Articles by "Middle East"

A file photo shows two Saudi women.
A human rights watchdog group has lashed out at the United Nations for appointment of Saudi Arabia as a member of a committee on gender equality, despite Riyadh’s massive discrimination against women.
“Saudi discrimination against women is gross and systematic in law and in practice,” said the executive director of the human rights group UN Watch, Hillel Neuer, in a Sunday statement.
“Why did the UN choose the world’s leading promoter of gender inequality to sit on its gender equality commission,” he said in a statement. “Electing Saudi Arabia to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief,” he later tweeted.
On Wednesday, the UN’s Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) elected 13 members, including Saudi Arabia, to four-year terms on the Commission on the Status of Women, which is exclusively dedicated to the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Saudi women attend a Festival in Rumah, some 150 kilometres east of Riyadh, on March 29, 2017 (Photo by AFP). 
Out of 144 on the Global Gender Gap Index, Saudi Arabia was ranked 141 in 2016.
In recent years, the Al Saud regime has come under intense pressure by rights groups for mistreating women.
Saudi Arabia is the only country in the world that prohibits women from driving. The ban stems from a religious fatwa imposed by Wahhabi clerics. If women get behind the wheel in the kingdom, they may be arrested, sent to court and even flogged.
Under Saudi law, a woman must have permission from a male family member, normally the father, husband or brother -- in the case of a widow, sometimes her son -- to obtain a passport, marry, travel, exit prison and sometimes work or access health care.
In January, a UN Special Rapporteur on human rights, Philip Alston, slammed Saudi Arabia’s treatment of women, saying, “The driving ban should be lifted, and women should no longer need authorization from male guardians to work or travel.”

Israel’s former minister of military affairs Moshe Ya’alon has admitted to a tacit alliance with Daesh, saying the Takfiri group had "immediately apologized" to Tel Aviv after firing "once" into Israel.  
International media outlets have already reported extensively on Israeli commandos' missions inside Syria to rescue wounded militants but a senior regime official's acknowledgement of a link with Daesh is unprecedented. 
Ya'alon's explosive revelation came during an interview reported Saturday on Israeli Channel 10’s website, Israeli content portal Mako, which acts as a gateway to Israeli media outlets and websites.
Mako also incorporated footage of the event in the northern Israel city of Afula, during which the former military affairs chief was seen describing an occasion in which Syria-based Daesh terrorists had fired into Golan Heights.
Golan is a Syrian territory, which Tel Aviv has been occupying since 1967 and lays claim on it as its own property. Save some rare alleged rocket attacks from Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, for which Daesh has reportedly claimed responsibility and have not resulted in any human injury or losses, the group has generally refused to target either Israel or the territories under its occupation.
However, Ya’alon said after opening fire on Golan, Daesh served Tel Aviv with a quick apology, pointing to the alliance between the two, and also suggesting that the group had agreed not to target Israeli interests in line with the rapport.
“On most occasions, firing comes from regions under the control of the (Syrian) regime. But once the firing came from ISIS (Daesh) positions–and it immediately apologized,” he said.
Israeli media outlets, meanwhile, refused to report on the Daesh strike, probably because of either a media blackout or military censorship, reported Tikun Olam, a Seattle-based liberal blog dedicated to outing “the excesses of the Israeli national security state," which also reported Ya’alon’s remarks.
“In the midst of complaining about the Islamist threat to Israel and the world, Bibi (Benjamin) Netanyahu (Israel’s prime minister) conveniently forgets that his own country enjoys a tacit alliance with ISIS in Syria,” said New York-born Dr. Richard Silverstein, who runs the blog. “It is an alliance of convenience to be sure,” he added.
According to him, Ya’alon has been speaking more candidly about the inner workings of the regime since falling out with Netanyahu and being replaced by successor Avigdor Lieberman.
“But he did reveal how closely tied Israel is to ISIS in Syria,” wrote the blogger, who has also documented Israeli collaboration with al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s Syria branch, which has rebranded itself.
In June 2015, the blog published a story reporting on Israel’s interventions in the foreign-backed militancy in Syria in favor of anti-Damascus militants.
It said Tel Aviv and al-Nusra had forged an alliance, featuring the former’s building camps for terrorists and their families in Israel-held territory, holding regular meetings with terrorist commanders, and providing military and other critical supplies to them. 
The report incorporated a video showing Israel’s provision of medical assistance to the terrorists who had been wounded in Syria.

It also cited an incident in which locals had intercepted one Israeli ambulance carrying wounded two Takfiris, forcing the medics to flea and beating up one of the terrorists to death. The other was also seriously injured before Israeli forces intervened to save him.

This file photo shows the Israeli settlement of Ma'ale Adumim in the occupied West Bank near East Jerusalem al-Quds. (Photo by AP)
Israel’s security cabinet has unanimously voted in favor of construction of the regime’s first new settlement in the occupied Palestinian territories in 25 years, drawing strong condemnation from Palestinians.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office released a statement on Thursday night, announcing that the new settlement will be built near the West Bank settlement of Emek Shilo and the Palestinian city of Ramallah, The Jerusalem Post reported.
The Israeli ministers also approved the construction of 2,000 settler homes out of the 5,700 units announced two months ago, and endorsed the expropriation of 90 hectares (222 acres) of Palestinian land near the Israeli settlement of Eli north of Ramallah.
The move was swiftly condemned by Palestinian officials, with Hanan Ashrawi, an executive committee member of the Palestine Liberation Organization, saying the “announcement once again proves that Israel is more committed to appeasing its illegal settler population than to abiding by the requirements for stability and a just peace."
Earlier in the day, the Israeli prime minister said the new settlement was intended to house the residents of Amona, a wildcat outpost in the occupied West Bank that was evacuated under a court order in February.
The latest expansionist measures, which are in violation of last year's UN Security Council Resolution 2334, come as the Tel Aviv regime has been holding negotiations with the administration of US President Donald Trump on new settlement building plans.
US President Donald Trump (R) and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hold a joint press conference at the White House in Washington, DC, on February 15, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Yoav Horowitz, Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, and Jason Greenblatt, who heads the US team, have been leading the talks on settlement guidelines over the past three weeks, according to Israeli media reports.
Figures released by Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics showed last week that 2,630 settlement units were constructed in the West Bank last year, marking a rise of 40 percent from 2015.
The figures were released only a day after Netanyahu vowed to press ahead with building new settler units, stressing that the Tel Aviv regime has no plan to limit settlement construction in East Jerusalem al-Quds.
The UN resolution passed in December calls on Israel to “immediately and completely cease all settlement activities in the occupied Palestinian territory, including East Jerusalem” al-Quds.
In this image released by the UN, members of the Security Council vote on December 23, 2016 on a resolution against Israeli settlements. (Photo by AFP)
About 600,000 Israelis live in over 230 illegal settlements built since the 1967 Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and East Jerusalem al-Quds.
Palestinians want the West Bank as part of a future independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem al-Quds as its capital.
Since the January inauguration of Trump, the Tel Aviv regime has stepped up its construction of settler units on occupied Palestinian land in a blatant violation of international law.

