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Iran Sends Delegation to Saudi Arabia for Hajj Talks

Published in Iran
Friday, 20 January 2017 11:12

Iranian Culture Minister Reza Salehi Amiri said the country has sent a delegation to Saudi Arabia for negotiations on participation of Iranian pilgrims in this year’s Hajj.

Salehi Amiri on Thursday said the five-strong delegation is headed by Head of Iran’s Hajj and Pilgrimage Organization Hamid Mohammadi.

He added that Iran has seven major preconditions for dispatching pilgrims to Saudi Arabia this year, the most important of which is receiving guarantees that the safety and dignity of Iranian pilgrims will be preserved.

Last week, Ali Qazi-Askar, the representative of Leader of the Islamic Revolution in Hajj and pilgrimage affairs, confirmed that Iran has received an invitation from Saudi Arabia for talks on the 2017 Hajj pilgrimage, adding that a delegation will go to the kingdom for the negotiations.

More than 1.8 million faithful took part in last year’s Hajj, but Iranians stayed at home after tensions between Riyadh and Tehran boiled over following a deadly stampede during the 2015 pilgrimage.

Daesh terrorists destroyed the world-famous Tetrapylon, as well as a part of a Roman theater in Palmyra, Syrian state TV said on Friday.

Yesterday, Daesh terrorists carried out mass executions in the same theater.

The facade of the historical building is now completely destroyed, Sputnik cited Syrian state TV as reporting on Friday.

The terrorists also demolished Palmyra's famous Tetrapylon, a four-column structure.

On January 18, the Syrian army supported by Russian warplanes launched an operation against Daesh in Palmyra: "We have received information confirmed by several sources about the transfer of a big amount of explosives to Palmyra to help Daesh terrorists destroy world historical heritage in the city," Lt. Gen. Sergei Rudskoy, the chief of the Russian General Staff Main Operational Directorate, said at a news briefing in Moscow.

In December 2016, Daesh recaptured the ancient city of Palmyra in the Homs province. According to various sources, the number of terrorists that took part in the storming of the city reached 5,000 including hundreds of suicide bombers and dozens of armored vehicles.

Outgoing President Barack Obama ordered at least 526 drone strikes during his presidency, killing as many as 117 civilians, according to a new report by US intelligence agencies.

The number of drone strikes during the Obama administration was 10 times more than the number carried out during the presidency of President George W. Bush, according to the intelligence community’s report released Thursday.

The annual report was required by Obama's executive order signed last year, and comes just hours before the end of his term.

US official said the White House called intelligence agencies Thursday to push out the report, saying if it wasn't released now it may never be under Incoming US President Donald Trump.

The report says as many as 117 civilians have been killed in American drone and other counter-terror attacks in Pakistan, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere.

Those numbers were greeted skeptically by human rights organizations, which estimated 380 to 1,000 civilian casualties were caused by US strikes.

The Center for Civilians in Conflict said the figure of civilian casualties in the report falls well short of numbers reported by most independent observers. "They know, better than anybody, how many civilians are actually killed, and it’s important for official figures to match reality," said the center's executive director, Federico Borello.

The US military, along with the CIA, conduct drone strikes in Pakistan, Yemen, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Somalia, and Libya.

A driver has plowed his vehicle into pedestrians at a busy shopping center in Melbourne, Australia, leaving multiple casualties.

Three people were killed, including a child, and 20 others injured after the car “deliberately” drove into pedestrians in Bourke Street mall in Melbourne, police said on Friday.

“It is believed police were in pursuit of a vehicle in the CBD when the vehicle deliberately struck a number of pedestrians in the vicinity of Bourke and Queens Streets at approximately 1:30 pm (13:30 GMT)," Victoria police said in a statement.

The statement added the driver had received bullet wounds and was being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.

The motive behind the ramming is still unclear and police are investigating the circumstances surrounding the incident. However, the possibility of a terror attack has been ruled out by police.

Police said the 26-year-old suspect had a history of family violence, adding that the mall incident took place following a stabbing and hostage-taking incident elsewhere in Windsor.

Prior to the incident, the driver had allegedly taken a woman hostage in his car.

The woman, however, had managed to escape and police had been in pursuit of the alleged felon.

Yemeni sniper fire kills 2 Saudi soldiers in Jizan

Published in Yemen
Friday, 20 January 2017 10:30

At least two Saudi soldiers have been killed in retaliatory attacks carried out by Yemeni forces on military positions in the south of the kingdom.

Yemeni sources said on Wednesday that snipers from Yemen's popular committees targeted two Saudi military camps in the province of Jizan.

There was no immediate report about injuries in the ranks of the Saudi military.

Yemenis have intensified attacks on the southern Saudi territories in retaliation for Riyadh's renewed airstrikes on Yemen.

Yemen's Houthi Ansarullah movement said on Wednesday that at least 16 Saudi soldiers had been killed in sniper attacks by Houthi fighters and allies since the start of 2017. All the casualties have been recorded in the three Saudi provinces of Jizan, Asir and Najran, which border Yemen, Ansarullah said on its website al-Masirah. Yemenis say their attacks are only aimed at Saudi military personnel and not civilians.

