Iran-backed groups blow up gas pipeline in Syria: Monitor

Iran-backed groups blow up gas pipeline in Syria: Monitor
The al-Tanf military outpost in southern Syria is seen on Oct. 22, 2018. Two US officials told The Associated Press that the al-Tanf garrison, where US troops have maintained a presence to train forces as part of a broad campaign against the Islamic State group, was attacked by drones on Oct. 19, 2023. (AP Photo/File)
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Updated 20 October 2023
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Iran-backed groups blow up gas pipeline in Syria: Monitor

Iran-backed groups blow up gas pipeline in Syria: Monitor
  • US-led coalition forces, which entered Syria in 2014 to fight the Daesh, have set up several bases in Syria including in the Al-Omar oil field
  • The attacks come on the heels of a strike on a hospital in Gaza that left hundreds dead on Tuesday

BEIRUT: Iran-backed groups blew up a gas pipeline in Syria’s Kurdish-controlled northeast near a US base Thursday, a war monitor said, as regional tensions grew following Israel’s war with Gaza-based militants.
Iran-backed groups “blew up the gas pipeline near the Conoco gas facility,” said the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. The Observatory’s director Rami Abdel Rahman told AFP the blast had gone off close to a US base.
US-led coalition forces, which entered Syria in 2014 to fight the Daesh, have set up several bases in Syria including in the Al-Omar oil field, the country’s largest. They are also deployed at the Conoco gas field, and both are in Kurdish-controlled territory.
Flames rose from the site of the explosion, the British-based monitor with a large network of sources inside Syria reported. But it said there had been no casualties.
On Wednesday, CENTCOM said it had shot down two drones and damaged a third in Iraq over the past 24 hours, with allied troops suffering “minor injuries” in one incident.
It did not say who launched the drones, but pro-Iranian groups have threatened to attack American troops in Iraq because of Washington’s support for Israel in its war with Hamas.
The attacks in Iraq and Syria come on the heels of a strike on a hospital in Gaza that left hundreds dead on Tuesday. Hamas has blamed Israel for the attack, which in turn has said that another Palestinian armed group was responsible.
The hospital strike caused outrage across the region, with thousands taking to the streets in Arab capitals in support of Palestinians and condemning Israel.
Gaza has been hit by a relentless barrage of Israeli fire in retaliation for the October 7 Hamas militant attack, which Israel says killed at least 1,400 people, most of them civilians.
Some 1,500 Islamist fighters were killed in clashes before the army regained control, the Israeli military said.
Israeli bombing of Gaza has since killed more than 3,700 Palestinians, most of them civilians, according to the health ministry.
 

 


El-Sisi in Beijing to attend China-Arab cooperation forum

El-Sisi in Beijing to attend China-Arab cooperation forum
Updated 9 sec ago
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El-Sisi in Beijing to attend China-Arab cooperation forum

El-Sisi in Beijing to attend China-Arab cooperation forum
  • The visit coincides with the 10th anniversary of relations between Egypt and China
  • El-Sisi is also scheduled to meet the heads of several major Chinese companies

CAIRO: Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi arrived in Beijing on Tuesday on a state visit to China and to attend the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum after an invitation from President Xi Jinping.
El-Sisi will hold talks with Xi and senior Chinese officials focusing on ways to forge closer relations and unlock broader prospects for cooperation in several fields.
The visit coincides with the 10th anniversary of relations between Egypt and China being raised to the level of a comprehensive strategic partnership.
Ahmed Fahmy, spokesman for Egypt’s presidency, said the talks will also focus on regional and international issues of common interest, primarily the war in Gaza and ways to restore stability in the region and achieve the aspirations of its peoples for peace, security, and development.
El-Sisi is also scheduled to meet the heads of several major Chinese companies.
The meetings are expected to explore opportunities to attract more investment to Egypt in light of the state’s orientation toward enhancing mechanisms for the localization of industry and technology transfer.
Egypt is eager to collaborate closely with the private sector and encourage foreign direct investment.
El-Sisi will attend a meeting of the China-Arab States Cooperation Forum, to be held on May 30, with the participation of the Chinese president and a number of Arab leaders.
The forum will discuss various aspects of China-Arab relations and ways to further advance them.
Egypt’s government said the forum is a framework for dialogue and cooperation between Arab states and China. Its founding document was signed in September 2004 at the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo following a visit by the Chinese president.