A picture taken on March 27, 2017 shows a general view of the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south Amman, Jordan. (Photo by AFP)
Arab League heads of state are meeting for an annual summit in Jordan to address a range of issues, particularly regional conflicts, as the prospect of a breakthrough seems far off.
The meeting opened on Wednesday in the northwestern Jordan city of Sweimeh, with 22 Arab League leaders, including Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in attendance.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres and the world body’s Syria envoy Staffan de Mistura are also among the guests.
Most notably, the event is slated to address the situations in Syria, Yemen and Palestine.
In the run-up to the summit, Arab League foreign ministers held preparatory meetings in Jordan.
On Monday, Arab League chief Ahmed Abul Gheit called on Arab leaders to play “a more active role” in finding a solution to the violence in Syria, describing it as “the worst crisis in the region’s recent history.”
Guterres also urged the Arab authorities on Tuesday to stand united in addressing the warfare.
“Arab unity is a very important element in order to allow this region to be stabilized and for... the Syrian refugees to find again a future that corresponds to their aspirations,” he said.
 Arab League leaders remain deeply divided over the role of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
A picture taken on March 27, 2017 shows the delegations of Palestine (L), Oman (C), and Iraq (R) attending the preparatory meeting of Arab Foreign Ministers during the 28th Summit of the Arab League at the Dead Sea, south of Amman, Jordan. (Photo by AFP)
Recently, Iraq, Lebanon, Jordan and Algeria have called for the return of Syria to the pan-Arab regional bloc, but their attempts have reportedly been rejected by Persian Gulf Arab countries, led by Saudi Arabia.
A number of Arab League members, especially Saudi Arabia, have been accused of funneling cash and arms to anti-Damascus militants since 2011. Damascus also accuses some of the states in the bloc hindering efforts to reach a political solution to the crisis.
Among other topics on the agenda is the crisis in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and its allies, most notably the United Arab Emirates, have been bombing the misery-riddled nation since 2015 in support of its Riyadh-allied former government. The warfare has killed thousands of civilians.
The summit is also expected to release a statement against US President Donald Trump’s plans to move Washington’s embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem al-Quds and consider alternatives to a Palestinian state.
Arab leaders have warned that the move would set an exceptionally dangerous and irreversible precedence by tipping the situation in favor of Israel.

A migrant worker carries a pole at a construction site in the Qatari capital Doha on December 6, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
Qatar has refused to allow scores of migrants from countries including India, Nepal and Bangladesh to return home, violating new labor reforms to improve workers' rights, activists and trade unions said on Wednesday.
A law making it easier for migrants to change jobs and leave the oil-rich Persian Gulf state - where many of them have been recruited to build soccer stadiums ahead of the 2022 FIFA World Cup - came into effect in December.
The Qatari government has defended the reforms to replace the "kafala" sponsorship system, which forces foreign workers to seek their employer's consent to change jobs or leave the country - a measure rights groups say leaves workers open to exploitation.
Trade unionists and activists say migrant workers still require an exit permit from the government - and of the 760 or so permit requests made by migrants, more than a quarter have been denied since the law was passed on Dec. 13 last year.
"Qatar's notorious exit permit system remains in place today," said Sharan Burrow, general secretary of International Trade Union Confederation. "The claim by Qatar to the International Labour Organization (ILO) that the exit permit has been abolished is a lie."
Qatari officials were not immediately available to comment, but data reported by the state-run Qatar News Agency earlier this month said the newly-established Exit Permit Grievances Committee had rejected 213 requests made up until Feb. 15.
No reason was given for the requests being denied.
The ILO has given Doha until November to implement the reforms or potentially face an investigation into the forced labor of migrants in the lead up to hosting the World Cup.

