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British press ignores the continuing horror in Afghanistan

By Iain Overton

LONDON - Last Wednesday, a car bomb exploded in Kabul. It killed at least 18 people and injured over 100 more. The atrocity was claimed by the Taliban, who said it had targeted a ‘recruitment centre’ to kill soldiers and police officers.

The attack comes as the Taliban is holding peace talks with the United States. Both sides are seeking to establish a timetable for American troop withdrawal. This has even included the Taliban meeting Afghan government officials at peace talks in Doha and sitting down with female representatives.

It wasn’t unexpected. In the midst of the peace talks, Afghanistan is witnessing a sharp rise in violence.

Last month was the worst for civilian casualties from explosive weapons since at least October 2010, when the charity I head – Action on Armed Violence – first started recording global explosive violence as reported in English language media. There were 1,013 civilian casualties from 82 bomb blasts across the country in July alone.

Between January and June of 2019, there were a further 1,327 civilian casualties from explosive violence in 319 reported incidents.

These continued attacks on civilians by the Taliban may represent an attempt to gain leverage in the peace talks and exert pressure on both the US and Afghan government. Certainly, there is a determination to exert the bloody ‘propaganda of the deed’ across the nation.

Kabul was the city most impacted in July 2019, with almost a third of all civilian casualties occurring in the capital. Almost nine out of ten of those killed or injured were victims of one of the most pernicious weapons of modern times – the improvised explosive device (IED). And one of the deadliest forms of IED, the suicide attack, dominates. It accounted for more than half of all civilian casualties last month.

The suicide bomber is a relatively new phenomenon in Afghanistan. Traditionally, the mujahideen in Afghanistan were careful not to lose men in battle against the Soviets. Martyrdom was not part of their culture. In the 1980s, they even asked the Tamil Tigers if they could supply Sri Lankan suicide attackers in exchange for money. And when the CIA-sponsored Pakistan intelligence services tried to find a suicide bomber to detonate a vehicle bomb in the 1.6-mile-long Salang Tunnel, in a bid to destroy the crucial north–south Soviet supply route, there were no takers. Suicide, they said, was a sin.

No longer. Years of violence, and a rise in global Salafist-jihadism, has hardened the resolve of Afghan’s fighters. Since late 2010, there have been at least 489 suicide strikes in Afghanistan, killing and injuring over 15,000 people.

The numbers are increasing. In 2011, some 1,970 people – civilians and security personnel – were killed or injured by suicide attacks in Afghanistan. By 2018, it was at least 3,079 – a rise of 56%.

While the Taliban are not the only people waging war, they are the most harmful. We know the perpetrators responsible for 60% of the civilian casualties so far this year and, of those, 70% were from Taliban bombs. This reflects the increasing power that Taliban forces hold in Afghanistan, a force that has now retaken control of large swathes of the country and holds more territory than at any stage since the US invasion in 2001.

This is not to say the Taliban are the only ones responsible. So far this year, Nato’s interventions have led to at least 30 explosive violence incidents, causing the death or injury of some 280 people, of which 11% have been civilians. US forces have been reported to have been behind a further 19 incidents, harming 197 people, of which 49 were civilians. The US’ civilian-harm ratio is over twice that of Nato’s – possibly reflecting a more gung-ho approach by the Americans.

Such rising violence in the country, though, has been largely ignored by the UK media. An examination of UK news outlets shows that some of Britain’s most influential press outlets have severely under-reported civilian casualties from explosive weapons in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year.

Despite there being at least 2,340 civilian casualties since January, a Google-search analysis shows that the BBC News Online reported on just 378 deaths or injuries. The Guardian website reported on 333 civilian casualties and The Independent just 216.

Overall, the BBC, The Guardian, and The Independent, have reported on only 13, five, and six specific explosive violence incidents respectively, though they did report on UN findings in April that more Afghan civilians were being killed by pro-government forces than by Taliban.

These outlets’ individual reports on distinct incidents against civilians each represent less than three per cent of the total 401 explosive incidents in the country.

The Daily Mail, who use a greater number of wire services, have reported on 43 incidents or 11% of the total number. The Mail listed some 1,504 civilian casualties being harmed, or 64% of the total civilians killed or injured as reported in global media. Despite this, a comprehensive Google search shows that the Daily Mail has published just a few in-house articles reporting on the rising explosive violence in Afghanistan since the beginning of the year.

The impact of this under-reported but escalating violence is unclear. Both the US and the Taliban insist there has been progress in the peace talks and have reportedly resolved differences over the withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan. But it raises a fundamental question: has the West’s intervention in Afghanistan since Operation Enduring Freedom in 2001 made the country a safer place?

Judging by the current maelstrom of violence in Afghanistan, the answer has to be no. But if you only read the British press, you wouldn’t easily come to that conclusion.

Iain Overton is the Executive Director of Action on Armed Violence, a London-based charity that charts explosive violence globally, and author of The Price of Paradise: How the Suicide Bomber Shaped the Modern Age.

Children’s lives in Mediterranean Sea must take priority over politics, says UNICEF

NEW YORK - The fate of 130 children on board two rescue ships in the Mediterranean Sea should not be put at risk by political point-scoring, the UN said on Thursday, amid ongoing uncertainty about whether the vessels will be allowed to dock in Italy.

The appeal by UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, to European Governments to prevent EU-bound migrants and refugees from being stranded at sea, follows the signing of a second Italian decree banning humanitarian vessels from entering the country.

Last week, Italian lawmakers agreed to impose fines of up to €1 million on vessels and organizations carrying out search and rescue operations, if they enter Italian territorial waters. In addition, vessels stand to be automatically impounded, said UNHCR.

So far this year, around 4,000 people have made the treacherous crossing to Europe via the so-called Central Mediterranean Route from North Africa to Italy  - nearly 80 per cent less than in the first seven months of last year.

On Sunday, more than 400 people were rescued off the Libyan coast by two boats at the centre of UNICEF’s appeal.

One of the boats, Open Arms, is reportedly moored close to the Italian island of Lampedusa.

UNICEF said that only 11 of the 103 children aboard the second vessel, Viking Ocean, had a parent or guardian with them.

In a statement, UNICEF Special Coordinator for the Refugee and Migrant response in Europe, Afshan Khan, said that many of the youngsters had “fled poverty, conflict and unthinkable atrocities”, and had the right to be safe.

Amid reports that the Spanish authorities had agreed to shelter more than a dozen of those rescued at the weekend, many of whom are from Sudan, Ms. Khan welcomed what she called “recent progress towards a plan for increased solidarity and responsibility sharing among European Governments”.

Danish politicians scoff at Trump's wish to buy Greenland

COPENHAGEN - While neither US officials nor the Danish government have publicly commented on Trump's alleged idea of buying Greenland, it has already caused a stir across the Atlantic.

Politicians in Denmark have reacted with disbelief to reports that Donald Trump has set his sights on buying Greenland – they still insist that the world's largest island is not for sale.

According to an almost-anecdotal report in the Wall Street Journal, Donald Trump has showed interest in Greenland’s natural resources and geopolitical importance, and asked his White House counsel to look into the concept.

