Tuesday, 31 May 2016

French Open Organizers under Fire as Backlog Grows

French Open organizers were accused of “not caring about the players” after the tennis event was disrupted by rain following another day’s washout.

The failure to play under cover, with Roland Garros being the only one of the four grand slam venues that does not have a court with a retractable roof, certainly proved costly for Agnieszka Radwanska and Simona Halep — fourth-round losers in the only two matches that were completed on day 10.

Serena Williams’ half of the draw would now need to play on four successive days to win the title if the final takes place on Saturday as scheduled, though more rain is expected.

Novak Djokovic and the men in his half of the draw might have to spend some restless days between each round as they would have to play on four of the next five days to contest Sunday’s final.

Radwanska, the world number two, and 2014 runner-up Halep were forced to play in misty rain on Tuesday as organizers made a desperate attempt to clear the huge backlog.

“No one cares about the players in my opinion,” sixth seed Halep said after she was beaten 7-6(0) 6-3 by Australian Sam Stosur in a battle of former finalists.

“It was impossible to play. To play tennis matches during the rain is a bit too much. I was close to getting injured with my back… but no one cares.”

“I’m just so surprised and angry that we have to play in the rain. I mean, it’s not a $10,000 tournament. It’s a grand slam,” said Radwanska, the highest seed to exit the tournament.

“How can you allow players to play in the rain? I cannot play in that condition. They really don’t care what we think.”

Only two of 10 scheduled matches were completed as the claycourt major suffered its sixth day of showers, with Djokovic — leading Spaniard Roberto Bautista Agut 3-6 6-4 4-1 — one of 16 players still stranded in the fourth round.

French Open Organizers under Fire as Backlog Grows

German Court Allows Music Sampling for Hip-Hop Producer

Germany’s Constitutional Court handed a defeat to electronic music pioneers Kraftwerk on Tuesday by ruling that a hip-hop artist can sample a two-second beat from a band’s tracks without infringing copyright.

The ruling upturns a decision issued earlier by the Federal Court of Justice and further addresses the complex legal issue of the competing interests of artistic freedom and copyright.

The sequences were only seconds long and “led to the creation of a totally new and independent piece of work”, according to the court.

“The economic value of the original sound was therefore not diminished,” the court said, adding that banning sampling would in effect spell the end of some music styles.

“The hip-hop music style lives by using such sound sequences and would not survive if it were banned.”

The ruling is considered as a blow for Kraftwerk singer Ralf Huetter who debated his copyright had been breached by producer Moses Pelham in the song “Nur Mir”, German for “Only for Me”, sung by rapper Sabrina Setlur.

Worth noting that the two-second beat sequence originally came from Kraftwerk’s track “Metall auf Metall”, or “Metal on Metal”, is repeated in the song.

German Court Allows Music Sampling for Hip-Hop Producer

Opinion: Will Obama’s Policy Continue After His Presidency Ends?

For decades, the United States’ policy in the Middle East was based on fixed principles; its rejection of the Iranian nuclear project, a commitment to Israel’s security and ensuring the safety of energy sources, i.e. Gulf oil. For this reason, Washington confronted Iran and demanded two things from it; to halt its nuclear program and hostile foreign activities.

The political principles are built on one another; the Iranian nuclear project threatens the security of Gulf petroleum as well as Israel which continuously threatens the interests of the United States.

Since the arrival of Barack Obama at the White House, his policies are not based on the usual American principles – that’s the opinion of a number of politicians in the Middle East. His adoption of a different policy came as a shock to the region, including the Gulf and Israel, which viewed the nuclear deal with Iran as a dangerous change in the rules of the game. Obama has therefore been blamed for increasing the level of violence and armament.

The question remains, does Obama’s current policy express his vision of the world, or does it reflect the strategic shift in Washington? Obama has already talked about this transformation more than once; he said that his country no longer sees the Middle East as important to the United States, and that it seeks to pursue its interests in the Pacific, towards China and its neighbours.

Will the next president of the United States follow in Obama’s footsteps or will they return to the policy of former president George W Bush and previous American presidents when Washington grants itself a greater role in the affairs of the region?

It is not long before we see the truth; Obama’s presidency will end in approximately six months, and the keys to the White House and its files, including the Middle East will be handed to his successor. There are four wars raging in the region simultaneously which is something that has not happened since World War II. The Obama administration succeeded in killing leaders of terrorism at the beginning by killing the leader of Al-Qaeda Osama bin Laden, but terrorism has returned and is spreading through the region at a faster rate than before. Although President Obama has said more than once that his policy is to disentangle the United States from the wars and conflicts in the Middle East, the reality is that he has not done that.

His country is leading a major military alliance in the war on ISIS in Iraq and Syria, is still fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen via drones. Indeed, reality demonstrates that the reasons for America’s old presence; oil, Israel and terrorism, have not changed. President Obama previously spoke about the motive for his desire to reduce Washington’s role in the Middle East; he said he was elected on the basis of his promise to the American people that the country would exit the wars in the region and that it has done so.

Another motive is the desire to end the United States’ conflict with Iran. Iran is taking advantage of Obama’s keenness to end the long dispute with it, and has therefore widened its aggressive political and military activities against America’s allies. Iranians now have considerable influence in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, and they tried to establish the same in Yemen had it not been for Saudi military intervention that toppled the coup that would have installed a government loyal to Iran there.

The two presidential possibilities are Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. It is difficult to know how Trump thinks. The statements that he has made during his election campaign so far suggest that he is not committed to Obama’s policy and is willing to reactivate the United States’ role through a pragmatic partnership that serves the interests of his country. As for Clinton, her political positions suggest that she is ready to cooperate with Iran, but with more stringent conditions.

By the time a new president is elected in the United States, the Middle East will have reached a more difficult stage. The Syrian peace negotiations between the warring parties appear to be aimed at reducing the confrontations and preoccupation with worthless negotiations until Obama’s term ends. Washington is also involved in the war against ISIS in Fallujah and may get involved in Mosul later, but will not eliminate terrorist groups.

Obama is therefore leaving his successor a table full of dangerous and outstanding issues that will force them to adopt a greater role and reactivate the role of the United States in the Middle East.

Opinion: Will Obama’s Policy Continue After His Presidency Ends?

‘Anatolian Eagle 4’ Launched with Participation of Saudi Tornado Fighters

Riyadh- Saudi royal air forces are trying to prove their expertise in realistic warfare environment through the “Anatolian Eagle 4” multilateral military maneuvers launched on Monday in the Turkish city of Konya.

The 20-day-long maneuvers enlist air forces from 11 countries, including Saudi Arabia, U.S., Germany, and Qatar and are to last until June 10.

The exercises are said to be one of the biggestof their kind in the world.

In a statement to highlight the Saudi participation in the drill, Col. Staff Ali bin Dhafer al-Omari, Commander of the Saudi Royal Air forces group, said that it is the second time Saudi air forces, which are taking part in the drill for the fourth time in a row, participate with the Tornado fighters in this event.

The Saudi Arabian air force has dispatched a number of its Tornado warplanes to multinational aerial war games underway in Turkey.

The fighters flew to the Konya Air Base in the southern Turkish city of Konya on Tuesday to join the so-called Anatolian Eagle maneuvers.

Commander Omari was at the reception accompanied by a number of other commanders.

Al-Omari said the joint exercise aims to improve the skills of all military and administrative personnel as well as technicians.

Al-Omari added that all personnel have arrived fully prepared from King Abdulaziz Airbase to participate in the exercises. He added that the RSAF is participating in one of the most important military training and that everything was professionally prepared following safety rules.

“Anatolian Eagle” military training and maneuvers are worldly renowned for professionalism and defense and attack exercises.

In addition to that, they are also known for the engaging operations and cooperation between air forces during military operations.

It is only one of dozens of trainings, military exercises, and maneuvers that RSAF participated in the last few years. Analysts believe that this shows seriousness in dealing with international threats.

Training Center of these maneuvers is the best and only center in Europe that can mimic an actual war zone; trainings vary from simple air wars to more complex ones at the end of the sessions.

By participating with a number of neighboring countries, RSAF aims to improve its expertise in international maneuvers as well as enrich and increase cooperation among international forces.

Not to forget the exchange of military experiences in order to meet the needs of joint military actions.

RSAF has advanced technologies that enable its staff and pilots of reaching the highest levels of professionalism.

By participating in “Anatolian Eagle 4”, RSAF benefits from change of environment and weather that enriches its staff experience in dealing with situations under all circumstances.

‘Anatolian Eagle 4’ Launched with Participation of Saudi Tornado Fighters

Libya Needs United Force to Battle ISIS - U.N. Envoy

The United Nations special envoy to Libya, Martin Kobler, stressed on Tuesday the country’s need for uniting the various military and militia strands in order the defeat the terrorist ISIS organization.

The December unity deal was meant to end the rift between opposing governments in the capital Tripoli and the east that have been fighting over the country since 2014. The competing factions helped oust Muammar Gaddafi five years ago.

But in a sign of a possible new showdown, eastern and western factions have sent separate armored columns towards Gaddafi’s home town Sirte, now in the hands of militants from ISIS.

Speaking alongside side French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault, Kobler said a united command structure was needed under control of Fayaz Seraj, the head of the U.N.-backed Government of National Accord (GNA), which arrived in Tripoli in late March and is still trying to establish its authority.

“One point must be very clear. The fight against Daesh must first be a Libyan fight and a united fight,” Kobler, said referring to the Arabic acronym for ISIS.

“Nobody acting alone will succeed that’s why it’s important that all security actors in the west and east unite their forces. There must be a joint command structure and joint army under the general command of the council (GNA).”

