Posts Tagged Atmariar News

Saudi women’s rights activist sentenced to nearly 6 years

December 28, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — One of Saudi Arabia’s most prominent women’s rights activists was sentenced Monday to nearly six years in prison, according to state-linked media, under a vague and broadly worded counterterrorism law. The ruling nearly brings to a close a case that has drawn international criticism and the ire of U.S. lawmakers.

Loujain al-Hathloul has already been in pre-trial detention and has endured several stretches of solitary confinement. Her continued imprisonment was likely to be a point of contention in relations between the kingdom and the incoming presidency of Joe Biden, whose inauguration takes place in January — around two months before what is now expected to be al-Hathloul’s release date.

Rights group “Prisoners of Conscience,” which focuses on Saudi political detainees, said al-Hathloul could be released in March 2021 based on time served. She has been imprisoned since May 2018, and 34 months of her sentencing will be suspended.

Her family said in a statement she will be barred from leaving the kingdom for five years and required to serve three years of probation after her release. Biden has vowed to review the U.S.-Saudi relationship and take into greater consideration human rights and democratic principles. He has also vowed to reverse President Donald Trump’s policy of giving Saudi Arabia “a blank check to pursue a disastrous set of policies,” including the targeting of female activists.

Al-Hathloul was found guilty and sentenced to five years and eight months by the kingdom’s anti-terrorism court on charges of agitating for change, pursuing a foreign agenda, using the internet to harm public order and cooperating with individuals and entities that have committed crimes under anti-terror laws, according to state-linked Saudi news site Sabq. The charges all come under the country’s broadly worded counterterrorism law.

She has 30 days to appeal the verdict. “She was charged, tried and convicted using counter-terrorism laws,” her sister, Lina al-Hathloul, said in a statement. “My sister is not a terrorist, she is an activist. To be sentenced for her activism for the very reforms that MBS and the Saudi kingdom so proudly tout is the ultimate hypocrisy,” she said, referring to the Saudi crown prince by his initials.

Sabq, which said its reporter was allowed inside the courtroom, reported that the judge said the defendant had confessed to committing the crimes and that her confessions were made voluntarily and without coercion. The report said the verdict was issued in the presence of the prosecutor, the defendant, a representative from the government’s Human Rights Commission and a handful of select local media representatives.

The 31-year-old Saudi activist has long been defiantly outspoken about human rights in Saudi Arabia, even from behind bars. She launched hunger strikes to protest her imprisonment and joined other female activists in telling Saudi judges that she was tortured and sexually assaulted by masked men during interrogations. The women say they were caned, electrocuted and waterboarded. Some say they were forcibly groped and threatened with rape.

Al-Hathloul rejected an offer to rescind her allegations of torture in exchange for early release, according to her family. A court recently dismissed her allegations, citing a lack of evidence. Among other allegations was that one of the masked interrogators was Saud al-Qahtani, a close confidante and advisor to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman at the time. Al-Qahtani was later sanctioned by the U.S. for his alleged role in the murder of Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s consulate in Turkey.

While more than a dozen other Saudi women’s rights activists face trial, have spent time in prison or remain jailed, al-Hathloul’s case stood out in part because she was the only female rights activist to be referred to the Specialized Criminal Court, which tries terrorism cases.

In many ways, her case came to symbolize Prince Mohammed’s dual strategy of being credited for ushering in sweeping social reforms and simultaneously cracking down on activists who had long pushed for change.

While some activists and their families have been pressured into silence, al-Hathloul’s siblings, who reside in the U.S. and Europe, consistently spoke out against the state prosecutor’s case and launched campaigns calling for her release.

The prosecutor had called for the maximum sentence of 20 years, citing evidence such as al-Hathloul’s tweets in support of lifting a decades-long ban on women driving and speaking out against male guardianship laws that had led to multiple instances of Saudi women fleeing abusive families for refuge abroad. Al-Hathloul’s family said the prosecutor’s evidence included her contacts with rights group Amnesty International. She was also charged with speaking to European diplomats about human rights in Saudi Arabia, though that was later dropped by the prosecutor.

The longtime activist was first detained in 2014 under the previous monarch, King Abdullah, and held for more than 70 days after she attempted to livestream herself driving from the United Arab Emirates to Saudi Arabia to protest the ban on women driving.

