Posts Tagged ‘Iraq’

Iraqi Shiite cleric urges fighters to disarm after Daesh defeat

December 11, 2017

Muqtada Al-Sadr (AFP)

BAGHDAD: An influential Iraqi Shiite cleric is urging his fighters to hand state-issued weapons back to the government following the declaration of victory against Daesh.

Muqtada Al-Sadr also called on his forces to hand some of the territory they control to other branches of Iraq’s security forces, but said his men would remain as protectors of a holy Shiite shrine in Samarra, north of Baghdad.
Al-Sadr’s speech was broadcast on Iraq television on Monday.
Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared victory over Daesh in a national address on Saturday evening, after Iraqi forces cleared the last Daesh strongholds from Iraq’s western desert.
Al-Sadr’s fighters took up arms against Daesh in the summer of 2014 after the fall of Mosul and are officially part of the government-sanctioned Popular Mobilization Forces.

American diplomat: US looks to counter Iran in post-war Iraq

December 11, 2017

The Associated Press

BAGHDAD (AP) — As Iraq emerges from three years of war with the Islamic State group, the U.S. is looking to roll back the influence of neighboring Iran and help the central government resolve its dispute with the Kurdish region, the American envoy to the country told The Associated Press.

U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman took up his post in Baghdad in September 2016, just weeks before the start of the operation to retake the northern city of Mosul. With IS now driven out of all the territory it once held and Iraq’s declaration that the war against the extremists is over, he says Washington is focused on keeping the peace and rebuilding, and sees Iran’s influence as a problem.

“Iran simply does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors,” Silliman said. “The Iranians have — to some extent — assisted the government of Iraq in defeating ISIS,” he said, using an alternative acronym for IS. “But frankly I have not seen the Iranians donating money for humanitarian assistance, I have not seen them contributing to the U.N. stabilization program.”

Iran gained major influence in Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion toppled Saddam Hussein’s Sunni-led dictatorship and empowered the country’s Shiite majority.

When IS swept across northern and central Iraq in the summer of 2014, Iran-backed militias mobilized in the country’s defense, providing a bulwark in many areas while the beleaguered armed forces were rebuilt. The now state-sanctioned paramilitaries, known as the Popular Mobilization Forces, consist of tens of thousands of mostly Shiite fighters deployed across the country. Victories against IS have made their leaders increasingly powerful.

The Trump administration has called for the paramilitary forces to disband after the IS fight is complete. It has also vowed to take a much tougher line on Iran, threatening to pull the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 nuclear agreement and levying sanctions on Iran’s powerful Revolutionary Guard.

Iraq is meanwhile seeking external support for reconstruction after the war, which the government says caused an estimated $100 billion in damage. Some 3 million Iraqis are still displaced, months after major fighting ended.

The Trump administration has made clear that the $14.3 billion military campaign against IS will not be replaced with a similarly funded reconstruction effort. International aid organizations are instead looking to wealthy Gulf states.

“Iraq is coming out of a difficult period where there had been a lot of economic destruction, lots of social disruption and we think that it is important for Iraq to have good, positive relationships with all of its neighbors, and Iran is included in that,” Silliman said.

He said the U.S. was encouraged by recent Iraqi efforts to reach out to Saudi Arabia and Jordan, allies that it hopes will play a bigger role in the country going forward.

The U.S. is also hoping to help calm tensions between the central government and the northern Kurdish region following a September independence referendum that was rejected by Baghdad. Federal forces clashed with Kurdish fighters in October as Baghdad retook disputed territories that the Kurds had seized from IS.

“The relatively modest role we are playing is to help both sides find ways to walk through the door of discussions,” Silliman said, explaining that while both sides support “the idea” of discussions, negotiations to end the crisis have not yet begun.

Iraq holds military parade celebrating victory over Daesh — Abadi eyes victory

December 10, 2017

Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi has declared December 10 an annual national holiday. Above, Abadi speaks before security forces after declaring final victory over Daesh on Saturday. (Handout via Reuters)

BAGHDAD: An Iraqi military parade celebrating final victory over Daesh is underway in Baghdad’s heavily fortified Green Zone, an Iraqi military spokesman said on Sunday.

Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi declared final victory over Daesh on Saturday after Iraqi forces drove its last remnants from the country, three years after the militant group captured about a third of Iraq’s territory.
Iraqi forces recaptured the last areas still under Daesh control along the border with Syria and secured the western desert, Abadi said, thus marking the end of the war against the militants.
His announcement comes two days after the Russian military announced the defeat of the militants in neighboring Syria, where Moscow is backing Syrian government forces.
Abadi declared December 10 an annual national holiday.
The parade was not being broadcast live and only state media was allowed to attend, but several squadrons of Iraqi helicopters flew over Baghdad on Saturday carrying Iraqi flags in a rehearsal for the victory parade.
Fighter jets were seen and heard flying over Baghdad’s skies on Sunday.

Lebanon’s Hariri denounces Iraqi Shi’ite paramilitary’s visit to border

December 9, 2017

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FILE PHOTO: Lebanon’s Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri speaks after a cabinet meeting in Baabda near Beirut, Lebanon December 5, 2017. REUTERS/Mohamed Azakir/File Photo Reuters

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The head of an Iran-backed Iraqi Shi’ite militia has visited Lebanon’s border with Israel accompanied by Hezbollah fighters, a video released on Saturday showed, in a show of Iranian influence that Lebanon’s prime minister called illegal.

Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, declared his readiness “to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause”, in the video footage widely circulating on social media.

His appearance at the frontier is likely to be seen in the Middle East as an example of Tehran demonstrating its reach, and could add to tension in Lebanon, caught in a regional tussle between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri issued a statement saying the border visit by a paramilitary in uniform violated Lebanese law. He had instructed security chiefs to “prevent any person from carrying out activities of a military nature on the country’s territory and to prevent any illegal actions”, and barred Khazali from entering the country, it said.

Lebanon is still recovering from a crisis triggered a month ago, when Hariri announced his resignation while visiting Saudi Arabia, accusing Iran and Hezbollah of meddling in regional conflicts in violation of Lebanon’s policy of non-intervention.

Hariri returned to Lebanon two weeks later and withdrew his resignation last week, while his government restated its non-intervention policy.

Hezbollah, a heavily armed Shi’ite group that fights openly in Syria as an ally of Iran, serves in the power-sharing government with Hariri, a Sunni Muslim politician with deep business and political ties to Saudi Arabia.

A commander in an alliance between Hezbollah, Iran and Russia, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said al-Khazali was accompanied by officers from Asaib Ahl al-Haq and visited the entire border with “occupied Palestine”.

The commander did not say when the visit took place.

In the video, an unidentified commander, presumably from Hezbollah, gestures toward military outposts in northern Israel and explains to Khazali that they were hit by Hezbollah missiles in previous confrontations between the group and Israel.

“We are now on the border separating southern Lebanon with occupied Palestine with our brothers in Hezbollah, and announce our full preparedness to stand united…against the Israeli occupier,” Khazali says in the video.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in June that any future war waged by Israel against Syria or Lebanon could draw in fighters from countries including Iran and Iraq.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who established Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982, have mobilized Shi’ite militias from around the region in recent years. They have fought Islamic State in Iraq and helped President Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria.

(Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Peter Graff)


Israel’s Mightmare: Iraqi Shi’ite militia leader visits Lebanese-Israeli border with Hezbollah

December 9, 2017

BEIRUT (Reuters) – The head of an Iran-backed Iraqi Shi‘ite militia has visited Lebanon’s border with Israel accompanied by allies from the Lebanese group Hezbollah, a video released on Saturday showed.

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Iraq’s Shi’ite militia leader Qais al-Khazali, the leader of Asaib al-Haq, speaks to Reuters during an interview in Baghdad January 4, 2012. REUTERS/Kareem Raheem

Qais al-Khazali, leader of the Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq, declared his full readiness “to stand together with the Lebanese people and the Palestinian cause” in the face of the “Israeli occupation”, according to video footage widely circulating on social media.

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Iraqi paramilitary group Asaib Ahl al-Haq

A commander in the alliance, who spoke to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said al-Khazali was accompanied by officers from Asaib Ahl al-Haq. He visited the entire border with “occupied Palestine”.

It was not clear exactly when the visit took place.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah said in June that any future war waged by Israel against Syria or Lebanon could draw in thousands of fighters from countries including Iran and Iraq.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, who established Hezbollah in Lebanon in 1982, have mobilized Shi‘ite militias from around the region in recent years. They have fought Islamic State in Iraq and helped President Bashar al-Assad in the war in Syria.

