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Archive for October, 2016

Thousands of Yemenis demand international support

SANAA (BNO NEWS) — Tens of thousands of people protested across Yemen on Thursday to urge the international community to support their demands as tensions continue to escalate in the conflict-ridden country, according to media reports.

Anti-government protesters took to the streets of the Yemeni capital Sana’a and other provinces to send a message to the international community to support their demands of change, freedom and a civil state. The uprising against President Ali Abdullah Saleh has claimed at least 1,500 lives since February.

The United Nations is trying to persuade President Saleh to sign the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) brokered deal – which he refused to ink three times previously. Saleh has repeatedly said he is committed to the deal, though he has so far refused to sign it, the DPA news agency reported.

The GCC-proposed plan includes guarantees that Saleh will not be prosecuted after his resignation within 30 days from the acceptance date. It also calls to hold presidential elections within two months from the date of Saleh’s departure as well as the establishment of a new government within 90 days.

Tensions have further escalated since Saleh returned to Yemen after spending more than three months in Saudi Arabia to recover from injuries he sustained in a rocket attack which hit the mosque of the presidential palace in Sanaa on June 3. On Saturday, Saleh said he is planning to leave power ‘in the coming days’, although a ruling party official immediately said that Saleh has no intention to leave.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved.)

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate (BNO News).

Link: http://wireupdate.com/news/thousands-of-yemenis-demand-international-support.html.

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Shiite militias join the battle as Iraqis push toward Mosul

October 29, 2016

SHURA, Iraq (AP) — State-sanctioned Shiite militias joined Iraq’s Mosul offensive on Saturday with a pre-dawn assault to the west, where they hope to complete the encirclement of the Islamic State-held city and sever supply lines from neighboring Syria.

Other Iraqi forces aided by U.S.-led airstrikes and heavy artillery meanwhile drove IS from the town of Shura, south of Mosul, where the militants had rounded up civilians to be used as human shields.

The twin thrusts come nearly two weeks into the offensive to retake Iraq’s second largest city, but most of the fighting is still taking place in towns and villages far from its outskirts, and the entire operation is expected to take weeks, if not months.

The involvement of the Iranian-backed Shiite militias has raised concerns that the battle for Mosul, a Sunni-majority city, could aggravate sectarian tensions. Rights groups have accused the militias of abuses against civilians in other Sunni areas retaken from IS, accusations the militia leaders deny.

The umbrella group for the militias, known as the Popular Mobilization Units, says they will not enter Mosul itself and will instead focus on retaking Tal Afar, a town to the west that had a Shiite majority before it fell to IS in 2014.

Ahmed al-Assadi, a spokesman for the group, told reporters in Baghdad that the militias had retaken 10 villages since the start of the pre-dawn operation. But there was likely still some fighting underway, and he said forces were removing explosive booby-traps left by IS to slow their advance.

Jaafar al-Husseini, a spokesman for the Hezbollah Brigades, said his group and the other militias had advanced 4 miles (7 kilometers) toward Tal Afar and used anti-tank missiles to destroy three suicide car bombs that were heading toward them.

He said the U.S.-led coalition, which is providing airstrikes and ground support to the Iraqi military and Kurdish forces known as the peshmerga, is not playing any role in the Shiite militias’ advance. He said Iranian advisers and Iraqi aircraft were helping them.

Many of the militias were originally formed after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion to battle American forces and Sunni insurgents. They were mobilized again and endorsed by the state when IS swept through northern and central Iraq in 2014.

Iraqi troops approaching Mosul from the south advanced into Shura after a wave of U.S.-led airstrikes and artillery shelling against militant positions inside the town. Commanders said most of the IS fighters withdrew earlier this week with civilians, but that U.S. airstrikes had disrupted the forced march, allowing some civilians to escape.

“After all this shelling, I don’t think we will face much resistance,” Iraqi army Maj. Gen. Najim al-Jabouri said as the advance got underway. “This is easy, because there are no civilians left,” he added.

But hours later, a few families who had hunkered down during the fighting emerged. The government has urged people to remain in their homes, fearing a mass exodus from Mosul, which is still home to more than 1 million people.

By the afternoon, Brig. Gen. Firas Bashar said his forces were clearing explosives and searching for IS fighters in Shura. The sound of artillery still echoed in the distance. In Baghdad, meanwhile, an IS suicide bomber targeting an aid station for Shiite pilgrims killed at least seven people and wounded more than 20, police and hospital officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity as they were not authorized to brief reporters.

