SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – France’s defense minister has reaffirmed that the country will keep 1,000 troops in Mali to fight armed groups even after the arrival of more than 12,000 UN peacekeepers later this year.
A day after the UN Security Council authorized the deployment of the peacekeeping force, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited the city of Gao in northeastern Mali.
“From now on we are in the post-war phase. The UN resolution adopted yesterday will allow for the arrival of a force to stabilize the country,” Le Drian told reporters on Friday. “But France will keep about 1,000 soldiers to carry on with military operations.”
During his visit to Mali, Le Drian met Acting President Dioncounda Traoré and General Ibrahim Dahrou Dembele to discuss efforts underway to train the Malian military.
The new UN force will also incorporate 6,000 African Union troops already deployed in Mali -- a force recently called "completely incapable" by a US Defense Department official.
The UN force is tasked with helping to restore peace in the aftermath of a French-led military operation launched in January to dislodge local fighters who had seized control of the country’s vast north.
However, the UN peacekeepers will not be authorized to launch offensive military operations or chase fighters in the desert. Therefore, the French forces will continue to do that job, although France is planning to downscale its presence in its former colony by the end of the year.-www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Malian soldiers backed by French fighter jets are battling fighters in Timbuktu after they used a car bomb as cover to infiltrate the northern desert city, sources say.
A Malian soldier and three rebel fighters were believed to have been killed in Sunday's fighting in the ancient Saharan trading hub 1,000km north of the capital Bamako.
A Mali government communique issued on Sunday evening said at least one Malian soldier was killed and four others had been injured.
It said that 21 rebels were killed in the fighting.
"It started after a suicide car bombing around 2200 (2200 GMT on Saturday), that served to distract the military and allow a group of jihadists to infiltrate the city by night," Captain Modibo Naman Traore of the Malian army said.
Exclusive pictures obtained by Al Jazeera from Kidal, another northern city, indicate that at least two Tuareg fighters were wounded during clashes with the rebels.
France launched its intervention in Mali in January to halt an advance by northern al-Qaeda-linked fighters towards Bamako.
The ongoing attack reflects the challenge of securing Mali as France prepares to reduce its troop presence and hand over to the ill-equipped Malian army and a more than 7,000-strong regional African force.
The French-led offensive has pushed the rebels out of their northern strongholds and remote mountain bases but they have hit back with several suicide attacks and guerrilla-style raids.
"People are really scared, but it is mostly due to the lack of information about what is happening in the city," Ousmane Halle, Timbuktu mayor, said.
This is the first major attack on the city since it was liberated by French forces on January 28.
Earlier this month a suicide bomber detonated himself at a checkpoint. That attack did not lead to an infiltration by the rebels into Timbuktu, as happened on Sunday.
Bilal Toure, a member of Timbuktu's crisis committee, said he saw a French plane firing on the rebel positions.
He said fighting had died down since nightfall.
"The situation settled down after around 1900 but everyone is still staying indoors," Toure said.
Rebels still present
Outside the heavily fortified cities like Timbuktu, the rebels are still present, leading an insurgency marked by suicide bombings, land mines and attacks on cities.
For 10 months until this January, Timbuktu as well as much of the rest of northern Mali had been ruled by Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, and two other groups.
Separately, Mali's defence ministry said on Saturday that two Nigerian soldiers in the regional African force were killed when their convoy struck a mine outside Ansongo, near the Niger border.
President Francois Hollande said on Thursday that France will reduce its troop numbers in Mali to 2,000 by July and to 1,000 by the end of the year, down from 4,000 at present.
The West African former colony is to hold presidential and legislative elections in July - vital steps to stabilising the gold- and cotton-producer after a military coup a year ago paved the way for the northern rebel takeover. -www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – At least one protester was killed and 50 others were injured in clashes Friday between Egyptian protesters and security forces near the presidential palace, Egyptian media reported.
In several other provinces, police fired volleys of tear gas at protesters, as thousands took to the streets to demand Islamist President Mohamed Mursi fulfill the goals of the revolt that brought him to power.
Protesters lobbed petrol bombs and set off fireworks, as security vans charged towards demonstrators who fled down the large avenue flanking the presidential palace in Cairo.
Clashes also erupted in several cities and towns in the Nile Delta province of Gharbiya, where the health ministry said 28 people had been injured, suffering mainly from tear gas inhalation.
