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seattlepi.com: Middle East News from the Associated Press





 



IS counterattacks in retaken parts of Mosul stall Iraq push

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 16:24:28 UT

The assaults underscore the Sunni extremist group's resilience in the city, Iraq's second-largest, despite months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power. According to the Iraqi officer, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations, the latest counter-attacks began on Sunday by scores of IS fighters dressed as Iraqi Shiite paramilitaries. IS fighters blew up the 12th century mosque in the heart of the Old City last week, along with its landmark minaret, according to the U.S.-led coalition and the Iraqi Ministry of Defense — an act of destruction that the authorities in Baghdad interpreted as the militants' message of defeat in the face of the relentless Iraqi offensive.



Egypt army: 12 vehicles destroyed crossing from Libya

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 14:47:30 UT

CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's military says its air force destroyed 12 vehicles loaded with weapons, ammunitions and explosives, after receiving intelligence that "criminal elements" were attempting to cross the western border with Libya.



Germany, Iran call for negotiations in crisis with Qatar

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 13:15:23 UT

BERLIN (AP) — Germany's foreign minister says the crisis over Gulf Arab state's dispute with Qatar will only get worse the longer it lasts, and appeals on all sides to engage in direct dialogue. Zarif also called for talks, saying "what is needed for all countries in the Persian Gulf is to engage in dialogue."



Ultra-Orthodox lawmaker: Reform Jews don't believe in Temple

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 11:42:58 UT

Deputy Finance Minister Yitzhak Cohen of the Shas party said worship practices at the site — a retaining wall of the compound where the biblical Jewish temples once stood — have been in place for centuries and not everyone can "come and change the rules." Leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements have canceled meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest his government's decision to scrap plans for an expanded mixed-gender prayer area. Sunday's Cabinet decision touched a raw nerve and sparked a rare display of public anger from American Jewish groups, who hinted the move could undermine their longstanding political, financial and emotional support for Israel. The plan to officially recognize the special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall was reached in January 2016, after three years of intense negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and Israeli authorities. Netanyahu's office tried to deflect some of the criticism, noting that there are already arrangements for egalitarian prayer and saying that construction to expand that area would continue.



Syrian activists say airstrike on Islamic State-run jail kills at least 42 prisoners in eastern Syria

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:29:18 UT

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian activists say airstrike on Islamic State-run jail kills at least 42 prisoners in eastern Syria.



Jordan's 'pay as you like' bookstore saved by crowd-funding

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 10:29:02 UT

The money allows AlMaaytah to renovate his small, cramped space and expand to an adjacent storefront where he hopes to set up a literary salon, a display of rare books and a reading corner. AlMaaytah recently renamed his branch "Mahall al-Maa," loosely translated as "Source of Water," to reflect his belief that books — like water — are a necessity and should be accessible to all. [...] access has been a problem in Jordan, which lacks government-funded community libraries, forcing readers to buy expensive books or go to university libraries, said Sara Qudah, the culture editor of the Al-Rai newspaper. Running a bookstore seems to be an anachronistic endeavor in an increasingly digital world, where social media and satellite TV are dominating leisure time at the expense of reading books. [...] the Arabs wanted to change their societies, and books of literature, philosophy and politics were one of the ways to create change. "The same way some books are capable of inspiring readers and spreading love, these books can divide people and turn them into criminals," said AlMaaytah, who occasionally slips from colloquial into formal Arabic and likes to quote from books, even in casual conversation. Customers sip on sage tea, read poetry, debate, and sing and play instruments for hours, often on the sidewalk out front.



