Posts Tagged ‘Islamists’

Suspected Islamists behead 10 in Mozambique, possibly al-Shabaab

May 29, 2018

Ten people including children were beheaded in a village in northern Mozambique in a weekend attack blamed on suspected Islamists, local sources said on Tuesday.

The attack occurred in Monjane, a village not far from Palma, a small town gearing up to be the country’s new natural gas hub in the northern Cabo Delgado province.

“We were informed about this tragedy,” Palma’s administrator David Machimbuko told AFP, with the information also confirmed by a local resident, who blamed Islamists.

Mozambique’s state broadcaster also reported on “10 persons decapitated” in the Palma area.

Location of  Mozambique  (dark blue)in the African Union  (light blue)

© AFP/File | The deadly attack took place not far from Palma, a small town in northern Mozambique which is gearing up to be the country’s new natural gas hub

Police were expected to give a news conference later on Tuesday.

Since October, Cabo Delgado has seen a number of attacks by suspected radical Islamists.

One of the victims of the weekend attack was the leader of Monjane village, a local resident said, without giving his name for fear of reprisals.

“They targeted the chief as he had been providing information to the police about the location of al-Shabaab in forests,” he told AFP, referring to an armed group believed responsible for a deadly October attack on a police station and military post in the town of Mocimboa da Praia.

Two officers died and 14 attackers were killed in what was believed to be the first jihadist attack on the country.

The group has no known link to the Somali jihadist group of the same name.

In the following weeks, at least 300 Muslims were arrested and several mosques forced to close.

AFP

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Pakistani mob attacks Ahmadi Mosque in Sialkot

May 24, 2018

A mob led by right-wing Muslim clerics tore down the dome and minarets of a 100-year old Pakistani mosque belonging to the marginalized Ahmadi community, officials and the community said on Thursday.

Ahmadis are one of the most persecuted groups in Sunni-majority Pakistan, with Islamists and religious hardliners labelling them heretics, while harsh Pakistani laws ban them from calling themselves Muslims or using Islamic symbols.

Saleemuddin, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community, said a mob stormed the mosque complex in Sialkot, near the Indian border in Punjab province, overnight. He put the number at several hundred.

He said there was collusion between the mob and local government officials, but police denied such accusations.

Asad Sarfraz, a police official, said municipal government officials were at the mosque complex removing what he called “illegal renovation”.

“An emotionally charged mob of people belonging to different groups and segments of society reached there and damaged several parts of the building,” Sarfraz said.

Image result for Ahmadi Mosque in Sialkot, photos

Sarfraz said about 60-70 people were involved and authorities were attempting to identify the attackers.

Saleemuddin denied the renovation work was illegal and said the community had obtained permission from the local government to upgrade the building. He shared an application approved by the municipal government with Reuters.

A social media video of the attack’s aftermath shows a crowd cheering a local cleric, who then claims to have ransacked the mosque.

“I want to thank the Sialkot administration, the DPO (District Police Officer), DC (District Commissioner), the TMA (Town Municipal Corporation), from the bottom of my heart,” said the cleric, from the majority Sunni community.

Image result for Ahmadi Mosque in Sialkot, photos

“Because as Muslims it was your responsibility to complete this work.”

The Ahmadis consider themselves to be Muslims but their recognition of Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who founded the sect in British-ruled India in 1889, as a “subordinate prophet” is viewed by many of the Sunni majority as a breach of the Islamic tenet that the Prophet Mohammad was God’s last direct messenger.

Additional reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Writing by Saad Sayeed; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Nick Macfie

Many jihadis from Germany have German citizenship: Report

May 21, 2018

Over 1,000 Islamists have left Germany to aid terror groups in Syria and Iraq, a report cites the government as saying. And it says more than half of them hold German passports.

    
Militants of the 'Islamic State' group hold up their weapons and wave its flag on their vehicles in a convoy on a road leading to Iraq, while riding in Raqqa city in Syria

The German government knows of more than 1,000 Islamists who have left Germany for Syria or Iraq to support terrorist organizations there, media reported on Sunday.

