Territory

U.S. President Trump welcomes Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu at the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures next to Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a ceremony to sign a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in the Diplomatic Reception Room at the White House in Washington, U.S., March 25, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 25, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump signed a decree on Monday at the start of a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the United States recognizes Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The decree formalized Trump’s statement on March 21 saying it was time for the United States “to fully recognize” Israeli sovereignty over the Golan. The move appeared to give Netanyahu a boost ahead of the closely contested April 9 Israeli elections.

(Reporting by Jeff Mason; Writing by David Alexander; Editing by Tim Ahmann)

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FILE PHOTO: Islamic state militant and women walk as they surrendered in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
FILE PHOTO: Islamic state militant and women walk as they surrendered in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah/File Photo

March 25, 2019

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The Kurdish-led administration that runs much of northern Syria called on Monday for an international tribunal to be set up in their region to try the thousands of suspected Islamic State members they are detaining.

The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces on Saturday proclaimed the capture of Islamic State’s last territory in Syria, but no clear international policy has emerged yet about how to deal with the militants it captured there and at other strongholds of the group.

“We call upon the international community to establish a special international tribunal to prosecute Islamic State terrorists in northern and eastern Syria,” the statement said.

Thousands of suspected Islamic State members and fighters from Syria, Iraq and other countries are now in the of custody by the U.S.-backed group.

Its statement argued that the jurisdiction of the courts should be where the criminal act happened and where the offenders were captured in order for there to be a fair trial in line with international law and human rights conventions.

The Kurdish-led administration said it had appealed to the international community to take responsibility for the detainees, especially for nations to take back their own citizens.

“Unfortunately, there was no response or initiatives in this respect,” the statement said.

The people who left the final enclave at Baghouz, near the Iraq border, have been sent to camps in northeast Syria. One of those, al-Hol, was already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis and camp officials have said they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading disease, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

Many foreign governments see the detained suspected militants as a security threat and have been loath to accede to SDF entreaties to repatriate them.

(Writing by Lisa Barrington, Editing by William Maclean)

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FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard depicting U.S. President Trump shaking hands with Israeli PM Netanyahu, in Jerusalem
FILE PHOTO: A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard, depicting U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Steve Holland

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump was set to give Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a boost for his re-election campaign on Monday as Netanyahu’s chief political opponent sought to position himself as a better alternative to lead Israel.

During a White House visit by Netanyahu, Trump was expected to sign a proclamation officially granting U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as Israeli territory. Israel seized the strategic land from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The recognition, which Trump had announced in a tweet last Thursday, appeared to be the most overt gesture by the Republican president to help Netanyahu, who had been pressing Trump for the move.

The Israeli prime minister, who faces an election on April 9, on Monday cut short his U.S. visit after a rocket fired from Gaza injured seven people near Tel Aviv. He arrived in Washington on Sunday, originally for a four-day visit.

The attack in central Israel came as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a pro-Israel group, held its annual meeting in Washington with speaker after speaker expressing U.S. support for strong ties with Israel.

“We stand with Israel because her cause is our cause, her values are our values, and her fight is our fight,” Vice President Mike Pence said on Monday.

Pence also talked tough against Iran, saying that under Trump, “America will never allow Iran to obtain a nuclear weapon.”

Netanyahu’s strongest election challenger, Benny Gantz, appeared before the gathering on Monday, and vowed to protect Israel against threats from Iran and Syria. He called for unity in Israel.

“We must remember if that we want hope, we must have unity,” he said.

With election day approaching, opinion polls put Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud and Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck and neck.

(Reporting by Steve Holland; editing by Jonathan Oatis)

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights was manna from heaven for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before an election.

For many Arabs, it crushed any hope that there will one day be a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and increased doubts that Washington is an impartial arbiter.

But allies and enemies can agree on one thing: Trump’s statement last Thursday was a turning point in U.S. policy over territory Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981, in a move the U.N. Security Council declared unlawful.

“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel when Trump made his announcement on Twitter, told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview.

Netanyahu, who has thanked Trump for the announcement, is seeking re-election on April 9 but faces a tough battle and possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.

He was due to meet Trump on Monday on a trip highlighting what Netanyahu calls the strongest ever bond between an Israeli leader and a U.S. president, though Trump has said his decision on the Golan Heights was not connected with the election.

But Trump’s decision, following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, could tempt other powers to annex land, undermine the roll-out of a U.S. Middle East peace plan and tilt Israel back into conflict with its Arab neighbors, Middle East analysts say.

“Donald Trump has made sure that Israel will be in a perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors for many decades to come,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of the book Making the Arab World.

“What Trump has done is to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of the peace process and Arab-Israeli reconciliation. This is a fundamental turning point. There is nothing left to discuss anymore.”

RESHAPING THE MIDDLE EAST

Trump’s move is, according to many analysts, partly intended to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, by targeting the vast pool of U.S. evangelical Christians. Many of them voted for his in 2016 and they are championed in his administration by Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and others.

The announcement on the Golan Heights was the latest in a flurry of decisions that are widely seen as intended to redraw the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Most have ticked the wish-list of Israel’s right-wing government and met longstanding demands of its U.S. supporters, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital. The Arab east of the city was occupied by Israel and then annexed after 1967 in a move that is legally repudiated internationally.

White House officials say the decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights acknowledge the reality on the ground, which they say must be the basis for legitimate peace negotiations.

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said it was inconceivable Israel “would allow the Golan to be controlled by the state of Syria or by any of the rogue actors operating in the areas, including Iran.”

But with Sunni Arab leaders dealing with crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Qatar, and their standoff with non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, they are less focused on Israel.

 

ARABS IN DISARRAY

Trump’s aides have indicated privately that they believe his moves on Jerusalem have provoked a less severe reaction in the Arab world than experts had predicted, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

In particular, they did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf allies over their common enemy Iran, the person said.

Aides’ advice to Trump on recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was that Washington could again weather the storm, the same person said.

Support for the move in the Trump administration had gained momentum over the past year as Israel increasingly expressed concern about Iranian forces and their proxies taking up positions in southwestern Syria, the official said.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of the administration’s leading Iran hawks, was an important proponent of the policy shift, the official said.

But skeptics say the move will also give Iran and its local ally Hezbollah what they would see as justification for new attacks on Israel and hamstring anti-Iranian Arab leaders if they are seen to accept the U.S. move.

The Trump administration has identified Iran as its main target in the Middle East, and withdrew from the deal signed by Tehran, the United States and other world powers in 2015 on curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

MORE TO COME

But after the moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Iran and Hezbollah may feel better able to present themselves as the only steadfast allies of the Palestinian cause.

They could also play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping him in his portrayals of Israel and the United States as enemies.

“This will give further power to the Iran axis of resistance between Iran-Hezbollah-Assad against Israel and the U.S.,” said Galip Dalay, visiting fellow at Oxford University and a fellow at Brookings Doha. “This axis has just been given a very strong symbolic victory and this will give them the high ground.”

He said Arab leaders could not publicly support Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights because it would threaten their popularity, in some cases already low.

“From the Arab standpoint, this makes them more hesitant to be supportive because the political space they need to maneuver has been eroded,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East negotiator. “Each move by this administration has put Arab states on the defensive.”

Ross also suggested that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could embolden the Israeli right-wing to step up its push for annexing settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“I worry that the right in Israel can say ‘they recognized this. It will be a matter of time before we can annex all or part of the West Bank’,” he said. “That would be the end of the two-state solution.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the border line between Israel and Syria at the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights March 11, 2019 REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun/File Photo

March 25, 2019

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump’s call for recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights was manna from heaven for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks before an election.

For many Arabs, it crushed any hope that there will one day be a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians and increased doubts that Washington is an impartial arbiter.

But allies and enemies can agree on one thing: Trump’s statement last Thursday was a turning point in U.S. policy over territory Israel captured from Syria in a 1967 war and annexed in 1981, in a move the U.N. Security Council declared unlawful.

“I am confident that the Lord is at work here,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who was in Israel when Trump made his announcement on Twitter, told the Christian Broadcasting Network in an interview.

Netanyahu, who has thanked Trump for the announcement, is seeking re-election on April 9 but faces a tough battle and possible indictment in three corruption cases in which he denies wrongdoing.

He was due to meet Trump on Monday on a trip highlighting what Netanyahu calls the strongest ever bond between an Israeli leader and a U.S. president, though Trump has said his decision on the Golan Heights was not connected with the election.

But Trump’s decision, following U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December 2017, could tempt other powers to annex land, undermine the roll-out of a U.S. Middle East peace plan and tilt Israel back into conflict with its Arab neighbors, Middle East analysts say.

“Donald Trump has made sure that Israel will be in a perpetual state of war with its Arab neighbors for many decades to come,” said Fawaz Gerges, professor of international relations at the London School of Economics and author of the book Making the Arab World.

“What Trump has done is to hammer a deadly nail in the coffin of the peace process and Arab-Israeli reconciliation. This is a fundamental turning point. There is nothing left to discuss anymore.”

RESHAPING THE MIDDLE EAST

Trump’s move is, according to many analysts, partly intended to boost his own chances of re-election in 2020, by targeting the vast pool of U.S. evangelical Christians. Many of them voted for his in 2016 and they are championed in his administration by Pompeo, Vice President Mike Pence and others.

The announcement on the Golan Heights was the latest in a flurry of decisions that are widely seen as intended to redraw the contours of the Israeli-Arab conflict.

Most have ticked the wish-list of Israel’s right-wing government and met longstanding demands of its U.S. supporters, including U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as the capital. The Arab east of the city was occupied by Israel and then annexed after 1967 in a move that is legally repudiated internationally.

White House officials say the decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights acknowledge the reality on the ground, which they say must be the basis for legitimate peace negotiations.

Trump’s Middle East envoy, Jason Greenblatt, said it was inconceivable Israel “would allow the Golan to be controlled by the state of Syria or by any of the rogue actors operating in the areas, including Iran.”

But with Sunni Arab leaders dealing with crises in Yemen, Syria, Libya, Algeria, Sudan and Qatar, and their standoff with non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, they are less focused on Israel.

 

ARABS IN DISARRAY

Trump’s aides have indicated privately that they believe his moves on Jerusalem have provoked a less severe reaction in the Arab world than experts had predicted, a person familiar with the matter said on condition of anonymity.

In particular, they did not appear to have blocked behind-the-scenes security contacts developed in recent years between Israel and the United States’ Gulf allies over their common enemy Iran, the person said.

Aides’ advice to Trump on recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights was that Washington could again weather the storm, the same person said.

Support for the move in the Trump administration had gained momentum over the past year as Israel increasingly expressed concern about Iranian forces and their proxies taking up positions in southwestern Syria, the official said.

John Bolton, Trump’s national security adviser and one of the administration’s leading Iran hawks, was an important proponent of the policy shift, the official said.

But skeptics say the move will also give Iran and its local ally Hezbollah what they would see as justification for new attacks on Israel and hamstring anti-Iranian Arab leaders if they are seen to accept the U.S. move.

The Trump administration has identified Iran as its main target in the Middle East, and withdrew from the deal signed by Tehran, the United States and other world powers in 2015 on curbing Iran’s nuclear program.

MORE TO COME

But after the moves on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, Iran and Hezbollah may feel better able to present themselves as the only steadfast allies of the Palestinian cause.

They could also play into the hands of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad by helping him in his portrayals of Israel and the United States as enemies.

“This will give further power to the Iran axis of resistance between Iran-Hezbollah-Assad against Israel and the U.S.,” said Galip Dalay, visiting fellow at Oxford University and a fellow at Brookings Doha. “This axis has just been given a very strong symbolic victory and this will give them the high ground.”

He said Arab leaders could not publicly support Trump’s decisions on Jerusalem and the Golan Heights because it would threaten their popularity, in some cases already low.

“From the Arab standpoint, this makes them more hesitant to be supportive because the political space they need to maneuver has been eroded,” said Dennis Ross, a veteran Middle East negotiator. “Each move by this administration has put Arab states on the defensive.”

Ross also suggested that U.S. recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights could embolden the Israeli right-wing to step up its push for annexing settlements in the occupied Palestinian West Bank.

“I worry that the right in Israel can say ‘they recognized this. It will be a matter of time before we can annex all or part of the West Bank’,” he said. “That would be the end of the two-state solution.”

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Editing by Timothy Heritage)

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FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A340-300 of Iranian airline Mahan Air taxis at Duesseldorf airport
FILE PHOTO: An Airbus A340-300 of Iranian airline Mahan Air taxis at Duesseldorf airport DUS, Germany January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

March 25, 2019

PARIS (Reuters) – France has revoked the license of Iranian airline Mahan Air from April 1 on its activities outside of Europe, three French officials said on Monday.

The decision, which follows a similar German move in January, was made on the grounds of the airline transporting military equipment and personnel to Syria and other Middle East war zones, two diplomatic sources said.

“Mahan Air can no longer serve French territory as of April 1,” a French Foreign Ministry official said.

(Reporting by John Irish; Editing by Sudip Kar-Gupta)

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Israeli policemen and soldiers inspect a damaged house that was hit by a rocket north of Tel Aviv Israel
Israeli policemen and soldiers inspect a damaged house that was hit by a rocket north of Tel Aviv Israel March 25, 2019. REUTERS/ Ammar Awad

March 25, 2019

By Tova Cohen

MISHMERET, Israel (Reuters) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday he will cut short his trip to the United States after a rocket attack near Tel Aviv wounded seven people.

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said the projectile was fired from Gaza, an enclave controlled by the militant Hamas group, and Netanyahu said Israel would respond forcefully.

Netanyahu, who arrived in Washington on Sunday for a four-day visit ahead of an April 9 Israeli election, said he would fly home immediately after meeting President Donald Trump at the White House, as planned, later on Monday.

The early morning attack on Mishmeret, an agricultural town north of Tel Aviv, came at a time of high tension ahead of the anniversary of Gaza border protests at the weekend, and Trump’s expression of support for Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights.

“In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the U.S.,” Netanyahu said, calling the rocket fire a “heinous attack”.

In Mishmeret one house was completely destroyed, and at least one other house and cars were left badly damaged.

Israel’s Magen David Adom ambulance service said it was treating seven people, including an infant, a 3-year-old boy, a 12-year-old girl and a 60-year-old woman who was suffering from blast injuries, burns and shrapnel wounds.

The strike came minutes after the Israeli military activated air raid sirens in the area and said one rocket had been launched out of the Gaza Strip, a coastal territory 50 miles (80 km) away where Hamas and other factions possess such weapons.

Smadar Castelnovo, a Mishmeret resident who lives opposite the destroyed house, said they were woken up shortly after 5 a.m.

“We heard the siren and we didn’t think it was anything, but my daughter made us go into the reinforced room,” said Castelnovo, still in her pajamas.

“My daughter was upset because we had left the dog out. We went out to get the dog and as soon as we went back in there was a very loud boom.”

Police sealed off streets, and emergency services were working at the scene, as Israeli politicians visited to talk to media crews.

GAZA BRACING

There was no immediate claim of responsibility from Gaza, where Palestinians were preparing for Israeli retaliation.

Israel told Palestinian officials it was closing all Gaza crossings as well as access to the sea from the blockaded territory.

