Astana 8 Sets Sochi Congress Date, Keeps Kurds Away

 Russian lead negotiator on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, May 4, 2017. /Reuters
Russian lead negotiator on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, May 4, 2017. /Reuters
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Astana 8 Sets Sochi Congress Date, Keeps Kurds Away

 Russian lead negotiator on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, May 4, 2017. /Reuters
Russian lead negotiator on Syria Alexander Lavrentyev, Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Hossein Jaberi Ansari, Kazakh Foreign Minister Kairat Abdrakhmanov and UN Special Envoy for Syria Staffan de Mistura attend the fourth round of Syria peace talks in Astana, Kazakhstan, May 4, 2017. /Reuters

The eighth round of the Astana Syrian talks held between the three guarantor countries, Russia, Turkey and Iran, resulted on Friday in setting January 29 and 30 as a date for holding the Congress of Syrian Peoples in Sochi and also agreed on vetoing the presence of US-backed Kurdish People’s Protection Units at Sochi.

In Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan, where the three countries held a new round of Syrian peace talks, Aidarbek Tumatov, head for Asia and Africa at Kazakhstan's Foreign Ministry, said that the Syrian National Dialogue Congress will be held in Russia’s Sochi on January 29-30.

The guarantor states said their representatives would also hold a preparatory meeting for the Sochi congress on January 19-20.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s envoy for Syria Alexander Lavrentiev asserted that the Geneva talks would resume on January 21, before the Sochi Congress.

He added that Ankara objected to the presence of any party linked to the Kurdistan Workers Party and the Democratic Party at the congress.

Turkish sources said that Syria's Kurdish National Council (KNC), a party that has no links with terrorist activities, is considered the legitimate representative of the region’s Kurds at Sochi.

For his part, Ahmad Tohmeh, head of the opposition delegation in Astana, said the delegation had received an invitation to attend the Congress. He expected that the opposition’s presence at the Congress would lead to a progress in the file of detainees.

In Astana, on Friday, the guarantor countries agreed on a draft paper to establish a joint committee specialized with securing the release of detainees and abductees and the handover of the bodies as well as the identification of missing persons.

During the Astana round of talks, participants also reaffirmed their commitment to seek full elimination of terrorism and strengthen the political process in Syria.

The eighth round of peace talks aimed at ending the Syria conflict began on Thursday in Astana, and ended on Friday.



Report: One Killed, Six Injured in Clashes in Western Libyan City

 A Libyan flag is seen outside an oil refinery in Zawiya on Sept. 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)
A Libyan flag is seen outside an oil refinery in Zawiya on Sept. 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)
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Report: One Killed, Six Injured in Clashes in Western Libyan City

 A Libyan flag is seen outside an oil refinery in Zawiya on Sept. 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)
A Libyan flag is seen outside an oil refinery in Zawiya on Sept. 23, 2011. (AFP/Getty Images)

At least one person was killed and six injured when fierce clashes broke out on Saturday in the city of Zawiya in western Libya, prompting calls for a ceasefire to rescue families trapped in the conflict area, a Libyan TV channel said.

Ali Ahneesh, head of the Red Crescent branch in Zawiya, told the Istanbul-based Libya Alahrar TV channel that 10 families had been evacuated, and called for “a ceasefire to evacuate families stuck in the areas where the clashes have taken place”.

Red Crescent volunteers had been receiving calls from families in the conflict area asking to be evacuated, he said.

There was no immediate indication of who had taken part in the violence or why they were fighting.

Imad Ammar, a member of Zawiya's elders and notables council, said the fighting appeared to involve individuals rather than armed groups.

Zawiya, 40 km (25 miles) west of the capital Tripoli, is home to Libya's biggest functioning refinery, with a capacity of 120,000 barrels per day.

"The clashes in the morning were fierce, and the casualties are one killed and six injured," Tripoli-based Ambulance and Emergency Services spokesperson Osama Ali told the TV channel.

Ali said rescue teams had been unable to reach the conflict zone, and it was not clear if the casualties were civilian or military.

Zawiya has witnessed repeated armed clashes that have at times forced the closure of the coastal road to the border with Tunisia.

