Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi on Friday hailed the “historic” normalisation deal between Israel and Bahrain.
“I hail this important step aimed at consolidating stability and peace in the Middle East, which will achieve a just and permanent solution to the Palestinian cause,” Sisi said in a tweet.
Sisi also thanked “all those who helped achieve this historic step”. Egypt was the first Arab country to sign a peace deal with Israel in 1979, followed by Jordan in 1994, while the UAE announced it was normalising ties with the Jewish state on August 13.
US President Donald Trump announced Friday a peace deal between Israel and Bahrain, which becomes the second Arab country to settle with its former foe over the last month, reinforcing an ambitious White House push to redraw the conflicts of the Middle East.
Calling it a “truly historic day,” Trump said Israel and Bahrain were establishing full diplomatic and commercial relations.
“They will exchange embassies and ambassadors, begin direct flights between their countries and launch cooperation initiatives across a broad range of sectors, including health, business, technology, education, security and agriculture,” he told reporters in the White House.
Bahrain said in a joint statement it had agreed to formalize the deal with Israel at a ceremony next Tuesday in the White House, where the United Arab Emirates will also sign off on its own thaw with Israel announced in mid-August.
According to the statement, Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump talked earlier Friday before announcing the new breakthrough.
Bahrain said that during the phone call, the king “stressed the need to reach a just and comprehensive peace as a strategic option, in accordance with the two-state solution and relevant resolutions of international legitimacy.”
A senior official in Manama, the capital of Bahrain, said the deal would boost regional “security, stability, prosperity.”
Until now, Israel has been able to strike only two similar peace accords with Arab countries — Egypt in 1979 and Jordan in 1994 — and Trump is hoping that the diplomatic successes will give him badly needed momentum going into the November 3 presidential election.
At the White House, Trump celebrated, calling the progress “very, very important for not only the Middle East, but for the world.”
He said it was “so interesting” that he was able to make the announcement on the anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.
“When I took office the Middle East was in a state of absolute chaos,” Trump said.
In Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the agreement.
“Citizens of Israel, I am moved to be able to tell you that this evening, we are reaching another peace agreement with another Arab country, Bahrain. This agreement adds to the historic peace with the United Arab Emirates,” Netanyahu said in a Hebrew-language statement.
In the UAE, Hend Al Otaiba, director of strategic communications at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sent congratulations to Bahrain and Israel.
“Today marks another significant and historic achievement which will contribute enormously to the stability and prosperity of the region,” she said.
Trump redraws the lines
Trump said more Arab nations could also open their doors to Israel.
“I am very hopeful that there will be more to follow. I can tell you there’s tremendous enthusiasm on behalf of other countries to also join,” Trump said.
The Republican businessman has styled himself as the most pro-Israeli US president in history.
He has taken a string of decisions highly beneficial to Israel, from recognizing disputed Jerusalem as the country’s capital to tearing up an international accord meant to end Iran’s isolation in return for verified controls to prevent militarization of its nuclear industry.
At the same time, Trump has pushed to wind down the United States’ own military footprint after decades of bloody entanglements in Iraq and elsewhere. His earlier success in getting an Israel-UAE normalization prompted a right-wing Norwegian member of parliament to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize.
The UAE’s announcement broke with years of Arab League policy on the Middle East conflict, prompting angry pushback from the Palestinians and Iran, who both termed the deal a betrayal.
The Palestinians, who see Arab support as crucial to their limited power in resisting Israeli occupation, quickly condemned the Israel-Bahrain deal as well.
The agreement was “a stab in the back of the Palestinian cause and the Palestinian people,” Ahmad Majdalani, social affairs minister in the West Bank-based Palestinian Authority, told AFP.
Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip, said it was an “aggression” that dealt “serious prejudice” to the Palestinian cause.
Trump, who has made crushing sanctions and diplomatic pressure on Israel’s arch foe Iran a priority of his administration, predicted however that there would be a “very positive” development in the standoff with Tehran.
“I can see a lot of good things happening with respect to the Palestinians,” he added, arguing that the Palestinians would end their conflict with Israel once enough Arab countries had taken the initiative.
“As more countries normalize relations with Israel, which will happen quite quickly we believe, the region will become more and more stable, secure and prosperous,” he said.
“In the meantime, we’re pulling our soldiers out, so we’re doing it the opposite way. They were doing it with nothing but fighting and blood all over the place,” Trump said. “The sand was loaded up with blood. And now we can see that a lot of that sand is going to be loaded up with peace.”