The photo released by Amnesty International shows UK-manufactured cluster bomblets gathered in northern Yemen.
Saudi warplanes have pounded Yemen’s northwestern province of Sa’ada with at least two cluster bombs despite a global outcry against the use of such internationally-banned weapons by Saudi Arabia.
According to Yemen's Arabic-language al-Masirah television network, the airstrikes were carried out against al-Malahit area in Az Zahir district on Monday afternoon, but there were no immediate reports of casualties or damage.
The Saudi war machine has already used cluster bombs across Yemen in multiple occasions despite the inherently indiscriminate nature of cluster munitions. Various rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have on many occasions reported and criticized the use of cluster bombs by Riyadh’s military in Yemen.
On March 9, the Amnesty International rights group said in a statement that Saudi Arabia had used cluster bombs on three residential districts and agricultural land in Sa’ada back in mid-February.
Last December, Human Rights Watch also said Saudi Arabia had fired cluster bombs near two schools in Sa’ada, killing two civilians and wounding six others, including a child.
Cluster bombs are banned under the Convention on Cluster Munitions (CCM), an international treaty that addresses the humanitarian consequences and unacceptable harm caused to civilians by cluster munitions through a categorical prohibition and a framework for action. The weapons can contain dozens of smaller bomblets, dispersing over vast areas, often killing and maiming civilians long after they are dropped.
Meanwhile, Yemeni snipers managed to kill at least two Saudi soldiers during a retaliatory attack on the Saudi military base in the Kers military base in the kingdom's southern province of Najran. Since March, dozens of Saudi troops and Saudi mercenaries have been killed by Yemeni snipers in Najran and Jizan, another Saudi southwestern province.
Yemeni school children walk outside a school on March 16, 2017, that was damaged in a Saudi airstrike in the southern Yemeni city of Ta’izz. (Photo by AFP)
In another development on Monday afternoon, terrorists suspected of belonging to the al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) terror group detonated an explosive-laden car at the gates of a building, used as a temporary headquarters by militia loyal to Yemen’s resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, in the city of Hawtah in Yemen’s southwestern province of Lahij.
Shortly after the deafening blast, AQAP militants, dressed as the militia, attacked the headquarters but faced with fierce resistance from the guards. The explosion and the ensuing gunfire has so far killed at least eight people and wounded dozens more, mostly from the militia.    
On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of African and Persian Gulf Arab states, began launching airstrikes on different areas across Yemen, its southern neighbor, in an attempt to reinstate Hadi, who is a close Riyadh ally, and to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
According to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, the Saudi military campaign has claimed the lives of 10,000 Yemenis and left 40,000 others wounded.
However, in a report released on February 23, Yemen’s Legal Center for Rights and Development, an independent monitoring group, put the civilian death toll in the war-torn Arab country at 12,041. The fatalities, it said, comprise 2,568 children and 1,870 women. The rights body said the bombings have also wounded 20,001 civilians, including 2,354 children and 1,960 women, while more than four million others have been displaced.
The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools and factories.

This photo shows people seeking to register for Iran’s 5th City and Village Councils Elections in Tehran on March 26, 2017. (Photo by Tasnim news agency)
The number of Iranians seeking to run in the next month’s City and Village Council Elections shows an increase in comparison with the previous term, an Iranian official says.
The head of the Interior Ministry's State Elections Committee, Ali Asghar Ahmadi, told reporters on Monday that a total of 287,425 people had signed up for the upcoming elections at the end of the registration process, 14 percent more than the figure four years ago.
He added that the registration process for the City and Village Council Elections started on March 20 and ended on Sunday.
He said 54,888 people registered for the city council elections and 232,537 others submitted their candidacies for the village polls.
He added that a total number of 17,885 women and 269,540 men put their name down for the polls.
Ahmadi said vetting committees would examine the qualification of the hopefuls on April 14-20 and announce the final results a day later.
He noted that the disqualified hopefuls would have four days to lodge a protest.
The official said the seven-day electoral campaign is scheduled to begin on May 11.
Iran will simultaneously hold the 12th presidential election and the 5th City and Village Council Elections on May 19.
Ahmadi further said the council polls would be held in 1,244 cities and 6,756 principal members and 2,754 alternate members would be elected.
He added that some 126,000 principal members and 42,700 alternate members would also be elected in the village elections.
Meanwhile, the deputy governor of Tehran Province for political and social affairs, Shahabeddin Chavoshi, told IRNA on Monday that 10,416 people, including 1,337 women and 9,079 men, had registered for the City and Village Council Elections in the province.
He added that 6,075 people had registered for the city council elections and 4,341 others had signed up for the village polls in Tehran Province.

A picture taken on March 17, 2017, shows a man holding temporary registration form for refugees with the UNHCR, covered in blood, of one of the persons killed in a boat carrying Somali refugees, in front of the dead bodies arriving at Yemen's western port city of Hudaydah. (Photo by AFP)
Human Rights Watch (HRW) says a recent deadly aerial aggression on a boat carrying Somali refugees off the coast of Yemen, “apparently” carried out by the Saudi-led military coalition, likely amounts to “war crime.”  
According to a statement released by the HRW on Sunday, at least 32 people lost their lives and nearly 30 others were injured after an apparent Saudi airstrike hit a boat, crammed with 145 Somali refugees, near Bab al-Mandeb Strait in the Red Sea on the evening of March 16. Preliminary estimates by the United Nations’ refugee agency, the UNHCR, however, put the fatalities at 42.
“The coalition’s apparent firing on a boat filled with fleeing refugees is only the latest likely war crime in Yemen’s two-year-long war,” said Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at the HRW, adding that “reckless disregard for the lives of civilians has reached a new level of depravity.” 
Riyadh and its allies, however, have denied carrying out the airstrike despite witness accounts citing an Apache helicopter - which is only used by Saudi Arabia in the war on Yemen - to have attacked the vessel.
“All of a sudden, I saw a helicopter above us. ... They attacked abruptly. … When they kept firing at us, those of us who spoke Arabic kept saying, ‘We are Somalis!’” the statement quoted a young survived Somali refugee as saying.
In the early hours of March 17, the ill-fated boat managed to dock at Yemen's western port city of Hudaydah and the world learned about the tragedy. The UNHCR said at the time that it was “appalled by the deaths of refugees.”
The refugees had departed from Hudaydah to Sudan when they came under Saudi fire. Ten refugees are still missing. Under the laws of war, deliberate or reckless attacks against civilians are considered as war crimes.
A picture taken on March 17, 2017, shows bodies of people who were killed in a boat carrying Somali refugees arriving at Yemen's western port city of Hudaydah. (Photo by AFP)
Hudaydah is part of a broad battlefront where Saudi-backed forces are fighting the Yemeni army and its Houthi allies, which control most of northern and western Yemen. Despite repeated assaults and heavy bombardments, Saudi Arabia has failed to wrest control of the port and on March 19 it called for jurisdiction over Hudaydah to be transferred to the UN but the world body flatly rejected the call.
On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of African and Persian Gulf Arab states, began launching airstrikes on different areas across Yemen, its southern neighbor, in an attempt to reinstate resigned president Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, who is a close Riyadh ally, and to crush the popular Houthi Ansarullah movement.
According to the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Yemen, Jamie McGoldrick, the Saudi military campaign has claimed the lives of 10,000 Yemenis and left 40,000 others wounded. However, local Yemeni sources have put the death toll from the Saudi war at over 12,000, including many women and children.     
The Saudi war has also taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools and factories.

