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Israeli PM flew to Saudi Arabia, met crown prince

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli media reported Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flew to Saudi Arabia for a clandestine meeting with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, which would mark the first known encounter between senior Israeli and Saudi officials.

Hebrew-language media cited an unnamed Israeli official as saying that Netanyahu and Yossi Cohen, head of Israel’s Mossad spy agency, flew to the Saudi city of Neom on Sunday, where they met with the crown prince. The prince was there for talks with visiting U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

A Gulfstream IV private jet took off just after 1740 GMT from Ben-Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv, according to data from website FlightRadar24.com. The flight traveled south along the eastern edge of the Sinai Peninsula before turning toward Neom and landing just after 1830 GMT, according to the data. The flight took off from Neom around 2150 GMT and followed the same route back to Tel Aviv.

The Israeli prime minister’s office did not respond to requests for comment. Officials in Saudi Arabia did not respond to requests for comment, nor did its state-run media immediately acknowledge Netanyahu’s reported visit.

Pompeo traveled with an American press pool on his trip throughout the Mideast, but left them at the Neom airport when he went into his visit with the crown prince.

While Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates have reached deals under the Trump administration to normalize ties with Israel, Saudi Arabia so far has remained out of reach.

King Salman long has supported the Palestinians in their effort to secure an independent state. However, analysts and insiders suggest his 35-year-old son, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, likely is more open to the idea of normalizing relations without major progress in the moribund peace process.

The kingdom approved the use of Saudi airspace for Israeli flights to the UAE, a decision announced the day after Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, met with Prince Mohammed in Riyadh. Bahrain normalizing ties also suggest at least a Saudi acquiescence to the idea, as the island kingdom relies on Riyadh.

Israel has long had clandestine ties to Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.

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Japan protests against Russian missile deployment on disputed islands

TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan’s government has lodged a protest after Russia’s military deployed a number of its new S-300V4 missile defence systems for combat duty on a disputed chain of islands near Japan, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said on Wednesday.

A territorial row over the islands, which the Soviets seized at the end of World War Two, has prevented the two countries from signing a formal peace treaty. Japan calls the islands the Northern Territories and Russia calls them the Kurils.

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Hundreds Indonesians flee as volcano spews lava and ash

(AFP)– Hundreds of Indonesians have fled their villages after a rumbling volcano spewed hot ash thousands of meters into the air and belched lava down its crater.

Mount Semeru on Java island spouted the towering column on Tuesday, prompting a call for around 500 people to temporarily evacuate their homes.

Footage from the scene showed dead livestock covered by pyroclastic flows — a fast-moving mixture of hot gas and volcanic material — as steaming debris flowed into a nearby river.

Local disaster agency chief Agus Triono warned on Wednesday that residents could still be at risk as heavy rains threatened to trigger more volcanic flows from the still-spewing crater.

The eruption came days after Mount Ili Lewotolok roared back to life on the far eastern end of the archipelago nation.

Around 6,000 residents fled to shelters there after the crater ejected a thick tower of debris four kilometres (2.5 miles) into the sky on Sunday, triggering a flight warning and the closure of a local airport. 

There were no reports of injuries or deaths.

Indonesia is home to about 130 active volcanoes due to its position on the “Ring of Fire”, a belt of tectonic plate boundaries circling the Pacific Ocean where frequent seismic activity occurs. 

In late 2018, a volcano in the strait between Java and Sumatra islands erupted, causing an underwater landslide that unleashed a tsunami which killed more than 400 people.

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Trump may run again in 2024

WASHINGTON DC: President Trump is likely to announce he’ll run again in 2024, perhaps before this term even ends, sources tell Axios.

Trump has already set in motion two important strategies to stay relevant and freeze out other Republican rivals.

Last night, Trump was explicit about his 2024 vow, telling guests at a White House holiday party, as tweeted by CNN’s Kaitlan Collins: “It’s been an amazing four years. We are trying to do another four years. Otherwise, I’ll see you in four years.”

The plan: Trump has made plain he’ll fight to keep his ally Ronna McDaniel as head of the RNC, giving him tight control over party HQ.