She’s also spoken out against guardianship laws that barred women from traveling abroad without the consent of a male relative, such as a father, husband or brother. The kingdom eased guardianship laws last year, allowing women to apply for a passport and travel freely.

Her activism landed her multiple human rights awards and spreads in magazines like Vanity Fair in a photo shoot next to Meghan Markle, who would later become the Duchess of Sussex. She was also a Nobel Peace Prize nominee.

Al-Hathloul’s family say in 2018, shortly after attending a U.N.-related meeting in Geneva about the situation of women’s rights in Saudi Arabia, she was kidnapped by Emirati security forces in Abu Dhabi, where she’d been residing and pursuing a master’s degree. She was then forced on a plane to Saudi Arabia, where she was barred from traveling and later arrested.

Al-Hathloul was among three female activists targeted that year by state-linked media, which circulated her picture online and dubbed her a traitor.

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In a northern town brutalized by IS, Iraq tests its power

December 24, 2020

SINJAR, Iraq (AP) — One by one, the flags belonging to a patchwork of armed forces were lowered in a northern Iraqi town once brutalized by the Islamic State group. The territorial claims symbolized by each were replaced by the fluttering of just one: The Iraqi state’s.

The hoisting of the national flag in Sinjar, home to Iraq’s Yazidi religious minority, is the result of a deal months in the making for the federal government to restore order from a tangled web of paramilitaries, who sowed chaos in the district during the bedlam following liberation from IS three years ago.

This month, Iraq’s army deployed there for the first time since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein. Lt. Imad Hasan hiked up a rocky ascent overlooking the deserted ruins of Sinjar’s old town, vacant since IS was dislodged. His gaze fell on a lookout on the other side of the mountain — the last, he said, that belongs to a local affiliate of an outlawed Kurdish guerrilla group, known as the PKK.

“We have problems with them,” he said. “Their leaders have agreed to withdraw, but some of their fighters have not.” Sealing the deal was hard enough. Implementing it brings new problems. Critics say it will take more than a change of flags to cement rule of law in Sinjar.

The Yazidis, traumatized by the mass killing and enslavement that IS unleashed against them, have no trust in the Iraqi authorities they say abandoned them to the militants’ brutality. With the central government weak, they fear militias — including Iranian-backed Shiite factions — will gain sway over them.

The militias policing Sinjar the past three years are a mix. They include peshmerga fighters from Iraq’s Kurdish autonomy zone, as well as the PKK and its affiliate made up of local Yazidi fighters, called the Sinjar Resistance Units or YBS. There are also Yazidi units belonging to the Popular Mobilization Forces, an umbrella group of state-sanctioned paramilitaries created in 2014 to defeat IS.

There are signs of recovery of Sinjar. Its city center hummed with shoppers, merchants — and the odd Iraqi army tank. More of the 200,000 Yazidis displaced by the 2014 IS onslaught are coming back — some 21,600 returning between June to September, many times the rate of previous years.

But scratch the surface, and almost everyone harbors raw, unresolved trauma. Everyone vividly recalls the IS attack that murdered fathers and sons, enslaved thousands of women and sent survivors fleeing up Sinjar mountain.

In Sinjar’s market, a farmer, Zaidan Khalaf, introduced himself first by telling The Associated Press how many relatives he lost under IS: 18. Others in the market did the same. “We lost our dignity,” he said.

Communities remain deeply divided and bitterly resentful of one another. “What agreement?” scoffed Farzo Mato Sabo, an 86-year-old in the predominantly Yazidi village of Tal Binat, south of Sinjar. She and her three daughters were taken by IS militants and later saved by smugglers. Eleven of her family members are still unaccounted for.

“I lost everyone,” she sobbed. “Will it bring them back?” Neighboring Tal Binat is the Sunni Arab village of Khailo. “We used to be like brothers, but now the Yazidis stay away from us,” said a tribal elder, Sheikh Naif Ibrahim. “They can’t distinguish between civilians and IS members.”

Many Yazidis accuse local Sunni Arabs of supporting IS. Since the militants’ fall, Sunni Arabs have had frictions with Yazidi militias — and a number of Sunnis have been killed. At the same time, many Yazidis reject the Kurdish peshmerga, who consider the Sinjar area part of their domain.

