Circling around US embeds, Syrian forces reach Iraq border  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST AND THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)

Circling around US embeds, Syrian forces reach Iraq border

June 9 at 2:21 PM
BEIRUT — Russia’s Ministry of Defense reported on Friday that pro-government forces circled around U.S. military advisers in eastern Syria to reach the Iraqi border, dealing what could be a major blow to the declared U.S. mission to defeat Islamic State militants in the desert region.The development, if true, would mean Russian-backed pro-government forces have blocked the path of U.S.-backed opposition forces advancing north along the Iraqi-Syrian border, in the direction of the IS strongholds of Boukamal and Deir el-Zour, on the Euphrates River in eastern Syria.

The two forces have clashed regularly in the area, with U.S. aircraft twice striking Russian-backed forces the Pentagon said were threatening its local allies. The strikes are believed to have killed dozens of Syrian soldiers and Iranian-backed militia forces, in addition to destroying tanks and heavy weapons. On Thursday, the U.S. shot down an armed drone it said had attacked its units embedded with local opposition forces in the region.

By circling around them, the Russian-backed forces have apparently avoided a direct confrontation with U.S.-backed forces based out of al-Tanf, the border post under U.S. and opposition control.

They are advancing in the direction of Boukamal, according to Col. Gen, Sergei Surovikin, the commander of Russian forces in Syria.

On their side of the border, Iraqi forces, along with Iranian-backed Popular Mobilization Committee militias, are advancing through IS-held territory to meet the Russian-backed forces at the frontier, according to a Lebanese TV station close to the Syrian government.

The evening news broadcast on Al-Manar TV, which belongs to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah, hailed the advance of the pro-government forces, and the Hezbollah fighters embedded with them.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitoring group also reported the development, saying it was the first time government forces have reached the Iraqi border in over three years.

The United States Central Command said it “does not seek to fight the Syrian regime, Russian or pro-regime forces partnered with them,” but promised to take “appropriate measures” to protect U.S. forces tasked with defeating the Islamic State group.

“As long as pro-regime forces are oriented toward Coalition and partnered forces the potential for conflict is escalated,” CENTCOM said in a statement to The Associated Press.

“Coalition forces are oriented on ISIS in the Euphrates River Valley,” the statement added, using a different acronym for the Islamic State group.

The U.N. children’s agency warned Friday that the fight for IS’s stronghold of Raqqa threatens more than 40,000 children, while overnight airstrikes on the city in northern Syria killed more than a dozen people.

The violence has displaced residents in and around the city, with about 80,000 children living in temporary shelters and camps, UNICEF said in a statement.

The U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces launched an attack on Raqqa earlier this week and airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition have intensified since then.

“An estimated 40,000 children remain trapped in extremely dangerous conditions in Raqqa. Many are caught in the crossfire,” said UNICEF regional director Geert Cappelaere. He urged all parties to give safe passage to those who want to leave.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported more than 25 overnight airstrikes on Raqqa killed 17 people, including 12 at an internet cafe. One of the dead was an activist with the group, it added.

In addition to the airstrikes, Raqqa was subjected to artillery and missile attacks, according to the activist collective known as Raqqa is Being Slaughtered Silently. It said the coalition used white phosphorous in the attacks.

In a video posted on its Aamaq news agency, IS also alleged the coalition used white phosphorous over Raqqa on Thursday at dusk, when Muslims would have been breaking their Ramadan fasts.

White phosphorous burns at extremely high temperatures and can be used to illuminate conflict zones or obscure them with smoke. International law prohibits its use in civilian areas because of its indiscriminate effects, from starting fires to causing excruciating burns for bystanders, according to Human Rights Watch, which said it was investigating the allegations.

The U.S. CENTCOM military command refused to comment on specific allegations but said it uses white phosphorous rounds “in accordance with the law of armed conflict … in a way that fully considers the possible incidental effects on civilians and civilian structures.”

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Associated Press writers Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow, Maamoun Youssef in Cairo, and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Iran Foreign Minister: “Trump’s Comment After Tehran ISIS Attacks Are Repugnant”

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Iran has slammed US President Donald Trump’s response to Wednesday’s twin terror attacks in Tehran as “repugnant”, as the death toll from the ISIS-claimed assaults rose to 16.

