Armed Group Threatens to Blow Up Pipeline that Transmits Libya’s Gas to Italy

Tripoli – A Libyan armed group has threatened to blow up the pipeline that transmits gas to Italy within 72 hours, according to the German news agency.

The group, which said it was following officer Ali Kanna, issued Wednesday a videotape next to a gas transmission pipeline from the Libyan south to the industrial Mellitah Complex, which pumps Libyan gas to Italy via the Mediterranean.

It threatened to blow up the gas pipeline within 72 hours if Al-Mabrouk Ehnish, who was arrested by the Special Deterrence Force (SDF), which works under the umbrella of the Government of National Accord (GNA), early this week.

The group showed its ability to shut down or blow up any of the oil and gas transmission pipelines from the oil-rich south of Libya, and it took photos of one of the pipelines with all its meters and shutter valves and released these photos for the government to see them.

On October 16, an armed group dressed in military uniforms has threatened to cut off the water supply to Tripoli from the man-made river water wells in the south if Ehnish was not released.

“If he was not released, we will burn down the man-made river water system, close Tripoli-Sabha road and gas pipelines,” the group, loyal to former dictator Muammar Gaddafi, threatened from inside the control room of the man-made river system in Hasawna.

Notably, Ehnish is one of the leaders of the so-called “Popular Front for Liberation of Libya” that is headed by Gaddafi’s henchmen who live abroad.

Kurds Suspend Elections, Withdraw to “Pre-ISIS” Borders

Members of Iraqi federal forces are seen in Dibis area on the outskirts of Kirkuk

Erbil, Baghdad, London– Kurdish Peshmerga forces retreated to positions they had held in northern Iraq in June 2014 in response to an Iraqi army advance into the region after a Kurdish independence referendum, a senior Iraqi commander said on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, the Kurdish regional electoral commission halted on Wednesday preparations for the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled to be held on November 1 due to the current crisis in Kirkuk province and lack of candidates.

In a statement released, the regional Independent High Electoral and Referendum Commission (IHERC) said it decided to suspend the preparations for the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections due to the recent violence in Kirkuk and other disputed territories.

An Iraqi military statement said government forces had taken control of Kurdish-held areas of Nineveh province, including Mosul and the hydro-electric dam.

On Monday, Iraqi forces recaptured the major oil city of Kirkuk to the south shortly after the Peshmerga abandoned it.

Reuters pointed out that Bashiqa residents celebrated in the streets the retreat of Peshmerga and their replacement by Iraqi Troops.

Backed by the US, Peshmerga forces drove ISIS out of the area and gained control over several areas outside of official and semi-independent border of Kurdistan, including Kirkuk which Kurds demand to include as part of their sovereignty.

Peshmerga had advanced into Nineveh and the Kirkuk region over the past three years as part of the war against ISIS militants, filling a void left by a temporary collapse of the Iraqi army in the face of an ISIS onslaught.

“As of today we reversed the clock back to 2014,” the Iraqi army commander, who spoke on condition of animosity, told Reuters.

DW Germany news agency reported Iraqi sources saying that clashes erupted between the Iraqi army and Peshmerga forces near Mahmoudiyyah town, northwest of Mosul.

Sources told the agency that an army unit arrived in the town without any prior coordination with Peshmerga which led to the clashes, but commander of west Nineveh operations Lieutenant Karim Shweili arrived in the area and contained the situation.

Meanwhile, Rudaw agency posted a video that has been widely shared on social media showing a young man jumping on a vehicle of the Iraqi police force in Kirkuk. Although the vehicle was moving, the young man was able to take the Iraqi flag down.

The young man was part of a group of people who protested Iraqi forces’ presence.

In addition, a video circulated on social media showing a member of Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF) standing before photos of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei hung on the wall of the Kirkuk governorate’s building. The video angered Kirkuk civilians who refused such actions.

The fighter said that PMF have now taken over the shelters of Peshmerga.

“We reclaimed Kirkuk. Are you not ashamed? Where are the men? Did you not say “we are men coming from Erbil and Sulaimani to preserve Kirkuk and Kirkuk is ours”? Where are you?,” he said.

He also confirmed: “I am now in Kirkuk. We are now inside the governorate’s building.”

