Syrian rebels take third border crossing to Turkey

Syrian rebels seized control of a third border crossing with Turkey on Wednesday after battling with forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, consolidating their grip on a border zone that until now had remained under Assad’s control.

On the diplomatic front, Iranian’s Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi, whose country is Assad’s main Middle East ally, arrived in Damascus to consult with the Syrian leader about proposals by regional powers to resolve the 17-month Syrian crisis.

Salehi’s talks followed a meeting in Cairo on Monday of the “Contact Group”, grouping Iran, Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia. Salehi said before leaving Cairo that the four states had a “great role” to play and could table a proposal that might produce a satisfactory result but that it needed more talks.

In the Syrian capital Damascus, rebels said they had started to retreat from southern districts early on Wednesday after weeks of heavy bombardment and government air strikes.

The neighborhoods of Hajar Al-Aswad, Al-Asali and Al-Qadam lie on the southern edge of what is considered Damascus proper and a withdrawal will be seen as a large setback after rebel gains in the capital three months ago.

The revolt, which began as peaceful street protests cracked down on by Assad’s military, has escalated into a civil war in which more than 27,000 people have died. Daily death tolls now approach 200 and the last month was the bloodiest yet.

London-based Amnesty International said in a report on Wednesday that civilians, including many children, are the main victims of indiscriminate Syrian army bombing and shelling of areas abandoned to opposition forces.

The international human rights group said attacks near hospitals and on bread queues appeared to be deliberately targeted at civilians, and thus constituted war crimes.


Jonathan celebrates sallah with Muslims; sues for peace

President Goodluck Jonathan on Sunday identified peace and unity as the only panacea to the progress and development of the country.

The president disclosed this while speaking to Muslims who were led by Vice President Namadi Sambo to his residence in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) to pay him the traditional Sallah homage after the Ramadan fast.

President Jonathan described the challenges the country is facing as a passing phase and called on both the Muslims and Christians to continue to pray to God to see them through.

He promised to build on the foundation laid by the founding fathers of the nation and pledged to work hard with the vice president and the cabinet to ensure that the transformation agenda of the administration is achieved.

“Like people would say, that to get a fine gold, it must pass through an oven, what we are passing through now is a price we must collectively pay,” President Jonathan said.

Mr Sambo just back from Saudi Arabia told the president that it was all about prayers for the peace and progress of Nigeria here and elsewhere.

“We have prayed for peace in Nigeria, we prayed for the development of this country, we prayed for the good health to Mr President, for the wisdom and for Almighty Allah to continue to grant you the good health, strength and wisdom to transform Nigeria into one of the most developed countries in this world,” the vice president said.

Some of the special guests include the Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Bamanga Tukur and the minister of the FCT, Bala Mohammed.

Sultan declares Sunday as Eid-el-Fitri day

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar has declared tomorrow Sunday as Eid el Fitr day to mark the end of the month-long Ramadan fast.

This, according to the Sultan who is also the president-general of the Nigerian National Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, followed the non-sighting of the month of Shawwal in Nigeria.

Speaking yesterday through chairman Advisory Council on Religious Affairs to the Sultanate, Professor Sambo Junaid, in Sokoto, the Sultan urged Muslims to carry on with fasting today.

Muslims in the country have earlier been asked to look out for the Shawwal moon yesterday.

In a related development, Saudi Arabia also declared Sunday as the 1st of Shawwal. “Due to the lack of evidence of sighting the new moon this evening of Friday the 29th of Ramadan of this year 1433 H corresponding to 17/8/2012, the Supreme Court decides that Saturday corresponding to 18/8/2012 is the complementary day of Ramadan 1433 H. and that Sunday corresponding to 1/10/1433 H. according to Ummal Qura calendar which falls on the 19th of August 2012 is the first day of Eid Al-Fitr which falls on the first day of Shawwal 1433 H,” a statement by the Saudi Royal Court read yesterday.


