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Preview: Seattle Post-Intelligencer: Middle East Middle East News from the Associated Press


Promised Land: Venezuela Jewish converts fight way to Israel

Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:52:25 UT

The journey almost fell apart late last year when, after seven months of correspondence with officials in Israel, they were denied entry over concerns they weren't involved enough with Venezuela's Jewish community and were looking to take advantage of Israel's immigration policies to flee the troubled South American nation. The protracted fight over the "Venezuelan Nine" underscores the fierce debate in a divided Israeli society over who is a Jew and how a religion that doesn't proselytize like Christianity or Islam grapples with an increasing number of converts, especially from Latin America, who have found their way to Judaism outside traditional paths like marrying someone of the faith. Leaders of the cloistered Jewish community in Caracas were also doubtful of their motives because they had never had contact with the group, even though the nine had been quietly welcomed by a dying community of Orthodox Jews in the nearby city of Valencia, which needed them for the 10-male quorum required for public worship in a synagogue. According to an official in Israel familiar with the case, there was evidence suggesting some of the applicants converted to Judaism to take advantage of Israeli social benefits, including health insurance. [...] after a stormy parliamentary committee hearing in Israel, during which liberal lawmakers sparred with officials from the ultra-Orthodox-run Interior Ministry, immigration officials said the nine could move to Israel if they repeated their conversion and joined an "established religious community" once in Israel. The Jewish Agency, a nonprofit organization that works with the Israeli government on immigration, paid for their flights and housing. In addition to lamenting the country's economic woes, many Jews complain of facing virulent anti-Semitism since the late President Hugo Chavez broke off diplomatic relations with Israel in 2009. Mejia said he thinks the wariness of Israeli

First US aircraft carrier of Trump presidency enters Gulf

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:08:43 UT

First US aircraft carrier of Trump presidency enters Gulf ABOARD THE USS GEORGE H.W. BUSH (AP) — American sailors watched as the first Revolutionary Guard vessels appeared on the horizon of the Strait of Hormuz, beginning a daylong face-off that has become familiar to both Iranian paramilitary and U.S. naval forces that pass through the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf. President Donald Trump has warned that Iranian forces will be blown out of the water if they challenge U.S. naval vessels, while American commanders describe the Guard as increasingly behaving unprofessionally with rocket launches and provocative actions. Iranian hard-liners, still smarting over the nuclear detente with the West, may see a military confrontation as a way to derail moderate President Hassan Rouhani heading into the country's May presidential election. After a Saudi naval vessel came under attack from a purported "drone" boat off the coast of war-torn Yemen, in the Bab al-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea, U.S. vessels in this strike group changed their routine to protect themselves while passing, said Capt. Will Pennington, the commanding officer of the Bush. U.S. helicopters circled overhead as some of the Iranians used telephoto lens and video cameras to film the carrier — while international journalists invited onboard the Bush filmed them. [...] the Iranians merely stood alongside their machine guns, coming at their closest some 860 meters (940 yards) from the carrier as armed American sailors kept watch.

US forces ferry Syrian-Kurdish fighters behind IS lines

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:28:26 UT

BEIRUT (AP) — U.S. aircraft ferried Syrian Kurdish fighters and allied forces behind Islamic State lines on Wednesday to spearhead a major ground assault on a strategic town held by the extremist group outside its self-declared capital, Raqqa, the Pentagon said, marking the first time U.S. forces have provided airlift for local forces on a combat operation in Syria. The airlift was part of what Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon described as a large, high-priority offensive to secure the area around Tabqa and the associated Tabqa Dam on the Euphrates River which supplies electric power to the area. The U.S. has significantly widened its footprint in northern Syria in the past few weeks as it prepares for the operation to push the militants from Raqqa, deploying a Marine artillery unit and a few dozen Army Rangers in addition to special operation troops and advisers to assist the local forces. Wednesday's airlift, which Navy Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, described as a first, displayed a new level of commitment to Syria's Kurds, whose partnership with the U.S. in fighting IS has prompted difficult discussions with Turkey, which sees the militants as a national security threat. The U.S. also provided artillery fire from a Marine contingent, as well as close air support by U.S. Army Apache helicopters, he said. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told the coalition's first ministerial gathering since President Donald Trump took office that the Trump administration was still refining its strategy on Syria but the United States' number one goal in the region was to defeat IS. [...] Wednesday, the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group said it was looking into reports that a U.S.-led coalition aircraft may have struck a shelter for the displaced in the village of Mansoura, also held by IS. U.N. Special Envoy to Syria Staffan de Mistura called the developments "alarming," but said the invited delegati

French news agency says former staffer detained in Bahrain

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:57:30 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Agence France-Presse says a former photographer for the French news agency has been arrested upon his return home to Bahrain. The news agency and the Bahrain Press Association reported on Wednesday that photographer Mohammed al-Shaikh was taken into custody at Bahrain International Airport following a trip abroad.