Reports of unrest in the city were circulated on the internet with unverified footage of gunmen exchanging fire.

Libya's state electricity firm (GECOL) said in a statement that the unrest had led to power cuts in some areas in the city.

"The situation was very bad in the morning. There is calm now, but the security and government authorities must use all their power to end this conflict," said Ammar.

He said there had been no response from the city's security authorities to what he described as "a fight between persons and not specific parties" for which civilians were paying the price.


US Intelligence Suggests American Who Vanished in Syria in 2017 Has Died, Daughter Says

Maryam Kamalmaz holds a photo of her father with some of his 14 grandchildren in Grand Prairie, Texas, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Maryam Kamalmaz holds a photo of her father with some of his 14 grandchildren in Grand Prairie, Texas, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
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US Intelligence Suggests American Who Vanished in Syria in 2017 Has Died, Daughter Says

Maryam Kamalmaz holds a photo of her father with some of his 14 grandchildren in Grand Prairie, Texas, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)
Maryam Kamalmaz holds a photo of her father with some of his 14 grandchildren in Grand Prairie, Texas, Jan. 17, 2024. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez, File)

US officials have developed specific and highly credible intelligence suggesting that an American citizen who disappeared seven years ago while traveling in Syria has died, the man's daughter said Saturday.

Maryam Kamalmaz said in an interview with The Associated Press that during a meeting in Washington this month with eight senior American officials she was presented with detailed intelligence about the presumed death of her father, Majd, a psychotherapist from Texas.

The officials told her that on a scale of one to 10, their confidence level about her father's death was a "high nine." She said she asked whether other detained Americans had ever been successfully recovered in the face of such credible information, and was told no.

"What more do I need? That was a lot of high-level officials that we needed to confirm to us that he’s really gone. There was no way to beat around the bush," Maryam Kamalmaz said.

She said officials told her they believe the death occurred years ago, early in her father's captivity. In 2020, she said, officials told the family that they had reason to believe that he has died of heart failure in 2017, but the family held out hope and US officials continued their pursuit.

But, she said, "Not until this meeting did they really confirm to us how credible the information is and the different levels of (verification) it had to go through."

She did not describe the intelligence she learned.

Spokespeople for the White House and the FBI, which investigates abductions in foreign countries, did not immediately return messages seeking comment Saturday.

Majd Kamalmaz disappeared in February 2017 at the age of 59 while traveling in Syria to visit an elderly family member. The FBI has said he was stopped at a Syrian government checkpoint in a suburb of Damascus and had not been heard from since.

Kamalmaz is one of multiple Americans who have disappeared in Syria, including the journalist Austin Tice, who went missing in 2012 at a checkpoint in a contested area west of Damascus. Syria has publicly denied holding Americans in captivity.

In 2020, in the final months of the Trump administration, senior officials visited Damascus for a high-level meeting aimed at negotiating release of the Americans. But the meeting proved unfruitful, with the Syrians not providing any proof-of-life information and making demands that US officials deemed unreasonable. US officials have said they are continuing to try to bring home Tice.

The New York Times first reported on the presumed death of Majd Kamalmaz.


Dozens Killed and Wounded as Israeli Forces Thrust Deeper in Gaza’s Jabalia and Rafah

 Children stand near a crater caused by Israeli bombardment in a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
Children stand near a crater caused by Israeli bombardment in a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
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Dozens Killed and Wounded as Israeli Forces Thrust Deeper in Gaza’s Jabalia and Rafah

 Children stand near a crater caused by Israeli bombardment in a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)
Children stand near a crater caused by Israeli bombardment in a street in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on May 18, 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas movement. (AFP)

Israeli troops and tanks pushed on Saturday into parts of a congested northern Gaza Strip district that they had previously skirted in the more than seven-month-old war, killing and wounding dozens of Palestinians, medics and residents said.

Israel's forces also took over some ground in Rafah, a southern city next to the Egyptian border that is packed with displaced people and where the launch this month of a long-threatened incursion to crush Hamas hold-outs has alarmed Cairo and Washington.

Israel has conducted renewed military sweeps this month of parts of northern Gaza where it had declared the end of major operations in January. At the time, it also predicted its forces would return to prevent a regrouping by the Palestinian group that rules Gaza.