The figure comes from an answer given by the government to a question from the parliamentary representatives of the Left Party, according to newspapers of the Funke media group.

The government also cited security authorities as saying that more than half of those who had left Germany for such conflict zones had German passports, the newspapers said in their report.

The figure given by the government shows a further increase in the number of those traveling abroad as jihadis, but indicates that the rate of departures has slowed considerably in comparison with two years ago.

According to the report, 243 supporters of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and the Kurdish Democratic Union Party (PYD) have also travelled abroad to support the coalition fighting the extremist group “Islamic State” (IS). Germany classes the PKK as a terrorist organization.

Read moreChildren of ‘Islamic State’ struggle to integrate in Germany

Unconstitutional proposal?

Although dozens of German Islamists are in prison in Syria, Iraq and Turkey, many others, including women and children, have since returned to Germany.

The report said that during coalition negotiations between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the Social Democratic Party (SPD), it was agreed that returning fighters with double citizenship should have their German nationality canceled if there is evidence of their having fought for a terrorist militia.

This plan was criticized by the Left Party’s expert for domestic affairs, Ulla Jelpke, who called it “unconstitutional.” She also told the Funke group newspapers that such a move would punish Germans who had fought alongside the Kurds against IS.

Read more: Can foreign ‘Islamic State’ fighters’ kids return to Europe?

Turning back jihadis

Her counterpart from the SPD, Uli Grötsch, also slammed the proposal, even though his party agreed to it in the coalition deal.

“It is more symbolic than politically useful,” he said, saying that prosecution and deradicalization were what was needed instead.

However, the domestic affairs expert of Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU), Armin Schuster, defended the measure, saying that a jihadi who was no longer German could be sent back at the border.

Read more: Is France’s deradicalization strategy missing the point?

tj/jlw (KNA, dpa)

http://www.dw.com/en/many-jihadis-from-germany-have-german-citizenship-report/a-43858243

Israel says Hamas curbed Gaza protests after Egyptian warning

May 16, 2018

Palestinian protests on the Gaza-Israel border have dropped off dramatically, with Israel on Wednesday pointing to what it said were Egyptian efforts to restore calm after dozens of Palestinians were killed by Israeli gunfire.

Image may contain: 8 people, people smiling, people sitting, crowd and outdoor

Palestinian demonstrator fights with Israeli security forces during a protest against U.S. embassy move to Jerusalem and ahead of the 70th anniversary of Nakba, near Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

Gaza’s dominant Islamist Hamas movement, denying any pressure from neighboring Egypt to scale back the six-week-old demonstrations, said they would continue, even as far smaller numbers of Palestinians gathered in protest tents.

Gaza medics said two Palestinians were shot dead during Tuesday’s demonstrations along the 51 km (32 mile) border. On Monday, 60 were killed in a far greater turnout on the day the United States relocated its Israel embassy to Jerusalem.

Pushing back against foreign censure of its army’s actions, Israel has – with Washington’s backing – accused Hamas of using civilians as cover for attacks across the frontier fence and to distract from Gaza’s internal problems. Hamas denies this.

Angered by the U.S. embassy move and the Gaza bloodshed, Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and consul to Istanbul, Ankara said on Wednesday. Israel responded to its envoy’s expulsion on Tuesday by expelling Turkey’s Jerusalem consul.

There has been little Israeli domestic dissent at the lethal tactics around Gaza, where in the last decade Israel has fought three wars against Hamas, a group sworn to its destruction.

Dubbed the March of Return, the protests were launched on March 30 to demand Palestinian access to family lands or homes lost to Israel during its founding in a 1948 war. Larger crowds have flocked to the border after Muslim prayers on Fridays.

Gaza analyst Akram Attallah, pointing to the smaller number of protesters since Monday’s deaths, said: “I can see there is a retreat because of the Israeli bloody response … but Friday will represent an indicator to where things are going.”

