MONDAY 21 AUGUST 2017,
Netanyahu, Putin to
meet over Syria war
OCCUPIED JERUSALEM —
Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will travel to Russia
on Wednesday for talks with Russian President
Vladimir Putin, mainly focusing on the war in Syria,
his office said late Saturday. The two leaders
will meet in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi to
“discuss the latest developments in the region,”
Netanyahu’s office said in a statement. Such talks
have allowed the two countries to so far avoid any
confrontation between their air forces, as Russia
conducts airstrikes in support of Syrian President
Bashar Al-Assad’s regime. Israel has sought to
avoid being dragged into the civil war, but has
carried out strikes to prevent arms deliveries to the
Lebanese militia Hezbollah, which fights alongside
Assad’s forces. Israel’s army has carried out
nearly 100 strikes in the past five years on convoys
carrying weapons to militant groups in Syria and
elsewhere, former air force commander Amir Eshel
told the Haaretz newspaper on Thursday.
Kuwait arrests fugitive
convict linked to terror
KUWAIT CITY —
a fugitive convict
involved in the Abdali
terror group case
on Saturday, the
Kuwait News Agency
According to the Interior
Abdul Mohsen Jamal
Husain Al Shatti on
Shatti has been sentenced to 10 years in prison.
His apprehension brings the number of those
arrested to 14. Kuwait had charged 25 Kuwaitis
and 1 Iranian after weapons and explosives were
seized in 2015. Prosecution representatives said
they were planning to carry out hostile activities.
One was sentenced to death while the others were
sentenced to time in prison. In June, the country’s
top-court cancelled the execution verdict in the
case and amended other verdicts. Sentences in
absentia were issued against at least 14 others,
including the Iranian.
Yemen cholera causes
22 deaths in five days
The World Health Organization (WHO)
has announced another 22 deaths within the last
five days caused by cholera in Yemen. The reported
numbers affirm a total of 1,997 deaths starting from
the end of April last year. As of Saturday evening,
the number of Cholera cases stands at 527,000.
The WHO report also noted that Yemen’s Sanaa
and Al Hudaydah governorate, located in the west
of the country, have the highest rate of cholera
spread in comparison to other governorates. The
combined number of infected individuals in the two
areas stands at 62,000. The Hajjah governorate has
maintained the highest number of cholera related
deaths reported at 381.
Israeli forces shoot, kill
Palestinian after attack
Israeli forces have shot and killed
a Palestinian after he attacked Israeli policemen
at a West Bank checkpoint, stabbing one of the
officers. The Palestinian Health Ministry says
the shooting took place on Saturday at an Israeli
checkpoint in the West Bank. The assailant was
identified as 17-year-old Qutaiba Zahran, who
died at the scene shortly after being shot. Israeli
medical authorities say the attacker stabbed an
Israeli officer at the Tapuah Junction near Nablus
City, wounding him slightly in the leg. The Israeli
policeman was evacuated to hospital. Since 2015,
Palestinians have killed 48 Israelis, two visiting
Americans and a British tourist in stabbings,
shooting and car-ramming attacks. In that time,
Israeli forces killed over 255 Palestinians, most
said by Israel to be attackers.
Iraq’s Kurds might put off vote: Official
By Maher Chmaytelli
Iraq’s Kurds may
consider the possibility of postpon-
ing a planned Sept. 25 referendum on
independence in return for financial
and political concessions from the
central government in Baghdad, a se-
nior Kurdish official said.
A Kurdish delegation is visiting
Baghdad to sound out proposals from
Iraqi leaders that might convince the
Kurds to postpone the vote, according
to Mala Bakhtiar, executive secretary
of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan
The US and other Western na-
tions fear the vote could ignite a fresh
conflict with Baghdad and possibly
neighboring countries, diverting at-
tention from the ongoing war against
Daesh (the so-called IS) militants.
US Secretary of State Rex Tiller-
son formally asked Massoud Barzani,
president of the autonomous Kurdis-
tan Regional Government (KRG), 10
days ago to postpone the referendum.
“What thing would Baghdad be
prepared to offer to the (Kurdish)
region” in return for postponing the
referendum, Bakhtiar, speaking about
the talks with the Shiite-led Baghdad
ruling coalition, said in an interview.
On the economic side, Baghdad
should be ready to help the Kurds
overcome a financial crisis and settle
debts owed by their government, he
told Reuters in the Kurdish city of Su-
He estimated the debt at $10 to
$12 billion, about equal to the KRG’s
annual budget, owed to public works
contractors and civil servants and
Kurdish peshmerga fighters whose
salaries have not been paid in full for
At the political level, Baghdad
should commit to agree to settle the
issue of disputed regions, such as the
oil-rich area of Kirkuk where Arab
and Turkmen communities also live.