In the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, five people were hurt in sporadic clashes between police and protesters.
The confrontations came after a day that saw thousands take to the streets across Egypt after opposition groups called “Friday of dignity” rallies.
In recent months, Egypt has witnessed regular, often bloody, protests against Mursi who is accused of betraying the revolution that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
Opponents have accused him of using his power to promote the interests of his Muslim Brotherhood, long banned under his predecessor.
The country has been deeply divided between Mursi’s mainly Islamist supporters and an opposition of liberals, leftists, Christians but also deeply religious Muslims calling for rights and the separation of religion and state.
Shortly after Muslim noon prayers, marchers set off from several locations in Cairo to Tahrir Square and the presidential palace, banging on drums, waving flags and clapping in unison.
“The people want the downfall of the regime,” the protesters chanted while others slammed interior ministry officials as “thugs.”
In Tahrir, several thousand protesters carried aloft a huge Egyptian flag as they listened to speeches and music from the stage.
Several hundred protesters also gathered outside the presidential palace chanting “Freedom, where are you? Brotherhood rule stands between us,” in reference to the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which Mursi hails.
The protests come after several incidents of police violence last week that caused public outrage and sparked angry demonstrations.
Protests against the Islamist president also took place after the weekly Friday Muslim main prayers in several of Egypt’s 27 provinces.
In the Nile Delta city of Kafr el-Sheikh, police fired tear gas to disperse a crowd outside a government building, as protesters hurled stones at the security forces, the official MENA news agency reported.
In Tanta, police clashed with protesters who tried to break into the municipal council building, MENA added.
Thirty-eight opposition parties and movements had joined together to call for the rallies, demanding a new unity government, amendments to the Islamist-drafted constitution and guarantees that the independence of the judiciary be maintained.
Earlier this week, the death of a pro-democracy activist following days in police custody sparked fury and reignited calls for police reform -- a key demand of the uprising that toppled Mubarak in 2011.
His death came just days after footage was aired live on television of a man stripped naked and beaten by riot police during demonstrations near the presidential palace.
The two incidents confronted Mursi with uncomfortable parallels with the old regime.
Friday’s protests come just days after clerics issued fatwas to justify killing opposition leaders.
Radical cleric Mahmud Shaaban, a professor at Sunni Islam’s main seat of learning al-Azhar, gave the green light to kill opposition leaders including former U.N. nuclear watchdog chief Mohamed ElBaradei and ex-presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, during a talk show on a satellite channel.
Another hardline cleric, Wagdi Ghoneim, also called on Muslims to “kill the thugs, criminals, and thieves who burn the country,” state media reported.
Security was stepped up outside the homes of ElBaradei and Sabbahi ahead of the protests, witnesses told AFP, following orders from the interior minister.
The presidency condemned the fatwas as “terrorism.”
“Some are promoting and inciting political violence while others who claim to speak in the name of religion are permitting ‘killing’ based on political differences and this is terrorism,” the presidency said.-www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Al Arabiya
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Tokyo's Narita International Airport operator says 3,400 travelers spent the night in the terminal after snow caused airlines to cancel 71 flights.
In the season's first snowfall in the Japanese capital, about 8 centimeters (3 inches) of snow fell in central Tokyo and around Narita on Monday — a national holiday in Japan. The snow snarled traffic and caused train delays.
Airport officials distributed sleeping bags, water and crackers to stranded travelers. Normal flight operations at Narita resumed Tuesday, except for a few delays.
Major train operator JR East said trains were running on schedule Tuesday.
Sections of several highways around Tokyo were still closed Tuesday as workers cleared away snow and ice.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Syrian security forces have inflicted heavy losses on foreign-backed militants in key areas on the outskirts of Damascus.
On Sunday, the government forces killed and wounded many militants in Darayya, which is a strategic suburb of the capital’s, the official SANA news agency reported.
Earlier, a government official said the Army had taken much of Darayya after nearly two months of fighting in the district.
The Darayya suburb is flanked by the key districts of Mezzeh, which is home to a military airbase, and Kafar Sussah that houses the government headquarters.
Government troops also destroyed the militants’ hideouts and confiscated their weapons.
In addition, the Army killed and wounded many members of armed terrorist groups in Douma Farms and al-Maliha in Damascus countryside.
