Posts Tagged ‘Jordan’

Pentagon chief in Baghdad as Iraqi forces press Tal Afar assault

August 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP | The Iraqi government announced the beginning of a military operation to retake Tal Afar from Islamic State group jihadists on August 20, 2017

BAGHDAD (AFP) – US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis arrived in Baghdad on Tuesday as Iraqi forces pressed an assault on Tal Afar, the Islamic State group’s last major bastion in the country’s north.Mattis flew in for talks with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials, as well as Massud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan Region, saying he wants to help keep the regime focused on eradicating IS jihadists.

“Right now our focus is on defeating ISIS inside Iraq, restoring Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mattis told journalists ahead of his trip to Baghdad, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Iraqi troops, supported by the forces of a US-led international coalition, routed IS fighters in Mosul in July following a gruelling nine-month fight.

On Sunday they launched an assault on Tal Afar, once a key IS supply hub between Mosul — around 70 kilometres (45 miles) further east — and the Syrian border.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading Monday for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

Mattis would not make any predictions on the fight.

“ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” he said.

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Mattis in Baghdad as Iraq presses assault on IS bastion

August 22, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Paul Handley with Ahmad al-Rubaye at Tal Afar Airbase | Map showing Tal Afar in Iraq where Iraqi forces began pounding IS positions on Sunday.

BAGHDAD (AFP) – Pentagon chief Jim Mattis was in Baghdad Tuesday to show US support for Iraqi forces as they pressed an assault on Tal Afar, the Islamic State group’s last major bastion in the country’s north.Mattis flew in for talks with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi and other top officials, as well as Massud Barzani, president of the Iraqi Kurdistan region, saying he wants to help keep the regime focused on eradicating IS jihadists.

PHOTO: U.S. Sec. of Defense Jim Mattis, center, is greeted by U.S. Ambassador Douglas Silliman as he arrives at Baghdad International Airport on an unannounced trip Monday, Feb. 20, 2017. Lolita Baldor/AP Photo FILE PHOTO

 

“Right now our focus is on defeating ISIS inside Iraq, restoring Iraqi sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Mattis told journalists ahead of his trip to Baghdad, using an alternative acronym for IS.

Iraqi troops, supported by the forces of a US-led international coalition, routed IS in Mosul in July after a gruelling nine-month fight for Iraq’s second city.

On Sunday they launched an assault on Tal Afar, once a key IS supply hub between Mosul — around 70 kilometres (45 miles) to the east — and the Syrian border.

In the desert plains around Tal Afar, convoys of tanks and armoured vehicles could be seen heading Monday for the jihadist-held city, raising huge clouds of dust.

Mattis would not make any predictions on the fight.

“ISIS’s days are certainly numbered, but it’s not over yet and it’s not going to be over anytime soon,” said the US defence secretary.

Iraqi forces “fought like the dickens in Mosul, (it) cost them over 6,000 wounded, somewhere over 1,200 killed,” he noted.

Yet that comeback restored the confidence of the Iraqi security forces after their shock loss of Mosul to Islamic State group in 2014.

Mattis stressed that retaking Mosul would not have happened “without… Abadi’s steady hand reconstituting that army, that was so shattered in 2014, an army he inherited.”

But the comeback also leaned crucially on extensive training, planning and firepower support from the US military.

The future of that support still must be settled, and there will be resistance from Shiite militia and Iranians, said Nicholas Heras, Middle East Security Fellow at the Center for a New American Security in Washington.

– Kurdistan referendum challenge –

Mattis said discussions will focus on the way ahead, including how to keep Iraq from again politically fragmenting or falling further under Iran’s influence, after four years united around battling the jihadists.

“Secretary Mattis is going to be very much focused on a pathway for the United States to continue to have to a residual force in Iraq to continue to train Iraqi security forces” and avoiding a successor from IS rising up, said Heras.

A key issue is Iraqi Kurdistan’s plan for an independence referendum on September 25, strongly opposed by the US as an event that could undermine Abadi politically and distract from the fight against IS.

“A referendum at this time would be potentially catastrophic to the counter-ISIS campaign,” said Brett McGurk, the White House envoy to the anti-IS coalition.

“It’s not just the United States; every member of our coalition believes that now is not the time to hold this referendum.”

McGurk said the initial push on the outskirts of Tal Afar was “going well”, with 235 square kilometres (90 square miles) cleared in the first 24 hours.