The president has raised $170 million for his “Election Defense Fund” and political operation — of which, the N.Y. Times points out, $125 million+ goes to a PAC that Trump set up in mid-November, Save America, and can be used for future travel and other political activity.

The intrigue: Trump’s 2024 rivals privately tell Swan they assume Trump’s power will fade post-White House, giving them hope they can still run.

Reality check: Several allies who talk regularly to Trump told me they believe he’ll announce for 2024, but ultimately not make the run because of what one Republican close to Trump called “hurdles he has never before experienced.”

“I think he will have more trouble than he can begin to imagine,” the Republican said. “No one is going to let him have a free pass in the primary.”

“The only question left open is whether the media will give up their addiction to him or not — that will determine a great deal.”

When I asked if that was a reference more to political trouble, financial trouble or legal trouble, the person replied: “Yes.”

But announcing would complicate moves by 2024 rivals and would feed Tru-mp his drug — coverage.

The bottom line: Money + machinery = power. (Axios)

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Israel’s embassy in Manama comes out into the open

TEL AVIV: Israel plans to open an official embassy in Bahrain by the end of December, formalizing 25 years of secret diplomatic contacts, Israeli officials tell me.

Israel already had a diplomatic mission in Manama for the last 11 years, run out of a front company that was listed as a commercial consulting firm.

Now, there will be an Israeli flag and a sign on the door.

The state of play: The new embassy will not be in the same location as the secret diplomatic mission, which will shut down.

In order to open the new embassy as quickly as possible, it will be located in temporary offices.

Driving the news: The two Israeli diplomats who will staff the embassy arrived in Manama last week with their Israeli diplomatic passports.

The Israeli diplomats were welcomed by Bahraini Foreign Ministry representatives and given official accreditations.

On Monday, the senior Israeli diplomat charged with opening the embassies in Bahrain and the UAE, Dror Gabbay, arrived in Manama and viewed several potential locations for the embassy offices.

Bahraini Minister of Industry, Trade and Tourism Zayed al-Zayani arrived in Israel today with a large trade and business delegation to push forward with more agreements and deals.

Behind the scenes: The new embassy staff is under strict security protocols in the aftermath of the assassination of Mohsen Fakhrizadeh.

Bahrain issued a statement condemning the assassination and calling for all parties to show restraint in order to avoid further escalation.

Gabbay told me the Bahrainis have been very helpful and given a warm welcome to the Israeli diplomats.

“It was all very natural and easygoing. I am not sure I would have believed you if you told me this would be the reality three months ago,” he said.

Gabbay stressed that Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi’s instructions were to open the embassy as soon as possible in order to start providing consular services, issuing visas and pushing forward business deals.

What’s next: Gabbay told me the goal is to move the embassy to a permanent location by the end of 2021. (Axios)

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Will Netanyahu’s attempt to divide the Arab List succeed?

TEL AVIV: A call by a prominent Arab-Israeli politician for possible political cooperation with Netanyahu threatens to divide the Arab Joint List, Israel’s third-largest political bloc, Afif Abu Much, a columnist for Israel’s Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, writes for Axios.

Why it matters: Netanyahu is trying to divide the Joint List in order to decrease its political power and prevent it from tipping the center left into an electoral majority.

Flashback: Israel’s Arab minority had its highest turnout in history during the previous election amid pushback against Netanyahu’s anti-Arab campaigns, earning the Joint List 15 seats in the Knesset.

Driving the news: In recent months, Mansour Abbas, the leader of the Joint List’s Islamist faction — an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood — opened a backchannel to Netanyahu.

When their communications were exposed, Abbas stressed that he didn’t want to be “in the pocket” of the center left, which was reluctant to rely on the support of the Joint List to form a government after the last elections.

Abbas wants the Joint List to focus on socioeconomic issues that concern its voters, place less emphasis on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and ultimately join a coalition government to get concrete results.

What he’s saying: Abbas said he had no problem cooperating with Netanyahu.

“He is using me, but I am also using him.” — Mansour Abbas on Netanyahu

The state of play: Abbas’ move dramatically raised his public profile, turning him from an anonymous Arab politician to a frequent guest in the television studios.

Abbas received a lot of criticism, but he also changed the political discourse in Israel.

