Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE WASHINGTON POST)

Palestinians welcome Trump’s talk of peace but offer lessons in two-state demands

President Trump discussed how to fight terrorism and improve international relations during a speech alongside Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on May 23 in Bethlehem. (The Washington Post)
May 23 at 9:40 AM
President Trump told Israelis and Palestinians on Tuesday that he knows they are eager to reach a peace agreement with each other and that he is committed to helping them “make a deal.”In a speech at the Israel Museum as he prepared to end his four-day trip to the Middle East and depart for his next stop in Rome, Trump repeated his call for Arab countries and Israel to form a grand coalition with the United States to “drive out the terrorists and the extremists from our midst” and “defend our citizens and the people of the world.”

“This trip is focused on that goal,” he said.

Trump recognized that Israeli-Palestinian peace is a key component of cooperation in the region, although he has not outlined how he hopes to achieve an agreement that has eluded many presidents before him.

Trump on Middle East peace deal: ‘We’re going to get there eventually, I hope’
Speaking in Jerusalem, May 22, President Trump lauded Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s “commitment to pursuing the peace process.” (The Washington Post)

In some respects, his effusive praise for Israel during his two days here — which also included a Tuesday morning visit to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, in the Israeli-occupied West Bank — appeared to endorse Israeli claims to a united capital in Jerusalem.

Noting that Jerusalem is a “sacred city,” and that “the ties of the Jewish people to this holy land are ancient and eternal,” Trump recalled his Monday visits to the Western Wall and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, sites sacred to Jews and Christians in East Jerusalem, part of the West Bank, and claimed by Palestinians as the capital of their envisioned state.

To sustained applause, Trump cited the “unbreakable bond” between the United States and Israel, a place he called “a testament to the unbreakable spirit of the Jewish people.” He spoke of “a future where Jewish, Christian and Muslim children can grow up together in peace.”

“America’s security partnership with Israel is stronger than ever,” he said. “Under my administration, you see the difference. Big, big beautiful difference, including the Iron Dome missile defense program . . . [and] David’s Sling,” an aircraft interception system. The former was established here under the Obama administration, the latter under President George W. Bush.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Trump, who introduced him and praised “the leadership that you bring,” condemned Monday night’s terrorist attack in Britain, claimed by the Islamic State.

But in describing the authors of global terrorism, Trump focused nearly all his attention on Iran and the anti-Israel organizations it supports, Hezbollah and Hamas. Iran’s leaders, he said, “routinely call for Israel’s destruction. Not with Donald J. Trump,” he said. “Believe me.”

Key moments from Trump’s news conference with Netanyahu
Here is President Trump’s May 22 joint news conference in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in less than two minutes. (The Washington Post)

“The United States is firmly committed to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and halting their support of terrorism and militias,” Trump said to sustained applause as Netanyahu stood and pumped his fist.

The audience included U.S. and Israeli officials, as well as prominent citizens from both. Las Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who donated millions of dollars to support Trump’s campaign and then his inauguration, were seated just behind the stage, near first lady Melania Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Before his speech, Trump and his delegation visited the World Holocaust Remembrance Center at Yad Vashem, where he said the Jewish people had built the state of Israel out of the “depths of suffering” as “a testament to [their] unbreakable spirit.”

Earlier, he had traveled to Bethlehem for a private meeting with Abbas to discuss the peace process and his vision for anti-terrorism cooperation.

In joint remarks afterward, Abbas said he welcomed Trump’s efforts, which had “given all the nations across the region so much hope and optimism of the possibility of making a dream come true.”

“Our commitment is to cooperate with you in order to make peace and forge a historic peace deal with the Israelis,” Abbas added.

But while Trump spoke in generalities about the goal, Abbas laid out the specifics of Palestinian demands — which have been supported by the Arabs and rejected by Israel through decades of unsuccessful peace negotiations shepherded by American presidents.

“We reassert to you our positions of a two-state solution along the borders of 1967, a state of Palestine with its capital in East Jerusalem, living alongside of Israel,” he said, referring to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank following a war against three Arab armies.

During the presidential campaign, Trump pledged to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, but the plan has been shelved, at least temporarily.

Abbas said he had also drawn Trump’s attention to more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel who have been on a hunger strike for over a month, led by Marwan Barghouti, whom supporters call the Palestinian Nelson Mandela.

Abbas delivered to Trump a letter from the families of the strikers, who have demanded more family visits, access to telephones, medical care, the freedom to study and cessation of isolation as a punishment.