“Repugnant WH (White House) statement & Senate sanctions as Iranians counter terror backed by US clients. Iranian people reject such US claims of friendship,” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted Thursday.
Zarif was responding to President Trump’s statement following the bombings that said, “We grieve and pray for the innocent victims of the terrorist attacks in Iran, and for the Iranian people who are going through such challenging times.”
It then added, “We underscore that states that sponsor terrorism risk falling victim to the evil they promote.”
Six attackers mounted simultaneous gun and suicide bomb assaults on Iran’s Parliament building and the tomb of the republic’s revolutionary founder Ayatollah Khomeini in one of the most audacious assaults to hit Tehran in decades.
All six of the attackers, who all died in the assault, have been identified. Five of them had previously fought with ISIS in Mosul and Raqqa, the Iranian Intelligence Ministry said in a statement Thursday.
The five men were associated with “Takfiri groups” — a term referring to extremist Sunnis — and left Iran after joining ISIS, the statement said.
The men entered Iran last year under the command of a man known as “Abu Ayesha.” They intended to carry out attacks at religious sites but were thwarted after key members of their cell were apprehended. Abu Ayesha was killed at the time, according to the Iranian Intelligence Ministry.
The armed assailants, apparently dressed as women, attacked the parliament buildings on Wednesday morning equipped with assault rifles, handguns and suicide vests, killing security guards and ordinary people before taking hostages in the upper floors of the building.
Security forces then laid siege to the parliament for several hours. Three of the gunmen were shot dead in an exchange of gunfire, while another blew himself up.
In the attack at the mausoleum, one suicide bomber blew himself up while the second one was killed in a gunfight, according to the semi-official Tasnim news agency.
The ISIS media wing, Amaq, claimed “fighters with the Islamic State” carried out the assault. It was the first time that ISIS, a Sunni Muslim group fighting Iranian-backed militias in Syria, has claimed responsibility for an attack in Iran and the choice of locations were also highly symbolic.
Iran’s Intelligence Ministry said Thursday it will soon release the names and pictures of the gunmen involved in the terrorist attacks, all of whom were killed on Wednesday, Tasnim reported.

Iran envoy reacts to terror attacks in Tehran

Iran envoy reacts to terror attacks in Tehran
Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps vowed revenge for the attack, which it says was supported by Saudi Arabia, and tied it to the visit of President Trump to Saudi Arabia in May.
The Revolutionary Guards’ accusation comes at a time of heightened Saudi-Iranian tensions following a regional rift with Qatar.
Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar this week and has blocked several of the country’s media outlets. The rift was over comments allegedly made by Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim Al Hamad Al Thani hailing Iran as an “Islamic power” and criticizing Trump’s policy toward Tehran.
The Emir’s alleged comments appeared on Qatar’s official news agency, but Qatar said the website was hacked and the report fabricated by the culprits.

Houthis Ruin Ramadan Spirituality among Yemenis

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Houthis Ruin Ramadan Spirituality among Yemenis

Yemen

Riyadh – Houthi militias have replaced a number of clergy and orators in several mosques with others who are affiliated with them and banned the Taraweeh prayers in most of Sanaa mosques which ruined Ramadan’s spirituality for Yemenis.

Thousands of those in Yemen suffering under Houthi and Saleh’s militias were forced to leave towns to villages, rural areas and abroad.

Minister of Endowment and Guidance, Ahmed Attiyah has warned the coup militias of the consequences of continuing to impose ideas on the Yemeni society that are not accepted by its people. He called mosques to avoid being involved in sectarian and partisan conflicts.

Attiyah stressed that militias changed the message of the mosques and linked them with Iranian references to impose them on Yemenis.

Militias prevented worshipers from performing Taraweeh prayers in mosques, according to the minister, and later assaulted the worshipers while they removed them from mosque by force of arms.

The militias also kidnapped several worshipers in a clear violation of the sanctity of mosques and a disruption of the social fabrics and coexistence of Yemenis.

A citizen from Sanaa, Abdallah Abdul Bari stated that Houthis have prevented citizens from performing Taraweeh prayer, which ruined the spirituality of Ramadan and the rituals Yemenis were used to do every year during the Holy month.

“I am used to going out with my friends to visit many places in Old Sanaa and see some of my relatives. This year however, each one has their own problems and many of our coworkers and friends are in prisons. Ramadan this year is totally different,” he said.

Abdul Bari also stated that usually, citizens would buy their Ramadan essentials before the month begins, but they weren’t able to do so this year because Yemeni employees didn’t receive their salaries.

Special Envoy of the Secretary-General for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed had presented an initiative to find practical ways to ensure the resumption of salaries to all Yemeni civil servants nationwide. But his attempts were faced with rejection from Houthi and Saleh militias.

According to the U.N. statement, Ould Cheikh Ahmed discussed ways to ensure the resumption of salaries to Yemeni civil servants who complain that salaries have not been paid on time since Hadi ordered, last year, the move of the central bank from Sanaa to the southern port city of Aden.

The initiative stated that Houthi and Saleh militias will send state revenues from Sanaa and other areas under their control like Hodeidah port, taxes and oil revenues to an independent fund that is impartial and ensures public servants salaries are paid. The government will also transfer its revenues from Aden and other areas to the fund.

Observers believe that the initiative aims to organize the withdrawal of militias from Hodeidah governorate and the formation of the committee of financial and economic experts to help the government reach the suitable and swift mechanism to pay the salaries.

Yemeni sources reported that the suggestion resulted from great efforts of experts during their meeting with the UN delegation, ambassadors of permanent members of the UN, and EU officials. It states that the port should be handled by officials who are currently managing the port under the supervision of UN.