“Seven flags ruled over us, you never knew who had power over you which day,” said Khalaf, the farmer. The U.N. has focused on the return of displaced Yazidis, but this is not the only criterion for success, said Sajad Jiyad, a fellow at The Century Foundation. “It’s about services, schools, security and the ability to move around without being shaken down by various groups,” he said.

“This is a test for the effectiveness of post-war governance and post-war liberation,” he said. “Is the government prepared enough to allow the return to normalcy?” The Iraqi military will secure the area for now, with other factions leaving their positions, although many remain in the Sinjar area. Under the plan, the Kurdish authority is to appoint a mayor — a prospect many Yazidis oppose — and local police are eventually to take over security, working under the government’s intelligence agency and National Security Adviser. The plan calls for 2,500 new security personnel to be hired locally.

Most Yazidi leaders and residents interviewed said they were irate the community was not consulted by the government in the making of the plan. “We are the ones who sacrificed, lost our lives,” said Fahed Hamed, Sinjar’s district mayor. “We should have been the main interlocutors.”

“We want a force from our own. We don’t trust anyone.” The force most trusted by locals is a faction the plan seeks to eject — the YBS, whose fighters are largely Sinjar Yazidis. While other forces retreated from the IS onslaught in 2014, many recall it was the YBS that fought to secure a safe route for civilians.

“They were the only ones who stayed to protect us,” said Sherko Khalaf, a Yazidi village mukhtar. Despite protests by locals, negotiations led to the withdrawal of YBS from Sinjar’s city center. YBS fighters interviewed said they expected to be subsumed as a unit of the Popular Mobilization Forces, providing them with much-needed political legitimacy. A portion of the 2,500-3,500 YBS fighters are already on the PMF payroll.

In theory, the plan calls for the PMF to end its presence in the city as well. To date, they are supporting forces and securing Sinjar’s peripheries. But Khal Ali, the commander of the Lalish Brigades, a Yazidi unit of the group, told the AP, “The (PMF) will stay forever, we are kings over the heads of the security forces in Sinjar.”

That prospect has divided Yazidis. Some want Yazidi PMF factions included in the security arrangement. Others fear it will bring Sinjar under the influence of the Shiite Arab factions close to Iran that dominate the umbrella group.

“If the international community and central government don’t care about Sinjar, the PMF will take control,” one prominent Yazidi leader said, requesting anonymity to speak freely. “This is clear.”

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UAE suspends issuing visas to citizens of 13 Muslim majority countries

November 26, 2020

The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has suspended issuing travel and work visas for citizens of 13 mostly Muslim-majority countries, including Turkey, Pakistan, Iran, Syria and Somalia, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

A document issued by a state-owned business park was sent to companies operating within the park. The document, according to Reuters, came into effect on 18 November.

Reuters reported that the visas had temporarily stopped being issued to Afghans, Pakistanis and citizens of several other countries such as Libya and Yemen over security concerns, without specifying the nature of the concerns.

The ban, which is to last until further notice, also applies to citizens of Algeria, Kenya, Iraq, Lebanon and Tunisia. It is not clear if there are any exceptions to the ban.

A government officer told Anadolu Agency that visa applications from the 13 countries will be reviewed separately.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201126-uae-suspends-issuing-visas-to-citizens-of-13-muslim-majority-countries/.

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Saudi Arabia to invest more than $5bn in artificial intelligence by 2030

November 21, 2020

Saudi Arabia is planning to invest more than 20 billion riyals ($5.3 billion) in artificial intelligence by 2030, Chairman of the Saudi Data and Artificial Intelligence Authority (SDAIA) Abdullah Bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi announced yesterday.

“We aim to train 20,000 specialists in artificial intelligence by 2030,” Al-Ghamdi told reporters on the sidelines of the media centre program of the G20 summit, which is currently being held in the kingdom’s capital city of Riyadh.

The Saudi official pointed out that the kingdom was the third country in the world to use technology to combat the coronavirus, stressing that artificial intelligence was a: “Source of savings and an additional source of income worth investing.”

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20201121-saudi-arabia-to-invest-more-than-5bn-in-artificial-intelligence-by-2030/.

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Senators introduce legislation to block $23.7B arms sale to UAE

by Christen Mccurdy

Washington DC (UPI)

Nov 19, 2020

A bipartisan group of lawmakers has introduced legislation to block the Trump administration’s effort to expedite the sale of $23.7 billion worth of military equipment to the United Arab Emirates.

