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Israel willing to ‘pay price’ for ‘Trump Declaration’

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said Israel was willing to pay “a price” for U.S. President Donald Trump’s recent decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

“It was obvious to us that Israel would pay a price for Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, and we are willing to pay it,” Lieberman said while touring communities in southern Israel.

“We know what… to do and, most importantly, when to take the right action,” Lieberman said. “What’s important now is to bolster the Jerusalem issue.”

“We made it clear that Jerusalem as the capital of Israel is non-negotiable,” he added.

Lieberman went on to say that Israel would not tolerate Palestinian attacks on Jewish communities located near the Gaza Strip.

“The strikes launched [recently by Israel] against Hamas positions [in Gaza] is a clear message to everyone that Israel is ready — more than ever — to respond to any [rocket attack],” he said.

Within the past two weeks, several rockets have been fired from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel.

While no group has claimed responsibility for the attacks, the army has responded by shelling several Hamas positions in the blockaded strip.

Lieberman also commented on the arrest of Ahed al-Tamimi, a 16-year-old Palestinian girl, by the Israeli army at dawn Tuesday.

“Everyone around her — not only the girl, but also her relatives — will not escape what they deserve,” Lieberman said.

Al-Tamimi was taken into custody after Israeli forces raided her home in the village of Nabi Saleh in the northern West Bank.

In 2012, al-Tamimi was awarded the Hanzala Courage Award by Istanbul’s Basaksehir municipality for standing up to Israeli soldiers who had just arrested her brother.

At the time, then Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan (Turkey’s current president) and his wife met the Palestinian girl.

Al-Tamimi’s father, mother and brothers have all been repeatedly arrested for their fierce opposition to Israel’s decades-long occupation of Palestinian land.

Tension has mounted in the Palestinian territories since U.S. President Donald Trump recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital on Dec. 6 a move that drew widespread condemnation from across the Arab and Muslim world, as well as worldwide condemnations.

Since then, 11 Palestinians have been martyred and over 3,000 injured during several protests in West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health.

According to official Palestinian figures, more than 6,400 Palestinians including a number of minors are currently held in Israeli prisons.


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Yemen’s Houthis target Saudi King’s palace in Riyadh

Monitoring Desk

SANAA: Yemen’s Shia Houthi rebel group on Tuesday announced it had fired a “ballistic missile” at Saudi capital Riyadh, according to the Houthi-run Al-Masira television channel.

The missile reportedly targeted Riyadh’s Yamama Royal Palace, which houses the office of Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz.

“The missile targeted a large meeting of Saudi regime officials that was held at the palace,” the broadcaster reported, adding that the missile had “found its target”.

According to the Houthi-run television channel, group leader Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi will deliver and important address to supporters later Tuesday.

But, spokesman of the Coalition Forces to Support Legitimacy in Yemen Colonel Turki Al-Maliki stated that, at 01:39 p.m. on Tuesday, the coalition air defense forces monitored a ballistic missile launched from the Yemeni territories towards the Kingdom’s territories.

In a statement to Saudi Press Agency (SPA), he said that the missile was indiscriminately launched towards Riyadh to target the civilian and populated areas. He added that the missile was intercepted by Patriot, south of Riyadh, without any damage or loss of life.

“This hostile and indiscriminate act by the Iran-back Houthi armed group proves the continued involvement of the Iranian regime in supporting Houthi armed group with qualitative capabilities in a clear and blatant defiance of the UN resolution no. 2216 and resolution no. 2231 aiming to threaten the security of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as the regional and international security. Launching ballistic missiles towards populated cities and villages is contrary to the international humanitarian law,” he added.

Colonel Al-Maliki called upon the international community to take serious and effective steps to stop the blatant Iranian violations of transferring ballistic weapons to terrorist and outlaw groups and to hold them accountable for their support and defiance of violating international norms and values.

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Iran says US cannot cause collapse of nuclear deal

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: Iran said on Tuesday U.S. President Donald Trump cannot cause its nuclear deal with six major powers to collapse.

“The nuclear deal will not collapse… Those who hope that Trump will cause its collapse are wrong,” Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a speech broadcast live on State TV.

