Qatar Emir Says Open to Dialogue with Arab Quartet

Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani is seen during a joint news conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Bogor

Dammam– Qatar is “open to dialogue” in resolving a dispute with the Arab quartet, its emir said during a visit to Indonesia on Wednesday. Whereas, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs claimed that the war on ISIS has been affected because of the blockade on his country.

Qatar is a base to thousands of US troops engaged in the battle against the terrorist organization, and according to the FM, the quartet wants to destabilize Qatar and their behavior shows they are not willing to reach a solution.

Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, who arrived in Indonesia on Tuesday after his visit to Malaysia, said at a joint news conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo at the presidential palace in Bogor, West Java, that the standoff is hurting all the countries involved.

“We conveyed that Qatar is ready to conduct a dialogue to solve the problem as we already know that no one will win,” the Emir told the press, reiterating: “we are all brothers and we have suffered losses due to this crisis.”

He then added that Qatar is ready to start a dialogue to reach an agreement that must be respected by all parties based on the sovereignty of the state.

Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates cut ties with Qatar on June 5 due to its support for extremist groups in the region and its close ties with Iran. They also banned Qatar Airways from using their airspace, closed off the country’s land border with Saudi Arabia and blocked its ships from using their ports.

Speaking to CNBC in an interview, Qatari Minister of Foreign Affairs Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani stated that the battle against ISIS has suffered as a result of the conflict taking place. He explained that 90 percent of the country’s supplies of food supply, medicine supply comes through the land border and those supplies part of it is going to al-Udeid base of US troops.

He added that as air space is now blocked to Qatari aircraft that offer strategic support, those planes can only now use one path, north toward Iran.

Qatari forces, part of US Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain, were ordered in June to leave the country.
“They are not allowed to fly over their skies so it’s only allowed to use one path which is toward the north, toward Iran. So this is an effect as well as our officers who were participating in the coalition activity and the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain they’ve been expelled because of this,” he explained.

The FM added that many factors in this crisis undermine global efforts in countering ISIS, including the blockade and measures the Quartet has taken against Qatar.

Saudi Arabia, Iraq Hold Military Discussions

A model of Saudi airline Flynas is on display during a ceremony to sign a deal between Airbus and Flynas in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia January 16, 2017.

Riyadh, Baghdad- Iraq’s Major General Othman al-Ghanmi, accompanied by a military delegation, headed Wednesday morning to Saudi Arabia, in response to an invitation from his Saudi counterpart Chief of Defense Gen. Abdulrahman bin Saleh Al-Banyan.

This two-day visit is the first of its kind visit since decades for such a high-rank Iraqi officer.

A statement revealed that the visit aims to discuss vital topics in the coming period via cooperation and coordination in fields of fighting terrorism and opening border facilities – it is a significant step to cement ties between the two sisterly countries, exchange intelligence information and discuss challenges facing the region’s security and safety.

In the same context, a Saudi civil airplane arrived in Baghdad International Airport on Wednesday to be the first since 27 years ago when flights were suspended between Iraq and Saudi Arabia after former Iraqi president Saddam Hussein ordered his troops into neighboring Kuwait.

Tickets for the maiden flight were advertised for as low as SAR27 ($7.2) excluding taxes as flynas CEO Bandar al-Muhanna said the move to reopen the route would help “link the two sisterly countries”.

He added: “We worked hard to see that flynas flights to the brotherly nation of Iraq are operational as quickly as possible in order to connect the two brotherly nations economically and socially after a 27-year-long break.”

Germany Suspends Training of Peshmerga

Berlin- Germany will suspend its mission training Kurdish Peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq because of the conflict between the Kurds and the Iraqi government, the German defense minister said on Wednesday.

Reuters said that Germany has been a major partner for the Iraqi Kurds. It has provided 32,000 assault rifle and machine guns, as well as other weapons valued at around 90 million euros since September 2014.

About 130 German soldiers are based in Erbil where they are providing training to the Kurdish fighters, the news agency said.

The German government, which agreed on Wednesday on three-month extension of seven other foreign assignments for its armed forces, suspended the training of the Kurdish fighters as it sought to “always ensure the unity of Iraq”.

“We had agreed last Friday with the foreign office to pause the training so no wrong signal would be sent,” Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen told reporters.

The minister said the German mission of equipping and training the Kurds for their fight against ISIS was necessary and the right thing to do.

“We haven’t forgotten how it looked like in 2014 when ISIS tried to commit genocide against the Yazidis and was around 10 km from Baghdad,” she said.

The suspension of the training is temporary and resuming it will depend on daily examination of the situation in Iraq, said the government spokesman on Wednesday.

Germany had warned Iraqi Kurds against holding what it called a “one-sided” referendum and had urged Iraqi and Kurdish officials to avoid any steps that could lead to a further escalation of the situation.

King Salman Receives Princes, Kingdom’s Mufti, Citizens

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Riyadh – Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman bin Abdulaziz received at al-Yamamah Palace princes, the Kingdom’s Grand Mufti, scholars and a group of citizens who came to greet the King.

The audience was attended by Prince Saad bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz bin Turki, Prince Faisal bin Bandar bin Abdulaziz, Governor of Riyadh region, and a number of princes.