Mossad chief staged decade-long influence, intimidation campaign against ICC prosecutor

Mossad chief staged decade-long influence, intimidation campaign against ICC prosecutor
Updated 17 min 24 sec ago
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Mossad chief staged decade-long influence, intimidation campaign against ICC prosecutor

Mossad chief staged decade-long influence, intimidation campaign against ICC prosecutor
  • Yossi Cohen sought to steer court away from investigating Israeli crimes in Occupied Territories
  • ‘Despicable tactics’ used including ‘keen interest’ in prosecutor’s family, source tells The Guardian

LONDON: A former chief of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency staged a years-long campaign of intimidation against a former International Criminal Court prosecutor in an attempt to sway war crimes investigations, The Guardian reported on Tuesday.
Fatou Bensouda, the former ICC prosecutor, became a target of Yossi Cohen in the years leading up to her opening a formal investigation into alleged war crimes in the Occupied Territories.
Launched in 2021, the investigation ended with the seeking of an arrest warrant for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by Bensouda’s successor Karim Khan.
Israel has long feared the results of the investigation, including the threat of prosecution against its military personnel, which was used as justification for Cohen’s decade-long campaign to undermine the court.
As Mossad director, Cohen, a close ally of Netanyahu at the time, was acting as the prime minister’s “unofficial messenger,” a source told The Guardian.
In total, four sources told the newspaper that Bensouda had briefed top ICC officials about Cohen’s campaign, which one official described as “stalking” and involving intimidation.
On several occasions, Cohen had “put pressure” on Bensouda to avoid opening the Palestine case at the ICC.
“You should help us and let us take care of you. You don’t want to be getting into things that could compromise your security or that of your family,” Cohen told her, according to the account of one ICC official to The Guardian.
As part of the targeted campaign against Bensouda, Cohen used “despicable tactics,” including taking a “keen interest” in her family, one source said.
Mossad obtained secret recording transcripts as well as photographs of Bensouda’s husband, which Cohen personally showed her.
His campaign was helped by the former president of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Joseph Kabila, in an unlikely alliance that proved crucial to Cohen.
It is unclear why Kabila aided him, but his status as the leader of a country facing ICC investigation helped him set up a “chance” meeting between Bensouda and Cohen.
The ICC prosecutor and Cohen appear to have first met at the Munich Security Conference in 2017, two years after Bensouda opened a preliminary investigation into the Palestinian file.
A year later, Cohen “ambushed” her in a New York City hotel as she was due to meet Kabila to discuss the situation in his country, The Guardian reported. Cohen’s “surprise” appearance was said to have “alarmed” ICC officials at the time.
He had earlier made a series of trips to the DRC, relating to what was described by Israeli broadcaster Kan as an “extremely controversial plan.”
Following the New York meeting, Cohen repeatedly phoned Bensouda to request further talks in an attempt to “build a relationship” and “play good cop,” sources told The Guardian.
But the influence campaign failed when in 2019, Bensouda announced that she had grounds to open a full criminal investigation into war crimes allegations in the Occupied Territories.
She first requested a ruling from the pre-trial chamber of the ICC, confirming the court’s jurisdiction over Palestine.
At this stage, Cohen stepped up his campaign against Bensouda into “threats and manipulation,” fearing the results of an official investigation being launched.
Senior ICC officials had suspicions that Israel had cultivated sources within the court’s office of the prosecutor.
In 2021, the ICC’s pre-trial chamber confirmed that the court had jurisdiction over the Occupied Territories. A month later, Bensouda formally launched the criminal investigation.
She said at the time: “In the end, our central concern must be for the victims of crimes, both Palestinian and Israeli, arising from the long cycle of violence and insecurity that has caused deep suffering and despair on all sides.”
Her successor, Khan, has vowed to prosecute “attempts to impede, intimidate or improperly influence” ICC officials after a warrant for Netanyahu’s arrest was sought.
The recent results of the investigation first launched by Bensouda represent a heavy blow to Israel’s international standing, and mark a failure of Cohen’s decade-long campaign to influence the court.
“The fact they chose the head of Mossad to be the prime minister’s unofficial messenger to (Bensouda) was to intimidate, by definition,” one source told The Guardian.
In response to questioning by the newspaper, a spokesperson for the Israeli prime minister’s office said: “The questions forwarded to us are replete with many false and unfounded allegations meant to hurt the state of Israel.”
Khan’s move last week to seek arrest warrants against Netanyahu marked the first time the ICC has taken action against leaders of a country closely allied with the US and Europe.
Netanyahu’s alleged crimes pertain to the war in Gaza, and include directing attacks on civilians and using starvation as a method of warfare.