Militants and their families gather as they prepare to board a bus ahead of their evacuation from the al-Waer neighborhood of the Syrian city of Homs, March 18, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
A second group of militants and their families are leaving the last opposition-held neighborhood in the western Syrian city of Homs under a deal signed last year with the Damascus government.
According to Syria’s state-run SANA news agency, a new round of evacuations from Homs’ al-Waer neighborhood started on Monday, involving 466 people — including 129 militants.
The buses carrying the evacuees were escorted by Syrian security forces and Russian military police. Russia has been offering military support to the Syrian government in its fight against violent extremism.
Provincial Governor Talal Barrazi said earlier that the militants were granted safe passage out of Homs, located 162 kilometers north of the capital, Damascus, under a deal signed on March 13.
Those residents who remain in the city and who renounce violence can benefit from amnesty granted by President Bashar al-Assad, he added.

A first group of militants and their families was evacuated on March 18.
Barrazi added that the entire evacuation would be carried out within six to eight weeks.
Al-Waer, with an estimated 75,000 population, has been under a government siege since 2013.
This image shows a bus from al-Waer, the last opposition-held district of Homs, arriving in the Takfiri-held northern Syrian town of al-Bab, on March 19, 2017. (By AFP)
Those evacuated from al-Waer are relocated to an area around the border city of Jarablus, which is held by Turkish-backed militants.
Once the evacuation of the militants is completed, Damascus will be able to claim control over the entire city for the first time in years.

Members of Iraqi Rapid Response forces are pictured during clashes with Daesh militants in Mosul, March 13, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
Iraqi forces have launched a renewed attack against Daesh terrorists in Mosul's Old City, with Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi predicting that the Takfiri group will be defeated “within weeks”.
One of the targets of the new push is Faruq Street, which runs near the Great Mosque of al-Nuri where Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi made his only known public appearance after the terrorists seized Mosul in 2014.
Iraqi forces have been operating in the Old City area for several weeks, but they have faced tough resistance and progress has been slow.
Government troops and volunteer Hashd al-Sha’abi forces drove Daesh militants from the eastern part of Mosul, Iraq’s second-largest city, early this year. The fight has now moved to Mosul’s densely populated western neighborhoods.
On Monday, the commander of the federal police Lieutenant General Raed Shakir Jawdat said his troops and Rapid Response Division units began to advance on the southwestern axis of the Old City.
The government launched the operation to retake Mosul in October. Daesh overran large areas north and west of Baghdad in 2014, but Iraqi forces have since retaken much of the territory they lost.
Prime Minister al-Abadi told Fox News Sunday that Iraq is defeating Daesh "militarily" but that the terror group would continue to exist until it is eradicated in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East.
“As a terrorist organization, they will try. So that's where we need the efforts of others. Flush them out of Syria and other places,” he said.
The United Nations says 400,000 people are "trapped" in central Mosul under siege-like conditions as Iraqi forces battle Daesh for the city's west.
A family walks from Daesh-controlled part of Mosul towards Iraqi special forces soldiers during a battle in Mosul, March 4, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
The city is reeling from US aerial attacks on March 17 which reportedly killed more than 200 people.
On Saturday, the US acknowledged that it had carried out a strike on a location in west Mosul where civilians were reportedly killed but Iraqi officials referred to more than one day of strikes.
The United Nations has said it was “stunned by the horrendous loss of life” in the attacks. Iran’s top security official has called the airstrikes a “war crime” which should be urgently addressed in a court of justice.
The Iraqi Observatory for Human Rights said on Sunday that since the campaign against western Mosul began on Feb. 19, nearly 700 civilians have been killed in airstrikes which are mainly carried out by the US.
In one incident, nearly 40 people were killed in a US airstrike in western al-Jawsaq neighborhood after Daesh militants used the residents as human shields, the group said.

Israeli settlers start to build a new illegal outpost north of the Palestinian village of Ain al-Baida north of the occupied West Bank, October 25, 2016. (Photo by AFP)
A prominent Israeli settler leader has said the number of Israelis living in the occupied West Bank has soared to about half a million people in the past five years.
The announcement by Yaakov Katz came after reports said the Israeli regime had agreed with the Trump administration to restrict construction in the West Bank.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, poured cold water on those hopes on Sunday, telling a cabinet session that he "would like to make it clear there is much in these reports that is not true.” 
Israel’s Channel 2 reported over the weekend that Netanyahu had consented during his February visit to the US to limit settlement expansion in the West Bank in return for the construction of a new settlement for those removed recently from Amona.
Nentanyahu's office denied the report in a statement released on Saturday night, saying it was "incorrect” with “quite a few inaccuracies.”
The top Israeli settler leader put a further damper on the report, stressing that there is no change to the settlement expansion policy.
"We are talking about a situation that is unchangeable," Katz said on Sunday. "It's very important to know the numbers, and the numbers are growing." 
He cited a major growth in the numbers of settlers in the West Bank, saying the settler population hit 420,899 early this year, a 23-percent increase from 342,414 at the beginning of 2012.
The increase, which he said was twice Israel’s annual population growth of two percent, meant that the settlements are "irreversible."
Katz said the numbers were based on data from the Israeli interior ministry that have not yet been made public. They were published on a new website sponsored by Bet El Institutions, a settler organization that counts members of President Donald Trump's inner circle among its supporters.
The figures, however, did not include settlement expansion in east Jerusalem al-Quds, where more than 200,000 Israelis are now settled on the land which the Palestinians want to make the capital of their independent future state.
Israel forced itself as an entity on the international map in 1948 on the back of full-on military takeover of vast expanses of Arab lands. In 1967, it occupied more chunks of territory belonging to Palestine, Lebanon, and Syria.
Ever since the latter takeover, Tel Aviv has been propping settlements and settler units across the Palestinian territory. The structures are deemed illegal by the United Nations and the Geneva Convention, which forbids construction upon occupied land.
Last December, the UN Security Council passed a resolution against Israel’s settlement activities.
However, emboldened since Trump's January inauguration, Tel Aviv has ratcheted up the expansion of settlements work and “legalized” structures built in the past in a further challenge to the international community which regards them illegal.