Over 400 students fall ill of Egypt army's school meals

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:36:29 UT

Egypt's Health Ministry announced on Wednesday that 312 students in schools in Cairo, Suez and Aswan were hospitalized with symptoms of food poisoning, in a succession of mass food poisoning incidents that started earlier this month caused by the school meals, produced by a military-owned company. In between images of cartoon characters, the packet of the snacks provided by the ministry as part of a project launched to enhance the students' nutrition, carries the logo of the military-owned Al-Nasr for Services and Maintenance (Queen Service) and the phrase "long live Egypt," which was popularized by President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and became a trademark for the military and the former defense minister turned president.

More Palestinians in Jerusalem seek Israeli citizenship

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:54:59 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — More Palestinians in east Jerusalem are applying for Israeli citizenship in hopes of swapping their vulnerable status as mere city residents for the rights and ease of travel that come with an Israeli passport. The citizenship debate reflects the unsettled status of Jerusalem's 330,000 Palestinians — who make up 37 percent of the city's population — 50 years after Israel captured and annexed the eastern sector. Asking for an Israeli passport still carries the stigma of implied acceptance of Israeli control, and only about 15,000 Palestinians have requested one since 2003, according to the Interior Ministry, which did not provide early figures. Some polls have indicated the actual number of Palestinians interested in Israeli citizenship is actually larger, mainly because of the practical benefits they can derive. Palestinian officials said east Jerusalem's globally recognized status as occupied territory won't change if more Arab residents get Israeli passports. According to figures first published on the Times of Israel news site in September, the processing of requests has slowed dramatically since 2014. Since 1967, Israel has revoked the residency rights of 14,500 Palestinians, often on grounds that they were absent from the city for more than seven years, even if they moved to nearby West Bank suburbs for cheaper housing. Yoav Yeivin, a member of Jerusalem's municipal council, said Israeli authorities are concerned about absorbing more Arab citizens, who already make up more than one-fifth of the state's population of more than 8.5 million people. [...] he said, awarding citizenship to east Jerusalem residents would hasten their integration into Israeli society, strengthen Israel's claim to the city and help reduce years of neglect of Arab neighborhoods.

The Latest: China envoy hails Syria peace talks 'momentum'

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 15:50:22 UT

China's envoy for the Syria crisis says the "momentum of peace dialogue will not be stopped" as U.N.-mediated talks are expected to resume. The US-led international coalition against the Islamic State group says it has no indications an airstrike struck civilians near the northern Syrian city of Raqqa, following reports of dozens killed in an attack that struck a school sheltering displaced people. In a statement Wednesday, however, the coalition acknowledged conducting several airstrikes near Raqqa and said it would investigate the claims of civilian casualties. A Pentagon spokesman says the U.S. military has provided an airlift for Syrian fighters taking part in an offensive underway on the town of Tabqa, west of the Islamic State group's stronghold of Raqqa. A U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish coalition says the U.S. has landed infantry behind Islamic State lines to spearhead an assault on the town of Tabqa. The Syrian Democratic Forces say the U.S. has airlifted several Marines and SDF fighters by helicopter into Islamic State-held territory, capturing four villages, and cutting the main artery running between the extremists' de facto capital, Raqqa, and the western countryside. Syrian activists say dozens of civilians are dead or still missing after an airstrike on a shelter for the displaced in an Islamic State-held village in northern Syria.

Rights group urges Libyan general to probe killings

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 11:21:57 UT

"The Libyan National Army's leadership needs to respond urgently to these deeply disturbing allegations by investigating the suspected perpetrators, including senior military commanders who may bear individual responsibility," said Joe Stork, Middle East and North Africa deputy director at Human Rights Watch. Libya sank into chaos following the 2011 uprising that toppled and killed dictator Moammar Gadhafi, and has remained split between rival parliaments and governments in the east and west, each backed by a set of militias, tribes and political factions. Last week it retook two key oil terminals that had been seized by militias loyal to the rival government based in the Libyan capital, Tripoli, driving out fighters, including some opponents from Benghazi he had been fighting in a long-running standoff.

