Trump and the Middle East: A new course

US President Donald Trump, flanked by Vice President Mike Pence, delivers remarks recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel at the White House in Washington, on Wednesday. (Reuters)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Trump and the Middle East: A new course

• Trump has instituted a policy of unwavering support for Israel after a period of strained relations between Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The last days of the Obama administration included an extraordinary US refusal at the UN to block a Security Council resolution condemning Israeli settlement construction.
Netanyahu welcomed Trump’s November 2016 election saying he was a “true friend of the State of Israel.” Since then, Trump has appointed a US ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, known for his support for settlement activity, and ordered the withdrawal of US support for UNESCO, citing anti-Israel bias. Trump has tasked his son-in-law Jared Kushner, a senior adviser, with relaunching moribund peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. But he has been lukewarm about a Palestinian state and angered Palestinian leaders earlier this year with a threat — since withdrawn — to close the Palestine Liberation Organization mission in Washington.
• Trump considers Iran to be the principal threat to US interests in the Middle East and has frequently condemned the Islamic Republic for what he sees as its “destabilizing” influence in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
Trump has been a relentless critic of the Iran nuclear deal signed in 2015 and has repeatedly threatened to scrap the agreement intended to prevent Tehran from developing nuclear weapons.
• Trump has strengthened ties with Saudi Arabia. Relations with another Middle East powerhouse — Egypt — have also entered a new era under Trump. Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was persona non grata under Obama and the US cut off some military aid because of the bloody crackdown on supporters of the former president. But Trump welcomed El-Sisi to the White House in April and proclaimed his “strong backing” for the Egyptian leader.
• Trump frequently accused Obama of failing to stand up to Bashar Assad and in April he ordered the first US military strike on Syrian troops since the civil war began in that country. Dozens of US missiles were fired at a Syrian air base in retaliation for a chemical weapons attack on a rebel town which left 87 people dead. The US has deployed some 2,000 troops in Syria and the Pentagon said Tuesday that they will stay “as long as we need” to prevent a return of the Daesh group.
Trump also reinforced the US military contingent in Afghanistan, a move at odds with Obama’s efforts to withdraw US troops from conflict zones abroad.


Tripoli clashes leave 115 dead, 383 injured- health ministry

Updated 36 min 22 sec ago
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Tripoli clashes leave 115 dead, 383 injured- health ministry

  • Tripoli and western Libya are run by a UN-backed government mainly supported by armed groups
  • The Kaniyat and other groups from outside Tripoli launched an assault on the capital in late August

TRIPOLI: At least 115 people have been killed and 383 injured in month-long clashes between rival factions in Tripoli, Libya’s health ministry said on Sunday.
The fighting pitted the Seventh Brigade, or Kaniyat, from Tarhouna, a town 65 km (45 miles) southeast of Tripoli, against the Tripoli Revolutionaries’ Brigades (TRB) and the Nawasi, two of the capital’s largest armed groups.
Tripoli and western Libya are run by a UN-backed government mainly supported by armed groups, while Eastern Libya is controlled by a rival administration. The country has been riven since Muammar Qaddafi was toppled in 2011.
The Kaniyat and other groups from outside Tripoli launched an assault on the capital in late August amid unease over reports of the wealth, power and extravagant lifestyles of some Tripoli militia commanders.
At the Frontline in Tripoli’s southern residential areas of Wadi Rabea and Fatma Zahra, shelled houses, torched vehicles, destroyed shops and deserted streets attest to the intensity of the clashes.
“The death toll could surge because of the critical condition of the injured and the continuing fighting,” Wedad Abo Al-Niran, media officer at the health ministry told Reuters.
The armed groups which claim official status through the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli patrol the area in armored vehicles and pickup trucks mounted with anti-aircraft guns.
The fighting has knocked out most power stations in the city and crippled Tripoli’s main airport.
Although civilian targets continue to be shelled, Hakeem Al-Sheikh, commander of 42 Brigade loyal to GNA, said “the situation is under control.”
Meanwhile residents in southern Tripoli continue to bear the brunt of the infighting, with many forced to flee their homes.
“We are staying with our relatives as we are afraid of looting acts,” said Abdulqader Al-Ryani, a father of three who left everything behind when he left his house.
So far, calls by the GNA for all sides to uphold a cease-fire agreed on Sept. 4 have fallen on deaf ears.
Adding to the existing tensions, a coalition of armed groups including Misrata military council promised on Saturday to fight alongside Tarhouna’s Seventh Brigade saying that they “reject the rule of militias inside Tripoli.”