PMF and Iraqi forces controlled Kirkuk and nearby areas after Peshmerga forces retreated from it. Commander of Tigris operations Maj-Gen Ali Fadil Amraa told DW that security work within Kirkuk is restricted to local police.

DW also reported a security source saying the Directorate of National Security in Kirkuk had apprehended several persons who claimed they belonged to PMF, searching houses in the city, after which security forces and police toured the Kurdish areas to assures civilians.

Streets between Kirkuk and Erbil were crowded with Kurdish residents who continued to flee Kirkuk, fearing abuse or arrests. Large numbers have headed towards Sulaimania.

Kurdish member of Iraqi parliament Renas Jano believes that the incidents in Kirkuk aim at targeting the strong position of Kurdistan.

Jano told Asharq al-Awsat newspaper that Iran entered Kirkuk aiming to weaken Peshmerga capabilities to an extent they can’t do anything in the post-ISIS era.

He explained that real changes will happen after ISIS has been terminated, and stated that after the decision of US concerning the nuclear deal, Iran is trying to fully control Iraq. He believes Tehran wants to do so for two reasons: compensate the financial losses of wars in Syria and Yemen through Iraqi oil, and overcome human losses it suffered during the war in Syria by employing other forces in Iraq like the PMF.

Jano considered the incidents occurring in Kirkuk a genocide against its civilians.

Meanwhile, head of Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) in Kirkuk Aso Mamand announced that he was informed by the Iraqi forces that the city council would convene on Thursday to select a new governor.

He told reporters on Wednesday that some PMF fighters have stormed Kurdish houses, but described the situation as generally “calm.”

In addition, Vice president of Kurdistan and deputy leader of PUK Kosart Rasul Ali warned in a statement that what is happening is another Anfal against Kurds, in reference to a similar campaign they suffered in Baghdad during the residency of late President Saddam Hussein.

“Some apostates abandoned the PUK’s doctrine without returning to our party’s leadership and became the invaders’ assistant to obtain some personal, temporary gains. With this disgusting act, they are slipping themselves into the black pages of the history of our nation, humiliated,” he added.

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.

Arab League Calls for Protecting Arab Heritage amid Rising Regional Chaos

Cairo – Arab League Chief Ahmed Aboul Gheit called for the protection of Arab heritage in light of the chaos ravaging the region, stressing that “Al-Aqsa Mosque is purely related to Islamic and Arab heritage in accordance with the decision of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).”

The “Arab Document Day” plays a vital role in advocating the historical rights of the Palestinian people and shedding light on the theft, forgery, and distortion the Palestinian heritage is subjected to, added the chief.

Arab Document Day is an annual celebration held to highlight the status of the Arab document that keeps in its records Arab national rights.

This year’s theme was “The Palestinian Cause: 100 Years of Balfour Declaration and 50 Years of the Israeli Occupation.”

A large number of officials, Arab culture and heritage academics partake in the event.

Aboul Gheit explained that preserving the Palestinian identity and its documents is to preserve the Arab identity from attempts to distort it, to blur its features and to falsify historical facts.

The Arab League Chief referred to the importance of the achievement of Palestinian reconciliation in terms of strengthening the Palestinian position both internally and in dealing with the outside world.

He also called on parties to end the division which long affected the Palestinian cause over the last decade, and worked to the Israeli occupation’s best interest.

Addressing the ceremony, Aboul Gheit called for maximizing efforts to protect Arab cultural heritage from destruction, plunder, and theft which increased over the recent years during internal wars and conflicts in some Arab countries.

“The current Arab situation; suffering conflicts and wars, led to an unprecedented state of instability, division, and chaos experienced by some of the Arab countries–These disputes have resulted in extremist terrorist organizations igniting sectarianism,” criticized Aboul Gheit.

“Terrorist and extremist groups have destroyed valuable human heritage in countries experiencing wars,” he said.

He also urged collectively working to develop a model Arab law to protect heritage and cultural archives from degradation and loss—in addition to establishing legal frameworks to protect them from exploitation.

Saudi National Society for Human Rights Decries Qatar’s Recent Actions

Riyadh, Geneva- Saudi Arabia’s National Society for Human Rights has denounced a move by Qatari authorities to freeze the assets of Sheikh Abdullah Bin Ali Al-Thani and Sheikh Sultan Bin Suhaim and violating their private property.

