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‘Covert’ effort to get Israelis held in Gaza: Netanyahu

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM (AA): Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday that he was doing “diplomatic and covert” efforts to get two Israelis held in the Gaza Strip since 2014.

This came during a meeting Netanyahu held with the family of an Israeli man the government says is held by Hamas in the Palestinian territory.

“During the meeting, the prime minister briefed the family about the diplomatic and covert efforts that are being exerted to retrieve the two soldiers and the two citizens to their families,” Netan-yahu’s office said in a statement.

Israel says two soldiers and two civilians are held by Hamas in the Gaza Strip since 2014, when Israeli lau-nched a deadly offensive aga-inst the Palestinian territory.

Hamas has declined to confirm the Israeli claim, but the Palestinian group demands the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners whom Israel re-arrested after their release as part of an Egyptian-brokered exchange deal in 2011. According to Palestinian figures, some 6,500 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, including dozens of women and scores of minors. AA


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Rouhani says Iran not to accept any JCPOA change

Monitoring Desk

TABRIZ: President Hassan Rouhani said on Wednesday that the US is now accused of violating its commitments with regards to the JCPOA and Iran is not to accept to add or omit even a simple sentence from the JCPOA. President Rouhani made the remarks at the end of his trip to East Azarbaijan in Tabriz on Wednesday.

‘If Europe minds to please Trump, they should mind its costs and avoid putting their hands in the pocket of noble Iranian people, ‘he said.

The US presence in the region is the root cause of instability, but Iran attaches importance to protecting lives of people in the region, President Rouhani said.

He said: ‘From the very early days of its formation, the government of prudence and hope in Iran, has worked toward having constructive engagement with the world and this has been urged even by the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei,’ President Hassan Rouhani said, addressing the inauguration ceremony held to mark choosing of Tabriz as the tourism capital of the Islamic World. Rouhani said that in order to engage with the world, countries need to develop a good understanding about their neighbors and others around the globe. This, in fact, shows the need for developing a good understanding about the world, the history and old civilizations, he said. ‘Tourism connects us both to the past and the modern world,’ President Rouhani added.

Tabriz, the third largest city in Iran, has a special place in the history and economy of the country. The city has been chosen by the OIC as tourism capital of the Islamic World in 2018.

Meanwhile, the US is not seeking to reopen or renegoriate the JCPOA Iran nuclear deal but hopes to stay in it to fix its flaws with a supplementary agreement, U.S. non-proliferation envoy Chri-stopher Ford said on Wednes-day.

Asked if French President Macron had saved the JCPOA in talks in Washington, Ford said: “I hope the JCPOA has been saved in the context of the challenge that President Trump set for us, of trying to remain within the deal but in the context of moving forward with our partners on an approach that stands a pretty good chance of turning what was in effect a temporary postponement … into a more enduring answer.”



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At Gaza’s largest hospital, the wounded keep coming

GAZA (Reuters): Doctors are on a particularly tight schedule at Gaza’s largest hospital when it comes to treating Palestinians wounded by Israeli army bullets at Friday protests along the border.

Many of the injured rushed to Shifa hospital have to be discharged by Thursday, a day before the next mass demonstration, to make room for a new round of wounded.

At the facility on Wednesday, two foreign surgeons, contracted by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), joined their Palestinian colleagues in tending the injured in multiple operating rooms.

“We have different teams operating on arterial problems in seven theaters at the same time. That meant it was much quicker, much more efficient, and it was very effective,” said British vascular surgeon John Wolfe.

But the frequent power outages that have long plagued Gaza mean that, at times, doctors briefly have to operate by the light from cellphones before emergency generators kick in.

Wolfe, a consultant at St Mary’s Hospital in London, where Prince William’s wife Kate gave birth on Monday, is on his sixth visit to Gaza since 2016. He helps train local doctors in treating catastrophic bleeding.

Palestinian health officials said 38 people, including three youngsters, had been killed by Israeli fire and at least 1,700 wounded by live ammunition since the protests began on March 30 for refugees and their descendants to have a right to return to homes in what is now Israel.

Israel’s use of live fire has drawn international criticism but the government says it is protecting its borders and takes such action only when protesters, some hurling stones and rolling burning tyres, come too close to the fence.