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh made a brief visit on Sunday to Egypt, which also borders Gaza and has sought to broker between the Islamists and Israel.

Image result for Ismail Haniyeh, photos

Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh

Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz said an Egyptian intelligence chief, whom he did not name, warned Haniyeh that Cairo “knows and has proof” that Hamas was funding the protests and sending people to the border fence to serve “as living ammunition, women and children instead of shells and rockets”.

HOLDING FAST

The Egyptian official “made unequivocally clear to him (Haniyeh) that if this continues, Israel will respond and take far harsher steps, and Egypt will stand by and will not help,” Katz told Israel Radio in an interview.

“Haniyeh returned to Gaza, Hamas gave an order … and miraculously, this spontaneous protest by a public that could not handle the situation any more dissipated.”

Relatives mourn during the funeral of a Palestinian, who was killed during a protest at the Israel-Gaza border, in the central Gaza Strip May 16, 2018. REUTERS/Mohammed Salem

There was no immediate response from Egypt to Katz’s statements, which Hamas dismissed as false.

“There is no mediation. The marches will continue until our people achieve their goals,” Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoum said.

At a news conference at a protest encampment on Wednesday, Palestinian factions, including Hamas and Islamic Jihad, urged people to take part in mass rallies on Friday.

But the start on Thursday of the holy month of Ramadan, when Muslims abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours, could limit the scale of the demonstrations.

In a statement issued at the news conference, the factions said the fasting would be taken into account. They said marches would continue through early June.

Organizers say the Gaza protests are civilian actions, noting the absence of Israeli casualties compared to 107 Palestinian dead and thousands of wounded. Israel disputes this: Fourteen of those killed on Tuesday were shot while firing on Israeli troops or trying to blow up the fence, the army said.

In Jerusalem, following the U.S. lead, Guatemala opened its embassy in the city on Wednesday. [J7N1PG029] Paraguay is slated to do the same next week.

Most countries keep their embassies in Tel Aviv, however, saying the status of the holy city should be decided in peace talks between Israel and Palestinians, which want to have their own capital there. Those talks have been stalled since 2014.

Israel regards all of Jerusalem, including the eastern sector captured in the 1967 Middle East, as its capital. Palestinians seek East Jerusalem as the capital of a state they want to establish in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi in Gaza; Writing by Dan Williams and Jeffrey Heller, William Maclean

Reuters

Explosion at mosque in Libyan city of Benghazi, residents say

February 9, 2018

Image Caption : Members of the self-styled Libyan National Army, loyal to the country’s east strongman Khalifa Haftar, patrol the roads leading into the eastern city of Benghazi on February 7, 2018. (AFP)
BENGHAZI: An explosion took place at a mosque in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi on Friday, residents said.
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There was no immediate word on casualties.
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Two weeks ago, around 35 people were killed by a twin bombing at a mosque in the same city.
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Benghazi, Libya’s second-largest city, is controlled by the Libyan National Army (LNA), led by eastern-based commander Khalifa Haftar. The LNA was battling Islamists, including some linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, as well as other opponents until late last year in the Mediterranean port city.
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Haftar, a possible contender in national elections that could be held by the end of 2018, has built his reputation on delivering stability in Benghazi and beyond, promising to halt the chaos that developed after a NATO-backed uprising ended Muammar Gaddafi’s long rule nearly seven years ago.
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Haftar launched his military campaign in Benghazi in May 2014, in response to a series of bombings and assassinations blamed on Islamist militants.
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In past months there have been occasional, smaller scale bombings apparently targeting LNA allies or supporters.

Kurdish-dominated SDF accuses Turkey of backing ‘IS’ with Syria assault

January 22, 2018

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there was “no stepping back” from Syria’s Afrin as Turkey’s army clashed with Kurds in their push to take the city. Kurdish forces accused Ankara of backing the “Islamic State” group.

Turkish armored vehicles move closer to Syrian border (Getty Images/AFP/B. Kilic)

Turkey is determined to push on with its massive offensive against Kurdish forces in Syria, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Monday, as Turkish forces encountered heavy resistance on the third day of its invasion on the city of Afrin.