New Moroccan prime minister revives hope for end to deadlock

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 09:48:27 UT

RABAT, Morocco (AP) — Morocco's new prime minister is determined to succeed where his predecessor failed, and swiftly began negotiations this week with rivals to build a government and end a crisis threatening the economy and Morocco's reputation for stability. Othmani has already shown a different style from predecessor Abdelilah Benkirane, who struggled to build a coalition government after the moderate Islamist party PJD won parliamentary elections in October. Outgoing Transport Minister Abdelaziz Rebbah — whose name had also been floated for the prime minister post — expressed confidence in Othmani's chances of forming a government, saying the king chose him because of his experience leading their party through difficult times.

Palestinians: Israeli shelling kills 1 along Gaza border

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:46:13 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Palestinian officials say Israeli shelling has killed one person and wounded two others near the southern Gaza town of Rafah. The Israeli military says its forces fired on three suspected militants who had approached the security fence.

UN says Mosul displacement gathering pace as Iraq battles IS

Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:38:51 UT

BAGHDAD (AP) — The United Nations says around 45,000 people have fled the fighting between Iraqi forces and Islamic State militants in western Mosul over the past week, a 22 percent increase from the previous week. The U.N. humanitarian aid office said Wednesday that the latest wave brought the total number of people displaced from western Mosul to about 135,000.

TSA: Teen denied flight to US due to Turkish airline's issue

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 21:49:44 UT

(AP) — A 17-year-old Tennessee girl was denied a flight back to the United States over the weekend because a Turkish airline didn't provide necessary passenger information, but a resolution is expected shortly, the Transportation Security Administration said Tuesday. In Facebook posts, Sabrina Sadaf Siddiqi said her daughter, Zubaidah Alizoti, was denied a flight home Sunday after the family and friends visited Mecca, the Muslim holy site in Saudi Arabia. The incident unfolded amid heightened scrutiny of President Donald Trump's push to severely limit travel from several Muslim-majority countries, which multiple courts have blocked.

Correction: Israel-Jesus Tomb Restoration story

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:01:16 UT

Jordan's King Abdullah II and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also chipped in about 150,000 euros each, along with other private and church donations, Burnham said. The shrine needed urgent attention after years of exposure to environmental factors like water, humidity and candle smoke. Three main Christian denominations jealously guard separate sections of the church, but they put aside their longstanding religious rivalries to give their blessing for the restoration. A restoration team from the National Technical University of Athens stripped the stone slabs from the shrine's façade and patched up the internal masonry of the shrine, injecting it with tubes of grout for reinforcement. On Oct. 26, the team entered the inner sanctum of the shrine, the burial chamber of Jesus, and temporarily slid open an old marble layer covering the bedrock where Jesus' body is said to have been placed. The team is dismantling its worksite ahead of a ceremony Wednesday to mark the completion of the renovation, in the presence of two representatives of dueling Christian denominations — Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, who is the spiritual leader of the world's Orthodox Christians, and a representative of Pope Francis, the leader of the Catholic Church.

Media: Netanyahu to continue East Jerusalem construction

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:58:08 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli media is quoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as saying that he has no plans to limit Jewish construction in East Jerusalem. The Haaretz newspaper reported that Netanyahu made the comments to Israeli reporters during a visit to Beijing Tuesday.

Israel plans mass evacuation if war erupts again

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 17:14:01 UT

Israel is drawing up contingency plans to evacuate up to a quarter-million civilians from border communities to protect them from attacks from Hamas, Hezbollah or other Islamic militant groups. All sides have been preparing in case a new round of warfare breaks out, although Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel's destruction, currently is tied down in Syria's civil war fighting in support of President Bashar Assad. In 2014, 50 days of fighting between Israel and Gaza's Islamic militant Hamas rulers killed an estimated 2,100 Palestinians, six Israeli civilians and 66 Israeli soldiers. There was widespread devastation in Gaza and thousands of rockets and mortars fired by Hamas and other Islamic militants at Israeli towns and cities. Bar pointed out that Hezbollah has gained battle experience from fighting alongside Assad's forces and that Hassan Nasrallah, the Shiite group's chief, has recently increased his rhetoric about attacking Israel. Israel's "Iron Dome" defense system was seen as a game-changer in the 2014 war, ensuring a decisive protective edge from short-range rockets fired from Gaza. Israel has made it clear it will act to prevent Hezbollah getting advanced munitions and is widely believed to have carried out several airstrikes in recent years on weapons convoys destined for the militant group. Israeli intelligence believes Badreddine had been feuding with Iranian military commanders in Syria over the heavy losses his group had suffered on the battlefield. Technology has come a long way since 1991 when air raid sirens sent Israelis nationwide scurrying to bomb shelters when Iraq fired Scud missiles at Tel Aviv.