Port incomes are deposited in the Central Bank, Hodeidah branch.

At the end of his visit, the Special Envoy expressed his deep concern regarding the attack on his convoy while traveling from the airport to the UN compound on May 22.

The Special Envoy reminded the parties that it is the responsibility of the local authorities to ensure the safety of all U.N. personnel in the country and urged them to investigate the incident, hold those responsible to account, and prevent any such incidents in the future.

Ould Chiekh indicated that the incident increased his determination to continue with his efforts to find a negotiated political settlement that serves the best interests of the Yemeni people.

Sources confirmed that Houthis and Saleh militias are continuously trying to prolong war and destruction in the country while getting rich on the expense of Yemenis.

Yemeni Foreign Minister Abdul Malik al-Mekhlafi reiterated that insurgents must redirect the incomes and revenues of official institutions to the Central Bank in Aden and other governorates to salary payments. He pointed out that the insurgents use institutions’ incomes to finance their war.

In related news, dozens of Yemeni civil servants are protesting daily calling for the payment of the salaries.

Demonstrators protested before the Minister of Interior under militias’ control calling for the departure of the insurgents and release of wages.

Protests announced they’d continue until their rightful requests have been met.

Yemeni sources reported that the demonstrators are being attacked by Houthi supporters.

There are about 1.2 million civil servant in Yemen, with one million in Sanaa and other areas under Houthi control.

They have no received wages for eight consecutive months. Whereas employees in the legitimacy areas are no more than 200 thousand and have been receiving their salaries on regular basis.

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Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report

(THIS COURTESY OF CNN)

US investigators believe Russian hackers breached Qatar’s state news agency and planted a fake news report that contributed to a crisis among the US’ closest Gulf allies, according to US officials briefed on the investigation.

The FBI recently sent a team of investigators to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, Qatari and US government officials say.
Intelligence gathered by the US security agencies indicates that Russian hackers were behind the intrusion first reported by the Qatari government two weeks ago, US officials say. Qatar hosts one of the largest US military bases in the region.
The alleged involvement of Russian hackers intensifies concerns by US intelligence and law enforcement agencies that Russia continues to try some of the same cyber-hacking measures on US allies that intelligence agencies believe it used to meddle in the 2016 elections.
US officials say the Russian goal appears to be to cause rifts among the US and its allies. In recent months, suspected Russian cyber activities, including the use of fake news stories, have turned up amid elections in France, Germany and other countries.
It’s not yet clear whether the US has tracked the hackers in the Qatar incident to Russian criminal organizations or to the Russian security services blamed for the US election hacks. One official noted that based on past intelligence, “not much happens in that country without the blessing of the government.”
The FBI and CIA declined to comment. A spokeswoman for the Qatari embassy in Washington said the investigation is ongoing and its results would be released publicly soon.
The Qatari government has said a May 23 news report on its Qatar News Agency attributed false remarks to the nation’s ruler that appeared friendly to Iran and Israel and questioned whether President Donald Trump would last in office.
Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed Bin Abdulrahman al-Thani told CNN the FBI has confirmed the hack and the planting of fake news.
“Whatever has been thrown as an accusation is all based on misinformation and we think that the entire crisis being based on misinformation,” the foreign minister told CNN’s Becky Anderson. “Because it was started based on fabricated news, being wedged and being inserted in our national news agency which was hacked and proved by the FBI.”
Sheikh Saif Bin Ahmed Al-Thani, director of the Qatari Government Communications Office, confirmed that Qatar’s Ministry of Interior is working with the FBI and the United Kingdom’s National Crime Agency on the ongoing hacking investigation of the Qatar News Agency.
“The Ministry of Interior will reveal the findings of the investigation when completed,” he told CNN.
Partly in reaction to the false news report, Qatar’s neighbors, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have cut off economic and political ties, causing a broader crisis.
The report came at a time of escalating tension over accusations Qatar was financing terrorism.
On Tuesday, Trump tweeted criticism of Qatar that mirrors that of the Saudis and others in the region who have long objected to Qatar’s foreign policy. He did not address the false news report.
“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” Trump said in a series of tweets. “They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism, and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”
In his tweet, Trump voiced support for the regional blockade of Qatar and cited Qatar’s funding of terrorist groups. The Qataris have rejected the terror-funding accusations.
Hours after Trump’s tweets, the US State Department said Qatar had made progress on stemming the funding of terrorists but that there was more work to be done.
US and European authorities have complained for years about funding for extremists from Saudi Arabia and other nations in the Gulf region. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi citizens.
Last year during a visit to Saudi Arabia, Obama administration officials raised the issue of Saudi funding to build mosques in Europe and Africa that are helping to spread an ultra-conservative strain of Islam.
US intelligence has long been concerned with what they say is the Russian government’s ability to plant fake news in otherwise credible streams, according to US officials.
That concern has surfaced in recent months in congressional briefings by former FBI Director James Comey.
Comey told lawmakers that one reason he decided to bypass his Justice Department bosses in announcing no charges in the probe of Hillary Clinton’s private email server was the concern about an apparent fake piece of Russian intelligence. The intelligence suggested the Russians had an email that indicated former Attorney General Loretta Lynch had assured Democrats she wouldn’t let the Clinton probe lead to charges.
The FBI came to believe the email was fake, but still feared the Russians could release it to undermine the Justice Department’s role in the probe.