It was not clear from the report how serious the president was about the idea; neither the State Department nor the White House has commented on the speculation so far.

Officials in Copenhagen did not regard this real estate project as something sane, let alone feasible.

“If it is true that he (Donald Trump) is working on this idea, this is a final proof that he has gone mad,” Soren Espersen, an MP for the right-wing Danish People's Party told the newspaper Jyllands Posten.

“I'd say that the very idea that Denmark can sell 50,000 of its nationals to the United States is absolutely crazy”.

Former Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen echoed his tone, tweeting: “It must be an April Fool’s Day joke ... but totally out of [season]!”

Rasmus Jarlov, a representative of the Conservative People's Party, was also sceptical about the prospects for selling the gigantic island. "Out of all things that are not going to happen, this is the most unlikely. Forget it," he said.

Michael Aastrup, an MP for the liberal Venstre party, was even more outspoken, saying: "Greenland is not for sale! Times when one could buy territories and people have long gone. I hope that our government will declare this firmly to Trump when he pays a visit to Denmark, on behalf of Danish society," Aastrup wrote on Twitter.

Donald Trump is scheduled to make his first trip to Denmark early in September, which is said to be unrelated to the idea.

Martin Lidegaard, a member of the Social Liberal Party, was likewise hopeful that Trump’s alleged territorial ambitions were a joke, but warned that a prospective purchase of Greenland by the United States could lead to the “militarisation” of the island and could encroach on the independence of the local people, meaning a “great loss” for Denmark.

The US embassy to Greenland has not given any comments on the matter, but former ambassador Rufus Gifford caked the idea “a complete and total catastrophe.”

Greenland, located between the Arctic and the Atlantic oceans, is an autonomous territory of Denmark. Its government makes decisions on most domestic matters, but Copenhagen remains in charge of foreign and security policy.

In 1917, Denmark sold the then-Danish West Indies islands to the US for $25 million following an unofficial referendum, in which 99.83 per cent of voters supported the deal. The Caribbean islands, with an area of 346.36 km2, were then renamed ‘the United States Virgin Islands’.

The US reportedly proposed to buy Greenland in 1946, under President Harry Truman, for $100 million in gold, and also discussed swapping land in Alaska for those portions of the oil-rich island that had military value for the United States. According to the documents unearthed from the National Archives in the 1970s, the proposal “came as a shock” to the Danes and was laid aside.

If the Unites States bought Greenland, it could become the land deal of the century (with an area of 2.16 million km2, Greenland is bigger that the lands acquired in the 1803 Louisiana Purchase and the 1867 Alaska Purchase).

Italy's Salvini says citizen's income scheme needs reviewing: paper

MILAN, ITALY - Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini said on Wednesday the citizen’s income scheme introduced earlier this year would need reviewing if the League won elections.

“With our government (pension reform plans) are untouchable... it will rather be necessary to reassess the citizen’s income,” Salvini said in an interview in daily Corriere della Sera.

Salvini, who is also Interior Minister in a year-old coalition with the anti-establishment 5-Star party, said last week the governing alliance had become unworkable and said he wanted elections as soon as October.

Salvini, who is head of the right-wing League, said he would want cabinet undersecretary Giancarlo Giorgetti to be Treasury minister if his party won elections.





UNSC discusses Kashmir, China urges India and Pakistan to ease tensions

THE UNITED NATIONS - Although the meeting took place behind closed doors in New York, the Chinese Ambassador, Zhang Jun, spoke to reporters outside the chamber following deliberations, urging both India and Pakistan to “refrain from taking any unilateral action which might further aggravate” what was an already “tense and very dangerous” situation.

The Indian-administered part of the majority-Muslim region, known as Jammu and Kashmir had its special status within the constitution revoked by the Indian Government on 5 August, placing it under tighter central control. Pakistan has argued that the move violates international law.

The UN has long maintained an institutional presence in the contested area, which both countries claim in its entirety, with the areas under separate administration, divided by a so-called Line of Control. The UN Military Observer Group in Indian and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) observes and reports on any ceasefire violations.

In a statement issued on 8 August, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said he had been following the situation in Jammu and Kashmir “with concern”, making an appeal for “maximum restraint”.

“The position of the United Nations on this region is governed by the Charter...and applicable Security Council resolutions”, said the statement. “The Secretary-General also recalls the 1972 Agreement on bilateral relations between India and Pakistan also known as the Simla Agreement, which states that the final status of Jammu and Kashmir is to be settled by peaceful means”, in accordance with the UN Charter.

Ambassador Zhang said Council members had “expressed their serious concern” concerning the current situation in Jammu and Kashmir...The Kashmir issue should be resolved properly through peaceful means, in accordance with the UN Charter, the relevant Security Council resolutions and bilateral agreements.”

Pakistan requested the Security Council meeting on 13 August, and it was subsequently called for by Permament Member, China.

Speaking to reporters outside the chamber, Pakistan’s Ambassador, Maleeha Lodhi said the meeting had allowed “the voice of the people of the occupied Kashmir” to be heard “in the highest diplomatic forum of the world.” She argued that “the fact that this meeting took place, is testimony to the fact that this is an international dispute.”

She said that “as far as my country is concerned, we stand ready for a peaceful settlement of the state of Jammu and Kashmir. I think today’s meeting nullifies India’s claim that Jammu and Kashmir is an internal matter for India. Today the whole world is discussing the occupied state and the situation there.”

Speaking a few minutes later, India’s Ambassador, Syed Akbaruddin, said that “our national position was, and remains, that matters related to Article 370 of the Indian Constitution, are entirely an internal matter of India...The recent decisions taken by the Government of India and our legislative bodies are intended to ensure that good governance is promoted, socio-economic development is enhanced for our people in Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh.”

He said that the Chief Secretary of Jammu and Kashmir had announced measures which would return the region towards a state of “normalcy”

“India remains committed to ensure that the situation there remains calm and peaceful. We are committed to all the agreements that we have signed on this issue.”

But without naming names, he stated that “of particular concern is that one state is using terminology of jihad against and promoting violence in India, including by their leaders”, adding that India was committed to the principle “that all issues between India and Pakistan, as well as India and any other country, will be resolved bilaterally, peacefully, and in a manner that behooves normal inter-state relations between countries.”



Two years after exodus, Myanmar’s ‘desperate’ Rohingya youth need education: UNICEF

NEW YORK - In a report marking two years since the arrival of around 745,000 Rohingya civilians in Bangladesh - after fleeing State-led persecution and violence in Myanmar - Executive Director Fore appealed for urgent investment in education and skills training.

‘Mere survival is not enough’

“For the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough,” she said. “It is absolutely critical that they are provided with the quality learning and skills development that they need to guarantee their long-term future.”

Without adequate learning opportunities, youngsters can fall prey to drug dealers and traffickers who offer to smuggle “desperate” ethnic Rohingya out of Bangladesh, the UN report warned.

Education ‘can help avoid risks’

Women and girls face harassment and abuse especially at night, UNICEF noted, while adding that one of the agency’s objectives through education is to give teenagers the skills they need to deal avoid “many risks”, including early marriage for girls.