Ayrault, whose country has sent special forces to help certain groups combat ISIS in the North African state, said the priority was to incorporate General Khalifa Haftar, who heads up troops in the east, with militias in the west.

Haftar on May 20 said it would be “unthinkable” for eastern Libyan forces to join the GNA until militias aligned to it had been disbanded.

“I encourage the government (GNA) to do everything to have contacts with the east and they are doing it,” said Kobler, who added he would like to hold talks with Haftar. “But the east is refusing for the moment. It takes two to tango.”

Libya Needs United Force to Battle ISIS - U.N. Envoy

Scores of Casualties in Idlib as Russia Denies Carrying out Airstrikes

Syrian activists raised on Tuesday the death toll from the late night airstrikes on the northwestern city of Idlib, saying at least 23 people were killed.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that Russian aircraft carried out the strikes, which pummeled the city, despite Moscow’s denial.

“Russian planes did not carry out any combat missions, to say nothing of any air strikes, in the province of Idlib,” Igor Konashenkov, a Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, said in a statement.

Idlib is held by several militant groups, including al-Nusra Front. Another activist group, the Local Coordination Committees, gave a higher toll, saying the airstrikes killed 50.

Since the Russian military campaign began last September in an effort to shore up Bashar Assad’s forces in their battle against militants, Moscow has staunchly denied that its warplanes have hit any civilian areas in Syria.

Konashenkov called the Observatory’s allegations “a horror story” of the kind he said it had disseminated in the past and said such pronouncements should be regarded with greater skepticism.

The Turkish foreign ministry said the strikes had killed more than 60 civilians and injured around 200 people.

In an e-mailed statement, the ministry called on the international community to act swiftly against what it called the “indefensible” crimes of the Russian and Syrian regime.

Meanwhile, U.S.-backed Kurdish-led fighters have seized ground from ISIS in Syria, the Observatory said.

The Syrian Democratic Forces, who control a swathe of territory along the Turkish border, launched a push south towards the ISIS stronghold of Raqqa last week, capturing a string of villages in the north of Raqqa province.

“The SDF has captured 12 villages… northwest of Raqqa in the past 36 hours,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman said.

He said that the villages lie 80 kilometers or more from Raqqa itself but that the jihadists’ de facto Syria capital was not the immediate goal.

He said the target of the offensive was the town of Tabqa and its adjacent dam on the Euphrates River, which lie some 40 kilometers upstream.

ISIS lost 18 fighters in the fighting on Monday, taking its losses since the start of the offensive on May 24 to 79, he said.

Among those killed were 24 child fighters from ISIS’s “Cubs of the Caliphate” recruitment program.

Scores of Casualties in Idlib as Russia Denies Carrying out Airstrikes

Ecstasy Making Comeback, Warns EU Drug Agency

Ecstasy is making a comeback in the European Union with online sales and targeted marketing helping to drive the revival among young people, the EU drug agency said Tuesday.

Ecstasy, the common name of MDMA, has returned as “a common stimulant of choice for young people,” the agency said in its annual 2016 European Drug Report on drug trends in the 28-nation bloc.

Ecstasy first established itself in the illegal drug market in the 1990s, but its use declined at the end of the last decade amid poor drug quality and adulteration.

According to the latest survey of the Lisbon-based European monitoring center for drugs and drug addiction (EMCDDA), 2.1 million people aged 15-34 had used ecstasy in the last year, 300,000 higher than the estimate in 2015.

Innovative ways of obtaining chemical compounds used to make the drug, new production methods and marketing techniques that offer varying strengths, colors and shapes of tablets are fueling the business, the EU drug agency said.

Authorities believe most ecstasy in the EU is produced in or around the Netherlands and Lisbon, it said.

Despite ecstasy’s return its use is still dwarfed by the popularity of cannabis. That remains the EU’s biggest-selling drug in money terms with an estimated annual retail value of 9.3 billion euros ($10.3 billion) — around 38 percent of the total illegal drug market — in 2013, the last year for which full figures are available.

Heroin sales are estimated to be the second-highest, at 6.8 billion euros, followed by cocaine at 5.7 billion euros. Sales of MDMA are believed to total almost 700 million euros.

Cannabis offenses, mostly involving use or possession for personal use, account for close to three-fourths of all drug-related offenses in the EU.

Cocaine use appears to be higher in western and southern EU countries, while amphetamines are more prominent in northern and eastern EU, according to the report.

The agency said online drug sales appear to be growing, representing an “important new challenge for drug policy.”

Alexis Goosdeel, the EU drugs agency director, said: “The revival of MDMA brings with it the need to rethink existing prevention and harm-reduction responses to target and support a new population of users who may be using high-dose products, without fully understanding the risks involved.”

“Intoxications and even deaths associated with this drug are highlighted in our new report. This is particularly worrying since MDMA is moving into more mainstream social settings and is increasingly available via online markets,” he added.

Ecstasy Making Comeback, Warns EU Drug Agency

Rafsanjani Admits Iran’s Involvement in Region’s Crises

London-Chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani said that Iran is involved in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan to defend national interests.

Rafsanjani explained during an interview with Aftab News that Iran cannot leave these countries easily, adding that continuing what they have started with there is not an easy mission.

He considered Iran’s intervention in regional crises as one of the international challenges his country is facing.

He added by saying, “Arab and Islamic countries are united against Iran in Syria and now want to control things in Iraq.”

Moreover, Rafsanjani admitted that Iran is facing troubles in the region; adding that these problems should be solved by proper management in order to reach a suitable solution.

On the other hand, Rafsanjani called for Americans to be “flexible” with Iran for a few years in order to gain the confidence of the Iranian officials; thus normalizing U.S.-Iranian relations.

He also implicitly pointed out that Rouhani wants to meet U.S. President Barack Obama. But “Khamenei’s pressure exerted on the Iranian president,” in addition to the unsuitable circumstances, “prevents such meeting from taking place.”

Rafsanjani acknowledged the existence of profound differences in the Iranian leadership, accusing some officials of deceiving public opinion.

Three days ago, Commander of Iranian Quds Force Qassem Soleimani pointed out implicitly to the existence of negotiations between Iran and the U.S. on the crises in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen.

Meanwhile, the chairman of the Expediency Discernment Council defended Hassan Rouhani by explaining that one of his major political pledges, regarding ending the house arrest of Green Movement leaders Mir Hossein Mousavi and Mehdi Karroubi, has not been met yet because it is out of the government’s powers.

Notably, Rouhani is passing through very critical times due to the increased pressure exerted on him and as a result of the long list of accusations directed by his allies and rivals.

In addition, Rafsanjani mentioned that Iran is facing great internal challenges because of the political disputes, unemployment, and inflation.

Iranian websites circulated news on Rafsanjani’s statements at the time when former Commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Mohsen Rezaee attacked the Saudi foreign minister with racist terms.

Furthermore, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister for Arab and African Affairs Amir Abdullahian said that Tehran is determined to continue playing its advisory role in the region, reiterating Iran’s continuous presence in Syria, according to IRNA official agency.

He explained on Monday that Iran, with pride and determination, continues its advisory support in the region, pointing out to Iran’s crucial role to guarantee security and stability in regional countries and the world.

Iran justifies its military presence in Syria and Iraq by considering itself playing an advisory role, yet it names its militants in these areas with ideological titles such as “Defending Shi’ite Shrines,” showing contradiction between the official speeches given in Iran and the involved institutions that are sending armed militants to Arab countries.

In a common matter, Secretary of the Supreme National Security Council of Iran Ali Shamkhani defended Iran’s decision to intervene in Syria and Iraq.

Rafsanjani Admits Iran’s Involvement in Region’s Crises

Monday, 30 May 2016

Kuwait Upholds Death Sentence for Sadiq Mosque Blast Ringleader

Kuwait-Kuwait’s Supreme Court on Monday upheld the death sentence handed down to the main convict in the June 2015 bombing of the Imam Sadiq mosque that killed 26 people and left 227 injured.

The court confirmed the sentence of capital punishment passed on Abdulrahman Sabah Idan, known as Saud, a stateless man (Bidoon) who drove the Saudi suicide bomber to the mosque during Friday prayers.

The attack in Kuwait City was claimed by ISIS.

The court also upheld jail terms of between two and 15 years for eight people, including four women, and acquitted 15 others including three women and the owner of the car that was used to drive the suicide bomber to the mosque.

The court did not hear the appeals of five others — four Saudis and a stateless man — who had been sentenced to death in absentia by a lower court.

Under Kuwaiti law, sentences issued in absentia are not reviewed by higher courts until those convicted appear in person.

The four Saudi men still at large include two brothers who smuggled the explosives belt used in the attack into Kuwait from neighboring Saudi Arabia. The fifth man is a stateless Arab.

Twenty-nine defendants, including seven women, had been charged with helping the Saudi suicide bomber attack the mosque, which was the bloodiest in Kuwait’s history.

Meanwhile, Kuwait’s Criminal Court sentenced Athbi al-Fahad, a former intelligence chief, and several others to five years in jail for insulting the emir and the judiciary on the Internet.

Also convicted was Khalifa al-Ali, the editor of Al-Watan newspaper.

They were among 13 people charged with using the Internet to insult the emir and publish false news accusing judges of accepting bribes, the court ruled.

Kuwait Upholds Death Sentence for Sadiq Mosque Blast Ringleader

Lebanese Security Agencies Thwart 3 ISIS Bombing Plots

Beirut-Lebanon’s security situation went back to the forefront after Interior Minister Nouhad al-Mashnouq revealed on Monday that security forces had thwarted three bombing plots by ISIS.