“There is no stepping back from Afrin,” Erdogan said.

Turkey launched the ground assault to drive Kurdish forces away from its southern borders and prevent the creation of Kurdish-dominated statelet which could further destabilize Kurdish-populated areas in Turkey.

According to Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, Syrian Kurds launched an intense counterattack on Sunday evening, pushing Turkish troops and their allies out of two villages they briefly captured. The watchdog said that at least 26 SDF fighters and 19 pro-Turkish rebels were killed in the three days of fighting, with nine unidentified bodies also found on the battlefield. Another 24 civilians were reportedly killed..

Watch video01:47

Turkey targets Kurdish militant positions in Syria

Speaking in Ankara on Monday, Erdogan said Turkey’s “fundamental goal” was ensuring national security, preserving Syria’s territorial integrity, and protecting the Syrian people. He added that the goal was not to occupy parts of Syria, but to win over “hearts” of the population.

SDF says Afrin will be a Turkish ‘quagmire’

Also on Monday, the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) said Ankara’s attack amounted to “clear support” to the “Islamic State” (IS) terror militia. The Syrian SDF force is largely made-up of Kurdish YPG units, which Turkey considers to be a terrorist organization.

The SDF is also heavily backed by the US. The US provided the group with training, arms, and equipment in the war against the “Islamic State.” With the help of American special forces and air power, the SDF led the battle to drive the jihadists out of their de-facto capital of Raqqa three months ago.

Read moreUS tells Turkey to show ‘restraint’ with Syria Kurds

“The international coalition, our partner in the fight against terrorism with whom we jointly conducted honorable battles… knows full well this Turkish intervention comes to make final victory hollow,” the SDF said in a statement.

“For this reason, the coalition is urged to take its responsibilities towards our forces and our people in Afrin,” the group’s spokesman Keno Gabriel said.

The group also pledged that the northwestern city of Afrin would become a “quagmire from which the Turkish army will only exit after suffering great losses.”

German-made Leopard tanks move along a road on on the Syrian border (Reuters)Turkey, a NATO member, deployed German-made tanks to the conflict zone

Kurd leaders also blamed Moscow for allowing Turkish planes to fly over Syrian territory and pulling out Russian troops stationed in Afrin. According to YPG officials, Russia urged them to hand over the Afrin enclave to avoid the Turkish attack. This was apparently corroborated by Erdogan on Monday, who said Turkish officials discussed the invasion “with our Russian friends and we have an agreement.”

Gabriel calls opposite number in Turkey

Germany’s Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel also telephoned his Turkish colleague Mevlut Cavusoglu to relay his “concerns about an escalation” in northern Syria on Monday, as well as the impact on the civilian population, according to a foreign ministry official in Berlin.

Read more: Germany, Turkey and the 2017 diplomatic rollercoaster

The co-chair of Germany’s Left Party, Katja Kipping, released a video statement on Twitter in which, wearing a scarf in the colors of the Kurdish flag, she accused Russia and NATO of betraying the Kurds and making Germany complicit in a “war of aggression.”

She said Russia had opened Syrian airspace for Turkish warplanes and that NATO had approved the move, while, according to the Turkish military, NATO reconnaissance aircraft were coordinating and observing the Turkish operations.

“If what the Turkish general staff has announced is true, it means German soldiers are also directly involved in this war of aggression,” Kipping said.

EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said she was “extremely worried” over the Turkish incursion into Syria, adding that she would raise the issue with Ankara.

The attack “can undermine seriously the resumption of talks in Geneva, which is what we believe could really bring sustainable peace and security for Syria,” she said, a reference to the UN peace effort.

France has called for UN Security Council meeting over the attack for Monday evening.