The United Nations has expressed distress at the execution of three Shia Muslim activists in Bahrain over their alleged role in killing policemen during a pro-democracy demonstration.

“We are appalled at the execution by firing squad of three men in Bahrain on Sunday,” UN human rights commissioner spokesman Rupert Colville said in a statement on Tuesday.

Colville noted that the defendants’ confessions were supposedly obtained under torture, and that their lawyers were not given access to all the evidence against them nor allowed to cross-examine prosecution witnesses.

“We again urge Bahrain to impose a moratorium on the use of death penalty,” the top UN official said, adding that Manama should work to “abolish the death penalty definitively.”

Colville added there were “serious doubts whether the accused were provided with the right to fair trial.”

On January 15, Bahrain executed Abbas al-Samea, 27, Sami Mushaima, 42, and Ali al-Singace, 21, by firing squad. The killings came a week after the Court of Cassation upheld death sentences against the trio after finding them guilty of killing three policemen, including an Emirati officer, in the northern village of al-Daih back in March 2014.

Condemnations have poured in from across the world, even Bahrain’s allies, against the executions.

On Tuesday, the United States reprimanded Bahrain over the executions.

“We’re concerned that these executions occurred at a time of elevated tension in Bahrain,” US State Department spokesman John Kirby said.

UN expert calls for end to Saudi ban on women driving

Published in Saudi Arab
Friday, 20 January 2017 09:44

Philip Alston, an Australian legal expert who reports to the UN Human Rights Council, said after a 12-day visit to Saudi Arabia that the government in Riyadh was urgently required to cast aside rules and regulations that have hampered social life in the kingdom.

"So, I feel very strongly that the kingdom should move to enable women to drive cars," Alston said on Thursday.

The expert also called on Riyadh to make efforts to change the country’s guardianship system, which effectively hinders women's ability to work and travel. Alston said some features of the system, requiring that women obtain the consent of a male member of their family to study, travel and other activities, “need to be reformed.”

"My concern is that the government is in fact deferring to a relatively small portion of conservative voices," Alston told a news conference, adding, “The role of the government is to work out how it can change the policy and how it can change attitudes.”

The UN expert also lamented that people in some parts of Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil producer, are living in extreme poverty without the kingdom having any concrete plan to help them.

Alston said most of the people living in the southern Jizan region were in “extraordinarily poor conditions,” adding that the situation in the country’s east, where a Shia minority group lives, was quite the same.

“There needs to be a plan to more systematically address their situation,” said the UN expert, regretting the fact that Riyadh had failed to admit that poverty existed in the country and officials were still in the habit of hiding information on the issue.

The United Nations children’s agency, UNICEF, says nearly 400,000 Syrian child refugees living in Turkey are currently out of school and at risk of becoming a "lost generation."

UNICEF said on Thursday that more than 40 percent of Syrian child refugees of school-going age were missing out on education in Turkey.

In a statement published on Thursday, Justin Forsyth, the agency’s deputy executive director, called for action to tackle the issue.

"Unless more resources are provided, there is still a very real risk of a 'lost generation' of Syrian children, deprived of the skills they will one day need to rebuild their country,” Forsyth said.

The UN official made the remarks after a visit to southern Turkey where thousands of Syrians live in cities and inside camps.

The Ankara government says there are 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey. According to UNICEF, children make up 1.2 million of the Syrian refugees in Turkey.

Thousands of Palestinians have staged demonstrations across the occupied West Bank in condemnation of US President-elect Donald Trump’s plan to fulfill an election campaign promise to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds.

Hundreds of demonstrators waved Palestinian flags during a protest in the northern West Bank city of Nablus, situated approximately 49 kilometers north of Jerusalem al-Quds, on Thursday.

They also held signs reading, “Al-Quds is the Key to Peace and War,” and, “Moving the American Embassy is a New Balfour Declaration for Palestinians.”

Nasser Abu Jaish, a member of the Palestinian People’s Party, said the US embassy relocation would be equal to declaration of war on Palestinians as well as Arab and Muslim nations.

“Especially at this time, moving the embassy would confirm that the US administration has decided to end the peace process in the region,” he said.

Iraqi Vice President Nouri al-Maliki says the government of US President Barack Obama is responsible for the rise and spread of the Daesh terrorist group in the Arab country.

“Daesh is a creation of the outgoing US President Barack Obama's administration, which has caused bloodshed in Iraq, Syria and Yemen,” said Maliki, who is the secretary-general of the Islamic Dawa political party.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with Sky News Arabia television news network earlier this week, US Secretary of State John Kerry had accused Maliki of being behind Baghdad’s weakness and growth of the Daesh terrorist group in Iraq.
Kerry said Maliki contributed to the formation of Popular Mobilization Units, commonly known by the Arabic word Hashd al-Sha’abi, claiming that the group had weakened government forces in face of Daesh militants.

Hashd al-Sha’abi fighters joined forces with Iraqi army soldiers and Kurdish forces in a major operation on October 17, 2016 to retake the strategic northern city of Mosul from Daesh terrorists.

The pro-government fighters also played a major role in the liberation of Tikrit, located 140 kilometers northwest of Baghdad, as well as Fallujah city in the western province of al-Anbar among many areas in Iraq.

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