Israel and some U.S. lawmakers have objected to American aid to the Palestinians, claiming the money is used to make payments to the families of prisoners, who are considered “freedom fighters” among many Palestinians. Trump did not mention the aid or the payments in his public remarks.

Abbas also spoke of Palestinian insistence that all “final status issues” be resolved “based on international law” and United Nations resolutions, as well as the Arab Peace Initiative first offered more than a decade ago. It promised Arab recognition of Israel in exchange for a Palestinian state.

Escorted by Israeli police and helicopters, Trump and his delegation sped down Hebron Road and found themselves, just minutes from their Jerusalem hotel, at the gates of Bethlehem in the West Bank.

The closeness of Bethlehem — the physical proximity between Israel and the Palestinian territory — surprised most first-time visitors in the entourage.

Trump and the convoy passed through the 26-foot-tall concrete wall with watch towers that is Israel’s barrier and past “Checkpoint 300,” where thousands of Palestinian workers cross into Israel each morning to reach their jobs on construction sites.

Trump has cited the Israeli barrier as an example of the kind of wall he wants to build between the United States and Mexico, but many Palestinians view it as a symbol of oppression.

Bethlehem is lively and crowded, home to Palestinian Muslims and Christians and the Church of the Nativity, the Byzantine-era sacred site built over the grotto where the faithful believe Jesus was born.

The city is also surrounded by hilltop Jewish settlements on three sides, built in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, communities that most of the world considers illegal, though Israel disputes this.

Later, Trump told his museum audience that after his meeting with Abbas, “I can tell you the Palestinians are ready to reach for peace … I know you’ve heard it before. I’m telling you, they are ready to reach for peace.

“My good friend Benjamin [Netanyahu], he wants peace.” Both sides, he said, “will face tough decisions. But with determination and compromise … Israelis and Palestinians can make a deal.”

There was no applause from the audience.

Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this article.

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

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

Saudi Arabia

Leaders Begin Arriving in Riyadh for Arab-Islamic-US Summit

The leaders and heads of delegations of Arab and Islamic countries began arriving in Riyadh on Saturday to attend the Arab-Islamic-US summit that will be held in the Saudi capital the next day during US President Donald Trump’s visit.

Trump and the Arab and Muslim leaders will meet on Sunday to address ways of building more robust and effective security partnerships to counter and prevent the growing threat of terrorism and violent extremism around the globe through promoting tolerance and moderation.

Among those who arrived were Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, President Adama Barrow of Gambia, President Roch Marc Christian Kabore of Burkina Faso, the head of the Libyan National Accord, Fayez al-Sarraj, President Alpha Conde of Guinea, President Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, President Alassane Ouattara of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire, Prime Minister Najib Razak of Malaysia, Omani Deputy Prime Minister Fahd bin Mahmud Al Said, President David Arthur Granger of the Cooperative Republic of Guyana, President Patrice Talon of the Republic of Benin, President Macky Sall of the Republic of Senegal, Suriname’s Foreign Minister Yildiz Pollack, and President Emomali Rahmon of Tajikistan.

Trump and First Lady Melania arrived in Riyadh earlier Saturday. The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques welcomed the US president at the King Khalid International Airport.

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat English

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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Is President Trump Bluffing Again? Or, Does He Actually Know Something?

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

Opinion

If Trump has a Strategy on Israeli-Palestinian Peace, it’s Remaining a Secret

If President Trump has a real strategy to make progress on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, it’s such a tightly held secret that even the parties involved don’t seem to know what it is. When Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visits the White House this week, that mystery will be on full display.

“I want to see peace with Israel and the Palestinians,” Trump said last week. “There is no reason there’s not peace between Israel and the Palestinians — none whatsoever.”

Setting aside the patent absurdity of that statement, what’s clear is that the White House is willing to devote time and attention to new Middle East negotiations and the president wants to be personally involved.

The problem is there’s a glaring gap between Trump’s high-flying rhetoric and his still-unexplained strategy. As the Abbas visit approaches, there’s no clarity in sight.

Last week, a high-level Palestinian delegation led by chief negotiator Saeb Erekat traveled to Washington to prepare for the visit. The group met with Trump’s envoy on Middle East peace, Jason Greenblatt, as well as with White House and State Department officials.

Both sides are keeping expectations for the Trump-Abbas meeting low. Palestinian officials tell me the Trump team doesn’t seem to know exactly what Trump wants to discuss or propose. White House staff declined to say anything at all about their goals for the meeting. Some experts think that’s because there’s no depth to Trump’s approach.

