth level exceeds 25-30 percent and this requires growth to be higher by 1-2 percent” in order to make a dent in joblessness, Azour told AFP in an interview.

The IMF report said that the high unemployment was worsening social tensions in Arab countries.

“Unemployment averages 11 percent throughout the region versus seven percent across other emerging market and developing economies,” it said.

“Women and young people are particularly likely to be out of work, with more than 18 percent of women… without jobs in 2018.”

Violent protests have broken out in several Arab countries since early 2010 and turned into bloody civil wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya.

A new wave of demonstrations erupted over the last year in Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and Lebanon, typically demanding economic reforms and action against corruption.

In Lebanon, where protesters have brought the country to a standstill with demands for a full overhaul of the political system, the economy grew at a very slow pace over the past few years, Azour noted.

“The government has to act firmly and swiftly in order to address those imbalances, bring confidence back by addressing the fiscal situation, and lower expenditure,” he said.

The IMF also said that public debt levels were very high in many Arab countries — exceeding 85 percent of gross domestic product (GDP) on average, with rates of more than 150 percent in Lebanon and Sudan.

“Having built over many years, the cost of public debt burdens has become sizeable, preventing investments critical to the region’s long-term economic future,” it said.

 Iran flounders 

The IMF said that Iran, which is subject to crippling US sanctions, has entered a steep economic recession and faces a battle against spiralling inflationary pressures.

The Islamic republic’s economy is projected to contract by 9.5 percent this year after posting negative growth of 4.8 percent in 2018.

Iranian authorities must align “the exchange rate close to the market rate and also reform the financial sector… and try to address some of the implications of the high level of inflation,” Azour said.

As a result of the sanctions, Tehran is believed to be exporting only around 500,000 barrels per day of crude, down from over two million bpd before the sanctions.

The IMF said that oil-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states, led by Saudi Arabia, are expected to grow by just 0.7 percent this year from 2.0 percent in 2018 due to lower oil prices and output.

“GCC economies need to diversify and grow out of oil and this requires them to accelerate the reforms that have been started in the last four to five years,” Azour said.

Israel Is Arabs’ ‘Ally’ Against Iran, Says Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu/ AFP

 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Monday that Arab countries viewed Israel as an “indispensable ally” fighting Iran and the Islamic State group.

That evaluation, he told Brazil’s Globo TV during a visit to Rio, has caused “a revolution in relations with the Arab world.”

The comments came as Israel has stepped up air strikes on Iranian positions in neighboring Syria, and as Israel digested an abrupt decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw US troops from Syria.

Netanyahu has repeatedly warned that Iran is trying to develop nuclear weapons to destroy his country.

Israel, he said, had shown itself to be active in battling “radical Islam, violent Islam — either the one led by radical Shiites led by Iran or the one led by the radical Sunnis led by Daesh (IS) and Al-Qaeda.”

“Unfortunately we have not made any advance with the Palestinians. Half of them are already under the gun of Iran and of radical Islam,” Netanyahu added.

Asked if he could ever contemplate sitting down with an Iranian leader to talk peace, Netanyahu replied: “If Iran remains committed to our destruction the answer is no.”

The only way, he said, would be “if Iran undergoes a total transformation.”

Netanyahu was in Brazil to attend Tuesday’s inauguration of the Latin American country’s new, pro-Israel president, Jair Bolsonaro.

On the sidelines of the ceremony, Netanyahu was to hold talks with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who is also among the visiting dignitaries.

They were expected to discuss the US troop pullout from Syria and Iranian activities in the Middle East.

AFP

Israeli Minister Calls Arab MPs ‘War Criminals’

Israeli flag

Israel’s defence minister on Monday called Arab MPs “war criminals”. a day after he urged a boycott of Israeli Arabs living near the scene of clashes over the US president’s Jerusalem declaration.

Avigdor Lieberman was speaking in a televised parliamentary debate on a motion of no confidence in the right-wing government filed by the mainly Arab Joint List alliance.

Presenting the motion, Joint List lawmaker Hanin Zoabi said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “should be tried at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, because he is a war criminal.”

“Occupation is always belligerent, violent, illegitimate and a basis for war crimes,” she added, referring to Israel’s 50-year occupation of the Palestinian territories.

“All the Joint List are war criminals, every one of you,” Lieberman responded.

The alliance has 12 Arab members and one Jew.

“You exploit the weaknesses and advantages of a democratic state to destroy us from within, we have no illusions,” he told them.

“You are here by mistake and the time will come when you will not be here.”

Arab Israelis are descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land following the creation of Israel in 1948. Today they account for some 17.5 percent of the population.