The security forces also attacked militants in and around the governorates of Hama, Homs, and in Aleppo. The Syrian troops destroyed their hideouts and confiscated weapons.
Syria has been experiencing unrest since mid-March 2011. Many people, including large numbers of Army and security personnel, have been killed in the violence.
The Syrian government says the chaos is being orchestrated from outside the country, and there are reports that a very large number of the militants fighting the Syrian government are foreign nationals.
Several international human rights organizations have accused foreign-sponsored militants of committing war crimes.-www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Israeli forces have evicted around 500 Palestinians from their homes in the occupied West Bank.
Many of the Palestinian residents were forced to vacate their homes in the Wadi al-Maleh area in the north of the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday, AFP reported.
Israel called the homes in the area “illegal” and said the evacuation is temporary and for a military exercise.
"Due to a military exercise... temporary eviction notices were distributed today,” the Israeli military said in a statement.
"At the conclusion of the exercise, the residents will be permitted to return," the statement added.
However, Majid al-Fitiani, the Palestinian governor of the region, condemned the action and said, "Even an expulsion of 24 hours is unacceptable."
Last year, another evacuation had been carried out in the same area as Israeli forces carried out military exercises.
According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, out of the 60,000 Palestinians who live in the Jordan Valley, "some 3,400 people reside partially or fully in closed military zones and face a high risk of forced eviction."
The Palestinian residents in the area often face compulsory evacuation or destruction of their houses.- www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Iranian naval forces have so far warned off 30 transregional spy drones from entering the Velayat 91 military maneuver zone, a senior Iranian commander said.
On the fifth day of the military maneuvers on Tuesday, the spokesman for the Velayat 91 naval drills Rear Admiral Amir Rastegari noted that Iranian forces have so far stopped 30 intrusion attempts by foreign spy drones and reconnaissance aircraft into the maneuver zone.
“Different types of reconnaissance and spy aircraft that were attempting to enter the maneuver zone to spy and gather information, faced warnings from the Navy surface units and Khatam al-Anbiya Air Defense Base,” the commander added.
Rastegari stated that Iranian forces have also issued warnings on several occasions to transregional vessels that were attempting to get close to the exercise zone.
Iran’s Navy launched the six-day naval maneuvers codenamed Velayat 91 on December 28, 2012, in order to display the country’s capabilities in defending its maritime borders.
The specialized maritime maneuver covers an area from east of the Strait of Hormuz in the Sea of Oman to north of the Indian Ocean as far as the 18th parallel north.
Over the past few years, Iran has held several military drills to enhance the defensive capabilities of its armed forces and to test modern military tactics and equipment.
The Islamic Republic has repeatedly assured other nations, especially its neighbors, that its military might poses no threat to other countries, stating that its defense doctrine is based on deterrence. - www.shfaqna.com/English
Source: Press TV
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Chinese telecommunication companies will require ID from their customers before installing a landline, selling a mobile phone service contract or giving access to the internet. Critics call the new rules an assault on freedom of speech.
The real-name registration rule was passed Friday by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, China’s top legislative body. The 12-article document also set rules on how the companies have to manage the personal data of their customers, their responsibility for illegal use of the information and the way who governmental regulators and the customers can oversee it, reports Xinhua news agency.
It also specifically forbids sending any business-related messages to phones or personal emails without owner consent, which is meant to curb spamming.
The move is meant to "ensure internet information security, safeguard the lawful rights and interests of citizens, legal entities or other organizations and safeguard national security and social public interests," the decision says.
The regulation did not require subscribers to use real names when posting information online.
The regulation would help the country address the rapid development of technology and fight against online scams, fraud, identity theft and libel, Li Fei, deputy director of the Commission for Legislative Affairs of the committee explained to the media earlier this week, when the draft document was under consideration.
Critics see the new rules as an attempt by the Chinese authorities to restrict online freedoms and discourage potential whistleblowers from anonymously reporting abuses online.
Chinese government encourages use of internet for areas like business and education, but is cautious about information which it views as a potential threat to public good. It censors the net from politically sensitive messages and restricts access to some services that puts information flow out of the governmental control.
Back in January China instructed the country’s most popular microblogging service, Sina Weibo, to request its users to provide their real names. This was meant to curb spread of harmful rumors among its 400-million-strong user base. The company reported in May that it had problems implementing real-name registration due to technical difficulties and reluctance of the users.- www.shfaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Until “that day” in 2007, Nisreen Asaid was a wife and a mother. She was also a hairdresser. But life as she knew it came to a sudden end when Asaid was sent, against her will, from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip.