Leopard tanks (picture-alliance/dpa/P. Steffen)Turkey has more Leopard-type tanks than Germany

German-made tanks move towards Afrin

Read moreTurkish jets bomb Syria’s Afrin

Turkey’s push into Syrian territory also sparked uproar in Germany as photos from the scene purported to show Turkish troops using German-made Leopard 2 tanks. Opposition lawmakers slammed the German government for exporting weapons to Turkey and called for the deliveries to be halted.

German officials refused to provide details on the apparent Leopard deployment. A defense ministry spokesman said that it was not yet clear when the pictures were taken, while foreign ministry officials said the situation remained unclear. A spokesman dealing with weapons exports in the economy ministry was equally tight-lipped.

“Except for the images shown in the media, which you all know about, we do not have any information about the use of Leopard tanks.”

 http://www.dw.com/en/kurdish-dominated-sdf-accuses-turkey-of-backing-is-with-syria-assault/a-42260510

dj, tj/msh (AFP, dpa, AP, Reuters)

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Trump’s First War? Turkey Declares a Military Frontline Against America

January 22, 2018

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. But now Turkey wants to muscle the Americans out the Middle East. On a bogus pretext and backed by Russia, Turkey has launched an incursion into Syria – and a proxy war against the U.S.

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Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018

Turkish army troops gather near the Syrian border at Hassa, in Hatay province on January 21, 2018BULENT KILIC/AFP

Ankara’s latest military operation into the Afrin enclave in Syria is yet another example of Turkey’s drift from NATO. It is a de facto proxy war against the United States and part of a broader Turkish ambition for regional hegemony.

>>With Turkish military invasion, the Americans are once again trapped in Syria | Analysis

The U.S.-Turkish relationship had endured for over 70 years. In March 1947, President Harry S. Truman announced to congress that his government would endeavour to support any nation threatened by communism. In what became known as the Truman Doctrine, the president pledged $400 million in support of both Greece and Turkey.

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FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017.

FILE PHOTO: Turkey’s President Tayyip Erdogan and US President Donald Trump shake hands prior to meeting in New York on Thursday, Sept. 21, 2017./AP

So began a legacy of close relations between Ankara and Washington. The following year, Turkey became a recipient of Marshal Plan aid, and in 1952 Turkey joined NATO, Article 5 of which states that an attack against one is an attack against all.

Sure, there were setbacks. In 1964, for example, Turkey was enragedby President Lyndon Johnson’s stern letter demanding Ankara desist from intervening in Cyprus. Another fallout ensued the following decade after Turkey actually did invade the island, and the U.S. responded with an arms embargo. In more recent years Turkey refused the U.S. the use of the strategic Incirlik airbase ahead of the 2003 Iraq War.

Yet for all intents and purposes the U.S. and Turkey remained bosom buddies. Arms contracts were signed, strategic dialogues and exercises continued and shared enemies were identified whether they be the Soviets (or later Russians) or Islamist militancy.

With the Islamically inclined Justice and Development Party (AKP) in power since 2002, the U.S. could point to Turkey as an example of a Muslim democracy, a much-needed ally in the War on Terror. At one point during his presidency, Barack Obama even stated that Turkey’s leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan was one of his most trusted international friends.

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Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey's military operation in Syria's Afrin. January 21, 2018

Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) members protest alongside Syrian-Kurds near the Kurdish-majority city of Qamishli against Turkey’s military operation in Syria’s Afrin. January 21, 2018DELIL SOULEIMAN/AFP

But that was then. Over the weekend, Ankara launched the rather Orwellian sounding “Operation Olive Branch” offensive into Syria’s Afrin, a mainly Kurdish town and outer basin located west of the Euphrates River, held by the Democratic Union Party (PYD), and its militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG).

Not wishing to overburden the reader with acronyms, suffice to say that Ankara alleges (not without reason) that the PYD and PYG are affiliates of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging a separatist struggle against Turkey since the late 1970s, a conflict which has claimed the lives of tens of thousands of Turks and Kurds. The U.S. supports the Syrian Defence Forces (SDF) which consists of some Arab fighters but mainly units of the YPG. They are key U.S. allies in the fight against ISIS.