It pointed out that the right of ownership of those persons, who have a view contrary to the policy of the Qatari Government, should be respected, and stressed the importance of ensuring the rights of those who worked for them and not to harm them, and to ensure their continued contact with their families.

It added that punitive measures involving human rights violations against persons or those working for them because of their political positions in the Qatari crisis contravene with international human rights instruments.

In a related context, the Arab Federation for Human Rights demanded the UN to intervene urgently to rescue the peaceful political opposition in Qatar from the oppression of Qatari authorities. The federation expressed concerns and sorrow for the continuous suppression that has been practiced by the authorities since June 5, following the Arab boycott of Qatar.

The federation, headquartered in Geneva, denounced the Qatari security storming of Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim Al-Thani Palace in Doha and freezing his assets as well as confiscating his personal and family possessions.

Sahar Al-Sheikh, the supervisor of Sheikh Sultan bin Suhaim Al-Thani’s palace, revealed her last moments in Qatar and how Qatari security deported her from Doha after beating her, threatening her with death and assassination in her country Sudan.

Sheikh spoke about the fear and enforced disappearances among workers in Qatar, stressing that what she witnessed in Doha at the hands of security officials confirmed to her that Qatari authorities sponsor terrorism, as she experienced it firsthand from Qatari security.

She added that she had received a phone call from Sheikh Sultan, who asked to talk to his sons. Later, she was surprised by a convoy of security vehicles storming the building where she lived. After being lured outside by a woman who said there was a message from Sheikh Sultan that must be received, she was arrested and deported.

All telephone conversations in Qatar were monitored by the state security apparatus, according to Sheikh.

Saudi Arabia to Establish a Leadership, National Sustainable Development Center

Saudi

Riyadh – Saudi Arabia announced plans to establishing a center for leadership, discipline and building up national sustainable capacities. The news came in light of launching a committee for digital transformation, in hopes of investing comprehensive strategy and international exchange of expertise in the Kingdom’s future.

Digital transformation is the core strategy of Saudi Vision 2030, with Saudi companies increasingly adapting themselves to be part of the vision program.

Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman sponsored the 2nd International Conference on C4I Solutions on Wednesday in hopes of boosting this trend.

These systems combine a variety of technologies including: command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, sensors, Internet of Things (IoT), remote control and autonomous systems that decision-makers rely upon to supply and process accurate analytical data, as well as collect and display information in the most timely, context-appropriate and format-suitable manner, using smart technologies and state-of-the-art sensors.

This is not to mention their vital role in connected battlespace management and in monitoring and protecting critical infrastructures.

The concept of leadership and control requires the availability of human resources, advanced infrastructure, ability and efficiency in carrying out missions, said Chief of General Staff of Royal Saudi Armed Forces General Abdul Rahman bin Saleh al-Bunyan.

Gen. Al-Bunyan said that investment in command and control is no longer an option as much as it is a national demand, requiring radical changes across many levels.

Gen. Al-Bunyan believes that this approach will contribute to keeping up with the latest standards, such as moving from C4I to C5 and integrating combat operations into a modern system.

He noted the importance of the 2nd International Conference on C4I Solutions in keeping track with rapid developments in this field, which the Defense Ministry has dedicated efforts to through its fruitful cooperation with King Saud University, benefiting from modern technologies.

The conference is set to shed light on the role of command and control centers in combating conventional and unconventional terrorism, and their alliances relying on advanced integration systems for complex operations and command, control, communications, cyber security (C4I). In addition, the conference will address all aspects of C4I in military as well as civilian arenas.

The chairman of the conference’s organizing committee, Dr. Abdullah bin Sharaf Al-Ghamdi, announced that the conference was held under the theme of “coalition against terrorism”, for the importance of this issue at the present time, and the pivotal role played by Saudi Arabia in confronting terrorism and extremism in the region and the world.

“Command and control systems are now the vital nerve of the armed forces in confronting terrorism, both through field operations and technical confrontation through cyberspace,” he said.