His move created huge tensions inside the Arab Joint List, leading to attacks against Abbas and calls to divide the List ahead of the next elections.

The big picture: The vast majority of Arab voters see Netanyahu in a very negative light as a result of his incitement against the Arab minority and its representatives in the Knesset, whom he called “terror supporters.”

Yes, but: Netanyahu plays a dual game. While publicly attacking the Arab Joint List to rally his base and attack the center left, in private he has always negotiated ad hoc political deals with Arab politicians to ensure his political survival.

What’s next: It is too soon to say if the Arab Joint List is going to divide or not. All of the List’s members remember that when they entered the March 2019 elections divided, the voters punished them with very low turnout. Polls already project the List to lose three or four seats. (Axios)

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Ronna to seek re-election as RNC chair with Trump’s support

WASHINGTON DC: Ronna McDaniel will seek re-election to a third term as chair of the Republican National Committee, AP reports.

McDaniel has the support of President Trump, who wants to keep her in place in order to maintain tight control over party HQ ahead of his likely 2024 presidential run.

In a letter to RNC members, McDaniel also touted the support of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, House Minority Leader McCarthy, and a supermajority of the organization’s members, “all but assuring her victory,” according to the AP.

Though Trump lost the White House, Republicans over-performed in down-ballot races under McDaniel’s leadership of the party.

McDaniel in the letter said she would beef up the party’s legal efforts surrounding voting and form a committee on election integrity, per AP.

“President Trump earned more minority votes than any Republican candidate in decades, and a record number of women, minorities and veterans were elected to office,” McDaniel wrote.

“This is a legacy our Party can be proud of, and we must continue to build on this historic momentum.” (Axios)

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Govt working to give provisional provincial status to GB: PM says

F.P. Report

GILGIT: On Wednesday, Prime Minister Imran Khan addressed the newly elected cabinet members after the recent Gilgit-Baltistan elections.  The ceremony was attended by Minister for Kashmir Affairs and Gilgit Baltistan Ali Amin Gandapur, GB Governor Raja Jalal Hussain Maqpoon and newly elected Chief Minister Barrister Khalid Khursheed.

On the occasion, the GB governor administered the oath to the 12-member cabinet.

During his address Prime Minister ensured that as new Gilgit-Baltistan government was formed, the federal government would immediately initiate work to grant it provisional provincial status for its development and uplift it similar to other provinces of the country.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also instructed the newly elected cabinet members saying, an exclusive committee would be tasked to work on the official procedure for the provisional provincial status on timeline-basis that would meet the longstanding demand of the people.

The newly elected cabinet members from Gilgit-Baltistan includes Obaidullah Baig and Raja Muhammad Zakria Khan Maqpoon as senior ministers, and 10 ministers encompassing Fathullah Khan, Javed Ali Manwa, Muhammad Kazim, Wazir Muhammad Salim, Raja Nasir Ali Khan, Raja Muhammad Azam Khan, Haji Shah Baig, Haji Gulbar Khan, Mushtaq Hussain and Haji Abdul Hameed.

While addressing the oath taking ceremony, Prime Minister expressed high hopes for the GB cabinet members that they would set new bars and standards of public service in their areas to win the people’s hearts as well as their prayers.

He also added that the PTI government would put the GB region on a development course, that would change people’s lives altogether through multiple projects in tourism, power, economic and health projects.

Imran Khan also shed light upon his vision of “State of Madinah Model” that would prove effective in eradicating poverty and will help in uplifting the poor.

While addressing the ceremony he also announced to launch anti-poverty Ehsaas Programme in GB, in addition Sehat Insaf Card of Rs 10 million health insurance cover would be given to the people of GB. 

Additionally, he also reaffirmed that the major focus of his government is to enhance tourism in the province as this tourism potential of GB attracted enormous number of local and foreign tourists, particularly in summer.

For this, the government would provide easy loans to the people for the purpose of building guest rooms to house tourists and this will help build economy on which the federal government would update the chief minister in detail, he added.

Furthermore, in his address he also mentioned that the federal government is negotiating with Austrian company for enhancing tourism. This company would help in developing skiing resorts, skiing games. He also said that in such a case, tourism would also flourish even in the winter season.