This photo shows people seeking to register for Iran’s 5th City and Village Councils Elections in Tehran on March 25, 2017. (Photo by IRNA)
The registration process for Iran’s City and Village Councils Elections has entered its final day with more than 200,000 people having put their name down for the polls so far, Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli says.
Rahmani Fazli told reporters in Tehran on Sunday that 200,535 people had completely signed up for the upcoming elections so far since the beginning of the registration on March 20, saying a total number of 110,000 candidates would be elected to the councils.
He added that the figure for the nominees so far includes 38,960 people, who have registered for the city councils elections and 161,575 others signing up for the village polls across the country.
The interior minister noted that the registration process would end at 24:00 local time (1930 GMT).
Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli speaks to reporters in Tehran on March 25, 2017. (Photo by IRNA)
Iran will simultaneously hold the 12th presidential election and the 5th City and Village Councils Elections on May 19.
The registration process for the presidential election is scheduled to begin on April 11 and will last for five days.
The Islamic City Council of Tehran currently has 31 members; however, it will decrease its members to 21 people in accordance with a legislation passed by the Iranian lawmakers in June 2016.
Meanwhile, the deputy governor of Tehran Province for political and social affairs, Shahabeddin Chavoshi, told IRNA on Sunday that 7,519 people, 897 women and 6,622 men, had registered for the City and Village Council Elections in the province over the past seven days.
He added that 4,411 people had registered for the city council elections and 3,108 others had signed up for the village polls.
The official noted that some 6,200 ballot boxes were prepared for the twin elections across the province.
Chavoshi said electronic voting machines would be used in 19 cities in Tehran Province, which have seats with 7-9 members at the city councils.
In an address to a huge gathering of pilgrims in the holy Iranian city of Mashhad on March 21 on the first day of the Persian New Year, Leader of the Islamic Revolution Ayatollah Seyyed Ali Khamenei described as "very important" the issue of elections in the Islamic Republic, whether it be the presidential, parliamentary or city council polls.
"Elections are one of the two pillars of religious democracy," the Leader said, adding, "We boast to the world courtesy of our elections and the enemies ignore our elections in order to deal a blow to the Iranian nation and the Islamic Republic."
Ayatollah Khamenei said a massive turnout in the elections was a top priority, adding, "The Iranian nation must shine in the elections."

Thousands of Yemenis have poured out into the streets of the capital Sana’a to mark the second anniversary of the brutal Saudi war, which has left a massive trail of death and devastation across the impoverished Arab state.
On Sunday, the demonstrators converged on al-Sabin Square in Sana’a, waving national flags and chanting slogans against the Saudi military offensive and two-year bloodshed.
Senior Yemeni officials also participated in the demonstration.
Speaking at the event, Saleh al-Samad, the president of the Supreme Political Council, praised the nation’s firm resistance in the face of the Saudi aggression and said the Riyadh regime failed to bring Yemen to its knees despite all the money and resources at its disposal.
The official further held Saudi Arabia and its partners responsible for the collapse of the conflict resolution talks between Yemeni warring sides, saying the US and Israel are also in cahoots with the Riyadh regime in its war on Yemen.
“Yemen’s resistance, however, proved to be more powerful than any weapon in the world,” Samad said.
On the eve of the war’s second anniversary, Abdul-Malik Badreddin al-Houthi, the leader of Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement, also addressed the nation, saying the kingdom’s almost daily airstrikes against civilians are nothing short of war crimes.
Yemenis hold a mass rally in Sana'a to protest the Saudi aggression, March 26, 2017.
On March 26, 2015, Saudi Arabia, backed by a number of African and Persian Gulf Arab states, began launching airstrikes on different areas across Yemen, its southern neighbor, in an attempt to reinstall the former Yemeni government, which was a close Riydah ally.
The campaign, which also involves ground operations and a naval blockade, has so far left over 12,000 civilians dead, pushing the Arab world’s poorest country to the verge of famine.
Indiscriminate Saudi bombardments have taken a heavy toll on Yemeni infrastructure, schools and hospitals, with prominent rights groups censuring Riyadh’s military for the use of internationally-banned weapons against Yemeni civilians.
As the war enters its third year, Saudi Arabia has failed to fulfill its declared goals of war and seems without an exit strategy.
The Saudi intervention in the conflict came months after Yemen’s Houthi Ansarullah movement took state matters in its hands after the former president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, stepped down and fled to Riyadh.
The former president is now based in the southern Yemeni city of Aden, but spends most of his time in the Saudi capital.
Several rounds of peace talks between Ansarullah and the Saudi-sponsored party, loyal to Hadi, have failed to yield results amid deep divisions.
Ansarullah fighters, backed by army forces and popular forces, are currently defending the nation against the Saudi offensive.
The chaos in Yemen, fueled by the Saudi campaign, has given the Takfiri al-Qaeda and Daesh terror groups room to operate in the country, further complicating the situation on the ground there.

Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Major General Igor Konashenkov (Photo by AP)
Russia has rejected the US-led coalition’s “rosy forecasts” on surrounding and swiftly retaking the Syrian city of Raqqah from Daesh, saying any such victory could only be achieved through concerted cooperation among all parties fighting terror in the Arab state.
Igor Konashenkov, the Russian Defense Ministry spokesman, was reacting on Saturday to comments by French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who claimed the “very hard but essential” battle for Raqqah was just days away.
Le Drian had said Friday, “Today, one can say that Raqqah is encircled, that the battle for Raqqa will start in the coming days.”
Konashenkov further said Le Drian’s “optimism” has “no relation to reality or the situation on the ground.”
“It is clear to any military specialist that the liberation of Raqqah will not be a walk in the park for the international coalition,” said the Russian official, adding that the duration and success of a Raqqah battle would depend on coordination among “all the forces fighting international terrorism in Syria.”
Raqqah was one of the first major cities that fell to Daesh in 2013, when the terror group emerged in Syria. The northern city serves as the extremist group’s operational command headquarters.
France is a partner in the US-led coalition purportedly fighting the Daesh terror group in Syria and neighboring Iraq.
Players on the Raqqah scene
Syrian government troops, backed up by Russian airpower, have been pushing against Daesh from the west of Raqqah, where up to 4,000 Takfiri terrorists are estimated to be based.
In a separate operation, which began in November 2016, US-backed Kurdish and Arab forces, called the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), have been squeezing the terror group from the north.
In their latest gains against Daesh around Raqqah, the SDF forces managed to retake the military airport south of the Tabaq town.
The US has also deployed hundreds of troops to northern Syria to “support “ SDF forces. AFP cited a Pentagon official as saying last week that an additional 1,000 military personnel could be dispatched to the area in the future.
Another party on the Raqqah front is the Turkish military, which is helping a separate group of militants in northern Syria. Ankara and the Washington-led alliance are at odds over the role of Kurdish militias in the Raqqah offensive.
The Turkish and Western military presence in Syria comes without the consent of the central government in Damascus, which slams the uncoordinated intervention as illegitimate and a violation of its sovereignty.
On Friday, Syria’s UN ambassador and chief negotiator in peace talks, Bashar al-Ja’afari, said “those who are truly fighting Daesh are the Syrian Arab army with the help of our allies from Russia and Iran,” adding that “arming factions in Syria and encouraging them to challenge the authority of the state does not serve the fight against terrorism.”
Coalition failure in Mosul
Elsewhere in his remarks, Konashenkov drew attention to the anti-Daesh front in neighboring Iraq, where government forces are trying to liberate the northern city of Mosul, Daesh’s last urban stronghold, in the Arab state.
“Similar rosy forecasts on encircling and the quick victory of the coalition in Iraq’s Mosul have already turned into considerable losses in the Iraqi forces and a growing humanitarian catastrophe,” the Russian military official warned.
The comments come days after reports said over 230 civilians, including women and children, were killed under collapsed buildings in Mosul due to a mid-March US airstrike, which triggered a massive explosion in a residential neighborhood there.
The US and its coalition allies have been widely criticized by both Syria and Iraq for falling short of their announced objectives in their so-called anti-Daesh offensive.
The US military is also suspected of helping Daesh extremists by airdropping weapons in territories held by them in the face of advances by government forces. 
According to monitoring group Airwars, at least 2,463 civilians have been killed in US-led airstrikes in Iraq and Syria since the start of operations in 2014.

UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura arrives for a session of Syria peace talks at Palais des Nations in Geneva, on March 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
The UN’s Syria envoy has written to Iran, Russia and Turkey, pleading with the trio to urgently help save the Syria-wide ceasefire, which has recently been undermined by militant attacks against government positions near Damascus and Hama.
Staffan de Mistura voiced alarm over a spike in truce violations around the Syrian capital and the central Hama Province in letters sent to Iran and Russia, both allies with the Syrian government, as well as Turkey, the supporter of the opposition, his office said in a statement.
The nationwide ceasefire was brokered last December between the Syrian government and militants by Russia and Turkey with the support of Iran.
On the back of the landmark truce, the three states have mediated three rounds of peace negotiations between the Syrian government and opposition groups in Astana, Kazakhstan, since the beginning of 2017.
The Astana discussions have mainly focused on consolidating the ceasefire, paving the way for the resumption of a parallel UN-led peace process between Syria’s warring sides in Geneva, Switzerland.
De Mistura further warned that renewed violence near Damascus and Hama have had “significant negative consequences for the safety of Syrian civilians, humanitarian access and the momentum of the political process” in Geneva.
The UN diplomat urged the three countries “to undertake urgent efforts to uphold the ceasefire” as the guarantors.
General view taken at the start of a meeting between UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura and Syria’s government delegation during peace talks in Geneva on March 25, 2017 (Photo by AFP)
De Mistura’s remarks came as the second full day of the UN-led Syria talks in Geneva came to a close, with rival parties still deadlocked on key issues. The negotiations, which are expected to last until April 1, are centered on terrorism, governance, elections and drafting a new constitution.
Over the past week, militant groups have launched a barrage of attacks on government positions around Damascus and Hama, prompting clashes with the Syrian army.
In a similar call on Friday, the UN’s Syria envoy said Tehran, Moscow and Ankara need to hold a fresh round of talks between the parties to the Syria conflict in an effort to “retake the situation in hand” and strengthen the ceasefire in the country.
Days after the outbreak of fighting close to Damascus and Hama, Syria sent two letters to the United Nations, saying such militant attacks are aimed at undermining the UN-sponsored Syria peace talks in Switzerland.
In the letters, Syria also held Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey responsible for the renewed violence. The three countries are widely viewed as staunch supporters of the Takfiri militants operating to topple the Damascus government.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a meeting of the members of Balkan Federation on March 23, 2017 at the Bestepe National Congress and Culture Center in Ankara. (Photos by AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says a second referendum may be held after the April constitutional reforms vote over the continuing of EU accession talks.
"Right now we are holding a referendum on April 16 and after that we could choose to do a second one on the [EU] accession talks and we would abide by whatever our people would say there," said Erdogan during Turkish-British Tatlıdil Forum held in Antalya on Saturday.
Turkey is set hold a referendum on the constitutional amendments, including giving executive powers to the president, currently a ceremonial post, and abolishing the office of the prime minister.
The country applied for membership in the European Union in 1987, and began formal accession negotiations in 2005. Since then the talks have made little progress over Turkey’s human rights track record.