Reporting by Laila Bassam; Writing by Tom Perry; Editing by Andrew Bolton

Palestinians clash over Trump move on Jerusalem

December 9, 2017

By Sara Shayanian and Sam Howard  |  Updated Dec. 8, 2017


Palestinians burn tires in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip Friday during a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Photo by Ismael Mohamad/UPI


 (UPI) — Israeli troops killed at least two Palestinian protester as clashes escalated over U.S. President Donald Trump‘s declaration of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The Health Ministry in Gaza reported Mohammad al-Masri, 30, was shot by Israeli Defense Forces east of Khan Younis. Another man in his fifties was killed in the northern part of Gaza, Haaretz reported.

An estimated 3,000 Palestinian protesters held demonstrations and clashed with IDF at nearly 30 locations across the West Bank and Gaza Strip — leaving nearly 250 Palestinians injured.

Palestinian protesters threw rocks at IDF soldiers in Bethlehem after Friday prayers near the Jacir Palace Hotel, officials said. Israeli forces responded by firing tear gas.

The Palestinian Red Crescent said 40 people in Kusra struggled with tear gas inhalation.

In Israel, a rocket launched from Gaza hit the small town of Sderot on Friday night, Haaretz reported. It wasn’t immediately clear if the attack inflicted any casualties on the town.

Protests also ensued across the Muslim world, as demonstrations were planned in Iraq, Egypt and Turkey.

Iranian prayer leader Ayatollah Khatami called for mass protests over Trump’s move, which some analysts say now makes the Israeli-Palestinian conflict more difficult.

“He proved that the cure for the issue of Palestine is only, only, an intifada,” Khatami said. “Only intifadas can turn day into a dark night for the Zionist regime.”

At the U.S. Embassy in Indonesia, hundreds of protesters waved Palestinian flags and chanted “Allahu Akbar” or “God is greatest.” In Malaysia, protesters burned Trump in effigy.

The worldwide protests were sparked by Trump’s announcement Wednesday that the United States would move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognize the latter as the capital of Israel. Previous U.S. presidents have refused to take that step — believing Jerusalem’s status should be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said the move may prevent the United States from mediating future Palestinian-Israeli peace talks — something it’s done for decades.

“Until now, it could have had a mediation role in this conflict, but it has excluded itself a little,” Le Drian said.

“The reality is they are alone and isolated on this issue.”

Lebanon emerges from crisis with Iran on top, but risks remain

December 8, 2017

By Samia NakhoulTom Perry


BEIRUT (Reuters) – Iran’s allies in Lebanon have emerged even stronger from a crisis triggered by Saudi Arabia, which achieved little more than to force the Saudis’ main Lebanese ally – Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri – closer to Tehran’s friends in Beirut

Saudi Arabia aimed to hurt Iran in Lebanon by forcing Hariri’s resignation on Nov. 4 and torpedoing his coalition deal with the Iranian-backed Hezbollah and its allies, using its influence over the Sunni leader to cause trouble for the Shi‘ite group.

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Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri

Instead, the move backfired as Western states censured Riyadh over a step they feared would destabilize Lebanon, despite their shared concerns over the regional role of the heavily armed Hezbollah.

Hariri revoked his resignation on Tuesday, drawing a line under the crisis caused by his announcement from Riyadh. Lebanese officials say he was put under house arrest before French intervention led to his return home. Riyadh and Hariri deny this.

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But while the crisis has abated, its causes – Hezbollah’s growing military influence in the region and Saudi Arabia’s determination to counter Iran – seem likely to bring more trouble Lebanon’s way sooner or later.

Hezbollah supporters cheer as they listen to a speech of Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah in a southern suburb of Beirut, Lebanon, November 10, 2017. Bilal Hussein-AP

Hariri has identified possible Gulf Arab sanctions as a major risk to the Lebanese economy. Analysts also see a risk of another war with Hezbollah’s old foe, Israel, which is alarmed by the group’s strength in Lebanon and Syria.

The episode also leaves big questions over Lebanese politics, long influenced by Saudi Arabia, a patron of the Lebanese Sunni community.