“Failure or inability on the part of the Nigerian Army to have a constructive listening of intelligence gathering from the DSS and other relevant informants in the community led to this attack”.
He, therefore, urged the Speaker of the House to treat the matter as a national issue and with a sense of urgency.
“Mr Speaker, as far as I’m concerned, this is a national issue. It happened today in Borno but only God knows where next it will happen in the 36 states of the federation because of negligence or complacency on the part of our security operatives”.
Christmas was celebrated all around the world on Wednesday, with Pope Francis appealing for peace in many of the world’s hotspots while festivities were muted for Filipinos battered by a typhoon, as well as in strike-bound France.
“May Christ bring his light to the many children suffering from war and conflicts in the Middle East and in various countries of the world,” Francis said in his traditional Christmas message at the Vatican, singling out the crises in Venezuela and Lebanon, as well as armed conflicts ravaging many African countries.
For her part, Britain’s Queen Elizabeth II used her Christmas Day message to pay tribute to young environmental campaigners who were inspired to global action by Swedish teen Greta Thunberg.
She also described 2019 as “quite bumpy” after a year of crises in the royal family. The queen attended the annual Christmas Day service in Sandringham without her ailing husband Prince Philip, 98, who was released from hospital after a four-night stay for an unspecified illness.
But she was accompanied by Prince Andrew, her scandal-plagued second son, whose disastrous attempts to distance himself from American convicted paedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s victims have backfired. The prince gave up his public duties last month.
Earlier Wednesday, Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby sent wishes of “peace and prosperity” to South Sudan as negotiations faltered between the African country’s government and rebels.
The spiritual leaders of more than 1.3 billion Christians said they were praying “for a renewed commitment to the path of reconciliation and fraternity” in the world’s newest nation.
Typhoon Phanfone meanwhile brought a wet, miserable and terrifying holiday season to the central Philippines, stranding tens of thousands of people.
In France, Christmas was also a gloomy affair as a crippling transport strike against pension reform was set to enter its fourth week, ruining the plans of many to gather with family and friends.
Things were more upbeat in Spain, where nearly 300 people, some in Santa Claus, Darth Vader or clown costumes, dived into the frigid waters of Barcelona’s port for a traditional Christmas swim.
Meanwhile, US President Donald Trump and his wife Melania sent their “warmest greetings” to Christmas revellers around the world.
“While the challenges that face our country are great, the bonds that unite us as Americans are much stronger,” the message read. “Together, we must strive to foster a culture of deeper understanding and respect.”
Also in the United States, a bank robber brought some offbeat Christmas joy to stunned passers-by in Colorado, police confirmed Wednesday.
The white-bearded man robbed the bank in Colorado Springs on Monday, then threw the stolen cash in the air for people to grab, US media reported.
“He started throwing money out of the bag and then said, ‘Merry Christmas!’,” witness Dion Pascale told local media. The suspect was later arrested.
In the biblical town of Bethlehem on Tuesday, a few hundred worshippers gathered in the church on the site of Jesus’s birth for midnight mass, attended by Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas.
This year, celebrations were bolstered by the return of a wooden relic believed to be from Jesus’s manger.
Sent as a gift to Pope Theodore I in 640, the piece had been in Europe for more than 1,300 years before being returned last month.
– Hong Kong flashmobs –
Hong Kong’s Christmas celebrations were marred by sporadic clashes between police and pro-democracy activists as the city’s pro-Beijing leader said the festive season was being “ruined” by demonstrators.
Police used pepper spray and tear gas as activists held small flashmob protests in malls and multiple districts across the city.
Tuesday night, Paris’s Notre Dame Cathedral, ravaged by fire in April, was unable to hold its traditional Christmas Eve mass for the first time in more than 200 years, with the faithful gathering at other nearby churches instead.
After another midnight mass in France, 21 worshippers were hospitalised with carbon monoxide poisoning possibly caused by a faulty gas heater.
Emergency personnel were sent to the church in the Oise department in the north of the country after several people complained of headaches during the service.
President Muhammadu Buhari has declared that the resolution of conflict situations in African countries remains a key component in the overall development of the continent.
Speaking Wednesday during the opening session of the ongoing Aswan Forum for Sustainable Peace and Development in Africa, taking place in the Egyptian town, the President said: “As Africans, it is important to focus on the issues of conflict prevention and resolution. Conflicts have devastating effects on our societies and they militate against our progress. In this regard, the need to silence the guns cannot be overemphasized.”
