Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says
Afghan families leave their houses after fighting between the Afghan military and Taliban insurgents in Helmand province on Oct. 13, 2020. (AP Photo/Abdul Khaliq)
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Updated 17 October 2020

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says

Afghan Taliban driven out of Helmand capital, governor says
  • Insurgent group has lost 300 members in government attacks, officials say

KABUL: Afghan troops have pushed back the Taliban from the outskirts of Helmand’s provincial capital, Lashkar Gah, in the south of the country, with the insurgent group losing 300 men in recent days, Helmand’s governor said on Saturday.

“The Taliban have been driven (out) from the limits of the city and have lost over 300 men, including their commanders and senior members, in Helmand’s fighting,” Mohammed Yasin Khan told reporters, adding that 30 defense and security forces, and seven civilians also died.

The Taliban were unavailable for comment on Saturday and have remained tight-lipped about their losses in Helmand since last week.

Strikes which were thought to be by the group prompted US troops in Afghanistan to bomb advancing Taliban members, accusing them of being “inconsistent” with a peace agreement signed in Qatar in February this year.

The Taliban’s major drive to gain a foothold in Lashkar Gah contravenes the February accord, which bars it from carrying out large-scale offensives and attacks on urban areas.

Both US and NATO have called on the Taliban to immediately halt their strikes.

It follows a surge in violence elsewhere in Afghanistan and is taking place amid the withdrawal of US troops from various parts of the country, including Helmand, which is located near the border with Pakistan and Iran.

The Taliban and Kabul have accused each other of stepping up their attacks.

Meanwhile negotiators from both sides are meeting in Doha, Qatar, for intra-Afghan talks which began on Sept.12 to find a working mechanism to end decades of conflict.

Commenting on the increase in Taliban attacks and the proposed departure of US troops from Afghanistan, Abdullah Abdullah, head of the High Council for National Reconciliation, said on Friday that the “violence will not lead the country to peace.”

He added that the Taliban should not be under any illusion that the group can re-establish an Islamic Emirate, which was toppled during the US-led invasion in 2001.

“If they are thinking of reimposing the Taliban emirate after the withdrawal of the international forces, it will not be acceptable for the people of Afghanistan under any circumstances,” Abdullah said.

Shifting stances by US leaders on the timetable for pull-out of troops from Afghanistan has confounded many.

According to the Doha deal, all American troops were expected to leave the country by spring 2021. However, to the surprise of many Afghans and officials in Washington, US President Donald Trump tweeted on Oct. 7 that he wanted all American troops home “by Christmas”.

Adding to the diplomatic and political seesaw, Trump’s National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien said on Friday that US troops in Afghanistan would be downsized to nearly 2,500 in the first two months of 2021.

In the past, Afghan officials have played down the importance of a reduction or even the departure of all foreign troops from the country, arguing that national forces could fend off the insurgents’ attacks.

However, Javid Faisal, an adviser in the office of Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, said on Saturday that the troops’ departure must be condition-based.

“Conditions on the ground and how things evolve must define any future decision more than wishes and impetuous schedules, as none of the obligations have been met and none of the subsisting threats receded,” he said.

However, Kabul respected Washington’s decision to withdraw troops, government-appointed negotiator Nader Nadery has said in Doha.

“It is a sovereign decision by them; they are a partner with the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan. They make a decision based on their own policy. Whatever decision they make it is entirely up to them,” Nadery said.

“What is relevant to us is a commitment to a peaceful settlement, and that is what we are engaged to (achieve) in Qatar,” he added.

Experts, however, blamed the “foundation” of the deal for the current impasse in talks and the turmoil in the country.

“The Americans laid a wrong foundation with regards to its deal with the Taliban,” Abdul Satar Saadat, a former adviser to President Ghani, told Arab News on Saturday.

“The US should have brought the Taliban with the government on the same page and then should have signed the agreement with the Taliban and pulled its troops. Now, the Taliban feel emboldened and think can capture power because the government is weak after the pull-out of the troops.”


Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
Updated 11 min 43 sec ago

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations

Leading British Imam urges caution during Eid celebrations
  • Qari Asim urged Muslims to “not drop the ball before restrictions are eased”
  • British Muslims have now celebrated two Ramadans while adhering to social distancing measures

LONDON: One of Britain’s leading imams has urged British Muslims to exert caution and continue to observe coronavirus disease (COVID-19) restrictions on personal contact and indoor gatherings during Eid celebrations.

Qari Asim, chairman of the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board, said it would be “excruciatingly painful” to celebrate Eid without gathering in numbers and embracing loved ones — but that everyone should “take that extra step” to keep people safe before restrictions are lifted.

Thursday marks the end of the second Ramadan Muslims in Britain have spent adhering to restrictions on personal contact and large gatherings — both of which are hallmarks of traditional Ramadan and Eid celebrations.

Asim said: “This Eid will be very different in the sense that we will not be able to greet each other in the traditional way of embracing each other, hugging and handshaking with each other.