Tayseer Al-Tanna, deputy head of the vascular department at Shifa hospital, which has received around 750 people with bullet wounds, said most were shot in or near the knee. He said the bullets tore up muscles, smashed bones and slashed veins.

“Such injuries could have required amputations but we have been able to save many cases,” Tanna said. Slobodan Mirosavljev, a visiting surgeon from Serbia, said Palestinian medical personnel had coped well with a situation that would have been “overwhelming for any health facility in any country”.

So far, 18 cases have required amputations, a number that Mirosavljev said was relatively low.

“That means that the vascular team first, and then orthopedic, did a good job.” The protests are due to culminate on May 15, when Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh says the Gaza scenes will be replicated elsewhere on Israel’s frontiers.

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Indian court jails popular guru for life over teen rape

JODHPUR, INDIA (AFP): An Indian guru with millions of followers was sentenced to life in prison Wednesday for raping a teenage devotee on the pretext of ridding her of evil spirits, his lawyer said.

Asaram Bapu, one of India’s most charismatic and controversial “godmen”, was given the maximum sentence at a closed jailhouse hearing in Rajasthan state, where hundreds of police were on high alert for a backlash from his disciples.

“Asaram has been sentenced for life until death,” Rajendra Singh, a lawyer for the defence team, told AFP outside the court in the western city of Jodhpur.
The white-bearded guru, 77, who urges followers to live a pious life free of sexual desires, has always denied raping the then 16-year-old in 2013 during a spiritual retreat at his ashram in Jodhpur.

His lawyer said they would appeal the sentence.

Asaram is just the latest high-profile guru jailed for sex crimes, and his conviction comes as India reverberates with anger over a series of child rapes in recent weeks.

Two of the four other co-accused, including a woman, were also found guilty and were sentenced to 20 years. Two others accused in the case were acquitted.

The hearing was closed to media and the prison surrounded by tight security, with thousands of police deployed across several Indian states amid fears his devotees could riot if “Bapuji” was found guilty. There were no initial reports of violence.

The woman, now 21, accused Asaram of assaulting her on the pretext of driving away evil forces.

The influential guru, who has been in custody since 2013, had called the trial a political conspiracy and refused to cooperate with a police investigation.

A perceived reluctance to bring the charismatic leader to account sparked public outrage.

The Hindu televangelist and yoga guru still commands a devoted following despite his star power fading following the rape charges and other controversies.

Asaram’s followers have been accused of attacking or pressuring those who have spoken out against the guru into withdrawing their allegations.

Two close aides who turned key witnesses against him were murdered in 2014 and 2015.

Asaram is also accused of raping another devotee and involvement in the killing of two students at another of his Hindu retreats. His son is also on trial for rape.

But this conviction was the first for the spiritual preacher who once attracted huge crowds to hear his sermons.

“We argued that Asaram is not a saint,” public prosecutor Pokar Ram Bishnoi told reporters after the sentencing.

Controversial ‘godman’

His conviction follows weeks of revulsion and protest over the gang rape and murder of an eight-year-old and a separate assault on a teenager by a ruling party politician.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi — who was criticised for a slow response to the crimes — last week approved the death penalty for child rapists and vowed “to hang the people of demonic tendencies who misbehave with daughters”.

“There is a government in Delhi which listens to the hearts of the people and decides on the basis of it,” he told a political gathering Wednesday.

Asaram sparked revulsion in 2013 after saying a 23-year-old student gang raped and murdered in Delhi could have averted the ordeal by begging for mercy from her attackers.

But the preacher has retained a devoted following despite his controversies.

His website boasts of many high-profile believers and admirers, including Modi and other past prime ministers.

Officials from Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party responded angrily Wednesday as the main opposition Congress party distributed photos of the prime minister alongside Asaram.

India has numerous “godmen” backed by legions of devoted followers, many from the country’s rural heartland, but several have been embroiled in scandals in recent years.

Last year, a spiritual leader dubbed the “guru in bling” was jailed for 20 years for rape. His devotees went on a rampage that lasted days and left 38 dead.

In 2014 the guru Rampal Maharaj barricaded himself in his ashram guarded by devotees armed with stones, petrol bombs and other weapons after a court issued a warrant for his arrest. Six people died during the siege.

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Indian National Congress leader gunned down in IOK

DELHI (AFP): Indian National Congress leader Ghulam Nabi Patel was shot dead by unidentified assailants in held-Kashmir’s Rajpora area on Wednesday, Indian news agency ANI reported.