The Kurdish delegation would
then convey the proposals to Kurdish
political parties to make a decision
on whether they are good enough to
justify a postponement of the vote, he
said, insisting on the Kurdish right to
hold the vote at a later date.
“We don’t accept to postpone the
referendum with nothing in return
and without fixing another time to
hold it,” he said.
Baghdad stopped payments from
the Iraqi federal budget to the KRG in
2014 after the Kurds began exporting
oil independently from Baghdad, via a
pipeline to Turkey.
The Kurds say they need the extra
revenue to cope with increased costs
incurred by the war against Daesh
and a large influx into KRG territory
of displaced people.
Protecting nuclear deal from US top priority: Rohani
Iran’s President Hassan Ro-
hani said Sunday the top foreign policy
priority for his new government was to
protect the nuclear deal from being torn
up by the United States.
“The most important job of our for-
eign minister is first to stand behind
the JCPOA, and not to allow the US and
other enemies to succeed,” Rohani told
parliament, using the technical name
for the 2015 deal that eased sanctions in
exchange for curbs to Iran’s nuclear pro-
“Standing up for the JCPOA means
standing up to Iran’s enemies,” he said on
the last day of debates over his cabinet
Rohani indicated a week ago that Iran
was ready to walk out on the nuclear deal
if the United States continued to apply
It has come under mounting pressure
after Tehran carried out missile tests and
Washington imposed new sanctions —
with each accusing the other of violating
the spirit of the agreement.
But Rohani has insisted the deal re-
mains the preferred way forward, not
least to help rebuild Iran’s struggling
economy and create jobs.
“The second responsibility of the
foreign ministry... is to get involved in
economic activities. It should help at-
Iranian President Hassan Rohani speaks in parliament in Tehran, Sunday.
to face graft
Controversy is brewing
in Tunisia after several media outlets
began reporting that the judiciary is
mulling charging the country’s Grand
Mufti Sheikh Othman Battikh with
Local media outlets reported on
Saturday that the corruption charges
are related to misuse of funds by Bat-
tikh during the 2015 Haj season when
the mufti was the minister of reli-
The latest allegations seem to
widen the circle of controversy over
the religious establishments in Tuni-
sia after the then Habib Essid’s gov-
ernment filed a complaint with the
country’s attorney general against the
Tunisian media reported that the
complaint was accompanied by docu-
ments related to allegations that Bat-
tikh abused his power in the selec-
tion of guides who accompany the
pilgrims at the expense of the Tuni-
sian state and specifically charges of
favoritism in the selection of some of
On Jan. 5, 2016, an enquiry was
opened in relation to financial over-
spends which the minister was said to
have carried out during the last Haj.
He was replaced by Mohamed Khalil
the next day. A week later, he was re-
appointed as grand mufti by Presi-
dent Beji Caid Essebsi.
Sheikh Othman Battikh
Lebanon army advances against
Daesh militants in border battle
Lebanese soldiers re-
newed fire on Daesh (the so-called IS)
group positions on the country’s east-
ern border with Syria on Sunday after
capturing a third of the territory held
by militants in the area.
Lebanon’s army began its opera-
tion in the Jurud Ras Baalbek and Ju-
rud Al-Qaa region early on Saturday,
and in the first day captured around 30
sq. km of territory, a military spokes-
“That is around a third of the area
controlled by the terrorists,” Brig. Gen.
Nazih Jreij said late Saturday.
Jreij said 20 Daesh fighters had
been killed in the clashes, and 10 Leba-
nese soldiers wounded.
Lebanon’s battle against Daesh
comes as the militant group faces as-
saults in both neighboring Syria and
Iraq, where the government early Sun-
day announced an offensive on the
group’s bastion of Tal Afar.
The attack also comes after Daesh
claimed several international attacks,
including twin car ramming incidents
in Spain that killed 14 people.
Lebanese soldiers raised the Span-
ish flag on a hilltop captured from
Daesh on Saturday in a tribute to the
victims of those attacks, the army said.
Lebanon’s military estimated
around 600 Daesh fighters were pres-
ent in the Jurud Ras Baalbek and Jurud
Al-Qaa areas, controlling around 120
sq. km of territory before Saturday’s
On Sunday, Lebanon’s National
News Agency reported soldiers were
firing heavy artillery and rockets at
Daesh positions in Jurud Ras Baalbek.
The army’s assault comes after
Lebanon’s powerful Shiite militant
group Hezbollah waged its own cam-
paign against the militants operating in
another border area south of the cur-
The group’s six-day offensive
against Daesh and Al-Qaeda’s former
affiliate in the Jurud Arsal area ended
with a ceasefire.