“How you deal with Abbas is directly related to a broader strategy, which unless they haven’t announced it, they simply don’t have,” said former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller. “It’s hard to see that this is going to turn out to be much more than a stage visit.”

In truth, there really isn’t much Trump and Abbas can agree to. There’s little hope that Abbas will give Trump what the US side wants, namely a promise to address the issue of incitement in the Palestinian territories or a pledge to curb the Palestinian Liberation Organization’s policy of paying families of terrorists who have attacked Israelis and Americans.

Likewise, there’s no prospect that Trump will deliver what Abbas wants — a commitment to press the Israelis into a freeze of settlement-building that would meet Palestinian standards. The United States has secured an informal agreement with the government of Benjamin Netanyahu to place some limits on building new settlements, a version of the “build up, not out” framework from the George W. Bush administration. But that falls short of what Abbas says is needed before negotiations can begin.

The meeting could be significant by itself, if Trump and Abbas can establish a personal rapport to build on in the future. But therein also lies a risk.

“The president has never met Abbas and that makes it an important meeting,” said former White House and State Department official Elliott Abrams. “But if he forms the opinion that Abbas is not strong enough to do a deal and then implement it, that will have a real impact on American policy.”

Sure to be present at the meeting is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, who is overseeing Greenblatt’s work. Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, will reportedly join Donald Trump for a trip to Israel in late May.

Administration officials sometimes talk about an “outside-in” approach whereby a framework for peace negotiations would be arranged with Arab states and then folded into the Israeli-Palestinian dynamic. Details of that plan are hazy, and the Trump team has yet to explain how it plans to incentivize Arab states to buy in.

Martin Indyk, who served as President Barack Obama’s special envoy on this issue, said Trump’s approach of trying to find avenues to pursue is positive but cannot overcome the inability of Israeli and Palestinian leaders to make the political compromises necessary for real progress.

“Based on experience, there’s one principle that I operate on. By American willpower alone, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict cannot be resolved,” he said.

There are things the Trump team can do constructively, including bolstering Abbas by promoting economic development in the West Bank, Indyk said. Making small progress on the margins could improve the chances for peace down the line.

But by going for headlines, not trend lines, Trump is raising expectations and putting his administration’s already-thin credibility at risk. There can be dangerous consequences in the Middle East when high-stakes diplomacy fails. The new administration would be better off recognizing that peace is not in the offing.

The Washington Post

History Made in South Africa as #NationalDayofPrayer Draws Over a Million Believers

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SOUTH AFRICAN CHRISTIAN NEWS AGENCY)

History Made in SA as #NationalDayofPrayer Draws Over a Million Believers

IT’S TIME!!!

A crowd of over a million believers from across the country made their way to Free State on Saturday for the National Day of Prayer, organized by Evangelist Angus Buchan.  People from all walks of life were gathered at the Wilde Als farm just outside Bloemfontein for what has been dubbed as the biggest prayer meeting in the history of South Africa.

The multiracial crowd united to pray for justice, peace and hope in South Africa. Buchan began by teaching on prayer, citing the passage about Jesus praying at the Garden of Gethsemane before going to the cross. He also reminded the crowd of the words spoken by Moses before God parted the Red Sea to make way for the Israelites.

“Today, we are witnessing history.  History is in the making today. This gathering is a prayer meeting, it is not a gospel concert. It is not even an evangelistic outreach, it is a prayer meeting.  We are going to pray together and as individuals,” the evangelist added.

The Shalom Ministries Founder told the crowd his vision to host the event was born after he received a video from a Christian leader to get believers together in one place and pray to God to heal the land. However, it was only after God gave him confirmation that he heeded to the call. The words given to him by the Almighty, regarding the event, were simple: “It’s Time” and “One Million”.

“We say there is no other God save Jesus Christ and Him alone.  We will not serve any other God save the Lord Jesus Christ.  Please forgive us for compromising our nation, our family and our future.  From today onwards, we promise to stand up for truth and righteousness at all costs,” said Buchan, leading the crowd of a million in prayer.

Political leaders including Kenneth Meshoe, leader of the ACDP and Mmusi Maimane, leader of the DA, also attended in their personal capacity.

Before descending the stage, Buchan said that he was waiting for a day when Parliament will be opened with prayer every morning.

“Through prayer, this country will change in one day.  We want to see love and peace prevail in the new government,” he concluded.

www.thechristiannews.co.za

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

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

Middle East

Sadr Delegation Holds Talks with Kurdistan Leadership

Sadr

Headed by Ahmed al-Sadr, son of the movement’s leader Moqtada, the delegation was welcomed in Irbil by President Masoud al-Barzani.