Lieberman has long advocated land-swaps in a future peace deal that would see some Arab areas of Israel handed over to the Palestinians in exchange for Israeli retention of some West Bank Jewish settlements.

He has also proposed conditioning the Arabs’ continued Israeli citizenship on them taking oaths of loyalty to the Jewish state.

Dozens of Arab Israelis on Saturday night blocked the Wadi Ara intersection in northern Israel, police said, throwing stones at vehicles and burning tyres in protest at Donald Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The windows of a bus were smashed and its driver was slightly injured. Police arrested two minors and a man from Arara, an Arab town in the Wadi Ara area.

Speaking to Israeli army radio the next day, Lieberman proposed collective punitive sanctions.

“Those who demonstrate in Israel holding Hezbollah, Hamas and PLO flags are not part of the state of Israel,” Lieberman said.

“I therefore call on Israeli citizens to impose an economic boycott on Wadi Ara — don’t shop there, don’t eat in the restaurants and don’t buy services from them.”

Jewish Israelis must simply “give them the feeling they’re not wanted here,” he said, noting instances in which Arabs from the area carried out attacks against Israelis or supported militant activities.

Clashes and protests erupted in the Palestinian territories after Trump’s declaration last Wednesday, but there has been relatively little unrest within Israel itself.

AFP

Attacks Continue In Jerusalem Despite New Checkpoints

jerusalemDespite new security measures launched in Arab areas of the city, attacks have continued in some parts of Jerusalem.

On Wednesday, the Police blocked entrances to Jabal Mukaber, a district that was home to three men accused of killing three Israelis on Tuesday.

But hours later, the Police said they shot dead a Palestinian who stabbed an Israeli woman at Jerusalem’s main bus station.

A Palestinian also tried to stab a policeman near the walled Old City. He too was shot dead by the Police.

Israeli authorities say since the beginning of October, seven Israelis have been killed and dozens wounded in shooting and stabbing attacks.

The Palestinian Health Ministry also said at least 30 Palestinians have been killed, including assailants, and hundreds have been injured.

Israel Resumes Air Strike In Gaza Strip, Kills 7 Palestinians

A car, which police said was damaged in an Israeli air strike that targeted the house of top Hamas political leader Mahmoud Zahar, is seen in Gaza CityIsrael resumed air strikes in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, a day after holding fire in deference to an Egyptian-proposed cease-fire deal that failed to get Hamas militants to halt rocket attacks.

Attacks in the Gaza Strip killed at least seven Palestinians in the early hours of Wednesday, Gaza health officials said, and destroyed the house of Mahmoud Zahar – who is believed to be in hiding elsewhere – in the first apparent targeting of a top Hamas political leader.

The week-old conflict seemed to be at a turning point on Tuesday, with Hamas defying Arab and Western calls to cease fire and Israel threatening to step up an offensive that could include an invasion of the densely populated enclave.

The Israeli military said on Wednesday it had sent out warning messages to residents in the northern Gaza Strip to evacuate their homes by 0800 (1 a.m. EDT) ahead of renewed attacks. Palestinian officials said residents in two Gaza City neighborhoods had received the warnings but Gaza Interior Ministry told people not to heed the Israeli messages and dismissed them as psychological warfare.

Gaza militants kept up rocket salvoes into Israel, firing more than 150 rockets at Israel since Tuesday, when the truce was to begin.

Under the blueprint announced by Egypt – Gaza’s neighbor and whose military-backed government has been at odds with Islamist Hamas – a mutual “de-escalation” was to have begun at 9 a.m. (2 a.m. EDT), with hostilities ceasing within 12 hours.

Hamas’ armed wing, the Izz el-Deen al-Qassam Brigades, rejected the ceasefire deal, a proposal that addressed in only general terms some of its key demands, and said its battle with Israel would “increase in ferocity and intensity”.

But Moussa Abu Marzouk, a Hamas political official who was in Cairo, said the movement, which is seeking a deal that would ease the Egyptian and Israeli border restrictions throttling Gaza’s economy, had made no final decision on Cairo’s proposal.

Israel, citing the persistent salvoes, resumed attacks in Gaza six hours after implementation of the truce was to have begun. The military said it targeted at least 20 of Hamas’ hidden rocket launchers, tunnels and weapons storage facilities. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in broadcast remarks late on Tuesday that Israel had no choice but to “expand and intensify” its campaign on Hamas, though he did not specifically mention the possibility of a ground incursion.

The Israeli security cabinet which met into the early hours of Wednesday had discussed a limited ground operation, an Israeli official said.

Five killed in Southern Afghanistan blast

Afghan officials say three blasts in southern Afghanistan have killed two Afghan policemen and three national intelligence officers.