Al-Mashnouq’s announcement came after security agencies issued reports on the arrest on the outskirts of Beirut and north Lebanon of several Syrians belonging to the extremist organization. But the reports did not explain the role of the suspects.

General Prosecutor Judge Samir Hammoud told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that “security agencies, the Internal Security Forces Intelligence Branch in particular, dismantled several weeks ago a network whose members belong to terrorist organizations such as ISIS and others.”

The cell was “plotting to carry out bombings in Lebanon,” he said, adding “the case has been referred to the military tribunal after the initial investigation was complete.”

The detainees “admitted to being tasked with carrying out bombings in Beirut and elsewhere,” the judge told the newspaper. “The operations would have targeted civilians, political personalities and some diplomats outside their compounds.”

Asked about reports that the network was plotting to target a compound and a church in Beirut, Hammoud refused to give more details.

Meanwhile, Army chief Gen. Jean Qahwaji stressed that the military was “giving security inside Lebanon and on its border top priority to thwart attempts by terrorist groups to tamper with the country’s stability.”

Qahwaji spoke during a meeting he chaired for high-ranking military officers.

In 2012, Lebanon witnessed a series of attacks carried out by suicide bombers belonging to ISIS and al-Nusra Front who targeted Beirut’s southern suburbs, the Iranian Embassy and Cultural Center and towns in the Bekaa Valley whose citizens are loyal to Hezbollah.

The last double suicide bombing that targeted Lebanon was in November 2015 in the neighborhood of Borj al-Barajneh in Beirut’s southern suburbs. Scores of people were killed and injured in the attack.

General Security Chief Maj. Gen. Abbas Ibrahim vowed on Monday that terrorists will not make their way into Lebanon in any way.

The Lebanese “state will stand against all deals by nations to bring down states and borders and will preserve Lebanon and its entity with sweat, blood and effort, no matter the sacrifices,” Ibrahim said at the opening of a new General Security border crossing building at Abboudieh in northern Lebanon.

“Lebanon will not be a scapegoat or a dartboard for plans” of others, he said.

“Nothing at all will threaten the country of diversity and plurality,” he added.

Ibrahim explained that the new security building was part of a two-stage plan to expand and modernize the General Security center, which lies on the border with Syria, with the aim of better controlling border traffic, smoothing administrative processes, and filling in the gaps used by smuggling operations.

Lebanese Security Agencies Thwart 3 ISIS Bombing Plots

Ould Cheikh’s Meetings With the Rebel Delegation Will Determine the Fate of Consultations

The UN envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed continued to hold meetings with the rebel (Houthi – Saleh) delegation in Kuwait yesterday. The UN envoy’s office said that the main issues discussed by Ould Cheikh with the delegation include “details and mechanisms for withdrawal, the handing over of arms, resuming political dialogue and the restoration of state institutions”. Sources close to the consultations said discussions between the two parties are heated and that Ould Cheikh is facing obstacles when discussing details regarding the implementation of resolution 2216.

The rebel delegation is trying to avoid the points of reference which are central to the consultations despite mediation and efforts being made by regional and international parties to push for the consultations to result in an agreement that will end the armed conflict in Yemen. The sources also pointed out that the meetings that took place in the morning and the evening did not result in any kind of agreement, and that this is what is preventing a direct meeting between the two delegations.

The sources emphasised that the meetings between Ould Cheikh and the rebel delegation and the results of these meetings will determine the fate of the Kuwait consultations.

Houthi sources in Sanaa said that their delegation “presented its objection to statements and briefings made by Ould Cheikh that include positions that have not been agreed upon or discussed”. This confirms the information cited by Asharq Al-Awsat sources about the difficulties faced by Ould Cheikh at discussions with the rebel delegation.

Ould Cheikh’s Meetings With the Rebel Delegation Will Determine the Fate of Consultations

Syrian Opposition Negotiator Quits with Peace Talks Stalling

The chief peace negotiator of Syria’s mainstream opposition in the Geneva peace talks has resigned on Sunday amid no signs of progress in the U.N.- backed peace process that began earlier this year.

Mohammed Alloush said he took this step because the international community is not “serious” about reaching a solution to end the country’s five-year civil war. His statement, released late Sunday, also said that Syrian government forces continue attacking the opposition and besieging rebel-held areas, despite the three rounds of negotiations in Geneva.

Without any of the opposition demands met, peace talks were a “waste of time,” he said adding that he did not expect peace talks to resume so long as the Syrian government remained intransigent and not ready to enter “serious negotiations”.

Alloush, who is also the representative of the powerful Jaish al Islam rebel faction in the Saudi-based High Negotiations Committee (HNC), said that the peace talks had also failed to secure the release of thousands of detainees or to push Syria towards a political transition without President Bashar al Assad.

As evidence of the talks’ failure, Alloush said that the United Nations has not been able to set up a transitional governing body for Syria or find a political solution to the crisis.

The “proximity” talks that began in January have failed to make any progress amid contrary demands by the opposition team and the government delegation.

The Syrian opposition has repeatedly prioritized the political transition in the talks, while the government says fighting terrorism should be the priority The U.N.-backed parties have not set a date for the resumption of the peace talks after the HNC suspended their participation until the situation on the ground has radically changed.

The opposition has been insisting that the President Bashar Assad and top official in his government have no role in Syria’s future — or even during the transitional period.

Alloush said he submitted his resignation to the opposition’s High Negotiations Committee and described his move as a “protest against the international community,” which he hoped would come to realize “the importance of the Syrian blood that is being shed by the (Damascus) regime and its allies.”

The Syrian government does not recognize the right of the HNC to speak on behalf of the opposition and insists they were tools of foreign powers seeking to topple Assad and brand Alloush himself as a “terrorist”.

The resignation was accepted in a meeting in the Saudi-capital Riyadh headed by HNC’s chief coordinator Riad Hijab that sought to assess the peace negotiations.

Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for U.N. special envoy for Syria, Staffan de Mistura, told The Associated Press in Geneva that the resignation is an “internal matter for the HNC.”

“We look forward to continuing our work with all sides to ensure that the process moves forward,” she said.

Meanwhile, opposition activists reported intense government airstrikes in the northern province of Aleppo on Monday.

The province has witnessed some of the worst violence over the past months and has also seen clashes lately between rebels and members of the extremist ISIS group, which captured several villages last week before losing two of them again on Sunday.

More than 160,000 civilians have been trapped by the fighting between ISIS and Syrian rebels and the aid group Doctors Without Borders last week evacuated one of the few remaining hospitals from the Aleppo area.

Meanwhile, the International Rescue Committee (IRC) said that over the weekend, more than 8,000 people managed to escape villages and displacement camps to the east and south of the rebel-held town of Azaz.

IRC said that before the road became too dangerous, some 6,000 people managed to flee the rebel stronghold of Marea to seek safety in Azaz. It added that more than 1,000 people managed to reach the Kurdish area of Afrin and more than 1,200 people have fled to a makeshift refugee camp on Yazibag mountain.

Syrian Opposition Negotiator Quits with Peace Talks Stalling

U.N.: ‘Use of Sieges as a Weapon of War is Reprehensible’

New York- U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Stephen O’Brien said there was an urgent need for political action to bolster the ceasefire and end the suffering in Syria. However, he emphasized, “humanitarian access to the millions of people in need must never be open to negotiation.”

“Protecting civilians and granting access should never be dependent on political negotiations or as a bargaining chip for ad hoc deals on the ground,” O’Brien said as he presented the Security Council on Friday the monthly report issued pursuant to resolution 2139 on humanitarian access in the struggling countries.

Speaking via video teleconference from Geneva, he said there must be immediate and unimpeded access throughout Syria; not just to one third, but to all those in need, in a sustained manner covering the full package of supplies, including medical and surgical items.

The sieges, under which 597,000 people were suffering, must be lifted once and for all, and immediately, he stressed, saying that “the use of sieges as a weapon of war is reprehensible.”

He said he had just returned from Syria and had run out of words to describe the misery he had witnessed, including the results of indiscriminate attacks against camps for displaced people and other civilian structures, with total disregard for humanitarian law.

In addition to people in besieged areas, many are victims of measures taken by the government in parts of rural Damascus and Homs and areas closed off by ISIS and other armed groups, he said. Hundreds of thousands of civilians in northern rural Homs and Hama had limited access to water and other necessities. “The situation of civilians across Aleppo Governorate also remained alarming.”

Just this week, terrorist attacks had taken the lives of scores more people in villages and a hospital had been targeted by a suicide bombing, he said, adding that another hospital, the last serving a large region, had been struck by barrel bombs.

Yet, despite the challenging circumstances, he said, U.N. agencies and non-governmental partners continued their efforts to meet the urgent humanitarian needs of the Syrian population.

Millions of people had been reached with assistance in April, while the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Health Organization (WHO) had begun another nationwide immunization campaign targeting two million children.

O’Brien added that deliberate interference by parties to the conflict, most notably the Government of Syria, continued to prevent the effective delivery of aid.

In this regard, O’Brien called upon the Government to approve the United Nations’ plan for June, which sought to reach 1.1 million people in 34 besieged, hard-to-reach and other priority cross-line locations, and to remove any and all conditions, not least those concerning the amount or type of aid that could be delivered.

He accused the Syrian regime of curtailing the ability of the United Nations to reach even those in locations already approved for deliveries during the month of May; adding that no conclusion could be drawn other than that such actions were part of an effort to further punish civilians.