One site has been Jabalia, the largest of Gaza Strip's eight historic refugee camps. On Saturday, troops and tanks edged into streets so far spared the ground offensive, residents said. In one strike, medics said 15 Palestinians were killed and dozens wounded.

The Gaza health ministry and the Civil Emergency Service said teams received dozens of calls about possible casualties but were unable to carry out any searches because of the ongoing ground offensive and the aerial bombardment.

"Today is the most difficult in terms of the occupation bombardment, air strikes and tank shelling have going on almost non-stop," said one resident in Jabalia, Ibrahim Khaled, via a chat app.

"We know of dozens of people, martyrs (killed) and wounded, but no ambulance vehicle can get into the area," he told Reuters.

The Israeli military said forces have continued to operate in areas across the Gaza Strip including Jabalia and Rafah, carrying out what it called "precise operations against terrorists and infrastructure".

"The IAF (air force) continues to operate in the Gaza Strip, and struck over 70 terror targets during the past day, including weapons storage facilities, military infrastructure sites, terrorists who posed a threat to IDF troops, and military compounds," the military said in a statement.

Armed wings of Hamas, the Islamic Jihad, and Fatah said fighters attacked Israeli forces in Jabalia and Rafah with anti-tank rockets, mortar bombs, and explosive devices already planted in some of the roads, killing and wounding many soldiers.

Israel's military said 281 soldiers have been killed in fighting since the first ground incursions in Gaza on Oct 20.

At least 35,386 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli strikes since Oct. 7, according to figures from the enclave's health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.

In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 125 people are still being held in Gaza.

In Rafah, where Israeli tanks thrust into some of the eastern suburbs and clashed with Palestinian fighters there, residents said Israeli bombing from the air and ground persisted all night.

Rafah had been sheltering more than one million displaced Gazans. UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive there began on May 6. Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country's security.


Austria to Unblock Funds for UN Palestinian Relief Organization

Youths gather with jerrycans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), housing Palestinians displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory on May 14, 2024. (AFP)
Youths gather with jerrycans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), housing Palestinians displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory on May 14, 2024. (AFP)
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Austria to Unblock Funds for UN Palestinian Relief Organization

Youths gather with jerrycans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), housing Palestinians displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory on May 14, 2024. (AFP)
Youths gather with jerrycans to fill up water from a tanker truck in the yard of a school of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), housing Palestinians displaced by the ongoing conflict in the Gaza Strip between Israel and Hamas, in Jabalia in the north of the Palestinian territory on May 14, 2024. (AFP)

Austria will release funds to the UN's Palestinian relief organization UNRWA that were blocked after allegations agency staff were involved in the Oct. 7 attacks on Israel.

Vienna's decision comes after UNRWA set out an action plan to better ensure its impartiality, strengthen internal reviews, and improve how its staff are monitored.

"After a thorough analysis of the action plan, we will release funds to UNRWA again," the Austrian foreign ministry said on Saturday.

Funds totaling 3.4 million euros ($3.70 million) have been budgeted for 2024, with the first payment due to be made in the summer, it added.

Austria was one of the donor states to freeze some $450 million in funds after Israel accused 12 UNRWA staff of participating in the Hamas-led attack that triggered the Gaza war.

Germany said last month it would resume cooperation with UNRWA following a report led by former French foreign minister Catherine Colonna into UNRWA's procedures for ensuring adherence to principles of neutrality.

UNRWA employs 32,000 people in the Palestinian territories and nearby countries, including 13,000 in the Gaza Strip, running schools and social services.