Last week, the State Department approved three possible weapons deals, totaling $23.37 billion, to the UAE, including $10.4 billion for 50 F-35A aircraft.

The deal prompted some in the Senate to ask the State Department to certify that it “does not diminish Israel’s qualitative military edge and poses no vulnerabilities to U.S. military systems and technology.”

On Wednesday, Sens. Bob Menendez, D-N.J., Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said they plan to introduce four separate Joint Resolutions of Disapproval rejecting the administration’s effort to equip the country with the munitions.

A press release from the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations said the administration “circumvented the informal congressional review process that grants the Congressional committees of jurisdiction time to ensure proposed arms sales of this magnitude are consistent with U.S. values, national security objectives, and the safety of our allies.”

“There are a number of outstanding concerns as to how these sales would impact the national security interests of both the United States and of Israel,” Menendez said in the release.

“As a result, Congress is once again stepping in to serve as a check to avoid putting profit over U.S. national security and that of our allies, and to hopefully prevent a new arms race in the Middle East,” Menendez said.

The administration also refused to respond to Congressional inquiries about potential national security risks related to the sale, the senators said.

“The UAE has violated past arms sales agreements, resulting in U.S. arms ending up in the arms of dangerous militia groups, and they have failed to comply with international law in Libya and Yemen,” Murphy said.

“A sale this large and this consequential should not happen in the waning days of a lame duck presidency, and Congress must take steps to stop this dangerous transfer of weapons,” Murphy said.

The press release includes a link to a letter Menendez and Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., sent to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and then-Defense Secretary Mark Esper in October with questions about the potential sale.

Source: Space War.

Link: https://www.spacewar.com/reports/Senators_introduce_legislation_to_block_237B_arms_sale_to_UAE_999.html.

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Iraq, Saudi Arabia reopen land border after 30 years

By AFP

Nov 18,2020

BAGHDAD, Iraq — Iraq and Saudi Arabia on Wednesday reopened their land border for the first time in 30 years, with closer trade ties between the two countries irking allies of Riyadh’s rival, Tehran.

Top officials including Iraq’s interior minister and the head of its border commission travelled from Baghdad to formally open the Arar crossing.

They met up with a delegation who had joined them from Riyadh, all in masks, and cut a red ribbon at the border crossing as a line of cargo trucks waited behind them.

Arar will be open to both goods and people for the first time since Riyadh cut off its diplomatic relationship with Baghdad in 1990, following Iraqi ex-dictator Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait.

Ties have remained rocky ever since, but current Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa Al Kadhemi has a close personal relationship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.

Kadhemi was to travel to Saudi Arabia on his first foreign trip as prime minister in May, but the visit was cancelled at the last minute when Saudi King Salman was hospitalized.

He has yet to make the trip, although Iraqi ministers have visited Riyadh to meet with their counterparts and a top-level Saudi delegation travelled to Baghdad last week.

Baghdad sees Arar as a potential alternative to its crossings with eastern neighbor Iran, through which Iraq brings in a large share of its imports.

The two Arab states are also exploring the reopening of a second border point at Al Jumayma, along Iraq’s southern border with the Saudi kingdom.

‘Let them invest’ 

But pro-Iran factions in Iraq, which call themselves the “Islamic Resistance”, have stood firmly against closer ties with Saudi Arabia.

Ahead of Arar’s opening, one such group identifying itself as Ashab Al Kahf published a statement announcing its “rejection of the Saudi project in Iraq”.

“The intelligence cadres of the Islamic Resistance are following all the details of the Saudi enemy’s activities on the Iraqi border,” it warned.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday evening, Kadhemi fired back against those describing the rapprochement as Saudi “colonialism”.

“This is a lie. It’s shameful,” he said.

“Let them invest. Welcome to Iraq,” Kadhemi added, saying Saudi investment could bring in a flood of new jobs to Iraq where more than one-third of youth are unemployed.

The closer ties have been a long time coming.

They did not improve much after Saddam’s toppling in the 2003 US-led invasion, as Riyadh looked at the new Shiite-dominated political class with suspicion due to their ties to Iran.