Israel: Gaza aid worker for Turkey diverted funds to Hamas

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:58:01 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel's Shin Bet security agency said Tuesday that it had arrested a Palestinian employee of a humanitarian program run by the Turkish government on suspicion of diverting funds to militants. The Shin Bet said its interrogation of Muhammad Murtaja, the coordinator of the Gaza branch of the Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency, revealed how he had duped the organization by shifting funds to the military wing of the Islamic militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza. The Shin Bet said one of Murtaja's schemes was to provide his superiors with a list of impoverished residents in the Gaza Strip who were candidates to receive financial aid.

Palestinian cartographer uses map against Israel closure

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:50:50 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — A prominent Palestinian cartographer says he used a tool of his trade — a map — to explain to Israeli authorities they shouldn't have closed his office on the outskirts of Jerusalem last week. Israel issued a six-month closure order on grounds that Khalil Tufagji operated illegally from Jerusalem for the Palestinian self-rule government.

Israeli army chief: Hezbollah leader killed by his own men

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:46:26 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel has concluded that Hezbollah's top military commander was killed in Syria last year by rivals within the Shiite militant group, Israel's military chief said Tuesday. The explosive announcement was the latest sign of an escalating feud between Israel and Hezbollah, an Iranian-backed group sworn to Israel's destruction. Israel considers Hezbollah to be a potent enemy, with over 100,000 rockets and missiles aimed at the Jewish state. Israeli intelligence believes Badreddine had been feuding with Iranian military commanders in Syria over the heavy losses his group had suffered on the battlefield. Last week, Israel shot down a Syrian anti-aircraft missile fired at an Israeli aircraft carrying out an airstrike on a suspected Hezbollah weapons convoy in Syria.

Syrian troops respond as rebels renew attack on Damascus

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 16:43:49 UT

The military deployed tanks along the city's leafy Fares al-Khoury Avenue leading to the eastern Jobar and Qaboun neighborhoods, where opposition forces have been pinned for years, and the cracks of gunfire could be heard from Abbassin Square. Government jets pounded the areas behind rebel lines, according to footage released by opposition factions, and fighters scrambled between rubble and burning buses to take up positions. Assad's armed opponents are divided over strategy, with the al-Qaida-affiliated groups preaching a confrontational, military approach against the government, and others — including the Islam Army — agreeing to political discussions. Mohammed Alloush, the rebels' chief negotiator with the government at technical talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, said his group, the Islam Army, was prepared to send further reinforcements to the Qaboun front in Damascus. "Opening the Jobar front had a major effect in reducing the pressure on us and other fronts in Ghouta that have not calmed down in more than a year, and has contributed to scattering the Assad gangs," said Islam Army military spokesman Hamza Beirakdar, in a Twitter posting.

Israeli Arab woman sentenced to 50 months for joining IS

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:58:41 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — An Israeli court has sentenced an Arab woman to 50 months in prison for joining the extremist Islamic State group. A district court in Haifa sentenced 30-year-old Sabrine Zbeidat of the Arab city Sakhnin on Tuesday for slipping into Syria via Turkey with her husband and three young children while on a family vacation in Romania in 2015.

Jordan court blocks extradition of bombing suspect to US

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 10:46:23 UT

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) — Jordan's highest court has blocked the extradition of a Jordanian woman who faces U.S. charges in the 2001 bombing of a Jerusalem pizza restaurant that killed 15 people, including two Americans. Jordanian state media reported on Tuesday that a day earlier, Jordan's Court of Cassation upheld a lower-court decision on grounds that Jordan and the United States don't have an extradition treaty.

UAE rights activist detained for social media criticism

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:52:57 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — A leading human rights advocate in the United Arab Emirates has been detained and is being investigated for cybercrimes that include criticizing the government on social media sites, according to a government statement published on Tuesday. The state-run WAM news agency reported that the Public Prosecution for Cybercrimes office had ordered Ahmed Mansoor's arrest and that he will remain imprisoned pending an investigation into his alleged crimes. The Dubai-based Gulf News said Mansoor is being accused of defaming the UAE on Twitter and Facebook, publishing false information about the country to damage its reputation abroad and promoting sectarianism.

Islamic State group claims responsibility for Baghdad attack

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 08:36:39 UT

BAGHDAD (AP) — The Islamic State group has claimed responsibility for a car bombing in Baghdad that killed 27 people the previous day, shattering a relative lull in the Iraqi capital. The Sunni militant group says in an online statement posted on an IS-affiliated website hours after the attack that a militant parked the explosive-laden car in the commercial area of Baghdad's Shiite-dominated southwestern Amil neighborhood.