“But I’m really hopeful that next Eid we will be able to be with each other and embrace each other and share a meal with our extended family and friends.”

He added: “It’s excruciatingly painful because the easing of restrictions is taking place next week when we will be able to hug each other and we will be able to embrace each other.

“We just have to take that one extra step to get us through this pandemic and make sure that we do not drop the ball before the restrictions are completely eased.”

On May 17, Britain will see a raft of pandemic-related restrictions to social life relaxed — including a cap on the number of worshippers allowed into mosques and other places of worship.

Asim said: “It’s been extremely challenging to follow the restrictions that have been in place but people have made incredible sacrifices and the Muslim community has strictly followed the guidelines given by the government.”

Instead of the traditional shared iftar meal, mosques in the UK have chosen to share food with vulnerable members of their local communities.

His own mosque, Asim said, has handed out more than 7,000 food parcels in the local area throughout Ramadan.


Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
Updated 13 May 2021

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests

Jewish group condemns ‘pure antisemitism’ in German protests
  • German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days
  • Two synagogues were attacked and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since violence erupted in Israel and the Gaza Strip.

BERLIN: Germany’s leading Jewish group on Thursday sharply condemned protests in front of a synagogue in the western city of Gelsenkirchen as “pure antisemitism.”
Several other German cities including Berlin, Hamburg and Hannover have seen anti-Israeli protests over the past few days.
At least two synagogues were attacked, and several Israeli flags were torn down and burned since the latest eruption of violence in Israel and the Gaza Strip.
The Central Council of Jews in Germany tweeted a video of dozens of protesters in Gelsenkirchen waving Palestinian and Turkish flags and yelling expletives about Jews.
“Jew hatred in the middle of Gelsenkirchen in front of the synagogue. The times in which Jews were cursed in the middle of the street should have long been over. This is pure antisemitism, nothing else!” the group tweeted.
The German government repeatedly condemned anti-Israeli and antisemitic attacks earlier this week and said that “the perpetrators must be found and held responsible and Jewish institutions must be protected thoroughly.”
On Thursday, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told Funke Media Group that “there must be zero tolerance for attacks on synagogues in our country.”
“All of us are called on to make it very clear that we do not accept if Jews in Germany are made responsible for the events in the Middle East — neither in the streets nor on social media,” Maas added.
The protests in Gelsenkirchen on Wednesday were dispersed by police, German news agency DPA reported, but authorities reported further incidents in other parts of the country.
Some cities which had hoisted Israeli flags in front of their city halls on Wednesday in remembrance of the start of German-Israeli diplomatic relations on May 12, 1965, reported that the flags were torn down and sometimes burned.
An Israeli flag in front of a city hall in the western town of Solingen was torn and burnt and two Israeli flags in Berlin were also torn down late Wednesday night.
On Tuesday night, police stopped 13 suspects in the western city of Muenster near a synagogue after an Israeli flag was burned there. In the western city of Bonn, police said several people damaged the entrance of a synagogue with stones and investigators found a burned flag as well. In nearby Duesseldorf, somebody burned garbage on top of a memorial for a former synagogue.
Several cities and states in Germany have since upped their security and raised police presence in front of Jewish institutions, dpa reported.
In Berlin, some 100 people also assembled for a pro-Israel rally on Wednesday night in front of the city’s landmark Brandenburg Gate waving Israeli flags and holding a banner saying “We stand with Israel — Now and Forever.”


Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
Updated 13 May 2021

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr

Muslims across Italy celebrate Eid Al-Fitr
  • Members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which numbers around 20,000, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea
  • Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases

ROME: Thousands of Muslims in Palermo gathered in the capital of Sicily’s waterfront to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr and pray for the victims in Palestine.

Several members of the Islamic community in Palermo, which counts around 20,000 members, joined early-morning prayers at the Foro Italico, a vast open-air area facing the sea.

Everyone was wearing a mask and carrying their own carpet. Stewards from the community made sure that social distancing was maintained, with Sicily still recording a high number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases.

Prayers were led by Mustafà Boulaalam, the imam of the mosque of Piazza Gran Cancelliere, which before 1998 was a Catholic church and was donated to the Islamic community by the late Cardinal of Palermo Salvatore Pappalardo. Imams from the city’s other mosques and Islamic centers also joined this moment of reflection.

The Mayor of Palermo Leoluca Orlando represented the city, and gave his best wishes to the Islamic community.

Orlando said: “In this moment we are all called to build fraternity in order to create peace and feel that we are children of one God. Unfortunately, this fraternity we all long for continues to be mortified by the deaths in the Mediterranean of migrants who try to reach Europe from North Africa but also from the bombs and blood that in these hours are tearing Palestine apart.”

He added: “We must all fight to defend life and pursue fraternity between individuals and peoples in the wake of peace.”

The mayor told Arab News: “Even this year Eid Al-Fitr is a feast for the entire city of Palermo and all of its citizens, not only for the Muslims who live and work here.”