One senior Lebanese politician said the experience had “left a big scar” on Hariri, once the “the spiritual son of Saudi Arabia”. “After this, it will not be easy to have a normal relationship again.”

Meeting on Tuesday for the first time since the resignation, Hariri’s government indirectly acknowledged Saudi concerns over Hezbollah’s role outside Lebanon. At Hariri’s behest, it reaffirmed its policy of staying out of Arab conflicts.

A top Lebanese official said Western pressure forced Saudi Arabia to retreat from its Lebanon plan but further Saudi moves could not be ruled out: “Can we restrain Saudi from going toward madness? In my view, no.”

A Western diplomat said Saudi measures targeting the Lebanese economy were “a genuine possibility” at some point though the international community would likely try to influence how tough any sanctions would be.

“I think the Saudis have understood from the international reaction that Lebanon isn’t a pitch on which they are playing alone. There are other players who have interests who don’t want to see those undermined,” the diplomat said.

“At the same time, the international community’s patience isn’t unlimited. It will be hard to protect Lebanon indefinitely if there is no tangible progress on rolling back Hezbollah.”


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Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah

Hezbollah was the only group allowed to keep its weapons at the end of Lebanon’s 1975-90 civil war to fight Israeli forces occupying southern Lebanon.

Its militia has been a source of controversy in Lebanon since the Israeli withdrawal of 2000.

With Saudi backing, Hariri led a Lebanese political alliance to confront the group, but that resulted in Hezbollah’s takeover of Beirut in 2008 during a brief civil war.

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FILE PHOTO: Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Courtesy of Saudi Royal Court/Handout/File Photo via Reuters)

Hezbollah’s stature has grown in the chaos that swept the Arab world after 2011. It has backed President Bashar al-Assad in Syria and helped in the war against Islamic State in Iraq.

But its role in the Yemen conflict is seen as the main factor behind the crisis in Lebanon. Saudi Arabia accuses Iran and Hezbollah of military support for the Iranian-allied Houthis in their war with a Saudi-led coalition.

Hariri has repeatedly flagged Yemen as the cause of the latest crisis, and warned that Lebanon’s economy is at stake.

The economy depends on remittances from expat workers, particularly in the Gulf. Any threat to inflows is seen as a risk to the system that finances the heavily indebted state.

Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has appeared to recalibrate his rhetoric in response to the crisis.

Last month, he denied his group was fighting in Yemen, or sending weapons to the Houthis, or firing rockets at Saudi Arabia from Yemeni territory. He also indicated Hezbollah could pull its fighters from Iraq. The remarks on the eve of Hariri’s return were seen as “appeasing”, a source close to Hariri said.


Hariri has twice led coalition governments including Hezbollah despite his enmity toward the group: five Hezbollah members have been charged by a U.N.-backed tribunal with the 2005 assassination of his father, Rafik al-Hariri.

Hezbollah denies any involvement.

Hariri’s willingness to compromise with Hezbollah was a factor behind the Saudi move against him and has drawn criticism from within the Sunni community. His status as Lebanon’s most influential Sunni will be put to the test in parliamentary elections next year.

Ashraf Rifi, a hawkish Sunni politician, said the way Hariri reversed his resignation was a “farce” and a “surrender to the Hezbollah project”.

The senior politician, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Hezbollah may offer Hariri a “gesture” over its regional role but saw little prospect of the group fundamentally changing course. President Michel Aoun, a political ally of Hezbollah, could pressure the group “a little bit to be cooler on certain issues”, the politician said.

But Lebanese in Saudi Arabia still had reason to be afraid for their livelihoods: “I think with time the Lebanese will try to disentangle themselves from Saudi Arabia, but this will cost Lebanon a lot because revenues will be reduced.”

The Hariri crisis marked an unprecedented intervention in Lebanon, even in a country with a long history of foreign meddling. It also underlined the different priorities of Saudi Arabia and its Western allies in Lebanon – a major recipient of aid to help it host 1.5 million Syrian refugees.

On the last day of Hariri’s stay in Saudi Arabia, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman summoned him for a meeting and kept him waiting for hours, delaying his departure for France where President Emanuel Macron was waiting for him, the senior politician and a top Lebanese official said.

“Macron was calling Saad to find out where he was,” said the senior politician, adding that Macron then called Crown Prince Mohammad to tell him he was expecting Hariri for lunch.