The agreement saw around 8,000
refugees and militants transported to
a militant-held area of northwestern
Syria in return for the release of five
captured Hezbollah fighters.
Hezbollah’s War Media outlet said
its fighters and the Syrian army had on
Saturday “managed to liberate 87 sq.
km of the total area controlled by the
Daesh organization... in western Qala-
mun region” of Syria.
Security along Lebanon’s eastern
border with Syria has long been a con-
cern, and in 2014 jihadists invaded the
town of Arsal and kidnapped 30 Leba-
nese soldiers and police.
Four were executed by their cap-
tors while a fifth died of his wounds.
Sixteen were released in a prisoner
swap in December 2015, but another
nine solders are believed to remain in
Daesh hands. It is not clear if they are
alive or not.
A handout picture released by the Lebanese army on Saturday shows Lebanese soldiers holding up the Lebanese and Spanish
national flags at Mkhayrme Mountain in Ras Baalbek, in solidarity with Spain following the twin terror attacks in Barcelona
Iraqi forces retake village
as Tal Afar assault begins
Iraqi forces on Sun-
day launched an assault to retake the
northern city of Tal Afar from Daesh
(the so-called IS) group, after ousting
the militants from Mosul last month.
Tal Afar lies around 70 km west of
second city Mosul, which Iraqi forces
recaptured in early July in a major
blow to the militants.
In a televised speech early Sun-
day, Prime Minister Haider Al-Aba-
di, dressed in military uniform and
standing in front of an Iraqi flag and
map of the country, announced “the
start of an operation to free Tal Afar”.
“I am saying to Daesh that there’s
no choice other than to leave or be
killed,” he said.
“We have won all our battles, and
Daesh have always lost,” he said, tell-
ing his troops: “The entire world is
Several hours after the start of the
battle, the federal police said it had re-
taken the village of Al-Abra Al-Sghira
west of Tal Afar.
Daesh militants in June 2014 over-
ran Tal Afar, a Shiite enclave in the
predominantly Sunni province of
Nineveh, on the road between Mosul
At the time, it had a population of
around 200,000. Local officials said
it was impossible to know the exact
number still living inside the city.
Authorities have accused the ap-
proximately 1,000 militants in the city
of using civilians as human shields
during Iraqi and US-led coalition air-
strikes earlier this week in prepara-
tion for the ground assault.
Abadi said that Iraq’s Hashed Al-
Shaabi paramilitary forces would help
army, police and counter-terrorism
units to retake Tal Afar.
The umbrella organization, which
is dominated by Iran-backed Shiite
militias, has already been fighting to
retake a number of other Iraqi cities
“In the early hours, the guns and
flags turned toward their targets,” said
Hashed spokesman Ahmed Al-Assadi.
“Victory is near” in Tal Afar, an
“Iraqi city taken hostage and humili-
ated for years by attacks from these
barbarians,” he said.
Even before the Abadi’s announce-
ment, Iraqi planes had dropped leaf-
lets to residents in Tal Afar and its
surroundings, the Hashed said in a
tract foreign investment and technology,”
He was addressing lawmakers ahead
of votes of confidence on his ministerial
choices. Later, lawmakers approved 16
nominated Cabinet members, including
the first defense minister unaffiliated with
the elite, hard-line Revolutionary Guard
in 25 years.
Speaker Ali Larijani said lawmakers
approved 16 of 17 proposed ministers,
among them Foreign Minister Moham-
mad Javad Zarif with 236 votes, and Oil
Minister Began Zingano with 230 out of
288 members of parliament who voted.
The chamber has 290 seats.
The most votes went to Gen. Amir
Hatami for defense minister, with 261
votes. It marked first time Iran has ap-
pointed a defense minister who has no
ties to the hard-line Revolutionary Guard
in nearly 25 years.
Hatami, 51, told parliament that im-
proving the country’s missile program is
on his agenda.
“We will apply special effort for im-
proving ballistic missile power,” he said.
Rohani urged Hatami to improve ties
between the Iranian army and the Rev-
olutionary Guard while using modern
technology for improving the country’s
The defense minister is tasked with
producing weapons for both the army
and the Guard, which is in charge of
launching Iran’s ballistic missiles.
The nominee for energy ministry,
Habibolalh Bitaraf, was not approved.
During a review, members of parliament
criticized him for lacking a plan to fight
the longstanding drought and water cri-
sis in the country, where many towns and
cities suffer from shortage.
Iran’s Cabinet has 18 ministerial posts
but Rohani did not propose a candidate
for ministry of science, which is in charge
of higher education.
Under the law, the president can
manage ministries which have no leader
for up to three months.