Iran to support efforts by Iraq, Kurds to resolve dispute

January 21, 2018

AFP

© IRANIAN PRESIDENCY/AFP | A handout picture provided by the office of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani show him (R) meeting Nechirvan Barzani, prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government in Tehran on January 21, 2018

TEHRAN (AFP) – Iranian officials on Sunday voiced support for efforts to end a dispute in neighbouring Iraq sparked by a Kurdish referendum on independence last year and underscored the need for Iraqi unity.President Hassan Rouhani and the secretary of the Supreme National Security Council, Ali Shamkhani, made the comments during talks in Tehran with the prime minister of Iraq’s Kurdish autonomous region.

Rouhani told Nechirvan Barzani that Tehran backs “a united Iraq” in which “the legal and legitimate rights” of the Kurdish people are recognised in line with the constitution, the presidency said.

Shamkhani said Tehran “will do everything in its power to support efforts to ease the differences” between Baghdad and the Kurdish regional capital Arbil, official IRNA news agency reported.

Iraq’s Kurds voted overwhelmingly in September to establish their own country but the non-binding vote was deemed illegal by the federal government in Baghdad which took retaliatory measures.

The referendum was also condemned in neighbouring Iran and Turkey.

On Saturday, Barzani met Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi in Baghdad for the first time since the failed push by the Kurds to secede.

A statement from Abadi’s office said they discussed the “political and security situation and ways of settling disputes”.

After September’s vote, Baghdad imposed an air blockade on international flights to the Kurdish autonomous region’s two main airports and retook disputed areas, including oil fields from which the Kurds derived the bulk of their revenue.

Shamkhani said Tehran hoped to “contribute to the success” of the dialogue that has opened between Baghdad and Arbil.

 

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Spain wants exiled ex-Catalan leader arrested if he travels to Denmark

January 21, 2018

Axed Catalan president Carles Puigdemont speaking after the results of the regional elections in Catalonia. (AFP)
MADRID: Spain wants ex-Catalan leader Carles Puigdemont arrested if he travels to Denmark for a university debate from his Belgian exile, Madrid prosecutors said Sunday.
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The prosecution service said it would “immediately” have a supreme court judge issue an arrest warrant for the secessionist leader, sacked by Madrid after the Catalan parliament declared independence on October 27, and urge Denmark to hand him over.
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Puigdemont fled to Belgium in late October after Madrid sacked his cabinet over their breakaway attempt, but is eyeing a return to power after pro-independence parties won an absolute majority in regional elections in December.
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At home, however, he risks arrest on charges of rebellion, sedition and misuse of public funds.
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Several fellow separatist lawmakers are already in custody in Spain over their role in the regional parliament unilaterally declaring independence on October 27 and Spain’s general prosecutor office said Saturday that “it’s inadmissible that the privilege of parliamentary immunity should be interpreted as impunity.”
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A final decision will rest with the Spanish judge who will have to act in record time to issue the warrant for examination by Danish authorities.
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Supreme Court Judge Pablo Llarena dropped a European arrest warrant for Puigdemont and four of his deputies who fled to Belgium in early December, saying it would complicate the overall probe into the region’s leaders — but warned they would be arrested if they return, retaining a domestic warrant.
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Were a magistrate in another EU state to make a ruling on the secessionists — including to drop charges which could bring a maximum 30 years in jail — Madrid would be bound by that decision.
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Those facing charges say in their defense that under Belgian law there is no case against them. As long as he does not return to Spain, where the warrant remains in place, Puigdemont and his fellow lawmakers are therefore free to move around Europe as they please.
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Puigdemont is due to take part in a debate at the University of Copenhagen about the secession crisis in the region, according to the university website.
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The conference is titled: “Catalonia and Europe at a crossroads for democracy?“
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It will be his first public trip since he arrived in Belgium. Having been in the country for three months without a residence permit, he would also have to leave, albeit briefly, to conform with EU residence laws.
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On Monday, Puigdemont is due to reveal which candidate he is putting forward to lead the region ahead of a debate culminating in a vote at the end of the month.
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He himself is the main candidate but wants to be invested from Belgium in order to avoid arrest if he returns to Catalonia. The Madrid government has ruled out his being allowed to rule from outside the country.
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Taliban attack on Afghan hotel — At least 18 dead

January 21, 2018

14 foreigners among fatalities, with casualty toll expected to rise; more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, rescued

Security forces stand guard near the Intercontinental Hotel after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

Security forces stand guard near the Intercontinental Hotel after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — A Taliban assault on the Intercontinental Hotel in Afghanistan’s capital killed at least 18 people, including 14 foreigners, and pinned security forces down for more than 13 hours before the last attacker was killed on Sunday, with the casualty toll expected to rise.