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.

Yemeni Army Regains Control over Strategic Areas in Shabwa

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Aden – The Yemeni national army regained control over new strategic locations in Shabwa, southern Yemen, during the last 24 hours of fighting against the Houthi and Saleh militias as intense air raids by the Saudi-led coalition to support the legitimacy continued.

Army spokesman Major General Mutlaq al-Maaroufi told Asharq Al-Awsat that the army had regained control of al-Akda, Al-Abara and Abdul Rahman strongholds in Osailan after bloody clashes with the militias, hours after the gunmen took control of these areas.

The militia withdrew from these areas before the army intensified its targeting and siege, Maaroufi said.

The Saudi-led coalition warplanes mounted an attack on gatherings of militias in Osailan, resulting in many casualties.

Maaroufi said the army had a new plan to impose its control over the militia-controlled Beihan district, following the new military changes to the command of the 19th Brigade.

Local sources told Asharq Al-Awsat that Houthis are sending reinforcements for their troops in the border areas between Beihan and Osailan.

For his part, activist Ahmed al-Mus’abi told Asharq Al-Awsat that Houthi militias are carrying out mass abductions and arrests and are storming many houses in Beihan.

He said that during the past two days, the militia had kidnapped dozens of people, including children amid the continued suffocating siege on the district.

In other field developments, field sources in the northwestern Hajjah governorate said that the artillery of the joint forces continued its heavy shelling of militia positions in Hayran and Hard districts.

In the past 24 hours, the sources estimated that the forces had launched more than 90 artillery shells.

Arab coalition fighters continued their air raids on militia positions, about two kilometers from the entrance of the Midi district, amid continuing heavy overflights along the border areas.

Israel Refuses to Negotiate with Palestinian Government ‘Dependent on Hamas’

Tel-Aviv – Following long discussions and sharp disputes over the stance towards the Palestinian reconciliation agreement, the Israeli cabinet announced on Tuesday its rejection to negotiate with a Palestinian government “dependent on Hamas”, which Israel describes as “a terrorist organization that calls for the destruction” of the country.
 
The statement followed comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in which he said that his government would neither try to prevent the implementation of the Palestinian agreement, nor would it cut relations with the Authority.
 
The Israeli government stressed that Hamas should recognize Israel and renounce terrorism in accordance with the Quartet’s conditions. It also demanded the disarming of Hamas, the return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed in the recent war, and the release of two citizens held by the movement in the Gaza Strip.
 
The government added to these conditions, which Netanyahu had put forward following the signing of the reconciliation agreement last week, the necessity that the Palestinian Authority extend its full security control over the Gaza Strip, including the crossings, and prevent arms smuggling there.
 
It also called for thwarting the Hamas-terrorist network in the West Bank and cutting relations between the movement and Iran.
 
Israel’s security cabinet, which convened on Monday evening, conducted lengthy research on the reconciliation agreement, after which Netanyahu declared that Israel would neither recognize nor accept the agreement signed between Fatah and Hamas.
 
However, he said that he would “not try to prevent its implementation on the ground, and will not cut relations with the Authority.”
 
Netanyahu told his ministers that should the reconciliation agreement be implemented and PA officials return to the civil administration offices in Gaza and control the border crossings, “we must work with them, because this serves the Israeli interests in preventing a humanitarian crisis and improving the living conditions of the residents of the Gaza Strip.”

Trump’s Strategy Includes Restricting Iran’s Support for ‘Hezbollah,’ Hamas

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Riyadh, London – US President Donald Trump’s strategy to neutralize Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region includes curbing its support for terrorist organizations and militants in the Middle East and Afghanistan, a US official told Asharq Al-Awsat.

Speaking on condition of anonymity, a senior official at the US State Department said that the strategy included four key elements or objectives.

He pointed out that the first strategic goal is “to neutralize the destabilizing activities by Iran, especially its support for terrorism and insurgents, with a focus on its activities in the Middle East in particular and also in Afghanistan.”

Earlier this week, Trump announced the possibility of terminating the Iranian nuclear deal once and for all, because he was “tired of achieving benefits at [his] country’s expenses”. The European Union, for its part, called on the US Congress to maintain the agreement.

Trump’s new strategy – according to the US official – includes putting an end to Iran’s subversive activities in Syria and its support for terrorism through groups such as “Hezbollah”, Hamas, the Taliban and Iraqi Shi’ite factions, noting that Tehran was seeking to fuel ethnic and sectarian strife in Iraq.

The US president said on Monday that a total termination of the Iran nuclear deal was a very real possibility.

“It might be a total termination. That’s a very real possibility,” Trump said before a Cabinet meeting.

Meanwhile, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on Tuesday welcomed European support for the nuclear deal between his country and international powers.

Rouhani said in a statement on the Iranian presidency website that the consensus on the support for the agreement, especially by the Europeans, “is an important political achievement for Iran,” according to the German news agency.

Following a closed-door meeting on Monday, EU foreign ministers appealed to the US Congress to maintain the nuclear deal with Iran and avoid a return to the sanctions option.

“This agreement is necessary for the security of the region,” EU’s Foreign Policy Chief Federica Mogherini said, without elaborating on the role the EU could play in countering Iran’s regional activities.