The conference’s panels and working papers by international experts discuss the importance of strengthening international alliances, achieving integration in the armed forces’ command and control systems and providing them with proactive capabilities to monitor and respond to terrorist operations in its various shapes and locations.

“The conference focuses on transferring technology knowledge and the localization of specialized expertise in command and control systems as one of its main themes, in line with the Saudi 2030 vision,” Dr. Al-Ghamdi added.

The conference targeted major industrial and financial sectors, which are also vulnerable to terrorist assaults through hacking attacks on their information systems which pose a direct threat to the highest interests of the countries.

This is in addition to strengthening the partnership between the various relevant sectors, especially security and defense, with research centers specialized in command and control systems, aiming to move towards a new and more secure generation of cybersecurity, communication, command and control systems.

The conference brought together more than 700 participants including senior military officers from Saudi Armed Forces as well as from other armed forces members of the International Alliance against Terrorism.

Iran Announces Strengthening Military Cooperation with Damascus

Damascus, London – Iran’s Chief of Staff for Iran’s Armed Forces Mohammad Bagheri announced drawing a new policy to boost military cooperation between his country and the Syrian regime.

In a joint press conference held in Damascus on Wednesday with his Syrian counterpart Ali Ayoub, Bagheri said: “I am in the Syrian capital to coordinate and cooperate in order to fight our common enemies — whether they are the Zionists or the terrorists. We discussed ways to strengthen relations in the future and outlined the basic principles of this cooperation.”

Tehran would not tolerate violations of Syrian sovereignty by Israel, Bagheri stressed, vowing that the two countries would jointly fight against Syria’s enemies.

Bagheri added that Kurdistan Region President Masoud Barzani “has made a serious mistake after carrying out the referendum in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, as he took steps to achieve an imaginary independence that may drag the region to future confrontations.”

For his part, Lt. Gen. Ayoub said: “We held plenary talks which included a comprehensive assessment of all the current developments, and we discussed in details the relations binding our armies and the mutual desire to enhance these relations.”

He affirmed that the Takfiri terrorist project “will end and the war against terrorism will continue till eliminating it completely and restoring security and stability to all the territories of the Syrian Arab Republic.”

Ayoub accused the United States of trying to impede the progress of the army in its operations to combat terrorism through groups that have been forced to obey terrorist organizations such as ISIS and others to attack the Syrian regime army.

He also considered the entry of Turkish forces into Idlib violates what was agreed upon in Astana, and “we have all the rights to respond to this attack,” Ayoub said.

UN Envoy to Submit to Hadi New Initiative for Crisis Resolution

UN Secretary-General Special Envoy Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed speaks to media after the Yemen peace talks in Switzerland in Bern

Jeddah – UN Envoy for Yemen Ismail Ould Cheikh Ahmed is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on Saturday to meet with Yemeni President Abd Rabbu Mansour Hadi and ministers in the Yemeni government, to present highlights of his new initiative for a political solution in the war-torn country.

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdul Malek al-Mekhlafi told Asharq al-Awsat that during the upcoming meetings, the government would only listen to Ould Cheikh’s ideas then agree on the next measures to be taken. He noted that the government had not received any details about the new initiative.

He also said that the UN envoy would meet during his visit to Saudi Arabia with the ambassadors of the permanent members of the Security Council, and would hold another round of meetings with the Saudi side, noting that talks would focus on the new ideas for the solution in Yemen.

Yemeni sources said that optimism of Yemeni political leaders and the public opinion with the ability of the United Nations to reach a solution to the crisis is gradually diminishing in light of the failure of many previous initiatives and proposals, the latest of which was putting the port of Hodeidah under UN administration and lifting the siege on Taiz.

The UN envoy’s visit to Saudi Arabia comes two weeks after the UN issued its annual report on the situation of children in armed conflicts, in which it accused the Saudi-led coalition of breaching children’s rights in Yemen.

The report was met with a wave of international condemnation for containing inaccurate information and figures, which were based on unreliable sources. This issue will also be tackled during Hadi’s meeting with Ould Cheikh Ahmed.

Top Yemeni Official Escapes an Armed Ambush

Yemen

Aden – Yemeni Deputy Premier and Minister of Civil Service Abdulaziz Jubari and his accompanying delegation survived an armed ambush in Tur al-Bahah district of Lahij governorate on their way back from Taiz where they spent two weeks.