UN Denounces 'Intimidation and Harassment' of Lawyers in Tunisia

Hundreds of Tunisia lawyers and activists from civil society organizations take part in a protest against the decline in freedoms (EPA)
Hundreds of Tunisia lawyers and activists from civil society organizations take part in a protest against the decline in freedoms (EPA)
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UN Denounces 'Intimidation and Harassment' of Lawyers in Tunisia

Hundreds of Tunisia lawyers and activists from civil society organizations take part in a protest against the decline in freedoms (EPA)
Hundreds of Tunisia lawyers and activists from civil society organizations take part in a protest against the decline in freedoms (EPA)

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) condemned on Friday the recent intimidation and harassment of lawyers in Tunisia after authorities launched a massive arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists critical of the government.
“Reported raids in the past week on the Tunisia Bar Association undermine the rule of law and violate international standards on the protection of the independence and function of lawyers,” OHCHR spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani told reporters in Geneva.
“Such actions constitute forms of intimidation and harassment.”
She said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk urges the authorities to respect and safeguard freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly, as guaranteed by the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights to which Tunisia is a party.
Over the past few days, Tunisian authorities have detained civil society figures including anti-racism activist Saadia Mosbah, a number of lawyers, as well as political commentators on radio and television stations.
On Thursday, hundreds of Tunisian lawyers led a strike in the capital Tunis to protest the decline of freedoms in a country that saw the onset of the Arab Spring.

The protest came after security officers stormed the Tunisian Bar Association's headquarters during a live television broadcast, arresting a media commentator and lawyer, Sonia Dahmani.
The officers also arrested her colleague, Mahdi Zagrouba, who was tortured during interrogation—an allegation denied by Tunisian officials.
The arrests have sparked condemnations and an international backlash, which Tunisia’s President Kais Saied has slammed as foreign “interference.”
Saied said the detention of lawyers is “legal,” adding that the events of the last few days had nothing to do with the legal profession of lawyers, but “with those who dared to denigrate and even slander their country in the media and who violently assaulted a security officer.”
In her statement, Shamdasani had also quoted Türk as saying that the rule of law in Tunisia must be upheld, and those arbitrarily detained, including for defending the rights of migrants and for combating racial discrimination, released.
“The human rights of all migrants must be protected, and xenophobic hate speech must stop,” she said.
The OHCHR spokesperson said, “We are very concerned by the increased targeting in Tunisia of migrants, mostly from south of the Sahara, and individuals and organizations working to assist them.”
At the same time, she noted, “we are witnessing a rise in the use of dehumanizing and racist rhetoric against Black migrants and Black Tunisians.”
Shortly following Shamdasani’s statements, sources in Tunisia said judicial authorities have arrested Saadia Mosbah, an anti-discrimination activist, as part of a money laundering investigation.
The arrest of Mosbah, the president of Tunisian anti-racism association Mnemty ("My dream"), came just hours after Saied criticized Tunisian humanitarian organizations that defend sub-Saharan migrants at a National Security Council meeting on Monday.
“The associations that cry today and shed tears in the media receive huge amounts of money from abroad,” Saied said.

 


Jordan Foils Major Drug Smuggling Attempt from Syria

A Jordanian army patrol is deployed at the border with Syria to prevent drug smuggling, April 2023. (AFP)
A Jordanian army patrol is deployed at the border with Syria to prevent drug smuggling, April 2023. (AFP)
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Jordan Foils Major Drug Smuggling Attempt from Syria

A Jordanian army patrol is deployed at the border with Syria to prevent drug smuggling, April 2023. (AFP)
A Jordanian army patrol is deployed at the border with Syria to prevent drug smuggling, April 2023. (AFP)

The Jordanian army announced on Friday that it thwarted a major drug smuggling operation from Syria.

In a statement, it said two smugglers were killed and others wounded in the operation. Some smugglers managed to flee back to Syria.

The army seized the drugs and weapons in possession of the smugglers.

Asharq Al-Awsat learned that the Jordanian authorities will release some of the confessions of Syrian smugglers it had detained in late 2023.

They were arrested during a clash that led to the arrest of nine smugglers along the northeastern border.

Jordanian sources had previously told Asharq Al-Awsat that smuggling gangs active in southern Syria were cooperating with Jordanian cells to deliver illicit material to the eastern Ruwaished region before smuggling them to neighboring countries.

Authorities soon carried out an operation against the cell, arresting some members and killing others. The search is still ongoing for some fugitive members.

Amman accuses Iran and its allied militias, including Lebanon’s Hezbollah which is active in southern Syria, of being behind the drugs smuggling.

It says the operations aim to cause tensions and security instability in Jordan.

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi met with his Iranian counterpart Hossein Amir-Abdollahian in New York in mid-April where they were attending a United Nations Security Council meeting on the Middle East.