“That will be a very difficult battle,” he said, but added that Iraqi and US forces are “moving faster, more effectively, more efficiently,” in part due to US President Donald Trump having given Mattis more authority to decide on tactics and resources needed.

Mattis, who is on a five-day swing through Jordan, Iraq, Turkey and Ukraine, said he would also talk about reconstruction and resettlement of hundreds of thousand of Iraqis driven from their homes and towns by the fighting, especially Mosul.

“It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to be a heavy lift for them going forward.”

But Heras said Mattis, whom he said has earned firm trust among Iraqis, needs to help Abadi further build his power as a moderate for the post-war, with elections looming for next year.

“That will be a political pickle that Mattis will have to work Abadi through,” he said.

For Mattis’s meeting with Barzani, Heras added: “All signs point to it being one of those tough-love talks.”

by Paul Handley with Ahmad al-Rubaye at Tal Afar Airbase

Turkey, Jordan call for ‘serious’ Mideast peace talks — “Unilateral Israeli action threatening the identity of east Jerusalem.”

August 21, 2017

AFP

© Jordanian Royal Palace/AFP | Jordan’s King Abdullah II (R) greets Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the royal palace in Amman
AMMAN (AFP) – Jordan’s King Abdullah II and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called on Monday for new “serious and effective” peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians, the royal palace said.Meeting in Amman, they urged “the resumption of serious and effective negotiations between the Palestinians and Israel to end the conflict on the basis of a two-state solution to assure an independent Palestinian state with June 1967 borders and east Jerusalem as capital”.

Talks between Israel and the Palestinians have been at a standstill since the failure of US mediation in the spring of 2014.

“New peace negotiations must take place according to a precise timetable and be based on international resolutions,” Erdogan and Abdullah said.

They also expressed their “unequivocal rejection of any attempt to change the legal and historical situation in the Al-Aqsa mosque and any unilateral Israeli action threatening the identity of east Jerusalem”.

Jordan, the only Arab country apart from Egypt to have signed a peace treaty with Israel, is custodian of the Muslim holy sites in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

The sensitive Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the eastern sector’s Old City — which Jews call the Temple Mount — was the focus last month of a tense standoff after Israel introduced new security measures following an attack that killed two policemen.

Jordan’s king said earlier this month that a peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians was becoming more and more difficult.

In January, US President Donald Trump came to power promising to push Israelis and Palestinians towards a peace deal, raising brief hopes among Palestinians that his unconventional approach could achieve results.

But Palestinians have become increasingly frustrated by what they see as his negotiating team’s one-sided approach.

Abdullah and Erdogan on Monday also underlined the importance of a political solution to end the war in Syria.

All diplomatic efforts to end to the conflict that has caused more than 330,000 deaths and displaced millions since 2011 have failed.

However, the two leaders welcomed an agreement that followed trilateral talks between Jordan, the United States and Russia that resulted in a truce in three regions of southern Syria.

Kushner to Meet With Mideast Leaders in Latest Attempt at Peace Deal

August 12, 2017

WASHINGTON — Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, will soon travel to the Middle East for yet another foray into trying to forge a peace deal between Israelis and Palestinians, one of the most difficult diplomatic assignments of the Trump administration.

Mr. Kushner, who traveled to the region in June, will be accompanied on the trip by Jason Greenblatt, a special representative for international negotiations, and Dina Powell, a deputy national security adviser. No date was announced.

The three will hold meetings with leaders from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Jordan, Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, said a White House official. The discussions will focus on resolving the impediments to peace negotiations between the Israelis and Palestinians, but will also cover combating extremism, the official said.

That topic could take Mr. Kushner even deeper into territory generally reserved for Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson. A bitter feud between Saudi Arabia and Qatar over how to combat extremism has split the Gulf Cooperation Council, putting a host of American priorities in the region at risk. Mr. Tillerson spent hours on the phone and days on the ground in the Middle East recently in an unsuccessful attempt to resolve the standoff, which led Saudi Arabia and three other Arab states to slap an embargo on Qatar.

Mr. Tillerson’s efforts were repeatedly undermined by Mr. Trump, who largely sided with the Saudis. A frustrated Mr. Tillerson said he had set aside the matter, but Mr. Kushner’s wading into the issue could cause tensions in an administration already rived by internal disputes.