In addition to Bangladesh’s Kutupalong camp, which is home to some 630,000 people, hundreds of thousands more, have found shelter in another dozen or so camps in the Cox’s Bazar region close to the Myanmar border.

Living conditions are often described as perilous by UN humanitarians, including UNICEF, which have issued frequent alerts about the devastating effects of monsoon rains on flimsy bamboo and tarpaulin shelters.

Between 21 April and 18 July this year, refugee camp authorities recorded 42 injuries and 10 fatalities, including six children, because of monsoon weather, according to UNICEF.

For the Rohingya children and youth now in Bangladesh, mere survival is not enough - UNICEF chief Henrietta Fore
Amid huge needs - and with conditions still unsuitable for the return of ethnic Rohingya to Myanmar, according to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) - basic public services have been provided in Cox’s Bazar, including health care, nutrition, water, sanitation and hygiene, under the leadership of Bangladesh.

“But as the refugee crisis drags on, children and young people are clamouring for more than survival; they want quality education that can provide a path to a more hopeful future,” the UNICEF report insists.

According to the agency, around 280,000 children aged four to 14, now receive educational support. Of this number, 192,000 of them are in 2,167 learning centres, but more than 25,000 children “are not attending any learning programmes”, the agency noted.

Most 15 to 18-year-olds miss out on school

More worrying still, nearly all 15 to 18-year-olds are “not attending any type of educational facility”, UNICEF said, before highlighting the case of one Kutupalong resident, Abdullah, 18.

“I studied six subjects back in Myanmar,” Abdullah says. “But when I arrived here, there was no way I could continue. If we do not get education in the camps, I think our situation is going to be dire.”

In an appeal to the Governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar, UNICEF and other agencies are calling for the use of national educational resources – curricula, training manuals and assessment methods – to help provide more structured learning for Rohingya children.

“Providing learning and training materials is a huge task and can only be realized with the full backing of a range of partners,” UNICEF chief Ms. Fore said. “But the hopes of a generation of children and adolescents are at stake. We cannot afford to fail them.”



At least 5 killed, 11 injured in Pakistan blast in Balochistan

New Delhi - The blast occurred on the outskirts of Quetta, the largest city in Balochistan province . At least seven blasts have been reported in Quetta in last 3 weeks.

At least five people were killed while 11 others injured on Friday in an explosion that occurred in Pakistan’s Balochistan province at a madrassa or, an Islamic school, the Pakistani media reported.

According to Pakistani news website Dawn, the nature of the blast could not be immediately ascertained. The injured people in the blast were being shifted to Civil Hospital Quetta.

A local police official told media the IED blast occurred at around 1525 hrs local time and a video showed the blast caused extensive damage to the madrassa.

Since June this year, frequencies of attack have increased in the reason. On July 23, at least three people were killed and 18 were injured in a bomb attack in Eastern Bypass area. On July 30, five people were killed and 30 people injured in an attack at a police station.

Earlier this year, Pakistan deployed an army division to protect interests in Sino-Pakistan development projects including those in the Balochistan region.

Pakistan has been facing an insurgency in Balochistan since 1947, with Baloch nationalist organisations struggling to create an independent state. The Balochi is also a major ethnic minority in Iran and Afghanistan.

Pakistan reports deadly clashes with India in Kashmir

By Ayaz Gul

ISLAMABAD - Pakistan says three of its soldiers were killed Thursday in clashes with India across the disputed Kashmir border, known as the Line of Control (LoC), amid increasing tensions between the two nations over the Himalayan region.

A Pakistani army spokesman claimed five Indian soldiers also were killed in retaliatory fire. Major-General Asif Ghafoor said skirmishes were ongoing intermittently.

Indian military officials are reported as denying any of their personnel were killed, but they did confirm three Pakistani forces were killed in "retaliatory action."

It was not possible to immediately seek confirmation of claims made by both the sides.

Pakistan later summoned the senior most Indian diplomat in Islamabad to the foreign ministry to condemn what an official statement described as "the unprovoked ceasefire violations" by Indian forces in several sectors along the de facto Kashmir border. "The ceasefire violations by India are a threat to regional peace and security and may lead to a strategic miscalculation," the statement said.

Pakistan already has expelled the Indian high commissioner to Pakistan, and has suspended all bilateral trade and public transport links in response to India's recent actions in Kashmir.

Tensions have significantly escalated between the two nuclear-armed rival countries since Aug. 5 when New Delhi abruptly ended semi-autonomous status for the Indian-administered portion of the divided Himalayan region and bifurcated it into two territories to be directly controlled by the federal government.

A massive security crackdown and communications blackout to deter violent reactions to the controversial move have since cut off millions of residents of Kashmir from the rest of the world.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi defended his decision to strip Kashmir of its special status during a speech Thursday marking India's independence.

Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, while denouncing the security lockdown in Kashmir, warned in a tweet Thursday that India's Hindu-nationalist government could be planning another "Srebrenica-type massacre & ethnic cleansing of Muslims." Khan referred to the 1995 massacre of thousands of ethnic Muslims, mainly men and boys, during the Bosnian war.

On Wednesday, the Pakistani leader claimed his country possessed "credible information" Indian military forces were planning a major cross-border attack to divert international attention from abuses being inflicted on Kashmiris.

The United Nations Security Council is expected to hold a closed-door meeting Friday to discuss the situation in Kashmir.

Polish ambassador Joanna Wronecka, the council's president for August, confirmed to VOA on Wednesday that the consultations were requested by China. It will be the first U.N. debate over Kashmir since 1971.

Kashmir has triggered two full scale wars between India and Pakistan since they both gained independence from Britain in 1947, and the territorial dispute remains the primary sources of regional tensions.

Pakistani and Indian militaries routinely accuse each other of firing the first shot across the LoC in violation of a 2002 ceasefire agreement, although both sides privately admit almost daily clashes in recent years have rendered the truce ineffective.


Displaced violence, survivors’ testimonies highlight brutality of armed militia

GENEVA - Briefing journalists in Geneva, UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) Spokesperson Babar Baloch, said that staff had heard numerous testimonies from people whose family members had been killed in Ituri province.

Severe underfunding for aid work and insecurity involving the Hema and Lendu groups have meant that increasing numbers are vulnerable and unable even to go home to pick up essentials, he added.

“These people are not even able to return,” Mr. Baloch said. “Many of them have reported people who have tried - or relatives who have tried - to return to their villages and to their homes have been reportedly attacked and killed.”


Ebola efforts hindered by mass displacement of people ‘on the run’


According to the World Health Organization (WHO), the mass displacement of people “on the run” has also hindered efforts to tackle the year-old Ebola virus outbreak.

Latest data from the UN health agency published on Thursday indicated a total of 2,842 Ebola infections and 1,905 deaths in DRC’s Ituri and Nord Kivu provinces, with an overall fatality rate of 67 per cent.

“The (Ebola) treatment centres are operational and the scenario of people - a highly mobile population on the run - is something that has been underlying in this response since the beginning, which is why it is so difficult to end it,” said WHO spokesperson Christian Lindmeier.


Evidence of beheadings, several massacres


The Hema and Lendu communities have a history of extreme violence in Ituri.