The Sunni extremist group often target Iraq’s Shiite majority, which it views as apostates deserving of death. The Mosul offensive involves more than 25,000 soldiers, Federal Police, Kurdish fighters, Sunni tribesmen and the Shiite militias.

Iraqi forces moving toward the city from several directions have made uneven progress since the offensive began Oct. 17. They are 4 miles (6 kilometers) from the edge of Mosul on the eastern front, where Iraq’s special forces are leading the charge. But progress has been slower in the south, with Iraqi forces still 20 miles (35 kilometers) from the city.

The U.N. human rights office said Friday that IS has rounded up tens of thousands of civilians in and around Mosul to use as human shields, and has massacred more than 200 Iraqis in recent days, mainly former members of the security forces.

The militants have carried out mass killings of perceived opponents in the past and boasted about them in grisly photos and videos circulated online. The group is now believed to be cracking down on anyone who could rise up against it, focusing on men with military training or past links to the security forces.

Abdul-Zahra reported from Irbil, Iraq. Associated Press writers Joseph Krauss in Baghdad and Maamoun Youssef in Cairo contributed to this report.

Kirkuk: Kurdish authorities demolish Arab refugee homes

October 27, 2016

Activists and Iraqi human rights organisations have confirmed that largely Arab refugees are being forcibly deported from the oil-rich Iraqi city of Kirkuk by Kurdish authorities who are also destroying their homes.

The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights (IOHR) documented several cases of Arab residents and internally displaced people (IDPs) being warned by the Kurdish security services, the Asayish, that they had to depart the area in days.

Not long after, images emerged on social media showing the destruction of refugee shantytowns that used to be inhabited by Arab IDPs fleeing violence in other parts of the country. Reports suggest that this may have been in order to force them to become refugees elsewhere.

These incidences come after significant intelligence failures allowed Daesh militants to breach Kirkuk’s defences last week, killing dozens of security personnel and some civilians in attacks across the city.

Many reports suggested that the Daesh fighters who attacked Kirkuk were Kurds rather than Arabs.

The Kurdish authorities have denied that they are forcibly deporting Arab citizens and IDPs, and have similarly denied that any reprisals are being committed against them in retaliation for Daesh’s assault last week.

Azad Jabari, chief of the security committee in the Kirkuk provincial council, said that these actions were “individual behaviours” of Asayish officers, and did not represent official policy.

However, IOHR has stated that it is “bewildered” by these denials, as it has documented several families informing them that Asayish officers demanded that they hand over their identification documents before forcing them out.

Not only where they rendered homeless, but the lack of identification papers raises the risk that they will be deemed as Daesh infiltrators by the Iraqi authorities and incarcerated or worse.

Hussein Ahmad, 33, was displaced from Tel Afar to Kirkuk. He said that a Kurdish official “visited me in my home accompanied by armed members of the Kurdish security forces, and asked me and my family to leave the city within one day.”

IOHR cited anonymous Kurdish security sources as stating that IDPs were viewed as a security risk in Kurdish-controlled areas.

“The purpose behind the decision to deport them is to transfer them to the camps to better guarantee their rights,” the Kurdish security source said, without elaborating upon how deportation would improve the rights of IDPs or Arab residents of Kirkuk.

Kirkuk has long been disputed, with Kurds, Arabs and Turkmens laying claims to the strategic northern Iraqi city. Although nominally under the control of Baghdad, Kirkuk has been controlled by Kurdish forces since the Iraqi army fled Daesh’s onslaught in 2014, stoking ethnic tensions.

Source: Middle East Monitor.

Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/20161027-kirkuk-kurdish-authorities-demolish-arab-refugee-homes/.

Iraqi authorities assume full control of Baghdad airspace

BAGHDAD (BNO NEWS) — The U.S. Air Force has transferred the management of airspace covering the Iraqi capital to national authorities, U.S. officials said on Thursday. Iraqi authorities are now responsible for all domestic airspace.

The U.S. Embassy in Baghdad said the U.S. Air Force transferred the management of the Baghdad/Balad Airspace sector to the Iraq Civil Aviation Authority (ICAA) on October 1. “Iraq’s air traffic controllers are now directing the movement of all aircraft within the area, the busiest and most complex airspace in Iraq,” the Embassy said in a statement.

With the transfer of the Baghdad/Balad Airspace sector, Iraqi authorities have assumed full air traffic control responsibility for the country’s airspace for the first time since 2003, when a U.S.-led invasion led to the ouster of Saddam Hussein’s regime.

American and British civilian trainers have prepared the ICAA air traffic controllers in Baghdad and at Iraq’s five other international airports since the opening of the Baghdad Area Control Center in August 2007.