Patel was travelling in his car when he was attacked by the men. Two policemen travelling with him were also injured in the attack. The suspects fled from the spot after opening fire.

A police official said a search had been launched to nab those suspected of being involved in the attack. He said Patel, a resident of Shadimarg area, succumbed to injuries while being taken to a hospital. The official added that the condition of the injured policemen, also being treated at the facility, was stable.

Patel was earlier affiliated with the People’s Democratic Party. IOK Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has expressed her condolence on Patel’s death. “Heartfelt condolences to the family of senior Congress leader, G N Patel who was killed today in Rajpora. Such cowardly acts achieve nothing but leave one more family devastated,” Mufti tweeted.

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Racist attacks against Muslims increase in Austria

Monitoring Desk

VIENNA: Racist attacks against Muslims rose in Austria in 2017 when compared to the previous year, according to a report released on Tuesday.

The Documentation and Consultation Center for Muslims in Austria report said in 2017 there were 309 racist attacks against Muslims, a 21 percent increase when compared to 2016.

In 2016, there were 253 documented attacks against Muslims, the report said.

Ninety-eight percent of the attacks against individuals targeted women and 49 percent occurred in open or semi-closed spaces like public transport.

Most attacks took place in October 2017 due to general elections in the country, the report said. Hate speech was scribbled on the walls of mosques and other Muslim institutes, especially during the Muslim month of Ramadan, which corresponded to May and June last year.

The attacks comprised of 30 percent hate speech, 28 percent verbal attacks against individuals, 19 percent racist writings on the walls, and 11 percent others.

Documentation and Consultation Center for Muslims in Austria is recording attacks against Muslims in the country since 2014. The center also provides consultancy service to victims of the attacks. (AA)


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Turkish PM tells European body to ‘mind its business’

Monitoring Desk

ANKARA: The Turkish premier on Tuesday asked the Council of Europe to “mind its own business” in response to a suggestion to postpone Turkey’s early election.

Speaking at a news conference in Spain’s capital Madrid, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said: ”The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) should mind its own business. Turkey will hold the elections, not them.”

The monitoring committee of PACE called on Turkey to postpone the June 24 early elections, saying it does not comply with the EU criteria.

The parliament on Friday passed a bill calling for early elections, cementing Turke-y’s move to a presidential system.

In an April 2017 referendum, Turkish voters approved the switching from a parliamentary system to a presidential one.

The committee added: “It is impossible to hold genuinely democratic elections under the state of emergency and on-going security operations in south-east Turkey,” referring to the country’s ongoing operation in Afrin, northwestern Syria, which aims to clear its border from terrorists. Turkey declared a state of emergency for the first time on July 20, 2016, following the defeated coup by Fetullah Terrorist Organization (FETO).

FETO and its U.S.-based leader Fetullah Gulen orchestrated the defeated coup of July 15, 2016, which left 250 people martyred and nearly 2,200 injured.

Yildirim also slammed PACE for inviting former PYD/PKK terrorist co-leader Salih Muslim to an event on Monday.

“Bringing a terrorist there and let him give a speech neither contributes to peace, nor the values of Europe.”

Muslim was arrested on Feb. 25 in Prague following Turkey’s request to the Czech Republic. Two days later, he was released by a Czech court on the condition that he would not leave the European Union and appear at future hearings in the extradition case. The PYD/PKK is the Syrian branch of the terrorist group PKK, which is responsible for over 40,000 deaths, in a violent campaign against Turkey for more than 30 years.

Muslim, an influential figure of the PYD/PKK terrorist group, is being sought by a Turkish court on suspicion of his involvement in the planning of a terrorist attack carried out in Ankara in 2016. (AA)



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Top US military commander in Israel for Iran talks

Monitoring Desk

JERUSALEM: The head of the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. Joseph Votel, arrived in Israel Monday night for an unannounced visit, according to Israeli media.

He is expected to meet a host of senior Israeli officials, including army chief Gadi Eizenkot, to discuss recent tension between Israel and Iran, along with other issues.

CENTCOM is responsible for American activities in the Middle East.

According to a diplomatic source, talks between Votel and Israeli officials are expected to tackle the possibility of U.S. troop withdrawal from war-torn Syria, Israel’s Arutz Sheva media network reported.