In late June, the UN Human Rights office, OHCHR, reported attacks on “multiple villages” in Djugu and Mahagi territories, where investigators found evidence of several massacres where some victims had been beheaded.

Information gathered by the UN “seems to indicate that despite the attackers reportedly belong to one community, and the victims to others, there appear to be additional political and economic motives underlying the assaults”, OHCHR said in a statement at the time.

In the latest violence, attacks and counter-attacks forced people to flee Djugu territory, UNHCR said, adding that both communities had reportedly formed self-defence groups and carried out revenge killings.

“In the last three weeks of June alone, more than 145,000 newly displaced people sought safety and assistance in the displacement sites across Ituri, while 215,000 were estimated to have fled to the neighbouring areas,” Mr. Baloch said, in line with UNHCR’s earlier statements highlighting widespread displacement in late 2017 and early 2018 in three of Ituri’s five administrative territories: Djugu, Mahagi and Irumu.

“Difficulties with access in some places and the large area from which people have fled means the real figure is difficult to verify,” the UNHCR official warned. “Thousands have continued to flee since, although at lower rates.”

While most of the displaced have found shelter with host communities, tens of thousands have been forced to find shelter where they can.


Squalid camps, where fear rules


“Fear and squalor” prevail in displacement camps, Mr. Baloch insisted, adding that many “are forced to sleep in the open”.

In Drodro, a relatively small town that has seen its population triple in just a few weeks, “local schools and churches have transformed into large, squalid dormitories,” he said, noting that UNHCR has built emergency hangars for those sleeping in the open, and individual shelters for the most vulnerable.

Funding for this humanitarian crisis remains critically low, however, and UNHCR is appealing to the international community to come forward with further funding and allow humanitarian organizations to provide basic, life-saving assistance.

So far this year, UNHCR has received only 32 per cent of the $150 million needed for its operations.


Tanzania: Drop trumped-up charges against journalist

LONDON - Ahead of Tanzanian journalist Erick Kabendera’s next appearance in court on 19 August, when he will be required to enter a plea on charges of leading organized crime and money laundering, Amnesty International’s Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Joan Nyanyuki, said:

“The trial of Erick Kabendera is a travesty as the charges brought against him are politically motivated. The charges must be dropped and Kabendera immediately and unconditionally released. He must not be put through one more day of this judicial charade brought against him solely for doing his job.

“Kabendera is a well-respected journalist whose investigations have shed light on the workings of Tanzania’s government both at home and abroad. The outrageous fabricated charges against him show the intolerance of the Tanzanian authorities’ to any criticism.”


Investigative journalist Erick Kabendera was on 5 August charged with three unbailable offences -  leading organized crime, failure to pay tax amounting to TSh 173m ($75,000), and money laundering -  that he allegedly committed between January 2015 and July 2019 in Dar es Salaam. His lawyer told Amnesty International that he had also been interviewed on an offence of sedition but was not formally charged for that.

Eric Kabendera is currently being held at Segerea maximum security prison in Dar es Salaam. Since his arrest, the authorities have also confiscated his wife’s passport.

IGAD sets 21 August for Kiir, Machar meeting


ADDIS ABABA - Regional block Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (Igad) has set a date for a face-to face meeting between South Sudan rival leaders, President Salva Kiir and Riek Machar.

Igad, which brokered the South Sudan peace agreement in September 2018, has proposed August 21 for the two leaders to meet in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

The meeting comes after the regional bloc noted that lack of consultations between the two had been hindering the enactment of the peace pact.

“I would like to invite all parties to the agreement to attend the consultation meeting in the presence of the representatives of Igad member states,” reads the statement by Igad.

The duo in May extended the pre-transitional period to November 12 but peace monitors expressed concern over the slow progress for the timely formation of the Transitional Government of National Unity (TGoNU).

However, the country’s Information Minister and government spokesperson Michael Makuei Lueth, said that President Kiir will not attend the meeting.

US, UK condemn abductions of opposition activists in Zimbabwe


WASHINGTON/LONDON - The United States and United Kingdom embassies in Zimbabwe have condemned a spate of abductions of opposition activists.

Tension is rising in the southern African country as the main opposition party is preparing for protests Friday against President Emmerson Mnangagwa. The protesters want a negotiated resolution to an election dispute.

Civil society groups on Thursday said six activists were abducted by armed men in the last few days, tortured and dumped in various parts of the capital Harare.

US ambassador to Zimbabwe Brian Nichols visited some of the victims in hospitals.

“The US government is concerned about renewed reports of abductions and assault of civil society members and opposition party members,” the US embassy said. “Harassment and intimidation have no place in a democratic and pluralistic society.”

The British embassy urged the government to bring those behind the abductions to book.

“We are concerned at the continuing reports of abductions. Freedom to peaceful demonstrations is a right of all Zimbabwean citizens,” the embassy said.

“We urge the government of Zimbabwe to uphold the constitution, ensure these incidents don’t continue and hold those responsible to account.”

However, reacting to the indictment, government spokesperson Nick Mangwana said a ‘third force’ was behind the kidnappings.

“Since the emergence of the new dispensation, there has always been a force comprised of discharged and disgruntled former members of the old establishment of whom some are trained,” Mangwana said in a statement.


In January, a wave of violent protests rocked the country following a steep increase in the price of fuel.

President Mnangagwa deployed the army to quell the protests and human rights groups say soldiers killed at least 17 people during the unrest.

There were claims that several activists were abducted following the protests.

Civic groups now say they fear a repeat of the violence as government ministers have been threatening to unleash the army on opposition protestors.

“To date, six people have since been tortured by suspected state agents in relation to the planned protests being led by the opposition MDC,” the Zimbabwe Human Rights NGO Forum said on Thursday.

The MDC led by Nelson Chamisa says it will embark on peaceful protests until the ruling party leader agrees to enter into talks aimed at resolving the country’s political and economic crises.

Terrorism survivors: Forced to farm, fish, fight, ‘they slaughtered three of my friends’

NGOMIRON ISLAND, LAKE CHAD - To mark next week’s International Day of Remembrance of and Tribute to the Victims of Terrorism, UN News travelled to Chad and the Far North region of Cameroon in West Africa earlier in the year, to interview people who have personal stories to tell about how terrorism has shattered their lives.

In 2015, the island of Ngomiron Doumou in Lake Chad was attacked by armed extremists who said they belonged to the outlawed Boko Haram group. The island is home to some 5,750 people. Up to 300 men, women and children were abducted at gunpoint by Boko Haram fighters who had travelled to the island from Nigeria. Twenty-five-year-old Kedra Abakar is one of around 100 people who made it back to the island. Here is his story.

“My name is Kedra Abakar. I am 25 years old and live on Ngomiron Doumou island. I was 21 when Boko Haram invaded my island; they created confusion and fear. Many neighbours fled, but those who were unable to do so, maybe 2-300 people, were rounded up. I was one of those people. We were kept under a tree and they slaughtered three of my friends in front of us. It was terrible. We were told that if we didn’t go with Boko Haram, the same would happen to us. We were very fearful.