Yahya Sinwar, the head of the Islamist militant group Hamas in the coastal enclave, canceled a planned public meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon, with Hamas officials citing “developments.”

Netanyahu said his decision to return to Israel was made after he consulted with Israeli military and intelligence chiefs. He had been due to address AIPAC, the largest U.S. pro-Israel lobby, on Tuesday.

But early on Monday he said: “In a few hours, I will meet President Trump and immediately after that I will return to Israel to direct our actions close-hand.”

His chief rival in next month’s election, centrist ex-general Benny Gantz, issued a statement accusing the rightist premier of having “bankrupted national security” by permitting such attacks. Gantz, who is also in Washington to address AIPAC, had urged Netanyahu to return home.

Tel Aviv, Israel’s commercial capital, and outlying communities had last come under a long-range rocket attack that caused casualties during the 2014 war with Hamas.

Two rockets were launched at Tel Aviv on March 14 but caused no injuries or damage. Israel blamed those rocket launches on Hamas, though a security official later said the salvo had been set off by accident.

The latest attack follows disturbances involving Palestinian prisoners in southern Israel. Palestinian officials said 20 prisoners in Israel’s jail in the Negev were injured during violence inside the prison in the wake of “humiliating searches” by prison guards. Israeli officials said two guards were stabbed and wounded.

(Additional reporting by Stephen Farrell and Dan Williams in Jerusalem and Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Editing by Jeffrey Heller)

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The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class maritime security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam
The U.S. Coast Guard Legend-class maritime security cutter USCGC Bertholf (WMSL 750) pulls into Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawii, U.S. to support the Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012 exercise in this June 29, 2012 handout photo. Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Jon Dasbach/U.S. Navy/Handout via REUTERS

March 25, 2019

By Idrees Ali

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The United States sent Navy and Coast Guard ships through the Taiwan Strait on Sunday, the military said, as the United States increases the frequency of movement through the strategic waterway despite opposition from China.

The voyage risks further raising tensions with China but will likely be viewed by self-ruled Taiwan as a sign of support from Washington amid growing friction between Taipei and Beijing.

The two ships were identified as the Navy Curtis Wilbur destroyer and the Coast Guard Bertholf cutter, a U.S. military statement said.

“The ships’ transit through the Taiwan Strait demonstrates the U.S. commitment to a free and open Indo-Pacific,” the statement said.

“The U.S. will continue to fly, sail and operate anywhere international law allows,” it added.

Taiwan is one of a growing number of flashpoints in the U.S.-China relationship, which also include a trade war, U.S. sanctions and China’s increasingly muscular military posture in the South China Sea, where the United States also conducts freedom of navigation patrols.

Washington has no formal ties with Taiwan but is bound by law to help defend the island nation and is its main source of arms. The Pentagon says Washington has sold Taiwan more than $15 billion in weaponry since 2010.

China has been ramping up pressure to assert its sovereignty over the island, which it considers a wayward province of “one China” and sacred Chinese territory.

China has repeatedly sent military aircraft and ships to circle the island on drills in the past few years and worked to isolate the island internationally, whittling down its few remaining diplomatic allies.

The U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency released a report earlier this year describing Taiwan as the “primary driver” for China’s military modernization, which it said had made major advances in recent years.

U.S. President Donald Trump has said trade negotiations with China were progressing and a final agreement “will probably happen,” adding that his call for tariffs to remain on Chinese imported goods for some time did not mean talks were in trouble.

(Reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by Sandra Maler)

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Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan gestures as he addresses AK Party and Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) supporters during a rally for the upcoming local elections, in Istanbul, Turkey March 24, 2019. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

March 24, 2019

ISTANBUL (Reuters) – Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday that Turkey will take the issue of the Golan Heights to the United Nations.

In an interview with broadcaster TGRT Haber, Erdogan said U.S. President Donald Trump’s statement on Golan Heights was a “gift” to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of elections there.

Trump moved on Thursday to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the territory seized in war, marking a dramatic shift in U.S. policy.

In a speech at a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation on Friday, Erdogan said the legitimization of the occupation of the Golan Heights cannot be allowed.

(Reporting by Ali Kucukgocmen; Editing by Kirsten Donovan)

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FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

March 24, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump will on Monday sign a decree recognizing Israeli sovereignty on the Golan Heights while hosting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House, Israel’s acting foreign minister said.

A senior U.S. official said last week that the Trump administration was preparing an official document to codify support for Israel’s annexation of the strategic plateau that it seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

“Tomorrow, President Trump, in the presence of PM Netanyahu, will sign a decree recognizing Israel’s sovereignty on the Golan. Israel-U.S. ties are closer than ever,” Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz tweeted on Sunday.

The United Nations considers the Israeli-held Golan to be occupied territory.

(Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Alison Williams)

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades in Jerusalem March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool

March 24, 2019

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – With Israel’s election just two weeks away, Benjamin Netanyahu will get to showcase his close ties with Donald Trump in a U.S. visit just days after the president backed Israel’s hold over the occupied Golan Heights.

The prime minister’s White House meeting with Trump on Monday could be overshadowed in the United States by the expected release of a confidential report into a probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. election.

But Netanyahu, facing possible indictment in three corruption cases and denying any wrongdoing, will play to a domestic audience in highlighting what he hails as the strongest bond ever between an Israeli leader and an American president.

Before returning on Thursday from the long-planned trip to the home stretch of a close race, Netanyahu can expect a warm reception from Trump, who along with the First Lady, will also host a dinner for Netanyahu and his wife, Sara.

Trump helped set the scene for his ally on Thursday, announcing the time had come to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, strategic territory that Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war.

The president’s move was widely seen in Israel – where Trump is a popular figure – as an attempt to provide an election boost to the right-wing Netanyahu, who had pressed for yet another departure from long-standing U.S. policy in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

Trump had already fulfilled two major items on Netanyahu’s wish list, recognizing contested Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017 and moving the American embassy to the holy city from Tel Aviv last May.

Those steps angered Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem, also captured by Israel in 1967, as the capital of a state in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. It also set them firmly against a peace plan Washington says it will present after the Israeli ballot.

“We have never had such a bond between the prime minister of Israel and an American president,” Netanyahu, who has featured Trump on his campaign billboards, told reporters upon his departure from Tel Aviv.

For Trump, Netanyahu’s embrace resonates with U.S. evangelists, a core constituency for the Republican leader who is up for re-election in 2020.

CLOSE RACE

Before arriving in Washington on Sunday, Netanyahu said he would speak to Trump “about his historic declaration” on the Golan and “continued pressure on Iran” following the U.S. withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Tehran that had relaxed sanctions on Israel’s arch-foe.

Netanyahu will also address the pro-Israel lobbying group, AIPAC, at its annual convention in Washington, as will his main challenger in the election, former military chief Benny Gantz who heads a centrist party.

The prime minister said he will meet leaders of Congress during the visit. Netanyahu’s relations with Democrats have been strained by his unflinching support for Trump, friction with the Democratic party’s progressive wing and his thorny relationship with Barack Obama.

Opinions polls show Netanyahu running neck and neck with Gantz. The political newcomer has called for clean governance, building on the attorney-general’s announcement in February that he intends to indict Netanyahu on bribery and fraud charges, pending a hearing after the April 9 vote.

“(Trump’s statement about the Golan) will really help Netanyahu,” said Billha Ketter, 67, an event planner, speaking to Reuters in Rosh Pina, which abuts the Golan Heights. She accused the president of intervening in Israel’s election.

Opinion polls gauging whether Trump’s move is having an effect are expected later in the week.

(Additional reporting by Rami Ayyub in Rosh Pina, Israel; Editing by Maayan Lubell/Keith Weir)

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Druze people take part in a rally over U.S. President Donald Trump's support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights
Druze people take part in a rally over U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, in Majdal Shams near the ceasefire line between Israel and Syria in the Israeli occupied Golan Heights March 23, 2019 REUTERS/Ammar Awad

March 23, 2019

MAJDAL SHAMS, Golan Heights (Reuters) – Dozens of Druze Arabs, some carrying Syrian flags and pictures of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, gathered on the Golan Heights on Saturday to protest U.S. President Donald Trump’s support for Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

The mountainous plateau was part of Syria until Israel captured it in the 1967 Middle East war, annexing it in 1981 in a move not recognized internationally.

Israel regards the Golan as a strategic asset because its peaks overlook northern Israeli towns and southwest Syria, where battles from an eight-year civil war have raged in view.

Some 22,000 Druze, an Arab minority who practice an offshoot of Islam, live in the Israeli-occupied Golan, and many still have relatives on the Syrian side of the fortified boundary.

“This land has sovereignty and its sovereignty is the Syrian Arab Republic,” said local resident Rafiq Ibrahim, dressed in traditional Druze black garb, in the town of Majdal Shams.

Trump on Thursday said it was time to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, marking a major shift in U.S. policy. Syria pledged to take back the territory and there was widespread international criticism of the U.S. move.

(Reporting by Avi Ohayon; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)

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Iraq's Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attends the opening of Baghdad International Fair in Baghdad
Iraq’s Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi attends the opening of Baghdad International Fair in Baghdad, Iraq, November 10, 2018. REUTERS/Thaier al-Sudani

March 23, 2019

CAIRO (Reuters) – Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi sought Egypt’s support for efforts to tackle Islamist militants in the region during a visit to Cairo on Saturday, his first trip abroad since taking office in October.

After meeting Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Abdul Mahdi highlighted “the importance of drying up the sources of terrorism” and said “cooperation between Egypt and Iraq will be essential for this matter,” according to an official statement.

His comments came as U.S.-backed forces said they had captured Islamic State’s last shred of territory in eastern Syria at Baghouz, ending its territorial rule over a self-proclaimed caliphate straddling Syria and Iraq after years of fighting.

Though the defeat ends the group’s grip over the jihadist quasi-state that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.

Some Islamic State fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.

The United States thinks the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq.

Defeating militants in Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and restoring security after years of unrest has been a key promise of Sisi, the general-turned-president who came to power a year after the military overthrew Islamist President Mohammed Mursi in 2013.

Egypt has fought an insurgency waged by an Islamic State affiliate in North Sinai since 2013. Hundreds of members of the security forces have been killed.

(Writing by Amina Ismail; Editing by Helen Popper)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Fighters from SDF stand together in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
FILE PHOTO: Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand together in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 20, 2019. Picture taken March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said/File Photo

March 23, 2019

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Islamic State has been defeated at its final shred of territory of Baghouz in Syria, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Saturday, announcing the end of its self-declared “caliphate” that once spanned a third of Iraq and Syria.

The SDF declared the “total elimination of (the) so-called caliphate”, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, wrote on Twitter.

“Baghouz has been liberated. The military victory against Daesh has been accomplished,” he wrote.

The SDF has been battling to capture Baghouz at the Iraqi border for weeks.

Daesh is an Arabic acronym for Islamic State. “We renew our pledge to continue the war and to pursue their remnants until their complete elimination,” he wrote.

Though the defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz ends the group’s grip over the jihadist quasi-state straddling Syria and Iraq that it declared in 2014, it remains a threat.

Some of its fighters still hold out in Syria’s remote central desert and in Iraqi cities they have slipped into the shadows, staging sudden shootings or kidnappings and awaiting a chance to rise again.

The United States believes the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, is in Iraq. He stood at the pulpit of the great medieval mosque in Mosul in 2014 to declare himself caliph, sovereign over all Muslims.

(Writing by Tom Perry/Angus McDowall; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz talks with journalists outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan
FILE PHOTO: Mayor of San Juan Carmen Yulin Cruz talks with journalists outside the government center at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum days after Hurricane Maria, in San Juan, Puerto Rico Sept. 30, 2017. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

March 22, 2019

(Reuters) – Carmen Yulin Cruz, the mayor of Puerto Rico’s capital San Juan and a fierce adversary of President Donald Trump, said on Friday she was running for governor of the U.S. territory in 2020.

Cruz gained international attention in 2017 when she sparred with Trump over the speed and scale of the federal response to Hurricane Maria, which devastated her Caribbean island.

“The day after the hurricane, it was clear that President Trump and his Republican government were going to leave us to die,” Cruz, 56, said in her announcement speech, wearing a T-shirt reading “Without Fear.” “The governor of Puerto Rico and the resident commissioner put their political interests in front of the country’s needs and kept quiet.”

Cruz will face Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello, 40, in the 2020 November general elections. Rossello, of the New Progressive Party which backs Puerto Rico becoming a U.S. state, is seeking a second term.

Cruz is a member of the Popular Democratic Party, which supports Puerto Rico remaining a Commonwealth of the United States with self government. She is also a co-chair of Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2020 presidential campaign.

She is in favor of eliminating a federal financial oversight board tasked with managing the territory’s finances.

The island is navigating the largest government bankruptcy in U.S. history, with $120 billion of combined bond and pension debt when it declared bankruptcy in May 2017 after more than a decade of recession.

(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by James Dalgleish)

Source: OANN

Audrey Conklin | Reporter

China’s communist government has been steadily trying to eradicate a Muslim ethnic group in the ancient city of Urumqui for several years, though the impact hasn’t been completely visible until now.

While the West has only known about this crisis in Urumqui for several years because of the area’s strict government security, China is making steady progress with its destruction of a once-vibrant community, The Wall Street Journal reports.

Nearly 13 million Turcik Muslims — the majority of whom are Uighur Muslims — make up the northwestern territory of Xinjiang, China, where Urumqui is located. Turcik Muslims have appeared in recorded Chinese history since the third century A.D.

In the city of Urumqi specifically, Uighurs make up about 13 percent of the total population. In 2017, however, the total population of the city fell 15 percent, from 2.6 million to 2.2 million.

The government has already succeeded in forcing about 1 million Uighur people into internment camps that they’ve dubbed “boarding schools” or “re-education camps” in an effort to suppress their religious beliefs, which Chinese officials say will stay unless Uighurs give up Islam. In more recent developments, the government is destroying homes, businesses and general Uighur existence in the area. (RELATED: China Strongly Implies Muslim Internment Camps Will Never Go Away)

“When plans for Urumqi’s urban overhaul were announced in 2017, the party-controlled Xinjiang Daily said the government would offer compensation to residents forced to move, and planned new residential districts ‘designed with full consideration of the customs and convenience of all ethnic groups,’” The Journal explains.

An ethnic Uighur women reads a newspaper on display on a notice board in the city of Urumqi in China's Xinjiang Autonomous Region/ REUTERS/David Gray

An ethnic Uighur women reads a newspaper on display on a notice board in the city of Urumqi in China’s Xinjiang Autonomous Region/ REUTERS/David Gray

While there were about 400 active mosques in Uighur in 2015, there are now only bare-boned remnants of places of worship. Traditional Uighur restaurants and food stands have closed; Uighur language books have been removed from stores; signs written in the Uighur language have been replaced by Chinese characters; homes have been destroyed as Uighur communities are forced out of the area. And as these places disappear, they are replaced by stores and restaurants meant to appeal to Chinese tourists.

The government has allocated billions to Urumqi for infrastructure spending. In 2017, fixed assets exceeded $30 billion to invest in infrastructure, factories and other building (or rebuilding) plans for the city. In 2018, Urumqi spent $10 billion to destroy the city’s increasingly abandoned outskirts.