He went on to note that non-State armed groups continued to prevent a United Nations assessment mission from proceeding to the besieged towns of Foah and Kefrayah in Idleb Governorate.

U.N.: ‘Use of Sieges as a Weapon of War is Reprehensible’

Bleaching Kills 35% of Coral in Great Barrier Reef's North

Mass coral bleaching has killed the majority of the northern and central Great Barrier Reef, though corals to the south have escaped with little damage, Australian scientists said on Monday.

The damage is part of a massive bleaching event that has been impacting reefs around the world for the past two years. It is a major blow to the 2,300-kilometer (1,400-mile) reef off Australia’s east coast that attracts about A$5 billion ($3.59 billion) in tourism each year.

Researchers who led months of aerial and underwater surveys of the World Heritage Site found that around 35 percent of the coral in the northern and central sections of the reef are dead or dying, said Terry Hughes, director of the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies at James Cook University in Queensland state. And some parts of the reef had lost more than half of the coral to bleaching.

The scope of the damage has serious implications, Hughes said. Older corals take time to bounce back from bleaching, and likely won’t have a chance to recover before the next bleaching event occurs, he said. And dying coral affects much more than the coral itself — it affects other creatures that rely on coral for food and shelter.

“Is it surprising? Not anymore. Is it significant? Absolutely,” said Mark Eakin, the coral reef watch coordinator for the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. “We’re talking about losing 35 percent of the population of coral in some of these reefs — that’s huge.

Experts say the bleaching has been triggered by global warming and El Nino, a warming of parts of the Pacific Ocean that changes weather worldwide. Hot water puts stress on coral, causing it to turn white and become vulnerable to disease.

This is the third mass bleaching event in 18 years to strike the Great Barrier Reef, and in each case, the areas that suffered the worst bleaching were the areas where the water was hottest for the longest period of time, Hughes said.

This time, the southern half of the reef was spared largely due to a lucky break that arrived in the form of a tropical cyclone. The remnants of the storm which had lashed the South Pacific brought cloud cover and heavy rains to the region, cooling the ocean enough to stop bleaching that had just begun in the south. About 95 percent of the coral in the southern portion of the reef has survived.

Storms have previously proven very helpful for heat-stressed reefs, Eakin said. In 2005, for instance, the quick succession of Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita cooled the waters below as they passed over Florida, sparing the Florida Keys from a serious coral bleaching event affecting the Caribbean.

Scientists have explored experimental approaches to solve the bleaching dilemma, like using shades to cover corals, Eakin said. But such efforts require massive amounts of preparation and can only be done in small areas, Eakin said. Other solutions may lie in finding ways to minimize additional stressors to the already fragile reef.

“Anything you can do to reduce the level of injury and stress coming from other sources, the better the chance that the corals are going to survive,” Eakin said. “Those reefs that have recovered after events like this are the ones that are the most protected, least visited and least disturbed.”

After the bleaching report has cast a shadow over the long-term prospects of the Great Barrier Reef against a backdrop of climate change, scientists said UNESCO may also reconsider its decision not to put the World Heritage Site on its endangered list.

Last year, the United Nations’ heritage body rang the alarm over the state of the Great Barrier Reef and urged Australia to boost its conservation efforts.

Following the release of the report on Monday, Australian politicians — who are in the midst of an election campaign — jumped on the issue, with the opposition Labor Party pledging to create a $500 million fund for better management and research of the reef. Environment Minister Greg Hunt, meanwhile, announced that if his party is re-elected, the government would invest $6 million to helping combat the crown-of-thorns starfish, which feast on coral.

Bleaching Kills 35% of Coral in Great Barrier Reef's North

Turkish Shelling Kills 28 ISIS Militants North of Aleppo

Turkey’s military killed at least 28 ISIS fighters in bombing north of the Syrian city of Aleppo on Sunday in retaliation for the latest attacks against a Turkish border town, broadcaster CNN Turk said, citing a military statement.

The attack struck 58 ISIS targets with artillery and rocket launchers, CNN Turk said on Monday.

The pro-government Sabah newspaper reported five people were injured on Friday when rockets fired from ISIS-controlled territory in northern Syria hit the Turkish border province of Kilis, which is about 60 kilometers (37 miles) north of Aleppo.

Since January, Kilis has been hit more than 70 times by rockets from ISIS-controlled territory, killing 21 people including children, in what security officials say has turned from accidental spillover to deliberate targeting.

The Turkish military usually responds with artillery barrages into northern Syria, but officials have said it is difficult to hit mobile ISIS targets with howitzers. Turkish officials have underscored the need for more help from Western allies in defending the border.

ISIS militants seized territory from Syrian rebels in an area near the Turkish border on Friday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported.

The advance also brought them closer to Azaz, a town 6 km (4 miles) from the Turkish border. Rebel groups battling ISIS in the area, which Washington sees as strategically vital, have been supplied with weapons via Turkey.

Turkish Shelling Kills 28 ISIS Militants North of Aleppo

Yemeni Government Forces Gain Leverage by Freeing Beihan

Aden- The Shabwah Governorate is considered a vital location for Yemeni insurgent militia, across which oil byproducts can be smuggled. The area is also a prominent barren desert rich with fossil fuels.

Given that the governorate is close to Marib and Al Bayda cities, and encompasses an array of different routes perfect for trafficking, it is highly valued by insurgency militias or al-Qaeda off-shoots in Yemen.

The legitimate government liberating Shabwah’s towns one after the other had highly corroborated its stance against that of the insurgency’s, which had on multiple occasions only proved political passiveness and field inaction.

The insurgency’s apathy was always faced by government perseverance for invoking a peaceful solution and restoring a “happy” Yemen.

Beihan, a town in western Yemen located in the Shabwah governorate, along with an eastern strategic mountain had been liberated on Sunday the by national army and popular resistance forces. A score of similar sites in the Usaylan district were freed from militia dominance.

Colonel Saleh Alqlaibi in a press conference on Sunday confirmed that men from the popular resistance and the national army had taken control over several strategic strongholds in Beihan.

Alqlaibi revealed that the army and the resistance are in control of nine main locations: Al Salim, Aekdh, Al Alam, Shamis, Lyhmor, Al Aar, Bulbom, Al Hajr and Al Safraa.

Sources close to the Popular Resistance stated that the battles are ongoing in the Al Hajr valley, and that the Houthi militias and supporters of the ousted President Ali

Abdullah Saleh have withdrawn to eastern Al Naqb. 11 national army and resistance members were reportedly killed at the clashes, sources added.

Military sources told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the national army and the resistance had successfully taken control over Shamis Mountain in the Usaylan district on Sunday after freeing Akedh and are on their way to liberate Al Alam area.

Sources added that the forces attacked insurgency sites in response to the militias violating the truce several times. Houthis and pro-Saleh militias bombed military and resistance-held sites. Not only that, but residential neighborhoods north of the Directorate Asilan Shabwa were also subjected to multiple insurgency shelling.

In turn, leader of the southern popular resistance Ameen Jarbou Alensi said that the battle with militias and forces of the ousted Saleh is ongoing. Victory is looming after many pivotal sites have been freed from insurgency, Alensi said. He reiterated that victory far and foremost has been achieved by army and the resistance heroes who have been putting their lives at stake in battles.

Yemeni Government Forces Gain Leverage by Freeing Beihan

IDF New Unit to Face Threats on Syrian Borders

Tel Aviv- Beirut- The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) announced on Sunday the formation of a special new unit charged with developing ties with Syrians living near Israel’s northern border. Forming the special unit was based on the evaluation Israel made on current Syria state-of-affairs, which were deemed severely unhinged, military sources reported.

The new IDF unit is an operation similar to that conducted during Israel’s presence in southern Lebanon, in the 70s, when the IDF worked to build ties with elements of the Lebanese population.

Sources further confirmed that during the past few years of the Syrian civil war, Israel had maintained effective – but low- activity and relationships with the Syrian conflict’s parties.

However, Israel kept action limited as to keep from going way too deep into the conflict in Syria.

A military source denied that the Israeli intervention at the Golan Heights would be drawn out of the Lebanese experience. Circumstances are different in Syria, the source said.

The same sources reported the IDF expanding range and intensifying its activities. The establishment of centers located inside the Golan Heights as to reach out to locals, aiming to inhibit the war ravaging in Syria from entering Israel, is underway.

On the contrary, Israeli military expert Alex Fishman drew similarities between the current happening and the case of Lebanon in 1967. What had started out as transferring humanitarian aid, in time, became a consistent and steady unit for communication.

Fishman adds that through the ties forged with Golan residents Israel had secured peace across borders with Syria. The humanitarian aid pumped into the area had definitely cut the way of the Syrian Civil War slipping through borders into Israel.

Much like the stakes prior to the war in Lebanon, where PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) cells operated freely across much of the Lebanese-Israel frontier, Israeli security officials fear the chaos along the Israeli-Syrian border could give ISIS – or Iran – the perfect opportunity to strike northern Israel.

On the other Hand, the Free Syrian Army (FSA) confirmed an international decision and a plot focused on closing down Aleppo, in order to weaken the Syrian Opposition.

Draining down the Syrian Opposition comes prior to the anticipated peace talks in Geneva. Once the Syrian Opposition is blockaded in Aleppo, the Syrian Democratic Forces and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party will consequentially receive a better standing, which would force their participation at the negotiations, in a preparation to divide Syria.

IDF New Unit to Face Threats on Syrian Borders

Sunday, 29 May 2016

Russia to Return to Israel Tank Seized in 1982

Moscow- Russia is preparing to return an Israeli tank captured by Syrian troops in the 1982 war that is exhibited at a museum near Moscow.