The Israeli authorities have not allowed Asaid to return to her home in the West Bank’s de facto capital, Ramallah. Her husband got tired of waiting and divorced her. Asaid has no close relatives in Gaza, and, with unemployment hovering around 30 percent, she has been unable to find work. She is dependent on her family in the West Bank, which wires money to her so she can stay afloat.
Despite her difficulties and uncertain future, Asaid’s biggest worry is that her two children do not remember her face.
Asaid, 30, was born in the Gaza Strip, a poor, isolated territory under blockade, lacking water, electricity and housing for its 1.6 million inhabitants. In the mid-1990s, when she was 14, she and her family moved to the West Bank. Although Israeli restrictions on Palestinian freedom of movement began several years earlier, it was still relatively easy to travel between the territories.
So Asaid did not worry what address was listed on the Israeli-controlled population registry. After all, her life was in the West Bank. She got married and gave birth to her first child, a girl, in the West Bank. She divorced, remarried, and bore a son in East Jerusalem. She worked in Ramallah and owned an apartment in the West Bank city of Qalqilya.
No chance to say goodbye
At night, Asaid often slept with her children, snuggling with them and measuring their small bodies with her hands to see how much they had grown. Today, their relationship takes place on the phone.
Asaid has not seen her son and daughter since 2007, when she went to visit her sister in Qalqilya. Although she was travelling from one Palestinian city to another, Qalqilya is in Area C (which comprises 60 percent of the West Bank and is under full Israeli military and civilian control). When Asaid tried to pass through an Israeli checkpoint — a checkpoint she had been through countless times — she was arrested because her identification document listed her as a Gaza resident.
After Asaid was detained and interrogated, Israeli forces took her straight from the checkpoint to Gaza. She did not have a chance to say goodbye to her children before she was transferred. Her daughter was 10 at the time; her son was two.
With the help of Gisha, an Israeli organization that campaigns for freedom of movement, Asaid has waged a legal battle in the hope of returning to her two children. She managed to get her address updated to the West Bank and got a new ID that reflects the change. But the Israeli authorities will not allow Asaid to leave the Gaza Strip despite the fact that they have no security claim against her.
Guy Inbar, a spokesman of the Israeli army’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, said the army had not received an application from Asaid to travel from Gaza to the West Bank. He said such requests must first be filed with the Palestinian authorities, which Asaid insisted she has done via the Palestinian Ministry of Civil Affairs.
While Asaid’s story is not unique, it is impossible to know exactly how many Palestinian spouses have been split between Gaza and the West Bank due to Israeli policies and how many parents have been separated from their minor children.
“One of the problems is that people stop asking [the Israeli authorities for permission] to travel to reunite because they know that the answer is no,” said Sari Bashi, Gisha’s director. “We know that it affects a lot of people and it has a disproportionately negative effect on women.”
In February 2011, Israel agreed to allow 5,000 Palestinians to change their address from Gaza to the West Bank. Many were West Bank residents who lived under constant fear of arrest and forced transfer. Some, like Asaid, had already been sent to Gaza. The gesture was brokered by Tony Blair, the former British prime minister who now works as a “special representative” for the so-called Middle East Quartet (the US, European Union, UN and Russia). A year and a half later, the gesture has only been partially implemented.
According to Bashi, thousands of applicants are still waiting for an answer. Others were initially told that their address could be changed, only to have the Israeli army rescind the decision. And some are like Asaid — they have new ID documents but are unable to get permission to travel to the address where they are now registered.
“Changing a person’s address within the Palestinian territory should not be subject to the whims of a political gesture,” Bashi said.
The Israeli government says — as it does for all of its policies which profoundly restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement — that security considerations are at play: “Due to the security threat today, caused by the Palestinian terrorism in general, and particularly the desire of terrorist groups in Gaza to relocate the existing terrorist infrastructure to [the West Bank], Israel has adopted a policy which reduces movements between Gaza and [the West Bank],” Inbar added. The policy, he continued, “enables transition of Palestinians from Gaza only in humanitarian cases.”
