US Says Palestinian Unity Cabinet Must Recognize Israel, Hamas Snaps Back

US President Donald Trump’s special representative for international negotiations said Thursday that an emerging Palestinian unity government must recognize Israel and disarm Hamas movement.

Jason Greenblatt, who has repeatedly visited the region to seek ways to restart peace talks, laid out a series of conditions in Washington’s first detailed response to the landmark reconciliation deal signed between Hamas and Fatah last week. 

“Any Palestinian government must unambiguously and explicitly commit to nonviolence, recognize the state of Israel, accept previous agreements and obligations between the parties -– including to disarm terrorists — and commit to peaceful negotiations,” Greenblatt said in a statement.

“If Hamas is to play any role in a Palestinian government, it must accept these basic requirements,” he added.

But his statement drew an immediate retort from Hamas.

Bassem Naim, an official from the movement, rejected the comments as “blatant interference” in Palestinian affairs, but did not say directly whether the group planned to comply with any of the demands.

Naim accused the US of adopting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s positions.

“This is blatant interference in Palestinian affairs because it is the right of our people to choose its government according to their supreme strategic interests,” Naim told AFP.

“This statement comes under pressure from the extreme right-wing Netanyahu government and is in line with the Netanyahu statement from two days ago.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah movement signed a reconciliation deal with Hamas in Cairo a week ago aimed at ending a bitter 10-year split.

Under the deal, the Palestinian Authority – currently dominated by Fatah – is due to resume control of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip by December 1.

Talks are also expected on forming a unity government, with another meeting between the various Palestinian political factions scheduled for November 21.

A major sticking point is expected to be Hamas’ refusal to disarm its 25,000-strong armed wing.

43 Dead in Taliban Attack on Afghan Army Base

The Taliban have carried out two suicide car bombings at an army base in Afghanistan’s southern Kandahar province, setting of several hours of fighting and killing at least 43 soldiers, the defense ministry and an Afghan official said Thursday.

“A group of insurgents attacked an army base in Chashmo area of Maiwand district in Kandahar province,” the defense ministry said in a statement, adding nine soldiers were wounded and six are unaccounted for.

Khalid Pashtun, a member of parliament from the province, also provided the same toll from the attack, which began late Wednesday.

The Taliban claimed the attack in a media statement.

Afghan forces have struggled to combat a resurgent Taliban since the US and NATO forces formally concluded their combat mission at the end of 2014. They have also suffered shocking casualties over the past year.

Elsewhere in Afghanistan, a Taliban ambush in the northern Balkh province late Wednesday killed six police, according to Shir Jan Durani, spokesman for the provincial police chief.

Meanwhile, the death toll from two suicide and gun attacks on Afghan security forces in southeast Afghanistan has risen to 80 with nearly 300 wounded, officials said Wednesday.

Saudi Flynas Makes First Commercial Flight to Baghdad Since 1990

Saudi Arabia’s budget airliner flynas announced on Wednesday making the first commercial flight from Riyadh to Baghdad since 1990, as ties with neighboring Iraq improved over the last period.

National flag carrier Saudia, also known as Saudi Arabian Airlines, is also scheduled to operate a flight to Baghdad from Thursday.

“Our first flight took off today from Riyadh to Baghdad,” Flynas wrote on Twitter, posting pictures of the cabin crew and passengers.

According to AFP, Tickets for the maiden flight were advertised for as low as $7 (six euros) excluding taxes as flynas CEO Bandar al-Muhanna said the move to reopen the route would help “link the two sisterly countries”.

Flights between Iraq and Saudi Arabia were suspended some 27 years ago in August 1990 after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into neighboring Kuwait.

After years of tense relations, ties between Saudi Arabia and Iraq have begun looking up in recent months.

Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir headed to Baghdad in February for talks with Iraqi Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi on the first visit of its kind since 2003.

Abadi then visited Riyadh in June, followed the next month by influential Iraqi Shiite cleric Moqtada Sadr, who led a militia that fought against the US occupation of Iraq.

Private carrier flynas, in which Saudi billionaire Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal holds a 34-percent stake, plans to expand its routes from Saudi airports to major cities across Iraq.

PIF Establishes New Energy Service Company ‘Super Esco’

Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) has announced the establishment of a new energy service company, Super Esco, designed to increase energy efficiency across government and public buildings and stimulate the growth of the Kingdom’s energy efficiency industry in line with the objectives of Vision 2030 to diversify the economy and drive environmental sustainability.