We were taken to Nigeria by Boko Haram. We had three duties; farming, fishing and fighting for Boko Haram. I had to fight when it was my turn. I was given a gun and told to attack a village - I was forced to do this - If I refused, they would have killed me. I did shoot my gun, but I do not know if I killed anyone.

I spent two painful years with Boko Haram and I was not happy. I looked for an opportunity to escape but knew if I was caught, I knew I would be killed, so I was very scared. In the end, I was able to flee. I took a canoe at night time on the shore of Lake Chad. I was not able to come directly to Chad but had to travel through Cameroon.

When I think of the time with Boko Haram, I am very unhappy. Only 100 of the 300 people who were taken, have returned to the island. Many died in the fighting and some are still there; those who believe Boko Haram is a good thing.

My advice to other young people is to understand that Boko Haram is very bad. I tell them that they must remain in the village if they can. We were cheated by Boko Haram as we did not know any better.

My community has welcomed me back. Whatever I needed they gave me. I hope that in the future there will be a school on the island, so people can be educated and not fall under the spell of Boko Haram.


US issues warrant to seize Iranian tanker off Gibraltar

By Marco Trujillo

GIBRALTAR - The United States has issued a warrant to seize an Iranian oil tanker caught in the standoff between Tehran and the West in a last ditch effort to prevent the vessel from leaving Gibraltar.

The Grace 1 was seized by British Royal Marines at the western mouth of the Mediterranean on July 4 on suspicion of violating European Union sanctions by taking oil to Syria.

Gibraltar lifted the detention order on Thursday after the British territory’s chief minister said he had secured written assurances from Tehran that the cargo would not go to Syria.

But with the vessel and its 2.1 million barrels of oil free to leave, the United States launched a separate legal appeal to impound the ship on the grounds that it had links to Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), which it designates as a terrorist organization.

A federal court in Washington issued a warrant to seize the tanker, the oil it carries and nearly $1 million.

“A network of front companies allegedly laundered millions of dollars in support of such shipments,” the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia, Jessie Liu, said in a news release.

“The scheme involves multiple parties affiliated with the IRGC and furthered by the deceptive voyages of the Grace 1.”

The U.S. State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment on how the warrant, which was addressed to “the United States Marshal’s Service and/or any other duly authorized law enforcement officer,” may be enforced.

The Pentagon declined to comment, as did Britain’s Foreign Office.

Asked on Friday about the U.S. intervention, Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, said that would be subject to the jurisdiction of Gibraltar’s Supreme Court. “It could go back to the court absolutely.”

The Gibraltar Chronicle newspaper reported that the vessel was unlikely to sail before Sunday, citing an unnamed source who added that it was waiting for six new crew members including a captain to arrive.

The Grace 1 had its name erased and it was no longer flying a Panama flag.

Iranian state television had quoted Jalil Eslami, deputy head of the country’s Ports and Maritime Organisation, as saying the tanker would depart for the Mediterranean after being reflagged under the Iranian flag and renamed Adrian Darya.


Rashida Tlaib cancels West Bank visit, citing Israel's 'oppressive conditions'

WASHINGTON - US congress womna Rashida Tlaib cancels West Bank visit, citing Israel's 'oppressive conditions and calls for U.S. to 're-evaluate our unwavering support' for Israel over Netanyahu's 'alignment with Trump's hate agenda'

Netanyahu was not forced by the U.S. president to ban Reps Tlaib and Omar. He heads a racist ideology that dehumanizes Palestinians – a worldview shared in full by the Trump administration, writes Haretz on Friday.

The whole world now witnessed Trump and Netanyahu’s racist and annexationist synergy, said the Israeli newspaper adding that Trump and Netanyahu just broke the special relationship between America and Israel and the wannabe authoritarian tag-team has committed a reckless, racist, contemptible act driven by stunningly short-sighted political calculations - but with fateful repercussions.

The Israeli government said on Friday that it would allow Representative Rashida Tlaib to enter on humanitarian grounds so that she could see her 90-year-old grandmother.

On Thursday, Ms. Tlaib and Representative Ilhan Omar were denied entry because they have supported the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

Indeed, Rashida Tlaib says she will not visit the West Bank under Israel’s conditions.

The Israeli decision on Omar and Tlaib Inflames politics in two countries and made the the Anti-Boycott Law Israel used to bar both Omar and Tlaib the centre of a new debate.

AIPAC, pro-Israel US lawmakers rebuke Netanyahu over Omar-Tlaib ban

WASHINGTON - The American Israel Public Affairs Committee spoke out Thursday against Israel's decision to bar American lawmakers Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib from visiting the country.

Israel's decision to ban Ilham Omar from entering Israel will escalate tensions with Democrats, casting Israel as collaborating with Trump’s hate campaign against minorities

Israel s Ambassador to the United States Ron Dermer announced last month that out of respect for the U.S. Congress and the great alliance between Israel and America , his government would not deny entry to Israel but he was overruled by his Ministry.

Israel’s announcement, aided by President Donald Trump’s explicit endorsement, prompted Democratic lawmakers to rally around Omar and Tlaib — including members of Congress who had previously expressed criticism over their positions — uniting moderates and progressives who have disagreed over this broader issue for months.

The Israeli government officially announced on Thursday it would block the two freshmen Congresswomen — who have been repeatedly targeted by President Donald Trump — from entering the country, a day after reports began surfacing that officials were considering it. Israel partially backtracked on Friday morning, announcing that Tlaib would be allowed into the country to visit her 90-year-old grandmother, who lives in the West Bank, on humanitarian grounds.

“As a free and vibrant democracy, Israel is open to critics and criticism with one exception: Israeli law prohibits the entry into Israel of those who call for and work to impose boycotts on Israel, as do other democracies that prohibit the entry of people who seek to harm the country,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a statement. “Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar are leading activists in promoting the legislation of boycotts against Israel in the American Congress.”

Israel’s decision to ban the two freshman lawmakers was a step too far for many members of Congress, even some who are still wary of Tlaib and Omar’s positions on Israel. Many of those same lawmakers who had criticized Omar months earlier leapt to her and Tlaib’s defense.

Israel to deny entry to Omar and Tlaib after Trump’s call to block them

TEL AVIV - Israel on Thursday barred the entry of two American Democratic congresswomen who had planned to visit the West Bank, the deputy foreign minister on Israeli radio said, hours after President Trump had urged the country to bar them.

Trump’s intervention was an extraordinary step to influence an allied nation and punish his political opponents at home.

It was reported last week that Mr. Trump was pressing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to deny entrance to the two women, Representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, and Thursday morning he left little doubt. He said in a Twitter post while Israeli officials were still deliberating the matter that “it would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit.”

“The decision has been made, the decision is not to allow them to enter,” Israel’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, told Israel’s Reshet Bet Radio.

Trump’s decision to recommend that another country block entry to two United States citizens, let alone members of Congress, was one of the most pronounced violations of democratic norms that he has engaged in since taking office in January 2017.

It also placed him at odds with the Republican leadership in Congress.

Many Israelis and Jewish leaders have also expressed discomfort with the idea that American officials could be denied entry because of their beliefs or criticism of Israel. Just last month, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer, said that Israel would not deny entry to any United States representatives.