Fr. Piero Magro read a message of participation from the Palermo Archbishop Corrado Lorefice, who was represented at the prayer by Biagio Conte, a lay missionary who since the late 1990s has run the “Missione di Speranza e Carità,” a charity in one of the poorest neighborhoods of Palermo.

“In our mission we have every day hundreds of Muslim brothers coming to seek for help. We try to do whatever we can to help them, especially in this particularly difficult time of the pandemic. Because we are all brothers and only if we are together we will overcome the hardship,” Conte told Arab News.

In Rome, only 1,000 were admitted for prayers in the grounds of the Great Mosque in the north of the Italian capital. 

The Islamic Cultural Center advised those over 70 and children to not attend. The center ordered everyone to bring their own disinfected Sajjada and to practice ablutions at home before reaching the mosque.

“It is so nice to be here again, all together, to pray in respect of the precautions. This Ramadan has been more normal than the one we had last year, when the pandemic reached its peak. At least we can go to the Islamic centers, and now we can celebrate,” Hussein Garoub, 20, a student at the La Sapienza University in Rome, told Arab News after the prayer.


Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid
Updated 13 May 2021

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid

Protests over Glasgow immigration raid on Eid
  • 200 protesters in a largely Muslim part of Scotland's biggest city demonstrated as immigration officials raided a property on Eid al-Fitr’s first day
  • There was no immediate comment from the UK Home Office on who was targeted in the raid

GLASGOW: Around 200 protesters in a largely Muslim part of Scotland’s biggest city demonstrated as immigration officials raided a property on Thursday, the start of the festival of Eid Al-Fitr.
The raid occurred in the Glasgow constituency of Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, who said she was “deeply concerned by this action by the Home Office, especially today in the heart of a community celebrating Eid.”
“My office is making urgent enquiries and stands ready to offer any necessary assistance to those detained,” she tweeted.
There was no immediate comment from the UK Home Office on who was targeted in the raid but Mohammad Asif, director of the Afghan Human Rights Foundation, indicated they were Afghans.
“The same people who run from the British and American bombs put at the back of the van right now. And they are about to be deported,” he said.
“And it’s on Eid you know... the guys are not even allowed to pray. How do you do that in a democratic society? It’s a sad day.”
Watched by a large deployment of police, protesters sat on the road in front of the property and a crowd gathered around the Home Office vehicle, chanting “Leave our neighbors, let them go” and “Cops go home.”
The three-day festival of Eid marks the end of the holy fasting month of Ramadan. It is traditionally celebrated with mosque prayers, family feasts and shopping.
“I’d ask Christians to reflect on what it would feel like to have your house raided on Christmas Day,” said Tom, a neighbor who joined the protest.


Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
Updated 13 May 2021

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban

Afghan president says Pakistan will not support return of Taliban
  • Ghani’s remarks come days after the Pakistan army chief visits Kabul despite stalled negotiations
  • Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years

KABUL: Afghanistan President Ashraf Ghani said on Thursday that Pakistan, which Kabul has long seen as a supporter of the Taliban, is not in favor of the group’s return to power in his war-battered country.

Concerns are mounting among the current Afghan administration because the complete US troop withdrawal, expected by September, could leave the country vulnerable to a Taliban takeover 20 years after it was ousted from power in a US-led invasion.

Ghani’s remarks came days after a visit from Pakistan’s army chief, Gen. Qamar Javed Bajwa, to Kabul.

“Pakistan’s army, in utter clarity, announced that the revival of Islamic Emirate is not in Pakistan’s national interest,” Ghani said in a televised speech after Eid Al-Fitr prayers, marking the end of Ramadan.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was the country’s name during Taliban rule from 1996-2001.

“Afghanistan’s peace and stability means peace and stability in the region,” the president said, adding the Pakistani general expressed his support for “the republic” — which is understood as Ghani’s government.

The Pakistani military did not immediately comment on Ghani’s statement. Its spokesperson also was not available when contacted by Arab News.

Ties between Kabul and Islamabad have been historically tense but have soured even more in the past 20 years. The Afghan government accused Pakistan of backing the Taliban which has been fighting to drive foreign troops out of the country and return to power.

While Pakistan has denied supporting the Taliban, its influence has been crucial in persuading the militants to join ongoing US-sponsored negotiations for a permanent ceasefire and power-sharing arrangement in Afghanistan.

Gen. Bajwa’s visit to Kabul came as the negotiations have stalled for months and violent attacks in Afghanistan have been on the rise since the US missed a May 1 deadline to withdraw its soldiers under last year’s agreement between Washington and the Taliban.

“Pakistan is also not keen on seeing an extremist ideology taking root in Afghanistan. It represents a risk for the generals and Pakistan’s democracy as well,” Toreq Farhadi, a former adviser to the Afghan government, told Arab News.

“Pakistan wants a political settlement in Afghanistan where Taliban can be part of the governing structure and opposes a total takeover of power by the Taliban.”