The president’s media officer Kifah Mahmoud told Asharq Al-Awsat that the two sides discussed the political situation in Iraq and the ongoing war against ISIS in the city of Mosul.

They also tackled the post-ISIS phase, especially in Iraq, he revealed.

The Sadr delegation said that they are making preparations for the upcoming elections, he said.

Meanwhile, Kirkuk governor Najm Eddine Karim announced that Baghdad is not offering any aid to the city.

He told reporters during a celebration in honor of Kurdish journalism: “There are over half a million refugees in Kirkuk, including 30,000 families that have fled al-Huweija district.”

“This is posing a major burden on the city and the residents are sharing medicine, water, electricity and other services with these refugees. Their patience will not last long,” he warned.

He therefore demanded that Baghdad work on allowing the displaced to return to the liberated areas “as soon as possible.”

“The delay in liberating al-Huweija does not serve Kirkuk or Iraq,” Karim said.

He said that Baghdad’s aid to refugees in Kirkuk is so slim that it is bordering on nonexistent, urging the Iraqi government and Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi to seriously address Kirkuk’s demands.

“Everyone in Baghdad and anywhere else should know that the residents of Kirkuk will not accept this attitude,” he warned.

There Is A Video War Being Played Out In Kashmir

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HINDUSTAN TIMES)

Video vs Video: The other war playing out in Kashmir

INDIA Updated: Apr 17, 2017 07:39 IST

Toufiq Rashid, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Kashmir unrest

Protesters clash with police and paramilitary soldiers during a protest after Friday prayers in Srinagar.(Waseem Andrabi/HT Photo)

A grainy short video shot with a cellphone shows Wali Mohammed Bhat, a supporter of the ruling People’s Democratic Party (PDP), apologising profusely and shouting anti-India slogans at gunpoint.The petrified Kashmiri man is heard saying he has long quit all political activities.

In another similar video, a group of security men are seen pinning a youth in a red vest to the ground. His hands are tied behind his back, and the men are beating his legs with sticks.

He screams: “Paani … maafi (water… mercy).”

Read more

The two clips were uploaded on social media on Sunday and quickly became the most shared, watched and commented items online in militancy-riddled Jammu and Kashmir as well as the rest of India.

These are from a long line of videos showing the two stark realities of Kashmir — alleged atrocities of a hardnosed establishment trying to bulldoze the insurgency, and the threats, brickbats and stones that people on the non-separatist side of the political divide face in the Valley.

This is Unacceptable ! Cant do this to our CRPF jawaans .This rot has to stop. Badtameezi ki hadd hai.

The troubled region’s pro- and anti-separatist battle is fought through videos — a quick-reaction psychological weapon that is exploding on social networks more often lately, especially after the protest-blighted by-elections to the Srinagar parliamentary seat on April 9.

At least eight people died in the unrest and hundreds were wounded as security forces fired at and caned crowds that tried to disrupt the bypoll in response to a separatist call to boycott the democratic process.

The video of an armed CRPF trooper being kicked and booed by a group of youth when he was returning from bypoll duty with his colleagues became a nationwide television debate.

Another Socking & Outrageous Video from occupied . Indian Brutality & oppression on its peak

The men in uniform do nothing to the hecklers. They walk on. Their action is peddled on the loop in national television as an epitome of restraint shown by the armed forces.

Read more

The tide turns on April 13 as another explosive clip surfaced. It shows security forces firing at a group, mostly children, throwing stones. The soldiers are seen moving behind a wall, bending, locating the position of the stone-throwers, and firing at a boy. Netizens called it targeted killing.

A day later, a video showed a Kashmiri youth tied to the bonnet of a military jeep as a human shield against stone-throwers. The background audio warns people that “this will be the fate of stone-pelters”.

Here’s the video as well. A warning can be heard saying stone pelters will meet this fate. This requires an urgent inquiry & follow up NOW!!

The video was supposedly shot in Budgam district on April 9 during the bypoll.

Another clip emerged, showing Kashmiri youth protecting a security man who allegedly fell behind from the rest of his troop.

It rained videos last Saturday. One of them shows a child screaming his lungs out as four men in army fatigues beat him mercilessly with sticks. Another one has three Kashmiri youth shouting “Pakistan Murdabad”, allegedly at the behest of a security man, half-visible in the video.

Hindustan Times could not authenticate where and when these videos were shot. But these are having an effect.