Votel is also expected to discuss Washington’s possible withdrawal from the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, the source said. The agreement allowed Iran to pursue a nuclear energy program — for strictly civilian use — in return for the lifting of longstanding western sanctions.

U.S. President Donald Trump has repeatedly threatened to pull the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal and re-impose economic sanctions on Iran. For decades, Israel-Iran relations have been characterized by deep animosity. While Tehran sees Israel as its biggest enemy, the Jewish state insists Iran must be prevented from attaining a nuclear arsenal.

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French tycoon detained over Africa corruption probe

Monitoring Desk

PARIS: French billionaire Vincent Bollore along with other employees of his Bollore Group were detained for questioning in Nanterre, near Paris, on Tuesday as part of an investigation into alleged corruption involving lucrative port deals in Africa.

According to the French newspaper Le Monde, the investigation focuses on port deals made in 2010 in Lome, the capital of the West African nation of Togo, and Conakry in Guinea.

The company is suspected of using communications and advertising subsidiary Havas to support African leaders who then ensured that another subsidiary, Bollore Africa Logistics, would win shipping terminal contracts.

The group denied in a statement ” that its subsidiary company SDV Africa has committed irregularities. The services relating to this invoicing were carried out in full transparency.”

The company’s shares fell more than 4.5 percent in Paris trading after the news came out. The 67-year-old CEO of the Bollore Group, abruptly stepped down as the chairman of media giant Vivendi last week and his son Yannick, 38, was appointed to take over from him as chairman. In 2017, Vivendi bought out communications company Havas — chaired by the younger Bollore — from the Bollore Group. (AA)

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Saudi Prince Salman prepares for second wave of crackdown

Monitoring Desk

RIYADH: The Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammad bin Salman remanded more than 200 figures, including 11 princes and many businessmen, journalists, scholars and bureaucrats, on Nov. 4 in a shock operation. Claims of a coup attempt in Riyadh following the prince’s official visits of the United States and Europe which was later dismissed as a drone being shot down is allegedly the foundation for a new crackdown prepared by Salman and Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Armed Forces Mohammed bin Zayed.

Egypt plays leading role

Former Egyptian interior minister Habib al-Adly is playing a leading role in the provocations in Saudi Arabia. Al-Adly headed the interrogations and torture of those remanded in the Nov. 4 palace coup. He was directly involved in the interrogations of Saudi scholars Selman el-Avde, Muhammad Sharif, Avad el-Karni and Ali Badahdah, among others. All the scholars arrested in Saudi Arabia in 2017 and 2018 have been figures who support the Syrian and Egyptian resistance.

Tensions flare

In an exclusive interview with Yeni Safak daily, Saudi Arabian researcher Hisham Ali said that four days before the April 21 coup ploy, in which heavy gunfire was heard near the palace in Riyadh, four officers were killed in the Jizan region of Saudi Arabia. He added that tensions were rising across the country as opinion leaders and scholars were remanded and media outlets were censored. The researcher said that Salman was preparing the groundwork to remand those who opposed him.

Saudi boosts ties with Israel, Vatican

Ali stated that Salman’s statements on Israel, western visits and interfaith dialogue with various Catholic authorities show that a series of ne-gotiations were being made.

In early April, Salman said Israelis are entitled to live peacefully on their own land, another public sign of an apparent thawing in ties between the two countries.

“There are a lot of interests we share with Israel and if there is peace, there would be a lot of interest between Israel and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries,” he added.

On Nov. 19, Israel Minister of National Infrastructure, Energy and Water Resources Yuval Steinitz indicated that his country has had “secret” contacts with Saudi Arabia against Iran, which shocked many given the fact that Saudi Arabia and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations. Additionally, Saudi opened its airspace to Israel in February 2017.

King Salman also met French cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, who heads the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue in Riyadh last week Wednesday during the first visit to the kingdom by such a senior Catholic authority. It followed a series of meetings between senior Saudi figures and representatives of other Christian traditions in recent months.

UAE takes Saudi hostage

Ali said that Salman’s U.S. and European contacts were facilitated entirely by Zayed. The researcher added that Zayed was after imperial powers, and had taken Saudi Arabia hostage in the process and was using Salman to play with Riyadh and drag it into the abyss.