Trump Opens His Ignorant Twitter Mouth Again His Ego Wanting Credit For His Stupidity

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE NEW YORK TIMES)

President Trump met with Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the emir of Qatar, in Saudi Arabia last month.CreditStephen Crowley/The New York Times

WASHINGTON — President Trump thrust himself into a bitter Persian Gulf dispute on Tuesday, claiming credit for Saudi Arabia’s move to isolate its smaller neighbor, Qatar, which is a major American military partner.

“During my recent trip to the Middle East I stated that there can no longer be funding of Radical Ideology,” Mr. Trump said in a morning tweet. “Leaders pointed to Qatar — look!”

On Monday, Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen broke diplomatic and commercial ties with Qatar, citing its support for terrorist groups. Mr. Trump, who made the cutting of terrorist funding a centerpiece of his trip to Saudi Arabia in May, said he was responsible.

“So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off,” the president said on Twitter. “They said they would take a hard line on funding.”

Continue reading the main story

Moments later, he added, “Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to the horror of terrorism!”

Qatar has long been accused of funneling arms and money to radical groups in Syria, Libya and other Arab countries. But so has Saudi Arabia. And Mr. Trump’s tweets have huge potential strategic consequences in the Middle East, where Qatar is a crucial military outpost for the United States.

A peninsula that juts into the Persian Gulf, Qatar is home to the forward headquarters of the United States Central Command. It is a major intelligence hub for the United States in the Middle East and the base where the United States plans and carries out airstrikes on the Islamic State.

Qatar has also built deep ties to American academia, providing funding and real estate to build Middle Eastern campuses for six major universities, including Cornell, Georgetown and Northwestern.

Qatar’s financing of radical groups has long been a source of tension with Washington. But the United States has generally avoided taking sides in the regional feuds in the Persian Gulf since it has strategic ties with several of the gulf states.

Mr. Trump’s comments were a sharp break from his top national security aides, who tried to play down any impact of the rift within the Sunni-Arab coalition that is helping the United States fight the Islamic State.

“We certainly would encourage the parties to sit down together and address these differences,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson told reporters in Sydney, Australia, where he and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis were meeting with officials.

Mr. Mattis added, “I am positive there will be no implications coming out of this dramatic situation at all, and I say that based on the commitment that each of these nations that you just referred to have made to this fight.”

Mr. Trump’s tweets also appeared to contradict the American ambassador to Qatar, Dana Shell Smith, who this week retweeted a post of hers saying that Qatar had made “real progress” in curbing financial support for terrorists. Both Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been previously accused of support for extremist militants.

At the Pentagon, some Defense Department officials said they were taken aback by Mr. Trump’s decision to thrust the United States into the middle of a fight with its close partners, particularly given the American military’s deep ties to Qatar.

Al Udeid base, outside Doha, the country’s capital, is home to around 10,000 American troops, and Mr. Mattis made a point of visiting Qatar in April, spending three nights in Doha, where he held meetings with the emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani.

Mr. Mattis “reinforced the importance of deepening the U.S.-Qatari strategic partnership and discussed shared security interests, which include the defeat of ISIS,” the Pentagon said in its statement about the meeting, using another name for the Islamic State. The official statement also spoke of the “value of the Qatari support to the counter-ISIS coalition as well as the country’s role in maintaining regional stability and security.”

After the president’s tweets on Tuesday, Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, tried to steer clear of the appearance that the United States had taken sides.

“I consider them a host to our very important base at Al Udeid,” he said. “We have no intention of altering our current operations not only in Qatar but anywhere in the G.C.C.,” he added, referring to Gulf Cooperation Council of Sunni states in the region.

Privately, however, several Defense Department officials said that Mr. Trump’s tweets had undercut the Pentagon, particularly given how crucial Al Udeid base is to the war against the Islamic State.

In addition to the military’s combat and intelligence mission based in Qatar, the American end of the “de-confliction” line is there, a conduit for discussions with Russia to try to avoid accidental conflict in the skies above Syria and Iraq.

American officials had been anticipating the Saudi-led move, a Defense Department official said, and had received reassurances from Qatari officials that the United States would not be shut out of Al Udeid. But that was before Mr. Trump’s Tuesday morning tweets.

“Qatar can certainly make it less convenient to use the base, and the president’s tweets give them reason to flex their muscles and remind the United States just how convenient the base has been for the last 15 years,” said Jon B. Alterman, Middle East program director with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

Also Tuesday, the leaders of Kuwait and Turkey offered to play mediation roles in the dispute. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, an important Qatari ally, called his counterparts in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait, as well as the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin, a Turkish presidential official said.