The heavily guarded luxury hotel is popular among foreigners and Afghan officials. Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish said the 18 killed included 14 foreigners and a telecommunications official from the western Farah province who was attending a conference.

“Eleven of the 14 foreigners killed were employees of KamAir, a private Afghan airline,” said Danish. KamAir put out an announcement saying some of its flights were disrupted because of the attack.

Ukraine says one of its citizens was killed in the attack. Vasyl Kyrylych, a spokesman for the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry, announced the death of the Ukrainian citizen in a brief statement on Twitter, without providing further details. Afghan officials did not identify the foreigner killed in the attack.

Ten other people, including six from the security forces, were reported wounded and more than 150 people, including 41 foreigners, were rescued from the hotel, Danish said.

Policemen block the main road near the Intercontinental Hotel after a deadly attack in Kabul, Afghanistan, January 20, 2018. (AP Photo/Massoud Hossaini)

The Taliban claimed the attack, which began around 9 p.m. Saturday, saying five gunmen armed with suicide vests targeted foreigners and Afghan officials.

Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said the insurgents initially planned to attack the hotel Thursday night but postponed the assault because there was a wedding underway and they wanted to avoid civilian casualties.

The attack unfolded almost six years after Taliban insurgents launched a similar assault on the property, which is not part of the Intercontinental chain of worldwide hotels.

The Interior Ministry said a private firm assumed responsibility for securing the hotel around three weeks ago. The ministry says it is investigating how the attackers managed to enter the building.

During a press conference, Danish said that early investigations show that six insurgents entered the hotel from the northern side and stormed its kitchen. Two attackers were killed by Special Forces on the 6th floor of the hotel.

“We need to complete our investigation, but our initial reports show that the attackers were moved in to the hotel,” said Danish.

Mumtaz Ahmad, a provincial telecommunications employee for Helmand province, who survived the attack, said, “I was on my way from my room toward the reception, when the elevator door opened. I saw two armed suicide bombers. People were escaping and the attackers were firing at them.”

Afghan security officials confirmed that 34 provincial officials were gathered at the hotel to participate in a conference organized by the Telecommunications Ministry.

A fire broke out at the hotel as the fighting raged, and the sound of explosions could be heard throughout the standoff. Live TV footage showed people trying to escape through windows on the upper stories.

Capt. Tom Gresback, spokesman for NATO-led forces, said in a statement that Afghan forces were leading the response efforts. He said that according to initial reports, no foreign troops were hurt in the attack.

Neighboring Pakistan condemned the “brutal terrorist attack” and called for greater cooperation against militants. Afghanistan and Pakistan routinely accuse each other of failing to combat extremists along their long and porous border.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat the Taliban since the US and NATO formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also had to contend with a growing Islamic State affiliate that has carried out a number of massive attacks in recent years.

Afghans walk near the Intercontinental Hotel as smoke billows during a fight between gunmen and Afghan security forces in Kabul on January 21, 2018. (AFP PHOTO/WAKIL KOHSAR)

In the northern Balkh province, insurgents burst into a home where several members of a local pro-government militia were gathered late Saturday, leading them outside and killing 18 of them, said Gen. Abdul Razeq Qaderi, the deputy provincial police chief. Among those killed was a tribal leader who served as the local police commander, he said.

In the western Farah province, a roadside bomb killed a deputy provincial police chief and wounded four other police early Sunday, according to Gen. Mahruf Folad, the provincial police chief.

The Taliban claimed both attacks.