In most administrations, crucial diplomatic efforts are given to the secretary of state, but Mr. Trump gave the task of forging a Middle East peace deal to Mr. Kushner, who is also expected to focus on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Gaza.

By talking to multiple players in the region, Mr. Kushner may be hoping to recruit Arab countries to offer outlines of a deal that would be difficult for either the Israelis or Palestinians to reject, known as the “outside-in” approach.

Mr. Kushner was criticized when he said in a talk given to interns, which was later leaked, that he did not want to focus on the region’s complex history. “We don’t want a history lesson,” Mr. Kushner said. “We’ve read enough books.”

Many in the region see their history as crucial to the dispute as well as any resolution, so critics saw the remarks as a sign of inexperience.

Among the challenges Mr. Kushner could confront on the trip are the myriad legal problems facing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, which have begun to threaten his political standing.

Jordan king makes rare West Bank visit to meet Palestinian president

August 7, 2017

King Abdullah II has flown to the West Bank to meet with Palestinian President Abbas for the first time in five years. The trip is being viewed as a message to Israel, particularly over a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Jordan’s King Abdullah II flew by helicopter to the West Bank on Monday to hold talks with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas amid shared tensions with Israel.

Abdullah received a red carpet welcome in Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority. He was greeted by Abbas before the two national anthems were played.

The two leaders meet fairly frequently in the Jordanian capital of Amman and other regional capitals, but it was Abdullah’s first visit to Ramallah since December 2012.

The king’s trip had to be coordinated with Israeli authorities who control all entrance and exit points to the West Bank, including the 150 kilometer (93 mile) border with Jordan and the airspace above it.

Jordan's King Abdullah II is hugged by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas King Abdullah II received a red carpet welcome and a hug from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas

Signal to Israel

Abdullah’s visit comes amid rising Jordanian-Israeli tensions and is seen as a message to Tel Aviv that the Jordanian monarch is aligning with Palestinians on key issues – particularly concerning a contested Jerusalem holy site.

A crisis erupted last month at the Al Aqsa mosque compound when Israel installed metal detectors at Muslim entrances following the killing of two Israeli policemen.

The compound, which sits on a plateau in the Old City, is the third holiest site in Islam and is also revered by the Jews who call it Temple Mount.

Read more: Opinion – Tension escalates on the Temple Mount

The security changes led to several days of protests and clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinian worshippers.

Tensions peaked on July 23 when an Israeli security guard shot and killed two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy in Amman. Israeli officials say one of the men attacked the security guard with a screwdriver while the other was accidentally shot.

The crisis finally eased on July 27 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered that the metal detectors be taken down after consultations with Jordan.

Read more: Why Israel censored reporting on the Jordan embassy shooting

Jordan has been the custodian of Jerusalem’s Muslim holy sites since the 1920s. The role is also a key component of Abdullah’s legitimacy.

Abbas and Abdullah are also likely to discuss a US-led effort to restart Israeli-Palestinian peace talks which have been on hold for the past three years.

US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the region, Jason Greenblatt, has made several trips to Jerusalem, Amman and Ramallah, but there are few signs of interest in restarting negotiations.

rs/se (AP, AFP, Reuters)

http://www.dw.com/en/jordan-king-makes-rare-west-bank-visit-to-meet-palestinian-president/a-39995071

Jordanian king in rare visit to Palestinian president

August 7, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File / by Shatha Yaish and Hossam Ezzedine | Israeli security forces stand guard in the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem on July 27, 2017

RAMALLAH (PALESTINIAN TERRITORIES) (AFP) – Jordan’s King Abdullah II began a rare visit to the occupied West Bank to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Monday, amid shared tensions with Israel over a flashpoint Jerusalem holy site.

In his first visit to Abbas’s headquarters in Ramallah in five years, Abdullah was welcomed on a red carpet near his helicopter by the Palestinian leader before the two national anthems were played.

The two men did not address the media but shook hands with senior Palestinian officials.

The visit came less than two weeks after the end of a standoff at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem where Israel had imposed new security measures, including metal detectors, following an attack that killed two policemen.

Jordan, which is the custodian of the site, reacted angrily to the new measures, while Palestinians responded with days of protests.

The tensions were exacerbated on July 23 when an Israeli security guard shot dead two Jordanians at the Israeli embassy compound in the capital Amman.

One of the two men attacked the Israeli with a screwdriver, while the other was apparently shot dead by accident, according to Israeli officials.