The emir of Kuwait, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah, who has not joined the campaign against Qatar, flew to Saudi Arabia on Tuesday for a meeting with the Saudi head of state, King Salman.

Disagreements between Qatar and its gulf neighbors escalated after a series of uprisings against Arab autocrats in 2011. In the power vacuums that came after the uprisings, Qatar backed Islamist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Syria and Libya — angering Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which see the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization.

Like the Saudis and Emiratis, Kuwait backed the Muslim Brotherhood’s subsequent ouster from power in Egypt in 2013. Analysts said the country had taken a more conciliatory role in this week’s dispute because it was wary of ceding too much influence to the Saudi alliance.

“Kuwait feels that if Saudi Arabia and the Emirates get what they want from Qatar, then Kuwait will be next, too,” said Galip Dalay, research director at Al Sharq Forum, a Turkish think tank.

Turkey publicly maintains that it is not taking sides in the dispute. “Turkey does not get into that — they’re all our Sunni brothers and our friends,” Ilnur Cevik, a foreign policy adviser to Mr. Erdogan, said by phone on Tuesday.

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The analysts said in private that Turkey was frightened of losing its best regional ally. Turkey has a military base in Qatar and supports many of the same Islamist groups in the region. Like Qatar, Turkey welcomed Muslim Brotherhood members who fled Egypt after the removal of President Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

“If Qatar gives into this pressure, that will mean that Turkey’s role in the region will be further constrained,” Mr. Dalay said.

U.S. seen trying to calm waters between Qatar and Saudi Arabia  

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS NEWS AGENCY)

U.S. seen trying to calm waters between Qatar and Saudi Arabia

By Arshad Mohammed and Steve Holland | WASHINGTON

The United States will quietly try to calm the waters between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, current and former U.S. officials said on Monday, arguing that the small Gulf state was too important to U.S. military and diplomatic interests to be isolated.

U.S. officials were blindsided by Saudi Arabia’s decision to sever diplomatic ties with Qatar in a coordinated move with Egypt, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates, the current and former officials said.

In announcing the decision to cut ties, Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of providing support to Shi’ite Iran, which is in a tussle for regional supremacy with Riyadh, and to Islamist militants. [nL8N1J252R]

Washington has many reasons to want to promote comity within the region. Qatar is host to the largest U.S. air base in the Middle East at Al Udeid, a staging ground for U.S.-led strikes on the Islamic State militant group that has seized parts of Syria and Iraq. U.S. Donald Trump has made defeating Islamic State a priority of his presidency.

Further, Qatar’s willingness to welcome organizations such as Hamas, which Washington brands a terrorist group, and the Taliban, which has fought U.S. forces in Afghanistan for more than 15 years, allows contacts with such groups when needed.

“There is a certain utility,” one U.S. official said on condition of anonymity. “There’s got to be a place for us to meet the Taliban. The Hamas (folks) have to have a place to go where they can be simultaneously isolated and talked to.”

The current and former U.S. officials said they were unable to identify precisely what may have triggered the four countries’ coordinated decision to cut ties, which was later followed by Yemen, Libya’s eastern-based government and the Maldives.

They said the Saudis may have felt empowered by the warm embrace that Trump gave them when he visited Riyadh in May and adopted a harsh anti-Iran stance.

“My suspicion is (they felt) emboldened by what Trump said on his visit and … that they feel they have got some kind of backing,” said a former U.S. official. “I don’t know that they needed any more of a green light than they got in public.”

A senior administration official told Reuters the United States got no indication from the Saudis or Emiratis in Riyadh that the action was about to happen. The White House said on Monday it was committed to working to de-escalate tensions in the Gulf.

In Riyadh, Trump made an impassioned appeal to Arab and Islamic leaders to “drive out” terrorists, while singling out Iran as a key source of funding and support for militant groups.

SEEKING RECONCILIATION

U.S. officials in multiple agencies stressed their desire to promote a reconciliation between the Saudi-led group and Qatar, a state of 2.5 million people with vast natural gas reserves.

“We don’t want to see some kind of permanent rift and I suspect we won’t,” said the senior Trump administration official on condition of anonymity, adding the United States would send a representative if the Gulf Cooperation Council nations met to discuss the rift with Qatar. [nL1N1J21IX]

The GCC includes six wealthy Arab nations: Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Oman.

“There’s an acknowledgement that a lot of Qatari behavior is quite worrisome not just to our Gulf neighbors but to the U.S.,” said the senior administration official. “We want to bring them in the right direction.”

Marcelle Wahba, a former U.S. ambassador to the UAE and the president of the Arab Gulf States Institute in Washington think tank, said the United States had leverage but would use it discreetly.

“The U.S. will step up to the plate. How we will do it? I think it will be very quiet and very much in the background,” she said. “I doubt very much we will sit on the sidelines and let this crisis get more serious.”

