US defense secretary visits key ally Qatar

Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani (R) welcomes US Defense Secretary James Mattis (2nd L) and US Ambassador to Qatar Dana Shell Smith (L) at his residence, the Sea Palace, in Doha, Qatar. (REUTERS)
Updated 22 April 2017

US defense secretary visits key ally Qatar

DOHA: US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis met Qatar’s emir on Saturday during a visit to the oil-rich Gulf state, home to the largest US air base in the Middle East.
The visit to Doha is part of a regional tour that has included stops in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel. Mattis is scheduled to visit Djibouti on Sunday.
The Pentagon chief’s meeting with Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani aimed to “reinforce relationships” between the two countries, Mattis said.
“Relationships get better or weaker, and I’m committed to making it better from our side,” Mattis told the Qatari leader.
Their talks were expected to focus on the fight against the Daesh group, the conflict in Syria and the regional role of Iran, which Mattis has described as “destabilising.”
Mattis was also due to hold talks with Defense Minister Khaled Al-Attiya.
Washington’s relations with Gulf Arab states became increasingly frayed during the presidency of Barack Obama, whom leaders saw as too reluctant to intervene in the civil war in Syria and overly friendly with regional rival Iran.
Mattis, who commanded troops during the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, said in Israel on Friday that there was “no doubt” Syria has kept some chemical weapons and warned President Bashar Assad’s regime not to use them.
Assad has said repeatedly that his forces turned over all chemical weapons stockpiles in 2013, under a deal brokered by Russia to avoid threatened US military action.
A small but strategic state in the Gulf, Qatar plays a key role in regional politics.
It is home to the Al-Udeid air base which houses around 10,000 US troops.
A longtime supporter of Syrian opposition groups, Qatar cosponsored a deal with regime ally Iran late last month that has seen the evacuation of thousands of Shiite civilians from two regime-held towns in northern Syria under siege by the opposition.
A mainly Qatari hunting party, who had been kidnapped in southern Iraq in December 2015, were also freed.
Their abduction was widely linked to Shiite militias with ties to Iran and sources in Baghdad said their release was part of the deal.
Hundreds of civilians and fighters were also evacuated from rebel-held areas near Damascus under siege by pro-government forces.


Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

Updated 9 min 51 sec ago

Israeli court bars ‘racist’ candidates from September poll

JERUSALEM: Israel’s Supreme Court has barred two members of an extreme-right party many view as racist from running in a September 17 general election.
The court ruled that candidates Benzi Gopstein and Baruch Marzel, of the Jewish Power party could not stand, quoting a law barring “incitement to racism” by candidates, according to a court statement late Sunday.
Jewish Power members are followers of late racist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach movement wanted to chase Arabs from Israel.
The ideology of Kahane, assassinated in New York in 1990, also inspired Baruch Goldstein, who carried out a massacre of 29 Palestinian worshippers in Hebron in 1994.
The court rejected petitions to ban the Jewish Power as a party and upheld the candidacy of West Bank settler Itamar Ben-Gvir, who heads its electoral list.
Ben-Gvir acknowledges having a picture of Goldstein in his living room, but has reportedly said it is because he was a physician who rescued Jews targeted in Palestinian attacks.
Indicted 53 times since his youth, Ben-Gvir boasts of having been cleared in 46 cases. He decided to study law on the recommendation of judges so he could defend himself.
He now represents settlers accused of violence, including those allegedly responsible for an arson attack that killed an 18-month-old Palestinian boy and his parents in 2015 in the West Bank, an incident that drew widespread revulsion.
Jewish Power advocates removing “Israel’s enemies from our land,” a reference to Palestinians and Arab Israelis who carry out attacks.
It also calls for Israel annexing the occupied West Bank, where more than 2.5 million Palestinians live.
Alone it was considered unlikely to garner the 3.25 percent of votes cast necessary to get into parliament.
But a deal mentored by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saw it entering an electoral alliance with two other far-right parties, improving its chances.
The pact drew disgust from many in Israel and among Jewish communities abroad, particularly in the United States.
For Netanyahu, the deal ahead of what is expected to be a close election was pure politics.
He defended it by saying he does not want any right-wing votes to go to waste as he plans his next coalition.