A few days ago, Prime Minister Ahmed Obeid bin Dagher’s convoy was ambushed as well in the same area. Al-Sabiha tribes residing in the area denounced this act and apologized to the Prime Minister.

Meanwhile, legitimate government consolidated its presence in several liberated and semi-liberated areas, especially in providing services, salaries and solving other issues.

Observers believed that these incidents may be linked to the insurgents who are trying to create chaos in the liberated districts.

Yemeni political observer Baleegh al-Mekhlafi told Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that recent measures taken by the governmental envoy in Taiz had inconvenienced these forces and people of personal agendas and that is why there had been several attempts against Jubari.

In latest field developments, a number of Saleh and Houthi militants were killed during army military operations backed by the popular resistance in al-Baydaa district in the center of Yemen.

Tribal sources informed Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that intense clashes erupted between the army backed by the resistance and militias in az-Zahir district, following a failed infiltrating attempt.

Army commander, Sheikh Ali Taher stated that the military operations of the resistance resulted in the death and injury of several militants.

Taher explained to Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper that the army and popular resistance are rearranging and reorganizing troops in areas within their control. He added that the areas witnessed several clashes between the army and the militias who are trying to advance and infiltrate into Al Hmyqan sites, however, they are met with fierce resistance.

Taher also stated that every now and then, Houthis raid on residential areas and civilians.

In Hajjah district, on border with Saudi Arabia, Saudi-led coalition intensified its air raids on militias sites and clusters in Harad.

Local residents told Asharq Al-Awsat that the coalition launched about 15 air raids over several areas in Bani Haddad, al-Mazrak, and center of Harad.

Sources reported that the national army thwarted militias infiltrations towards several areas in Midi city and forced the attackers to retreat after several militants were killed and injured.

Also, National Army forces raided on several militia clusters in al-Akda area of Usaylan district in Shabwah governorate, south Yemen.

Military sources reported that the raids came few hours after a fire exchange between both sides in al-Khaydar area.

Foreign ISIS Fighters Captured, Turned over to Western Countries in Raqqa

Raqqa- Syria’s Kurdish-Arab rebels fighting under the banner of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) announced on Wednesday initiating combing operations to clear Raqqa from ISIS members.

A number of foreign militants captured in the former ISIS stronghold have already been handed to Western countries, said SDF sources.

Despite the US-backed SDF claiming full control over Raqqa, the fate of dozens of foreign ISIS fighters who were known to be located in the area remains unknown.

The British-based Observatory for Human Rights says that no one has spotted foreign fighters in particular, but apprehended French and Belgian militants were turned in to intelligence forces of their respective countries.  

As battles continue to drag around Syrian terrain, the latest loss suffered by regime forces was the death of Brigadier General Issam Zahreddine in Deir Ezzor.

The Republican Guard’s Zahreddine, who also commanded regime operations in Deir Ezzor, was killed in a mine explosion in the Hawija-Sakr area inside the city, according to Syrian media.

Zahreddine played a role in the progress made by the Syrian pro-regime army forces in Deir Ezzor city and the surrounding areas.

Zahreddine led army operations against the armed opposition in Homs and Aleppo, before moving to the eastern region to fight ISIS.

On the other hand, the regime launched raids against Deir Ezzor’s eastern oil field, racing SDF units for control over oil and gas fields in eastern Syria.

More so, the US is expected to lead efforts in clearing out and restoring basic public services in Raqqa after its liberation. SDF search teams have at the same time announced combing the city for “sleeper cells” hiding among civilians.

“We will assist and take, essentially, the lead in bringing back the water, electricity and all of that,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert told a briefing. “But eventually the governance of the country of Syria is something that I think all nations remain very interested in.”

“The United States and our allies have prepared for next steps and will continue to work with partners to provide humanitarian assistance to those in need and support the stabilization efforts in Raqqa and other liberated areas,” Nauert said.

Additionally, SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said preparations were underway for a formal declaration of the city’s liberation.

The SDF said Tuesday that military operations in Raqqa have ended and that their troops have taken full control of the city. The US-led coalition cautioned that the clearing operations would continue, saying some 100 militants may still be hiding in the city.