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

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

Opinion

5 Things We’re About to Learn About Syria, Putin and Trump

As a result of the US airstrikes against the Syrian regime forces last week, we are all about to learn a great deal. It is, surely, too soon to know precisely what impact the strikes ordered by President Donald Trump will have on the regime and where the Syrian civil war is heading. This is largely because key players including the head of the Syrian regime, Bashar al-Assad, Russia, Iran and the Syrian opposition — not to mention the US — are still plotting their next moves.

But it seems certain that the events of the coming weeks will help answer five crucial questions about the civil war and the various actors that are now struggling to shape the outcome of that conflict.

First, how much of a gambler is Vladimir Putin? The Russian president has gained a reputation over the past three years as a shrewd risk-taker, able to outmaneuver his opponents with the well-timed coup de main.

Now, the Trump administration has demonstrated that it is willing to use force against Putin’s ally in Damascus, and that it is prepared to risk significantly higher tensions with Moscow. During the Barack Obama presidency, in other words, Putin confronted a US that was predictably — if perhaps understandably — prudent. Now he faces a president whose risk calculus is far harder to discern.

So how will Putin respond? Will he double down on support for Assad — perhaps by helping the Syrian regime harass or target US aircraft — in hopes that he can still out-escalate the Americans? Or will he seek to reduce tensions — perhaps by shoving Assad toward renewed negotiations with the opposition — in hopes of avoiding a sharper showdown with Washington?

Second, how crafty is Assad? The Syrian leader was once seen as the mild-mannered ophthalmologist and a would-be reformer; now he is perhaps the greatest butcher of the young 21st century. Yet brutality aside, Assad’s strategic acumen has so far remained difficult to discern. He has proven a far more skillful survivor than nearly anyone would have predicted in 2011, but his heavy-handedness also helped turn what were at first peaceful protests into a zero-sum civil war; and he has now managed, through ghastly chemical attacks, to turn the initially friendly Trump administration against his remaining in power. So is Assad a shrewd if morally abhorrent statesman, or simply another dictator who substitutes savagery for strategy?

What he does next will tell us a great deal. If Assad confines himself to a symbolic and non-escalatory response, if he desists from using chemical weapons, if he at least feigns a willingness to negotiate with the opposition, he may be able to escape the noose once again — and perhaps even return to the less spectacular forms of murder that the international community has proven willing to tolerate for more than six years. If, however, he lashes out, whether by continuing to use chemical weapons or by seeking to extract revenge on the US, he may succeed in eliciting the decisive international intervention the has so far managed to avoid.

The answers to these first two questions will also bear heavily on the answer to a third: How slippery is the slope? The Obama administration’s go-to argument against military intervention was always that the options that could be executed at a tolerable cost were unlikely to alter the trajectory of the civil war in any meaningful way — and that a first step was thus likely to lead inexorably to pressures to take a second step and then a third.

Proponents of military intervention, in contrast, argued that a bold but limited American stroke could dramatically shift the psychology of the conflict and put Assad and his patrons on the defensive. No second or third step would be necessary, this argument went, because the first step — if executed with sufficient skill and resolve — would be sufficient.

We are about to find out which thesis is correct. Perhaps even the very limited American intervention undertaken to date will force Russia to rethink its support for Assad, or force Assad to accept that he cannot use the only weapons — his chemical arsenal — that might allow him to reconquer remaining rebel-held territories. Perhaps Trump’s limited engagement will thereby create a new strategic equilibrium more favorable to an acceptable political settlement or some other tolerable outcome.

Alternatively, perhaps the psychological impact of the strikes will be equivalent to their military impact — which is to say, not much. Perhaps the strikes will even cause Russia and Iran to redouble their own efforts to checkmate US intervention. In that case, Trump would soon be confronted with the question of whether to double down or risk looking the paper tiger, and the slope may come to seem slippery indeed. The first scenario would make Obama’s caution from 2011 through 2016 look excessive in retrospect; the latter would make it seem fairly wise after all.

These questions, in turn, relate to a fourth key issue: Is a negotiated settlement even possible? Over the past six years, myriad diplomatic and political processes have been launched in hopes of bringing about an end to the civil war. Every single one has failed. In the weeks preceding Assad’s latest chemical weapons attack, it did seem that the conflict was perhaps reaching a new equilibrium, with the regime largely having consolidated control over the western spine of the country, and various opposition forces controlling their own chunks of territory in other areas. But with Assad still determined — at least rhetorically — to retake the entire country, and with many opposition groups still vehemently opposed to his remaining in power, the prospects for turning that equilibrium into a sustainable settlement remain uncertain at best.