Lebanon deputy looks to push Syria on refugee return

Lebanon deputy looks to push Syria on refugee return
Updated 36 min 39 sec ago
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Lebanon deputy looks to push Syria on refugee return

Lebanon deputy looks to push Syria on refugee return
  • Lebanese deputy leader Saadeh Al-Shami will head the committee
  • Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that for the first time Lebanon has a “clear and specific action plan” on the Syrian refugee issue

BEIRUT: Lebanon has stepped up its push to have Syrian refugees returned to their homeland with the announcement of a Cabinet committee to negotiate directly with the Syrian government on the issue.
Lebanese deputy leader Saadeh Al-Shami will head the committee, which was set up during a Cabinet session on Tuesday with their aim of speeding up the repatriation process.
Speaking following a conference in Brussels on Monday on the future of Syria and the region, Prime Minister Najib Mikati said that for the first time Lebanon has a “clear and specific action plan” on the Syrian refugee issue.
Mikati said that Foreign Minister Abdullah Bou Habib, who represented Lebanon at the Brussels forum, had called for safe areas to be found in Syria so the return process could get underway as soon as possible.
Arab ministers from countries hosting Syrian refugees, including Jordan, Iraq, and Egypt, were urged to agree on a united plan to communicate with the Syrian government and “support early recovery in Syria.”
“During the conference, Lebanon emphasized the need for support and aid to encourage the Syrians to return to their country,” Mikati said.
In his speech, Bou Habib highlighted Lebanon’s continued cooperation, not confrontation, with international organizations affiliated with the UN.
International donors, led by the EU, pledged at the end of the conference to provide $5.4 billion to Syrians inside Syria and refugees in the region, in addition to more than $2.5 billion in soft loans to host countries.
Lebanon estimates there are at least 2 million Syrian refugees in the country, including those registered with UNHCR, workers, legal residents, and those who entered illegally.
Hostility toward Syrian refugees in Lebanon worsened after the abduction and murder of Pascal Suleiman, a local official in the Lebanese Forces Party.
Over the past two months, hate speech against Syrian refugees has escalated and work restrictions have been placed on them to hasten their return.
Lebanon is pushing ahead with plans to repatriate Syrians who entered the country illegally, and has organized voluntary return trips, but participation remains low, with only 225 people joining a convoy two weeks ago.
At the opening of the Brussels conference, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell rejected any discussion of refugees’ return to Syria.
“We consider that there is no safe, voluntary, and dignified return for refugees to Syria at present,” he said.
“Voluntary return must be voluntary; refugees should not be coerced. The situation in Syria today is more perilous than a year ago, humanitarian needs have never been greater, and efforts toward a political solution remain deadlocked.”
Meanwhile, Lebanese security forces are continuing to evict Syrian families living in illegal settlements across towns and villages in Mount Lebanon and the north as part of a crackdown.
On Tuesday, about 1,000 Syrians in Koubba in the Batroun region of northern Lebanon were evicted on orders from Ramzi Nohra, the North Lebanon governor.
Ahead of the Brussels conference, Amnesty International urged those attending to “ensure that any funds pledged to support Syrian refugees in Lebanon do not contribute to human rights violations, including forced deportation to Syria.”
The rights group quoted refugees in Lebanon saying they “live in fear, avoid leaving their homes, going to work, or sending their children to school.”
Dozens of municipalities have imposed curfews on Syrian refugees, and shuttered scores of small businesses and shops employing or run by Syrians nationwide.
Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security has suspended procedures for granting or renewing residency permits through lease contracts, Lebanese sponsorship, or financial guarantees. It has also cautioned people against employing, hosting, or providing accommodation to undocumented Syrian refugees.