"You [Britain] have made a decision with Brexit, there may be different things after April 16," said Erdogan in reference to a June 2016 referendum in the UK in which voters supported the country's exit from the EU.  
Earlier in the day, he stated that it would be "easier" if the EU just rejected Turkey's bid to join the bloc.  
"What? If a 'yes' comes out on April 16, they would not take us into the European Union? Oh, If only they could give this decision! They would make our work easier," he said while addressing a rally.
Erdogan also condemned a recent terror attack near the Houses of Parliament in London in which four people were killed and around 50 more injured.
A person walks past a campaign poster of Turkey's upcoming referendum, reading "Yes" in Turkish, on the facade of a building in Rotterdam on March 25, 2017. 
"This attack is the latest example of terror having no boundaries, no principles, no morals. It is very noteworthy that the parliament was targeted and it has similarities with the July 15 coup attempt, in which our parliament was bombed," he said.
On Wednesday, an assailant plowed a car into pedestrians and stabbed a police officer near the British Parliament, in an attack which has been declared a terrorist incident. The attacker was also shot dead by the police.  
Erdogan added that terrorism will eventually lose, and that Ankara clearly and openly stands by Britain in its battle against terror.  

A Syrian militant stands inside a heavily damaged building in Jobar on the eastern outskirts of the Syrian capital Damascus, on March 24, 2017. (Photos by AFP)
Syrian government forces have killed over 20 members of the Jabhat Fateh al-Sham terrorist group during operations in the country’s southern province of Dara'a.
According to military sources on Saturday, the terrorists were killed during intensive army operations in which a command center and a large amount of the militant’s equipment were also destroyed.

Meanwhile, the Syrian army also announced that it had restored security to the town of Kawkab in the central Hama province following operations in which a large number of terrorists were killed.
The army noted that the terrorists had infiltrated the town and had been engaging in acts of robbery and sabotage.
Elsewhere in the country's eastern province of Dayr al-Zawr, the air force launched airstrikes on Daesh-held positions and supply routes, killing a large number of Takfiri terrorists in the al-Rushdiyeh and al-Makabat neighborhoods.
Government troops liberate six Aleppo villages
Also on Saturday, Syrian forces purged the villages of Um al-Mari, Shreimeh, Jnat Salameh, Had Housh, al-Qseer, and Khraej Daham from the presence of terrorists.
During the operations which were carried out in the country's northern province of Aleppo, a large number of Daeshis were killed or injured.
A picture taken on March 22, 2017 near the town of Maardes in the countryside of the central Syrian province of Hama, shows a armored militant vehicle driving down an unpaved road.
The army was also able to establish several safe corridors to the villages, through which some 5,000 civilians were able to escape Daesh-held regions.
Syria has been fighting different foreign-sponsored militant and terrorist groups since March 2011. UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura estimated last August that more than 400,000 people had been killed in the crisis until then.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (L) meets with Swiss Federal Councillor Didier Burkhalter in Bern, Switzerland, March 23, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Turkey's Foreign Ministry summoned Switzerland's deputy ambassador to Ankara on Saturday over a protest in the Swiss capital Bern against President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the state-run Anadolu agency reported.
Anadolu said some 250 people, including supporters of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), staged a rally earlier on Saturday in Bern calling for a 'No' vote in an April referendum in Turkey that could give Erdogan sweeping new powers.
The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.
Erdogan on Saturday lashed out again in the diplomatic row with the European Union saying it would be "easier" if the EU just rejected Turkey's bid to join the bloc.
Turkey and Europe are locked in a bitter dispute after Germany and the Netherlands blocked Turkish ministers from campaigning in the local Turkish communities for a 'yes' vote on boosting Erdogan's powers in next month's referendum.
"What? If a 'yes' comes out on April 16, they would not take us into the European Union? Oh, If only they could give this decision! They would make our work easier," Erdogan said at a rally in the southern city of Antalya.
Despite severely strained relations with Brussels, no EU leader has openly said a 'yes' vote would spell the end of Turkey's already-embattled bid to join the bloc.
But Erdogan told the rally that "April 16 would be a breaking point," referring to EU-Turkey relations if the 'yes' vote wins.
"We will put this (EU-Turkey) business on the table because Turkey is no one's whipping boy," he added, indicating that Ankara could reconsider its relationship with Brussels.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a meeting of the members of Balkan Federation on March 23, 2017 at the Bestepe National Congress and Culture Center in Ankara, Turkey. (Photo by AFP)
And among some European politicians, there has been discussion over what the future of Turkey's membership process would be.
Kati Piri, the European Parliament's Rapporteur for Turkey, wrote for Politico Europe earlier this week that if a majority of voters approved the constitutional changes, "the European Parliament will have to assess whether the country’s new governance structure meets the EU’s Copenhagen accession criteria".
In the referendum Turks will decide whether to approve constitutional changes that would create an executive presidency and would see the role of prime minister axed.
While the government argues it is necessary for political stability and would avoid fragile coalition governments, critics fear it will lead to one-man rule.
Erdogan has repeatedly accused European countries including Germany of using "Nazi measures," comments that have been condemned by the bloc's leaders.
"For as long as you continue to call me dictator, I will continue to call you fascist, Nazi," Erdogan retorted.
Another contentious issue is the death penalty, which the Turkish president said again Saturday he would approve if it was passed by parliament and brought to him.
"What? If the death penalty is introduced for the 249 people killed, Turkey has no place in Europe. Oh, let it not be!" he said, referring to the number of people killed during last July's failed coup.
Turkey abolished the death penalty in 2004 as part of its bid to join the EU.
But Brussels has repeatedly made clear that any move to bring it back would scupper Turkey's efforts to join the bloc.