Saudi demolition of historic Shiite homes stokes violence

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 06:22:31 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Saudi Arabia is demolishing centuries-old homes in a Shiite town, leveling a historic district that officials say has become a hideout for local militants. At least six security officers, six Shiite gunmen and a number of civilians have been killed in al-Awamiya's skirmishes, shootings and bombings this year, most of them in the weeks since government contractors began tearing down the town's historical center. Interior Ministry spokesman Maj. Gen. Mansour al-Turki told The Associated Press that "terrorists in al-Awamiya... have increased their armed violence" since the start of the "development project in al-Mosawara." Police say a South Asian construction worker was killed by an improvised explosive device targeting the demolition workers. The new interior minister's father, Prince Saud bin Nayef, is the governor of the Eastern Province, where al-Awamiya is located and where most Saudi Shiites live. Three United Nations experts on cultural rights, adequate housing and extreme poverty have also criticized the demolition, saying the "destructions erase the traces of this historic and lived cultural heritage." The demolition sends a message to Iran that its perceived efforts to destabilize the Gulf are being met head on by Saudi security forces, said Christopher Davidson, author of several books about Shiites in the Gulf, as well as the latest, titled "Shadow Wars." Prominent Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr rallied thousands in al-Awamiya during Arab Spring protests in 2011, linking their movement for social justice and greater rights with the Shiite-led sit-ins in nearby Bahrain.



Israel strikes Gaza militant sites after projectile fired

Tue, 27 Jun 2017 05:36:59 UT

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Israeli military says it has struck a pair of Hamas militant sites in Gaza after a projectile fired from the seaside territory landed in southern Israel. Israel holds Gaza's Hamas rulers responsible for all fire out of the strip — even rockets launched by any of the various militant groups challenging Hamas.



Israel: Projectile from Gaza lands in southern Israel

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 19:50:14 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military says a projectile fired from the Gaza Strip has landed in southern Israel. Israel holds Gaza's Hamas rulers responsible for all fire out of the seaside strip — even rockets launched by any of the various militant groups challenging Hamas.



UAE military buildup draws scrutiny after Yemen allegations

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 19:09:28 UT

CAIRO (AP) — With soccer sponsorships, record-setting skyscrapers and wintertime golfing, the United Arab Emirates has projected an image of comfort and opportunity in a volatile region. The Emirates flatly denied allegations revealed in an Associated Press investigation last week that its forces were running secret prisons inside Yemen where detainees were tortured, calling it "completely untrue." The growing list of foreign commitments is drawing increased scrutiny to the federation of Gulf monarchies, which hosts some 5,000 American military personnel, as well as fighter jets and drones. The former British protectorate merged the smaller forces of its seven sheikhdoms into a national military force that took part in the 1991 U.S.-led Gulf War expelling Iraqi forces from Kuwait. [...] it has been gradually building up experience and capabilities, sending troops to Kosovo as part of the NATO-led peacekeeping mission there starting in 1999, and special forces to Afghanistan to support the U.S.-led war against the Taliban. [...] while its military only numbers in the tens of thousands, it spends a whopping 6 percent of GDP on defense, allowing it to acquire advanced weapons systems from France, Britain and the U.S. The Pentagon said a new, 15-year defense cooperation agreement signed in May would "enable closer and more agile collaboration against a range of threats." Hundreds of men swept up in the hunt for al-Qaida militants have disappeared into the prisons, where abuse is routine and torture extreme — including the "grill," in which the victim is tied to a spit like a roast and spun in a circle of fire.



Jewish groups cancel meetings with Netanyahu in protest

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 19:03:55 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Two high-profile groups of Jewish leaders on Monday canceled meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to protest his government's decision to scrap plans for a mixed-gender prayer area at Jerusalem's Western Wall. The board of governors of The Jewish Agency, a nonprofit that works closely with the Israeli government to serve Jewish communities worldwide, said it was calling off its dinner with Netanyahu and altering the agenda of its annual meetings to address the crisis. Cabinet Minister Naftali Bennett, who established the current egalitarian prayer area four years ago, called the government decision unfortunate, but not a major disaster. The government decision has set off a cascade of criticism both in Israel and abroad, where Jewish leaders warned that it could undermine their longstanding political, financial and emotional support for Israel. The dramatic about-face at Sunday's Cabinet meeting followed the initial approval of the plan in January 2016 to officially recognize the special mixed-gender prayer area at the Western Wall. The compromise was reached after three years of intense negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and the Israeli authorities, and was seen at the time as a significant breakthrough in promoting religious pluralism in Israel, where ultra-Orthodox authorities govern almost every facet of Jewish life.