In the western Herat province, a roadside bomb struck a vehicle carrying 13 civilians, killing all but one of them, said Abdul Ahad Walizada, a spokesman for the provincial police chief. No one immediately claimed the attack, but Walizada blamed Taliban insurgents, who often plant roadside bombs to target Afghan security forces.

https://www.timesofisrael.com/at-least-18-dead-as-taliban-attack-on-afghan-hotel-ends-after-13-hours/?utm_source=at-least-18-dead-as-taliban-attack-on-afghan-hotel-ends-after-13-hours&utm_medium=desktop-browser&utm_campaign=desktop-notifications

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US Christian tourists see deep meaning in Trump’s Jerusalem move

January 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Mike Smith | Members of a group of American Baptist Christian tourists stand at the Mount of Olives as they look towards Jerusalem’s Old City and the Dome of the Rock on January 20, 2018

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Near the olive grove where Christians believe Jesus agonised before his crucifixion, an American visitor spoke of a decision by US President Donald Trump some believe also holds spiritual importance.Phillip Dunn, the 37-year-old pastor of an evangelical Christian church in the US state of South Carolina, said he saw Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital last month as part of biblical prophecy.

“Certainly this holds a lot of significance for people in that way. We believe Christ is going to return,” Dunn, part of a group of around 50 American Southern Baptists visiting Jerusalem holy sites over the weekend, said before climbing back aboard a tour bus.

Trump’s controversial declaration on December 6 will be back in the spotlight over the coming days with Vice President Mike Pence arriving Sunday night for talks with Israeli officials in Jerusalem.

Dunn and his fellow believers are key backers of Trump’s move in the United States and part of the Christian evangelical community there that has become an important pillar of support for his Republican party.

Pence, who stood behind Trump as he made his Jerusalem announcement, is himself an evangelical Christian.

Dunn and others on the Jerusalem tour, planned before Trump’s announcement, said they were pleased with his declaration because they consider it important to support Israel and affirm its claim that the entire city is its capital.

But there were also otherworldly considerations among the group.

Some evangelicals believe, based on interpretations of scripture, that firmly establishing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and establishing a new temple there could help lead to the second coming of Jesus.

Dunn and others on the trip said interpretations of Jerusalem’s place in biblical prophecy vary too widely to provide a simple answer such as that one.

– ‘A lot of mystery’ –

Brett Burleson, a pastor at a church in Alabama, said “there’s a lot of mystery to that, so I don’t claim to know how it’s all going to play out”.

“We do recognise that this is a place where we believe the Lord Jesus himself will return and bring a peaceful end to human history,” the 47-year-old said.

Jerusalem’s status is perhaps the most sensitive issue in the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Israel occupied and later annexed its eastern sector in the Six-Day War of 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

It sees the entire city as its capital, while the Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

Trump’s declaration deeply angered the Palestinians, with president Mahmud Abbas cancelling plans to meet Pence during his visit, which had been set for late December before being postponed.

The declaration was partly the result of a long political debate in the United States, with a law passed calling for the embassy to be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in 1995.

It however allowed presidents to sign a waiver every six months to prevent the embassy move for national security reasons.

Trump again signed the waiver when declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital last month, but stressed he intended to move the embassy.

He also said Jerusalem’s final borders and status would have to be negotiated, but Palestinians were unconvinced.

– ‘Probably not’ –

David Parsons, vice president of the International Christian Embassy based in Jerusalem, said he helped draft an earlier version of the embassy legislation while working for a pro-Israel lobbying firm in the United States.

“We have a large, broad movement worldwide that supports Israel on various motivations,” Parsons said of the primarily evangelical Christian embassy.

“Some are motivated by biblical prophecy, but there’s a broad array of views on biblical prophecy.”

Zalman Shoval, a former Israeli ambassador to the United States, said Sunday that Israel has long reached out to US Christian groups for support.

Specifically mentioning evangelicals, Shoval said “we may not agree with everything anybody says about the future of Israel or the future of the country.”

Some evangelicals believe Jews would eventually have to convert to Christianity.

“But we must look at the present situation,” he told journalists.

“The present situation is that there is a very important body of people in America who believe — honestly and genuinely believe — in the future of the Jewish people and its place in the Jewish country in Israel.”