The question now is whether the strategic shock of US strike can create a new diplomatic context in which the parties — particularly the regime — are more amenable to compromise. Or, alternatively, will the aims of Assad and the opposition — not to mention the outside parties supporting them — remain so divergent and intractable that no negotiated settlement is possible?

Finally, as these issues come into sharper focus, we will also learn more about a fifth crucial question: Is the Trump administration capable of effective strategy?

Crises can be clarifying moments. They can cast new light on the contours of an ongoing conflict; they can lay bare the characteristics — and competence — of the parties involved. The Syria crisis is the acid test of the Trump administration: We are about to find out whether the president and his advisers can make the grade. Given the outsized role that the US plays not just in Syria but around the world, this may well be the most important question that the Syria crisis will help us answer.

Bloomberg View

Iraqi Christians Return To Ransacked Town With Fear And Hope

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF REUTERS)

Iraqi Christians return to ransacked town with fear and hope

A damaged statue of Jesus Christ is seen inside a church in the town of Qaraqosh, south of Mosul, Iraq, April 11, 2017. REUTERS/Marko Djurica SEARCH
By Ulf Laessing | QARAQOSH, IRAQ

With Islamic State expelled, Iraqi Christians are trickling back to the ransacked town of Qaraqosh, beset by anxiety for their security and yet hopeful they can live in friendship with Muslims of all persuasions.

The town, about 20 km (12 miles) from the battlefront with Islamic State in the northern city of Mosul, shows why Christians have mixed feelings about the future of their ancient community.

In the desecrated churches of Qaraqosh, Christians are busy removing graffiti daubed by the Sunni Muslim militants during two and a half years of control – only for new slogans to have appeared, scrawled by Shi’ite members of the Iraqi forces fighting street to street with the jihadists in Mosul.

But nearby a shopkeeper is doing a brisk trade selling Dutch beer, Greek ouzo and several whisky brands to Christians, Sunnis, Shi’ites and Kurds alike, with this kind of commerce perhaps offering a glimpse of how Iraq’s fractured communities could again live together peacefully.

Encouraged by security checkpoints and patrols by a volunteer force, up to 10 Christian families have returned to what used to be the minority’s biggest community in Iraq until Islamic State seized it in 2014.

Iraqi forces pushed the group out of Qaraqosh in October, part of a six-month offensive to retake Mosul. But residents are worried that the Shi’ite slogans signal a new kind of sectarian division.

“Oh Hussein” is daubed in red on the wall of a church torched earlier by Islamic State, praising the hero of Shi’ite Muslims who was martyred 1,300 years ago.

“We are afraid of this, of tensions,” said Girgis Youssif, a church worker. “We want to live in peace and demand security,” said Youssif, who returned after fleeing to Erbil, about 60 km away in Iraqi Kurdistan.

Shi’ites in the Iraqi government forces and paramilitary groups, mostly from further south in the country, have scribbled such slogans on buildings all over Mosul too.

Soldiers have also hoisted the flag of Ali in the city and on their on military vehicles. Shi’ites regard Ali, the son-in-law of the Prophet Mohammed, and the prophet’s grandson Hussein as his true successors.

Two Shi’ite flags also fly over Qaraqosh.

Most Sunnis, who are the dominant community in Mosul, have shrugged off the Shi’ite slogans as the work of a handful of religious zealots but Christians take them as a signal that their future remains uncertain.

“Of course we are afraid of such signs,” said Matti Yashou Hatti, a photographer who still lives in Erbil with his family. “We need international protection.”

Those families who have returned to Qaraqosh – once home to 50,000 people – are trying to revive Christian life dating back two millennia. However, most stay only two or three days at a time to refurbish their looted and burnt homes.

“We want to come back but there is no water and power,” said Mazam Nesin, a Christian who works for a volunteer force based in Qaraqosh but has left his family behind in Erbil.

By contrast, displaced Muslims have been flocking back to markets in eastern Mosul since Islamic State’s ejection from that part of the city, despite the battle raging in the Old City across the Tigris river which is the militants’ last stronghold.

ALCOHOL SHOP

Numbers of Christians in Iraq have fallen from 1.5 million to a few hundred thousand since the violence which followed the 2003 toppling of Saddam Hussein. Many Baghdad residents who could not afford to go abroad went to Qaraqosh and other northern towns where security used to be better than in the capital, rocked by sectarian warfare after the U.S.-led invasion.

But with the arrival of Islamic State, residents abandoned their homes with some applying for asylum in Europe. Germany alone took in 130,000 Iraqis, among them many Christians, in 2015 and 2016. But most ended up in Erbil with relatives or in homes paid for by aid agencies.