In partnership with the Ministry of Energy, Industry and Mineral Resources, the Ministry of Finance, and the Saudi Energy Efficiency Center, Super Esco will provide new investment opportunities by creating partnerships with the private sector to deliver projects.

Projects in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s energy efficiency sector have an estimated value of SAR 42 billion, or around SAR 3 billion annually. Internationally, the sector is valued at SAR 130 billion, with projects in the US, Europe, and China accounting for 90 percent of the global market share.

Super Esco has been established with a capitalization of SAR 1.9 billion. The company will fund and manage the retrofit of government and public buildings, which represent over 70 percent of overall projects in the sector.

These projects will help reduce government spending on the electricity sector, which will in turn reduce natural resource consumption while rationalizing capital investments in expansion projects for the production, generation, transmission, and distribution of electricity.

OIC Pledges $750,000 to Assist Development Projects in Member States

The Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) had approved $ 750,000 worth of financial aid in September 2017 for implementing social, economic, educational, cultural and health projects in a number of OIC member countries, reported the Saudi Press Agency on Wednesday.

The Secretary General of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen clarified that this aid is part of the implementation of the decisions of Islamic Solidarity Fund Permanent Council at its 60th and 61st sessions which expresses the need to meet the needs of beneficiaries in Member countries.

According SPA, Al-Othaimeen pointed out that this aid comes in the context of the organization’s interest, to achieve the human development and raise up the level of Muslims abilities in the world.

The OIC is the second largest inter-governmental organization after the United Nations with a membership of 57 states spread over four continents. The Organization is the collective voice of the Muslim world. It endeavors to safeguard and protect the interests of the Muslim world in the spirit of promoting international peace and harmony among various people of the world.

Member States of the OIC face many challenges in the 21st century and to address those challenges, the Third Extraordinary Session of the Islamic Summit held in Makkah in December 2005, laid down the blue print called the Ten-Year Program of Action. It successfully concluded with the close of 2015. A successor program for the next decade (2016-2025) has since then been adopted.

Iraqi Military: Kurdish Peshmerga Return to June 2014 Line

Iraq

A senior Iraqi military commander announced on Wednesday that Kurdish Peshmerga fighters have retreated to territories they had controlled in June 2014 before ISIS swept through northern and western Iraq.

They returned to the June 2014 line after turning over their positions in the Nineveh province to Iraqi government forces, he told Reuters.

“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who asked not to be identified. There was no immediate comment from the Kurdish side.

Iraqi forces declared that they had achieved their objective in pushing back Kurds from territories they had seized in their three-year war against ISIS.

Their lightning operation saw them sweep through disputed Kurdish-held territory in a punishing riposte to an independence vote last month.

“Security has been restored in sectors of Kirkuk, including Dibis, Al-Multaqa, and the Khabbaz and Bai Hassan North and South oil fields,” the federal government’s Joint Operations Command said.

“Forces have been redeployed and have retaken control of Khanaqin and Jalawla in Diyala province, as well as Makhmur, Bashiqa, Mosul dam, Sinjar and other areas in the Nineveh plains,” it added.

The Kurds have now once again returned to their three-province semi-autonomous region in the north.

Meanwhile, Iraqi forces announced that they had completed “imposing security” in Kirkuk during the 48-hour military operations.

The Iraqi advance dealt a body blow to the Kurdish region’s finances by depriving it of the output from the Kirkuk oil fields which had made up much of its exports.

Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi ordered the recapture of Kirkuk and all other disputed areas claimed by both the Kurdistan Regional Government and the central authorities in Baghdad in response to the September 25 referendum.

The Kurds voted overwhelmingly to secede from Iraq. The referendum was rejected by Iraq, Turkey, Iran and the US.

Deaths and Injuries in Attacks on Pakistan Police

A car bomb attack struck a Pakistani security force truck in the restive southwestern city of Quetta during the morning rush hour on Wednesday, killing at least six people. In a separate attack in Quetta, a police officer was gunned down by assailants riding on a motorcycle, authorities said.

The car bombing took place in the Saryab Road area of Quetta, the provincial capital of Baluchistan. Abdur Razzaq Cheema, the police chief in Quetta, said 24 people were also wounded, several critically.