Lewis Richerson, 37, a pastor from Louisiana on the Jerusalem tour, may be among those he had in mind.

His support for Trump’s declaration was “primarily political” since backing Israel in part helps “promote democracy and freedom around the world.”

Richerson said of the declaration: “Is that some type of biblical prophecy? Probably not.”

by Mike Smith

Hezbollah Leader NasRallah Warns Israel Aginst Continued Border Wall Construction

January 21, 2018

 

BY ANNA AHRONHEIM
 JANUARY 21, 2018 13:09

Israel has begun construction of upgraded border fence in order to prevent Hezbollah infiltration.

A poster of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in southern Lebanon

A poster of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah in southern Lebanon. (photo credit: ALI HASHISHO/REUTERS)

Hezbollah Secretary General Hassan Nasrallah has warned Israel against continued construction of a wall along its border with Lebanon, after Beirut said the project was undermining peace.

“After liberating the Lebanese occupied territories from the Zionist enemy in 2000, the UN demarcation of the national border with the Palestinian territories left 13 controversial positions, and the Lebanese government informed the UNIFIL about its rejection for any Israeli measure in this concern,” Nasrallah was quoted by Hezbollah website al-Manar as saying.

“The Islamic Resistance backs the Lebanese government and army, and the Zionists must take Lebanon’s warning seriously,” he continued.

On Friday, Lebanese President Michel Aoun met in Beirut with UNIFIL Head of Mission and Force Commander Maj.-Gen. Michael Beary and stressed that a border fence within the demarcated Blue Line “isn’t compatible with the efforts that [UNIFIL] is exerting in cooperation with the Lebanese Army to preserve security and stability along the southern border.”

Israel and Hezbollah fought a deadly 33-day war in 2006 that ended under UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which called for the disarmament of Hezbollah, withdrawal of the Israeli Army from Lebanon, deployment of the Lebanese Army and an enlarged UN force in the south.

According to Aoun, “Lebanon doesn’t consider the Blue Line to be the final border. It is a temporary measure that was used following [Lebanon’s] liberation in 2000 and Israel’s withdrawal.”

“The army has deployed an additional troop to maintain stability and help implement resolution 1701, at the time that Israel persists its incessant violations against the country’s sovereignty,” he added.

A wall on the Israeli side of the Lebanese-Israeli border under construction (credit: Reuters)A wall on the Israeli side of the Lebanese-Israeli border under construction (credit: Reuters)

Beary also met with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri and told Berri that Israel had stopped construction on the border wall pending tripartite meetings scheduled for February, the London-based Asharq Al-Awsat reported.

Tripartite meetings have been held regularly under the auspices of UNIFIL since the end of the 2006 war as an essential conflict-management mechanism between the two parties.

The IDF on Sunday denied it had stopped construction on the fence, telling The Jerusalem Post that work was continuing as normal.

The border area with Lebanon has seen nine infiltrations since 2009, and has been flagged by the IDF as being vulnerable to enemy infiltrations. It is feared that during the next war with Hezbollah, the terrorist group could try to infiltrate Israeli communities in the area in order to inflict significant civilian and military casualties.

Significant efforts over the past several years have gone into creating obstacles, such as artificial cliffs and high concrete barriers, to help prevent any such ground attacks by Hezbollah.

The border fence with Lebanon was originally built in the 1980s and has been upgraded several times. Last year, a 29-km. stretch was upgraded with reinforced concrete panels, concrete blocks and fortified watchtowers. Despite those improvements, the barrier is said to be in poor condition.

In May, Israel began upgrading two sections of the fence: between Rosh Hanikra on the northern Mediterranean coast and the kibbutz of Misgav Am near Kiryat Shmona, and from Rosh Hanikra to Hanita, northeast of Nahariya.

The steel and barbed wire fence will be similar to the “smart fence” along Israel’s border with Egypt and along some 30 km. of its border with Jordan. The barrier will be six meters tall, several kilometers in length and have information collection centers and warning systems at an estimated cost of NIS 120 million.

