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Sudan’s warring parties claim cease-fire breaches

Monitoring Desk

ADDIS ABABA: Just hours after the latest cease-fire came into operation in South Sudan, both sides in the civil war on Monday accused the other of breaching the deal.

The government and opposition both issued statements claiming the other side had attacked their forces in Koch county, Northern Liech state, on Monday.

Representatives of President Salva Kiir and opposition leader Riek Machar signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa last week to allow humanitarian access and protect civilians.

The truce, backed by the east African Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD), came into effect Sunday.

“Riek Machar forces under Gatgok Khor attacked our positions today morning at 7.12 a.m. [local time (0412GMT)] in Koch county, Northern Liech state,” the government said.

It said the forces were shelled and repulsed the attackers. It also cited a cease-fire breach by Machar’s forces in Pagak, close to the border with Ethiopia.

The government called on IGAD and the international community to condemn the violations.

Meanwhile, rebel commander Paul Gabriel emailed Anadolu Agency on Sunday to report an attack by government forces at Bieh Payam in Kock county.

“We repulsed the attack, killing 23 of their soldiers while we lost four comrades,” he said. “Government forces attacked our base in Liech state.”

The truce — the latest attempt to end the four-year civil war — seeks to revive a 2015 peace deal.

Tens of thousands have been killed and a third of the population of 12 million have fled their homes in violence that first erupted in December 2013 when Kiir sacked his deputy Machar.

Previous truces have been broken as the fighting deteriorated to involve several armed groups. The agreement is expected to pave the way for elections, the timing of which will be negotiated in upcoming talks. There had not been a statement from IGAD or any other third party on the alleged violations.

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Turkey’s upcoming operation in Syria to extend beyond Afrin

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: As Turkey continues its preparations for the upcoming Afrin operation, the cross-border campaign is said to extend beyond the central northwestern Syrian region, clearing 170-kilometer strip of land from Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) terrorists.

The operation, which will be carried out in partnership with the Free Syrian Army (FSA) will begin west at the Afrin- Deir Ballout, Qalaat Samaan axis, and stretch east towards Zouiyan, Douewir and Fiela, in order to create a safe region spanning 4,500 square kilometers.

The PKK’s Syrian offshoot, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), occupies a terror corridor in Syria’s north that stretches from Marea and Azaz to Idlib in the west through the regime-controlled towns Nubbol and Zahra, where a parallel conflict is playing out between PKK/PYD terrorists and the Assad regime, who expelled the PKK from three areas under its occupation in Aleppo, pushing the terror organization back to Sheikh Maqsoud in the north.

Recently, Russia has moved to withdraw from the PKK-occupied regions of Afrin and Tal Rifat, where a number of Russian military bases are currently located, as it pressured the PKK terror organization to hand over control of the regions under its occupation to the Assad regime.

PKK terrorists in a meeting with Russian generals and representatives of the Russian Defense Ministry, refused to “give up their gains in Afrin” and signaled that they were “ready for war with the Turkish army,” according to reports. As the Turkey- Iran- Russia-sponsored Astana process continues, the seventh round kicked off as meeting begun between the warring parties on Dec. 21.

Turkey has rejected a Russian plan that would see control over Afrin handed over to the Assad regime citing the former’s seven-year cooperation with the PKK terror organization, and renewed its determination to launch an operation to clear the region of terrorists.

With an area spanning 3,900 square kilometers, Afrin is set to become the largest area to be cleared by Turkish Armed Forces (TAF) in Syria so far.

Afrin’s population currently stands at 500,000, spread across a total of 340 towns and villages that make up the region. Together with central Afrin, the operation will include a strip that extends 40 kilometers deep into Syria and covers a 4,500-square-kilometer area that includes the towns of Minnigh, Tal Rifa, Harbel, Zouiyan, Fiela and Douweir.

Turkey currently remains on full-alert against any border threats that may originate from Afrin, as it positions troops sent during the Bab Operation and the Idlib deployment along the border, and reinforces posts in the Euphrates Shield regions and border command positions.