Ankara was angered by U.S. plans to use the SDF, and, by extension, the PYG, for a new 30,000 strong border-force to prevent ISIS or al-Qaeda factions from regaining a stronghold in the north of Syria. Ankara was concerned that this would embolden the YPG and lead to a hostile autonomous canton that could be used as a launch-pad for attacks against Turkey.

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Turkish jets' aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018

Turkish jets’ aerial offensive, codenamed Operation Olive Branch, against the Syrian Kurdish-held enclave of Afrin, in northwest Syria, seen here from the Turkish border town of Kilis. Jan. 20, 2018 Lefteris Pitarakis/AP

But in creating a border force following the defeat of ISIS, Washington made the right decision. The U.S. has seen first-hand in Iraq what can happen when a military force is disbanded. Armed, battle-hardened, and without money, there is a very real risk that fighters might splinter off and join new groups or militias. Better channel their energy to good use.

Meanwhile, Washington is also right that the demise of ISIS should not be taken for granted; a force is needed to prevent their re-emergence, one that is local and indigenous while making sure there is no room for Iran to capitalize on a U.S. withdrawal.

Washington made it abundantly clear to Ankara that Afrin would be excluded from its new border force. In other words, the Turkish pretext for launching the incursion, the prevention of a PYG force in the Afrin corridor, is bogus.

To make matters worse, before Turkey launched its new operation it was not U.S. or NATO coordination that was sought. Instead Ankara looked for Russian permission.

It is with Moscow that Turkey has signed an agreement to purchasethe S400 surface-to-air missile system despite objections from NATO partners. This is despite Russia invading the Crimea, violating Finnish and Estonian airspace and whose vessels steer close to the territorial waters of European NATO nations. In all likelihood Russia launches cyber-attacks against NATO members and allegedly interfered in the U.S. presidential election. Turkey’s cuddling up to Russia only highlights the extent to which Turkey has left the NATO fold.

Behind Turkey’s anti-U.S. stance lies an imperial ambition. Turkey wishes to assert itself as a regional hegemon by muscling out the U.S.

Just like America, Ankara has set up a base in Qatar. It has also established one in Somalia, a country where the U.S. has bad memories after its failed mission in 1993. Turkey has also been on the forefront in the campaign against President Donald J. Trump’s controversial decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan waves to supporters of his ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), at a rally in Elazig, eastern Turkey. Jan. 13, 2018/AP

And now in Syria, Turkey is seeking to dislodge the U.S. presence by backing the Free Syrian Army against the U.S.-supported SDF. This latest operation is nothing less than a proxy war against the U.S. Erdogan has even expressed his intention to continue after Afrin.

Ankara wants to finish the job it started with its first foray into Syria, Operation Euphrates Shield, which was completed in March of last year. Erdogan stated that after Afrin, Turkish forces will march on to Manbij, and then even further towards the Iraqi border where PYG forces are located. In other words, to obliterate U.S.-supported forces.

America, and President Trump, have a very real problem. Not only are they fighting a proxy war against the U.S.’s traditional enemies, Russia and Iran, but it is also being challenged by its traditional ally and partner, Turkey, which is seeking to replace U.S. influence in the region.

The Afrin crisis represents one of the biggest challenges for the Trump administration and the NATO alliance now, and for the coming years.

Dr Simon A. Waldman is a Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center and a visiting research fellow at King’s College London. He is the co-author of the recently published The New Turkey and Its Discontents (Oxford University Press: 2017). Twitter: @simonwaldman1  

https://www.haaretz.com/opinion/.premium-trump-s-first-war-turkey-launches-proxy-conflict-against-america-1.5750503

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Hamas says will not attend Palestinian meeting over Jerusalem

January 13, 2018

Israeli border guards prepare to disperse a protest by Palestinians against the US’ decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, on January 9, 2018 north of Ramallah in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. (AFP)

GAZA: Hamas said Saturday it would not participate in a meeting of Palestinian leaders to debate responses to the controversial US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