Apart from tourism, Prime Minister also announced building of 250-bed hospital in Skardu that would be expanded as per local requirements.

Prime Minister Imran Khan also added that bearing in mind huge potential in GB, two hydro power plants were in progress, two more were in pipeline and another two had been approved for total power generation of 300MW to meet whole GB needs. In addition, micro hydel power stations would also be installed in villages on the model of KP, he said.

He also highlighted the geographical potential of GB saying, as the area was connected with China and an important part of CPEC, a special economic zone would also be developed there. During his address he advised the newly elected GB government not to give up the principles of truth and honesty which were the core of the Seerah of Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) as well as the vision of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah.

Imran Khan also lashed out the opposition over its corruption claims saying that regardless of having appointed their pal as NAB head and signing Charter of Democracy with rival party, the corruption scams of the PML-N were unearthed through the Panama papers.

He lambasted saying, “The (stolen) public money is Allah’s curse. I have seen Nawaz and Zardari facing (Allah’s) punishment by coming in and out of jails, moving to Saudi Arabia or London just to cover up their theft and corruption.”

 In his address he also talked about the increasing cases of COVID-19 and still Pakistan Democratic Party is holding huge public gatherings. He said the doctors and nurses were concerned over mounting pressure at hospitals but the PDM was adamant to hold public gatherings.

The prime minister also gave his two cents over the recent heated interview of ex-finance minister Ishaq Dar by BBC’s host Stephen Sackur on Tuesday. In this interview Dar was noticeably under immense stress for facing questions about his assets and return to Pakistan, he said.

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Supreme Court seeks a report on petrol pumps established on state land

ISLAMABAD (APP): The Supreme Court on Wednesday directed the Chairman National Highway Authority (NHA) to submit a concise report over establishment of petrol pumps on the government land. 

A two-member bench of the apex court headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed and comprising Justice Ijaz Ul Ahsan heard the case pertaining to leasing of state land for establishment of petrol pumps.

During the course of proceedings, the court also sought copies of the lease and details of the received funds should be submitted within 4 weeks.

The court also sought explanation regarding the revenue received and spent by the NHA. The court also asked whether petrol pumps were leased to the NHA employees.

Salman counsel for NHA said that the NHA could lease land along highways. The NHA also has the authority to issue licenses for setting up petrol pumps, he added.

Justice Ijaz said if all the authority was with the NHA, then what was the use of provincial government ownership?

The Additional Advocate General Punjab said that the Punjab government had withdrawn lease of land authority from NHA.

The Chief Justice said that there were several petrol pumps with each other in Karachi and Hyderabad. The NHA was violating the rules for setting up petrol pumps, he added. He said that petrol pumps could be leased to NHA employees or relatives.

Later, hearing of the case was adjourned for four weeks.

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Iran’s nuclear dilemma: Ramp up now or wait for President-elect Joe Biden

TEL AVIV: The world is waiting to see whether Iran will strike back at Israel or the U.S. over the assassination of Mohsen Fakhriza-deh, the architect of Iran’s military nuclear program.

Why it matters: Senior Iranian officials have stressed that Iran will take revenge against the perpetrators, but also respond by continuing Fakhrizadeh’s legacy — the nuclear program. The key question is whether Iran will accelerate that work now, or wait to see what President-elect Biden puts on the table.

The backstory: Iran has waited out two years of “maximum pressure” under President Trump, breaching the enrichment limits of the 2015 nuclear deal after Trump withdrew but stopping short of more drastic steps.

Biden has long said that if Iran returns to compliance, he’ll loosen sanctions in order to bring the U.S. back into the deal.

State of play: Hardliners in Tehran have long been critical of President Hassan Rouhani’s “strategic patience” policy, and their voices have grown louder in the wake of Fakhrizadeh’s assassination.

Parliament passed a non-binding resolution on Tuesday calling on the government to raise uranium enrichment levels to 20%, start rebuilding the heavy water reactor in Arak, and limit the access of UN inspectors to Iran’s nuclear sites.

The other side: The more pragmatic camp, led by Rouhani, argues that such steps on the nuclear program would play into the hands of the Trump administration and Israel.