The crisis eased on July 27 when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered the removal of the metal detectors, while he has also promised to investigate the embassy incident.

Abdullah’s visit was seen by analysts as providing support to Abbas, who has been isolated by Israel over his response to the Al-Aqsa row.

The mosque compound is in east Jerusalem, occupied by Israel in 1967 in a move never recognised by the international community.

The 1994 peace treaty between Israel and Jordan recognises Amman’s special status as official custodian of Jerusalem’s holy Muslim sites.

About half of Jordan’s 9.5 million citizens are of Palestinian origin.

‘Anger’

Netanyahu’s removal of the metal detectors was seen by Palestinians as a victory.

At Abbas’s headquarters a large banner was erected with a picture of the Al-Aqsa mosque compound with the slogan “Jerusalem is victorious.”

“It appears that King Abdullah wants to show through his visit that he stands with the Palestinian people in the battle for Jerusalem,” Palestinian political analyst Abdel Majid Sweilem told AFP.

In a statement on the official state news agency Petra, the king was quoted as saying that without Jordanian “custodianship and the steadfastness of the Jerusalemites, the holy sites would have been lost many years ago.”

In the middle of the crisis over the metal detectors, Abbas suspended security coordination with Israel, and it has remained suspended despite their removal.

As such 82-year-old Abbas cannot leave the West Bank as Israel controls the border crossings.

“This visit sends a message from his majesty that he is willing to contribute to removing president Abbas’s isolation following his decision to stop the security coordination with Israel,” Samir Awad, politics professor at Birzeit University near Ramallah in the West Bank, told AFP.

In January US President Donald Trump came to power promising to push Israelis and Palestinians towards a peace deal, raising brief hopes among Palestinians that his unconventional approach could achieve results.

But they have become increasingly frustrated by what they see as his negotiating team’s one-sided approach.

Trump’s team have yet to publicly commit themselves to the two-state solution, the idea of an independent Palestinian state next to Israel that has been the basis of decades of international consensus.

Leading Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erakat has strongly criticised the “silence” of the US administration over Israeli settlement growth and its lack of support for the two-state solution.

The Jordanian ruler seemed to echo those remarks, calling for intensive US effort to help bridge the gap between the sides, according to Petra.

by Shatha Yaish and Hossam Ezzedine

Stolen Emails Show Ties Between U.A.E. Envoy and 1MDB Fund’s Central Figure — Misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund

August 5, 2017

Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba had longstanding ties to a financier the U.S. says is at the center of a scandal surrounding a Malaysian state development fund

The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny.
The relationship between Yousef Al Otaiba and a Malaysian financier is drawing new scrutiny. PHOTO: PATRICK T. FALLON/BLOOMBERG NEWS

Yousef Al Otaiba, the United Arab Emirates ambassador to the U.S., is a high-profile power player in Washington, trying to shape American policy toward the Middle East and lobbying over a regional dispute with Qatar.

He is also being drawn deeper into a major global corruption scandal.

Newly released stolen emails show a long-running relationship between Mr. Otaiba and Jho Low, a Malaysian financier who U.S. law-enforcement officials say is at the center of the misappropriation of $4.5 billion from a Malaysian state development fund.

That relationship is drawing new scrutiny from U.S., Swiss and Singaporean authorities, according to people familiar with the probes. The stolen emails show Mr. Otaiba and Shaher Awartani, his Jordanian partner, discussing inquiries from those countries about transactions they received from entities investigators say are connected to Mr. Low.

In one email, Mr. Awartani suggested buying a Ferrari after what Mr. Otaiba described as a “transfer from Jho.”

“I think we each deserve to buy a nice toy in celebration, what do you think ?? The 458 ITALIA maybe?,” Mr. Awartani wrote to Mr. Otaiba in 2009.

Mr. Otaiba responded that buying such “toys” in Abu Dhabi “will just attract unnecessary attention.” Messrs. Awartani and Otaiba both declined to comment. The probes are continuing.

The group that says it obtained the stolen emails and showed them to The Wall Street Journal, Global Leaks, declined to identify its members or say how they got the communications. In a statement to the Journal, Global Leaks said it wanted to “expose corruption, financial frauds which are done by rich governments.”

The Journal reported in June that companies connected to Mr. Otaiba received $66 million from entities investigators say acted as conduits for money allegedly stolen from the state investment fund, 1Malaysia Development Bhd., or 1MDB. The Journal cited court and investigative documents and emails Mr. Otaiba wrote.