In October, Trump declined to certify that Iran was complying with the nuclear agreement reached among Tehran, the United States and other powers in 2015.

His decision triggered a 60-day window for Congress to decide whether to bring back sanctions on Iran.

Congress passed the ball back to Trump by letting the deadline on reimposing sanctions on Iran pass last week. Trump must decide in mid-January if he wants to continue to waive energy sanctions on Iran.

Under the deal, nuclear-related sanctions imposed on Iran were lifted last year, in return for Tehran curbing its nuclear program.

Iran has said it will stick to the accord as long as the other signatories respect it, but will “shred” the deal if Washington pulls out.

Addressing the First National Conference on Reporting the Progress and Solutions for Removing Obstacles to the Realization of Charter on Citizens’ Rights, he said that ‘Economic tranquility, interaction in foreign policy, Healthcare Reform Plan, access to cyberspace and citizenship rights had been the core of the activities of the government.’

‘I order the Minister of Economy and also the Treasury to immediately publish the amount of budget they allocate to any organ,’ President Rouhani added.


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Tehran wants to examine missile parts

Monitoring Desk

TEHRAN: Iran wants to examine missile parts the US ambassador to the UN displayed last week as “undeniable” evidence that Tehran has been arming Yemen’s Shiite rebels, AP said.

Tehran will file a complaint to the UN and demand that “parts of the missile be delivered to Iran” for examination, according to Defense Minister Gen. Amir Hatami.

He told the semi-official Tasnim news agency on Monday that US claims cannot be “answered remotely.”

‘Iran is preparing a complaint in this regard to present to the UN for clarity’, Brigadier General Amir Hatami. General Hatami said that Iran’s enemies can claim whatever they want; but according to Iran’s request, a part of the missile should be delivered to Iran for examination.’ He added that without examination and from a long distance, no one can respond to the claim; therefore, Iran’s complaint will be delivered to the UN in the form of a request. On Thursday, UN Ambassador Nikki Haley showed off the missile parts to cameras at a military base near Washington. She said the projectile was supplied by Iran and launched by Yemen’s Houthis, targeting an airport in the Saudi capital, Riyadh. The statement was dismissed by Iran as a “fake and fabricated” claim.


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India asked to clarify position on Trump’s Jerusalem move

Monitoring Desk

NEW DELHI: A dozen Arab ambassadors have asked India to clarify its position on the U.S recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, diplomatic sources said, after New Delhi’s muted response suggested a shift in support for the Palestinian cause.

U.S. President Donald Trump abruptly reversed decades of U.S. policy this month when he recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, generating outrage from Palestinians.

Trump also plans to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

Countries around the world, including U.S. allies Britain and France, criticised Trump’s decision, but India did not take sides.

Instead, the Indian foreign ministry in a brief statement, said India’s position was consistent and independent of any third party.

The bland statement made no reference to Jerusalem and prompted criticism at home that it was insufficient, vague and anti-Palestinian.

Israel maintains that all of Jerusalem is its capital. Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state and say Trump’s move has left them marginalised and jeopardised any hopes of a two-state solution.

Last week, envoys from Arab states including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Kuwait based in New Delhi met Indian junior foreign minister M.J. Akbar to brief the government about an Arab League meeting on Dec. 9 condemning the U.S. decision, a diplomatic and an Indian government source said.

The envoys also sought a more forthright Indian response, the sources said.

But Akbar gave no assurance and the Indian source said the government had no plans for a further articulation on Jerusalem, which is at the heart of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Akbar did not promise anything,” the diplomatic source briefed on the meeting said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities.

India was one of the earliest and vocal champions of the Palestinian cause during the days it was leading the Non-Aligned Movement while it quietly pursued ties with Israel. But under Prime Minister Modi, New Delhi has moved to a more open relationship with Israel, lifting the curtain on thriving military ties and also homeland security cooperation.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist ruling group views Israel and India as bound together in a common fight against militancy and long called for a public embrace of Israel.

