Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank clashes

In this Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2019 file photo, Israeli forces deploy during a raid in the West Bank City of Ramallah. Israel has been launching raids into the heart of Ramallah, and the US is cutting off aid and taking actions that many fear will obliterate any remaining hope for a two-state solution. (AP)
Updated 26 January 2019

Palestinian killed by Israeli fire in West Bank clashes

RAMALLAH: Israeli settlers shot and killed a Palestinian man in the occupied West Bank on Saturday, Palestinian officials and the Israeli military said.
The incident followed a confrontation between settlers and Palestinians near the city of Ramallah in which a settler was lightly injured, the military said.
"Initial details suggest that shortly thereafter, a conflict erupted between Israeli civilians and Palestinians in the area, in which live rounds were fired by the civilians. One Palestinian died and several others are injured," the military said in a statement, adding that an investigation has begun.
The Palestinians said the settlers had entered the village of al-Mughayer and that its residents tried to fend them off. The Israeli military said its forces dispersed the crowds. The Palestinian Health Ministry said that the man killed was 38 years old and that nine other people were wounded by gunfire.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas condemned the killing.
"The Israeli Government is continuing its policy of escalation," Abbas said in a statement published by the official Wafa news agency. "This will lead to serious consequences, further tension and the creation of a dangerous and uncontrollable atmosphere."
Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians broke down in 2014, and a bid by U.S. President Donald Trump to restart negotiations has so far shown little progress.
The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip with a capital in east Jerusalem, territories Israel captured in the 1967 Middle East War.
Israel annexed east Jerusalem in a move unrecognized abroad and in 2005 pulled its settlers and army out of Gaza. It maintains a blockade of the territory, which is controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement. Hamas is designated as a terrorist organization by Israel and the West.
In the West Bank, the Palestinians have limited self-rule and most of the territory is controlled by Israel. Most countries view the settlements Israel has built there as illegal - a view that Israel disputes, citing biblical, historical and political ties to the land.


US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

Updated 14 min 14 sec ago

US general sees smaller but enduring troop presence in Iraq

  • Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike killed Qassem Soleimani and Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis
  • McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government

WASHINGTON: Six months after a deadly American airstrike in Baghdad enraged Iraqis and fueled demands to send all US troops home, the top US general for the Middle East is talking optimistically about keeping a smaller but enduring military presence there.
Marine Gen. Frank McKenzie, the commander of US Central Command, met Tuesday with Iraq’s new prime minister, Mustafa Al-Kadhimi, and said afterward that he believes the Iraqis welcome the US and coalition troops, especially in the ongoing fight to keep Daesh militants from taking hold of the country again.
“I believe that going forward, they’re going to want us to be with them,” McKenzie told a small group of reporters, speaking by phone hours after he left Iraq. “I don’t sense there’s a mood right now for us to depart precipitously. And I’m pretty confident of that.”
Tensions spiked between the US and Iraq in January after a US drone strike near the Baghdad airport killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani and Iraqi militia leader Abu Mahdi Al-Muhandis. Angry Iraqi lawmakers, spurred on by Shiite political factions, passed a nonbinding resolution to oust all US-led coalition forces from the country.
In response to the Soleimani killing, Iran on Jan. 8 launched a massive ballistic missile attack on Al-Asad air base in Iraq, which resulted in traumatic brain injuries to more than 100 American troops. Two months later, US fighter jets struck five sites in retaliation, targeting Iranian-backed Shiite militia members believed responsible for the January rocket attack.
President Donald Trump has vowed to bring troops home and halt what he calls America’s endless wars. But he has also warned Iran to expect a bold US response if Iranian-backed militias attack Americans in Iraq.
The US invaded Iraq in 2003, but troops left in 2011. American forces returned to Iraq in 2014, after Daesh began taking over large swaths of the country,
McKenzie last visited Iraq in early February, slipping into the country for a few hours to meet with leaders as anti-American sentiment was soaring and violent protests and rocket attacks were pummeling the American Embassy.
Relations, however, have improved since Al-Kadhimi took over in May. And while some groups, such as parliament’s Iran-backed Fatah bloc, continue to call for the withdrawal of US forces, there is an emerging dialog between the US and Iraq on the future relationship between the two nations.
McKenzie said the US recognizes that Al-Kadhimi is in a difficult position as he tries to deal with all factions within the government and maintain relations with both the US and Iran.
The US has criticized Iraq’s government for being unable to rein in the Iran-backed militia groups it believes are orchestrating the attacks. And Al-Kadhimi has pledged to protect American troops and installations from attacks.
“I think he’s negotiating a land mine now. I think we need to help him,” McKenzie said. “He’s in a very difficult position.”
McKenzie said he hopes the US-Iraq meeting slated for this month will be face-to-face but knows the coronavirus pandemic could affect that. The talks are expected to run the gamut of their bilateral relations, with Washington prioritizing future force levels in Iraq and the ongoing militia attacks, and Baghdad focusing more on its dire economic crisis.
“Certainly we need some foreign presence in Iraq,” McKenzie said. “I don’t know that it needs to be as big as it is now, because ultimately that’s going to be a political, not a military, decision. But I think the Iraqis know, welcome and value what we do for them now.”
There are between 5,000 and 6,000 US troops in Iraq.
McKenzie would not say how many US troops might stay. But he said Iraqi conventional forces now operate on their own. US and coalition forces continue to conduct training and counterterrorism operations, including with Iraqi commandos. Any final decisions, he said, would be coordinated with the Iraqi government.
He said that as Iraqi troops grow more competent, fewer coalition forces would be needed.