And those Uighur people who are still living outside of internment camps organized by the government have been subject to massively invasive digital surveillance. (RELATED: Uighur Muslim Woman Recalls Torture In Chinese Government Internment Camp: ‘I Thought I Would Rather Die’)

As The Journal explains, “It is nearly impossible to move about the region without feeling the unrelenting gaze of the government. Citizens and visitors alike must run a daily gauntlet of police checkpoints, surveillance cameras and machines scanning their ID cards, faces, eyeballs and sometimes entire bodies.”

The Chinese government justifies its massive crackdown on this specific population of citizens as a way to keep China unified and safe from radical Islamic terrorism.

A recent TIME magazine article says China has arrested nearly 13,000 people it describes as terrorists in Xinjiang.

According to Human Rights Watch, “Domestic state media reports and government documents do talk about the [detainment] camps. They explain that these camps are necessary to cure the minds of Turkic Muslims who have an ‘ideological illness.’”

Source: The Daily Caller

Traders work on the floor at the NYSE in New York
Traders work on the floor at the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE) in New York, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

March 22, 2019

By Caroline Valetkevitch

NEW YORK (Reuters) – As Wall Street braces for what may be the first U.S. profit decline since 2016, investors say the first quarter may not mark the low point for 2019 earnings.

Concerns about economic weakness in the United States and abroad and the lack of a U.S.-China trade deal are hanging over the outlook, even as the Federal Reserve’s dovish stance on interest rates is expected to relieve some of the pressure on companies.

Another potential reason to worry: the spread between yields on Treasury bills and the 10-year note, a closely watched signal on the health of the economy, inverted on Friday for the first time since 2007.

As stocks sold off in December, some investors worried that 2019 would bring a profit recession for S&P 500 companies, with at least two quarters of year-over-year declines. The last U.S. profit recession ran from July 2015 through June of 2016.

Analysts reduced their earnings forecasts for the year as well. They now expect a 1.7 percent year-over-year earnings decline in the first quarter, with some profit growth in the rest of 2019, according to IBES data from Refinitiv.

With the market’s rebound this year, the Fed on pause and some expecting economic growth to improve after the first quarter, optimism seemed to be increasing that the profit outlook would stabilize after hitting a low point in the current quarter.

“It would be great if Q1 represented a low point, but I’m not betting on it,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer at Cresset Capital Management in Chicago.

“I worry that the comparisons are going to be much more difficult as we navigate the rest of the year.”

This year’s earnings already were expected to shrink dramatically compared with 2018, when steep corporate tax cuts fueled earnings gains of about 24 percent.

But since the start of the year, the forecast for second-quarter profit growth has fallen to 3.0 percent from 6.4 percent, while estimated growth for the third quarter has dropped to 2.7 percent from 4.9 percent, based on Refinitiv’s data. The fourth-quarter growth estimate has come down as well, though it is still relatively strong, at 9.1 percent, based on Refinitiv’s data.

Those numbers could keep falling, while the first-quarter forecast is likely to improve from here. Since 1994, earnings have surprised to the upside on average by 3.2 percent, according to Refinitiv data, which suggests first-quarter results could finish in positive territory.

Still, with investors largely discounting weaker earnings trends, the first-quarter reporting period could bring market volatility, Ameriprise Financial strategists said.

On Tuesday, FedEx Corp. cut its 2019 profit forecast for the second time in three months, causing its stock to drop and raising fresh worries about the impact of the trade conflict on earnings, with the company citing slowing global economic conditions and weaker trade growth.

Also, Nike’s shares were down more than 5 percent on Friday after it reported North American sales that fell short of expectations.

The United States and China were scheduled to reach a deal on trade by March 1, but the White House has said it needed more time.

“You need this trade dynamic to kind of get a little bit better. There are real concerns. FedEx’s numbers are a perfect example. There’s been a global growth slowdown and companies are communicating that in terms of their guidance for the first quarter and throughout the year,” said Anthony Saglimbene, Ameriprise’s global market strategist.

To be sure, a lot of those fears could be reversed if there is a resolution in the U.S. trade conflict with China, and if companies’ reports are surprisingly upbeat, he said.

Strategists said they expect to hear more from companies on the trade conflict when first-quarter reporting kicks into high gear around mid-April.

“So much is dependent on what we do with the trade situation with China. The real issue will be the global economy, and in particular, trade with China,” said Rick Meckler, partner at Cherry Lane Investments, a family investment office in New Vernon, New Jersey.

(Reporting by Caroline Valetkevitch; Editing by Alden Bentley)

Source: OANN

U.S. President Trump departs on travel to Florida from the White House in Washington
U.S. President Donald Trump talks to reporters as he departs the White House to depart on travel to his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida from the White House in Washington, U.S., March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 22, 2019

PALM SPRINGS, Fla. (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Friday that U.S.-backed forces had dislodged the Islamic State militant group from its last holdout in Syria.

“Here’s ISIS on Election Day. And here’s ISIS right now,” Trump said, using the acronym for the group, as he displayed a before-and-after map to reporters, with the “before” portion full of red dots and the after-map empty.

“You guys can have the map. Congratulations,” Trump said. “I think it’s about time.” The president has previously displayed a map illustrating the diminution of Islamic State.

Trump has said Islamic State no longer holds territory several times over the past few weeks. But U.S. officials told Reuters that fighting still continued late into Thursday between U.S.-backed forces and Islamic State militants in the last remaining territory it holds.

Earlier on Friday, White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders told reporters Islamic State no longer held any territory in Syria and that U.S. acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan had briefed the president on the milestone as he was traveling to Florida on Air Force One.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled Islamic State militants holed up in the Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the SDF said, seeking to defeat the last pockets of jihadist resistance.

The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Islamic State in the Baghouz enclave in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border, all that remained of the territory the militants ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.

While the U.S.-backed SDF has captured most of the area, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters SDF fighters were clashing late on Thursday with IS militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.

(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Idrees Ali; Writing by Mohammad Zargham; Editing by Mary Milliken and Jonathan Oatis)

Source: OANN

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut March 22, 2019. REUTERS/Jim Young/Pool

March 22, 2019

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Lebanon’s parliament speaker told visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Friday that U.S. sanctions on the Hezbollah group were having a “negative impact on Lebanon and the Lebanese”.

U.S. efforts to put pressure on the heavily armed, Iran-backed Hezbollah are high on the agenda for Pompeo as he meets Lebanese political leaders in a Middle East trip angled at promoting Washington’s hard tack against Tehran.

The long-serving speaker Nabih Berri, a political ally of Hezbollah, told Pompeo that Hezbollah’s “resistance” against Israel was a result of continuing Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory, his office said in a statement.

Hezbollah has a large militia but the Shi’ite Muslim group is also represented in Lebanon’s parliament and in the coalition government of Sunni Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri.

Israel regards Iran as its biggest threat and Hezbollah as the main danger on its borders.

Pompeo on Thursday said he would be “very clear” in his Beirut meetings that “Lebanon’s success depends on the Lebanese people (demanding) that a terrorist organisation not be in control of their government and not drive policies”.

State Department deputy spokesperson Robert Palladino said Pompeo and Berri had discussed the need to maintain calm along the Israeli-Lebanese border.

Pompeo highlighted “U.S. concerns about Hezbollah’s destabilising activities in Lebanon and the region and the risks posed to Lebanon’s security, stability and prosperity,” Palladino said.

(Reporting by Lisa Barrington and Laila Bassam, Writing by Angus McDowall, Editing by William Maclean)

Source: OANN

U.S. President Trump salutes U.S. Army soldier as he observes military demonstration with Major General Piatt at Fort Drum, New York
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump salutes a U.S. Army soldier as he observes a military demonstration with U.S. Army Major General Walter “Walt” Piatt, the Commanding General of the Army’s 10th Mountain Division at Fort Drum, New York, U.S., August 13, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

March 22, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – China’s Defence Ministry on Friday accused its United States counterpart of deliberately seeking to hype up the threat from China and other nations to justify its own military expenditure, calling the move short-sighted and dangerous.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s $750-billion defense spending request to Congress is the largest ever in dollar terms, though not after being adjusted for inflation, and is meant to counter the growing strength of the Chinese and Russian militaries.

By comparison, China this month unveiled a hike of 7.5 percent in defense spending for the year, to 1.19 trillion yuan ($177 billion), though many experts and diplomats say the real figure is probably far higher. China denies that.

In a statement, China’s Defence Ministry reiterated its standard line about being committed to a peaceful path, and said the United States loved to talk up the “China threat theory”.

“We have noted that when the U.S. Defense Department is fighting for military spending, it always likes petty niggling, trying to get even more benefit for itself by exaggerating the threat posed by other countries,” it said.

“This is short-sighted and extremely dangerous,” it added.

It urged the United States to cast aside Cold War thinking, and take steps to promote the healthy and stable development of two-way ties between the two militaries.

The two countries frequently say they are committed to a sound military-to-military relationship, but their armed forces have seen some tense stand-offs in recent years, particularly in the disputed South China Sea, where the U.S. Navy conducts freedom of navigation patrols.

China is also deeply opposed to U.S. arms sales to self-ruled and democratic Taiwan, which Beijing claims as its sacred territory, to be brought under its control by force if necessary.

Responding to reports the Trump administration has approved the sales of more F-16 fighter jets to Taiwan, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman on Friday said the government had already lodged “stern representations” with the United States.

“We urge the U.S. side to fully acknowledge the extreme sensitivity of the relevant issue, and extreme harmfulness of it,” he added.

The United States is bound by law to provide Taiwan with the means to defend itself.

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will stop over in Hawaii next week at the end of a tour of the Pacific, to China’s anger.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

The German share price index DAX graph at the stock exchange in Frankfurt
FILE PHOTO: The German share price index DAX graph is pictured at the stock exchange in Frankfurt, Germany, March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Staff

March 22, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – The volatility gauge for euro-zone stocks jumped to six-week highs on Friday after weaker-than-expected manufacturing data for the euro zone and Germany underscored worries about slowing growth in the region.

The euro zone’s blue-chip STOXX50 volatility index was up 5.1 percent at 16.49 at 1009 GMT, after hitting its highest since Feb. 8 earlier in the session.

The rise came as stocks fell sharply into negative territory after data which revealed euro zone businesses performed much worse than expected in March as factory activity contracted at the fastest pace in nearly six years.

The index is set for an almost 27 percent gain for the week, its biggest weekly rise in a year, data shows, a marked increase in volatility after a subdued start to the year.

(Reporting by Josephine Mason, Editing by Helen Reid)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: Israeli soldiers stand on tanks near the Israeli side of the border with Syria in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, Israel May 9, 2018. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

March 22, 2019

MOSCOW (Reuters) – The Kremlin said on Friday there was a hope that U.S. President Donald Trump’s call to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would remain just a call, and not be enacted.

“It is just a call for now. Let’s hope it will remain a call,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told a conference call. He also said such calls risk seriously destabilizing the Middle East and harm efforts to find a peace settlement in the region.

Trump tweeted on Thursday it was time to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory that Israel seized from Syria in 1967.

(Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Peter Graff)

Source: OANN

Fighters from SDF stand together in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
Fighters from the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) stand together in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Rodi Said

March 22, 2019

QAMISHLI, Syria (Reuters) – The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) battled Islamic State militants holed up in the Baghouz area overnight, supported by U.S.-led coalition air strikes, the SDF said, seeking to defeat the last pockets of jihadist resistance.

The SDF has been battling for weeks to defeat Islamic State at the Baghouz enclave in southeastern Syria at the Iraqi border, all that remained of the territory the militants ruled, which once spanned a third of Syria and Iraq.

While the U.S.-backed SDF has captured most of the area, Mustafa Bali, head of the SDF media office, told Reuters SDF fighters were clashing late on Thursday with IS militants in more than two positions where they were refusing to surrender.

The jihadists were holed up in what appeared to be caves in a rocky shelf overlooking Baghouz, and in trenches by the nearby Euphrates River, he said. U.S.-led coalition war planes had conducted two raids on Thursday evening against IS movements.

“Our forces are trying to force them to surrender, but so far the clashes are continuing,” Bali said.

Though the defeat of Islamic State at Baghouz ends its grip over populated territory, the group remains a threat, with fighters operating in remote territory elsewhere and capable of mounting insurgent attacks.

(Reporting by Rodi Said; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Robert Birsel)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A couple look towards signs pointing out distances to different cities,at an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights
FILE PHOTO: A couple look towards signs pointing out distances to different cities,at an observation post in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, January 21, 2019. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

March 21, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump said on Thursday it was time to back Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War.

“After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability!” Trump said on Twitter.

(Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by David Alexander)

Source: OANN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman visit the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem's Old City
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visit the Western Wall Tunnels in Jerusalem’s Old City March 21, 2019. Abir Sultan/ Pool via REUTERS

March 21, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accompanied Israel’s prime minister on a visit to the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City on Thursday in the first such gesture since Washington recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, angering Palestinians.

The ancient Western Wall, the most sacred prayer site in Judaism, is located in the eastern part of the city that Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed in a move not recognized internationally.

Israel has long considered all of Jerusalem as its eternal, indivisible capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future state they seek in territory Israel took in the June 1967 war.

Shortly after entering office in January 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump visited the Western Wall, though without Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Later that year Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy and officially recognized Jerusalem as the Israeli capital, though making clear that he was not prejudging a settlement on where the city’s borders should be.

Since that shift, the U.S. ambassador to Israel has paid visits to the Western Wall along with Netanyahu. Pompeo suggested that his own visit as the top U.S. diplomat in Netanyahu’s presence was significant.

“I think it’s symbolic that a senior American official goes there with the prime minister of Israel,” he told reporters prior to arriving in the walled Old City.

The Western Wall is a remnant of the compound of a Jewish temple destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD. The elevated plaza above it is the Noble Sanctuary, the third holiest site in Islam, containing the al-Aqsa mosque and the Dome of the Rock.

Pompeo, Netanyahu and U.S. Ambassador David Friedman together approached the wall and each leaned against its massive stones with one hand. Pompeo then placed a prayer note in between the stones, as is customary.

Before going to the wall, he visited the nearby Church of the Holy Sepulchre, believed to be site of Jesus’ crucifixion and burial.

Pompeo, now on a Middle East tour, visited Kuwait before Israel and is due to proceed to Lebanon. His trip to Israel, three weeks before a closely contested election, was portrayed in local media as a Trump administration boost for the right-wing Netanyahu.

(Reporting by Rami Amichay; Writing by Ari Rabinovitch; Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Mark Heinrich)

Source: OANN

Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

March 21, 2019

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Thursday a U.N. report critical of its use of lethal force during Palestinian protests on the Gaza border was biased and should have included a demand that the enclave’s dominant Hamas group take action to stop anti-Israeli violence.

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the demonstrations, which began nearly a year ago, said this week that Israel should investigate the shootings of more than 6,000 people, far beyond the criminal inquiries it has announced into 11 killings.

Issuing an official response to the commission’s report, Israel said it had “serious concerns about the factual and legal analysis conducted by the commission, its methodologies and the clear evidence of political bias against Israel”.

Gaza health authorities say some 200 people have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli fire since Palestinians launched the protests. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier.