Israeli minister: Trump pressure on settlements disappoints

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 18:58:25 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — A senior Israeli Cabinet minister is expressing some disappointment with the White House, saying the election of Donald Trump has not brought about the boom in West Bank settlement construction many had expected. Naftali Bennett, leader of the pro-settler Jewish Home party, says the settler movement expected a building boom after Trump's election.



US-backed forces seize new district from IS in Raqqa

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 15:29:42 UT

Cihan Shekh Ehmed, a spokeswoman for the U.S.-backed militia known as the Syrian Democratic Forces, said the group's fighters seized the western district of al-Qadisiya from IS on Monday.



IS fighters launch counterattacks in west Mosul neighborhood

Mon, 26 Jun 2017 10:36:02 UT

IRBIL, Iraq (AP) — Islamic State fighters launched a string of counterattacks in a western Mosul neighborhood that had recently been declared free of the militant group, setting off clashes that continued overnight, Iraqi officials said Monday. Al-Khodari told The Associated Press that IS sleeper cells set fire to houses and cars on Sunday afternoon in the Tanak neighborhood on Mosul's far western edge. Earlier this month, IS launched a large-scale counterattack in Mosul that underscored the extremist group's resilience in the city despite months of heavy fighting with Iraqi forces backed by U.S. air power.



Israel strikes targets in Syria for 2nd day

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 19:15:23 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military on Sunday said it attacked a series of targets belonging to the Syrian military, after several projectiles from neighboring Syria landed in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights for a second day. Israel also is believed to have carried out airstrikes on suspected weapons shipments to its archenemy Hezbollah, whose fighters are in Syria backing government forces. In Saturday's fighting, Israeli aircraft struck various positions, destroying two tanks, in response to more than 10 projectiles that landed in its territory, the military said.



Iran's president condemns 'siege' of Qatar by Arab nations

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 17:34:08 UT

Iran's rival Saudi Arabia, Egypt, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain sent Qatar a 13-point list of demands to end the regional crisis, which included curbing diplomatic ties with Iran.



In about face, Israel freezes Western Wall mixed prayer plan

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 16:56:37 UT

Israel had approved the plan in January 2016 to officially recognize the special prayer area at the Western Wall — the holiest site where Jews can pray — a compromise reached after years of negotiations between liberal Israeli and American Jewish groups and the Israeli authorities. [...] the program was never implemented as powerful ultra-Orthodox members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition government raised objections to the decision after they had initially endorsed it. Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, head of the New York-based Rabbinical Assembly, an association for Conservative movement rabbis, said the decision was not surprising given the clout of ultra-Orthodox parties yet shocking nonetheless for its divisive message. The ultra-Orthodox religious establishment sees itself as responsible for maintaining traditions through centuries of persecution and assimilation, and it resists any inroads from liberals it often considers to be second-class Jews who ordain women and gays and are overly inclusive toward converts and interfaith marriages. Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, one of the few dissenting votes, said freezing the plan "represented a severe blow to the unity of the Jewish people, to various Jewish communities and to the relations between Israel and the Jewish diaspora." Yair Lapid, a leading opposition figure, accused Netanyahu of national irresponsibility and of forfeiting his role as leader of the Jewish people.



UAE president appears in video over 3 years after stroke

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 13:44:03 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — The president of the United Arab Emirates has made a rare public appearance on state media to mark the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. The state-run WAM news agency released a video Sunday showing Sheikh Khalifa seated in an ornate room at Abu Dhabi's Al Bateen Palace alongside ruling family members gathered to mark the Eid al-Fitr holiday.