Western states want stability in Lebanon, the politician said. “They need Lebanon as a platform for observing the Arab world. They have invested a lot here, and if there is a civil war, (there is the question of) what to do with all the Syrian refugees.”

Additional reporting by Laila Bassam; editing by Giles Elgood

Trump’s Jerusalem Stance Raises Tension With Arab Allies

December 7, 2017

Saudi Arabia and Jordan criticize move to recognize city as Israel’s capital; Iraq summons U.S. ambassador

The first signs of strain with President Donald Trump’s administration among his closest Arab allies have surfaced over the policy shift on Jerusalem, an indication that the U.S. is at risk of alienating potential partners in the pursuit of Mideast peace and the building of a coalition to counter Iran.

In a rare public rebuke to its most important ally, Saudi Arabia in a statement Thursday criticized the Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. embassy to the city. It called…
Trump recognition of Jerusalem as Israeli capital would raise regional tensions
China Daily
In a welcome move to some and a controversial move to others, US President Donald Trump is reportedly expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital later this week.

JERUSALEM – In a welcome move to some and a controversial move to others, US President Donald Trump is reportedly expected to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital later this week.

Any such announcement has inflammatory potential in an already volatile region.

Israel has controlled the western part of Jerusalem since its inception in 1948. In 1967, after the Mideast war, Israel captured the eastern part of Jerusalem from Jordan and declared both parts it’s united capital.

The move was never recognized by the international community, including Israel’s closest ally, the US.

The Palestinians see eastern Jerusalem as the future capital of their state.

Jerusalem is home to all of the Israeli government offices and while foreign embassies are situated in Tel Aviv, dealings with the Israeli government are done largely in Jerusalem, the capital that no one recognizes.

Jerusalem is home to sites holy to Islam, Judaism and Christianity, making it a focal point for many people around the globe.

Now, in what seems to be an attempt to appease both Israel and his constituents on the evangelical right, Trump may recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in order to cushion the blow on an undelivered election promise, transferring the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, another controversial move.

It is still unclear, however, whether the US will make such a move, and if so, will it recognize both sides of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital? Or just the western side?

“Trump is a friend of Israel and he thinks that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and recognizing the historic links between the Jews and the city is the right thing to do,” Prof. Efraim Inbar, President of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, told Xinhua.

Inbar believed Trump will be “ambiguous” about what part of Jerusalem the US will recognize.

“Nobody really disputes Israeli sovereignty over west Jerusalem,” Inbar added. While there is a de-facto recognition of western Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, this sovereignty remains unrecognized by the whole of the international community.

Up until now, both Israelis and Americans have repeatedly said that the status of Jerusalem needs to be determined in bilateral negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis.

American media has quoted US Defense officials saying a new policy on Jerusalem would endanger American diplomatic missions worldwide, further highlighting how delicate the matter is.


Hamas calls for Palestinian uprising in response to Trump’s Jerusalem plan


JERUSALEM/GAZA (Reuters) – The Islamist group Hamas urged Palestinians on Thursday to abandon peace efforts and launch a new uprising against Israel in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as its capital.

The Israeli military said it was reinforcing troops in the occupied West Bank, deploying several new army battalions and putting other forces on standby, describing the measures as part of its “readiness for possible developments”.

Protests so far have been scattered and largely non-violent.

But dozens of Palestinians gathered at two points on the Gaza border fence with Israel and threw rocks at soldiers on the other side. Inside Gaza, thousands of Palestinians rallied, some chanting: “Death to America! Death to the fool Trump!” and burning tires.

Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday by recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, imperiling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.

(For a graphic on possible Jerusalem U.S. Embassy sites, click

The status of Jerusalem – home to sites holy to the Muslim, Jewish and Christian religions – is one of the biggest obstacles to reaching a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.

“We should call for and we should work on launching an intifada (Palestinian uprising) in the face of the Zionist enemy,” Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said in a speech in Gaza.

Haniyeh, elected the group’s overall leader in May, urged Palestinians, Muslims and Arabs to hold rallies against the U.S decision on Friday, calling it a “day of rage”.

Naser Al-Qidwa, an aide to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and senior official in his Fatah party, urged Palestinians to stage protests but said they should be peaceful.

Israel considers Jerusalem its eternal and indivisible capital. Palestinians want the capital of an independent state of theirs to be in the city’s eastern sector, which Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East war and annexed in a move never recognized internationally.