But Bashi argues that since Israel has recognized Gaza and the West Bank as a single territorial unit, freedom of movement has to be allowed. Under international human rights law, that means a Palestinian resident may choose to live in Gaza City or Ramallah as he or she likes.
She said the so-called “separation policy” is driven by the fact that Israel has territorial claims in the West Bank, but has abandoned those claims in Gaza. (Palestinians are free to change their addresses from the West Bank to Gaza and are also allowed to move to Gaza. But they cannot return to the West Bank.)
“[Israel] hasn’t given much information about what [the policy] is,” Bashi said, “but the dominant aspects of it are to disallow travel between Gaza and the West Bank, to prevent Palestinians from Gaza from moving to the West Bank and to induce or coerce Palestinians from the West Bank to move to Gaza.”
But for the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, “regarding this specific issue, Gaza and [the West Bank] cannot be declared as a single territorial unit.” Inbar said the policy has been examined again and again by the Israeli high court, which found no fault.
“We emphasize, as was decided time after time by the supreme court, there is no legal obligation to allow free movement between Gaza and [the West Bank], and certainly, if the request obligates transition through Israeli territory.”
In December 2009, the Israeli high court received a petition filed by Gisha on behalf of Samir Abu Yusef. Although he was born in Gaza, Abu Yusef lived in the West Bank from 1990 until 2007, when the Israeli authorities arrested him and transferred him to Gaza, under the same pretense that was used to expel Asaid: he had a Gaza address on his ID.
A few months after the petition was filed, the Israeli authorities allowed Abu Yusef to return to the West Bank, sparing the court from making a decision on the issue of separated families.
This item comes to you via IRIN, a UN humanitarian news and information service, but may not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations or its agencies. All IRIN material may be reposted or reprinted free-of-charge; refer to the copyright page for conditions of use. IRIN is a project of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.— www.shafaqna.com/English
SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) – Kuwaiti riot policehave used stun grenades, tear gas and smoke bombs against thousands of demonstrators who blocked a major road south of the capital.
Thousands of opposition supporters planned a rally to protest against a new electoral law on Sunday. The country's security forces completely sealed off the original protest site in Kuwait City, so organisers told supporters via Twitter to gather instead at Mishref, some 20km south of the capital.
Although most roads leading to the new location were quickly closed off by police, thousands of people still managed to get through and immediately started marching.
They briefly cut off the sixth ring road, the main motorway in the south of Kuwait, before calling off the demonstration barely an hour after it began.
The opposition had called the march to protest against an amendment to an electoral law ordered by the emir last month ahead of a snap December 1 parliamentary election.
"After we have expressed our message of rejecting any play in the constitution, we announce the end of the procession," said the organisers on their Twitter account named "The Dignity of a Nation."
Reports of arrests
Activists said a number of protesters were rounded up but there were no immediate reports of injuries.
The emir, Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah, met late on Sunday with four opposition figures, including two former Islamist MPs, in what appeared to be a mediation effort aimed at ending the stalemate.
Former MP Mohammad Hayef said on Twitter that the emir told them he would accept that the constitutional court rule on the disputed amendment to the electoral constituency law which triggered the current stand-off.
It was the first official meeting between the emir and the opposition since the dispute began several weeks ago.
Earlier, hundreds of members of the elite special forces and police, backed by armoured vehicles, deployed at two sites the opposition had set for Sunday's demonstrations and blocked roads leading to them.
The government had vowed to use force if necessary to prevent the march, saying that processions and demonstrations are illegal without a permit.
A government statement late on Saturday said the interior ministry had not given permission for Sunday's demonstration, nor had it received a request from the organisers for one.
Interior minister Sheikh Ahmad al-Humud al-Sabah told the official news agency KUNA that security guards would maintain public order and curb any illegal activities.
Security forces used tear gas to break up two protests by tens of thousands of demonstrators in the past two weeks in which more than 130 protesters and 16 policemen were injured.
Almost all opposition groups have said they will boycott the December 1 poll in protest at what they see as a bid to create a rubber stamp assembly.
The opposition, made up of Islamists, nationalists and liberals, won a February general election but the constitutional court quashed the vote in June and reinstated the previous pro-government parliament which was dissolved last month.
Opposition leaders insist they have no desire to undermine the ruling Al-Sabah family, and on Friday pledged their loyalty to the emir while renewing their demand for the new electoral law to be repealed.— www.shafaqna.com/English
Source: Al Jazeera