Jordanian minister receives American delegation in bid to boost foreign investment

Jordanian minister receives American delegation in bid to boost foreign investment
Updated 28 May 2024
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Jordanian minister receives American delegation in bid to boost foreign investment

Jordanian minister receives American delegation in bid to boost foreign investment
  • Saqqaf highlighted Jordan’s extensive network of trade agreements with numerous economic blocs

AMMAN: Jordan’s Minister of Investment Kholoud Saqqaf on Tuesday welcomed a high-level delegation of executive directors and representatives from prominent American companies, who are visiting Jordan to explore investment opportunities, Jordan News Agency reported.

During the meeting, Saqqaf highlighted Jordan’s extensive network of trade agreements with numerous economic blocs, which have enabled Jordanian exports to reach non-traditional markets and more than 1.5 billion consumers worldwide.

The visit of the US delegation, organized in coordination with the New York-based Business Council for International Understanding, will include meetings with various Jordanian ministries and public and private sector institutions.

The BCIU is a non-partisan organization comprising 200 major US companies, which works to expand international trade, provide essential services to facilitate global growth opportunities, and foster mutually beneficial relationships between business and government leaders worldwide.

Saqqaf emphasized the importance of strengthening economic and investment relations between Jordan and the US, noting that the free trade agreement between the two countries had significantly increased trade volume and encouraged new investments in Jordan.

She outlined key reforms undertaken by Jordan, including the approval of the investment environment law, the initiation of public-private partnership projects, and the launch of an investment promotion strategy targeting various countries, with a particular focus on the American market.

Saqqaf also highlighted improvements in Jordan’s national economy, citing satisfactory economic growth rates, low inflation compared with regional and global levels, and robust foreign currency reserves.

She pointed to Moody’s recent upgrade of Jordan’s credit rating from B1 to BA3, with a stable outlook, as further evidence of Jordan’s attractiveness as an investment destination.

Encouraging the American businesses to invest in Jordan, Saqqaf assured the delegation of the country’s supportive environment for their ventures. She highlighted various investment opportunities available through the Invest in Jordan platform (invest.jo) and reaffirmed Jordan’s openness to business and investment.

Representatives from the BCIU praised Jordan’s stable and secure environment, as well as the reforms aimed at improving the business landscape.

They expressed their commitment to promoting Jordan’s investment environment to their members and other American companies.
 


Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say

Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say
Updated 28 May 2024
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Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say

Israeli tanks hit evacuation zone west of Rafah, 21 dead, Gaza health officials say
  • It came two days after an Israeli airstrike on another camp stirred global condemnation
  • The attack site is a coastal area that Israel had advised civilians in Rafah to move to for safety