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http://www.jpost.com/Arab-Israeli-Conflict/Nasrallah-warns-Israel-against-the-construction-of-border-wall-539334

 
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Bahrain arrests 47, charges 290 in mass crackdown

January 21, 2018

AFP

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© AFP | A Bahraini demonstrator walks through teargas fired by security forces during clashes following a demonstration against the government in the village of Sitra, south of Manama, on January 1, 2016
DUBAI (AFP) – 

Bahraini police said Sunday they had arrested 47 people on charges linked to terrorism, including plots to assassinate “public figures”, as well as filing charges against another 290.

Authorities have cracked down hard on dissent since mass street protests in 2011 which demanded an elected prime minister and constitutional monarchy in the Sunni-ruled, Shiite majority kingdom.

The government accuses Shiite Tehran of training “terrorist cells” in the tiny island state, located between rival regional heavyweights Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Iran denies involvement.

In a statement released by Bahrain’s police force on Sunday, the interior minister said law enforcement had arrested 49 “terrorist agents” and foiled attacks across the country, including planned killings of “officials and public figures”.

Police had also transferred the cases of 290 wanted persons and suspects to the public prosecutor’s office, it said.

The statement did not specify the dates of the arrests but said they were part of “one of the most important preventive operations”, triggered by “attacks on police” and a fire at a Saudi Aramco oil pipeline in Bahrain last year.

A key US ally and home to the US Fifth Fleet, Bahrain has drawn harsh criticism from international rights groups over its crackdown on dissent.

Dozens of Bahrainis have been jailed and stripped of citizenship since Arab Spring-inspired protests broke out in 2011.

Bahrain’s parliament and king last year granted military courts jurisdiction to try civilians charged with “terrorism” — a vaguely defined legal term.

The kingdom has also deported citizens whose nationalities had been revoked.

Turkish Forces Push Into Syria — Erdogan Threatens Against Protests in Turkey — Kurdish Militia Says Attacks Repulsed

January 21, 2018

Reuters

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Image may contain: 1 person, crowd, stadium and outdoor

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan greets his supporters during a rally in Bursa, Turkey, January 21, 2018. Kayhan Ozer/Presidential Palace/Handout via REUTERS

By Dominic Evans

AZAZ, Syria (Reuters) – Turkish ground forces pushed into northern Syria’s Afrin province on Sunday, Ankara said after launching artillery and air strikes on a U.S.-backed Kurdish militia it aims to sweep from its border.

The Syrian-Kurdish YPG militia, supported by the United States but seen as a terrorist organization by Turkey, said it had repulsed the Turkish forces and their allies after fierce clashes.

It marked the second day of fighting after Turkey opened a new front in the nearly seven-year-old Syrian war. Under what Ankara has called “Operation Olive Branch”, Turkish air strikes on Saturday pounded YPG positions in Afrin.

Turkey is targeting the U.S.-backed fighters at a time when ties with ally Washington appear close to breaking point.

Turkey sees the YPG as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) which has carried out a deadly, three-decade insurgency in Turkey’s mainly Kurdish southeast. The United States is backing the YPG in Syria, seeing it as an effective partner in the fight against Islamic State.

“Our jets took off and started bombing. And now, the ground operation is underway. Now we see how the YPG … are fleeing in Afrin,” President Tayyip Erdogan said. “We will chase them. God willing, we will complete this operation very quickly.”

Erdogan said some of Turkey’s allies had provided the YPG with 2,000 plane shipments and 5,000 truckloads of ammunition, comments that appeared to be aimed at the United States.

The attacks follow weeks of warnings against the YPG in Syria from Erdogan and his ministers. Turkey has been particularly outraged by an announcement that the United States planned to train 30,000 personnel in parts of northeast Syria under the control of the YPG-spearheaded Syrian Democratic Forces.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the Turkish military, NATO’s second-largest, would create a 30-km (19-mile) “safe zone” in the region, according to broadcaster HaberTurk.

SHELLING, CLASHES

Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army rebel factions had captured a Kurdish village with no resistance and were clearing landmines, a Turkish official said.

The YPG said it had repulsed the Turkish forces.

“All the Turkish military’s ground attacks against Afrin have been repelled so far and they have been forced to retreat,” Nouri Mahmoudi, a YPG official, said. Since the morning, the combatants have exchanged shelling and clashed along several frontlines around Afrin, he said.