President Buhari equally emphasized that massive investment in transportation infrastructure was necessary for African economic resurgence as this would facilitate the African Free Trade Area Agreement recently signed on by the continental leaders.
“Africa should embark on the provision of transport connectivity by enhancing the development of roads, rail, and air links which will ease the free movement of persons, goods and services within the continent. In this regard, we in Nigeria have already commenced an aggressive drive to upgrade our rail transport system and road networks across the country.
“We should furthermore promote free trade within and amongst Africa and Africans especially now that we have launched the African Free Trade Area Agreement,” he said.
In order to realize its Pan-African vision of an integrated, prosperous and peaceful Africa driven by its own citizens and representing a dynamic force in the global arena, President Buhari declared: “We in Nigeria have already taken the strategic decision to bring down barriers that have hindered the free movement of our people within the continent by introducing the issuance of visa at the point of entry into Nigeria to all persons holding passports of African countries with effect from January 2020.”
The Nigerian leader also stated that Africa must take its destiny in its own hands by minimizing reliance on donor funding for the execution of its vital peace, security and development agenda. According to him, “Nigeria is not the only host to our sub-regional body ECOWAS but has also been supporting substantially the ECOWAS budget up to about 60 percent.
“Nigeria has been funding by almost a 100 percent the operations of the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) fighting Boko Haram Terrorists in the Lake Chad Basin.”
President Buhari also harped on the fight against corruption and inclusive growth: “The menace of corruption undermines our efforts to achieve sustainable development and realize the goals of the AU Agenda 2063. It is also important to attach great priority to the promotion of good and inclusive governance as we equally strive to empower our women and youth.”
The President once again used the opportunity to draw global attention to the recession of the Lake Chad and its attendant economic consequences for the region.
“The issue of climate change should be given the due attention that it deserves. The effects of Climate Change are at the root of some of the conflicts in parts of the continent. This is why we must focus on the issue of the recharging of the Lake Chad which used to provide a livelihood to over forty million people in the region. It is difficult to expect durable stability in the region without restoration of the shrinking lake.
He urged African leaders to see education as a key tool for the transformation and repositioning of our continent, saying, “Africa would need to heavily invest in education and capacity building. Education creates opportunities and holds the key for a better and prosperous future of our people.”
The President added that his administration was, “ pursuing the diversification of our economy through the development of agriculture and mineral resources, the promotion of manufacturing sector and the creation of job opportunities for our teeming youths. By so doing, we will also discourage the irregular migration of our youth out of the Continent through dangerous journeys.”
Former Military Head of State, General Abdulsalami Abubakar (rtd), has called on Nigerians to play their roles in ensuring peace in the country and across the world.
He made the call on Saturday while addressing an audience at the second edition of the Second General Abdulsalami Abubakar Foundation Annual Peace Lecture organised to commemorate the International Day of Peace in Minna, the state capital.
Abdulsalami said, “A lot has been said about our role in making peace. It is my prayer that peace reigns not only in Niger State, not only in Nigeria, not only in Africa; but indeed, the world over.
“Each and every one of us here, as it has been said, has a role to play and I hope we will play that role.”
The former Head of State informed the gathering that his greatest dream and hope was to have a peaceful and united Nigeria.
He, therefore, called on the people of the country irrespective of their political and ethnic background to be tolerant of one another and urged the youths to shun violence.
Speaking as the guest lecturer at the event, the state governor, Mr Abubakar Bello, highlighted the importance of dialogue in tackling the security challenges in the country.
According to him, military intervention in the nation’s security challenges is not necessary except dialogue fails.
The governor identified population explosion and lack of clear cut grazing routes as catalysts for most of the security challenges in the country, as reflected in the clashes between farmers and herders.
He commended the Abdulsalami Institute for Peace for its efforts in promoting peace in the country and called on other eminent Nigerians to contribute their quota towards Nigeria’s development.
Governor Bello also advocated the engagement of traditional rulers, especially village and district heads in peace-building and conflict resolution process, noting that they are closer to the people.
He decried that situation where many eminent personalities, including those in active public service, have become complacent and doing nothing to proffer solution to the challenges in the country.
The governor described some politicians as bad people who promote violence and unhealthy rivalry and asked them to desist from acts capable of disrupting the peace and progress of the country.
He alluded to the Rwandan genocide and the Civil War in Nigeria as clear examples of what could happen to a nation when eminent citizens channel their efforts in the wrong direction.
Governor Bello, therefore, urged Nigerians to see good in themselves and the nation, stressing that no investor would come to a country where the citizens do not see anything good about themselves.