“Israel got the notification that Russian President Vladimir Putin met the request of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to return the tank that the Syrians gave the Russian army and that is now being exhibited in the tank museum,” a statement issued by the Israeli government’s press service said on Sunday.

As soon as Israel learned about Russia’s approval to return the tank, Netanyahu tanked the Russian President.

“I thank Russian President Vladimir Putin, who responded to my request to return the tank from the Battle of Sultan Yacoub to Israel,” Netanyahu said in his statement.

“The families of the missing … have not had a physical vestige of their sons or a grave to visit for the past 34 years. The tank is the only evidence of the battle and now it will return to Israel thanks to Russian President Putin’s consent to my request,” the Israeli PM said on his Facebook page.

Over the weekend, Israel was informed that Putin had consented to Netanyahu’s request and had signed a presidential order for the tank’s return. Netanyahu also informed the families of the three missing soldiers of the development.

The Prime Minister’s Office also announced that a delegation from the Israeli army’s ammunition corps is currently in Moscow meeting with Russian representatives to explore how the tank can be transferred to Israel as quickly as possible.

Russia to Return to Israel Tank Seized in 1982

Jordan's King Abdullah Dissolves Parliament, Names Caretaker PM

Veteran politician Hani Mulqi was appointed as prime minister by Jordan’s King Abdullah after dissolving parliament by royal decree on Sunday; which comes following the end of its four-year term, and charged him with conducting new elections by October.

Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour’s resignation was approved by the monarch, as is accustomed under the constitution, before appointing an interim head of government.

The election should be held within four months under the constitution and after the lower house made an amendment to the electoral laws in March, government sources and political analysts say it is expected that more candidates from political parties shall be vying for votes with traditional tribal and family allegiances.

However, the Muslim Brotherhood movement, considered as the key source of Jordan’s main political opposition to the government, is dealing with growing legal restrictions on its activities, thus having mostly pro-monarchy parties and some independent Islamists and politicians left to compete in the elections, the sources say.

In 2011, under pressure from the popular protests across the Arab world, Jordan’s parliament endorsed constitutional changes that devolved some of the monarch’s powers to the parliament.

However, political analysts say tribal lawmakers who dominated the last parliament resisted any change which they saw undermining their influence and maintained a system that favors sparsely populated tribal regions which benefit most from state patronage and the support of the monarchy.

Jordan's King Abdullah Dissolves Parliament, Names Caretaker PM

Iraqi Lawmakers Condemn Quds Force Leader Qassem Soleimani’s Presence in Iraq

London- Sunni politicians in Iraq condemned, on Saturday, Iranian General Qassem Soleimani visiting Shi’ite paramilitary forces fighting alongside the Iraqi army to drive ISIS militants out of Fallujah.

Three lawmakers from the province of Anbar told Reuters the visit by Iran’s Quds Force commander could feed into sectarian tension and cast doubt on Baghdad’s declarations on the offensive being an Iraqi-led effort to defeat ISIS, and not to square debts with the Sunnis.

Fallujah, which lies about 50 kilometers west of Baghdad, is a stronghold of the insurgency that fought U.S. occupation of Iraq and the Shi’ite-led authorities that replaced former Iraqi strongman Saddam Hussein, a Sunni.

Iranian media outlets published pictures of a visit by Soleimani to Fallujah and of him meeting with the leaders of the Iraqi coalition of Shi’ite militias known as Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), or Hashid Shaabi. This is the second time Soleimani appears in Iraqi conflict zones.

An Iraqi government spokesman did not confirm Soleimani’s visit and stressed that Iranian advisors are present in Iraq in order to assist in the war on ISIS in the same capacity as those of the U.S.-led anti-ISIS coalitions. However, Member of Parliament (MP) Hamid rejected that.

“We are Iraqis and not Iranians,” he said. “Would Turkish or Saudi advisers be welcomed to assist in the battle?” al-Mutlaq added.

“Soleimani’s presence is suspicious and a cause for concern; he is absolutely not welcome in the area,” said Fallujah parliamentarian Salim Muttar al-Issawi.

“I believe that the presence of such an official from the (Iranian) Revolutionary Guard could have sectarian implications,” said another MP from the city, Liqaa Wardi.

The Association of Muslim Scholars of Iraq, a political organization formed after Saddam’s removal to represent Sunnis, rejected the participation of the Shi’ite militias in the fighting in Fallujah.

“The militias … didn’t come to liberate areas, as they claim, but to carry out their sectarian goals with direct guidance from Iran,” it said in a statement on Friday.

“The presence of Iran’s military advisers in Iraq under the command of General Qassem Soleimani is at the request of the country’s legitimate government in order to fight terrorists,” an Iranian foreign ministry spokesman said, according to Fars news agency.

Iraqi Lawmakers Condemn Quds Force Leader Qassem Soleimani’s Presence in Iraq

Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank off Italy with Hundreds Aboard -NGO

Humanitarian workers in Italy were assured by the rescued migrants, from 2 boats in the Mediterranean this week, that they saw another vessel carrying around 400 migrants sink; Save the Children said on Saturday.

Only this week, three vessels carrying migrants are already confirmed to have sunk. Three dead infants were among more than 60 recovered bodies, noting that there are hundreds who are believed to be missing.

However, the probable sinking of a fourth vessel on Thursday had not been reported, said Giovanna Di Benedetto, spokeswoman for Save the Children in Italy.

That ship along with another fishing boat and a rubber boat left Sabratha in Libya late Wednesday night, stated some of the more than 600 survivors during an interviews on Saturday. The survivors said the rubber boat had its own motor, unlike the smaller fishing boat, carrying some 400 migrants. It was towed by the larger fishing vessel, which held about 500 others.

The smaller boat gradually began to take on water and, when the captain of the larger boat ordered the tow line cut, sank with most of its passengers, the survivors told Save the Children. Those aboard the other two vessels were rescued after a lengthy period of time.

“There were many women and children on board,” the survivors said, according to Di Benedetto. “We collected testimony from several of those rescued from both (the rubber and fishing) boats. They all say they saw the same thing.”

On the orders of the court of Ragusa, police have detained a man who they suspect was the captain of the larger boat, state news agency Ansa reported. Police are interviewing witnesses of the possible tragedy, la Repubblica Web site said.

The mild weather helped a flow of migrants to take place this week between Libya and Italy, and about 700 more migrants were picked up on Saturday, the coast guard said.

Pope Francis met with children at the Vatican earlier in the day to talk about migration, urging them to welcome migrants because they “are not dangerous, but in danger.”

Rescued Migrants Say Ship Sank off Italy with Hundreds Aboard -NGO

Iran Assembly Head Wins Initial Re-Election Vote -State Media

Ali Larijani, a moderate conservative, retained the speakership of Iran’s parliament despite major gains for reformists in February elections, benefiting from credit gained by his cooperation with the government of pragmatist President Hassan Rouhani in approving Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers last year.

Ali Larijani was re-elected on Sunday, May 29, as the temporary speaker of Iran’s new parliament which is dominated by first-term deputies, as he won 173 votes in the 290-seat assembly, state media reported.

Senior reformist Mohammad Reza Aref received 103 votes; noting that the latter had been the top vote-getter in the parliamentary race in Tehran, according to state media.

A vote for a permanent speaker is due to be held in the next few days, after the full house approves the credentials of individual MPs, as required by Iran’s constitution.

Elected in February, the parliament replaced one dominated by hardliners suspicious of detente with the West and who curbed Rouhani’s plans to liberalise the economy and raise lacklustre productivity. Pro-Rouhani candidates raised their representation and 60 percent of MPs are first-timers.

Iran Assembly Head Wins Initial Re-Election Vote -State Media

Saturday, 28 May 2016

French Finance Minister Rules Out Google Tax Deal, More Firms Could Be Targeted

France will take all needed measures to guarantee that all multinationals operating in the country will pay their taxes, expecting more cases to follow after Google and McDonald’s were targeted by tax raids, Finance Minister Michel Sapin said.

Sapin stated during an interview with European newspapers that there is no chance for further negotiations for any deal with Google on back taxes, as Britain did in January.

After investigators searched McDonald’s French headquarters on May 18 on a tax probe, dozens of French police raided Google’s Paris headquarters on Tuesday, growing an investigation on uncertainties of tax evasion.

“We’ll go all the way. There could be other cases,” Sapin said.

The work on tax started about four years ago by authorities when they transferred tax data to judicial authorities that look into any possible criminal angle, and today it is being developed by these raids on the hands of police and justice investigators, according to Sapin.

Public Anger

There is rising anger on firms such as Google, McDonald’s and other multinationals at the way businesses exploit their presence around the world to minimize the tax they pay, and thus similar firms, including Starbucks, are under rising pressure from both the public and government.

Google assured that it’s totally complying with French law, however McDonald’s refused to comment on the search, referring back to past comments that it is proud to be one of the biggest tax payers in France.

Sapin said he could not discuss what sums were at stake because of the confidentiality of tax matters, however a source in his ministry had said in February that French tax authorities were seeking some 1.6 billion euros ($1.78 billion) in back taxes from Google.

No Deal

“We don’t do deals like Britain; we apply the law” said Sapin when asked if tax authorities could strike a deal with the tech giant.

Google agreed in January to pay 130 million pounds ($190 million) in back taxes to Britain, prompting criticism from opposition lawmakers and campaigners that the sum was too low.

“There won’t be negotiations,” Sapin said, adding that there was always the possibility of some marginal adjustments “but that’s not the logic we’re in.”