The number of on-duty Turkish soldiers and troops deployed to take part in the Afrin operation has reached 20,000, in addition to 15,000 Free Syrian Army (FSA) soldiers that are on the alert for any possible operation in the region. A concrete wall on the border with Syria, which Turkey set out to build in a bid to halt illegal crossings to the southern province of Hatay and prevent terrorist advances into Turkey, is nearing completion as work is still ongoing on setting up the four-meter blocs for the last remaining 10 kilometers of the 230-kilometer wall in Hatay along the border with Syria. The PYD and its military YPG wing are Syrian branches of the PKK, which has waged war against Turkey for more than 30 years. Since the PKK launched its terror campaign in Turkey in 1984, tens of thousands of people have been killed, including more than 1,200 since July 2015 alone.

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Iran confirms upholding death sentence for academic over spying

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: Iran’s Supreme Court has upheld a death sentence against a Sweden-based Iranian academic convicted of spying for Israel, the Tehran prosecutor was quoted as saying on Monday, confirming reports by Amnesty International and his family.

Ahmadreza Djalali, a medical doctor and lecturer at the Karolinska Institute, a Stockholm medical university, was accused of providing information to Israel to help it assassinate several senior nuclear scientists.

Djalali was arrested in Iran in April 2016 and later convicted of espionage. He has denied the charges, Amnesty said.

At least four scientists were killed between 2010 and 2012 in what Tehran said were assassinations meant to sabotage its efforts to develop nuclear energy. Western powers and Israel said Iran aimed to build a nuclear bomb. Tehran denied this.

The Islamic Republic hanged a man in 2012 over the killings, saying he was an agent for Israeli intelligence agency Mossad.

On Monday, Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dola-tabadi said the Supreme Co-urt recently upheld the death sentence against Djalali, the news site of Iran’s judiciary, Mizan, reported.

Dolatabadi said Djalali had confessed to meeting Mossad agents repeatedly to deliver information on Iran’s nuclear and defence plans and personnel, and helping to infect Defence Ministry computer systems with viruses, Mizan reported.

London-based Amnesty International and Djalali’s wife said earlier this month that his lawyers were told that the Supreme Court had considered his case and upheld his death sentence.

Iranian state television broadcast last week what it described as Djalali’s confessions. His wife said he had been forced by his interrogators to read the confession.

Djalali was on a business trip to Iran when he was arrested and sent to Evin prison. He was held in solitary confinement for three months of his detention and tortured, Amnesty said.

It said Djalali wrote a letter inside prison in August stating he was being held for refusing to spy for Iran.

Sweden condemned the sentence in October and said it had raised the matter with Iranian envoys.

Seventy-five Nobel prize laureates petitioned Iranian authorities last month to release Djalali so he could “continue his scholarly work for the benefit of mankind”.

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Israel to build 300,000 settlement units in Jerusalem

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: Israeli Minister of Housing and Construction Yoav Galant has launched a campaign to promote the construction of 300,000 settlement units in East Jerusalem, according to Israeli media.

Israeli Channel 10 said the planned construction was part of the so-called Israeli “Greater Jerusalem” bill, which aims at annexing settlements built on lands sought by Palestinians for their future state.

According to the channel, most of the planned homes will be built in areas beyond the Green Line, which refers to the territories occupied by Israel during the 1967 Middle East war.

The move comes less than three weeks after U.S. President Donald Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite world opposition.

The Israeli government h-as yet to comment on the report. The Palestinian Fore-ign Ministry, for its part, decried the Israeli plan as a “direct result” of Trump’s move to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It is part of the colonialist project taking pace in Jerusalem, the Jordan Valley, Hebron and elsewhere,” it said in a statement.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the perennial Middle East conflict, with Palestinians hoping that East Jerusalem — occupied by Israel — might eventually serve as the capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Israel occupied the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 claiming it as the Jewish state’s “undivided and eternal capital” — a move never recognized by the international community.

International law views the West Bank and East Jerusalem as “occupied territories” and considers all Jewish settlement construction there as illegal.

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Christmas celebrated in Holy Land amid Jerusalem tensions

Monitoring Desk

GAZA: Palestinian scouts played drums and bagpipes as Christmas celebrations began in Bethlehem on Sunday, but many tourists stayed away with tensions still simmering following Washington’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

The controversial Dec. 6 announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump unleashed demonstrations and clashes, including in the Israeli-occupied West Bank city Bethlehem, where Christians will mark the birth of Jesus in a midnight mass.