Safadi informed Abdollahian that “Jordan won’t allow Iran or Israel to turn it into a warzone.” Jordan will “confront any violation of its territories and threat to its security and safety of its citizens,” he vowed.

“Jordan wants good relations with Iran, but getting there demands the removal of the sources of tension and the immediate end of meddling in Jordanian affairs,” he stressed.

Damascus did not comment on the latest drug smuggling attempt, but local media sources said the operation had taken place in the desert area between Syria and Jordan.

It added that a person in connection to the government-affiliated Fifth Brigade was involved in the smuggling attempt.


Houthis Hit Panamanian-Flagged Tanker with Missile off Yemen, CENTCOM Says

Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
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Houthis Hit Panamanian-Flagged Tanker with Missile off Yemen, CENTCOM Says

Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa
Representation photo: 19 November 2023: A handout photo, made available on 21 November 2023, by the Houthi Military Media Center, depicts Houthi helicopter flying over the cargo ship 'Galaxy Leader' as they seize it in the Red Sea off the coast of Hodeidah. Photo: dpa

The Iran-backed Houthi militias on Saturday hit a Panamanian-flagged oil tanker off Yemen's Red Sea coast with an anti-ship missile but the crew was able to restore power and maintain course, the US military said.

There were no casualties reported by the ship, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said in a statement posted on the X social media platform.

The strike was the latest in months of attacks on ships in the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden by the Houthis in opposition to Israel's war in Gaza.

The Houthis launched a single anti-ship missile at the M/T Wind, a Panamanian-flagged and Greek-owned oil tanker, at around 1 a.m. local time, causing flooding that knocked out its propulsion and steering, CENTCOM said.

A vessel of a US-led maritime coalition immediately responded, but the crew was able to restore power and steering, no assistance was required and the ship "resumed its course under its own power," it said.

"This continued malign and reckless behavior by the Iranian-backed Houthis threatens regional stability and endangers the lives of mariners across the Red Sea and Gulf of Aden," CENTCOM said.

British security firm Ambrey said the attack occurred about 10 nautical miles southwest of Yemen's Red Sea port city of Mokha, and that the missile caused a fire in the steering gear compartment.

The vessel had loaded oil at the Sheskharis terminal in Russia's Black Sea port of Novorossiysk and was bound for China, Ambrey said in an advisory note.

Separately, the United Kingdom Maritime Trade Operations (UKMTO) agency said earlier on Saturday that a vessel in the Red Sea was struck by an unknown object and sustained slight damage.

"The vessel and crew are safe and continuing to its next port of call," UKMTO said in an advisory note on the incident 98 nautical miles south of Yemen's Hodeidah port.

Months of Houthi attacks in the Red Sea have disrupted global shipping, forcing firms to re-route to longer and more expensive journeys around Southern Africa.

The United States and Britain have carried out strikes against Houthi targets in response. 


Israeli Strikes Kill at Least Five in Lebanon Including Two Children

Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on Kafar Hamam, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on Kafar Hamam, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
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Israeli Strikes Kill at Least Five in Lebanon Including Two Children

Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on Kafar Hamam, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)
Black smoke rises from an Israeli airstrike on Kafar Hamam, a Lebanese border village with Israel in south Lebanon, Friday, May 17, 2024. (AP)

Israeli strikes on southern and eastern Lebanon killed at least five people on Friday including two children, security sources and UNICEF said.

Israel and Lebanese armed group Hezbollah have been exchanging fire across Lebanon's southern border for seven months in parallel with the Gaza war. Other Lebanese factions as well as Palestinian groups have also fired rockets at Israel from Lebanon.

On Friday, a series of Israeli strikes on a coastal town further north than the usual conflict area killed a Hezbollah member as well as two Syrian civilians, the security sources said. UNICEF Lebanon separately said two children were killed in an Israeli strike on Friday.

A separate Israeli strike on Majdal Anjar, on Lebanon's eastern border with Syria, killed Sharhabil al-Sayed, a member of Palestinian armed group Hamas who was in charge of the faction's operations in Lebanon's eastern Bekaa Valley, according to two security sources. The strike also killed another Palestinian Hamas member, the sources said.