Google pays a very shy amount of tax in most European countries because it reports almost all sales in Ireland; an action that is possible thanks to a gap in international tax law that hinges on staff in Dublin concluding all sales contracts.

On the other hand, the raids this week are part of a separate judicial investigation into aggravated tax fraud and the organized laundering of the proceeds of tax fraud, and should Google be found guilty of that, it shall faces either up to 10 million euros ($11 million) in fines or a fine of half of the value of the laundered amount involved.

A preliminary inquiry into McDonald’s was opened early this year after former investigating magistrate and politician Eva Joly filed a lawsuit in December on behalf of an employee committee, a judicial source said.

Authorities had sent McDonald’s France a 300 million euro bill for unpaid taxes on profits believed to have been funneled through Luxembourg and Switzerland, according to report by French business magazine L’Expansion, last month.

The report said tax officials had accused the giant U.S. burger chain of using a Luxembourg-based entity, McD Europe Franchising, to shift profits to lower-tax jurisdictions by billing the French division excessively for use of the company brand and other services.

The judicial source confirmed the investigation was looking into this.

The government said this week that it had raked in 3.3 billion euros in back taxes and penalties from just five multinationals in 2015.

“Nothing prevents big groups from coming to us and declaring their taxes,” Sapin said.

French Finance Minister Rules Out Google Tax Deal, More Firms Could Be Targeted

Opinion: Jihad With the Iranian Rial!

Our newspaper published a story about Iran allocating an annual budget for the Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) organisation after relations between them were restored. An official at the organisation’s press office said that Iranian support “is not an accusation” and denied that the organisation is affiliated to any party in the region. He also pointed out that the movement’s policy always focussed on “distancing Palestine from any axes”. Is this correct?

Just by researching the PIJ and its relationship with Tehran on Iranian news sites or Palestinian ones that are supportive of the movement, the researcher finds a series of dramatic contrasts! In July 2015 the leaders of the movement announced “a state of anger” due to Iranian support being stopped and this resulted in the Secretary General of the PIJ Ramadan Shallah and his deputy not attending a meal organised by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the southern suburbs. The Palestinian news agency Sama quoted sources that said that Iranian support, which is considered the primary source of funding for the movement, was stopped because of the movement’s position on some issues in the region which resulted in “clear independence from the Iranian position”.

The sources also said that as the organisation is a Sunni Islamic movement, “it does not allow its position to be dictated by anyone, particularly with regards to the issues of the Arab and Islamic nation. The movement has an independent and specific vision that has not changed in decades”. On the other hand, while Shallah was in Tehran he was quoted by Fars News Agency as saying “The victory of Gaza would not have been possible without strategic Iranian support”!

According to IRNA news agency, Shallah said that “shifts in some Islamic countries provided Zionists with the opportunity to commit whatever crimes they want to”. Speaking about the current situation in Egypt, Shallah hinted at “the conflicting policies pursued by Egyptian officials” in recent years and said that “Arab countries have not and will not support the popular uprising in Palestine” and added that Iran “is the only country supporting the uprising and the families of martyrs”! Have the movement’s shifts ended? Absolutely not!

Here is the surprise- according to what IRNA published, when Shallah met Hashemi Rafsanjani, he said that the movement considers defending Iran as tantamount to “defending Islam” in the same way that the Supreme Leader said that “Defending Palestine is defending Islam” when the two met last. However, some Palestinian newspapers said that Shallah is the one who said that “Defending Palestine is defending Islam”. Who do we believe here; the PIJ or Iran? Do we believe the “policies” of the PIJ or the impact of the Iranian rial? What is clear is that in this period of jihad with the Iranian rial, everything is permissible for Tehran’s allies regardless of whether they are Sunni or Shiite!

Opinion: Jihad With the Iranian Rial!

UNESCO Chief Warns of Cultural Destruction Threat

The international community must strive for a suitable response to cultural destruction as shown by the deliberate wrecking of ancient sites in Syria and Mali by ultra-radicals, the head of the U.N.’s cultural organization said.

Irina Bokova, director general of the United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) said it took some time for authorities to respond to the significance of what extremist groups were doing.

In an interview with Reuters in Kabul, Bokova spoke of how such groups typically seek to clear the ground to persecute minorities and consolidate power by “cultural cleansing”, wiping off traces of other cultures.

Fifteen years ago, the Afghan Taliban provided one of the most notorious recent examples when it blew up two giant ancient statues of the Buddha in 2001, decreeing they were un-Islamic.

But the demolition of medieval shrines in Timbuktu by Malian jihadists in 2012 and then the destruction by ISIS militants in Syria of parts of the ancient city of Palmyra last year brought the danger home, said Bokova, a former acting foreign minister of Bulgaria who is among candidates to become U.N. Secretary General later this year.

“I have to say that at the beginning of the Syrian crisis we were not taken that seriously when we started denouncing this destruction,” said Bokova.

“Now I think people see what the danger is. I know it is not easy but now everybody takes seriously the destruction of heritage and culture as part of this extremist strategy. Probably the most visible embodiment of this, even,” she said.

However, she said, the world was still wrestling with how to deal with the problem, which had driven matters once the preserve of museums firmly into the strategic sphere.

“I think it is a new type of phenomenon that is emerging and we are seeking a response.”

Last year’s U.N. Security Council Resolution 2199, which specifically targets the illegal trade in antiquities alongside oil and hostages as a means of shutting off funding to groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda, was one example, she said.

The trial of the radical Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi in the International Criminal Court over the destruction of the religious sites in Timbuktu was another.

Bokova on Friday signed a culture trust fund agreement with the Afghan government, aimed at shoring up efforts to promote cultural industries and restate the importance of cultural and national identity.

How far such programs can hope to succeed in countries worn-out by competing visions of social, religious and cultural identity remains open.

In Afghanistan, a country with more than 30 languages and multiple different ethnicities which has undergone civil war and conflict for most of the past four decades, the notion of cultural identity remains particularly fluid.

“I don’t say it’s easy,” Bokova said. “But it is necessary and we have to start from somewhere.”

UNESCO Chief Warns of Cultural Destruction Threat

Iran Chooses to Deprive its Citizens From Performing Hajj After its Indecisive Stance

For the second time, the Iranian delegation in charge of discussing Hajj arrangements for Iranian citizens with officials at the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah left the city of Jeddah yesterday without signing the protocol for the arrangements.

The protocol was not signed despite the delegation changing their minds about their refusal to sign it the first time round and arriving in Jeddah where a preliminary agreement was signed on Wednesday. However, the delegation later returned and refused to sign the final agreement the day after.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah yesterday said that continuous meetings that lasted several hours were held on Wednesday and Thursday. The ministry provided solutions to all the points raised by Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organisation which include issuing visas electronically within Iran, the transportation of Iranian pilgrims being shared equally between Saudi and Iranian carriers and agreeing to the Iranian delegation’s request for diplomatic representation via the Swiss embassy to take care of the interests of their pilgrims. Despite this, the delegation “expressed its desire to leave without signing the protocol concerning the arrangements for their pilgrims, and left the city of Jeddah at dawn yesterday”.

The Ministry of Hajj and Umrah also said that “By failing to sign the protocol that would conclude the Hajj arrangements, the Iranian mission is responsible in front of God first and then its people for the inability of its citizens to perform the pilgrimage this year”. It also stressed that Saudi Arabia “categorically rejects the politicisation of the Hajj pilgrimage” and “is always ready to cooperate in order to serve the pilgrims and facilitate their arrival”.

The Saudi Council of Ministers said in a previous session that “on the basis of the kingdom’s duties and its responsibility to serve the guests of the House of God, it welcomes and is honoured to serve pilgrims and visitors of all nationalities and does not prevent any Muslim from visiting the holy land”. The Council also stressed that Saudi Arabia refuses to politicise the Hajj.

Iran Chooses to Deprive its Citizens From Performing Hajj After its Indecisive Stance

Yemeni Minister Qubaty: Comprehensive Coordination among Iran, Insurgency, Al-Qaeda

Cairo- Yemeni Minister of Information and Mass Media Mohammed Qubaty exposed Houthis and former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh having plans to fully coordinate with Iran and al-Qaeda.

Qubaty, in an exclusive interview with Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, said that counterterrorism special forces, which were struck formerly by U.S. forces during Saleh’s term in power, are now the same forces perpetrating terrorist attacks.

The coordination encompasses an array of terrorist attacks and political turbulences, given that Tehran is already putting a spoke in the Yemeni peace talks happening in Kuwait, Qubaty commented.

Iran dispatched advisors to the negotiations, and carried private meetings with the insurgency delegation frequently, he said.

“All we have achieved after extensive Qatari and U.N. efforts spent on mediation was cementuing a reference base, which the U.N. approved six months ago,

“How can we trust that the other party at the negotiations had truly agreed to turn in arms, while it still strikes agreements with Iran on bringing more weapons into the country?” Qubaty said.

The Yemeni minister uncovered procuring proofs indicating that Iran ran arms into the war-torn country three times last month. He claimed that all incidents took place within a week.

Following is a set of questions answered by Yemeni Minister of Information and Mass Media Mohammed Qubaty:

What is your take on rumors about a deal being set to boost peace talks and eventually lead to a solution that satisfies everybody?

If the deal was for the sake of peace and the implementation of U.N. resolution 2216, the government’s delegation would highly welcome it. We have always confirmed the government’s commitment, according to approved references, to a peace-seeking solution. The references are the outcome of national dialogue and the Gulf initiative.

We are prepared to go about and around the world in order find a mechanism which successfully implements U.N. resolution 2216.