The European Union on Saturday condemned North Korea for the latest in a series of missile launches, saying the tests undermined international efforts to achieve peace on the peninsula.
Defence officials in Seoul said what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles were fired at daybreak from near the northeastern city of Hamhung, flying 400 kilometres (250 miles) before splashing down in the sea.
It was the fifth round of launches in two weeks, with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un labelling them a “solemn warning” over the joint US-South Korean military drills.
“With the launching of two short range ballistic missiles today, a fifth such test in recent weeks, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) continues to undermine international work for building trust and establishing lasting peace and security on the Korean Peninsula, free of nuclear weapons,” a spokesperson for the EU said in a statement.
“We expect the DPRK to refrain from any further provocations, abide by its stated commitments, and fully implement its international obligations as determined by multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions.”
The statement urged Pyongyang to take “concrete and credible” steps towards abandoning its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes and called for more talks.
Deadly violence marred the start of Afghanistan’s election season on the weekend, after President Ashraf Ghani insisted “peace is coming” to the war-torn nation.
At least 20 people were killed and 50 others wounded on Sunday in an attack targeting the Kabul office of Ghani’s running mate, Amrullah Saleh.
The violence came on the first day of campaigning for the upcoming presidential elections, serving as a grim reminder of Afghanistan’s woeful security situation and the sort of mayhem and murder that have beset previous polls.
The attack began around 4:40 pm (1210 GMT), when a huge blast struck near the office of Green Trend, a youth and reform-focused civil society organisation Saleh heads. He escaped without serious injury, his office said.
The interior ministry said the assault began when a suicide bomber detonated an explosives-packed car at the entrance to the building, then three attackers ran inside.
After about six hours the siege ended with all attackers killed and the rescue of about 150 people who had been trapped in the building, according to the interior ministry, which also provided the toll of 20 dead and 50 wounded.
No group immediately claimed responsibility.
Earlier on Sunday, a buoyant Ghani kicked off his campaign by insisting “peace is coming,” after nearly 18 years of conflict, and that pivotal talks with the Islamist extremist Taliban would take place.
He is hoping to fend off challenges from 17 other candidates to score a second term at twice-postponed presidential elections now slated for September 28.
On Saturday Ghani’s peace minister, Abdul Salam Rahimi, said direct talks would take place with the Taliban within two weeks as part of a larger, US-led push for peace.
Such a development could be crucial, as the Taliban — who now control or influence about half of Afghanistan — have so far refused to speak to Ghani’s government. They consider the Kabul administration illegitimate.
– Despondent voters – War aside, the country faces a host of major issues ahead of the election, including rocketing crime, a lacklustre economy, soaring unemployment, and crumbling infrastructure.
Voters are despondent about the prospects of a fair election. Many worry about a repeat of violent attacks on previous polling stations by the Taliban and other insurgent groups trying to undermine Afghanistan’s fragile democracy.
Ghani insisted this year’s vote would be “clean”, but distrust is rife.
Sayed Jan, a 27-year-old student, said he won’t be voting as he has lost faith since the 2014 election that was mired in allegations of fraud and ballot stuffing.
“We have been betrayed by the candidates in the past. We cannot trust them this time,” he told AFP.
“We need peace in Afghanistan instead of elections. Even if I vote, the election will be fraudulent.”
‘Opportunities for peace’
In Kabul, security forces fanned out across the city as leading candidates held rallies.
Ghani’s top rival is Abdullah Abdullah, who currently serves as the president’s chief executive under an awkward power-sharing arrangement brokered by the US after the 2014 election.
“It is our national and religious duty to take advantage of any opportunities for peace,” Abdullah told a campaign rally.
One crucial issue is that the elections happen at all: they were postponed twice this year and further delays could lead to more distrust.
Despite Ghani’s claim that a summit between his government and the Taliban would take place shortly, the insurgents said they would only talk to Kabul after the US had announced a timeline for a withdrawal of foreign forces — a major part of any deal.
“The Kabul administration will be considered a political side, just like others, and not a government,” Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen wrote in Pashto on Twitter.
Diplomatic sources have told AFP the Afghan-Taliban talks are scheduled to begin in Oslo on August 7.
US peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad said Saturday that new “intra-Afghan” negotiations would only take place after the US and Taliban had concluded their own agreements.
Washington is hoping for a political agreement with the insurgents ahead of the September presidential election.