Qatar’s backing of Islamists dates to a decision by the current ruling emir’s father to end a tradition of automatic deference to Saudi Arabia, the dominant Gulf Arab power, and forge the widest possible array of allies.

Qatar has for years presented itself as a mediator and power broker for the region’s many disputes. But Egypt and the Gulf Arab states resent Qatar’s support for Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which they see as a political enemy.

“We are engaging with all of our partners … to find a way to reassemble some GCC unity to support regional security,” said another U.S. official, saying it was critical to “maintain the fight against terrorism and extremist ideology.”

(Additional reporting by Yara Bayoumy, Mark Hosenball, Phil Stewart and Matt Spetalnick; Writing by Arshad Mohammed; Editing by Yara Bayoumy and Peter Cooney)

The Latest: UAE, Egypt cut diplomatic ties to Qatar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

The Latest: UAE, Egypt cut diplomatic ties to Qatar

June 4 at 11:17 PM
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The Latest on the Gulf Arab dispute with Qatar (all times local):7:10 a.m.

The United Arab Emirates and Egypt have cut diplomatic ties to Qatar.

The two countries have joined Saudi Arabia and Bahrain in cutting ties to Qatar amid a growing Arab diplomatic dispute with the small, gas-rich nation.

Both the UAE and Egypt made the announcement on their state-run news agencies within minutes of each other.

Qatari officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

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7 a.m.

Saudi Arabia says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar and it has pulled all Qatari troops from the ongoing war in Yemen.

Saudi Arabia made the announcement via its state-run Saudi Press Agency early Monday. It appeared to be timed in concert with an earlier announcement by Bahrain similarly cutting ties.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

The dispute between Qatar and the Gulf’s Arab countries started over a purported hack of Qatar’s state-run news agency. It has spiraled since.

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6:50 a.m.

Bahrain says it is cutting diplomatic ties to Qatar amid a deepening rift between Gulf Arab nations.

Bahrain’s Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a statement early Monday saying it would withdraw its diplomatic mission from the Qatari capital of Doha within 48 hours and that all Qatari diplomats should leave Bahrain within the same period.

The ministry’s statement said Qatari citizens needed to leave Bahrain within two weeks and that air and sea traffic between the two countries would be halted. It wasn’t immediately clear how that would affect Qatar Airways, one of the region’s major long-haul carriers.

Bahrain blamed Qatar’s “media incitement, support for armed terrorist activities and funding linked to Iranian groups to carry out sabotage and spreading chaos in Bahrain” for its decision.

Qatar had no immediate comment.

Copyright 2017 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Anger from Qatar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

Anger from Qatar

In May 2014, Bloomberg published statements of former Qatari prime minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim: “It is our right to make Qatar seem as the most important country in the world. But the problem is that some Arab countries did not play their role properly so when we played our role some thought that we are taking theirs.”

These statements were reiterated since the former emir of Qatar Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa took over the rule in the country in 1995 – they brief the strategic targets of the Qatari foreign policy but the political reality says that no state can do the role of another.

Bahrain, for example, can’t do Egypt’s role and Saudi Arabia can’t do the role of UK. Doha continued through its endless provoking and throughout the past twenty years it was in a quest to achieve its goal in becoming a regional power even if at the expense of the Gulf countries and the region’s security and stability.

Aside from statements claimed to be said by Emir of Qatar and that Doha is denying, they actually represent the Qatari policy since Qatar has always used contradictions as a way to deal with brotherly countries.

The Gulf countries – including Qatar – take strict stances towards Iran during the meetings of the GCC to stop its intervention and to face its expanding project. In October 2015, Doha signed with Tehran a military security agreement. Qatar participates in the Decisive Storm in Yemen that has a major goal to put an end to the Iranian power.

Few months later on, the emir said in the UN that the relation with Tehran is developing and growing continuously based on common interests and good neighborliness. When the Gulf summit was held in Doha, leaders were surprised by the attendance of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad upon a Qatari invitation as an honor guest.

Bahrain is suffering turbulence that has exceeded demands of reforms and constitutional kingship into aborting it and establishing a republican regime in the country. The Gulf countries refuse these acts because any chaos in a country would sure transfer to the neighboring ones.

But Doha is being impartial and is suggesting initiatives that go in favor of the militias supported by Iran. Al Jazeera, the diplomatic media arm of Qatar, has continued to support the chaotic forces in Bahrain and described them as a “national revolution”.

The Gulf countries fight terrorism fiercely while Doha – unfortunately – has a different agenda. It hosts the Muslim Brotherhood and funds it. It granted al-Qaeda leaders a media platform they used to dream of. It also presented al-Nusra Front as a “moderate force” and promoted for its separation from the terrorist al-Qaeda group.

Recently, the agreement to release Qatari captives from Iraq took place and displaced four Syrian towns as a price.

Guarantors of the agreement included Iran and Nusra Front. In 2014, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain summoned their ambassadors from Doha after accusing it of threatening the security and political stability of the Gulf countries through supporting Muslim Brotherhood figures in the Gulf.