A thaw began in 2017 when then Saudi foreign minister Adel Al Jubeir travelled to Baghdad — the first such visit in decades — followed by a Riyadh trip by Iraqi premier Haider Al Abadi.

The first commercial flights resumed between the two countries and officials began discussing Arar, with high-profile US diplomat Brett McGurk even visiting the crossing in 2017 to support its reopening.

But those plans were repeatedly delayed, with Arar only opened on rare occasions to allow through Iraqi religious pilgrims on their way to Mecca for the Hajj.

More in the works? 

Iraq is the second-largest producer in the OPEC oil cartel, outranked only by Saudi Arabia.

Its oil, gas and electricity infrastructure is severely outdated and inefficient but low oil prices this year have stymied efforts to revamp it.

Baghdad is also notoriously slow to activate external investment, with international firms and foreign countries complaining that rampant corruption hamstrings more investment.

Kadhemi’s government has sought to fast-track foreign investment including Saudi support for energy and agriculture.

On his trip to Washington this summer, he agreed to a half-dozen projects that would use Saudi funding to finance US energy firms.

Last year, Iraq signed a deal to plug into the Gulf Cooperation Council’s power grid and add up to 500 MW of electricity to its dilapidated electricity sector.

Those deals too have been criticized by pro-Iran factions in Iraq.

Source: The Jordan Times.

Link: http://jordantimes.com/news/region/iraq-saudi-arabia-reopen-land-border-after-30-years.

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Bahrain’s long-serving prime minister dies at age 84

November 11, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Bahrain’s Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, one of the world’s longest-serving prime ministers who led his island nation’s government for decades and survived the 2011 Arab Spring protests that demanded his ouster over corruption allegations, died on Wednesday. He was 84.

Bahrain’s state-run news agency announced his death, saying he had been receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic in the United States, without elaborating. The Mayo Clinic declined to comment. Prince Khalifa’s power and wealth could be seen everywhere in this small nation off the coast of Saudi Arabia home to the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet. His official portrait hung for decades on walls alongside the country’s ruler. He had his own private island where he met foreign dignitaries, complete with a marina and a park that had peacocks and gazelle roam its grounds.

The prince represented an older style of Gulf leadership, one that granted patronage and favors for support of the Sunni Al Khalifa family. That style would be challenged in the 2011 protests by the island’s Shiite majority and others, who demonstrated against him over long-running corruption allegations surrounding his rule.

Though less powerful and frailer in recent years, his machinations still drew attention in the kingdom as a new generation now jostles for power. “Khalifa bin Salman represented the old guard in more ways than just age and seniority,” said Kristin Smith Diwan, a senior resident scholar at the Washington-based Arab Gulf States Institute. “He represented an old social understanding rooted in royal privilege and expressed through personal patronage.”

Bahrain’s Royal Court announced a week of official mourning, with a burial coming after the return of his body. State television aired a recitation of Quranic verses, showing a black-and-white image of the prince.

Prince Khalifa was born into the Al Khalifa dynasty that for more than two centuries has ruled Bahrain, an island in the Persian Gulf whose name in Arabic means the “two seas.” The son of Bahrain’s former ruler, Sheikh Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa who ruled from 1942 to 1961, the prince learned governance at his father’s side as the island remained a British protectorate.

Prince Khalifa’s brother, Sheikh Isa bin Salman Al Khalifa, took power in 1961 and served as monarch when Bahrain gained its independence from Britain in 1971. Under an informal arrangement, Sheikh Isa handled the island’s diplomacy and ceremonial duties while Prince Khalifa ran the government and economy.

The years that followed saw Bahrain develop rapidly as it sought to move beyond its dependence on dwindling oil reserves. Manama at that time served as what Dubai in the United Arab Emirates ultimately became, a regional financial, service and tourism hub. The opening of the King Fahd Causeway in 1986 gave the island nation its first land link with its rich and powerful neighbor, Saudi Arabia, and offered an escape for Westerners in the kingdom who wanted to enjoy Bahrain’s alcohol-soaked nightclubs and beaches.

But Prince Khalifa increasingly saw his name entangled in corruption allegations, such as a major foreign corruption practices case against aluminum producer Alcoa over using a London-based middleman to facilitate bribes for Bahraini officials. Alcoa agreed to pay $384 million in fines to the U.S. government to settle the case in 2014.