Iran mocks reports its Syria missile strikes fell short

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 13:04:12 UT

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran said Sunday the two-stage missiles it fired at Islamic State targets in Syria broke apart over the Iraqi desert as planned, mocking reports that some of the projectiles fell short. State TV's website quoted the airspace division chief of Iran's Revolutionary Guard Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh as saying "we had coordinated the fall of the engines in the desert in Iraq" in advance. Iran said the strikes were in retaliation for the attack by five militants linked to the Islamic State group that stormed Iran's parliament and a shrine to revolutionary leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini this month, killing at least 18 people and wounding more than 50.



Assad decamps from Syrian capital for holiday prayers

Sun, 25 Jun 2017 08:58:55 UT

BEIRUT (AP) — Syrian President Bashar Assad has travelled to one of Syria's core cities to attend Eid al-Fitr prayers marking the end of Ramadan, in a rare departure from his capital stronghold.



Yemen to probe alleged interrogation abuses by UAE, US

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 21:22:04 UT

SANAA, Yemen (AP) — Yemen's internationally-recognized government on Saturday ordered the creation of a committee to investigate allegations of human rights violations, following reports that U.S. military interrogators worked with forces from the United Arab Emirates who are accused of torturing detainees in Yemen. American defense officials said U.S. forces have interrogated some detainees in Yemen but denied any participation in, or knowledge of, human rights abuses. In Washington, pressure has been mounting on the U.S. Defense Department after multiple U.S. senators called for investigations into the reports, with John McCain, Republican chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, and the ranking Democrat, Jack Reed, calling the reports "deeply disturbing." "Even the suggestion that the United States tolerates torture by our foreign partners compromises our national security mission by undermining the moral principle that distinguishes us from our enemies — our belief that all people possess basic human rights," the senators wrote Mattis. "Reports of acts of torture by agents of a government that is supported by the United States, and the possibility that U.S. military personnel may have been aware of it, should ring alarm bells at the Department of Defense," Leahy said in a statement to the AP.



Syria releases hundreds of detainees ahead of Eid

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 20:02:10 UT

DAMASCUS, Syria (AP) — The Syrian government released Saturday hundreds of detainees including some who backed the insurgency against President Bashar Assad on the eve of a major Muslim holiday. Hours after the release, a car bomb exploded in a rebel-held northern town near the border with Turkey killing and wounding dozens of people, according to the opposition Civil Defense in Idlib, also known as the White Helmets, and the Britain-based opposition monitoring group the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. Syrian government forces have been gaining ground around the country under the cover of Russian airstrikes and now control the five largest cities. The push has led to so-called reconciliations in areas around Syria in which opposition fighters either surrendered in exchange for amnesty or moved to rebel-held areas in northern Syria. The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces have been marching inside Raqqa since June 6, under the cover of airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, with the aim of liberating the Islamic State's de facto capital of the extremists.



Egypt's president ratifies disputed Saudi islands pact

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 19:35:03 UT

News of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi's ratification of the maritime border demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia came in a Cabinet statement, which appeared to be carefully timed to head off, or at least delay, any street protests over the surrender of the islands, which the Egyptian government insists have always been Saudi. Parliament approved the agreement on June 14 amid chaotic scenes of shouting matches by lawmakers arguing over the deal, whose announcement during an April 2016 visit by Saudi King Salman sparked the largest street protests since el-Sissi took office in 2014. Parliament's approval of the deal sparked a series of small protests earlier this month, but they were swiftly broken up by security forces.



Bahrain newspaper, shut down by government, lays off staff

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 19:27:10 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A prominent independent newspaper in Bahrain earlier shut down by the government as part of a crackdown on dissent has laid off its staff.



Israel strikes Syrian positions after fire toward it

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 17:59:24 UT

The government-controlled Syrian Central Military Media said Syrian troops and their allies repelled an attack by insurgents on the outskirts of the southern city of Baath on the edge of the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights. Israeli military spokesman Avichay Adraee wrote on his Arabic-language Facebook page that about 10 shells hit the Israeli-occupied area nearby, adding that Israel's air force struck Syrian army targets in the area. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights also said that Israeli warplanes attacked a Syrian army position in Quneitra while Syria's state-run news agency SANA said "an army position was targeted in Quneitra."