Are there any indicatives on setting the ploy… like the government’s approval on the Houthis partaking in authority, or the Houthis preparing to turn in arms and withdraw from sites they have overrun?

The question really lies here. The participation of Houthis in authority is agreed upon according to the five conditions announced by the U.N. envoy. The legitimacy had arrived at full understanding concerning the question of authority and the shape it would be molded into; governing authority would comprise diverse political parties solely dominated by law.

We reiterate that any political party-not a militia- is welcomed to be a part of building modern Yemen and the Federalism we have all agreed on.

However, it is not feasible for the insurgency to speak of turning in arms and later on go back on their word by keeping weapons under the pretext of them being partners in power.

Partnership is founded on these militias abiding the law, turning in weapons, withdrawing from cities and relieving besieged areas. These steps also represent the priorities to any solution aside implementing the items agreed upon with the U.N. envoy. The level of commitment would determine the real intentions of the insurgency parties on implementing U.N. resolution 2216.

How do you explain leaked information on the negotiations making notable progress?

We have become used to these methods. When the U.N. Special Envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed reports to the U.N., no decisions are being taken in face of those hindering a peaceful solution for Yemen.

In your own evaluation for the current situation and progress achieved at the Kuwait-held peace talks, do you see any results?

There is no progress.

Do you mean that the only progress achieved is setting a reference base?

We have previously obtained that six months ago through a written speech we received from the U.N. on Houthis accepting resolution 2216. Also, Yemeni President Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi had received an official letter on the subject from U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Yemeni Minister Qubaty: Comprehensive Coordination among Iran, Insurgency, Al-Qaeda

Trump's San Diego Rally Sparks Clashes with Police

Supporters and opponents of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump have clashed Friday in the city of San Diego in California, as the business mogul brought his message of walls and deportations to the doorstep of America’s busiest border.

The scene inside the San Diego Convention Center during Trump’s speech was relatively placid, while outside demonstrators opposed to his controversy-ridden White House bid marched and chanted, carrying signs criticizing his rhetoric against illegal immigration.

The protest was one of the largest organized against him. More than 1,000 people turned out for anti-trump rallies in San Diego waving U.S. and Mexican flags. The city lies on the U.S.-Mexico border whose San Ysidro port of entry sees nearly 300,000 people a day cross legally between the countries.

San Diego is considered a binational city by many who live and work on opposite sides of the border, and about a third of the city’s population is Latino.

During Trump’s speech on Friday, some protesters outside the convention center scaled a barrier and lobbed water bottles at police. One man was pulled off the wall and arrested as others were surrounded by fellow protesters and backed away from the confrontation.

After the convention center emptied, clusters of Trump supporters and anti-Trump demonstrators began to mix in the streets, many exchanging shouted epithets and some throwing water bottles at one another.

Hundreds of riot police in military-style fatigues were deployed to deal with protesters. They declared the gathering an unlawful assembly and ordered the crowd to disperse, herding the crowd out of the city’s hotel and restaurant-filled Gaslamp Quarter.

San Diego police said on Twitter that 35 arrests were made during the protest. No property damage or injuries were reported, police said.

The protests were not as violent as those in Albuquerque on Wednesday had been, but they fall under a pattern of slowly escalating tensions as it dawns on the American public that the man who said immigrants from Mexico were “rapists” is now the presumptive Republican nominee for president.

Trump, for his part, has enflamed tensions; once saying he wanted to punch a protestor “in the face”, and at other times promising to pay the legal fees for his supporters if they assaulted protesters.

“Fantastic job on handling the thugs who tried to disrupt our very peaceful and well attended rally,” Trump tweeted to police afterwards.

Trump immigration policy and controversial political stances have yielded unintended aggressive results from all ends of the political spectrum. His so-called policy calls for the building of a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting the nearly 11 million undocumented immigrants who reside in the United States.

Critics have said his plan is needlessly cruel and impossible to implement. At Trump’s campaign stops, attendees often chant “build the wall.”

While Trump is running unopposed in the June 7 California Republican primary, his stance on border control and deportation seems unlikely to resonate with the electorate at large in a state where political fallout from a Republican-backed crackdown on illegal immigrants 20 years ago cost the party dearly.

Friday was not the first time Trump has been greeted by civil unrest in California, which is home to the largest Latino population in the country. Late last month, a visit to the California Republican convention set off days of protests in the area, leading to several arrests.


Shortly before taking the stage in San Diego, Trump issued a statement ruling out a one-on-one debate with second-place Democratic hopeful Bernie Sanders, who was also in California, killing off a potentially high-ratings television spectacle.

“As much as I want to debate Bernie Sanders – and it would be an easy payday – I will wait to debate the first place finisher in the Democratic Party, probably Crooked Hillary Clinton, or whoever it may be,” the Trump campaign said in a statement.

Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont, expressed disappointment on Friday, and sought to goad Trump into reconsidering.

“Well Mr Trump, what are you afraid of?” he said, calling the Republican nominee a “bully”.

Trump said the Democratic nominating process was “rigged” – and that Clinton and Democratic National Committee Chairwoman Deborah Wasserman Schultz would not allow Sanders to win the nomination.

Sanders is trailing Clinton in the race to secure their party’s nomination, but opinion polls show he is slicing into her lead in California.

Clinton leads Trump by 4 percentage points in the most recent Reuters/Ipsos poll. Democrats nationally remain evenly split between Clinton and Sanders.

Trump's San Diego Rally Sparks Clashes with Police

WHO Shuns Call to Shift Olympics Due to Zika

The World Health Organization (WHO) on Saturday ruled out any change in timing or the location of the upcoming Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro, putting down a call by doctors and scientists to move or postpone the games due to the threat posed by large outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil.

A group of more than 100 scientists and doctors sent an open letter saying it would be unethical for the Games to go ahead as scheduled, fearing that the arrival of half a million tourists for the Games could cause the virus to spread more rapidly around the world.

The U.N. health body outlined its stance in a statement late Friday as it said that having the Games in Rio as planned would “not significantly alter” the spread of Zika, which is linked to serious birth defects.

“Based on the current assessment of Zika virus circulating in almost 60 countries globally and 39 in the Americas, there is no public health justification for postponing or cancelling the games,” the WHO said in a statement.

The letter posted online was sent to Margaret Chan, the WHO’s director-general, and said that the Games, due to be held in Rio de Janeiro in August, should be moved to another location or delayed.

“An unnecessary risk is posed when 500,000 foreign tourists from all countries attend the Games, potentially acquire that strain, and return home to places where it can become endemic,” said experts from the United States, Britain, Canada, Norway, the Philippines, Japan, Brazil, South Africa, Turkey, and Lebanon, among others in the letter.

But the WHO rejected the call, saying Brazil “is one of almost 60 countries and territories” where Zika has been detected and that people continued to travel between these countries and territories for a variety of reasons.

“The best way to reduce risk of disease is to follow public health travel advice,” it said.

The WHO’s advice is that pregnant women should not travel to areas with ongoing Zika virus transmission, including Rio de Janeiro. It also advises everyone to make all efforts to protect against mosquito bites and to practice safe sex.

Zika can cause birth defects, including a devastating syndrome known as microcephaly in which babies are born with unusually small heads and brains.

The connection between Zika and microcephaly first came to light in Brazil, where nearly 1,300 babies have been born with the irreversible defect since the mosquito-borne Zika began circulating there last year.

WHO Shuns Call to Shift Olympics Due to Zika

Real Madrid vs. Atletico, Payback and Boosting Records

Two years after their dramatic finale in Lisbon Portugal, both Spanish major league teams Real Madrid and Atletico Madrid are scheduled to go head to head once again this Saturday, playing for the UEFA Champions League title at the Stadio San Siro in Milan, Italy.

It’s the second time in three years the two squads have met for the final. Real Madrid has won 10 titles while Atletico Madrid is looking for its first championship.

Moreover, Atletico fans are still sore over the 2014 finale, which serves as an additional motivation for revenge after being denied their first European crown two years ago, when Sergio Ramos’ injury-time header allowed Real to force extra time. They eventually won at a canter against a spent Atletico.

Cristiano Ronaldo has enjoyed another exceptional season, racking up 50-plus goals for the sixth consecutive term to further cement his status as Real’s all-time leading goalscorer.

The Portugal forward has particularly exceled in the Champions League, scoring 16 goals in 11 appearances to move within one of equaling the competition’s all-time single-season record of 17 – which he set two years ago.

The Champions League is the only trophy Atletico have failed to win under their remarkable manager Diego Simeone, who lifted the Europa League and Uefa Super Cup in 2012, the Copa del Rey in 2013 plus La Liga and the Spanish Super Cup in 2014.

Despite that Real Madrid enjoys a continental leverage; the club defeated Atletico only once in the last ten meetings the two had, which were split into 5 defeats and 4 draws.

This is the third time in the past four years the Champions League final has been contested by teams from the same nation (Germany 2013, Spain 2014, Spain (2016).

Real Madrid vs. Atletico, Payback and Boosting Records

Friday, 27 May 2016

Lebanon’s Politicians Agree on Holding Parliamentary Polls on Time despite Dispute on Electoral Law

Beirut-Discussions on which electoral law should be adopted in the parliamentary elections that are set to take place in June 2017 took the spotlight from the presidential crisis after Lebanon’s politicians failed to reach a breakthrough over the Baabda Palace vacuum.

Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri lately made an initiative aimed at resolving the country’s political crisis; calling for early parliamentary elections before holding the presidential polls.

But his proposal did not receive the backing of all the political blocs, the majority of which give the presidential elections a priority.