The U.S. Embassy in Manama similarly had its own suspicions about Prince Khalifa. “I believe that Shaikh Khalifa is not wholly a negative influence,” former U.S. Ambassador Ronald E. Neumann wrote in a 2004 cable released by WikiLeaks. “While certainly corrupt he has built much of modern Bahrain.”

Those corruption allegations fueled discontent, particularly among Bahrain’s Shiite majority who still today complain of discrimination by the government. In February 2011, protesters inspired by Arab Spring demonstrations across the Mideast filled the streets and occupied the capital Manama’s Pearl Roundabout to demand political reforms and a greater say in the country’s future.

While some called for a constitutional monarchy, many others pressed for the removal of the long-ruling prime minister and other members of the Sunni royal family altogether, including King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa.

At one point during the height of the unrest in March 2011, thousands of protesters besieged the prime minister’s office while officials met inside, demanding that Prince Khalifa step down over corruption allegations and an earlier, deadly crackdown on the demonstrations. Protesters also took to waving one Bahraini dinar notes over allegations Prince Khalifa bought the land on which Bahrain’s Financial Harbor development sits for just a single dinar.

Robert Gates, a former U.S. secretary of defense under President Barack Obama, wrote in his memoirs that he urged the king at the time to force Prince Khalifa from the premiership, describing him as “disliked by nearly everyone but especially the Shia.”

Bahraini officials soon crushed the protests with the backing of troops from neighboring Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. A government-sponsored report into the protests and crackdown later described security forces beating detainees and forcing them to kiss pictures of King Hamad and Prince Khalifa.

Low-level unrest continued in the years that followed, with Shiite protesters frequently clashing with riot police. Shiite militant groups, whom Bahrain’s government allege receive support from Iran, planted bombs that killed and wounded several members of the country’s security forces.

But while other hard-line members of the Al Khalifa family actively pushed for a confrontation with Shiites, Prince Khalifa maintained contacts with those the government opposed. Even with his influence waning, he called Qatar’s ruling emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, in 2019 during the holy month of Ramadan despite Bahrain being one of four Arab nations boycotting Doha in a political dispute.

“Khalifa bin Salman could and did work with both Sunni and Shia, especially through his relations with Bahrain’s business community,” Diwan said. “He brought this same personalistic approach to relations with other Gulf monarchs, and was genuinely uncomfortable with the new politics exemplified by coarse attacks on the Qatari leadership.”

Slowly though, Prince Khalifa’s influence waned as he faced unexplained health problems. He was admitted to hospital in November 2015 but was later released. He also traveled to southeast Asia for medical appointments. In late November 2019, he traveled to Germany for undisclosed medical treatments, remaining there for months.

In September, a U.S. Air Force C-17 flying hospital flew from Germany to Rochester, Minnesota, following by a royal Bahraini aircraft. While U.S. and Bahraini officials declined to comment on the flights, it came just after America offered the same care to Kuwait’s ruling emir just before his death.

Prince Khalifa was married and has three surviving children, sons Ali and Salman and daughter Lulwa. Another son, Mohammed, died previously.

Associated Press writers Adam Schreck and Isabel DeBre contributed to this report.

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Armenia and Azerbaijan clash as Iran works on peace plan

October 06, 2020

YEREVAN, Armenia (AP) — Armenia accused Azerbaijan of firing missiles into the capital of the separatist territory of Nagorno-Karabakh on Monday, while Azerbaijan said several of its towns and its second-largest city were attacked.

Iran, which borders both countries, said it was working on a peace plan for the decades-old conflict, which reignited last month and has killed scores of people on both sides. The region of Nagorno-Karabakh lies inside Azerbaijan but has been under the control of ethnic Armenian forces backed by Armenia since the end of a separatist war in 1994.

Armenian military officials reported missile strikes in the territorial capital of Stepanakert, which came under intense attacks all weekend. Residents told the Russian state RIA Novosti news agency that parts of the city were suffering shortages of electricity and gas after the strikes.

The Azerbaijani Defense Ministry, in turn, accused Armenian forces of shelling the towns of Tartar, Barda and Beylagan. Ganja, the country’s second-largest city far outside the conflict zone, also was “under fire,” officials said.