Supermarkets and restaurants remain closed in Qaraqosh, with windows smashed and burnt furniture strewn across floors.

One of the few businesses to have reopened is Steve Ibrahim’s alcohol shop in the town center; in the absence of cafes it has become a meeting point for local people. “Business has been good so far. Everybody comes here to stock up,” said Ibrahim, who has just reopened the store with his father.

They lost everything when Islamic State, known by its enemies as Daesh, wrecked their business. Now they have invested about $400 to refurbish the shop – new tiles shine on the walls – and customers are coming from beyond the town and from across the communities.

“I sell drinks to Christians and Muslims alike,” he said. “Many people come from Mosul or other towns.”

Many of Ibrahim’s customers ignore Islam’s forbidding of alcohol consumption. While he was talking, a Sunni Muslim from eastern Mosul drove up to buy a bottle of whisky and four cans of beer, packed in a black plastic bag to hide his purchase from the eyes of more religiously observant Muslims.

“You couldn’t drink during Daesh. I am glad this shop is open again,” said the man who gave his name only as Mohammed, shaking hands with Christians enjoying an afternoon beer. “I still only drink at home.”

Later a Shi’ite from a village south of Mosul arrived to pick up drinks. “I come here twice a week. It’s the only shop in the area,” he said, asking not to be named, before driving off.

Even Ibrahim comes every day from Erbil, bringing by car supplies and fuel for the generator to power the fridges filled with cold beer. Then he drives back at night.

Whether more Christians can live permanently in Qaraqosh depends on whether the security forces win their trust.

Army and police have tried to ease fears by stationing soldiers in front of churches, and even helping Christian volunteers to set up a massive cross at the town’s entrance.

On Palm Sunday last weekend, soldiers escorted a procession in preparation for Easter, Christianity’s most important festival, and provided chairs for worshippers during Mass.

Some Christian policemen joined in, singing “Hallelujah” with civilians. But walking along rows of burnt out homes and supermarkets, others were still afraid.

“The security measures are not sufficient,” said Hatti, the photographer. “We want security to surround the town.”

(Click here, reut.rs/2ordbfj for a Photo essay on this story)

(Editing by David Stamp)

Chinese Media Keeps Up It’s Angry Tirade Toward India Because Of Dalai Lama’s Visit

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF YAHOO NEWS AND IANS (INDO ASIAN NEWS SERVICE))

Chinese media keeps up angry tirade on Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit

Indo Asian News Service

Beijing, April 6 (IANS) The Chinese media on Thursday kept up its tirade against India over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, with an editorial in a state-run daily suggesting that if China, with its higher military capabilities and support among India’s neighbours, wants it can create trouble in Jammu and Kashmir.

In an editorial, titled ‘India’s use of Dalai Lama card tactless’, the Global Times says: “With a GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, if China engages in a geopolitical game with India, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”

It said that China considers India as a friendly neighbour and partner and has “never provoked” bilateral disputes or made any “pressing demand” on India over the Dalai Lama. “New Delhi should respond to Beijing’s goodwill with goodwill.”

The editorial comes a day after Beijing summoned the Indian envoy Vijay Gokhale to protest the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, large parts of which China considers disputed and part of south Tibet. India has maintained that Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of its territory. The protests come as the Dalai Lama is in Arunachal Pradesh and is on way to Tawang for a major Buddhist event.

The editorial says that while the Dalai Lama has been to Arunachal Pradesh before, what makes this trip different is that he is “received by and accompanied by India’s Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju. When China raised the concern over the visit, Rijiju commented that China shouldn’t intervene in their “internal affairs.”

The editorial is mistaken on this point, as Rijiju, who belongs to Arunachal Pradesh, was not in Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday and did not receive the Dalai Lama or accompany him. Rijiju is set to accompany the Tibetan leader during his visit to Tawang. The Dalai Lama was received by Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu on Tuesday, who is accompanying him on his road journey.

The daily says, in faulty English, that on the one hand New Delhi takes a stance that it opposes the Dalai Lama engaging in anti-China activities on the soil of India, but “it has long attempted to use the Dalai Lama as a card”.

“When India emphasizes the relationship with China, it would place a tight control on the Dalai. When it has a grudge against China, it may prompt the Dalai to play certain tricks as a signal sent to China,” it goes on to say.

It suggested that India is using the Dalai Lama as a “diplomatic tool” to put pressure on Beijing on the NSG and Masood Azhar issues, but it termed it “a clumsy and rude move”.