Trump announced his administration would begin a process of moving the U.S. Embassy in Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, a step expected to take years and one that his predecessors opted not to take to avoid inflaming tensions.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who hailed Trump’s announcement as a “historic landmark”, said on Thursday many countries would follow the U.S. move and contacts were underway. He did not name the countries he was referring to.

“President Trump has immortalized himself in the chronicles of our capital. His name will now be held aloft, alongside other names connected to the glorious history of Jerusalem and of our people,” he said in a speech at Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Other close Western allies of Washington, including France and Britain, have been critical of Trump’s move. Pope Francis has called for Jerusalem’s status quo to be respected, while China and Russia have also expressed concern.

The EU’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said: “The European Union has a clear and united position. We believe the only realistic solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is based on two states and with Jerusalem as the capital of both.”

A demonstrator reacts during a protest against the U.S. intention to move its embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize the city of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the U.S. Embassy in Ankara, Turkey, December 7, 2017. REUTERS/Umit BektasTrump’s decision has raised doubts about his administration’s ability to follow through on a peace effort that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, has led for months aimed at reviving long-stalled negotiations.

The United Nations Security Council is likely to meet on Friday to discuss the U.S. decision, diplomats said.


Israel and the United States consider Hamas, which has fought three wars with Israel since 2007, a terrorist organization. Hamas does not recognize Israel’s right to exist and its suicide bombings helped spearhead the last intifada, from 2000 to 2005.

“We have given instruction to all Hamas members and to all its wings to be fully ready for any new instructions or orders that may be given to confront this strategic danger that threatens Jerusalem and threatens Palestine,” Haniyeh said.

“United Jerusalem is Arab and Muslim, and it is the capital of the state of Palestine, all of Palestine,” he said, referring to territory including Israel as well as the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip and the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

Slideshow (26 Images)Haniyeh called on Western-backed Abbas to withdraw from peacemaking with Israel and on Arabs to boycott the Trump administration.

Abbas said on Wednesday the United States had abdicated its role as a mediator in peace efforts. Palestinian secular and Islamist factions have called for a general strike and rallies on Thursday.

Fearing recrimination could disrupt reconciliation efforts between Hamas and Fatah, Palestinian Prime Minister Rami Al-Hamdallah and other Fatah delegates arrived in Gaza on Thursday to meet Hamas.

The international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, believing its status should be resolved in negotiations. No other country has its embassy in Jerusalem.

Trump’s decision fulfils a campaign promise and will please Republican conservatives and evangelicals who make up a sizeable portion of his domestic support.

He said his move was not intended to tip the scale in favor of Israel and that any deal involving the future of Jerusalem would have to be negotiated by the parties, but the move was seen almost uniformly in Arab capitals as a sharp tilt towards Israel.

The United States is asking Israel to temper its response to the announcement because Washington expects a backlash and is weighing the potential threat to U.S. facilities and people, according to a State Department document seen by Reuters.

Protests broke out in areas of Jordan’s capital, Amman, inhabited by Palestinian refugees, and several hundred protesters gathered outside the U.S. consulate in Istanbul on Wednesday after Trump’s announcement.

Protests are expected on Thursday in Pakistan, where the government said of Trump’s move: “It is a serious setback to the rule of law and international norms. It signals a severe blow to the Middle East peace process.”

Taliban insurgents in Afghanistan said the United States was “exposing its colonial ambition in Muslim territory”.

Palestinians switched off Christmas lights on trees outside Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, where Christians believe Jesus was born, and in Ramallah, next to the burial site of former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, in protest.

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Iraq demands U.S. backtrack on Jerusalem, summons ambassador — “Jerusalem is Arab”

December 7, 2017


BAGHDAD (Reuters) – Iraq demanded on Thursday that the U.S. government backtrack on a decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and summoned the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad to protest the decision.

U.S. President Donald Trump reversed decades of U.S. policy on Wednesday and recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, imperiling Middle East peace efforts and upsetting the Arab world and Western allies alike.

Shi‘ite-majority Iraq is the only country to have an alliance with regional powerhouse Iran and the United States, who do not see eye-to-eye.

The Iraqi Foreign Ministry said it had summoned the U.S. ambassador in Baghdad and that it would hand him a memo protesting Trump’s decision.