Protesters have been demanding the lifting of an Israeli blockade of the territory and a right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were expelled. Israel has said it has no choice but to use deadly force to defend the frontier.

Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the inquiry commission’s chairman, Santiago Canton, called on Israel, which boycotted the day-long debate, to review immediately its military’s rules of engagement.

Israel’s response, published on its Foreign Ministry’s website, said the commission’s “bias is most evident in (its) absolute failure … to make recommendations concerning Hamas”.

The militant group, Israel said, sends women, children and others to sabotage the Israeli security fence along the frontier and to act as shields for armed attacks. Balloons and kites have been flown across the border into Israel to start fires.

“If the commission seriously wished to provide an objective report that would contribute towards human rights and the safety of individuals, (it) would have seen fit to demand Hamas take action in the context of these events,” Israel said.

Asked about the Israeli allegations, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said “most of those killed were hit hundreds of meters from the fence – evidence that Israeli soldiers had deliberately targeted them”.

A summary accompanying the 252-page report said protest organizers “encouraged or defended demonstrators’ indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons”, and Gaza’s de facto authorities did not stop such acts.

The Human Rights Council, a 47-member forum, is due to vote on Friday on four resolutions related to the occupied Palestinian territories.

European states are divided on the resolutions, including a text related to the Gaza inquiry, with some expected to vote against and others abstaining, diplomats said.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, quit the Geneva forum last year over what it says is bias against Israel.

Gaza is home to 2 million Palestinians, mainly stateless descendants of people who fled or were driven from Israel on its founding in 1948. Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war but pulled out troops and settlements in 2005. Hamas took control in 2007.

Since then, Israel has fought three wars against the Islamist group and, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade of the territory that the World Bank says has collapsed its economy.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)

Source: OANN

Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip
FILE PHOTO: Palestinian demonstrators protest at the Israel-Gaza border fence, in the southern Gaza Strip March 1, 2019. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

March 21, 2019

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Israel said on Thursday a U.N. report critical of its use of lethal force during Palestinian protests on the Gaza border was biased and should have included a demand that the enclave’s dominant Hamas group take action to stop anti-Israeli violence.

A U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the demonstrations, which began nearly a year ago, said this week that Israel should investigate the shootings of more than 6,000 people, far beyond the criminal inquiries it has announced into 11 killings.

Issuing an official response to the commission’s report, Israel said it had “serious concerns about the factual and legal analysis conducted by the commission, its methodologies and the clear evidence of political bias against Israel”.

Gaza health authorities say some 200 people have been killed and thousands injured by Israeli fire since Palestinians launched the protests. One Israeli soldier was shot dead by a Palestinian sniper along the frontier.

Protesters have been demanding the lifting of an Israeli blockade of the territory and a right to return to land from which their ancestors fled or were expelled. Israel has said it has no choice but to use deadly force to defend the frontier.

Addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the inquiry commission’s chairman, Santiago Canton, called on Israel, which boycotted the day-long debate, to review immediately its military’s rules of engagement.

Israel’s response, published on its Foreign Ministry’s website, said the commission’s “bias is most evident in (its) absolute failure … to make recommendations concerning Hamas”.

The militant group, Israel said, sends women, children and others to sabotage the Israeli security fence along the frontier and to act as shields for armed attacks. Balloons and kites have been flown across the border into Israel to start fires.

“If the commission seriously wished to provide an objective report that would contribute towards human rights and the safety of individuals, (it) would have seen fit to demand Hamas take action in the context of these events,” Israel said.

Asked about the Israeli allegations, Sami Abu Zuhri, a Hamas official in Gaza, said “most of those killed were hit hundreds of meters from the fence – evidence that Israeli soldiers had deliberately targeted them”.

A summary accompanying the 252-page report said protest organizers “encouraged or defended demonstrators’ indiscriminate use of incendiary kites and balloons”, and Gaza’s de facto authorities did not stop such acts.

The Human Rights Council, a 47-member forum, is due to vote on Friday on four resolutions related to the occupied Palestinian territories.

European states are divided on the resolutions, including a text related to the Gaza inquiry, with some expected to vote against and others abstaining, diplomats said.

The United States, Israel’s closest ally, quit the Geneva forum last year over what it says is bias against Israel.

Gaza is home to 2 million Palestinians, mainly stateless descendants of people who fled or were driven from Israel on its founding in 1948. Israel captured Gaza in a 1967 war but pulled out troops and settlements in 2005. Hamas took control in 2007.

Since then, Israel has fought three wars against the Islamist group and, along with Egypt, imposed a blockade of the territory that the World Bank says has collapsed its economy.

(Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza and Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A traditionally-dressed Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia's Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
FILE PHOTO: A traditionally-dressed Ethiopian woman walks past a mural depicting Ethiopia’s Emperor Tewodros II in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, June 1, 2007. REUTERS/Andrew Heavens/File Photo

March 21, 2019

LONDON (Reuters) – A London museum has handed back locks of hair cut from the corpse of an Ethiopian emperor during a British invasion 150 years ago, after a campaign by activists seeking the return of hundreds of pieces of colonial plunder.

Ethiopians, many dressed in the national colors of red, gold and green, cheered as staff at the National Army Museum handed over the remains in a black leather box to Ethiopia’s minister of culture, tourism and sport on Wednesday.

Hirut Kassaw will take the hair back to Ethiopia at the weekend where it will eventually be buried at the grave of Emperor Tewodros II at monastery in northern Ethiopia, an embassy official said.

She thanked the museum for its “brave and principled” decision to hand over the hair, but called on it and other British institutions to return other items taken during the Victorian-era expedition.

“For Ethiopians, these are not simply artifacts or treasures but constitute a fundamental part of the existential fabric of Ethiopia and its people,” she said.

There was no immediate response to her request or statement on the return from the museum.

Successive emperors, governments and then activists have called for Britain to hand back crowns, religious regalia and illuminated manuscripts taken after the fight – in campaigns paralleled by Greece’s demands for its Parthenon sculptures, and Nigeria’s for the Benin Bronzes.

The emperor claimed a bloodline dating back to the biblical King Solomon and the Queen of Sheba.

Britain invaded his territory of then Abyssinia in 1867 to rescue a group of European missionaries, adventurers and officials – including the British consul – imprisoned by Tewodros after a series of diplomatic gaffes.

They reached his mountain fortress of Magdala in April 1868, defeated his troops and freed the prisoners. The emperor shot himself as the invaders stormed his last stronghold.

Journalists on the campaign described how soldiers descended on the emperor’s body and tore off strips of his clothing as souvenirs. The museum’s records suggest the hair was taken from Magdala by an artist on the British force.

Institutions including the British Museum have resisted repatriation campaigns citing legislation preventing them from breaking up collections and arguing that they can preserve items and present them to an international audience.

Campaigners have argued that a special case should be made for human remains.

(Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Andrew Heavens)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Families and relatives of Islamic State militants are seen after they surrender themselves to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar
FILE PHOTO: Families and relatives of Islamic State militants are seen after they surrender themselves to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces in al-Ayadiya, northwest of Tal Afar, Iraq, August 30, 2017. REUTERS/Ari Jalal/File Photo

March 21, 2019

By Raya Jalabi

BAGHDAD (Reuters) – The hallways of the Rusafa Central Criminal Court in Baghdad teemed with anxious toddlers on the days their mothers were on trial. Then they vanished again, into the women’s prison, where they have lived for the past year and a half. They sleep on thin mattresses in crowded cells, bored, hungry and often sick. They are the foreign children of Islamic State.

Among them is Obaida, the two-year-old son of a Chechen woman, Laila Gazieva. Gazieva was detained in late 2017 while fleeing the Islamic State stronghold of Tal Afar in northern Iraq, and convicted six months later for belonging to the militant Islamist group. On the day Gazieva was sentenced to life in prison, so too were at least a dozen other young women, court records show.

Obaida remains with his mother in a Baghdad women’s jail, according to Russian government records. About 1,100 children of Islamic State are caught in the wheels of Iraqi justice, said sources with knowledge of the penitentiary system. The youngest, like Obaida, stay with their mothers in prison. At least seven of these children have died because of the poor conditions, according to detainees, embassy records reviewed by Reuters and sources familiar with the prison.

Several hundred older children are being prosecuted for offences ranging from illegally entering Iraq to fighting for Islamic State. Some 185 children aged nine to 18 have already been convicted and received sentences from a few months to up to 15 years in juvenile detention in Baghdad, said a spokesman for the judicial council that oversees the Rusafa Central Criminal Court, which is hearing most of the Islamic State cases involving foreigners. Seventy seven of those convicted children were girls.

The children are the forgotten victims of Islamic State: betrayed by the parents who took them to a war zone, groomed from the age of four in the militants’ poisonous ideology and, in many instances, abandoned by the countries they came from for fear they are a future threat. In some 20 interviews, diplomats, the children’s mothers and sources familiar with their cases and the penitentiary system described the youngsters’ ordeal.

Nadia Rainer Hermann, a German woman in her early twenties, serving a life sentence for belonging to Islamic State, told Reuters her two-year-old daughter spent her days on a dank mattress in a filthy and cramped cell in the women’s jail. “I’m afraid every day my daughter might get sick and die,” she said. The older children were angry and frustrated with their captivity, she said, and lashed out at the guards and one another.

Iraqi government officials declined to comment about the foreign women and children in Iraqi custody or about the jail conditions. Iraq has said previously it wants to help those who aren’t guilty of any crime to return to their home countries.

“IT WAS A GOOD LIFE”

Gazieva spoke to Reuters in September 2017 when she and her son, an infant at the time, were being held in a camp near Mosul, in northern Iraq. She hoped that she and Obaida could return to France, where she lived before traveling to Iraq. But she doesn’t hold a French passport. “I don’t want to stay in this camp, or in this country. I’m terrified of what will happen to us,” she said.

Gazieva, then aged 28, was sitting cross-legged on the floor of a large tent next to a small pile of her few remaining belongings, her hands fiddling with her French residence card. On her lap lay Obaida, his small body sweating under the Iraqi sun. He was crying and hungry; Gazieva said she wasn’t producing enough milk to feed him properly.

Dressed in the black clothing favored by followers of Islamic State, Gazieva was among 1,400 women and children packed into overflowing tents in the dusty encampment. She spoke to her son in Russian, while dozens of young mothers with infants nearby spoke in German, French and Turkish. They sat in clusters, on mounds of blankets. Armed guards walked among the older children.

The Iraqis had no idea what to do with their captives. They presented Iraq and nearly two dozen foreign governments with an unprecedented legal and diplomatic challenge. While there was nothing unusual in men going abroad to fight, this was the first time so many women and children had joined them. There is no universal law governing repatriations, said Clive Stafford Smith, the founder of Reprieve, a legal charity that campaigns for human rights.

Gazieva said she had ended up in Islamic State territory unwittingly.

Aged 17, she fled separatist violence in Russia’s Chechnya region and settled in France. Then, in 2015, after divorcing her husband – a man who, in her view, was not sufficiently devout – she said she set off on a tour of Turkey with some Russian women she’d met in a chat room. She left her three children behind in France, for what she said was a short holiday.

Gazieva said the women convinced her to drive down the coast. She realized too late that they had entered Syria. She was scared at first, but then grew to like Islamic State. Within a few months she had married a Chechen Islamic State fighter, “because that’s what you did,” and moved to Iraq.

For a time, at least, life in the so-called caliphate was good, Gazieva said. Obaida was born in the general hospital of Mosul with the help of Iraqi midwives conscripted by Islamic State when the Iraqi city was still firmly in its grip. Foreign fighters and their families held elite status in the city. They were given nicer homes – confiscated from Iraqi owners – and better rations and medical care.

“Life here was like in France, except that here I was free to practice my religion in peace,” she said. “My mother didn’t understand, she said I’d changed. But I’m like before, I just wear a niqab,” she added, referring to her face covering.

A few months after Obaida was born, Iraqi and U.S. forces began a campaign to take back Mosul. By then, Gazieva was a widow and living in the northern town of Tal Afar, where she escaped the fighting. Once again, life was charmed, according to Gazieva and fighters and their families interviewed by Reuters. In Tal Afar, the women had chicken coops and friendly neighbors. “It was a good life,” she said, “except for the bombings. But when I was a child, there was a war in Chechnya, so I’m used to bombings.”

Things changed in August 2017. Iraqi forces had taken back Mosul and the fighting moved north. Women, children and the remaining Islamic State men fled from Tal Afar through Kurdish-held territory towards the Turkish border. They traveled on foot in groups of 20 or more, describing a harrowing journey which lasted days, walking on roads strewn with body parts, drones buzzing overhead. They said they had been told by diplomats and friends who’d made the trek in the weeks before that the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters would let them cross into Turkey. Instead, they were made to surrender.

After several days in Kurdish custody, Gazieva and her son were transferred with the other women and children to Iraqi federal authorities in Mosul, going from the dusty refugee camp to a detention facility where they lived in an uncovered prison yard. The captives were taken to Baghdad in late 2017, where they have remained ever since, joined by foreign women and children detained elsewhere in Iraq. In all, up to 2,000 foreign women and children are in Iraqi custody, said sources with knowledge of the penitentiary system.

ANXIOUS, IDLE AND TRAUMATIZED

Documents from the Rusafa Central Criminal Court, reviewed by Reuters, show that Gazieva was one of 494 foreign women convicted there between late 2017 and August 2018 for belonging to or aiding Islamic State. The women are citizens of more than 18 countries, mainly Turkey, Russia and countries of central Asia. Records from one of the two chambers that are hearing the cases showed that up to 20 women were sentenced to death by hanging for belonging to Islamic State or participating in its activities. So far, none of these sentences have been carried out, judicial sources said.

The women’s prison in central Baghdad was not equipped to handle the arrival of so many women and their children. The jail is overcrowded and rife with disease, said inmates, diplomats who have visited the captives and sources familiar with the prison.

Hermann, the German woman who was sentenced to life in prison in August 2018, spoke to Reuters through the bars of a courthouse holding cell, about three by 10 meters large. “We sleep 12 to a room smaller than this, not counting the children,” she said. Hermann was one of six women interviewed by Reuters.

The majority of the children are still living with their mothers in prison, anxious, idle and traumatized, said diplomats and sources close to the penitentiary system. They include toddlers, like Obaida, and children as old as 12. There is limited medical attention, and many of the foreign women and children are suffering from a scabies infestation and malnutrition, among other ailments. They didn’t have enough clothes to keep warm during the winter. Some of the women cut up the abayas, or robes, they wore on arrival, to make hats and socks for their children.

The women sleep on thin mattresses on the floor with a few blankets to share, food is served in meager portions, and the guards have on many occasions kept flickering lights on for days at a time, three women told Reuters. Aid agencies are helping the Iraqi government provide essentials for the women and children, including clothes and milk, but funds are limited and foreign governments are barely pitching in.

At least seven young children, including Russians and Azeris, have died in the jail because of the squalid conditions, according to several detainees, two prison guards, people who have visited the prisoners and embassy records reviewed by Reuters. At least three women have also died, intelligence and diplomatic sources said. Iraqi government officials declined to comment.