Ms. Omar, a Minnesota Democrat, and Ms. Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, were scheduled to arrive on Sunday for a tour of the West Bank, partly under the auspices of an organization headed by a longtime Palestinian lawmaker, Hanan Ashrawi, that was expected to highlight Palestinian grievances over the Israeli occupation.

The women were planning to visit the West Bank cities of Hebron, Ramallah and Bethlehem, as well as Israeli-annexed East Jerusalem, including a visit to the Al Aqsa Mosque, a hotly contested and volatile holy site, according to Ms. Ashrawi. Most of the delegation was expected to depart on Aug. 22, but Ms. Tlaib had been planning to stay on to visit relatives in the West Bank.

The purpose of the visit, Ms. Ashrawi said, was to give the congresswomen a way “to engage with the Palestinian people directly and to see things on the ground.”

“What are they afraid of?” she said, referring to the Israeli government. “That they might find out things?”

Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar, both freshmen, are the first two Muslim women elected to Congress. Ms. Tlaib, who is of Palestinian descent, has spoken often of her grandmother, who lives on the West Bank, while Ms. Omar, a Somali refugee, is the first woman to wear a hijab on the House floor.

Philadelphia shooter surrenders after hours-long standoff with police

PHILADELPHIA, USA - A man who barricaded himself inside a Philadelphia house and opened fire at officers, injuring six, has been taken into custody after a standoff with police that lasted more than five hours.

Philadelphia police spokesman Sergeant Eric Gripp has confirmed that the gunman was apprehended, adding that SWAT teams have been clearing the premises.

The suspect gave himself up to police around midnight, exiting the house with his hands in the air, WTXF-TV reported, citing an officer at the scene.

Multiple media outlets, citing police sources, have identified the gunman as Maurice Hill, 34, a Philadelphia native whose extensive criminal record goes back to the early 2000s.

The incident began unfolding at 4:30 pm local time in the Nicetown-Tioga section of the city, after police tried to serve a drug warrant.

A bullet grazed an officer's head in the ensuing gun battle. Two other officers suffered arm injuries. They were all released from the hospital later that evening. Another officer was injured in a traffic accident while driving to the scene.

A SWAT team was able to rescue two police officers and three civilians trapped inside the house.

Earlier, another suspect believed to be Hill’s accomplice surrendered to police.

The shootout was closely followed on social media, with Hill reportedly livestreaming the crime on Facebook.

Hill has been described as a hardened criminal who served multiple stints in prison for an array of serious offenses, ranging from illegal possession of weapons to aggravated assault. He was barred from purchasing firearms due to his  criminal record.

Australia & Pacific

Fiji PM accuses Australia's Morrison of 'insulting' Pacific island nations

By Lidia Ke

MELBOURNE - Fiji Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama accused Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison of insulting leaders of Pacific island nations during a regional summit earlier this week, and said Chinese officials were far more tactful and better mannered.

The Fijian prime minister’s comments come after the Pacific Islands Forum failed to agree on tough new climate change commitments at the insistence of the pro-coal Australian government, upsetting leaders of island nations at risk from rising sea levels.

Bainimarama said Morrison tried to force his country’s policies onto the other nations, and insulted them by saying how much money Australia has given to the region.

“The prime minister was very insulting, very condescending, not good for the relationship,” Bainimarama told Guardian Australia late Friday, a day after the summit of 18 Pacific nations in Tuvalu.

Australia and the United Staves have historically enjoyed virtually unchecked influence in the Pacific, but their sway in the region has been challenged in recent years by China.

Bainimarama said there was “no competition” between Australia and China, but when asked whether some Pacific leaders might now seek better ties with Beijing, he said, “nothing can be worse”.

“The Chinese don’t insult us,” Bainimarama said. “They don’t go down and tell the world that we’ve given this much money to the Pacific islands. They don’t do that. They’re good people, definitely better than Morrison.”

The Fijian premier also called comments by Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, published on Friday by the Guardian, very insulting. McCormack had said that Pacific island nations affected by climate changes will continue to survive because “many of their workers come here to pick our fruit”.

Opposition Labor Party climate change spokesman Mark Butler said that Morrison has damaged the long-standing relationship with Pacific countries and McCormack’s comment “just adds insult to injury”.

Morrison’s office would not comment on Bainimarama’s accusations, but earlier on Saturday Morrison said that Australia is committed to the region.

“We’re there for the difficult conversations, we’re there for every type of conversation with our Pacific family, just like any family that comes around the table,” he told reporters after addressing a South Australian Liberals conference.

“We will always be there and regardless of whatever issues we have to work through at the time.”



Criticism mounts of New Zealand mosque shooting response

By Charlotte Greenfield

CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - After a lone gunman killed 51 mosque worshippers in March, New Zealand’s outpouring of collective grief and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s heartfelt support for the Muslim community won praise around the world.

But months after the attacks in two Christchurch mosques, criticism is mounting over the aftermath, including the prolonged legal process and the handling of a powerful government inquiry.

New Zealand is no stranger to natural disasters, but the unprecedented scale of violence targeting a minority has strained institutions designed to provide answers and deliver justice.

New Zealand is also less experienced in dealing with cultural needs of Muslims, who make up only about 1% of the population.

That has led to cultural blind spots, including scheduling hearings during important religious periods and failing to engage with Muslims in an appropriate way, members of the Muslim community, experts and advocates say.

“What’s being done to manage the expectations of victims and how do they actually feel included and ensure they are not re-traumatized through it and re-victimized through that process?,” said Pakeeza Rasheed, a lawyer and chairperson of New Zealand Muslim women’s organization, the Khadija Leadership Network.

From the beginning, delays and confusion confirming the identities of victims and releasing bodies upset relatives who were unable to bury their loved ones as soon as possible, as is customary in Islam.

Soon after the attack, many Muslims questioned whether security services took the risk of white supremacist violence seriously enough, and whether authorities were overly focused on the danger of Islamic extremism.

Ardern in May announced a wide-ranging inquiry, known as a Royal Commission, seeking answers to such questions.


But at least six human rights advocates and local Muslims contacted by Reuters have become skeptical of the process.

New Zealand’s Chief Human Rights Commissioner Paul Hunt called on the Royal Commission to improve inclusion of the Muslim community and said the Commission’s public suppression of information from various government agencies was too broad.

Former race relations commissioner Joris De Bres declined to give evidence to the commission last month, saying he too had concerns over undue secrecy and Muslims being sidelined.

“I…must regretfully decline to participate in the process until I am confident that it is transparent, places the families of the victims of the March 15 massacre, and their communities and organizations at its center and that they have the ability…to question and challenge the information provided by government agencies under investigation,” De Bres told the Commission in a letter he provided to Reuters.

The Commission said it needed to ask government agencies direct and probing questions and was working on the assumption that information gathered would be made public later, wherever possible.

Guled Mire, a Wellington-based Muslim community advocate, initially accepted an invitation to join a Muslim community reference group set up by the Commission, but pulled out in July after its first meeting, saying Muslims were not being listened to.