“We caution against the dangerous repercussions of this decision on the stability of the region and the world,” an Iraqi government statement said.

Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani

“The U.S. administration has to backtrack on this decision to stop any dangerous escalation that would fuel extremism and create conditions favorable to terrorism,” it said.

Iraq’s top Shi‘ite cleric Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani condemned the decision and called on the “Umma”, or Islamic nation, to unite its efforts and reclaim Jerusalem.

“This decision is condemned and decried, it hurt the feelings of hundreds of millions of Arabs and Muslims,” his office said in a statement.

“But it won’t change the reality that Jerusalem is an occupied land which should return to the sovereignty of its Palestinian owners no matter how long it takes,” it said.

Dozens of Iraqis protested the decision in Baghdad, carrying signs saying “Jerusalem is Arab” and vowing to return in greater numbers the following day after Friday prayers.

A prominent Iraqi militia, the Iran-backed Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, said Trump’s decision could become a “legitimate reason” to attack U.S. forces in Iraq.

“Trump’s stupid decision to make Jerusalem a capital for the Zionist will be the big spark for removing this entity from the body of the Islamic nation, and a legitimate reason to target American forces,” said the group’s leader Akram al-Kaabi.

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Iraqi Shiite fighters. AFP photo

The United States is leading an international coalition helping Iraq fight Islamic State and has provided air and ground support. It has more than 5,000 troops in Iraq.

Nujaba, which has about 10,000 fighters, is one of the most important militias in Iraq. Though made up of Iraqis, it is loyal to Iran and is helping Tehran create a supply route through Iraq to Damascus.

It fights under the umbrella of the Popular Mobilisation Forces (PMF), a mostly Iranian-backed coalition of Shi‘ite militias that played a role in combating Islamic State. The PMF is government sanctioned and formally reports to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi’s office.

Reporting by Maher Chmaytelli; Additional reporting by Huda Majeed; Writing by Ahmed Aboulenein; Editing by Larry King

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Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi

French President Macron arrives in Qatar amid Arab boycott of Doha, uproar over Trump decision on Jerusalem

December 7, 2017

AFP and The Associated Press


© France 24, screen capture | President Macron arrives in Doha on December 7, 2017.


Latest update : 2017-12-07

French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Qatar on Thursday for a one-day trip to the small Gulf country as it faces continued isolation and a boycott by some of its Arab neighbors.

Macron landed and immediately traveled to the vast al-Udeid Air Base, home to some 10,000 American troops and the forward headquarters of the U.S. military’s Central Command. France also has a contingent of soldiers at the base, which is crucial to the ongoing fight against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria and to the war in Afghanistan.

Macron smiled and shook hands with the French and American soldiers who greeted him at the base before walking into a meeting with the base’s top commanders.

Speaking to coalition soldiers, he said the next few months of battle will determine the outcome of the war against the IS group in Iraq in Syria.

“This military win does not signify the end of the operations and the end of our battle because first we need to stabilize and win peace in Iraq and Syria,” he told troops. “Next spring is decisive in the situation in Iraq.”

Macron also stressed in his remarks at the air base that France wants to avoid partition in Syria and “avoid the domination of certain international elements whose interests contradict peace.”

The French president later will hold talks with Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Macron is traveling with Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who in 2015 as defense minister helped negotiate a multibillion dollar deal with Qatar to buy 24 Rafale fighter jets. Qatar may announce during Macron’s visit that it will purchase up to 12 more of the French-made Dassault Rafale jets.

Macron’s visit comes just days after a Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Kuwait failed to bring the standoff any closer to a resolution in the dispute engulfing Qatar. In June, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt cut relations with Qatar over allegations it supports extremists and has too-close relations with Iran.

Qatar has long denied supporting extremists and shares a massive offshore natural gas field with Tehran.

Also likely to come up during Macron’s visit is President Donald Trump‘s announcement that the U.S. recognizes Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Israel claims all of Jerusalem as its capital, while the Palestinians claim the city’s eastern sector, captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war, as the capital of a future independent state.

Before Macron’s arrival, Qatar’s ruler held calls with Trump, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Qatar has, in the past, provided crucial aid to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, which is run by the militant Hamas group, and has helped pay public sector wages in the besieged Palestinian territory.