Confirming the identities of the women and children is hard in a maze of conflicting testimony and unreliable paperwork. There were few original documents to work with because many of the women parted with their identity cards in a pledge of allegiance to Islamic State. Family ties, nationalities and identities were mostly compiled from interviews with the detainees. In some instances, Iraqi authorities carried out DNA tests.

Some children are tethered to women who aren’t their mothers. Four women told Reuters they believed it was their duty to look after the children of dead friends or relatives. Others had taken into their care kidnapped Iraqi children, their fellow prisoners said. When questioned by authorities, the women identified these children as their own.

During the fight for Mosul, Iraqi security forces found about 90 foreign children wandering the battlefield alone or in the care of strangers. In most cases, the children were identified and many were sent home. But some were too young or too traumatized to tell aid workers who they were, and about a dozen remain, unidentified, in an orphanage in Baghdad.

“THE LONGER WE KEEP THEM, THE HARDER IT WILL BE”

In September 2017, Iraq’s prime minister at the time, Haider al-Abadi, said his government was “in full communication” with the foreign children’s home countries “to find a way to hand them over.” But by January 2018, talks had stalled, and Iraq began prosecutions, diplomats said.

Children over the age of nine are held criminally responsible under Iraqi law, compared with 11 at a federal level in the United States and 14 in Germany. The children’s cases are heard by a juvenile court, where they face three possible charges under Iraq’s counter-terrorism laws: illegally entering Iraq, which carries a maximum one year in detention; membership of Islamic State, which carries five to seven years; and assisting Islamic State in carrying out terrorist activities, which can bring up to 15 years.

Some child defendants had joined attacks on Iraqi forces, blown up checkpoints and built explosive devices, said an expert on Iraqi juvenile justice.

Judge Aqeel al-Birmani, a counter-terrorism judge who has sentenced some of the children’s parents, told Reuters: “Some of them may be young but they knew what they were doing. They were trained to lie.”

Children under 13 who haven’t committed violence generally receive sentences of three to six months for illegally entering Iraq. They are then free to return home, in theory. But in reality, many of them end up staying in Iraqi children’s homes, unwanted by their home countries. Sentences are harsher for older children. German teenager Linda Wenzel, for example, is serving six years in juvenile detention for membership of Islamic State and illegally entering Iraq. German officials declined to comment on specific cases. The Interior Ministry said it estimates up to 150 adults and children who are German nationals or may have a claim to German residency are in detention in Iraq.

Social workers worry about the long sentences, particularly for older children who will be moved into adult facilities after they turn 18. There, they fear, any efforts made to rehabilitate the detainees in juvenile facilities will be undone by exposure to violent criminals. “Children should be detained only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest period necessary,” said Laila Ali, a spokesperson for Unicef Iraq. “When children are detained, specific measures adapted to their age must be taken to protect them, regardless of the reason for the deprivation of their liberty.”

Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights While Countering Terrorism, said in terms of international law, reintegration and rehabilitation “the longer we keep them there, the harder that is going to be.”

Across the border in Syria, foreign children of more than a dozen different nationalities have been lingering in camps, while European governments wrangle over their fates. France said on March 15 it had repatriated several young children from camps in northern Syria. The children were orphaned or separated from their parents.

For Gazieva, the choices over her son’s future are bleak. Since she doesn’t hold a French passport, her son has no claim to French nationality. Russia, the country Gazieva ran away from, might be her son’s only option to leave Iraq. Russia’s Foreign Ministry didn’t respond to questions about Gazieva’s case. It said an operation to evacuate Russian children from Iraq had begun in the autumn of 2017 and Russian officials in Baghdad continued to work to bring home all Russian minors.

The fates of the children of some other nations are less clear.

Turkey accounts for the largest number of foreign children in Iraqi custody, people familiar with the penitentiary system said. Turkish diplomats are monitoring the health of these children and providing medicines, a Turkish official said. Efforts are being made to bring home Turkish citizens who are not guilty of any crime, starting with the children, the official added.

Other children are from Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan with a scattered few from Jordan, Syria, France, Germany and Trinidad and Tobago.

Legal charity Reprieve is involved in the cases of foreign fighters and their families detained in Syria and to a lesser extent Iraq. Founder Stafford Smith said countries “have a legal responsibility to their citizens, particularly vulnerable ones like children who are in detention through no fault of their own.”

But some countries are dragging their feet, according to diplomats and other sources familiar with the cases. Some children born in Islamic State territory don’t have recognized birth certificates, making it difficult to prove their nationality.

Germany, Georgia and France have repatriated some children. A French official said such decisions were made case by case, taking into consideration whether the mother wanted to give up her child and whether separation was in the child’s interest.

Tajikistan has said it will take children back soon.

But some governments have little incentive to bring women and children back. There is little public sympathy for the children of militants. “It’s a sensitive issue given the public’s reaction,” said a Western diplomat in Baghdad. “We’re discussing returning the children of people responsible for blowing up their cities.”

(Additional reporting by Ahmed Rasheed in Baghdad, Alissa de Carbonnel in Brussels, Maria Tsvetkova in Moscow, John Irish in Paris, Tulay Karadeniz in Ankara and Andrea Shalal in Berlin; editing by Janet McBride and Richard Woods)

Source: OANN

Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during
Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen speaks during “A Civil Society Dialogue on Securing Religious Freedom in the Indo-Pacific Region” forum in Taipei, Taiwan March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu

March 21, 2019

TAIPEI (Reuters) – Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen will visit Hawaii next week on a tour of diplomatic allies in the Pacific, official media said on Thursday, a move likely to anger China, which claims the self-ruled island as its own amid tension across the strait.

China regards Taiwan as its sacred territory and regularly calls it the most sensitive and important issue in ties with the United States, complaining to Washington about transit stops by Taiwan presidents.

Tsai will transit Hawaii next Wednesday on her way home from an eight-day visit to three diplomatic allies, the official Central News Agency said.

Taiwan, which China deems ineligible for state-to-state relations, has formal ties with 17 countries, almost all small nations in Central America and the Pacific.

The island battles to keep its allies from switching their allegiance to China, which last year persuaded Burkina Faso, the Dominican Republic and El Salvador to forge relations with Beijing.

(Reporting by Yimou Lee; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Palestinian protesters hurl stones at Israeli troops during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

March 21, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian was killed by Israeli gunfire in the occupied West Bank, Palestinian medics said, and the military announced on Thursday that a soldier had discharged his weapon and it was reviewing the incident.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its crews treated a man with two bullet wounds at an Israeli military roadblock near the city of Bethlehem on Wednesday and that Israeli forces had shot him.

It gave no details about the circumstances of the night-time shooting. The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as a 26-year-old from Bethlehem and said another Palestinian had also been shot and critically wounded.

Hours later, the Israeli military issued a statement saying that a soldier stationed at a post near Bethlehem had “identified rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles (and) in response, he fired his weapon”.

The statement did not identify the soldier’s intended target and some Israeli media reports said warning shots were fired in the air, suggesting the two Palestinians may have been hit unintentionally.

“A report was received regarding injured Palestinians,” the military said. “Details regarding the incident are being reviewed and the incident will be examined.”

Tensions have been high in the West Bank since a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and a rabbi in a stabbing and shooting attack in the territory on Sunday.

Israeli forces on Tuesday killed the alleged assailant near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he opened fire at troops who had come to arrest him, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, two other Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during clashes near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters at Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters at Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

March 20, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday by what a Palestinian ambulance service said was Israeli army gunfire.

The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its crews treated a man with two bullet wounds at an Israeli military roadblock near the city of Bethlehem and that Israeli forces had shot him. It gave no details about the circumstances of the night-time shooting.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as a 26-year-old from Bethlehem and said another Palestinian had also been shot and critically wounded.

Tensions have been high in the West Bank since a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and a rabbi in a stabbing and shooting attack in the territory on Sunday.

Israeli forces on Tuesday killed the alleged assailant near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he opened fire at troops who had come to arrest him, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, two other Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during clashes near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters at Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank
Israeli forces fire tear gas canisters at Palestinian protesters during clashes near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank March 20, 2019. REUTERS/Mohamad Torokman

March 20, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian was shot and killed in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday by what a Palestinian ambulance service said was Israeli army gunfire.

The Israeli military said it was checking the report.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said one of its crews treated a man with two bullet wounds at an Israeli military roadblock near the city of Bethlehem and that Israeli forces had shot him. It gave no details about the circumstances of the night-time shooting.

The Palestinian Health Ministry identified the man as a 26-year-old from Bethlehem and said another Palestinian had also been shot and critically wounded.

Tensions have been high in the West Bank since a Palestinian killed an Israeli soldier and a rabbi in a stabbing and shooting attack in the territory on Sunday.

Israeli forces on Tuesday killed the alleged assailant near the West Bank city of Ramallah after he opened fire at troops who had come to arrest him, Israel’s Shin Bet security service said.

In a separate incident on Tuesday, two other Palestinians were killed by Israeli forces during clashes near the West Bank city of Nablus.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

(Writing by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

Shoshana Bryen | Senior Director, Jewish Policy Center

There is a difference between an “honest broker” and a “neutral arbiter.” In advance of the rollout of its Middle East peace plan, the Trump administration has taken a series of steps to ensure its role as the honest broker. The U.S. is not “neutral” between our ally, Israel, and the Palestinians who seek to replace it. But it won’t be easy to change presumptions that are deeply embedded in the process.

The State Department’s annual survey of human rights released this month referred to the Golan Heights simply as “Israeli-controlled territory,” ending its tradition of referring to the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “occupied territory.”

To the community of Washington professionals wedded to the “peace process,” that was an outrage! “Poof,” said one prominent commentator. “With a word change, Israel no longer occupies territory, they now control it. The strategic objective of this administration is to change U.S. policy on refugees; Jerusalem; territory. And they’re doing it.”

But the State Department is correct. The West Bank and Gaza are the remains of the British Mandate — in legal limbo since the Jordanians occupied it in 1948. The Golan Heights were captured after a Syrian attack in 1967 and a second Syrian attack in 1973.

For more than 25 years, the on-again-off-again “peace process” between Israel and the Palestinians has been predicated on unlikely theories about “peace” and erroneous assumptions about both Palestinians, Israelis, and American foreign policy.

First, the process assumed Israel’s security problems are related to the non-state status of Palestinians — hence the name “Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”  And the proposed remedy was “the two-state solution,” an independent state for the Palestinians. More precisely, however, it is the “Arab-Israeli conflict” or the “Arab wars against Israel.”  Arab states went to war in 1948 to erase Israel; they failed.

Second, the process assumed that security for Israel would emerge from “peace.” A situation of peace, however, emerges when countries are secure. The 1967 UN Security Council Resolution 242 got it right, demanding that the Arab states give Israel “secure and recognized boundaries free from threats or acts of force.”

Third, the process presumed that multiple generations of people held in miserable pens in Arab countries meet the world’s definition of “refugees.” They do not. The Palestinian demand though is that generations of progeny must be able to return to places their grandparents and great-grandparents claim to have come from.

Fourth, and most incredible, the “two-state solution” presumed the Palestinians would simply give up deeply held positions on three crucial points — land/borders, refugees, and Jerusalem — as a gift to what they believe are “interlopers” in “their” country. The Galilee, Jaffa, Haifa are all “Palestine” on PA maps. As is Jerusalem. The idea that they would agree that those can be sovereign Israeli territory has no basis in their negotiating history.

For years, the United States was complicit and encouraged these misleading assumptions, treating the Palestinians as if they were actually a country. The PA office in Washington was considered an embassy; the U.S. office in Jerusalem — a consulate, really, from the time that Jordan was occupying Jerusalem and our Embassy was in Amman — served as an embassy to the Palestinian Authority.  

Most damning, the process had assumed that the United States was a neutral arbiter between two equally worthy parties: Israel and the Palestinians. Neutral between Israel — a democratic, diverse, free-market, egalitarian, self-sufficient partner in the military, scientific, and high-tech fields — and the Palestinian Authority — an arm of the PLO, a terrorist, irredentist, kleptocratic, failed government reliant on international handouts that it uses to pay “salaries” to terrorists who kill Jews.

The U.S. should never have allowed itself to be considered neutral — it is an affront to American ideals and principles.

The Trump administration is not neutral.

The PA Washington office is closed and the Jerusalem consulate has been folded into the new American Embassy in Jerusalem. And Jerusalem is recognized as the capital of the State of Israel.

The administration has declined to “pay for slay,” reducing aid to the PA by the amount figured to go to terrorists’ “salaries.” Money for UNRWA, overseer of Palestinian refugee camps, has also been reduced. And the president and members of his administration have been outspoken about the American commitment to the security of Israel.

Precise language coupled with specific actions to differentiate the State of Israel from the not-a-state Palestinian Authority sets the stage for the presentation of the administration’s “peace plan” next month. Which, if it proceeds from these new assumptions, will be an important statement about the new realities in the region.

Shoshana Bryen is senior director of The Jewish Policy Center in Washington, D.C. and the editor of inFOCUS Quarterly.


The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.

Source: The Daily Caller

Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province
Smoke rises from the last besieged neighborhood in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Stringer

March 20, 2019

DEIR AL-ZOR PROVINCE, Syria (Reuters) – Warplanes flew near Baghouz in eastern Syria early on Wednesday, a Reuters witness said, as the final remnants of the Islamic State group held a narrow strip of land along the Euphrates in a last-ditch defense of its dwindling territory.

Defeat there would signal the end of the ultra-hardline Islamist movement’s control in eastern Syria, having held more than a third of Syria and Iraq at one point in 2014 as it sought to carve out a huge caliphate in the region.

On Tuesday, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said they had driven the remaining Islamic State fighters in the town of Baghouz from a makeshift encampment that had represented most of its remaining territory.

But while the capture of Baghouz, close to the Iraqi border, would mark a significant milestone in Syria’s eight-year war and in the battle against the jihadist group, Islamic State remains a threat.

Some of the group’s fighters are still holed up in the central Syrian desert and others have gone underground in Iraqi cities to wage an insurgent campaign to destabilize the government.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the SDF, said late on Tuesday that clashes with the militants at the Euphrates were continuing “in several pockets”.

(Reporting By a Reuters reporter in Deir al-Zor province and Angus McDowall in Beirut; Editing by Mike Collett-White)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California
FILE PHOTO: Journalists taste test the plant-based hamburgers during a media tour of Impossible Foods labs and processing plant in Redwood City, California, U.S. October 6, 2016. REUTERS/Beck Diefenbach/File Photo

March 20, 2019

By Vincent Chow

HONG KONG (Reuters) – Start-ups specializing in alternative protein, from eggless eggs to pea-stuffed burgers and cell-grown fish products, are piling into the Chinese territory of Hong Kong to tap the mainland’s booming multi-billion dollar food market.

At a time when traditional meat farmers have seen profits hurt by the U.S.-China trade war and the spread of swine fever, companies such as Impossible Foods, JUST and Beyond Meat are luring affluent Asian consumers with products they say are more sustainable and environmentally friendly than conventional meat.

The global meat substitutes market was estimated at $4.6 billion last year and is predicted to reach $6.4 billion by 2023, according to research firm Markets and Markets. Asia is the fastest growing region.

Backed by some of the world’s top billionaires including Hong Kong businessman Li Ka-shing, philanthropist Bill Gates and actor Leonardo DiCaprio, plant protein firms are expanding into China for the first time this year.