Modi in July made a first trip to Israel by an Indian prime minister and did not go to Ramallah, the headquarters of the Palestinian Authority and a customary stop for leaders trying to maintain a balance in political ties.

P.R. Kumaraswamy, a leading Indian expert on ties with Israel at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru University, said a “major shift” on India’s policy had been evident since early this year when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas visited New Delhi.

“With the Palestinian president standing by his side, Prime Minister Modi reiterated India’s support for Palestinian statehood but carefully avoided any direct reference to East Jerusalem,” he said.

For decades, India’s support for a Palestinian state was accompanied by an explicit reference to East Jerusalem being the Palestinian capital. But Delhi has moved to a more balanced position, refusing to take sides in an explosive dispute, he said.

During the meeting last week, the ambassadors of Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Somalia and the Palestinian Authority spoke, the diplomatic source said. Besides the dozen envoys there were charges d’affaires from several other countries in the region.

“They were expecting more from India, perhaps to denounce Israel and the U.S.” said former Indian ambassador to Jordan and Anil Trigunayat. “But would it really make a difference, adding one more voice?”

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Kremlin hails US cooperation

Monitoring Desk

KREMLIN: The CIA’s information handover to Russia about preparations for a terrorist attack in St. Petersburg is the perfect example of US-Russian cooperation in the struggle against terrorism, Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on Monday.

“Certain contacts between the two countries’ special services are sporadic, but in this particular case it was a very useful piece of information that helped save many li-ves,” TASS quoted him as saying. “This is precisely the kind of standards worth pursuing in our future course,” he said. On Sunday, the Russian and US presidents spoke by phone, and Vladimir Putin thanked Donald Trump for the data provided by the CIA.

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CIA chief Mike holds talks with Saudi king in Riyadh

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz on Monday held talks with Mike Pompeo, the director of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), in capital Riyadh, according to the official Saudi Press Agency.

Discussions tackled bilateral relations and recent developments in the region, the SPA reported.

Monday’s meeting was also attended by the king’s son, Prince Khalid bin Salman, who also serves as the kingdom’s ambassador to Washington, along with Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir, intelligence chief Kh-alid al-Humaidan and royal court chief Khalid al-Issa.

Earlier this month, Pompeo said he’d sent a letter to Gen. Qassem Saleimani, the head of Iran’s elite fighting Quds Force, warning him that the US would hold Tehran accountable for any attacks it conducted on American interests in Iraq, AP reports.

Pompeo is the first high-level U.S. official to visit the region since U.S. President Donald Trump on Dec. 6 recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, drawing angry reactions from across the Arab and Muslim world.

At an extraordinary summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), held last week in Istanbul, participants responded to the U.S. move by formally recognizing East Jerusalem as the capital of Palestine.

Jerusalem remains at the heart of the Israel-Palestine dispute, with Palestinians hoping East Jerusalem — as the capital of Palestinian state.

As the Saudi administration continues to dodge adopting a firm stance against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman refused to mention Jerusalem during a meeting with an American delegation on the eve of Trump’s declaration, according to a report published by Foreign Policy.

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Trump administration to take unilateral steps in areas of divergence with Pakistan

Monitoring Desk

WASHINGTON: The Trump administration has informed Congress that it will take unilateral steps in areas of divergence with Pakistan while expanding cooperation between the two countries where their interests converge.

In a report to Congress, which was released to the media this weekend, the Pentagon also underlined the need for a joint US-Afghan platform for combating more than 20 militant groups active in the region.

This is the Pentagon’s first report on Afghanistan since Aug 21, when President Donald Trump announced his new South Asia strategy, which deepens American military involvement in Afghanistan while urging Pakistan to back US efforts for defeating the Taliban.

The report to Congress emphasized the need for a “fundamental change” in the way Pakistan deals with the alleged terrorist safe havens on its territory.

The Pentagon also informed the lawmakers that the new US strategy calls for a whole-of-government, regional approach to isolate the Taliban from “sources of external support” and to mitigate any malign influence from outside actors.

“Our military-to-military relationship with Pakistan remains critical to the success of our mutual interests in the region,” says the report.

“To move forward, we must see fundamental changes in the way Pakistan deals with terrorist safe-havens in its territory.”