“They’re perpetuating the same attitudes and behaviors that have led to March 15, essentially ignoring our lived experiences, not valuing what we have to say, really not willing to engage with us on our terms,” Mire said. “The commission has instead undertaken what I would describe as tokenistic forms of engagement.”

Pakeeza Rasheed was also invited to join group but said she did not feel comfortable participating after the Commission did not respond to a number of questions she had about what the process would entail.

The Commission said the Muslim community reference group was only one way it was engaging with Muslim communities.

“We also continue to meet personally with groups and individuals and we’re in contact with many more by phone, email and whatever medium people prefer,” a spokeswoman said in an emailed response to Reuters.

“We understand there may be some members of the Muslim Community Reference Group who may decide the process is not for them and that’s ok.”

Others say they have been pleased with their interactions with the Commission.

Ambreen Naeem, whose husband Naeem and eldest son Talhawere killed at the Al Noor Mosque, contacted the commission by email and was visited by the head commissioner in July.

Ambreen said she had welcomed the chance to raise questions, including about how seriously threats of violence against Muslims were taken in the lead up to the attacks.

“Everyone makes mistakes, if they made mistakes we will understand, but we need to know,” said Ambreen, who is trying to rebuild a life for herself and two surviving sons.


For Ambreen and others, the long and unfamiliar court process has been a source of stress and trauma.

In June, relatives and victims were told the trial of suspected white supremacist Brenton Tarrant, who has pleaded not guilty to 92 murder, attempted murder and terrorism charges, would not take place until May next year, coinciding with the holy Islamic month of Ramadan.

“I don’t know why they drag it that long,” said Abdul Aziz, who fought the attacker with a credit card machine at Linwood Mosque. “Each time I come out of the court, what happens? All the memories come back.”

Muslim Association of Canterbury President Shagaf Khan said they had asked authorities to change the trial date so it does not coincide with Ramadan.

A court official said the court was trying to have the case brought to trial as soon as possible but was open to reviewing the date.

A lawyer for Tarrant, Jonathan Hudson, said: “Our primary concern is ensuring that Mr Tarrant receives the fair trial that he is entitled to.”

A third preliminary High Court hearing is scheduled for Thursday.

Two earlier High Court hearings have been set on Fridays, the holiest day in the Islamic week, and the day the attacks happened.

The Ministry of Justice said it had received initial feedback gathered from victims at an earlier court hearing by a cultural adviser it had engaged and was “open to discussion about how we can do things better to support the victims and their families through the court process”.

The Ministry said it had also arranged to have private rooms and a prayer room available to victims at the court.

While the court process would inevitably be painful for those involved, steps could be taken to mitigate trauma such as avoiding religiously important times for proceedings, acknowledging victims, and providing culturally informed psychological support processes for those attending, said Tayyab Rashid, a Pakistani-Canadian psychologist who ran support sessions at Al Noor Mosque.

“I think the court or legal system can find ways to support them because this is not the typical case, it is an atypical scenario and for atypical scenarios, you need atypical solutions.”



UK men arrested after Australia drug bust

CANBERRA/AUCKLAND - Six people including four British men have been arrested in Australia and New Zealand in one of the region's largest-ever drug seizures.

Australian police said the bust was connected to a UK-based organised crime syndicate which supplied highly pure methamphetamine and MDMA powder.

Drugs with an estimated value of A$90m (£50m; $61m) were seized in the state of Queensland.

The drugs could have made up to 12 million ecstasy capsules, police added.

Queensland Police said it was the third-largest MDMA bust in Australia's history and the drugs were the "highest purity" ever seized in the state.

Police arrested two British men, aged 40 and 51, an Australian man, 26, and an Australian woman, 51.

Another two British men, aged 49 and 60, were arrested in Auckland, New Zealand last week after police there seized 200kg of methamphetamine.

Raids were also carried out in the Australian state of New South Wales.

"Organised crime syndicates are making significant profit at the expense of our Australian community," Queensland Police said in a statement.

"Police believe the powder was destined for production into pill and capsule form to be sold across Australia."

MDMA is the active drug found in ecstasy tablets.(FA)

Backing our special forces with cutting edge equipment

CANBERA - Australia’s Special Forces will be better equipped to keep Australians safe thanks to a $3 billion investment in cutting edge equipment under the Coalition Government, said the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison in a statement.

The Government has approved the first stage of Project GREYFIN, which will provide the first $500 million of a $3 billion planned investment over 20 years.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the funding will ensure our Special Forces can better respond to threats, including that of terrorism.

“I’ve always said keeping Australians safe is my Government’s number one priority. That’s why we’re ensuring the men and women in our Special Forces have the equipment and training they need to succeed in their operations,” said Mr Morrison.

“Australian Special Forces undertake complex, highly demanding operations in high threat environments.

“Global threats will continue to evolve in ways which threaten Australia's interests. This funding will ensure our Special Forces have cutting edge capabilities to stay ahead of those who might threaten Australia's interests.”

Defence Minister Linda Reynolds says project GREYFIN ensures our Special Forces have the best body armour; weapons; diving, parachuting, roping and climbing systems; medical search and rescue; communications; human performance training and support; and everything else they need to help ensure Australia’s security.

“Our Special Forces, now more than ever, need to be ready and able to deploy on operations anywhere in the world, at short notice, and in very uncertain conditions.

“This first stage of funding enables our Special Forces to engage with intelligence, science and technology, and innovation organisations to ensure future threats and opportunities are assessed, to make sure we are delivering them the capability they need in the future.”

Project GREYFIN presents significant opportunities for Australian defence industries. These will span from small-to-large enterprises depending on the capabilities being acquired.

This commitment continues to pursue the special operations capability enhancements outlined in the Defence White Paper 2016.

The Coalition Government is investing more than $200 billion in Australia’s defence capability over the next decade – the nation’s biggest peacetime investment in Defence. By 2020-21, we will have restored investment in Defence to 2 per cent of GDP.


Yemeni Houthis claim attack on Saudi Shaybah oil field

DUBAI - Houthi forces in Yemen have made a drone attack on oil facilities at Shaybah in Saudi Arabia, the Yemeni movement’s Al Masirah television said on Saturday.

There was no immediate Saudi confirmation or comment.

The facilities attacked included a refinery and oil storage, Al Masirah said, citing a military spokesman. It did not say when the attack took place.

Shaybah, operated by state-oil company Saudi Aramco, is located in the east of the kingdom, close to the United Arab Emirates border.

The Houthis, who control Sanaa and most of Yemen’s other populous areas, have stepped up attacks against targets in Saudi Arabia in recent months.

In response, the Saudi-led coalition has targeted military sites belonging to the group, especially around Sanaa.

The attacks are complicating U.N.-led peace efforts.

The Western-backed Sunni Muslim coalition led by Saudi Arabia and the UAE intervened in Yemen in 2015 to try to restore a Yemeni government ousted from power in Sanaa by the Houthis.

The war has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed millions to the brink of famine.



Libya: Fears mount for abducted woman politician a month since she went missing

LONDON - Fears are mounting for the safety of Siham Sergiwa, a Libyan member of parliament, vocal in criticising the current offensive on Tripoli, who was abducted by armed gunmen in a night-time raid on her home in Benghazi one month ago, said Amnesty International.