A year before the parliamentary polls, which have been previously postponed two times in 2013 and 2014 over security reasons and the failure to approve a new electoral draft-law, parliamentary blocs began discussing what law to adopt. But there is a lack of consensus and each team is holding onto a draft-law that guarantees its success in the elections.

The Free Patriotic Movement led by MP Michel Aoun is holding onto the so-called Orthodox Gathering proposal which calls for each sect to vote for its own lawmakers. The Kataeb Party wants a law that considers Lebanon a single electoral district, while the so-called Hezbollah is asking for a law based on proportional representation which is rejected by the Future Movement.

Future has suggested a hybrid draft-law that combines the winner-takes-all and proportional representation systems, which is similar to a proposal made by Berri.

The 1960 law that was adopted in the last parliamentary elections held in Lebanon in 2009 divides Lebanon into 24 districts. Based on the country’s power-sharing agreement, the 128-member parliament is divided equally between Muslims and Christians.

Informed sources expected the “futile talks” on the electoral draft-law to lead to parliamentary elections based on the 1960 law.

Future Movement MP Ahmed Fatfat said that the elections should be held on time. But he refused to discuss the dispute among MPs during deliberations by the members of the joint parliamentary committees for the purpose of reaching consensus on what law would govern the next polls.

Fatfat told Asharq Al-Awsat that “limiting discussions to the hybrid draft-law would facilitate our mission if the intentions are true. But if Hassan Nasrallah continues to insist on proportional representation, and if Aoun sticks to the Orthodox Gathering proposal, then this means they are trying to obstruct the efforts” aimed at approving a law.

The MP accused Nasrallah and Aoun of “pushing us again to hold elections based on the 1960 law which we have said over and over again that we reject.”

Fatfat stressed that the lawmakers were capable of reaching an understanding on a hybrid draft-law.

“The law based on proportional representation is rejected as long as it (Hezbollah) is holding onto its arms and is capable of terrorizing voters,” he said.

Lebanon’s Politicians Agree on Holding Parliamentary Polls on Time despite Dispute on Electoral Law

Revival of Oil Prices

The best news so far this year is that oil prices have risen reaching $50 and few cents per barrel. Prices were expected to continue declining to around $20, thus expanding the economic crisis and shaking not only petroleum-exporting countries but also the region.

Moreover, this rise in the oil prices does not prevent a coming phase of economic pain, yet it has lifted spirits in drained markets.

Notably, recent rise in oil prices was attributed to unrest in the Nigerian oil regions, ongoing reforms in some Middle Eastern oil facilities – which have chosen the least costly time for reform – and ongoing conflict in Libya, Yemen, Syria and Iraq.

However, the price may decline again this year, if not for sure in coming years. Let us leave the analyzing and reading of the probabilities and possibilities for oil experts, its implications and risks do concern us all; whether we are concerned about the political or social matters.

The nightmare of cheap oil began with the extraction of shale oil in economic quantities and increasing its competitive share in the market to a point that made the United States an oil exporter.

Accordingly, we felt for the first time a serious threat to the reality that we have been acquainted to for decades, which is the fact that region countries rely almost solely on oil; considering it their major source of life.

This is not only limited to the Gulf but also includes countries such as Egypt, which depends mainly on oil sales and transfer of funds from its citizens in oil-producing countries instead of relying on its agricultural or industrial exports.

For their part, countries that do not produce oil partly rely on selling products to oil-producing countries, receiving funds from citizens living and working in these countries, or accepting financial aids.

The situation in the Gulf countries is the most difficult because they do not have alternatives in the meantime.

Rapid decline in oil prices that was accompanied by the cancellation of many government projects and the slowdown in payments for contracting companies, which compelled them to reduce extra payments to their employees, let these countries fear of what is coming next.

On one hand, this created a pessimistic climate, and on the other hand it led many countries to accept the idea of economic change by reducing dependence on oil and cutting subsidies on goods and services.

This rise in oil prices does not mean we should revive our addiction to it. Fear from the fall of oil prices and concern regarding its future in the past six months led to unanimous consent for the economic reform and restructuring project. Thus, allowing the raise of oil, water, and electricity bills in Saudi Arabia.

Even if oil prices increase, it will not be enough for the future generations, which will be threatened by the scarce amount left for them.

I do not want to keep talking about the necessities of change, yet it is important to say that the good news about oil prices, even if it lasted for a long period, should not let countries stop the economic development process; taking into consideration the fact that this rise in prices is still low if compared to the past period as the $50-$70 per barrel is not enough to pay government expenses and the fiscal deficit.

On the political part, sadly, the rise in oil prices will result in an increase in war-funding in the region, thus causing an increase in unrest.

Oil itself is a cause of conflict and a fund for chaos and disorder. Without a collective and careful policy to avoid war, all what that the region will earn from oil will be spent on war.

Can a country such as Iran, which did not witness one prosperous era in its modern history, and which has never benefited from its oil resources due to war – be convinced?

Its nuclear deal and economic openness are worthless if it is determined to raise spending on war and funding militias in the region.

Despite rising oil prices and the openness of world markets to Iran’s oil, it will not be enough if it does not change its understanding of the world.

Revival of Oil Prices

Kuwait Talks Address Withdrawal from Sanaa, Saada and Taiz

Riyadh-Yemeni government delegation to Kuwait peace talks sent more written proposals and visions to U.N. envoy to Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed regarding the implementation of U.N. resolution 2216; coinciding with optimistic and reassuring proposals on the progression of talks.

Only two days after the delegation proposed the importance of leaving the political scene in Yemen for whoever is included in the sanctions imposed by the U.N. Security Council, the delegation suggested again on Thursday specific mechanisms to be adopted in order for the militias to withdraw from Sanaa, Taiz, and Saada.

During the past two days, Ould Cheikh said that his meetings specifically addressed the details and mechanisms of withdrawal, handover of weapons, resumption of political dialogue, restoration of state institutions and other matters that will be included in a comprehensive agreement.

“The discussions also covered the importance of guarantees and reassurances to ensure the implementation of an agreement,” he said.

He stressed that the talks are ongoing, the international support is stronger than ever and the United Nations is determined to achieve a lasting peace and to solidify any agreement reached.

“It has been a long week of sessions, in which we discussed a wide range of issues. Some sessions were promising and others tense. In spite of all of the challenges we are facing, the United Nations remains deeply committed to finding a peaceful solution,” Ould Cheikh added.

The U.N. Special Envoy pointed out that the parties have started to address specific and sensitive matters in detail based on the agreed reference-points. It was agreed that the prisoners’ committee will continue to work separately, and the committee was reinforced by human rights experts from both sides.

He also said that representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) came to Kuwait on Wednesday at the invitation to his office. They met bilaterally with the delegations to brief them on the roles and guidelines for prisoners release and exchange processes in war zones and the mechanisms of ICRC’s work in this area.

Ould Cheikh revealed the international determination to end the conflict in Yemen, saying: “Efforts of the leadership of Kuwait, Qatar and the U.N. Secretary-General had a positive impact and led to the return of the Government of Yemen’s delegation to the joint sessions.”

On Monday, a joint plenary session was held in which the leaders of both delegations renewed their commitment to dialogue to reach a political agreement that is acceptable by all.

He added, “I briefed the Security Council in a closed-session through video conference on Wednesday. During the session, I gave an overview of the talks, the preliminary understandings reached and I explained the compromises and solutions that are currently being considered. I also gave a summary of the support needed by my Office in order to facilitate the implementation of a peace agreement including support for interim security arrangements.”

The representatives of Houthi and Saleh’s delegation and the General People’s Congress (GPC) in the De-escalation and Coordination Committee (DCC) have returned to their duties after a one-day suspension. “The DCC continues to work with dedication, and we are working with the team to provide additional technical support,” he said.

In brief, the talks are ongoing, the international support is stronger than ever and the United Nations is determined to achieve a lasting peace and to solidify any agreement reached.

Ould Cheikh explained: “The parties must assume their responsibility towards the nation. We are at a dangerous crossroads. One path leads us to stability. If the parties do not provide the required concessions, the situation on the ground would significantly worsen.”

“As we are approaching Ramadan,” he said, “we hope that the parties will undertake tangible steps towards alleviating the economic suffering of the people, the release of prisoners and detainees, and the implementation of the cessation of hostilities.”

Because he has been asked several times about the time limit of these talks, the U.N. envoy explained that there is no time limit and the parties will stay as long as it takes. He urged the participants in the talks to redouble their efforts to reach a peace agreement.

“It takes time to end conflict. A sustainable and inclusive agreement cannot be rushed. It is now up to the parties to decide,” Ould Cheikh stated.

Regarding the economic situation in Yemen, the U.N. Special Envoy warned that the ongoing conflict has destroyed the country’s economic infrastructure and severely disrupted the functioning of state institutions, causing the suffering of many civilians.

He said that failure to address the issue will lead to further deterioration of the economic situation.

“Last week witnessed a sharp devaluation of the Yemeni Riyal and an alarming decline of the resources and liquidity held by the country’s treasury,” he noted.

The continuation of this trend will lead to a rapid increase in inflation and negatively affect the humanitarian and social situation.

In this regard, “I proposed to the parties the creation of an “Economic Task Force” in the near future.”

He further explained that the committee would enlist the support of economic experts in order to manage the situation and take the necessary measures to save the economy.

As an urgent first step, “I call on the Yemeni parties and the international community to support the Social Welfare Fund.”

The fund, he said, would include direct financial support to the most affected segments of society, inject liquidity into the country, ease the pressure on the Central Bank, and help alleviate suffering.

Kuwait Talks Address Withdrawal from Sanaa, Saada and Taiz