A 1MDB spokesman declined to comment. The fund has denied any funds were misappropriated or any wrongdoing on its part. It pledged to cooperate with any “lawful” investigation. Malaysian authorities cleared the fund of wrongdoing, but it remains under investigation in the U.S. and several other countries.

Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York.
Jho Low, a Malaysian financier, seen in 2014 during an event in New York. PHOTO: DEBBY WONG/CORBIS

Mr. Low hasn’t been accused of a crime and has denied wrongdoing. A Low spokeswoman said the leaked emails created a “biased and inaccurate picture.”

Mr. Otaiba has been a key figure in U.S.-U.A.E. relations for years. Diplomats and officials in Washington know him for power lunches at Cafe Milano and lavish gatherings at his residence.

The emails detail Mr. Otaiba’s sizable personal wealth, including millions of dollars of shares in Palantir Technologies, a data-analysis company that has numerous contracts with the U.S. intelligence and law-enforcement community, and the Carlyle Group investment firm.

Lately, Mr. Otaiba has become a frequent source of advice to President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, Jared Kushner, on Middle East policy, people familiar with the matter said. He has also urged the Trump administration to back efforts by the U.A.E., Saudi Arabia and other Middle Eastern countries to isolate Qatar, which they accuse of supporting Islamist terror groups like al Qaeda. Qatar says it doesn’t fund terror.

Mr. Otaiba in July issued a statement denying media reports that the U.A.E. had participated in an alleged scheme to hack Qatar government websites and post fake quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir.

The U.A.E. Embassy in Washington declined to comment about the emails stolen from Mr. Otaiba except to say they were part of a campaign by political opponents to smear him.

They also acknowledged that Mr. Otaiba has private business interests outside his diplomatic role.

The people familiar with the 1MDB investigations in Switzerland, Singapore and the U.S. said officials are looking into the circumstances of the transfers to companies controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, and whether they bought assets with funds originating from 1MDB.

The stolen emails appear to show Mr. Otaiba using his diplomatic influence to persuade banks to give loans, saying it was important for U.A.E.-Malaysian relations.

In one, from September 2014, Mr. Otaiba encouraged Abu Dhabi banks to participate in a short-term refinancing loan being arranged by Deutsche Bank for 1MDB. The emailed request was identical to a draft sent to Mr. Otaiba from Eric Tan, an associate of Mr. Low, that was seen by the Journal.

“We appreciate your attention and commitment to successfully executing this facility,” Mr. Otaiba wrote to the banks, according to the stolen emails.

In a recent civil-asset forfeiture filing, the Justice Department said about $700 million of a $975 million Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB was embezzled, with some of that money allegedly used by Mr. Low to buy jewelry for his then-girlfriend, Australian model Miranda Kerr. Several Abu Dhabi banks provided funds for the Deutsche Bank loan to 1MDB, people familiar with the deal said.

Singapore investigative documents reviewed by the Journal show a $3 million payment to a British Virgin Islands company controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani a few days before the email from Mr. Tan, and another $13 million payment to the same company two months later. The sender of both payments was a British Virgin Islands company owned by Mr. Tan that the Justice Department says distributed money embezzled from 1MDB, including the Deutsche Bank loan, according to the civil asset-forfeiture filing.

Efforts to reach Mr. Tan were unsuccessful. His whereabouts are unknown. He hasn’t commented before on the matter.

Another email, from December 2009, shows Mr. Otaiba urging Thomas Barrack Jr. , the billionaire founder of Colony Capital in California, to accept a bid from a hotel operator partly owned by Mr. Low’s family trust to buy L’Ermitage Hotel in Beverly Hills. Colony Capital owned the hotel.

“I’m contacting you today to endorse this bid as the U.A.E. ambassador but also as someone who understands that the full weight of a major investment entity is behind this project,” he wrote.

Mr. Barrack Jr. responded in an email that he would get back to him.

Mr. Low’s private investment company eventually bought the hotel in 2010 for more than $45 million. The Justice Department has filed civil-asset-forfeiture suits seeking to seize the hotel, alleging it was bought with stolen 1MDB funds.

Mr. Barrack said Mr. Otaiba was a friend and that the winning bid for the hotel was the highest offered.

