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MID-EAST

MONDAY 21 AUGUST 2017,

SAUDI GAZETTE

4

SNIPPETS

Netanyahu, Putin to

meet over Syria war

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM —

Israeli Prime

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.

— AP

Kuwait arrests fugitive

convict linked to terror

KUWAIT CITY —

Kuwait arrested

a fugitive convict

involved in the Abdali

terror group case

on Saturday, the

Kuwait News Agency

(KUNA) reported.

According to the Interior

Ministry, security

forces apprehended

Abdul Mohsen Jamal

Husain Al Shatti on

Saturday evening.

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.

— Agencies

Yemen cholera causes

22 deaths in five days

GENEVA —

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.

— AP

Israeli forces shoot, kill

Palestinian after attack

RAMALLAH —

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.

— AP

Iraq’s Kurds might put off vote: Official

By Maher Chmaytelli

SULAIMANIYA —

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

(PUK) Politburo.

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-

laimaniya.

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

several months.

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.

— Reuters

Protecting nuclear deal from US top priority: Rohani

TEHRAN —

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-

gram.

“Standing up for the JCPOA means

standing up to Iran’s enemies,” he said on

the last day of debates over his cabinet

selections.

Rohani indicated a week ago that Iran

was ready to walk out on the nuclear deal

if the United States continued to apply

fresh sanctions.

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.

— AFP

Grand mufti

of Tunisia

to face graft

allegations

TUNIS —

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

corruption.

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-

gious affairs.

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

grand mufti.

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

them.

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.

—Al Arabiya

English

Sheikh Othman Battikh

Lebanon army advances against

Daesh militants in border battle

BEIRUT —

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-

man said.

“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

advances.

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-

rent battle.

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.

— AFP

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

and Cambrils.

— AFP

Iraqi forces retake village

as Tal Afar assault begins

BAGHDAD —

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

with you.”

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

and Syria.

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

from Daesh.

“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

statement.

— AFP

tract foreign investment and technology,”

Rohani said.

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

arsenal.

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.

— Agencies