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The decision not to take part in the meeting to begin late Sunday is a further setback to failing reconciliation efforts between leading Palestinian factions.
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“We have taken the decision not to participate in the meeting of the (Palestinian) Central Council in Ramallah,” Hamas said in a statement, however stressing its “commitment to the unity of our people.”
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“The conditions under which the committee will be held will not enable it to carry out a comprehensive and responsible political review, and will prevent decisions that reach the level of our aspirations.”
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The two-day meeting will bring together the heads of the Palestine Liberation Organization, the internationally recognized representative of the Palestinian people.
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Hamas and Islamic Jihad, another Palestinian Islamist movement, were invited to attend despite not being part of the PLO. Islamic Jihad has also announced it would not take part.
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Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, had been pushing for the meeting to be held outside the Palestinian territories but Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas decided instead to host it in Ramallah, the base of his government in the West Bank.
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The Hamas statement said this left them subject to the “pressures” of Israel, which occupies the West Bank and regularly arrests Hamas officials.
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The meeting is due to discuss responses to US President Donald Trump’s December 6 recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
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The decision infuriated Palestinian leaders, who see at least the east of the city as the capital of a future Palestinian state.
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Trump’s administration has also not publicly committed to the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and the PLO office in Washington was briefly threatened with closure.
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Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party signed a reconciliation agreement in October that was meant to see the Islamists hand over control of Gaza by the end of the year.
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The talks have however broken down, with disputes over the fate of tens of thousands of Hamas civil servants and the future of Hamas’ vast armed wing.
Hamas seized Gaza in 2007, forcing out Abbas’ forces in a near civil war.
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It has fought three wars with Israel since 2008 and is considered a terrorist organization by the Jewish State, the United States and others.

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The U.S. Pakistan Story: “There’s no amount of bribery or threat that can ultimately make people act against what they consider to be their core interests”

January 5, 2018

© AFP | Pakistani demonstrators burn the US flag at a protest in Quetta on Jan 4 as Washington escalated its criticism over militant safe havens

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Washington accuses Pakistan of playing a dangerous double game, taking billions in US aid while supporting militants attacking its forces in Afghanistan, including the Taliban.Its belated move to suspend assistance, after years of mistrust, highlights the perils of alienating a quasi-ally whose support is vital in the long-running Afghan conflict.

The dramatic freeze in deliveries of military equipment and security funding comes after President Donald Trump lambasted Pakistan for its alleged support for militant safe havens, including in a furious new year tweet.

What does the US want from Pakistan?

Washington and Kabul accuse Pakistan of cynically supporting militant groups including the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani group.

They say the insurgents have safe havens in Pakistan’s border areas and links to its shadowy military establishment, which aims to use them in Afghanistan as a regional bulwark against arch-nemesis India.

Pakistan’s support for these groups must end, Washington insists.

Islamabad has repeatedly denied the accusations, insisting it has eradicated safe havens and accusing the US of ignoring the thousands who have been killed on Pakistani soil and the billions spent fighting extremists.

It also levels the same charge at Kabul, accusing Afghanistan of harbouring militants on its side of the border who then launch attacks on Pakistan.

Why hasn’t Washington axed aid before?

US figures show that more than $33 billion has been given to Pakistan in direct aid since 2002. Given fears Pakistan is being duplicitous, cutting the money off seems an obvious step.

It has been suspended before, notably after the US raid on the Pakistani town of Abbotabad in 2011 that killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The discovery of the world’s most wanted man, less than a mile from Pakistan’s elite military academy, drew suspicions that he had been sheltered by the country’s intelligence agency for years.

But despite the provocations, the US does not want to completely rupture its relationship with Pakistan, where anti-American sentiment already runs high.

Washington’s footprint in Afghanistan is much smaller than it was at the height of the war, and it needs access to Pakistan’s supply lines and airspace.

Pakistan is still believed to have the strongest influence over the Taliban, making its cooperation necessary for peace talks.