Scrutiny of Mr. Otaiba’s U.S., Swiss and Singaporean accounts appeared to kick off in 2015, when several countries were starting 1MDB-related probes. Swiss private bank Lombard Odier began demanding more information about transfers to accounts controlled by Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani, according to the newly released emails reviewed by the Journal.

“We need to work with them to make this go away,” wrote Tobias Pfister, a former Credit Suisse banker based in Dubai who the emails show handled finances for Mr. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani, his Jordanian partner. He specified he was referring to Lombard Odier’s queries. Mr. Pfister told Mr. Otaiba in the email that Mr. Low had instructed Msrss. Otaiba and Mr. Awartani to close bank accounts and answer queries about the accounts and payments in person—“no emails.”

A few weeks later, Messrs. Otaiba and Awartani closed their accounts and moved funds elsewhere, according to the stolen emails that showed this request and confirmation.

The bank said it was cooperating with “any and all inquiries from regulatory and law enforcement authorities” related to 1MDB. Mr. Pfister declined to comment.

Writing from an e-mail address affiliated with the island of St. Helena in May, Mr. Low wrote Mr. Awartani asking how to get in touch quickly. “Need to speak as questions being asked. Want to ensure coordinated,” according to the stolen emails, which were forwarded to Mr. Otaiba.

It is unclear if they ever spoke.

Write to Bradley Hope at bradley.hope@wsj.com and Tom Wright at tom.wright@wsj.com

Appeared in the August 2, 2017, print edition as ‘Stolen Emails Tie Envoy to 1MDB.’

https://www.wsj.com/articles/stolen-emails-show-ties-between-u-a-e-envoy-and-1mdb-funds-central-figure-1501579801?mod=e2fb

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Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that state fund 1MDB has cleared over 3 billion ringgit (S$947.1 million) in debt over the past two years. He had chaired 1MDB’s advisory board until it was dissolved in May 2016.PHOTO: REUTERS

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Victoria’s Secret Angel Miranda Kerr walks the runway in 2012.

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Israeli Leader Bars MP from Meeting Jordanian Rival in Slugfest — After lawmakers agreed to meet on the border and “fight it out”

August 2, 2017

AFP

© AFP/File | Israeli lawmaker Oren Hazan (R) stands next to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) as they wait for exit polls in parliamentary elections in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2015

JERUSALEM (AFP) – Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had to step in on Wednesday to prevent tensions with Jordan spiralling into a brawl between two lawmakers who agreed to meet on the border.

Oren Hazan, from Netanyahu’s Likud party, had accepted a challenge from Jordanian MP Yahya al-Saud to meet near the main crossing between the two countries on Wednesday morning, with fears of a fistfight.

Netanyahu’s office said in a statement they had called Hazan “to order him not to go to the Allenby Crossing.”

Hazan told military radio he approached the border but did not cross on Netanyahu’s orders.

“The Israeli MP is a coward, he retreated,” Saud said according to a video published by Jordanian media.

Saud had travelled to the border in anticipation of the meeting and said he was “doing this for Jordanian people to express our anger.”

Jordan is one of only two Arab states to have signed a formal peace treaty with Israel, but the neighbours have been involved in weeks of spats over new security measures installed at the Al-Aqsa mosque compound in Jerusalem.

While Israel considers Jerusalem its undivided capital, Jordan claims authority over Al-Aqsa and the new checkpoints, introduced after an attack at the site, provoked huge protests.

On July 23 Hazan tweeted that Israel protected Jordan’s “asses” and the country needed “reeducation,” apparently sparking a rebuke on Twitter.

Both MPs have long histories of controversy.

Hazan was suspended in 2015 from his position as deputy speaker of Israel’s parliament after a televised report accused him of involvement in pimping and drugs.

He was also suspended for one month from any parliamentary activity in December 2015 after “insulting” behaviour towards a colleague with a disability.

In May he was heavily criticised after taking a selfie with US President Donald Trump as he landed in Israel.

In response Hazan told Israeli media he was often referred to as the “Israeli Trump.”

Saud meanwhile has physically fought with a number of parliamentary colleagues in recent years.

Jordan scraps controversial rape law — allowed the rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim

August 1, 2017

AFP

© POOL/AFP/File | Activists applauded the Jordanian parliament’s abolition of a controversial law allowing a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim

AMMAN (AFP) – Jordan’s parliament on Tuesday scrapped a controversial article in the penal code that allowed a rapist to escape punishment if he married his victim.