San Francisco-based JUST, valued at $1 billion and which counts venture capitalist Peter Thiel as one of its backers, is planning to launch its mung bean faux egg product in six Chinese cities starting next month.

“China is the most important market to JUST globally,” said Cyrus Pan, JUST’s China general manager.

JUST has inked deals with Alibaba’s Tmall and JD.com to distribute its egg product starting in Shanghai, Beijing, Tianjin, Guangzhou, Chengdu and Shenzhen, before expanding to other cities.

The company says the use of mung bean as its key ingredient is important for food security and appeals to the Chinese market given its tradition as a dietary staple.

China has a history of food safety scandals from melamine-tainted eggs, smuggled frozen meat years beyond its expiry date and recycled “gutter oil” to crops tainted with heavy metals.

Nick Cooney, managing partner of Lever VC, a U.S.-Asian venture capital fund focused on alternative protein startups, said firms like his are eyeing joint ventures, exports and product technology licensing opportunities in China.

“Chinese consumers seem to be more open to novel foods than those in nearly any other country,” he said.

Beyond Meat, which makes burgers and sausages from pea protein, has seen sales in Hong Kong increase 300 percent last year, said David Yeung, Beyond Meat’s distributor in the special administrative region.

Backed by Tyson, the world’s largest meat processor, Beyond Meat filed for an initial public offering on the Nasdaq last November and plans to start distributing in the mainland in the second half of this year.

Rival Impossible Foods, which makes burgers out of soy, has said plant-based meat will eliminate the need for animals in the food chain and make the global food system sustainable.

The group has received around $450 million in funding since 2011 with investments from Lee Ka-shing’s Horizons Ventures and Google Ventures.

Since launching in five restaurants in Hong Kong last April, the group’s products are now in over 100 restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau.

Impossible plans to open in mainland China within the next two years. ASIAN TASTES

Hong Kong-based Avant Meats, which uses cell technology to replicate fish and seafood products, is developing a cell-based fish maw prototype due for launch in the third quarter of this year, its chief executive Carrie Chan told Reuters.

Fish maw, or swim bladders, are popular in Asian soups and stews and are used to add collagen to food.

Right Treat, another Hong Kong company headed by Yeung, is replicating Asia’s favorite meat – pork – using mushrooms, peas and rice for use in dumplings and meatballs.

The company has seen its sales of its Omnipork triple since launching in Hong Kong in April 2018. It has since expanded to Singapore, Macau and Taiwan, and plans to sell in mainland China this year.

“If we want to change the world, we must find ways to shift Asian diet and consumption, which means we must find ways to reduce Asia’s dependence on pork and other meat products,” said Yeung, who also runs Green Monday, a startup tackling global food insecurity and climate change.

Omnipork is available at more than 40 stores and will be stocked in major Hong Kong supermarket chains by the end of March, Yeung says.

Advocates say meat substitutes are healthier and also use less water, produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions and use less land than producing the same amount of meat.

Consumers, however, must be willing to pay a premium.

Omnipork retails for HK$43 ($5.48) for 230g (8 ounces) versus HK$37 for the same amount of minced pork.

Impossible’s burger at HK$88 is more than double the price of a Shake Shack burger in Hong Kong.

Yet the explosion of alternative protein products across Hong Kong has given consumers such as executive recruiter Shazz Sabnani, greater variety.

“Before I had to rely more on vegetables and tofu-based products, whereas now I’ve introduced more of these fake meats to my diet.”

Still, not everyone is convinced about the fake meat trend.

Tseung So, a retired 70-year-old said the spaghetti bolognaise made with omnipork at Green Monday’s “Kind Kitchen” in Hong Kong, was not as tasty as real meat.

“Why would we eat this when we can eat the same dish but with normal pork? I don’t think this will make meat eaters eat less meat but they will probably become more popular with real vegetarians.”

($1 = 7.8496 Hong Kong dollars)

(Writing by Farah Master; Additional reporting by Forina Fu; Editing by Lincoln Feast)

Source: OANN

An Afghan girl practices a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul
An Afghan girl practices a traditional dance at an Afghan Child Education and Care Organization center (AFCECO) in Kabul, Afghanistan March 3, 2019. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail

March 20, 2019

By Rod Nickel and Abdul Matin Sahak

KABUL/BALKH, Afghanistan (Reuters) – After fighting forced Mohammad Khan, a villager from the northern Afghanistan province of Sar-e Pul, to move his family to the more secure province of Balkh last year, they quickly fell on harder times.

Khan’s wife grew gravely ill, he could not find work, and struggled to feed their seven children. So in January, Khan sold their baby, just 40 days old, to a neighbor.

“I sold him for 70,000 afghanis (£698) so that my other children would not die of hunger,” he said.

In a country where half the population is younger than 15, Afghanistan’s 17-year war has arguably hit children the hardest. Some 927 children were killed last year, the most since records have been kept, according to a U.N. report released in February.

Aid workers say they are seeing a growing number of children orphaned or forced to work in the streets.

“I think the hope that used to exist, doesn’t anymore,” said Adele Khodr, the representative for UNICEF, the United Nations’ children’s agency, in Afghanistan.

Aschiana, a charity that provides school half a day for children who beg and sell in Kabul’s streets, has seen the number of Afghan children at risk rise sharply in recent years as the Taliban seized more territory across the country.

It has been forced to reduce the number of children it helps, however, as its funding from donors declined, said Engineer Mohammad Yousef, Aschiana’s director.

“Children do not belong to political groups, for this reason they are ignored in Afghanistan,” he said, walking through dark hallways and classrooms where lights are turned off to save money. “They don’t have power.”

Zabiullah Mujahed, 12, is learning to draw at Aschiana and hopes to become a painter. He spends the balance of his day polishing shoes on Kabul’s streets to earn up to 100 Afghanis per day.

The money is critical to support himself, his mother and six siblings, after his father was killed in a Taliban suicide attack four years ago.

“I’m worried about when peace will come and what will happen to my future,” he said. “If I don’t work, my mother, brothers, and sisters will remain hungry.”

LONG ROAD

Girls were banned from attending school under the Taliban government’s five-year rule that ended when the Islamists were ousted by U.S.-backed forces in 2001. Enabling girls’ education has been a key goal of Afghanistan’s western-backed government and its foreign allies.

But some 3.7 million school-age children are still not in school, according to a first-of-its-kind UNICEF report in June 2018.

Worsening security, poverty and migration have all made educating children more difficult in recent years, Khodr said.

Sexual abuse and trafficking of boys, a practise that exploded during Afghanistan’s civil war in the 1990s, has also worsened, said Yasin Mohammadi, project manager for the non-governmental organization Youth Health and Development Organization (YHDO).

Boys from rural areas have flocked to cities such as Kabul and Herat to find work to support families, leaving them vulnerable to those employers who take them in and molest them before circulating them to other abusers, he said.

The practice of men sexually abusing boys, known by the Dari slang term “bacha bazi” for “boy play”, has been illegal in Afghanistan for only a year, and so far there are few known examples of perpetrators being sentenced.

The Afghanistan government’s director of children’s issues, Najib Akhlaqi, acknowledges that the situation for children is eroding. Progress is slow, but underway, he said, including drafting a national, long-term plan to help children.

“I am only one person. We can’t solve all these problems,” he told Reuters in an interview. “It takes a long time.”

PERILS OF PEACE

Aid groups welcome the prospect of peace, but worry that the inclusion of the Taliban in any post-settlement government could see a slide back toward the hardline Islamist rule it imposed between 1996 and 2001.

The Taliban’s possible role in any new Afghanistan government has not been defined as the latest round of talks with the United States wrapped up.

“The Taliban never supported children, never supported people. I think we would see a worse situation than today,” said Pashtana Rasol, executive director of the Afghan Child Education and Care Organization orphanage.

Rasol, who was orphaned herself at age eight after she says the Taliban killed her father, doubts that the orphanages she runs would remain open under a Taliban-led government.

“We are raising very powerful women here,” Rasol said in a Kabul orphanage where smiling girls practiced a dance routine, twirling in brightly colored dresses. “We want the girls to be improved, to be teachers, doctors, but of course the Taliban and the fundamentalist people do not want it.”

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the fault for the war’s devastating impact on Afghan children lies with “foreign invaders”, adding that it has an organization that helps orphans in areas that it controls.

If a peace accord is struck, the Taliban would encourage non-governmental organizations to continue their work in the country, but they would be under close scrutiny to ensure their activities adjust to cultural and religious values, he said.

Yousef, director of Aschiana, worries that women may not be able to work in a society with greater Taliban influence, putting more children at risk.

“Peace is very important to children,” he said. “But we are looking for real peace.”

(Reporting by Rod Nickel in Kabul and Abdul Matin Sahak in Balkh; Additional reporting by Abdul Qadir Sediqi, Rupam Jain, Hameed Farzad and Orooj Hakimi in Kabul; Editing by Alex Richardson)

Source: OANN

Sergio Rojas indigenous land activist is pictured during a interview in Salitre, Buenos Aires de Puntarenas
Sergio Rojas indigenous land activist is pictured during a interview in Salitre, Buenos Aires de Puntarenas, Costa Rica, October 2, 2015. Courtesy of La Nacion via REUTERS

March 19, 2019

By Alvaro Murillo

SAN JOSE (Reuters) – Unknown attackers shot dead a well-known Costa Rican activist who defended land for the Bribri indigenous people in the Central American country, the government said on Tuesday.

Sergio Rojas was at his home in the indigenous territory of Salitre, about 200 km (124 miles) south of the capital, San Jose, when the attack happened late on Monday, the office of President Carlos Alvarado said in a statement, calling the killing “regrettable.”

Costa Rica has 24 indigenous territories inhabited by eight ethnic groups, with occupation and encroachment on their land by ranchers causing conflict since the 1960s.

Rojas had survived at least one previous assassination attempt. In 2015, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights ordered the government to provide Bribri and Teribe people with protection, arguing they were at risk because of actions taken to recover their lands.

“He made a lot of enemies over the years,” said Sonia Suárez, a schoolteacher in Salitre.

In a statement, Costa Rica’s ombudsman said Rojas had requested further police protection on Friday after he and other members of his organization said they were shot at in connection with their “recovery” of a farm on Bribri land.

Salitre has experienced land conflicts for generations, with Bribri activists trying to remove non-indigenous farmers from the land in recent years.

Costa Rica’s 1977 Indigenous Law prohibits the sale of indigenous lands, but is not clear on what to do in cases where land within reserves was already farmed by outsiders.

(Reporting by Alvaro Murillo; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Dignified transfer ceremony for four Americans killed in Syria is attended by President Trump at Dover Air Force Base in Delaware
FILE PHOTO: The casket carrying the remains of Scott Wirtz, a civilian employee of the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency killed along with three members of the U.S. military during a recent attack in Syria, sits in a military vehicle during a dignified transfer ceremony as they are returned to the United States at Dover Air Force Base, in Dover, Delaware, U.S., January 19, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque/File Photo

March 19, 2019

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S.-backed forces have captured Islamic State fighters tied to a January suicide bombing in Syria that killed four Americans, U.S. officials say, generating concrete leads for Washington about the deadliest attack to date there against U.S. personnel.

The bombing killed Army Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jonathan Farmer, Navy Chief Cryptologic Technician Shannon Kent and Scott Wirtz from the Defense Intelligence Agency. It also killed Ghadir Taher, a naturalized U.S. citizen working as a civilian interpreter for a U.S. contractor.

One of the officials told Reuters the number of people detained was in the “single digits.” A second official said there were several “initial detentions” made in February, without offering a specific number. The detentions have not been previously reported.

“Those initial detentions have provided some leads and opportunities that we are continuing to exploit,” the second official said, speaking on condition of anonymity and declining to offer additional details.

“The investigation is ongoing as are efforts to bring all of those terrorists responsible to justice.”

The attack was the worst single incident involving U.S. personnel in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015 and took place at a cafe in the town of Manbij, which was controlled by a militia allied to U.S.-backed Kurdish forces.

The bombing occurred nearly a month after President Donald Trump confounded his own national security team and allies with a surprise decision on Dec. 19 to withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops from Syria, declaring Islamic State had been defeated there.

Critics seized on the killings as clear evidence that the Islamic State still posed a threat.

Trump backtracked in February, agreeing to leave a small U.S. presence to help keep pressure on Islamic State during what the U.S. military believes will be a critical stabilization phase in Syria. The United States is seeking contributions from allies including Britain and France to remain in Syria.

INSURGENCY THREAT

The U.S. military has warned that Islamic State may still count tens of thousands of fighters, dispersed throughout Iraq and Syria, with enough leaders and resources to present a menacing insurgency in the months ahead.

The Pentagon’s own internal watchdog released a report last month saying Islamic State remained an active insurgent group and was regenerating functions and capabilities more quickly in Iraq than in Syria.

“Absent sustained (counterterrorism) pressure, ISIS could likely resurge in Syria within six to 12 months and regain limited territory,” the report from the Pentagon’s inspector general said.

The report, citing information from U.S. Central Command, said Islamic State would portray the withdrawal as a “victory” and conduct attacks on American personnel during the pullout process.

A report by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres warned that Islamic State has transformed into a covert network, but is still a threat with centralized leadership, up to $300 million at its disposal and thousands of fighters.

It said the group was interested in attacking aviation and using chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear materials and that there were up to 18,000 Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, including up to 3,000 foreign fighters.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Editing by Tom Brown)

Source: OANN

The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is pictured next to the Swiss Federal Palace in Bern
FILE PHOTO: The Swiss National Bank (SNB) is pictured next to the Swiss Federal Palace (Bundeshaus) in Bern, Switzerland December 7, 2018. Picture taken December 7, 2018. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

March 19, 2019

ZURICH (Reuters) – The Swiss National Bank will leave its ultra-loose policy alone on Thursday, said all the economists polled by Reuters, and most don’t expect any change until at least 2021.

All 32 economists polled by Reuters expect SNB Chairman Thomas Jordan to maintain the bank’s negative interest rates and readiness to intervene in currency markets to restrain the safe-haven Swiss franc.

They expect the SNB to keep its target range for the London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR) locked at -1.25 to -0.25 percent, the same level since it ditched its minimum exchange rate of 1.20 Swiss francs to the euro four years ago.

None of the respondents expect any change until the end of this year, especially in view of the European Central Bank’s slowing of its own policy normalization. Most forecast it will come in 2021 at the earliest.

“We do not expect the SNB to change interest rates before the end of 2020. In fact, if we are correct in our assessment that the ECB will be forced to re-start QE next year, upward pressure on the franc – and SNB concerns about deflation – are likely to intensify into 2020,” said Jack Allen at Capital Economics.

“This means the SNB may have to delve into its toolbox to ease policy next year,” Allen said. He thinks the SNB might take rates even further into negative territory if necessary.

There was also no disagreement about the negative interest rate the SNB charges on sight deposits. All the economists expect -0.75 percent to be maintained this week.

All but one expected the bank to retain its description of the franc as “highly valued”. That one expected it will be described as “significantly overvalued”. The franc has gained 3 percent against the euro in the last 12 months to trade around 1.1360.