Hikmet Hajiyev, aide to Azeirbaijani President Ilham Aliyev, tweeted that Armenian forces attacked “densely populated civilian areas” in Ganja, Barda, Beylagan and other towns “with missiles and rockets.”

Armenia’s Foreign Ministry dismissed allegations of attacks being launched from Armenia’s territory as a “disinformation campaign” by Azerbaijan. Nagorno-Karabakh officials didn’t comment on the accusations, but warned on both Sunday and Monday that the territory’s forces would target military facilities in Azerbaijani cities in response to strikes on Stepanakert.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres condemned the escalating violence and again urged an immediate halt to hostilities, stressing that there is no military solution to the conflict, his spokesman said.

The U.N. chief “is gravely concerned by reports of the extension of hostilities, including the targeting of populated areas,” spokesman Stephane Dujarric said, He urges a return to negotiations led by Russia, France and the United States — co-chairs of the so-called Minsk Group, which was set up by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in 1992 to resolve the conflict.

The fighting erupted Sept. 27 and has killed dozens, marking the biggest escalation in the conflict. Both sides have accused each other of expanding the hostilities beyond Nagorno-Karabakh. According to Nagorno-Karabakh officials, about 220 servicemen on their side have died in the clashes since then. The state-run Armenian Unified Infocenter said that 21 civilians have been killed in the region and 82 others wounded.

Azerbaijani authorities haven’t given details about military casualties, but said 25 civilians were killed and 127 wounded. Both sides have repeatedly accused each other of targeting civilians and have reported damage to nonmilitary infrastructure.

Azerbaijani President Aliyev said his troops “liberated” several more villages in the Jabrayil region. A similar report about the town of Jabrayil and its surrounding villages on Sunday was denied by Nagorno-Karabakh officials.

Nagorno-Karabakh was a designated autonomous region within Azerbaijan during the Soviet era. It claimed independence from Azerbaijan in 1991, about three months before the Soviet Union’s collapse. A full-scale war that broke out in 1992 killed an estimated 30,000 people.

By the time the war ended in 1994, Armenian forces not only held Nagorno-Karabakh itself but also substantial areas outside the territory borders, like the Jabrayil region where Azerbaijan claimed to have taken a town and several villages.

Aliyev has repeatedly said Armenia’s withdrawal from Nagorno-Karabakh is the sole condition to end the fighting. Armenian officials allege Turkey is involved in the conflict on the side of Azerbaijan and is sending fighters from Syria to the region. Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian said “a cease-fire can be established only if Turkey is removed from the South Caucasus.”

Turkey, a NATO member, has denied sending arms or foreign fighters, while publicly siding with Azerbaijan. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated that Turkey will stand with its ally Azerbaijan until it reaches “victory.” He also maintained that it was the international community’s silence in the face of what he called past Armenian aggression that encouraged it to attack Azerbaijani territory.

After talks with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara, NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters that the military alliance is “deeply concerned by the escalation of hostilities,” and urged Turkey to “use its considerable influence to calm tensions.”

Cavusoglu repeated calls for Armenia to withdraw from the region “in line with international laws, U.N. Security Council resolutions and Azerbaijan’s territorial and border integrity.” The Foreign Ministry of Iran, which has nearly 760 kilometers (470 miles) of border with Azerbaijan and a short border with Armenia, said it is working on a peace plan.

Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh did not elaborate but said Iran is talking to all related parties. “Iran has prepared a plan with a specific framework containing details after consultations with both sides of the dispute, Azerbaijan and Armenia, as well as regional states and neighbors, and will pursue this plan,” he said.

Khatibzadeh also warned both sides against expanding the hostilities into Iranian territory. “Any aggression against the borders of the Islamic Republic, even inadvertently, is a very serious red line for the Islamic Republic that should not be crossed,” he said.

Since the beginning of the conflict, stray mortar shells have injured a child and damaged some buildings in rural areas in northern Iran, near the border with Azerbaijan.

Associated Press writers Aida Sultanova in Baku, Azerbaijan; Daria Litvinova in Moscow; Nasser Karimi in Tehran; Lorne Cook in Brussels; and Suzan Fraser in Ankara, Turkey, contributed.