Activists had campaigned for years to abolish Article 308, which allowed rape charges to be dropped if the rapist married his victim and did not divorce her for five years.

The article was scrapped as parliament passed amendments to the penal law, the official Petra news agency reported.

Speaking in parliament on Tuesday, Prime Minister Hani Mulqi threw his weight behind the move.

“The government is committed to eliminating Article 308 to reinforce the protection of the Jordanian family,” he said.

Human rights activists applauded parliament’s action.

“The removal of this article is a victory for all victims of rape,” said Eva Abu Halaweh, a lawyer and the head of law group Mizan.

It comes “after years of huge effort from civil society organisations”, she said.

Sarah Leah Whitson, Middle East director at New York-based Human Rights Watch, also welcomed the vote.

“BRAVO #JORDAN for repealing heinous article 308 absolving rapists who marry their victims. Urge #Arab states to follow. Women NOT property,” she tweeted.

Whitson earlier urged lawmakers to repeal the article, saying it had been “a blight on Jordan’s human rights record for decades”.

“The mere existence of article 308 puts pressure on women and girls to marry those who assault them, including teenage victims of rape,” she said.

Jordan registered more than 160 rape cases last year, according to official figures.

Last week, Tunisia also scrapped an article allowing rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victim when it passed a new law to end violence against women.

According to Human Rights Watch, countries in the region that retain similar provisions in their laws include Algeria, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya and Syria, as well as the Palestinian territories.

Analysis: Jerusalem Shrine Crisis Hardens Leaders’ Positions — “A nation led by Prophet Muhammad will not be defeated.”

July 29, 2017

AMMAN, Jordan — The latest crisis over one of the most combustible spots in the Middle East has been defused for now, but has pushed the leaders of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinians into tougher positions that could trigger new confrontations. The standoff over a Jerusalem shrine holy to Muslims and Jews also signaled that the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict is shifting further from what was once seen as a territorial dispute toward a religious one.

Palestinian prayer in the east Jerusalem area of Wadi Joz, near the Temple Mount, July 28, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)Palestinian prayer in the east Jerusalem area of Wadi Joz, near the Temple Mount, July 28, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem)

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WHAT STARTED IT?

On July 14, three Arab assailants opened fire from the walled compound at Israeli police guards, killing two. The shooting left Israeli police scrambling for ways to screen worshippers for weapons as they enter the Muslim-run site through eight gates.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu approved a police recommendation to install metal detectors — reportedly over objections from Israel’s military and a domestic security agency.

The new measures stoked Muslim fears that Israel is trying to expand control over the site under the guise of security — a charge Israel denies. Palestinians in Jerusalem, led by senior Muslim clerics, began staging mass street prayers in protest, four Palestinians were killed in street clashes with Israeli troops and a Palestinian killed three members of an Israeli family in a West Bank settlement.

Tensions ebbed after Israel removed the metal detectors and other devices earlier this week.

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SIDELINED PALESTINIAN PRESIDENT

Mahmoud Abbas, who runs autonomous enclaves in the West Bank, was in China and his return home a week into the crisis reinforced perceptions among many Palestinians that he is out of touch. Trying to assert a leadership role, Abbas announced a suspension of security coordination with Israel until the situation at the shrine is restored to what it was before July 14.

For years, Abbas’ forces worked with Israel to foil attacks by militants in the West Bank, often acting against a shared foe, the Islamic militant Hamas. Such mutually beneficial cooperation, though unpopular among Palestinians, survived many crises and failed efforts to negotiate the terms of Palestinian statehood in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in 1967.

Abbas threatened in the past to end security coordination, but never followed through. If he now restores such ties, he risks further harm to his domestic standing. If he doesn’t, Israel’s right-wing government could retaliate and threaten the survival of his Palestinian Authority.

The crisis highlighted Abbas’ fading influence in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem. He also risks being cut off completely from Gaza, the territory he lost to Hamas in 2007. In recent weeks, Hamas and a former Abbas-aide-turned rival, Mohammed Dahlan, forged a Gaza power-sharing deal that would open the blockaded territory to Egypt and further weaken ties with the West Bank.

Abbas, 82, was briefly hospitalized Saturday for what his office said was a routine checkup, but it also served as a reminder of his advanced age and lack of a successor.