“Many international commercial airlines have already re-established service to Iraq,” the U.S. Embassy said. “Although much work remains to be done in order to improve Iraq’s aviation support and communications infrastructure systems, the ICAA has taken a significant step forward in providing an essential service to the people of Iraq, contributing to the security and stability of the nation, and facilitating trade and travel for a more prosperous future.”

Less than 50,000 U.S. troops remain in Iraq, nearly nine years since the U.S.-led war began on March 20, 2003. According to a security agreement between Baghdad and Washington, all U.S. forces will be withdrawn by the end of 2011.

(Copyright 2011 by BNO News B.V. All rights reserved.)

Friday, October 14th, 2011

Source: WireUpdate (BNO News).

Link: http://wireupdate.com/news/iraqi-authorities-assume-full-control-of-baghdad-airspace.html.

Syrian airstrikes on Aleppo amid intense clashes

October 30, 2016

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian government forces launched a counteroffensive Saturday under the cover of airstrikes in an attempt to regain control of areas they had lost to insurgents the day before in the northern city of Aleppo, activists and state media said.

Meanwhile, insurgents launched a fresh offensive on the city, a day after embarking on a broad ground attack aimed at breaking a weeks-long government siege on the eastern rebel-held neighborhoods of Syria’s largest city.

The insurgents were able to capture much of the western neighborhood of Assad where much of Saturday’s fighting was concentrated, according to the Syrian army and the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

The Observatory said the new offensive by Syrian troops and their allies went under the cover of Russian and Syrian airstrikes but government forces did not succeed in regaining control of areas they lost. The group said the fighting and airstrikes are mostly on Aleppo’s western and southern edges.

The Syrian army command said troops and their allies are pounding insurgent positions with artillery shells and rockets adding that “all kinds of weapons” are being used in the fighting in the Assad neighborhood.

The Aleppo Media Center, an activist collective, reported airstrikes and artillery shelling of areas near Aleppo. The AMC and another activist collective, the Local Coordination Committees, said rebels entered the village of Minian west of Aleppo Saturday afternoon after intense fighting with government forces.

Later Saturday, the rebels said they launched an attack on the Zahraa neighborhood in western Aleppo to try and capture it from government forces. The attack began with a massive explosion that struck government positions on the front line, said Yasser al-Yousef of the Nour el-Din el-Zinki group, a main faction in Aleppo.

A reporter inside the city for the Lebanon-based Al-Mayadeen TV channel confirmed that the rebels have attacked the Zahraa neighborhood. As he spoke from the roof of a building, sounds of heavy exchange of gunfire could be heard in the background.

The Syrian army said troops were repelling the attack on Zahraa. It said the offensive began when the insurgents detonated a vehicle and shelled the area. The Observatory said the fighting was continuing intensely after sunset, saying that government forces detonated explosives and bombs they planted earlier in the area in an attempt to repel the offensive on Zahraa.

Syrian state media said rebels shelled government-held western neighborhoods of Aleppo on Saturday morning wounding at least 10 people, including a young girl. Rebel shelling of Aleppo on Friday killed 15 and wounded more than 100.

On Friday, insurgents including members of Fatah al-Sham and the ultraconservative Ajnad al-Sham and Ahrar al-Sham militias took advantage of cloudy and rainy weather to attack government positions. On Saturday the weather was better, according to residents.

“There are ongoing clashes,” said opposition activist Baraa al-Halaby by telephone from besieged east Aleppo, adding that the fighting is far from them but explosions could be clearly heard in the city.

The Observatory said that since Friday some 30 troops and members of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group were killed in the Aleppo fighting. East Aleppo has been subjected to a ferocious campaign of aerial attacks by Russian and Syrian government warplanes, and hundreds of people have been killed in recent weeks, according to opposition activists and trapped residents.

The new offensive by insurgents is the second attempt to break the government’s siege of Aleppo’s opposition-held eastern districts, where the U.N. estimates 275,000 people are trapped. U.N. Special Envoy Staffan De Mistura has estimated 8,000 of them are rebel fighters, and no more than 900 of them affiliated with Fatah al-Sham. Syrian and Russian officials have said that no cease fire is possible as long as Fatah al-Sham remains allied and intertwined with other rebel forces.

Aleppo is the current focal point of the war. President Bashar Assad has said he is determined to retake the country’s largest city and former commercial capital.

Associated Press writer Albert Aji in Damascus, Syria contributed to this report.