A probe was launched to determine whether it was a suicide bombing or whether the explosives-laden vehicle was detonated remotely when the truck, which was carrying police recruits, was passing by, he said.

The death toll could rise, he added.

Television broadcast pictures of the burned-out wreckage of the vehicle.

Home Minister for Baluchistan Sarfaraz Bugti, who visited the site of explosion, said such attacks would not bring down the morale of the security forces.

“We are at war and our security forces are being targeted as they are crushing the enemies,” Bugti said.

“We will continue the war against these terrorists and we will defeat them.”

In the drive-by shooting, two men on a motorcycle shot and killed police inspector Abdus Salam as he was on his way to work. Cheema, the police chief, said the gunmen fired multiple shots on him before fleeing.

No group immediately claimed responsibility for the two attacks.

Baluchistan has been the scene of a low-level insurgency by Baluch separatist groups demanding a greater share of the province’s resources but militant groups also operate in the region.

Xi Pledges ‘New Era’ for China, Vows to Counter Taiwan Independence Drive

Xi

President Xi Jinping made a pledge on Wednesday to transform China into a modern socialist country, vowing to counter challenges, ranging from corruption, climate change and Taiwan’s separatist drive.

During the opening of the twice-a-decade Communist Party Congress, he painted a vision of a “new era” that will be proudly Chinese, steadfastly ruled by the party but open to the world.

“Through a long period of hard work, socialism with Chinese characteristics has entered a new era, this is a new historical direction in our country’s development,” Xi said, using the term “new era” 36 times.

In his nearly three-and-a-half hours speech, Xi envisioned China developing into a “basically” modernized socialist country by 2035, becoming one of the world’s most innovative countries with the income gap between urban and rural residents significantly reduced, and its environmental woes fundamentally eliminated.

By 2050, Xi said, China would become a modern socialist “strong power” with leading influence on the world stage.

But he signaled there would be no political reforms.

The Communist Party Congress is a week-long, mostly closed-door conclave that will culminate with the selection of a new Politburo Standing Committee that will rule China’s 1.4 billion people for the next five years, with Xi expected to consolidate his grasp on power.

He addressed more than 2,000 delegates in Beijing’s cavernous Great Hall of the People, including 91-year-old former President Jiang Zemin, under tight security on a rainy, smoggy morning.

China’s political system was the broadest, most genuine, and most effective way to safeguard the fundamental interests of the people, said Xi, who has overseen a sweeping crackdown on civil society, locking up rights lawyers and dissidents.

“We should not just mechanically copy the political systems of other countries,” he said. “We must unwaveringly uphold and improve party leadership and make the party still stronger.”

Xi praised the party’s successes, particularly his high-profile anti-graft campaign, which has seen more than a million officials punished and dozens of former senior officials jailed, and warned the campaign would never end as corruption was the “gravest threat” the party faces.

“We must remain as firm as a rock in our resolve to build on the overwhelming momentum and secure a sweeping victory,” Xi said.

On Taiwan’s separatist drive, he stressed that Beijing has the will and power to thwart any attempts at independence.

Beijing claims Taiwan as its own.

Xi warned that China has “the resolve, the confidence, and the ability to defeat separatist attempts for Taiwan independence in any form”.

“We will never allow anyone, any organization, or any political party, at any time or in any form, to separate any part of Chinese territory from China,” he said.

Taiwan’s mainland affairs council called the Communist Party congress’ comments “regrettable”, saying “China cannot win over the people” through its “one China” policy.

Ties between Taiwan and China have turned increasingly frosty since the election of Tsai Ing-wen as president last year.

Beijing cut off official communication with her government shortly after it took office due to her refusal to publicly accept the “one China” concept.

The two sides split after a civil war in 1949, and while Taiwan sees itself as a sovereign nation, it has never formally declared independence.

Xi made no mention of independence movements in China’s semi-autonomous city Hong Kong.

Beijing has tightened control over the city’s affairs in response to high-profile calls for democracy that have increasingly turned to calls for self-determination or even full independence.

On the economic front, Xi said China would relax market access for foreign investment, expand access to its services sector and deepen market-oriented reform of its exchange rate and financial system, while at the same time strengthening state firms, he said.

As expected, the speech was heavy on aspiration and short on specific measures, but during Xi’s first term, China disappointed many expecting it to usher in more market-oriented reforms.