A strong franc weighs on Switzerland’s export-reliant economy and also adds deflationary pressure. The SNB is expected to cut its 2019 inflation forecast on Thursday from its current view of 1 percent.

The SNB will have to wait at least until the ECB starts its monetary policy tightening — now delayed to 2020 at the earliest — before it begins its own path to normalization, analysts said.

“Pressure on the SNB is mounting from two sides: on the one hand, the financial industry and pension funds are increasingly coming under pressure, which puts pressure on the SNB to end the negative interest rate phase as early as possible,” said Alessandro Bee at UBS.

“On the other hand, the weakness in European growth and the various political risks lead to a higher risk of a Swiss franc appreciation. The SNB is between a rock and a hard place.”

(Reporting by John Revill, polling by Manjul Paul and Richa Rebello, editing by Larry King)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting in Beijing
FILE PHOTO: Afghanistan National Security Advisor Hamdullah Mohib shakes hands with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi before their meeting at the Zhongnanhai Leadership Compound in Beijing, China January 10, 2019. Andy Wong/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Jonathan Landay

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – In fallout from a feud over U.S.-Taliban peace talks, a senior U.S. diplomat has told Afghan President Ashraf Ghani that U.S. officials will no longer deal with his national security adviser, four knowledgable sources said on Monday.

The decision to end U.S. contacts with Hamdullah Mohib will almost certainly raise tensions between the allies over Kabul’s exclusion from negotiations that have mainly focused on a U.S. troop pullout and how the Taliban would stop militant groups from using Afghanistan as a springboard for attacks.

Mohib had launched a blistering public attack last Thursday on the chief U.S. negotiator, Special Representative Zalmay Khalilzad.

The following day, U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs David Hale told Ghani by phone that Mohib would no longer be received in Washington and U.S. civilian and military officials would not do business with him, the sources said.

“Hale called Ghani and told him that Mohib is no longer welcome in D.C. The U.S. will not deal with him in Kabul or in D.C. any more,” said a former senior Afghan official, who like the other sources requested anonymity because of the issue’s sensitivity.

Kabul fears that Washington is intent on finalizing a U.S. troop pullout to fulfill a vow by President Donald Trump, undermining its ability to reach a political pact with the Taliban that preserves gains, such as women’s education, won since the 2001 U.S. invasion ended the militants’ harsh version of Islamic rule.

The former Afghan official said he saw the move as an effort to compel Ghani to “oust” Mohib, who became the president’s national security adviser after serving as his envoy to Washington.

A second source, a congressional aide, agreed that pressuring Ghani to end contacts with Mohib was “one way of looking at this” because the State Department provides funding for the Afghan president’s national security council staff.

The State Department and the Afghan embassy did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Simmering tensions over the Afghan government’s exclusion from the U.S.-Taliban talks in Doha, Qatar, erupted with Mohib’s attack on Khalilzad, an Afghan-born U.S. diplomat, at a news conference in Washington.

He accused Khalilzad of giving the Taliban legitimacy while “delegitimizing the Afghan government.” He added that Khalilzad perhaps was trying to create “a caretaker government of which he would then become viceroy.”

Viceroy was the title of the colonial administrator of British-ruled India.

The State Department responded with a strong statement quoting Hale as telling Mohib later Thursday that his comments “only serve to hinder the bilateral relationship and the peace process.”

The latest round of peace talks ended on March 11 after 16 days. The sides reported progress, but no accord on a withdrawal of U.S.-led international forces and the Taliban’s counter-extremist assurances.

U.S. negotiators also are pressing the insurgents to accept a ceasefire and talks with Afghan society representatives, including government officials. The Taliban have refused to talk to Ghani’s government, which they deride as a U.S. puppet.

In an interview on Monday with Reuters, Afghanistan’s ambassador to Qatar, Faizullah Kakar, said that another country should not be negotiating on the use of Afghan territory by militants.

“It is the government that should be deciding, whoever the government is, that the territory is used or not used against another country,” he said.

(Reporting by Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Erich Knecht in Doha; Editing by Alistair Bell)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: A Venezuelan flag hangs from a building near the national election board as acting President Maduro registered as a candidate for president in the April 14 election in Caracas
FILE PHOTO: A Venezuelan flag hangs from a building in Caracas March 11, 2013. REUTERS/Tomas Bravo/File Photo

March 18, 2019

By Phil Stewart

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – As the United States makes its biggest diplomatic push in Latin America in years to try to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, the U.S. military is zeroing in on a byproduct of the crisis: a strengthening of Colombian rebels on both sides of Venezuela’s border.

U.S. Admiral Craig Faller, the head of the U.S. military’s Southern Command that oversees U.S. forces in Latin America, told Reuters the United States had sharpened its focus on the rebels and increased its sharing of intelligence with Colombian officials. 

U.S. officials see a growing threat from both Colombia’s National Liberation Army (ELN) and factions of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that refuse to adhere to a 2016 peace agreement to end five decades of civil war.

The United States believes the rebels are taking advantage of Venezuela’s crisis to expand their reach in that country and the scope of long-standing illegal activities, including drug trafficking.

“Our principal role working with our Colombian partners is to assist in intelligence sharing. What we know, we share,” Faller said. Asked whether the intelligence sharing on the rebels had ramped up as Venezuela’s crisis deepened, Faller responded: “Absolutely.”

The risks from the insurgents on both sides of the Colombia-Venezuela border add another layer of complexity to the crisis in Venezuela, where U.S. President Donald Trump says all options are on the table to remove Maduro from office.

U.S. officials have uniformly emphasized diplomatic and economic tools to accelerate Maduro’s departure, like sanctions, but Faller acknowledged the U.S. military stood ready to provide options if needed.

At the same time, he noted that no U.S. allies in the region were seeking a military solution to the crisis in Venezuela.

“My job is to be ready, be on the balls of my feet, at all times. But we’ve been talking to our partners and no one, no one, thinks that a military option is a good idea,” Faller said.

Opposition leader Juan Guaido says the May 2018 vote in which Maduro won a second term was a sham and he invoked a constitutional provision on Jan. 23 to assume the interim presidency. Most Western nations including the United States have backed Guaido as head of state.

Maduro, a socialist who has denounced Guaido as a U.S. puppet seeking to foment a coup, retains the support of the armed forces and control of state functions.

Jeremy McDermott, a Colombia-based expert on the insurgencies and co-founder of the Insight Crime think tank, said he believed the Colombian insurgents were operating in Venezuela with at least the blessing of Maduro.

The rebels’ aim is to exploit Venezuela’s lawlessness for safe haven and for economic gain, he said. But he noted there could be an added benefit for Maduro.

“If the Americans invade, or if Colombia promotes a military intervention, then they (Maduro’s supporters) would be able to call upon an insurgent force with more than 50 years of combat experience,” McDermott said.

Asked whether the United States had any evidence of communications between Maduro and the guerrilla groups, Faller said: “I’d rather not discuss the details of the exact connections but we’re watching it very closely.”

Venezuela’s Information Ministry and ELN contacts did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Colombia’s ambassador to Washington, former Vice President Francisco Santos, said ELN and FARC factions had long been present in Venezuela but had grown stronger and more integrated into the country as a result of Venezuela’s crisis.

“They have become the paramilitary groups of the Maduro administration,” Santos told Reuters.

ELN EXPANSION

A Cuba-inspired Marxist insurgency formed in 1964, the ELN claimed responsibility for a January car bomb attack against a police academy in Bogota that killed 22 cadets. It was an escalation by insurgents who have kidnapped Colombian security forces, attacked police stations and bombed oil pipelines.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, say the ELN is increasingly using Venezuelan territory to carry out narco-trafficking and illegal mining of minerals like gold and coltan.

The Venezuelan security forces were believed to be getting kickbacks from the guerrillas, they said.

One U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the U.S. collection of intelligence on the guerrilla groups had increased in recent weeks, including looking at the militants’ activities on the Venezuelan side of the border with Colombia.

Several U.S. officials said they believed senior leaders of both the ELN and the so-called FARC dissidents who do not adhere to the peace agreement were now located inside of Venezuela.

“Their leadership is there,” a second U.S. official said, who also declined to be named, without providing evidence.

An International Crisis Group report cited estimates that the ELN had been active in a minimum of 13 of Venezuela’s 24 states, “absorbing new recruits and shifting from a guerrilla force that embraced armed resistance against Colombia’s ruling elites to one with many core operations in Venezuela.”

Opposition lawmakers in Venezuela also regularly denounce growing ELN activities in Venezuela, but Reuters has been unable to independently verify the extent of its presence or its operations.

Faller declined to discuss any specifics about the collection of U.S. intelligence or identify which insurgent leaders were in Venezuela.

But he acknowledged the trend and added that the flow of illegal narcotics “from Colombia into Venezuela, and then from Venezuela out in the region, has risen as the misery of the Venezuelan people has risen.”

“It’s essentially a lawless region now inside Venezuela along the border and the FARC dissidents and the ELN have taken advantage of that,” Faller said, adding: “They operate with impunity inside Venezuela.”

Santos said the big concern for Colombia was that the strengthening rebel forces would upend efforts to crack down on narcotics trafficking.

“That’s a big worry because in this situation of chaos, obviously they are going to grow. They are growing,” he said.

(Reporting by Phil Stewart; Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and Helen Murphy in Bogota; Editing by Mary Milliken and Peter Cooney)

Source: OANN

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke speaks with supporters during a three day road trip across Iowa, in Mount Pleasant
Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke, 46, speaks with supporters during a three day road trip across Iowa, in Mount Pleasant, Iowa, U.S., March 15, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Brewer

March 18, 2019

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Democrat Beto O’Rourke raised more than $6.1 million in the first day after declaring his candidacy for his party’s 2020 presidential nomination last week, his campaign said on Monday, highlighting his fundraising prowess in a crowded field.

His fundraising puts him at the top of a Democratic pack of more than a dozen candidates including Bernie Sanders, the independent U.S. senator who unsuccessfully sought the Democratic Party’s nomination in 2016. Sanders raised $5.9 million in the first 24 hours of his 2020 campaign.

O’Rourke kicked off his presidential campaign on Thursday in a video on social media and joined a Democratic field that includes a number of veteran U.S. lawmakers.

The former congressman from Texas raised a record $38.1 million in his failed 2018 effort to unseat Republican U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, more than in any other U.S. Senate race and more than three times what Cruz raised.

Sanders’ campaign held the previous one-day record for the Democrats’ 2020 contest and has said he raised about $10 million by the end of his campaign’s first week.

In contrast, some other Democrats reported raising much smaller initial totals. U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar reported raising more than $1 million in her campaign’s first 48 hours, while Washington Governor Jay Inslee reported more than $1 million three days after entering the race.

Democrats have sworn off big money in their challenge to Republican U.S. President Donald Trump, who began his re-election campaign this year with $19.2 million in cash.

Contributions for O’Rourke raised online came “without a dime from PACs, corporations or special interests, he received contributions from every state and territory in the nation,” his campaign said in a statement.

U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren became the first Democratic candidate to formally reject traditional means of campaign funding, saying she would not hold political fundraising events with pricey admission fees.

All candidates next month must disclose how much money they raised in the first quarter.

(Reporting by Ginger Gibson and James Oliphant; Writing by Susan Heavey; Editing by Steve Orlofsky)

Source: OANN

People attend a celebratory event marking the fifth anniversary of Russia's annexation of Crimea in Sevastopol
FILE PHOTO – Russian navy sailors walk past an installation resembling the state emblem of the Soviet Union as they attend a celebratory event, organised by members of the motorcycling club “Night Wolves” and marking the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of Crimea, in Sevastopol, Crimea March 16, 2019. REUTERS/Alexey Pavlishak

March 18, 2019

By Anastasia Lyrchikova

SEVASTOPOL, Crimea (Reuters) – President Vladimir Putin inaugurated two new power stations in Crimea on Monday after flying into the Black Sea peninsula to celebrate the fifth anniversary of Russia’s annexation of the region from Ukraine.

The power stations, in the cities of Sevastopol and Simferopol, were partially launched last year, but Monday’s inauguration marked the moment they began working at full capacity.

The same facilities were at the center of an international scandal after German engineering company Siemens said its power turbines had been installed at them without its knowledge and in violation of European Union sanctions. Russia denied that.

Putin, who has poured billions of Russian taxpayer dollars into Crimea since Moscow seized control of it in 2014, attended the launch of the Sevastopol power station. He oversaw the launch of the Simferopol facility by video conference.

Earlier on Monday, Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesman, said the ceremony would show that Crimea was able to meet all of its own energy needs for the first time. Before annexation, Ukraine supplied 80 percent of the peninsula’s electricity needs.

Ukraine says it wants Crimea, which most countries still recognize as Ukrainian territory, back.

Russia says the matter is closed forever and that a 2014 referendum held after Russian forces secured the peninsula, showed Crimeans want to part of Russia.

Putin is due to speak at a celebratory music concert later on Monday and to hold talks with local people and businesses about what Russia has achieved in Crimea in the last five years and where it has fallen short.

Russia has spent heavily to try to integrate Crimea and reduce its dependence on Ukraine, including building a giant bridge to link the peninsula to southern Russia. But Western sanctions designed to punish Moscow for its annexation have helped isolate the peninsula, pushing up prices and slowing its development.

Putin’s approval rating soared on the back of Russia’s Crimean annexation, which stirred national pride in many Russians. But despite remaining high at over 60 percent, his rating has since declined due to public unease over falling wages, rising prices and unpopular pension reforms.

Russian enthusiasm for the annexation also appears to have cooled with an opinion poll from the FOM pollster this month showing that 39 percent of Russians believe it brought more good than harm, down from 67 percent in 2014.

(Writing by Andrew Osborn; Editing by Tom Balmforth)

Source: OANN

Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva
Michael Lynk, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Palestinian territories, attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, March 18, 2019. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse

March 18, 2019

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – Israel is depriving millions of Palestinians of access to a regular supply of clean water while stripping their land of minerals “in an apparent act of pillage”, a United Nations human rights investigator said on Monday.

Michael Lynk, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in the Palestinian territories, said that Israel “continues full-steam with settlement expansion” in the West Bank, which the United Nations and many countries deem illegal. There are some 20-25,000 new settlers a year, he said.

He was addressing the U.N. Human Rights Council, whose debate Israel’s delegation boycotted due to what it considers a deep bias against it. “In his latest farcical report, Mr. Lynk stoops to a new low and (accuses) the Jewish State of stealing,” Israel’s mission in Geneva said in a statement to Reuters. It

accused Lynk of being a “known Palestinian advocate”.

Israel’s main ally, the United States, quit the 47-member forum last year, also accusing it of an anti-Israel slant.

“In Gaza, the collapse of the coastal aquifer, the only natural source of drinking water in the Strip and now almost entirely unfit for human consumption, is contributing to a significant health crisis among the two million Palestinians living there,” Lynk said.

Despite the withdrawal of Israeli settlers and troops from Gaza in 2005, it has maintained a “hermetic seal of air, sea and land blockade” around the coastal enclave, he said.

An internationally-sponsored $567 million plan has been agreed to address Gaza’s acute shortage of clean water by constructing desalination plants, but analysts say its realization is years away.

“For nearly five million Palestinians living under occupation, the degradation of their water supply, the exploitation of their natural resources and the defacing of their environment are symptomatic of the lack of any meaningful control they have over their daily lives,” Lynk said.