The Christmas procession led by Archbishop Pierba-ttista Pizzaballa started at n-oon from Jerusalem. The hig-hest-ranking Roman Catholic official in the Holy Land drove to the biblical town of Bethlehem, in the West Bank just south of Jerusalem.

Later Sunday choirs will sing carols in Manger Square and at midnight Pizzaballa, the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, will conduct mass in the Church of the Nativity, built according to tradition on the site of the stable where Jesus was born. On Bethl-ehem’s Manger Square, doz-ens of Palestinians and touri-sts gathered excitedly in the cold near a huge nativity sc-ene and Christmas tree to wa-tch the annual scout parade.

They took pictures as scouts, some playing bagpipes, marched through the square towards the Church of the Nativity, built over the spot where tradition says Mary gave birth to Jesus.

Celebrations were to culminate at the church later on Sunday with midnight mass.

The square is usually thronging with tourists on Christmas Eve, but clashes between Palestinian protesters and the Israeli army in the past weeks have kept people away this year.

Nahil Banura, a Christian woman from Beit Sahur, a to-wn near Bethlehem, said Tru-mp’s decision had made the run-up to Christmas “miserable.”

“People are only going out to vent,” said the 67-year-old, whose granddaughter wore a Santa Claus hat and clutched a pink balloon.

Perhaps as few as 50,000 Palestinian Christians make up just around two percent of the predominantly Muslim population of the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Pizzaballa, apostolic administrator of the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, has said “dozens” of foreign visitors had canceled their Christmas trips after Trump’s announcement.

But Israel’s tourism ministry has said Christmas preparations have not been affected, and it expects a 20 percent increase in the number of Christian pilgrims this year compared with 2016.

The ministry said it would operate a free shuttle service for the short distance between Jerusalem and Bethlehem for mass. An Israeli police spoke-sman said that extra units would be deployed in Jerus-alem and at the crossings to Bethlehem to ease the travel and access for the “thousands of tourists and visitors.”

However, shop owners who cater to pilgrims in Jerusalem’s Christian Quarter said that business is unusually slow during the Christmas period and they blamed a recent decision by Trump declaring Jerusalem as Israel’s capital for the drop.

Israel seized east Jerusalem in the 1967 Middle East war and later annexed it, in moves never recognized by the international community.

Palestinians view east Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, and interpreted Trump’s statement as rejecting their right to a capital in east Jerusalem, altho-ugh the Americans deny this.

In a statement before Christmas, Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas said Trump’s announcement “encouraged the illegal disconnection between the holy cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem, both separated for the first time in over 2,000 years of Christianity.”

Abbas called on “world Christians to listen to the true voices of the indigenous Christians from the Holy Land… that strongly rejected the U.S. recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

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France deploys 100,000 troops

Monitoring Desk

PARIS: The French government will deploy nearly 100,000 security personnel for Christmas as the extremist threat remains high, the French Interior Ministry said in a statement.

“To ensure the security on December 24-25, 54,000 police officers, 36,000 gendarmes, and 7,000 soldiers of Operation Sentinel, a total of 97,000, will be mobilized throughout the country,” Interior Minister Gerard Collomb said. Operation Sentinel was launched by the French Army in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January 2015 and the later Paris attacks.

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Swiss president wants a vote to clarify country’s EU position

Monitoring Desk

GENEVA: A referendum in Switzerland to clarify the country’s relationship with the European Union would be helpful, Swiss President Doris Leuthard said on Sunday, after ties between the two sides cooled this week.

Switzerland’s frictions with the EU, of which it is not a member, arise as as Britain negotiates its withdrawal from the bloc following a referendum in June last year and seeks a new trading relationship with its closest neighbours.

Talks on securing a new “framework” treaty to govern the Swiss-EU relationship have been underway for some time, with Brussels wanting to replace the more than 100 bilateral accords which regulate its relationship with Bern.

But relations soured this week when the EU granted Swiss stock exchanges only limited access to the bloc, prompting Swiss threats of retaliation for what it called discrimination.

“The bilateral path is important,” Leuthard told Swiss newspapers Sonntags Blick. “We therefore have to clarify our relationship with Europe. We have to know in which direction to go.

“Therefore a fundamental referendum would be helpful.”

Talks on the an all-encompassing agreement made headway last month after Switzerland agreed to increase its contribution to the EU’s budget.