Court to decide Ndume’s application to travel for Hajj on Tuesday

A Federal High Court in Abuja has fixed Tuesday, 24 July to decide whether or not to grant Ali Ndume leave to travel to Saudi Arabia for lesser Hajj.

The serving senator who is facing trial for allegedly sponsoring the activities of Boko Haram had applied to the court to have his international passport released to him.

Coming some months after his bid to travel to Addis Ababa-Ethiopia for a Millenium Developmrnt Goal (MDG) conference was quashed by immigration officials. He again appeared before Justice Gabriel Kolawole seeking to have his traveling documents released to him in order to perform the lesser Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

Counsel to the embattled senator, Segun Jolaawo, who held the brief of Ricky Tarfa,
argued that his client’s application will not be prejudice to the case while assuring that he will come back for his trial as soon as he returns

He however asked the court to take judicial notice of the fact that his client had returned his travelling document as soon as he was disallowed from going to Addis Ababa for the MDG conference.

Mr Jolaawo also reminded the court that the senator has not in any way flouted the condition of his bail and as such his motion on notice should be put into consideration.

But the prosecution, led by Sunday Mordi, who stood in for the Director of Public Prosecutor Olufumilayo Fatunde, opposed the application vehemently on grounds that it will jeopardize the ongoing trial of the senator.

Having listened to both sides Justice Kolawole adjourned the case to July 24 to rule on the motion.



London Olympics: Saudi Female Athletes to compete

Much against its earlier stand of not sending female athletes to the Olympics taking place in London this year, the kingdom has decided to send its female athletes for the first time which will have a judoka,800m runner later this month and this information has been confirmed by the International Olympic Committee.

Wodjan Ali Seraj Abdulrahim Shahrkhani one of the females to represent Saudi Arabia will be competing in the +78kg category in judo.

Sarah Attar on the other hand will be glad to be the first ever woman to represent Saudi Arabia in a game of this nature after talks between the Kingdom and the IOC yielded positive result.

According to Sarah, the news is an appreciable one and she couldn’t hide her delight and so is the IOC as the body said it can’t wait to welcome these girls to London.

Saudi Arabia Olympic Committee made the decision to allow the females compete in London and it means the country will have male and female representatives in a game that will commence in a few weeks time.

In 1996 precisely the Atlanta Games, 26 nations failed to send female athletes with the figure gradually going down to just three at the 2008 Beijing Games.

Female participation in sports has long been a controversial issue in Saudi Arabia, where powerful clerics denounce women for exercising, saying it goes against their nature.

Attar, 17, said she was honored by the prospect of competing for her country at London 2012.

The conservative Muslim kingdom is one of the three countries, alongside Brunei and Qatar, never to have sent female athletes but the latter two confirmed earlier this year that their delegation would include women.

Brunei has entered Maziah Mahusin (athletics), while Qatar has entered Nada Arkaji (swimming), Noor Al-Malki (athletics), Aya Magdy (table tennis) and Bahiya Al-Hamad (shooting), who will also be her country’s flag bearer at the opening ceremony.

The IOC said the two Saudi athletes, invited by the IOC, were entered by the Saudi Arabian Olympic Committee by the official deadline of 9 July.

Sultan of Sokoto on Hajj Terminals

Sultan of Sokoto, Dr. Sa'ad Abubakar

The Sultan of Sokoto, his Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar the third, has appealed to the Federal Government to upgrade facilities at all Hajj terminals across the country.

According to reports, the Sultan made the appeal in Kaduna while commissioning the renovated Hajj terminal at the Kaduna Airport. The Sultan said upgrading Hajj terminals will ease the problems faced by Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

Earlier this month, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) confirmed the deaths of 44 Nigerian pilgrims during the hajj.

It is unclear what the cause of deaths for these Nigerians had been, reports said.

The Sultan added that the FG’s plan to upgrade facilities in 11 terminals nationwide is a commendable development that will facilitate the movement of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.