Iran detains Islamic State linked group

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 16:50:19 UT

The ministry says its forces confiscated three Kalashnikov rifles, night vision goggles, three suicide belts, three phones for remote detonation, a large amount of bullets and other technical tools for making bombs, in a statement issued Saturday.



Jordan to cancel 'marry the victim' clause shielding rapists

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 16:15:27 UT

A young woman was taken into protective custody after being stabbed 17 times by a brother who accused her of bringing "shame" to the family for running away from an abusive husband. Jail, forced marriage or the risk of getting killed by family members - these are some of the harsh choices still faced by victims of abuse or sexual violence in Jordan. Women's rights advocates say repealing Article 308 would be a victory, but that more work lies ahead in a society with deeply rooted customs of patriarchy and a legal system that often goes easy on the male perpetrators. The "marry the rapist" provision has been repealed in Egypt and Morocco, but remains on the books in Tunisia, Lebanon, Syria, Libya, Kuwait, Iraq, Bahrain, Algeria and the Palestinian territories, according to the international group Human Rights Watch. Judge Jehad al-Duradi, who handles sexual violence cases at Jordan's main criminal court, said women who agree to marry their attackers often act out of desperation. Another article says a convicted killer could receive as little as a year in prison if he acts in a "state of great fury resulting from an unlawful and dangerous act" by the victim. Al-Duradi said Jordanian courts have imposed harsher punishment for such crimes in recent years; no convicted killer has received a sentence of less than 10 years in prison since 2010. Sadeq al-Omari, a senior official in the prison system, said protective custody is often the only solution, adding that "the right to life is more important than the right to freedom."



UAE: Arab states don't seek 'regime change' in Qatar

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 14:33:38 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A top United Arab Emirates official said Saturday the Arab countries isolating Qatar do not seek to force out the country's leadership over allegations it supports extremist ideology but are willing to cut ties altogether if it does not agree to their demands. Qatar says it is reviewing the ultimatum, which includes demands to shut Al-Jazeera and cut ties with Islamist groups including the Muslim Brotherhood. The countries have previously suggested the demands were their bottom line, though Gargash on Saturday appeared to allow for the possibility for some negotiation facilitated by Kuwait, a GCC member mediating the crisis. The Al-Jazeera network it hosts has provided exposure for groups ranging from the Muslim Brotherhood to al-Qaida, and is seen by its critics as a mouthpiece for extremist ideology. The demands from Qatar's neighbors amount to a call for a sweeping overhaul of Qatar's foreign policy and natural gas-funded influence peddling in the region.



Journalist dies of wounds from blast in Iraq's Mosul

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:49:21 UT

BAGHDAD (AP) — A Swiss journalist died Saturday from wounds sustained in a Mosul mine blast earlier this week while reporting on the fight against the Islamic State group. The fight to retake Iraq's second largest city was launched more than eight months ago, and while Iraqi forces experienced periods of swift gains, fighting inside the city has been slow and deadly for both Iraqi security forces and civilians.



The Latest: Lebanon's Hezbollah condemns Mecca bombing

Sat, 24 Jun 2017 10:09:34 UT

Saudi security officials said Saturday that a suicide bomber blew himself up near the Grand Mosque as police disrupted a plot to target the holiest site in Islam just as the fasting month of Ramadan ends. Hezbollah, which is considered a terrorist organization by the Saudi government and Western nations, said targeting the Grand Mosque shows that the ideology of extremists has no respect for holy places. Saudi state television has aired footage after the raid near the Grand Mosque in Mecca, showing police and rescue personnel running through the neighborhood's narrow streets where security forces confronted a suicide bomber. The Interior Ministry says he was killed while the blast wounded six foreigners and five members of security forces.