Also, the Qatari funds have threatened the whole region after reports that have proven Qatar’s support to Nusra Front. It also backed the anti- Saudi, Emirate and Bahraini media through transforming Qatari institutions into platforms to attack them. Qatar also funded figures that object over the ruling regime in these countries in addition to recruiting political funds and public relations companies in the US and West to damage the Gulf interests.

After Qatari pledges, the three ambassadors returned after nine months under one condition that Doha abides by Riyadh Agreement. However, Qatar did not – a Gulf official told me that the former Qatari Foreign Minister Khaled al-Attiyah considered that the agreement was over with the death of King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud who sponsored the agreement.

The justifications that pushed Saudi Arabia, UAE and Bahrain to summon their ambassadors then still exist today, nothing has changed.

Every state has the right to follow policies that comply with their interests and there is no condition in the international policy that imposes identical stances among countries. However if these policies damaged the regional security, led to chaos and shook stability then no state would be as patient as Saudi Arabia and the Gulf.

If Doha doesn’t change its policies that are damaging its neighbors and threatening their national security then any return would be useless and a dead end would be reached.

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Al-dossary

Salman Aldosary is the former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper.

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Bahrain unrest: 5 killed, 286 arrested in police raid on Shia cleric Isa Qassim’s town

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES NEWS)

Bahrain unrest: 5 killed, 286 arrested in police raid on Shia cleric Isa Qassim’s town

Bahrain police raided a town Tuesday that is home to a prominent Shia cleric facing possible deportation, killed 5 and arresting 286 people.

WORLD Updated: May 25, 2017 00:29 IST

AFP, Dubai
Bahrain

This image provided by an activist who requested to remain unnamed, shows people carrying a man who was injured in a raid on an sit-in, in Diraz, Bahrain, Tuesday, May 23, 2017. Bahrain police raided a town where the sit-in has been going on for months in support of Sheikh Isa Qassim, a prominent Shia cleric, who had his citizenship stripped by the government.(AP Photo)

Five people were killed in Bahrain on Tuesday when police opened fire on a protest by supporters of a top cleric in a Shia village, the interior ministry said, in the latest unrest to hit the Sunni-ruled Gulf state.“Five deaths have been registered among the outlaws” in Diraz, near the capital of Manama, where the police opened fire to disperse the sit-in outside the home of cleric Isa Qassim, the ministry said in a Twitter message.

Witnesses had earlier told AFP that several civilians were wounded when police officers fired at demonstrators throwing stones and Molotov cocktails at security forces.

“A total of 286 arrests were made, including fugitives that had escaped from Jau Prison,” the ministry said.

“Several terrorists and convicted felons were also apprehended with a large number of them hiding in the residence of Isa Qassim,” it added.

Qassim is considered the spiritual leader of Bahrain’s majority Shiite community.

Read more | Bahrain jails 36 Shias, strips them of citizenship

A US State Department official said Washington was “concerned” by the reports of protesters killed and was following events in Bahrain very closely.

“We urge restraint on all sides in responding to Wednesday’s developments and call on all parties to contribute to a climate conducive for dialogue and reconciliation,” the official told AFP.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said the deadly crackdown by Bahraini forces on protesters was the “first concrete result” of US President Donald Trump “cozying up to despots” in Saudi Arabia.

– ‘A blank cheque’ for repression 

In a meeting with Bahrain’s King Hamad in Saudi Arabia at the weekend, Trump made a clear break from previous US policy.

The US leader told the king on Sunday it was “a great honour to be with you” and said there “has been a little strain but there won’t be strain with this administration.”

The Britain-based Bahrain Institute for Rights and Democracy (BIRD) said Trump had “effectively (given) King Hamad a blank cheque to continue the repression of his people.”

It said the US had “blood on its hands” for supplying arms to Bahrain despite what it called an “intensified repressive campaign on civil society in Bahrain.”

An activist said one protester was killed. Bahrain’s Interior Ministry said on Twitter Tuesday that the operation targeting Diraz was to “maintain security and public order.” (AP Photo)

The kingdom has been rocked by unrest since 2011, when local authorities backed by a Saudi military force crushed Shiite-led protests demanding a constitutional monarchy and an elected prime minister.

Earlier Tuesday, BIRD had announced one death as the police moved to disperse the long-running protest.

Amnesty International identified that protester as Mohamed Zayn al-Deen, 39, and said he had died of birdshot wounds to the head.

The human rights watchdog called for an independent investigation into the security forces’ use of “excessive force” against protesters it said were mostly peaceful.

– Stripped of citizenship –

Bahrain police arrested 50 “fugitives,” including prison escapees “convicted over terrorism” charges, the Nahrain interior ministry said earlier.

Several members of the security forces were injured, it added.

The Bahrain authorities have accused Qassim, sentenced Sunday to a suspended one-year jail term for illegal fundraising and money laundering, of serving “foreign interests” and promoting “sectarianism and violence.”