Nearly two weeks of civil disobedience have gripped the Palestinian territories [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

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ISRAELI PRIME MINISTER UNDER FIRE

Netanyahu was lambasted by all sides in Israel.

The center-left accused him of making hasty decisions at a volatile site — the third holiest in Islam and the most sacred on in Judaism — that has triggered major rounds of Israeli-Palestinian violence, including one involving Netanyahu in the mid-1990s.

Netanyahu’s ultra-nationalist rivals, key to the survival of his coalition, said he capitulated to Arab pressure and effectively encouraged Palestinians to push for more concessions.

Netanyahu responded with a flurry of tough statements.

He ordered the resumption of plans to build a new West Bank settlement and reportedly gave the green light to draft legislation to bring several West Bank settlements under Jerusalem’s jurisdiction. He vowed to “kick Al Jazeera out of Israel,” accusing the Qatar-based satellite station of inciting violence over the shrine crisis. And he called for the death penalty — not imposed by Israel for more than half a century — for last week’s killer of the Israeli family.

Even if it’s mostly rhetoric, Netanyahu’ statements suggest that fending off his ultra-nationalist challengers is more important to him than calming the atmosphere. As both Netanyahu and Abbas harden positions, chances of the Trump administration — itself embroiled in turmoil — being able to revive peace talks seem close to zero.

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JORDAN’S ANGRY MONARCH

King Abdullah II publicly vented his anger about what he called Netanyahu’s “provocative” behavior. Such harsh words from an Arab leader known for his measured tone were prompted by twin crises between the two countries and signaled delicate ties had taken a hit.

Abdullah, Muslim custodian of the Jerusalem shrine, was involved in trying to defuse tensions there when he faced another complication: On Sunday, a guard at the Israeli Embassy in Jordan shot dead two Jordanians after one attacked him with a screw driver.

After a phone call between the king and Netanyahu, the guard returned to Israel and Israel removed the metal detectors. The sequence of events suggested a horse trade with problematic optics for Abdullah that might have been forgotten quickly — had Netanyahu not given a hero’s welcome to the guard and inflamed long-running resentment against Israel in Jordan.

Jordan has since charged the guard with murder, demanded he be tried in Israel and issued a veiled threat — through an unidentified official quoted by Jordanian media — that Israel’s ambassador would not be allowed to return to Jordan until the guard is held accountable.

Israel and Jordan share strategic security interests, but any open cooperation at this time might not be tolerated by the Jordanian public. Abdullah already faces other threats to Jordan’s stability, including rising unemployment and spillover from regional conflicts.

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FROM LAND DISPUTE TO HOLY WAR?

Recent events made it clear that the conflict in the Holy Land is no longer just a territorial dispute that can be resolved through creative partition ideas. Such efforts ran aground a decade ago, and the absence of a solution has given a bigger role to the religious component. The showdown over shrine was increasingly being framed as a zero sum game between religions.

After Israel captured the shrine in 1967, it left the administration in Muslim hands to avoid a conflagration with the Muslim world. The arrangement held into the 1990s, when more rabbis challenged a long-standing religious ban on Jews entering the site.

Increased visits by Jews — even if Israel enforces a Jewish prayer ban at the compound — have spooked Muslims, reviving fears of purported Israeli takeover attempts.

In the past two weeks, Palestinian protesters chanted Islamic not nationalist slogans. “A nation led by Prophet Muhammad will not be defeated,” was one of the rallying cries.

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Laub, the AP bureau chief in Jordan, has covered the Israeli-Palestinian conflict since 1987.

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Associated Press writer Mohammed Daraghmeh in Ramallah, West Bank contributed reporting.

Related:

Israeli security on high alert at the Old City of Jerusalem, July 28, 2017 (Marc Israel Sellem)Israeli security on high alert at the Old City of Jerusalem, July 28, 2017 (Marc Israel Sellem)

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Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers at Temple Mount.

Palestinians stand in front of Israeli police officers and newly installed metal detectors at an entrance to the Temple Mount, in Jerusalem’s Old City July 16, 2017. (photo credit:REUTERS)

Inspecting a body on Friday near what Jews call the Temple Mount, known to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The area, home to the complex of Al Aqsa Mosque, is Jerusalem’s holiest site for both faiths. This photo from just after the killing of Israelis on July 14, 2017. Credit Ammar Awad/Reuters

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The Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem.(Hadas Parush/Flash90)