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King, Crown Prince extend condolences to Kuwait emir over passing of Sheikh Sabah

[10/1/2020]

AMMONNEWS – His Majesty King Abdullah and His Royal Highness Crown Prince Al Hussein bin Abdullah II extended condolences on Thursday to Kuwait Emir Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah, over the passing of Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Jaber Al Sabah.

During a visit to Kuwait, King Abdullah expressed deep sympathies, on behalf of Jordan’s people and government, to Sheikh Nawaf and the people of Kuwait.

His Majesty said the Arab and Muslim nations lost a wise leader who was dedicated to serving his people and defending Arab and Islamic causes.

The King paid tribute to Sheikh Sabah’s noble positions in support of Jordan, stressing the deep-rooted ties between the Kingdom and Kuwait.

Prime Minister Omar Razzaz, Senate President Faisal Fayez, Royal Hashemite Court Chief Yousef Issawi, Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi, Adviser to His Majesty for Policies Bisher Khasawneh, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Maj. Gen. Yousef Hneiti also extended condolences.

Source: Ammon News.

Link: http://en.ammonnews.net/article.aspx?articleno=44121.

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Crown prince becomes oil-rich Kuwait’s new ruling emir

September 30, 2020

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Kuwait’s Crown Prince Sheikh Nawaf Al Ahmad Al Sabah became the oil-rich nation’s new ruling emir Tuesday night, reaching the highest post in the country after decades in its security services.

Sheikh Nawaf, 83, had served as the crown prince since 2006, jumping a traditional order of alternating rule between the Al Jaber and the Al Salim branches of the country’s ruling family. While his taking of the throne came as prescribed by Kuwait’s constitution, there likely will be negotiations behind the scenes in the weeks ahead over who will become the country’s next crown prince.

Those discussions likely will take time as Kuwait mourns its late ruler, Sheikh Sabah Al Ahmad Al Sabah, who died Tuesday at the age of 91, and weighs who best represents a country that had carefully positioned itself amid regional rivalries.

Sheikh Nawaf “may provide a welcome respite of unity in transition,” wrote Kristin Smith Diwan, a scholar at the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington. ”Yet, 83 years old and without any clear national program, his reign is unlikely to deter the sharp competition already underway to claim the title of his successor.”

State television carried an address by Anas Khalid al-Saleh, Kuwait’s interior minister and deputy prime minister, announcing Sheikh Nawaf had taken the position just hours after Sheikh Sabah’s death.

Sheikh Nawaf, like his half-brother Sheikh Sabah, was born before Kuwait discovered the oil that would make this small nation among the richest in the world. Born June 25, 1937, Sheikh Nawaf became a governor of Kuwait’s Hawalli region and later the country’s interior minister, a position he held for nearly a decade.

As interior minister, Sheikh Nawaf negotiated in 1980 with two Jordanians who hijacked a Boeing 727 heading from Beirut to Kuwait City. The hijackers ultimately gave up the plane without harming any passengers on board. Sheikh Nawaf negotiated in other hijackings as well.

Kuwait separately faced militant bombings during his time as interior minister, which authorities blamed on Iran. Sheikh Nawaf served as Kuwait’s defense minister beginning in 1988. He’d be in the role in 1990, when Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait and occupied the nation for seven months.

“Our citizens inside Kuwait are disobeying orders and not following instructions and they are being mistreated,” Sheikh Nawaf said at the time. On Feb. 24, 1991, U.S. troops and their allies stormed into Kuwait. It ended 100 hours later. America suffered only 148 combat deaths during the whole campaign, while over 20,000 Iraqi soldiers were killed.

Sheikh Nawaf briefly served as social affairs and labor minister after the war, then as the deputy chief of Kuwait’s National Guard and again as interior minister. He became the crown prince under Sheikh Sabah in February 2006.

Sheikh Nawaf is married, with four sons and one daughter. He hasn’t been known for making any major political decisions while serving as crown prince. Sheikh Nawaf is “is seen by many in Kuwait as an uncontroversial choice as emir, albeit probably serving only a short term considering his age,” analysts Simon Henderson and Kristian Coates Ulrichsen wrote in an analysis last October for the Washington Institute for Near-East Policy. “His uncertain health may also affect both the length and the vigor of his time as emir.”

The analysts added: “These facts, together with his easy-going personality, make it more likely that whoever becomes his crown prince will have the opportunity to more forcefully shape the direction of Kuwaiti leadership.”

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