A court last year stripped him of his citizenship, sparking repeated sit-ins outside his residence in Diraz.

Bahraini authorities have also accused Iran of fomenting unrest in the kingdom, ruled for more than two centuries by the Sunni Al-Khalifa dynasty. Tehran has denied any involvement.

The government’s clampdown on dissent has drawn harsh condemnation from international rights groups and governments.

Pictures posted on Twitter by opposition groups showed demonstrations that purportedly broke out in nearby Shiite villages protesting the crackdown in Diraz.

– Rights concerns –

The tiny Gulf state is a key regional ally of the United States and is home to its Fifth Fleet, but the administration of former president Barack Obama frequently scolded Manama over rights concerns.

Manama has imprisoned dozens of Shiites accused of taking part in demonstrations and stripped at least 316 Bahrainis of their nationality since 2012, according to Amnesty.

BIRD says Manama has escalated its repression since mid-2016.

An Iraqi Shiite cleric holds a picture of top Bahraini Shiite cleric Isa Qassim during a demonstration in front of the Bahraini consulate in Najaf on May 24, 2017 in solidarity with the Bahraini Shiite opposition and with the leading cleric. (AFP Photo)

A court last year ordered the dissolution of the kingdom’s main opposition group Al-Wefaq after authorities accused it of “harbouring terrorism.”

An 18-year-old Bahraini died in March, nearly two months after he was shot in the head fleeing a raid on Qassim’s house, Amnesty said.

Bahrain’s parliament in March voted unanimously to grant military courts the right to try civilians charged with any act of “terrorism.”

Rights activists fear Qassim could be among the first to face court-martial.

‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Top Shia Cleric

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE CHRISTIAN POST)

‘Iraqi Christians Are Infidels Who Must Be Killed or Converted,’ Says Shia Cleric

 

May 21, 2017 | 10:17 AM

About 200 Christian families in Iraq have filed a lawsuit against the head of the country’s Shia Endowment for inciting sectarian violence against the Christian minority by saying in a video that Christians should be converted to Islam or killed.

(Photo: REUTERS/Suhaib Salem)Iraqis attend the first Palm Sunday procession in the burnt out main church of the Christian city of Qaraqosh since Iraqi forces retook it from Islamic States militants, Iraq April 9, 2017.

“Either they convert to Islam, or else they are killed or they pay the jizya [a tax on non-Muslims],” said Sheikh Alaa Al-Mousawi, who heads the government body which maintains all of Iraq’s Shia holy sites, in a sermon, according to a YouTube video uploaded by Middle East Monitor.

Declaring Christians to be “infidels and polytheists,” Al-Mousawi called for “jihad” against them. “Jews and Christians” must be fought and killed if they do not accept Islam, he went on to say.

The cleric is being compared to the Islamic State terror group, which is also known as IS, ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, which had asked Christians in Iraq’s northern provinces in 2014 to covert, flee or be killed. As a result of that warning, about 100,000 Christians had to flee at the time.

Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby recently met with Iraqi Christians during a visit to Jordan.

“People are divided from their children and families and have no idea what will happen. One woman has children in both Germany and the Netherlands, but has been refused entry to both so she doesn’t know when or if they will ever be reunited,” Welby said. “Young men are vulnerable to being recruited to extremist causes because their community and networks have been stripped away.”

Since 2003, as many as 1.5 million Christians, or close to 75 percent of all followers of Christ in Iraq, have fled the country, according to Josef Sleve, an Iraqi Christian lawmaker.

“The number of Christians living in the country now stands at between 500,000 and 850,000,” Sleve told Anadolu Agency earlier this month. “This means that over the past 14 years, some 1.5 million Christians have emigrated to other countries.”

IS has said it wants to wipe out Christians, and has beheaded, executed, tortured and enslaved thousands of people within its captured territory, which extends into Syria and other regions.

However, some Christians are now returning to their homes on the Plains of Nineveh in Iraq, and three major church groups have come together to rebuild more than 12,000 houses that were destroyed or damaged. The Syriac Catholic Church, the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Chaldean Catholic Church have formed the Nineveh Reconstruction Committee to plan and supervise the rebuilding of the houses.

Security forces backed by a U.S.-led international coalition last year took back several cities in Iraq from IS and liberated eastern Mosul in December. They are now trying to liberate the western parts of the city.

In an interview with Fox News earlier this year, Canon Andrew White, an Anglican priest known as the “vicar of Baghdad,” said the “time has come where it is over, no Christians will be left. Some say Christians should stay to maintain the historical presence, but it has become very difficult. The future for the community is very limited.”

He added, “If there is anything I can tell Americans it is that your fellow brothers and sisters are suffering, they are desperate for help. And it is not just a matter of praying for peace. They need a lot — food, resources, clothes, everything. They need everything.”

Read more at http://www.christianpost.com/news/iraqi-christians-infidels-killed-converted-shia-cleric-mousawi

 

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