Xi promised, in what was likely an indirect reference to US President Donald Trump’s “America first” policy, that China would be fully engaged with the world, and reiterated pledges to tackle climate change.

Raqqa: From Ancient Capital to ISIS Stronghold

Raqqa

London – Raqqa was liberated on Tuesday from the grasp of the ISIS terrorist group that had turned the ancient city into its stronghold and a symbol of its atrocities.

The city has been inhabited for hundreds of years, and its peak, it enjoyed a golden age under the early Islamic empire of the Abbasids.

In 722, Caliph al-Mansour ordered the construction of the city of al-Rafiqa, which lies near Raqqa. The two cities eventually were merged into one.

In 796, the powerful caliph Haroun al-Rashid transferred his capital there from Baghdad because of its strategic location at a crossroads between Byzantium, Damascus and Iraq. It sits 90 kilometers (55 miles) south of the Turkish border and about halfway between Syria’s second city Aleppo and the Iraqi frontier.

He ordered major works and Raqqa was soon dotted with grand palaces and mosques.

Although the caliph’s court returned to Baghdad in 809, Raqqa remained a major administrative center for the western part of the empire.

But in 1258, the city was largely destroyed by the Mongol invasion.

Before the Syrian civil war, Raqqa prospered from agriculture in the fertile valley and benefited from nearby hydroelectric dams generating power for much of the country.

On March 4, 2013, two years after Syria’s war broke out, Raqqa was the first provincial capital to fall to rebels. The seized control of the military intelligence headquarters, one of the most notorious regime detention centers in the entire province, said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. They also destroyed a statue of late leader Hafez al-Assad, the father of the current regime head, Bashar.

Clashes however soon erupted in 2014 between ISIS and opposition fighters, including the al-Nusra Front. They culminated in ISIS seizing complete control of Raqqa in January of that same year.

In June 2014, ISIS declared its infamous “caliphate” across swathes of Syria and Iraq.

In August 2014, ISIS enjoyed complete control of Raqqa province after seized the Tabaqa airport from the regime. It then went on to impose its laws in Raqqa through intimidation and terror. It resorted to mass executions, beheadings, rape, ethnic cleansing and stoning to impose its extremist ideology on others.

Raqqa has long been coveted by multiple parties to the Syrian conflict, including the regime, Russia, Turkey and the US-led coalition set up in 2014 to tackle IS.

On November 5, 2016, the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) launched a major offensive dubbed “Wrath of the Euphrates” to seize the city.

As the SDF closed in on the city, thousands of Raqa residents were smuggled out to territory captured by the US-backed force.

After taking swathes of the surrounding province, including the key town of Tabqa and the adjacent dam, the SDF sealed off the approaches to Raqqa from the north, east and west.

In early July, SDF forces penetrated the heavily fortified heart of the city for the first time but continued to face tough resistance from the extremists.

On September 1, the SDF successfully captured the entire historic district, bringing it closer than ever to ISIS’ bastion’s well-defended and densely populated heart.

By late September, they had taken control of 90 percent of the city, cornering the extremists in Raqqa’s stadium, a few surrounding buildings and a major hospital.

On October 17, an SDF spokesman told AFP that the group’s fighters had “taken full control of Raqqa” from ISIS.

Seven Miners Killed in Coal Mine Collapse in Southeastern Turkey

At least even miners were killed and another was missing after part of a coal mine in Turkey’s southeastern province of Sirnak collapsed on Tuesday, government spokesman Bekir Bozdag said.

Reuters cited Turkey’s energy ministry as saying that the coal mine was unlicensed and had been operating illegally.

“The activities of the mining field in Sirnak where the accident took place were stopped by the General Directorate of Mining Affairs in 2013 because it carried operational and security risks,” the energy ministry said.

Workplace accidents are not unusual in Turkey. Its rapid growth over the past decade has seen a construction boom and a scramble to meet soaring energy and commodities demand, with worker safety standards often failing to keep pace.

More than 3,000 people have been killed in mining accidents across Turkey since 1941, mostly due to fires, landslide or explosions.

A report from 2010 stated that the number of deaths in mine accidents in Turkey outnumbers those in the world’s biggest coal producers, the Unites States and China, in terms of fatalities per ton.

Its worst ever mining disaster took place in May 2014 in the western town of Soma, where 301 workers were killed.