Other presidential candidates include Ghani’s former national security advisor Hanif Atmar and former warlord Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, nicknamed the “Butcher of Kabul” for his alleged role in the killing of thousands of people in the capital in the 1990s.
According to him, the decision of the Federal Governmentto concentrate on players during tournaments would enable the nation’s football body to be innovative.
On the recent crisis that rocked NFF, the Minister explained that the problem would have escalated if he had not handled it properly.
“If I were not a simple and kind person, there would have been more trouble than you are seeing. As a Minister, NFF invited me to attend their Annual General Meeting in Lagos, and when I got to Lagos, they did not provide accommodation for me. And they provided accommodation for even friends that they brought to watch,” he said.
When asked why he was absent at the NFF elections which held in Katsina State in September last year, the Minister blamed his absence on an existing judgment of the Supreme Court.
Being a lawyer himself, he vowed not to disobey the court judgment.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, is asking Nigerians to support the Federal Government in ensuring peace in the nation.
Mustapha made this call on Saturday during a breakfast meeting with businessmen in Abuja, the nation’s capital.
“The citizens have a major role to play in securing peace in this nation. Government alone cannot shoulder the responsibility,” he said.
The SGF alleged that some politicians desperate to win elections were arming groups ahead of the 2019 general elections.
Despite that, the SGF explained that the current administration has done well to improve the electoral process.
“Things are changing with the improvement in the electoral processes. But in the past, early in the morning, somebody will just come out with one rifle and shoot a gun in the air (so) everybody takes cover and then he packs all the electoral materials. There are constituencies where you never voted. It is a collective responsibility,” he added.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met Pope Francis on Monday while police enforced a protest ban in central Rome as feelings run high over Turkey’s offensive against Kurdish militia inside Syria.
During the 50-minute audience, Pope Francis gave Erdogan a medallion embossed with an angel strangling a “demon of war” — a symbol of peace and justice.
For the first visit by a Turkish leader for 59 years, the Italian authorities have imposed a 24-hour ban on demonstrations which covers Erdogan’s arrival from late Sunday to his departure on Monday evening.
Erdogan’s convoy arrived at a deserted Saint Peter’s Square, which was under heavy security as a total of 3,500 police have been deployed for the visit.
Nevertheless a small sit-in protest by some 30 people, organised by a Kurdish association in Italy, took place on Monday not far from the Vatican.
Turkey on January 20 launched its “Olive Branch” operation against Syrian Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia which Ankara sees as a terror group and a threat to Turkish territory.
The Turkish army and allied Ankara-backed Syrian rebel forces are seeking to oust the YPG from its western border stronghold of Afrin but the operation has faced fierce resistance.
“In Afrin, a new crime against humanity is under way,” the Kurdish association said.
‘Angel of peace’
The fighters and civilians killed in the Turkish assault on the region included female combatant Barin Kobani whose mutilated body appeared in a shocking video, prompting accusations by her family and Kurdish officials that she was “defiled” by Turkish-backed rebels.
The YPG, while considered a “terrorist” group by Ankara, is allied to the United States in its battle against Islamic State group jihadists.
The pope, who has railed against the horrors of war and weapons of mass destruction, gave Erdogan the gift of a medallion with “an angel of peace strangling the demon of war”.
“It’s a symbol of a world based on peace and justice,” the pontiff said, according to two journalists present during the meeting.
Erdogan for his part was expected to thank the pope for opposing the decision by US President Donald Trump to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“We are both in favour of the status quo and we have the will to protect it,” Erdogan said in an interview published Sunday.
Armenian ‘genocide’ spat
Erdogan’s flying visit to Italy was also set to include a meeting with his Italian counterpart Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni, with illegal immigration, defence and EU membership likely on the agenda.
Pope Francis, a strong proponent of inter-faith dialogue, visited Turkey in November 2014, holding talks with Erdogan, a devout Muslim.
While in Istanbul the pope acknowledged that current global crises had made Muslims vulnerable to being stigmatised.
Francis denounced those who said “all Muslims are terrorists”.
Relations were not so cordial in June 2016 when the pope, during a visit to Armenia, referred to the 1915-17 mass killings of Armenians by Ottoman forces as “genocide”.
The Vatican was then forced to refute claims from Turkey that Pope Francis had showed a “mentality of the Crusades” over his use of the term.
Turkey — the Ottoman Empire’s successor state — argues that it was a collective tragedy in which both Turks and Armenians died.
On Sunday, Erdogan also insisted in a newspaper interview that Turkey wants “full membership of Europe” and did not rule out joint Italian-Turkish action in Libya.