Dozens of masked gunmen wearing army attire stormed Siham Sergiwa’s home and seized her in the early hours of 17 July. Her husband, Ali, was shot in the leg and her 16-year-old son, Fadi, was badly beaten during the raid.

“The horrific abduction of Siham Sergiwa illustrates the acute dangers facing publicly active women in Libya who dare to express criticism of militias. Siham Sergiwa appears to have come under attack as punishment for peacefully expressing her opinions and criticising the Libyan National Army’s offensive on Tripoli. One month since her abduction, the fears for her safety are growing by the day,” said Magdalena Mughrabi, Middle East and North Africa Deputy Director at Amnesty International.

Although the identity of the perpetrators is yet to be fully established, witness testimony indicates the attackers are affiliated with the self-declared Libyan National Army (LNA) led by General Khalifa Haftar. Earlier that day Siham Sergiwa had given a TV interview criticizing the LNA’s offensive to capture Tripoli.

“The Libyan National Army, which controls Benghazi, must ensure Siham Sergiwa’s immediate and unconditional release, and refrain from any attacks against civilians. No one should be targeted on account of their political background, affiliation or opinions. Pending her release, they must reveal her fate and whereabouts and ensure she is protected from all forms of torture and other ill-treatment,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

A family member described to Amnesty International how that night, the lights in the whole area were cut off shortly before they heard screaming.

“They came inside the house and told us to get down. They shot dad in the leg and beat him. I tried to stop them and they hit me, too,” the family member said.

Another eyewitness said the attackers spoke in a Benghazi accent and arrived in cars with “military police” written on the sides.

After the attack the message: “The army is a red line” and “Avengers of Blood” (Awliya al-Dam) was graffitied on a wall in the house. The graffiti prompted eyewitnesses to believe that Siham Sergiwa was abducted by Awliya al-Dam, an armed brigade affiliated with the LNA, made up of relatives of victims of deadly attacks in Benghazi since 2011.

Siham’s husband and son were taken to the Benghazi Medical Centre to receive treatment for their injuries. Her husband is still in hospital and, according to the family, has not been allowed visitors.

A few hours before her abduction, Siham Sergiwa had been interviewed by Al Hadath TV, in which she criticized the LNA leader’s military campaign to seize Tripoli.

She is the latest in a series of Libyan women who have been targeted with assassination and attempted killings, abduction, physical assault or sexual violence as well as death threats, harassment, smear campaigns on social media and other forms of intimidation since 2014.

At least three female activists and politicians have been assassinated since 2014 in connection with their work; the member of parliament Fariha al-Barkawi; prominent human rights defender Salwa Bugaighis and local activist Entisar El Hassari. Women who do not adhere to social norms or challenge gender stereotypes are particular targets of such crimes.

One journalist and government spokeswoman whose case was documented by Amnesty International was abducted by militias in Tripoli twice and faced physically assault and relentless intimidation between 2012 and 2017 for her investigative reporting into corruption and human rights abuses.

“Siham Sergiwa’s abduction demonstrates the tragic consequences of the Libyan authorities’ failure to protect activists and vocal critics from brutal retaliatory attacks. Women in public roles who dare to speak out against lawlessness and militias today can be silenced at any cost,” said Magdalena Mughrabi.

The UN Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) has also documented the relentless threats, harassment and dangers faced by women in public roles in Libya.



Israel allows US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib's Visit 'on Humanitarian Grounds'

TEL AVIV - The decision to let Tlaib in comes one day after Israel's Interior Ministry blocked her and fellow Democratic congresswoman, Ilhan Omar, from visiting the country due to their support for the pro-Palestinian BDS movement.

Israel's Interior Ministry on Friday announced that it would let US congresswoman Rashida Tlaib in on “humanitarian grounds”, reversing its previous decision to bar her and Rep. Ilhan Omar from visiting the country.

In a letter to Interior Minister Arye Dery, Tlaib asked to be allowed into Israel to see her grandmother living in the Palestinian village of Beit Ur al-Fouqa in the northern West Bank.

“This could be my last opportunity to see her,” Tlaib wrote, vowing not to promote anti-Israel boycotts during her stay in the country.

"Tlaib sent a letter last night to Minister Dery, in which she promised to hold to Israel's requests, respect the limitations put on her for the visit and also affirmed that she would not promote the boycott against Israel during her visit," the minister's office said in a statement Friday, as quoted by Haaretz.

Arye Dery, in turn, said he was hopeful that Tlaib Arye Derywill stand by her obligations and the visit will be for humanitarian means alone.”

Three more humanitarian workers killed in Syria, civilian death toll ‘rising every day’

BEIRUT - An attack in the south of Syria’s restive Idlib province that led to the deaths of a paramedic, an ambulance driver and a rescue worker, were added to the grim total on Thursday of more than 500 civilian fatalities documented in the country by the United Nations, over the past three and a half months alone.

“The civilian death toll is rising every day as the fighting continues in Idleb and northern Hama”, said Mark Cutts, Deputy Regional Humanitarian Coordinator for the Syria Crisis.

Most of the deaths were a result of the “relentless campaign of airstrikes” by the Government and its allies, he explained.

He painted a picture of humanitarians and rescue workers risking their lives every day to “to help civilians trapped in this area”, including women and children, along with sick, elderly and disabled people.

“They dig people out from under the rubble, rush wounded civilians to hospital, provide medical services and help those fleeing the area”, Mr. Cutts spelled out. “But no one is safe”.

On the contrary, those who risk everything to help some of the most vulnerable people in the world are themselves coming under attack.

“Yesterday a series of airstrikes in the Ma’arat Humeh area in southern Idleb resulted in the death of two more of our humanitarian colleagues, a paramedic and an ambulance driver”, he elaborated. “Their ambulance was totally destroyed and a rescue worker was also killed”.

Wednesday’s attack highlights again the horror of what’s going on in Idleb – the last rebel-controlled part of Syria - and northern Hama, said Mr. Cutts, where three million civilians remain trapped by the fighting, with nowhere else to flee to, and where humanitarians, medical staff and rescue workers continue to pay with their lives in their efforts to help others.

Since the end of April, there have been at least 42 attacks on healthcare facilities reported, he added, affecting 36 health facilities and seven ambulances. Of these incidents, 11 were in Hama Governorate, 28 in Idleb and three in Aleppo Governorate.

“In total at least 17 health workers and patients have been killed”, he lamented, condemning this latest attack “and all attacks on civilians and civilian objects in the strongest terms”.

“I continue to call on all parties to the conflict to respect and protect medical and humanitarian personnel, their means of transport and equipment and property, as well as hospitals and other medical facilities, in accordance with international humanitarian law and in line with UN Security Council Resolution 2286 which relates specifically to the protection of civilians in armed conflict and to the protection of medical and humanitarian personnel in conflict zones” he concluded.

Since March 2011, Syria has been in the throes of a conflict that has forced more than half of all Syrians to leave their homes. With 5.6 million Syrian refugees and 6.6 million internally displaced, the crisis, described as the worst humanitarian disaster of modern times, with more than 12 million people in need of assistance.