The body of Palestinian Hamas official Mazen Fuqahaa is carried by members of the Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, during his funeral in Gaza City on March 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
A high-ranking member of the Palestinian resistance movement, Hamas, has strongly condemned the assassination of military commander Mazen Fuqahaa in the southern part of Gaza City, stating that there seems to be a strong possibility of a new military confrontation with the Tel Aviv regime.
“The Israeli enemy operates a number of spies and mercenaries in the Gaza Strip, whom we will hopefully get rid of. A major operation must get underway in order to identify all those responsible for the recent criminal act,” Mahmoud al-Zahar, a co-founder of Hamas, said as thousands of people attended Fuqahaa’s funeral on Saturday and called for “revenge.”
He said Hamas enjoys a vast array of means and mechanisms to give Israel a befitting response over the targeted killing of Fuqahaa, stressing that the resistance movement will not take a knee-jerk decision.
“There is no ceasefire agreement between Hamas and Israel, meaning that the two sides are technically at war. The flames of a confrontation could ignite anytime,” Zahar said.
Israel has launched several wars on the Palestinian sliver, the last of which began in early July 2014. The Israeli military aggression, which ended on August 26 the same year, killed nearly 2,200 Palestinians. Over 11,100 others were also wounded in the war.
Yahya Sinwar (C-R), the new leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and senior political leaders of the Palestinian resistance movement, Ismail Haniyeh (C-L) and Rawhi Moshtaha (L-3) attend the funeral of Hamas official Mazen Fuqahaa in Gaza City on March 25, 2017. (Photo by AFP)
Ismail Haniyeh, a senior leader of Hamas, also vowed that the Palestinians will continue the spirited resistance against the Israeli regime.
Ezzedeen al-Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, denounced Fuqahaa’s assassination in a statement, holding Israeli authorities fully responsible for the 38-year-old’s death.
“The Israeli regime is the architect of the latest criminal act. The Israeli enemy seeks to impose its equation of terror through targeted killing of our brave resistance fighters. We will abort such attempts though. The occupier regime of al-Quds will eventually regret its conduct. They should know that if you play with fire, you get burned,” the statement read.
Khalil al-Hayya, a senior Hamas official, promised retaliation for Fuqahaa’s assassination.
Slain Hamas official and military commander Mazen Fuqahaa
“If the enemy thinks that this assassination will change the power balance, then it should know the minds of Qassam will be able to retaliate in kind,” he said.
Unknown assailants opened fire at Fuqahaa at the entrance to a residence in the Tal al-Hawa neighborhood of Gaza City on Friday night. They shot four bullets into the man’s head before they fled the area.
Izzat al-Rishq, a member of Hamas' political bureau, said the assassination was carried out with a gun equipped with a silencer.
Hezbollah condemns assassination of Hamas commander
The Lebanese resistance movement Hezbollah also condemned the assassination of Fuqahaa.
Hezbollah said the despicable act of terror bears the hallmarks of those carried out by the Israeli regime.
The hostile spirit of the Zionist entity is evident in the crime, which necessitates the fight against the occupying enemy till its expulsion from the occupied (Palestinian) lands, Hezbollah said in a statement released on Saturday.
Fuqahaa, who descended from the northern occupied West Bank district of Tubas, was released in 2011 along with more than 1,000 other Palestinians in exchange for Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, whom Hamas had held captive in Gaza for five years.

A police officer walks by floral tributes with other bystanders in Parliament Square in front of the Houses of Parliament in central London on March 24, 2017 two days after the March 22 terror attack on the British parliament and Westminster Bridge. (Photo by AFP)
The Saudi embassy in the United Kingdom has confirmed that London attack suspect Khalid Masood visited the kingdom three times, including two stints teaching English there.
Britain’s The Sun newspaper reported on Friday that the man who carried out a deadly car ramming and stabbing attack near the UK Houses of Parliament was a former English teacher working at the institution controlling Saudi Arabia’s civil aviation.
In response, the Saudi embassy issued a statement late on Friday confirming the Sun report.
"The Royal Embassy of Saudi Arabia wishes to clarify that Khalid Masood was in Saudi Arabia from November 2005 to November 2006 and April 2008 to April 2009, when he worked as an English teacher having first obtained a work visa," the embassy said in a statement.
"In 2015, he obtained an Umra visa through an approved travel agent and was in the Kingdom from the 3rd-8th March,” it added.
"During his time in Saudi Arabia, Khalid Masood did not appear on the security services' radar and does not have a criminal record in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia," the statement claimed.
Saudi King Salman (L) and British Prime Minister Theresa May attend a (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council summit on December 7, 2016, in the Bahraini capital Manama. (Photo by AFP)
At least four people were killed and 50 others were injured in the attack on Wednesday after the assailant plowed a car into pedestrians and stabbed a police officer near the British Parliament in London, an incident that has been declared a terrorist incident. The attacker was also shot dead by the police.
The Saudi embassy expressed its condolences to the British people, saying the kingdom “continues to stand with the United Kingdom during this difficult time and reaffirms its commitment to continue its work with the United Kingdom in any way to assist in the ongoing investigation."
The embassy went on to say that the “attack in London this week has again demonstrated the importance of international efforts to confront and eradicate terrorism.”
“At such a time, our ongoing security cooperation is most crucial to the defeat of terrorism and the saving of innocent lives,” it stated.
Khalid Masood, the assailant of the deadly attack is treated by emergency services outside the Houses of Parliament in London on March 22, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)
This is while Saudi Arabia, where Wahhabism is widely preached and practiced, stands accused of sponsoring terrorist groups, such as Daesh, across the Middle East region.
Daesh and other Takfiri terror groups use the extremist ideology to declare people of other faiths as “infidels” and thus to kill them.
Fifteen of the 19 hijackers who allegedly carried out the September 11, 2001 attacks in the United States came from Saudi Arabia and available evidence suggests some of them were linked to high-ranking Saudi officials.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia has been engaged in a military campaign against Yemen since March 2015 to reinstate the country's resigned president, Abd Rabbuh Mansur Hadi, a staunch ally of Riyadh, and undermine the Houthi Ansarullah movement.
The Saudi war has killed more than 11,400 Yemenis, and taken a heavy toll on the country’s facilities and infrastructure, destroying many hospitals, schools, and factories.
In Syria, the Saudi regime has been sponsoring Takfiri terrorists fighting against the government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2011 in a conflict that has taken the lives of a half a million Syrians.


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