To induce that change, the Pentagon proposed working across the US government, “using a range of tools to expand our cooperation with Pakistan in areas where our interests converge and to take unilateral steps in areas of divergence”.

The report noted that more than 20 terrorist or insurgent groups were still active in Afghanistan and Pakistan and their existence “requires an Afghan-supported US platform in the region to monitor, contain, and respond to these threats”.

The report said that the Pak-Afghan border region remained a sanctuary for groups like Al Qaeda, Al Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, the Haqqani network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, Tehreek-i-Taliban Pakistan, ISIS-K and the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

“Sanctuary on the Pakistani side and presence on the Afghan side remain security challenges for both countries and pose a threat to regional security and stability,” the report added.

The Pentagon said that recent Pakistani military operations had disrupted some militant sanctuaries, certain extremist groups — such as the Taliban and the Haqqani network — “retain freedom of movement in Pakistan”.

“The United States continues to convey to all levels of Pakistani leadership the importance of taking action against all terrorist and extremist groups,” the report added.

The report acknowledged that the hard-won US gains in Afghanistan were fragile, but worth defending and the United States had aligned its diplomatic, military, and economic resources to seek a negotiated settlement to this 17-year-old war.

“We have recommitted to helping the Afghan government and people navigate through these challenges with a new approach that leverages additional support from allies, partners, and regional actors,” it said.

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Modi declares victory for ruling party in state elections

NEW DELHI (AFP): Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi declared victory Monday in two state elections, including a closely-fought race in his stronghold of Gujarat where the charismatic leader fronted the campaign.

Modi thanked voters in Gujarat, his home state in India’s west, and the northern Himalayan region of Himachal Pradesh, for backing the ruling Hindu national party in the local polls.

“I bow to the people of Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh for their affection and trust in BJP,” Modi posted on his official Twitter account, using the initials of his Bharatiya Janata Party.

“I assure them that we will leave no stone unturned in furthering the development journey of these states and serve the people tirelessly.”

BJP chief Amit Shah also called victory for the ruling party, saying Modi’s development agenda had prevailed over “family politics”, a reference to the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that leads the main opposition Congress party.

The BJP was on track to win 99 seats in the 182-seat Gujarat parliament as of 1015 GMT as counting continued, the Election Commission of India said.

That result would return the BJP to power for a sixth consecutive term in the bellwether state, but slash its majority from 115 seats in the last election.

The ruling party was also poised to wrest control of Himachal Pradesh from Congress, which recently elected Rahul Gandhi unopposed as its new leader to replace his mother Sonia Gandhi.

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Ten killed in stampede at Bangladesh politician’s funeral

CHITTAGONG (AFP): Ten people were killed and dozens injured in a stampede Monday after tens of thousands of people gathered for a funeral feast in Bangladesh s southern city of Chittagong, police said.

Police and hospital staff said they feared the death toll could rise.

“So far we can confirm the death toll of 10 men,” city police chief Iqbal Bahar told AFP, adding it appeared to be an “accident”. “The death toll could rise as 15 people are critically injured,” said another police official, Mohammad Alauddin.

Police staged baton charges to clear the crowd who packed community centres for the afternoon feast commemorating a popular former city mayor.

Mohiuddin Chowdhury, a senior politician of the ruling Awami League party and a three-term mayor of the country s second largest city, died on Friday. He was 73.

In line with local Muslim traditions his family and the party hosted the funeral feast, “Mejban”, which drew more than 100,000 people to several locations in the city to eat and pray.

Police official Masum Billah said at least 20 policemen under his command had to use force to control the crowd and prevent “heavier damage”. “We did not want to charge batons on the mourners but we were left with no choice,” he said.

TV footage showed scores of abandoned sandals and shoes littering the community centre entrance beside broken decorative clay flower pots where the stampede happened.

Family members rushed to the local hospital where the injured were taken, where relatives also wept for their dead. “We all mourn for them,” Shamim Reza, a local politician, told AFP.

Chowdhury s family and local authorities had announced they would extend financial assistance to the relatives of those who died, Reza added.