They stress the need to prioritize the removal of U.S. sanctions once Biden assumes office — a goal they think is at hand.

Rouhani said on Wednesday that the Parliament decision was “harmful for diplomatic activities,” adding: “We think that with the defeat of this war [by Trump] and the maximum pressure, the situation will be different next year.”

The decision is ultimately in the hands of Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei. His public comments thus far have not indicated that he’s siding with those arguing for an imminent acceleration on the nuclear front.

The latest: Biden and his transition team have been silent on Fakhrizadeh’s assassination, and several Biden aides refused to comment on the matter for this story.

Flashback: The two-tiered debate over Iran’s response echoes the aftermath of the killing of Gen. Qasem Soleimani, the commander of the Quds Force, by the U.S.

Iran took tactical revenge by launching missiles at American bases in Iraq.

But Iran’s strategic response was to press the Iraqi government to call on the U.S. to pull its troops out of the country.

What to watch: Diplomats from world powers who are still part of the nuclear deal (Russia, China, France, Germany, the UK and the EU) will meet Iranian officials in Vienna on Dec. 16 to discuss ways to preserve the deal, get Iran back to full compliance and prepare for the new U.S. administration. (Axios)

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UK authorities asked to extradite Nawaz Sharif: Shahzad

F.P. Report

ISLAMABAD: Adviser to Prime Minister on Accountability and Interior Barrister Mirza Shahzad Akbar Wednesday said that United Kingdom (UK) authorities have been asked to deport the convicted former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif from their country.

Addressing a news conference in Islamabad flanked by Special Assistant to Prime Minister for Political Communication Shahbaz Gill, he said Pakistan has written a letter to UK to cancell the visa of Nawaz Sharif which was issued for medical treatment after taking an undertaking. The six month visa has not yet extended by UK.

“Negotiations were continuing with UK for the deportation of Nawaz,” he said adding that the last two governments did not make effort to deport former head of Mutahida Quomi Movement (MQM) Altaf Hussain from UK.

Shahzad Akbar said PML (N) leader and former Finance Minister Ishaq Dar stood totally exposed in the recent BBC interview. The interview made it clear as to why Dar was an absconder and not appearing before the courts. Castigating Ishaq Dar, he said Dar had wrongly said that he has only one property in Lahore, whereas the former finance minister has properties/bank accounts in Pakistan as well as in Dubai. The British authorities have also been requested for the extradition of Ishaq Dar.

He wondered why Dar had brazenly leveled baseless allegations of custodial killings over NAB in such an important forum like BBC.

“It is incomprehensible that on whose orders Dar agreed to interview BBC. It was a desperate effort to negate accusations leveled against him.” The opposition has miserably failed to gather a few thousand people in Multan on Monday last. They had managed to gather only a small number of people in their public meeting. Opposition was now trying to hold another small gathering “Jalsi” in Lahore. They have endangering the lives of the people by exposing them in crowds.

He said the people are also not attending the public gatherings of the opposition parties in large numbers.  The opposition parties must act responsibly and stop playing with the lives of the people as the second wave of Covid-19 is proving to be more fatal. People has forgotten Ishaq Dar like people. The recent results in Gilgit-Baltistan has proved that Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf was still the most popular party in the country. 

Speaking on the occcasion Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said Ishaq Dar was trembling while interviewing. Country’s enemies including Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz leadership were trying utmost to declare Pakistan a fascist country. Their nefarious designs had already been foiled. 

Ishaq Dar in his interview said that the general elections in Pakistan were stolen – BBC anchor retorted PML-N should have filed an election petition. He said BBC was trying to interview Nawaz Sharif since long.The interview of Dar was combination of shamelessness and humilation.

In Pakistan, he said Ishaq Dar enjoyes the status of midwife in money laundering. Dar should come back to Pakistan and can give interview to Pakistan media but he would have to clear himself from corruption cases. “The people who could not become clerk had remained finance minister of Pakistan,” he said Vice President PML-N Maryam Nawaz was a habitual liar. In his remarks, Special Assistant on Political Communication Shahbaz Gill said the corrupt leaders sitting abroad should come back to the country and face the courts. He said these leaders plundered the national exchequer.