The editorial said that since the Tibetan leader is a highly politicised symbol in China’s diplomacy, a country’s attitude toward him almost affects the entire relationship with Beijing.

“The West has fully recognised the nature of the Dalai Lama as a diplomatic card and is extremely prudent in using it.

It said that earlier the Dalai Lama was received by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in December. “At a time when the Dalai Lama has been given a cold shoulder in many places of the world, New Delhi is bucking the trend and treating him as a favourite.”

The editorial warned that “New Delhi probably overestimates its leverage in the bilateral ties with China”.

“The two countries in recent years have continuously strived to improve their relationship and the peace on the border area has been maintained. India has benefited from the good momentum of bilateral relationship as much as China. If New Delhi ruins the Sino-India ties and the two countries turn into open rivals, can India afford the consequence?”

On Wednesday too, the Global Times in a belligerent editorial had said that New Delhi’s inviting the Tibetan spiritual leader to the “sensitive region” would “gravely damage” India-China relations.

It said that Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi “unlike his predecessors” was taking a different stance on the Dalai Lama issue by “raising public engagements with the monk and challenging Beijing’s bottom line” on Arunachal Pradesh.

–IANS

ksk/rn/vm

Spanish minister tells UK to ‘not lose temper’ over Gibraltar

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

Spanish minister tells UK to ‘not lose temper’ over Gibraltar

Story highlights

  • EU officials suggested Gibraltar could be part of Brexit trade talks
  • Lord Howard compared Prime Minister Theresa May to Thatcher

(CNN) Spain’s foreign minister has called on British politicians not to lose their temper after a Brexit-fueled dispute over a tiny outcrop of land escalated into talk of war.

Less than a week after Britain triggered the formal process of leaving the European Union, London and Madrid were at loggerheads over Gibraltar, a British-controlled rocky headland on the southern tip of Spain.
The EU’s draft negotiating document on Brexit, published on Friday, suggested that Gibraltar could only be part of any future trade deal if Spain gave its approval.
That prompted fury in Britain: On Sunday, Lord Michael Howard, a former leader of the governing Conservative Party, even suggested that the UK might go to war over the dispute.
Gibraltar — a three-mile long headland with a population of 32,000 people — is a British Overseas Territory whose residents remain fiercely loyal to Britain but whose sovereignty is claimed by Spain.
To the surprise of Downing Street, the territorial tangle made its way into the draft Brexit negotiating position published by European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday.
“After the United Kingdom leaves the Union, no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without the agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom,” the guidelines said.
In an interview on Sunday, Howard to urged a strong response, drawing a parallel with the Falkland Islands in the southern Atlantic, over which Britain and Argentina went to war for 10 weeks in 1982 under the government of Margaret Thatcher.
“I do think it is a remarkable coincidence that 35 years ago this week, that another woman Prime Minister sent a taskforce half way across the world to protect another small group of British people against another Spanish speaking country,” Howard told Sky News.
Howard said May should “show the same resolve in looking after the interests of Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher did looking after the interests of the Falkland Islanders.”

Spain ‘surprised’ by war talk

Spain called for cool heads on Monday. Speaking in Madrid, the Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, said the Spanish government was “surprised” by the tone of the comments. “Frankly, it seems to me that someone in the United Kingdom is losing their temper,” he said.
Dastis noted that Howard had not explicitly said Britain should go to war with Spain, but said that bringing up the Falklands conflict was “a little out of context.”
May called called Fabian Picardo, the chief minister of Gibraltar, on Sunday morning, Downing Street said, and told him that the UK was “steadfastly committed” to the territory.
British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Brexit would bring no changes to the status of Gibraltar.
“I think the position of the government is very, very clear, which is that the sovereignty of Gibraltar is unchanged, and it’s not going to change and cannot conceivably change without the express support and consent of the people of Gibraltar and the United Kingdom, and that is not going to change,” he said.

Rocky territory

Gibraltar, dominated by the 426-meter-high Rock of Gibraltar, is classified as a British Overseas Territory but it is mostly self-governing with a chief minister as its head. Britain provides some services, such as security, to the territory.
The UK has held sovereignty over Gibraltar for more than 300 years after it was captured from Spain in the Spanish War of Succession in 1704. Spain has recognized British rule under international law and in several treaties. Successive Spanish governments have raised talk of reunification since the 1960s, but in 2002, residents of Gibraltar rejected a proposal to share the territory between the UK and Spain in a referendum.
But residents also voted overwhelmingly to stay in the European Union in last year’s Brexit vote, with 96% voting to remain in the union.

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