Insurgents frequently target Afghan security forces and government officials in an effort to weaken the government.

According to Associated Press, Kandahar provincial spokesman Ahmad Jawed Faisal says a suicide bomber on foot blew himself up Saturday at an entry checkpoint for the national intelligence office in Maruf district. He says three intelligence officers were killed and four other officers were wounded.

In neighbouring  Zabul province, twin explosions killed two policemen on Saturday morning. Provincial spokesman Shariullah Nasari says a police vehicle ran over a roadside mine and when other policemen went to assist those in the vehicle, another bomb went off. He says two policemen were killed and three others were wounded in the second blast.

Anti-Islam film: Muslim protesters rage at United States in Asia

In a torrent of violence last week, the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed in an attack in Benghazi and U.S. and other foreign embassies were stormed in cities in Asia, Africa and the Middle East by furious Muslims. At least nine other people have been killed.

Washington has sent ships, extra troops and Special Forces to protect U.S. interests and citizens in the Middle East, while a number of its embassies have evacuated staff and are on high alert for trouble.

A White House spokesman said Obama spoke by telephone to senior diplomats at the weekend to reassure them of his support.

“He called the chiefs of mission in Sudan, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen to let those diplomats know that he was thinking about them, that their safety remains a top priority of his, and it is something he will remain focused on,” spokesman Josh Earnest said.

Despite Obama’s efforts early in his tenure to improve relations with the Arab and Muslim world, the new violence adds to a host of problems including the continued U.S. military involvement in Afghanistan, Iran’s nuclear programme, the Syrian civil war and the fall-out from the Arab Spring revolts.

US, ISRAEL FLAGS BURNED

The renewed protests on Monday dashed any hopes that the furore over the film might fade despite an appeal over the weekend from the senior cleric in Saudi Arabia, home to Islam’s holiest shrines, for calm.

In the Kabul demonstration, protesters shouted “Death to America” and burned the flags of the United States and of Israel, a country reviled by many Muslims and Arabs because of the Palestinian issue.

The U.S., British and other missions were placed on lockdown and violence flared near housing compounds for foreign workers

REUTERS

Egypt shares soar after Mursi named president

Egyptian shares surged more than 7 percent on Monday for their biggest daily gain in nine years after the Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Mursi was named as the first freely elected president, boosting hopes for a violence-free transition from army rule.

The benchmark index closed up 7.6 percent, its best one-day performance since early 2003 and the fourth-biggest in the index’s 14-year history, after Mursi’s win was announced on Sunday. The news sparked jubilation among Brotherhood supporters.

Traders, however, were cautious, saying the market euphoria could quickly evaporate if the new president cannot form a government with broad political support.

“I wouldn’t judge the market on one day. Let’s wait for the rest of the week. One more speech and the market could drop,” said Osama Mourad, CEO of Arab Finance Brokerage.

The stock market fell 10 percent during the two-stage election on fears the poll could be derailed or marred by violence. But voting, and the announcement of Mursi’s win against Ahmed Shafik, ousted leader Hosni Mubarak’s last prime minister, passed off peacefully.

“The market is celebrating the lack of violence around this result,” said Mourad. “The market was afraid of clashes on the streets.”

Yields on short-dated treasury bills offered in Egypt’s small secondary fixed-income market fell by 5-10 basis points, a currency trader said.

Egyptian credit default swaps were at 705 basis points, down from 722 on Friday, a 3-1/2 year high, according to Markit.

REUTERS

Arab League Observers Leave Syria

Most of the Gulf Arab League observers started leaving Syria today after the decision made by the Gulf Corporation Council that all observers from the Arab League on mission to Syria should return as other oberservers of the Arab League in Kuwait and Bahrain did earlier.

Arab League Observers Leave Syria

According to Reuters report,this decision was prompted after the arab states rejected an Arab League plan for President Bashar al-Assad to surrender power, prompting the group’s chief to call for U.N. help in ending Syria’s bloody upheaval

Arab League officials said 55 Gulf Arab observers were being withdrawn while the other 110 members of the team would continue work in Syria.

Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moualem accused the League on Tuesday of plotting to engineer foreign intervention.

Thousands of civilians and members of security forces have been killed in the 10-month-old uprising against Assad.

Despite Syria’s anger, Moualem agreed to extend by a month the mission of the remaining Arab League observers who are monitoring implementation of a plan to end the bloodshed.

But he scornfully rejected the League’s latest proposal.
The revolt in Syria was inspired by others that have toppled three Arab leaders and the bloodshed has battered Assad’s standing in the world, with Iran among his few remaining allies.