Rebels launch Aleppo counter-offensive with exploding tanks and missiles

Friday 28 October 2016

Syrian rebels launched a car bomb and detonated explosives inside a tank on Friday morning as part of a fresh offensive to break a siege on the divided city of Aleppo.

Rebels including Fateh al-Sham Front, the rebranded al-Nusra Front, also launched Grad rockets at the government-controlled Nairab air base, aiming to break the government siege of rebel-held areas of the city.

Rockets fired by rebels killed at least 15 civilians in government-held areas of the city on Friday morning, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) said.

Sources on the ground told MEE that there were also “furious” clashes on the ground, with districts that were once far from the fighting now finding themselves on the front lines.

Residents said on Thursday that the street fighting was now so close to their homes that they could hear rebels trading insults with their foes.

Residents of eastern Aleppo – home to over 250,000 people and under siege for over three months – burned tires in the streets, sending thick plumes of smoke into the air and providing cover for rebel operations, an AFP correspondent said.

The start of the rebel assault was hailed by the loudspeakers of eastern Aleppo mosques on Friday morning.

“There is a general call-up for anyone who can bear arms,” a senior official in the Levant Front rebel group, which fights under the Free Syrian Army (FSA) banner, told Reuters. “The preparatory shelling started this morning,” he added.

Zakaria Malahifji, an official with the Fastaqim rebel group in Aleppo, said a number of factions would participate in the new offensive and that the bombardment of the air base was part of this.

“Today is supposed to be the launch of the battle,” Malahifji said. “All the rebel groups will participate.”

A spokesperson for Fateh al-Sham said the group had detonated a suicide car bomb at an eastern entrance to the city, with rebels also detonating explosives inside a tank in the Aleppo suburb of al-Assad.

The twin suicide blasts came after rebels from Ahrar al-Sham earlier detonated two car bombs in the city.

SOHR, a British-based monitoring group, said that Grad surface-to-surface rockets had also struck Nairab air base and locations around the Hmeimim air base, near Latakia.

Syria’s civil war, now in its sixth year, pits President Bashar al-Assad, backed by Russia, Iran and militias from Lebanon, against mostly Sunni rebels including groups supported by Turkey, Gulf monarchies and the United States.

Aleppo, Syria’s most populous city before the war, has for years been split between a government-held western sector and the rebel-held east, which the army and its allies managed to put under siege this summer.

Source: Middle East Eye.

Link: http://www.middleeasteye.net/news/rebels-launch-aleppo-counter-offensive-car-bombs-and-exploding-tanks-1359125266.

Tajikistan begins building $4 bn mega-dam

29 October 2016 Saturday

Ex-Soviet republic Tajikistan on Saturday marked the start of construction of a controversial $4 billion Rogun hydroelectric dam conceived in the Soviet era, the presidential press service said.

The high-profile ceremony was held in Rogun some 100 kilometers from the capital Dushanbe and saw veteran President Emomali Rakhmon spend an hour-and-a-half behind the wheel of a bulldozer pushing soil to block the Vakhsh river.

According to his press service Rakhmon, 64, “poured gravel onto the bed of the (redirected) River Vakhsh, marking the beginning of construction of the Rogun hydroelectric plant vital for the people of Tajikistan.”

Speaking at the ceremony Rakhmon called the start of construction “the achievement of the year.”

He also promised states in the region worried about the project that Tajikistan would “never leave its neighbours without water.”

The dam, initially conceived by Moscow in the 1970s, has been severely criticized by Uzbekistan.

Saturday’s ceremony came a day after most of Tajikistan was plunged into darkness for several hours following an accident at the Nurek hydropower plant that supplies the bulk of the country’s electricity.

In July, Tajikistan announced that Italian company Salini Impregilo had won a $3.9 billion contract to build the Rogun dam, which at 335 meters (1,099 feet) would be the world’s tallest.

Downstream neighbor Uzbekistan strongly opposed the Rogun project under late president Islam Karimov, who feared its impact on Uzbek agriculture.

Karimov’s likely successor Shavkat Mirziyoyev, who became interim president after the autocrat’s funeral in September, also publicly criticized the project earlier this year.

In addition to helping the country achieve energy independence — planned shutoffs affect many parts of the country during the winter — Tajikistan believes Rogun will transform the country into a regional hub for electricity exports.

Tajikistan is a key node in the US-backed CASA-1000 project that aims to increase supplies of electricity from the region to South Asian countries Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Source: World Bulletin.

Link: http://www.worldbulletin.net/asia-pacific/179300/tajikistan-begins-building-4-bn-mega-dam.

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