Pakistan also holds the Muslim world’s only known nuclear arsenal and the US wants to prevent it from going to war with rival nuclear power India, or collapsing and allowing the weapons to fall into the hands of extremists.

“They want to apply graduated pressure to Pakistan to change its policy, rather than abandon it altogether,” security analyst Hasan Askari said.

Will the US strategy work?

Some analysts have said there is no real way to pressure Pakistan, which believes keeping Kabul out of nemesis India’s orbit is more important than clamping down on cross-border militancy.

Askari warned the suspension of millions of dollars in security assistance might see the US lose crucial influence over Pakistan which will instead look to other countries for support.

China — which is investing some $60 billion in infrastructure projects in Pakistan — was the first to rush to Pakistan’s defence after Trump’s latest tweet criticising its militant policy.

But China may also prove to be intolerant of any double-dealing with extremists.

It has a horror of Islamist militancy and its own interests in keeping Pakistan and Afghanistan stable, from protecting its investment to ensuring security on the borders with its vast, restive western province of Xinjiang.

In the end, observers say, until Washington addresses Pakistan’s fears over India, it will not shake its support for militant proxies.

“There’s no amount of bribery or threat that can ultimately make people act against what they consider to be their core interests,” tweeted journalist Murtaza Mohammad Hussain.

Pakistan says US military aid suspension ‘counterproductive’

January 5, 2018

AFP

© AFP | The United States has been threatening for months to cut aid to Islamabad over its failure to crack down on militant groups

ISLAMABAD (AFP) – Pakistan denounced Washington’s decision to suspend hundreds of millions of dollars in security assistance as “counterproductive” Friday, in a carefully-worded response to the frustrated Trump administration’s public rebuke over militant safe havens.The United States has been threatening for months to cut aid to Islamabad over its failure to crack down on groups such as the Afghan Taliban and the Haqqani network, which it says operates from bases in Pakistan’s northwest.

The rhetoric has raised hackles in Islamabad and fears the row could undermine Pakistan’s support for US operations in Afghanistan.

On Thursday, the State Department announced a dramatic freeze in deliveries of military equipment and security funding until Pakistan cracks down on the militants.

The announcement ignited some small protests in Pakistan on Friday, including in Chaman, one of the two main crossings on the border with Afghanistan, where several hundred people gathered to chant anti-US slogans.

But Pakistan’s foreign office issued a cautious statement in which it said it was “engaged” with US officials and awaiting further details.

Without referring to the decision directly, it warned that “arbitrary deadlines, unilateral pronouncements and shifting goalposts are counterproductive in addressing common threats”.

Emerging threats such as the growing presence of the Islamic State group in the region make cooperation more important than ever, it added.

Pakistan has fought fierce campaigns against homegrown Islamist groups, and says it has lost thousands of lives and spent billions of dollars in its long war on extremism.

But US officials accuse Islamabad of ignoring or even collaborating with groups that attack Afghanistan from safe havens along the countries’ border.

In September last year the US had already suspended $255 million in funding to help Pakistan buy high-tech weaponry from American manufacturers.

Now, the Defense Department has been instructed to stop making payments from “coalition support funds” set aside to refund Pakistani spending on counter-terrorist operations.

There will be exemptions, and officials refused to put a figure on how much Pakistan will lose out on if it fails to cooperate.

But the National Defense Authorization Act permits the US military to spend up to $900 million in the 2017 financial year and $700 million in financial 2018.

State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said the security spending would be suspended until Pakistan takes “decisive action” against the Afghan Taliban and Haqqani network.

Privately US diplomats insist the relationship is not in crisis.

They say Pakistan is not refusing to fight the Haqqani network, but that the two capitals disagree about the facts on the ground.

Pakistan insists safe havens have been eradicated, but US intelligence says it is still seeing militants operating freely.

Nauert was at pains to point out that the frozen funds had not been cancelled, and would be ready to be disbursed if Pakistan takes action to prove its commitment to the fight.

“The United States stands ready to work with Pakistan in combating all terrorists, without distinction,” Nauert said.