Thousands rallied against the attacks in the border town of Amuda in northwest Syria, vowing to stand against “Turkish occupation”, according to a local witness.

The Turkish military said it had hit 153 targets so far, including shelters and hideouts used by Kurdish militants. The YPG has said Turkey’s strikes killed six civilians and three of its fighters and wounded 13 civilians.

The YPG has also accused Turkey of striking civilian districts and a camp for the displaced in Afrin.

Intense Turkish artillery fire and strikes continued to hit some villages, the YPG said. Fierce battles raged to the north and west of Afrin against Turkish forces and their Syrian rebel allies, said Birusk Hasaka, the YPG spokesman in Afrin.

Western governments have largely urged calm, with the United States saying the focus should be on fighting Islamic State in Syria.

France asked Turkey to act with restraint, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said after speaking by phone with his Turkish counterpart. He said France would call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.

Russia, which backs Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, will demand in the United Nations that Turkey halt it’s military operation in Afrin, RIA news quoted Franz Klintsevich, a member of the upper house of the Russian parliament’s security committee, as saying on Saturday.

TRAINING CAMP

At a training camp near the border, about 200 fighters from the Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army factions drilled on a parade ground. Some were in different khaki-colored uniforms, some in jeans and sneakers.

Lieutenant-colonel Mohammad al Hamadeen, a rebel spokesman, said a ground offensive was due to begin within hours against the YPG.

“The military operation started this morning with the invasion of the northwestern areas of Afrin. And they will start in the eastern area of Afrin,” he told Reuters.

A Reuters reporter on the outskirts of the northern Syrian town of Azaz, under the control of rebels from Free Syrian Army factions, heard several blasts and saw smoke rising from a hill to the west, where a fighter said the YPG were.

There were no signs of conflict in the town itself, where life appeared to continue as normal with traffic on the muddy, potholed roads and uniformed rebel police at the main roundabouts. Still, Azaz was bleak and the toll from the war was plainly seen in some of its crumbling buildings.

At one of the car repair workshops on the outskirts of the town some men were fixing a gun-loaded vehicle.

On Saturday, a Pentagon official said: “We encourage all parties to avoid escalation and to focus on the most important task of defeating ISIS (Islamic State).”

Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency reported that four rockets fired from Syria hit the border town of Kilis overnight, damaging houses. Turkish security forces retaliated, it said.

(Additional reporting by Ezgi Erkoyun in Istanbul; Orhan Coskun, Tuvan Gumrukcu and Ece Toksabay in Ankara; Ellen Francis in Beirut; Geert De Clercq in Paris; Writing by David Dolan; Editing by Janet Lawrence)

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More than 50,000 Greeks protest over Macedonia name row

January 21, 2018

AFP

© AFP / by Vassilis KYRIAKOULIS with Katerina NIKOLOPOULOU in Athens | More than 50,000 people took to the streets of Thessaloniki to protest against the use of the name Macedonia by Greece’s neighbour

THESSALONIKI (GREECE) (AFP) – More than 50,000 protesters massed in the streets of northern Greece’s biggest city Thessaloniki on Sunday, police said, in a long-running row between Athens and Skopje over the use of the name Macedonia.Athens argues that the name Macedonia suggests that Skopje has territorial claims to the northern Greek region of the same name, of which Thessaloniki is the capital.

The region was the centre of Alexander the Great’s ancient kingdom, a source of Greek pride.

Hardline clerics, far-right leaders and Greek diaspora groups had called for Sunday’s rallies, with the turnout exceeding media estimates of 30,000.

Gathered around the statue of Alexander the Great in Thessaloniki were members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party and local clergy.

Representatives from the main opposition party, New Democracy, were also present despite a tacit order from its liberal-minded leader Kyriakos Mitsotakis to boycott the protests.

Cretans in traditional costumes who travelled from the southern island with their horses, as well as people from northern Greece wearing costumes from the Macedonian wars era a century ago, crowded at the White Tower on the Thessaloniki waterfront from early in the morning.

Greece and Macedonia returned to the United Nations last week hoping to reach a compromise that could end the 27-year dispute over the former Yugoslav republic’s name.