CAIRO: Israeli strikes on a tent camp in an evacuation area west of Rafah killed at least 21 on Tuesday, Gaza health authorities said, and tanks advanced to the center of the southern Gaza city for the first time after a night of heavy bombardment.
Two days after an Israeli airstrike on another camp stirred global condemnation, Gaza emergency services said four tank shells hit a cluster of tents in Al-Mawasi, a coastal area that Israel had advised civilians in Rafah to move to for safety.
At least 12 of the dead were women, according to medical officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian enclave. An Israeli military spokesperson said: “As of this time, we are not aware of this incident.”
In central Rafah, tanks and armored vehicles mounted with machine guns were spotted near Al-Awda mosque, witnesses told Reuters. The Israeli military said its forces continued to operate in the Rafah area, without commenting on reported advances into the city center.
International unease over Israel’s three-week-old Rafah offensive has turned to outrage after an attack on Sunday set off a blaze in a tent camp in a western district of the city, killing at least 45 people. Israel said it had targeted Hamas commanders and had not intended to cause civilian casualties.
Global leaders voiced horror at the fire in a designated “humanitarian zone” of Rafah where families uprooted by fighting elsewhere had sought shelter, and urged the implementation of a World Court order last week for a halt to Israel’s assault.
Tuesday’s attack occurred in an area designated by Israel as an expanded humanitarian zone, to which it had called on civilians in Rafah to evacuate for their own safety when it launched its incursion in early May.
In a diplomatic move purportedly aimed at reining in the violence, Spain, Ireland and Norway were to officially recognize a Palestinian state on Tuesday.
The three countries have said they hope their decision will accelerate efforts toward securing a ceasefire in Israel’s war against Hamas militants, now in its eighth month, that has reduced much of the densely populated territory to rubble.
Residents said Rafah’s Tel Al-Sultan neighborhood, the scene of Sunday’s night-time strike in which tents and shelters were set ablaze as families settled down to sleep, was still being bombarded.
“Tank shells are falling everywhere in Tel Al-Sultan. Many families have fled their houses in western Rafah under fire throughout the night,” one resident told Reuters via a chat app.
Around one million people — many repeatedly displaced by shifting waves of the war — have fled the Israeli offensive in Rafah since early May, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees (UNRWA) reported on Tuesday.
A video obtained by Reuters showed families on the move again, carrying their belongings through Rafah’s shattered streets, their weary children trailing behind them.
“There are a lot of attacks, smoke and dust. It is death from God...The (Israelis) are hitting everywhere. We’re tired,” said Moayad Fusaifas, pushing along belongings on two bicycles.

Israel says it’s in combat near Egypt border

Since Israel launched its incursion by seizing control of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt three weeks ago, tanks had probed around the outskirts and entered some eastern districts but had not yet rumbled into the city in full force.
In recent days, Israeli tanks have thrust toward western neighborhoods and taken up positions on the Zurub hilltop in western Rafah. On Tuesday, witnesses reported gunbattles between Israeli troops and Hamas-led fighters in the Zurub area.
Witnesses in central Rafah said the Israeli military appeared to have brought in remote-operated armored vehicles and there was no immediate sign of personnel in or around them. An Israeli military spokesperson had no immediate comment.
The Israeli military said it operated overnight along the Philadelphi Corridor that separates Gaza from Egypt “based on intelligence indicating the presence of terror targets.”
Israeli troops were engaged in close-quarter combat and were locating tunnel shafts, weapons and militant infrastructure, it said in a statement.
Israel has kept up attacks despite the ruling by the International Court of Justice on Friday ordering it to stop given a high risk of civilian casualties. Israel has argued that the top UN court’s decision had left it some scope for military action there.
The ICJ also reiterated calls for the immediate and unconditional release of hostages held in Gaza by Hamas.
More than 36,000 Palestinians have been killed in Israel’s offensive, Gaza’s health ministry says. Israel launched its air and ground war after Hamas-led militants attacked southern Israeli communities on Oct. 7, killing around 1,200 people and seizing more than 250 hostages, according to Israeli tallies.
Israel says it wants to root out Hamas fighters holed up in Rafah and rescue hostages it says are being held in the area.
In Jabalia in the northern Gaza Strip, one of the largest of the enclave’s eight historic refugee camps, Israeli forces have been engaged in fierce fighting with Hamas and Islamic Jihad fighters, residents said.
In some residential districts from which Israeli forces have retreated, civil emergency teams said they were recovering bodies from the ruins.