Such a deal would ensure Switzerland adopts relevant EU laws in return for enhanced access to the bloc’s single market, crucial for Swiss exports.

But a deal would be opposed by the anti-EU Swiss People’s Party (SVP), currently the biggest group in parliament.

Leuthard, who steps down as president at the end of the year, said the latest row had not overshadowed her year in the rotating office.

“Of course, the differences with Brussels are now in focus. Here our attitude is clear – for the EU to link such a technical thing like stock exchange equivalency with a political question like the framework treaty, that is not possible,”

She said some countries were putting Switzerland in the same category as Britain, while others wanted to strengthen their own financial centres at Switzerland’s expense.

“Others think we are cherry pickers who benefit too much from the single European market, they want to increase pressure for a framework agreement,” Leuthard said.

Pressure from outside would did not contribute to a beneficial climate in Switzerland over a potential agreement, she said.

She said she understood Swiss scepticism towards the EU, but there was no alternative to finding an accommodation with the bloc which generates around two thirds of Swiss trade.

“We can strengthen the cooperation with India and China, but the EU remains central.

We need a mechanism and regulated relationship with the EU, that would also prevent political games like we are having at the moment,” Leuthard said.


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Christians celebrate first Mass in Mosul

Monitoring Desk

NINEVEH: Christian worshippers in Iraq’s northern city of Mosul celebrated their first Mass on Sunday since Daesh overran the city in 2014.

The Mass was held at the Church of St. Paul in eastern Mosul, pastor Saad Saliwah told Anadolu Agency.

“Our church bells rang for the first time in more than three years since Daesh captured the city,” he said.

The Mass was attended by the patriarch of Iraq’s Chaldean Catholic Church, Patriarch Louis Raphael Sako, and a host of religious and military figures.

In 2014, Daesh militants swept through vast swathes of territory in northern and western Iraq, including Mosul, which they declared as the capital of their self-proclaimed caliphate.

Thousands of Christians fled their homes in Mosul after the city fell to the terrorist group.

In August, Iraqi Prime Minister Haidar al-Abadi announced the expulsion of Daesh from Mosul after a nine-month military campaign.



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Erdogan says Trump should have called me before Jerusalem decision

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday, that U.S. President Donald Trump should have called him before the Jerusalem decision, amid Trump’s move to recognize the holy city as Israel’s capital and a U.N. resolution denouncing his decision.

“We made our call to the U.S. and are continuing to. There’s no reason not to have a meeting with Trump. Of course, we will call again. I wish that Trump calls us too. From the beginning, we actually waited for them to call us before declaring these decisions, as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation [OIC] term president,” he said, speaking at Esenboga Airport in Ankara before a trip to African countries.

Erdogan said there was no reason for him not to meet with Trump, adding that he wished Trump had called him too.

He added that he did not yet decide to call him.

“Turkey is among the countries that should be sought in this regard. I believe this mistake would not have been made if Mr. Trump had made his consultation with us. We can call him. But there is not yet a decision made,” Erdogan said.

Turkey is determined to clear Africa of “FETO murderers”, he added, ahead of his three-day visit to Sudan, Chad and Tunisia.

“Many African countries immediately after the coup attempt [in Turkey] deported FETO members and transferred the schools run by the group to our Maarif Foundation,” Erdogan said.

The Maarif Foundation has recently assumed control of numerous schools — previously run by FETO — around the world, including 32 in Africa, according to figures released by Turkey’s National Education Ministry.

Arriving to the Sudanese capital, the Turkish president kicks off a three-country regional tour. Erdogan will visit Chad and Tunisia between Tuesday and Thursday.

Erdogan is accompanied by a large delegation including Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz, Agriculture Minister Ahmet Esref Fakibaba, Energy Minister Berat Albayrak, Culture and Tourism Minister Numan Kurtulmus, Transport, Maritime Affairs and Communications Minister Ahmet Arslan, Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci, Defense Minister Nurettin Canikli, Turkish Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar and a delegation of some 150 Turkish businessmen.

The visit, which is the first by a Turkish president in Sudan, will be dominated by business forums to discuss investment and the signing a number of agreements to strengthen the existing economic partnerships in the fields of agricultural production, higher education, environment, military, mining, energy, health and tourism.