In the West Bank, Israeli quarry companies extract some 17 million tonnes of stone each year, “notwithstanding strict prohibitions in international law against a military power economically exploiting an occupied territory”, Lynk said.

“The Dead Sea and its plentiful natural resources, part of which lies within the occupied Palestinian territory, is off-limits to any Palestinian development while Israeli companies are permitted to harvest the minerals in an apparent act of pillage,” he added.

Israeli authorities have said in the past that Palestinian quarries were ordered shut because they posed safety and environmental risks.

Palestinian Ambassador Ibrahim Khraishi called for Israel to halt what he said was theft of Palestinian property.

“Israel must stop this pillaging, what Israel is doing in the occupied territories is very far from its obligations under international law and treaties,” he said. “This is more even than apartheid.”

(Additional reporting by Jeffrey Heller and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Source: OANN

Israeli forensic police inspect the scene of Palestinian shooting attack near the Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the occupied West Bank
Israeli forensic police inspect the scene of Palestinian shooting attack near the Jewish settlement of Ariel, in the occupied West Bank March 17, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

March 18, 2019

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – An Israeli rabbi died on Monday of wounds from a Palestinian attack a day earlier in the occupied West Bank in which a soldier was killed – an incident that played into Israeli politics three weeks before a national election.

The rabbi, Achiad Ettinger, 47, was a father of 12 and a resident of a Jewish settlement in the West Bank. He was shot on Sunday shortly after the soldier was stabbed to death at an intersection on a busy highway in the territory.

The Palestinian assailant used the 19-year-old conscript’s rifle to fire at the rabbi and wound a second soldier before fleeing in a hijacked car, Israeli officials said.

A spokeswoman at Beilinson hospital near Tel Aviv announced Ettinger’s death. He was the head of a religious seminary in Tel Aviv.

“The people of Israel are mourning the murder of Rabbi Achiad Ettinger,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.

On Sunday, Culture Minister Miri Regev, one of Netanyahu’s most outspoken supporters in his right-wing Likud, seized on the incident to attack his strongest challenger in the April 9 election, former armed forces chief Benny Gantz.

Regev said Gantz, who heads the centrist Blue and White party, would seek the support of an Arab legislator whom she accused of inciting Palestinian violence. Gantz accused Regev was using Israeli deaths for “political propaganda”.

The Israeli military was still searching for the suspected attacker, identified in the Israeli media as a 19-year-old Palestinian with no known affiliation with a militant organization.

Palestinians, many of them individuals without links to armed groups, carried out a wave of attacks in the West Bank in late 2015 and 2016 but the frequency of such incidents has since decreased.

Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians seek to establish a state there and in the Gaza Strip, with East Jerusalem as its capital. Israeli-Palestinian peace talks collapsed in 2014.

Tensions have also been high along the Israel-Gaza border where Palestinians have been holding weekly protests in support of a right of return to lands in Israel from which they fled or were forced to leave in the war over Israel’s creation in 1948.

On Thursday, Palestinians in Hamas-ruled Gaza fired two rockets at Tel Aviv, causing no damage or injuries. Israel responded with air strikes against Hamas targets.

The incidents have highlighted security as an election issue, with both Netanyahu and Gantz promoting themselves as the best qualified to defend Israel.

(Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Weapons the government says were seized from militants in Xinjiang are on display at an exhibition titled
FILE PHOTO: Weapons the government says were seized from militants in Xinjiang are on display at an exhibition titled “Major Violent Terrorist Attack Cases in Xinjiang”, during a government organised trip in Urumqi, Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region, China, January 3, 2019. REUTERS/Ben Blanchard/File Photo

March 18, 2019

BEIJING (Reuters) – Authorities in China have arrested almost 13,000 “terrorists” in the restive far western region of Xinjiang since 2014, the government said on Monday, in a lengthy policy paper again defending its controversial Islamic de-radicalisation measures.

China has faced growing international opprobrium for setting up facilities that United Nations experts describe as detention centers holding more than one million Uighurs and other Muslims. Beijing says it needs the measures to stem the threat of Islamist militancy, and calls them vocational training centers.

Legal authorities have adopted a policy that “strikes the right balance between compassion and severity”, the government said in its white paper.

Since 2014, Xinjiang has “destroyed 1,588 violent and terrorist gangs, arrested 12,995 terrorists, seized 2,052 explosive devices, punished 30,645 people for 4,858 illegal religious activities, and confiscated 345,229 copies of illegal religious materials”, it added.

Only a small minority of people face strict punishment, such as ringleaders of terror groups, while those influenced by extremist thinking receive education and training to teach them the error of their ways, the paper said.

The main exiled group, the World Uyghur Congress, swiftly denounced the white paper.

“China is deliberately distorting the truth,” spokesman Dilxat Raxit said in an emailed statement.

“Counter-terrorism is a political excuse to suppress the Uighurs. The real aim of the so-called de-radicalisation is to eliminate faith and thoroughly carry out Sinification.”

The white paper said Xinjiang has faced a particular challenge since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the United States, as East Turkestan extremists ramped up activities in China, referring to China’s term for extremists and separatists it says operates in Xinjiang.

“They screamed the evil words of ‘getting into heaven by martyrdom with jihad’, turning some people into extremists and terrorists who have been completely mind-controlled, and even turned into murderous devils.”

Religious extremism under the banner of Islam runs counter to Islamic doctrines, and is not Islam, it added.

Xinjiang has long been an inseparable part of Chinese territory, and the Uighur ethnic group evolved from a long process of migration and ethnic integration, the paper said.

“They are not descendants of the Turks.”

Turkey is the only Islamic country that has regularly expressed concern about the situation in Xinjiang, due to close cultural links with the Uighurs, who speak a Turkic language.

China has denounced Turkish concern as unwarranted and interference in its internal affairs.

(Reporting by Ben Blanchard; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

Source: OANN

Asparagus ready for picking is seen in a growing tunnel at Cobrey Farm in Ross-on-Wye
Asparagus ready for picking is seen in a growing tunnel at Cobrey Farm in Ross-on-Wye, Britain, March 11, 2019. Picture taken March 11, 2019. REUTERS/Peter Nicholls

March 18, 2019

By James Davey and Kate Holton

ROSS-ON-WYE, England (Reuters) – For almost 100 years, Chris Chinn’s family has farmed asparagus in the rolling hills of the Wye Valley in western England.

This year, he fears uncertainty around Britain’s departure from the European Union will keep his eastern European workers away and the asparagus will stay in the ground.

Asparagus grown in Britain is feted by chefs as among the world’s best but the seasonal worker shortage threatens the country’s asparagus industry and the viability of Chinn’s Cobrey Farms business.

It is a predicament shared by many British fruit and vegetable farmers, almost totally reliant on seasonal migrant workers from EU member states Romania and Bulgaria taking short-term jobs that British workers do not want.

At Chinn’s farm, which turns over more than 10 million pounds ($13 million) a year, the workers pick the premium asparagus spears that can grow up to 20 cm a day by hand. Sometimes they pick them twice a day before dispatching them to customers such as Marks and Spencer. and Britain’s biggest supermarket, Tesco.

“It is incredibly clear cut – there is no UK asparagus on your supermarket shelves without seasonal migrant workers,” Chinn, whose great grandfather started as a tenant farmer in 1925, told Reuters.

“We’re really at the point where we either import the workers or we import the asparagus.”

Britain’s asparagus season is short and early – traditionally running from April 23, known as Saint George’s Day, to Midsummer’s Day in mid-June. It will be the first big test of the 2019 seasonal labor crisis.

NO SHOWS

This year Chinn’s team has had to work much harder to recruit Romanians and Bulgarians who are perplexed by the long Brexit process as Prime Minister Theresa May seeks parliament’s approval for a divorce deal with the EU. They are also wary of the welcome they will receive from Britons, who voted in 2016 to leave the EU.

Though Cobrey Farms has signed up 1,200 workers who are due to start arriving at the end of this month, Chinn fears many will not turn up. He does not think he will be able to harvest the entire crop, meaning valuable asparagus will be left in the fields.

“If we’re 20 percent short of people then we will harvest 20 percent less asparagus,” said Chinn. “UK agriculture’s not a high-margin game, so 20 percent less means we’re in loss-making territory. Fifty percent could sink us.”

Chinn’s concern grew after 20 of the 100 or so workers due to help cultivate the crops in January failed to turn up.

Of 247 workers due to arrive between March 31 and April 6, 125 are yet to book flights, he said. They include 38 who have worked at Cobrey Farms before and stayed in the dozens of static caravans that stand at the foot of the hills on the farm.

Chinn, who voted Remain in the 2016 Brexit referendum, said uncertainty over eastern Europeans’ employment rights and how long they can stay, combined with a fall in the value of the pound, meant Germany and the Netherlands were now considered more attractive destinations.

“They go somewhere which is most straightforward and any, even minor, hurdles you put in their way is just nudging them ever closer to going somewhere else,” he said.

With just 11 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU, the government is yet to agree a withdrawal arrangement or an extension, meaning the risk of a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit cannot be ruled out.

If Britain agrees on a divorce deal, a transition period will kick in, maintaining freedom of movement until the end of 2020. In the event of no deal, EU citizens arriving after March 29 would need to register to work for more than three months.

Elina Kostadinova, a 28 year-old harvest manager at Cobrey Farms who is from Varna on Bulgaria’s Black Sea, said many workers were worried about coming to Britain because of Brexit.

“They don’t know if they will be welcomed in the country, how long they may be able to stay, how they may be able to travel and what the future may hold,” she said. “It would be wonderful if the UK government could make a decision, so we can relay this message.”

British farms typically pay workers the national minimum wage of 7.83 pounds an hour plus performance-related bonuses.

Chinn said the idea of British workers plugging the gap was fanciful. He does not expect much help from the supermarkets, where sales volumes have already been negotiated for the season and prices have been fixed, barring exceptional circumstances.

PERMIT TRIAL

Britain’s fruit and vegetable sector relies on up to 80,000 seasonal workers from the EU each year. Having previously been inundated with applications, labor agencies say interest dropped off in 2017 and 2018 as workers from Romania and Bulgaria opted to go elsewhere in the EU.

For the last two seasons, Britain has been short by around 10,000 workers, threatening the food supply and forcing farms to pay higher wages and bonuses. At the end of the summer as workers want to leave, farms will offer free accommodation and to pay the cost of flights to try to persuade them to stay on.

Concordia, a labor agency charity that finds EU pickers for British farms, said it now has to work much harder to recruit.

“U.K. agriculture is definitely entering into a crisis. No labor means no harvesting, which means no fruit and no vegetables on shelves in British supermarkets,” Chief Executive Stephanie Maurel told Reuters.

She was speaking in Moscow after the British government sanctioned a pilot trial for 2,500 workers to enter the country from Russia, Ukraine and Moldova for up to six months over the next two years.

Chinn, who has 3,500 acres of land, wants the government to increase the numbers to 10,000 this summer and over 50,000 in the next couple of years.

“We can’t change this natural cycle of the crop … the crop will come out the ground when it warms up,” he said. “So the key is about not waiting for a total disaster that wipes out large swathes of UK horticulture.”

(Editing by Guy Faulconbridge and Timothy Heritage)

Source: OANN

FILE PHOTO: Surrendering families of Islamic State militants in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria
FILE PHOTO: Surrendering families of Islamic State militants in the village of Baghouz, Deir Al Zor province, Syria, March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Issam Abdallah/File Photo

March 17, 2019

BAGHOUZ, Syria (Reuters) – The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said on Sunday over 60,000 people, mostly civilians, had flooded out of the Islamic State militant group’s last enclave in eastern Syria since a final assault to capture it began over two months ago.

SDF spokesman Kino Gabriel told journalists that 29,600 people, the majority of whom were families of fighters of the group, had surrendered since the U.S.-backed forces led by the Kurdish YPG laid siege to the town of Baghouz and its hinterland on the Euphrates River.

Among them were 5,000 militants, the SDF said.

Another 34,000 civilians were evacuated from Baghouz, the last shred of territory held by the jihadists who have been driven from roughly one third of Iraq and Syria over the past four years, Gabriel said.

The group said that 1,306 “terrorists” had been killed alongside many who were injured in the military campaign that began on Jan. 9 while 82 SDF fighters had been killed and 61 injured.

The SDF said another 520 militants were captured during special operations conducted in the last militant bastion that comprises a group of villages surrounded by farmland where IS fighters and followers retreated as their “caliphate” was driven from once vast territories.

Former residents say hundreds of civilians have been killed in months of heavy aerial bombing by the U.S. led coalition that have leveled to the ground many of the hamlets in area along the border with Iraq.

The SDF has mostly transferred the tens of thousands who have fled Islamic State’s shrinking territory in recent months to a camp at al-Hol in the northeast.

The United Nations says the camp now holds around 67,000 people, 90 percent of them women and children – well beyond its capacity. Camp workers say they do not have enough tents, food or medicine. They have warned of diseases spreading.

(Writing by Suleiman Al-Khalidi; Editing by Toby Chopra)

Source: OANN

David Krayden | Ottawa Bureau Chief

Conservative pundit and author Mark Steyn called former Texas Democratic Rep. Beto O’Rourke “a parody of rich white privilege” in a party obsessed with diversity and identity politics.

Steyn began his segment on “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Friday appraising a ribald poem written in 1988 by the latest Democratic presidential candidate, in which he describes sexual fantasies with a cow.

Former Texas congressman Beto O'Rourke speaks during a campaign stop at The Beancounter Coffeehouse in Burlington, Iowa on March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

Former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke speaks during a campaign stop at The Beancounter Coffeehouse in Burlington, Iowa on March 14, 2019. REUTERS/Daniel Acker

“We’re in Keats and Shelly territory here,” Steyn joked in reference to the two poets. “I love the rhyme, I love the meter, I love the poetic sentiment.” (RELATED: Beto O’Rourke: ‘Beyond A Shadow Of A Doubt,’ Trump Tried To Collude With Russia)

The writer summed up the Democratic presidential race as “diversity and identity means we have to put up many black and gay and Muslim and transgendered candidates, so they can lose to the rich white guy.”

While the Democratic Party lauds itself on embracing diversity, Steyn noted, “I don’t believe in the concept of white privilege but these guys do and it’s hard to get any more white privileged than a judge’s boarding-school son, who’s writing bovine poetry.” He added that O’Rourke has styled himself as the “world’s most dedicated, middle-aged skateboarder.” (RELATED: Texas Democratic Party Chairman Unable To Name One Beto Accomplishment)

Beto O’Rourke demonstrates his prowess at skateboarding. Clip shown on Tucker Carlson Tonight, March 15, 2019. Fox News screenshot.

Beto O’Rourke demonstrates his prowess at skateboarding. Clip shown on Tucker Carlson Tonight, March 15, 2019. Fox News screenshot.

Since O’Rourke entered the presidential race this week, he has been the focus of non-stop media attention. The congressman made climate change a key component of his political program and said those fighting the ecological battle are like the troops that stormed Normandy during the D-Day invasion of 1944.

Commenting on contemporary politics, Steyn added, “Beto is the boy band du jour.”

Follow David on Twitter

Source: The Daily Caller


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