Hamas aims to improve international image with new program

Tue, 21 Mar 2017 06:53:51 UT

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) — The Islamic militant group Hamas has drafted a new political program it hopes will improve ties with neighboring Egypt and the West, and present a more moderate image that will help it get off Western terrorism lists. The internationally isolated group, which has ruled the Gaza Strip for the past decade, characterizes itself in the manifesto as a Palestinian resistance movement against Israeli occupation, dropping references to holy war against Jews. [...] Hamas appears to have stopped short of a significant ideological shift amid concerns about alienating its hard-line base at a time when ultra-fundamentalist Islamist groups, such as the Salafists, are making inroads, particularly in Gaza. In referring to a Palestinian state, Hamas does not spell out whether it considers this an acceptable solution to the conflict with Israel or a stepping stone to its longstanding goal of an Islamic state in all of historic Palestine, including what is now Israel. Hamas has controlled Gaza since seizing the territory of 2 million people in 2007 from forces loyal to Abbas. Since the takeover, Hamas has been isolated from the world, with Israel and Egypt enforcing a tough border blockade that has hollowed out Gaza's economy and driven many residents deeper into poverty. The Hamas founding charter advocated "liberating Palestine" and urged neighboring countries to "open their borders to Mujahedeen," or holy war fighters, for this purpose.

Al-Qaida steps up violence against Syrian government

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:41:56 UT

BEIRUT (AP) — Under pressure from fellow insurgents and escalating airstrikes by the U.S.-led coalition, Syria's al-Qaida branch is stepping up violence against President Bashar Assad's strongholds with precise, high-profile attacks, including a surprising breach of the capital in the most serious infiltration in years. The bombers, a Saudi and a Syrian, detonated their explosives-laden trucks against army positions on the eastern edge of the capital amid a barrage of artillery shells that landed in the heart of Damascus. Syria's al-Qaida's branch has used suicide bombers targeting government security installations since the early days of the conflict. The uptick in attacks comes at a time when the al-Qaida-linked group is trying to distance itself publicly from the international terrorist network and imposing unity on other insurgent factions. The extremist group opposes peace talks between the opposition and the government taking place in Geneva and the Kazakh capital of Astana, aimed at forging a diplomatic settlement to Syria's civil war. Fatah al-Sham leader Abu Mohammed al-Golani said in an online video that the Homs attack should be a lesson to opposition politicians taking part in peace talks, adding that they "should leave the field to the fighters and step aside."

Israel's multi-layer defense system nearing completion

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:29:15 UT

JERUSALEM (AP) — A joint U.S.-Israeli missile interceptor will be operational soon, completing Israel's multi-layer defense system, a senior Israeli air force official said Monday. Israeli deployed its Arrow system Friday when Syria fired a missile at its jets after they carried out airstrikes targeting a weapons convoy bound for Hezbollah.

Iran's top leader faults government's progress on economy

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:18:25 UT

Rouhani was a driving force behind Iran's 2015 nuclear accord with world powers, which lifted international sanctions in return for restrictions on the country's nuclear program, but the effects have yet to trickle down to many Iranians.

Rights groups say UAE arrests prominent activist

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:07:36 UT

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Rights groups say a prominent activist in the United Arab Emirates has been detained after a lengthy search of his apartment. Amnesty International says Ahmed Mansoor was detained Monday in the emirate of Ajman after an overnight raid by 12 security officials who confiscated electronic devices and did not inform his wife where he was being taken.

Iraqi officials say Baghdad bombing kills at least 23

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 18:04:22 UT

BAGHDAD (AP) — A suicide car bombing in Baghdad killed at least 23 people on Monday and wounded 45 others, according to Iraqi officials. The militarized Federal Police say they are some 500 meters (yards) from al-Nuri mosque, where IS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made a rare public appearance in July 2014, announcing a self-styled caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

Syrian Kurdish militia says it's getting Russian training

Mon, 20 Mar 2017 17:53:47 UT

Russia's Defense Ministry said it had embedded servicemen with the People's Protection Units, or YPG, in northern Syria, but said they were there to monitor a cease-fire between the Kurdish forces and rival Turkish-backed Syrian opposition forces. The ministry said the units had been deployed from its Center for Reconciliation, at its air base in Hmeimim in northwestern Syria, where it flies raids in support of President Bashar Assad's government. YPG Spokesman Redur Khalil said the Russian forces were there "by agreement" and called the training mission a step toward "direct contacts" with Russia, in comments carried by the group's Hawar News agency.