During the trip, Erdogan is due to hold meetings with his Sudanese counterpart Omar Al-Bashir of Sudan, then he will address the Sudanese parliament on Sunday evening.

On Monday, the Turkish president will attend a Sudanese-Turkish business forum with Al-Bashir

The current trade volume between Turkey and Sudan stand around $500 million, according to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TurkStat).

Turkey’s exports to Sudan amounted to $328.5 million in January-October 2017, while imports from the country stood at $78.3 million.

The Turkish firms in Sudan operate in manufacturing, industry, energy, service, agriculture and machinery sectors and they help advance Sudan’s economy by contributing to employment.

Erdogan’s trip comes four days after UN’s 193-member General Assembly on Thursday adopted a resolution on Jerusalem with an overwhelming majority, calling on the U.S. to withdraw its recognition of the city as Israel’s capital.

On Dec. 6, Trump officially recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite worldwide opposition, sparking angry demonstrations across the Muslim world. Erdogan and other top Turkish officials have been at the international forefront opposing the U.S. move.


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North Korea declares new UN sanctions are ‘act of war’

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters): The latest United Nations sanctions against North Korea are an act of war and tantamount to a complete economic blockade, the country’s foreign ministry said on Sunday, threatening to punish those who supported the measure.

The UN security council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea on Friday for its recent intercontinental ballistic missile test, seeking to limit its access to refined petroleum products and crude oil, and its earnings from workers abroad.

The UN resolution seeks to ban nearly 90% of refined petroleum exports to North Korea by capping them at 500,000 barrels a year and, in a last-minute change, demands the repatriation of North Koreans working abroad within 24 months, instead of 12 months as first proposed.

The United States-drafted resolution also caps crude oil supplies to North Korea at 4m barrels a year and commits the council to further reductions if it were to conduct another nuclear test or launch another ICBM.

In a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency, North Korea’s foreign ministry said the US was terrified by its nuclear force and was getting “more and more frenzied in the moves to impose the harshest-ever sanctions and pressure on our country”.

The new resolution is tantamount to a complete economic blockade of North Korea, the ministry said.

“We define this ‘sanctions resolution’ rigged up by the US and its followers as a grave infringement upon the sovereignty of our republic, as an act of war violating peace and stability in the Korean peninsula and the region, and categorically reject the ‘resolution’,” the ministry said.

North Korea on 29 November said it successfully tested a new ICBM that put the US mainland within range of its nuclear weapons.

North Korea’s nuclear weapons are a self-defensive deterrence not in contradiction of international law, its foreign ministry added.

“We will further consolidate our self-defensive nuclear deterrence aimed at fundamentally eradicating the US nuclear threats, blackmail and hostile moves by establishing the practical balance of force with the US,” the ministry said.

“The US should not forget [for] even a second the entity of the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea], which rapidly emerged as a strategic state capable of posing a substantial nuclear threat to the US mainland,” it added.

North Korea said those who voted for the sanctions would face Pyongyang’s wrath.

“Those countries that raised their hands in favour of this ‘sanctions resolution’ shall be held completely responsible for all the consequences to be caused by the ‘resolution’ and we will make sure for ever and ever that they pay heavy price for what they have done.“

Tension has been rising over North Korea’s nuclear and missile programmes, which it pursues in defiance of years of UN security council resolutions, with bellicose rhetoric coming from both Pyongyang and the White House.

In November, North Korea demanded a halt to what it called “brutal sanctions”, saying a round imposed after its sixth and most powerful nuclear test on 3 September constituted genocide.

US diplomats have made clear they are seeking a diplomatic solution, but proposed the new, tougher sanctions resolution to ratchet up pressure on the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un.

China, with which North Korea does some 90% of its trade, has repeatedly called for calm and restraint from all sides.

The Chinese foreign ministry on Saturday said the new resolution also reiterated the need for a peaceful resolution via talks and that all sides needed to take steps to reduce tensions.

Widely read Chinese state-run tabloid the Global Times said on Saturday the tougher resolution was aimed at preventing war and noted the US had compromised, with no indication the UN could grant the US permission for military action.

“The difference between the new resolution and the original US proposal reflects the will of China and Russia to prevent war and chaos on the Korean peninsula. If the US proposals were accepted, only war is foreseeable,” the Global Times said in an editorial.