– ‘Not negotiable’ –

Greece’s objections to the use of the name Macedonia since the Balkan country’s independence in 1991 have hampered the tiny nation’s bid to join the European Union and NATO.

“We demand that the term Macedonia isn’t included in the name which they will agree on. This is not negotiable,” said Leonardou, a 59-year-old writer from Thessaloniki, warning that if the Greek government does otherwise “there will be an answer from the Greek people”.

The UN negotiator Matthew Nimetz — a 24-year veteran on the issue — said last week that he was “very hopeful” that a solution was within reach.

Despite the nationalist fervour that is also being fed by Golden Dawn, Greeks appear to be less militant on the issue than in the past.

In 1992, more than one million people — 10 percent of the population — joined a rally in Thessaloniki to proclaim that “Macedonia is Greek”.

According to a survey conducted for Greek radio station 24/7 by the Alco polling group, 63 percent of respondents said they thought it was in Greece’s best interests to seek a mutually acceptable solution at the UN talks.

And the Greek Orthodox Church, which is traditionally opposed to the use of the term Macedonia from Skopje and led the 1992 rally, appears to have distanced itself from Sunday’s events.

Its leader Archbishop Ieronymos on Thursday reportedly told Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras that “national unity is needed… (not) protests and shouts”.

– ‘National stupidity’ –

Tsipras, who is expected to meet with his Macedonian counterpart Zoran Zaev in Davos next week, said in an interview published on Sunday: “If there is an opportunity for a solution, it would be a national stupidity not to make good use of it.”

However, he told Ethnos newspaper that he could understand “the concerns and sensitivities” of the Greeks of the north.

Macedonia is known as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia (FYROM) at the United Nations, although the Security Council acknowledged this was a provisional name when it agreed to membership.

If a deal is reached at the UN talks, it will be put before Greek parliament for approval, with the government expecting the compromise name to be approved despite opposition within some parties.

According to Macedonian media, Nimetz has proposed five alternatives all containing the name.

by Vassilis KYRIAKOULIS with Katerina NIKOLOPOULOU in Athens

Jordan’s king says East Jerusalem must be capital of Palestinian state

January 21, 2018

Jordan’s King Abdullah (AFP)
AMMAN: Jordan’s King Abdullah expressed concern on Sunday over a decision by Washington to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, saying East Jerusalem had to be the capital of a future Palestinian state.
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In remarks during talks with US Vice Mike Pence in Amman, the king said the only solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was a two-state one.
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Jordan lost East Jerusalem and the West Bank to Israel during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
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US endorsement of Israel’s claim to Jerusalem as its capital broke with decades of US policy that the city’s status must be decided in negotiations with the Palestinians, who want East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.
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King Abdullah said the US move would fuel radicalism and inflame Muslim and Christian tensions.
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“For us, Jerusalem is key to Muslims and Christians, as it is to Jews. It is key to peace in the region and key to enabling Muslims to effectively fight some of our root causes of radicalization,” he said.

Erdogan warns of ‘heavy price’ for protests against Syria operation

January 21, 2018

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (REUTERS)
ISTANBUL: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Sunday of a “heavy price” for protests against Turkey’s military operation against Syrian Kurdish militia, after the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) called on people to take to the streets.
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“Some HDP representatives are calling on my Kurdish citizens to get out into the squares. Until now, not many people have come out,” Erdogan said in the northwestern province of Bursa.
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“But let me say this here… Do not even think about it! There will be a heavy price to pay by those who respond to this call,” he added.
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“This is a national fight. We will crush whoever opposes us in this national fight and go on.”
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He earlier also hit out at the calls, telling the HDP that they were being watched.
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“You will not be able to have a free hand. Hey HDP… hey PKK, wherever you come out, know this: our security forces will be breathing down your neck,” Erdogan vowed.
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His warnings came a day after Turkey launched an operation with Syrian rebels to oust the Syrian Kurdish Peoples’ Protection Units (YPG) militia from Afrin.
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Turkey views the YPG militia as “terrorists” linked to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighting against the Turkish state since 1984.
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Ankara also often accuses the HDP of being a political front for the PKK, claims which the party strongly denies.
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