The Israeli military said its forces struck a Hezbollah launcher and military infrastructure in southern Lebanon and confirmed the death of al-Sayed.

It said sirens warning of incoming rockets and hostile aircraft sounded in several communities throughout Friday and at one point identified 75 launches crossing from Lebanon into Israel. It said dozens of the launches were intercepted and there were no immediate reports of deaths or damage.

The exchanges of fire between armed groups in Lebanon and the Israeli military have ramped up in recent days. Hezbollah has deployed new types of rockets against Israel and launched a drone attack the furthest into Israeli territory since October.

Speaking to soldiers during a situational assessment and tour of the north, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said that while Israel hoped for a diplomatic resolution, it was also readying for further escalation.

"We must be prepared and take into consideration that anything can happen," he said. "We want to exhaust every opportunity to do so by agreement because we know that there are costs to war that we would rather avoid, but you must take in account that this (escalation) might happen."


Iraq's Kurdish Regional Security Council Announces Arrest of Top Aide of Former ISIS Leader

File photo: Security forces secure a location after an ISIS attack in Kirkuk, Iraq. Reuters
File photo: Security forces secure a location after an ISIS attack in Kirkuk, Iraq. Reuters
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Iraq's Kurdish Regional Security Council Announces Arrest of Top Aide of Former ISIS Leader

File photo: Security forces secure a location after an ISIS attack in Kirkuk, Iraq. Reuters
File photo: Security forces secure a location after an ISIS attack in Kirkuk, Iraq. Reuters

The Kurdish Regional Security Council announced in a statement on Friday that it captured a senior ISIS figure, Socrates Khalil.
Khalil was known to be a confidant of the late ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
"After spending five years in Türkiye, Khalil returned to Kurdistan with a forged passport and was swiftly apprehended," the statement said.
Khalil made bombs for the ISIS group and was entrusted by al-Baghdadi with various major operations, the statement added, saying that he was instrumental in the 2014 ISIS takeover of Mosul, and participated in many battles against Iraqi forces and the Peshmerga forces, Reuters reported.


US Envoy Says Islamists Are ‘Problem for Us and Sudanese’

US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
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US Envoy Says Islamists Are ‘Problem for Us and Sudanese’

US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello. (Asharq Al-Awsat)
US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello. (Asharq Al-Awsat)

US Special Envoy for Sudan Tom Perriello stressed on Friday that his country will continue to use sanctions to pressure the Sudanese warring parties to stop the fighting and reach a solution in the country.

He added that sanctions will not be limited to institutions, but will target individuals so that their work will be affected in various countries.

Speaking at a meeting with Sudanese people in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, he stressed that Islamists – supporters of the ousted regime – are a “major problem for us and the Sudanese.”

He stated that Washington is aware that some Islamists are members of the army and that others had come from abroad to Sudan to join the war.

Moreover, the envoy revealed that the American administration was in contact with all countries that support the war in Sudan. It is urging them to take a positive position towards the Sudanese people, not interfere their country’s internal affairs that is only prolonging the war.

The United Arab Emirates needs to be part of the ongoing discussions in Jeddah, Perriello went on to say.

The Sudanese army had accused the UAE of supporting its rival, the Rapid Support Forces (RSF), in the conflict. Abu Dhabi has denied the claim.

Perriello predicted that the next round of talks in Jeddah would be different due to new factors and to the UAE and Egypt joining the discussions.

The goal is for these countries to play a role in stopping the war, he explained.

The US has also made strong warnings to the RSF against military intervention in al-Fasher, he continued, adding that such a move would have dire consequences.

He underlined the importance of the Jeddah platform because it enjoys the agreement of all parties, including the European Union and African Union. Several countries want to see the end of the war.

On the proposed initiatives to end the conflict, Perriello said the outcomes of the Jeddah and Manama meetings will be examined so that a unified vision can be declared.

Furthermore, the envoy ruled out that the US may intervene militarily in Sudan, but he acknowledged that discussions are ongoing at the African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) for them to play a greater role in protecting civilians in the conflict.

The US and regional countries support these steps, he added, while warning that the spillover of the war into the region will have severe consequences.

The countries are already being affected by the conflict, he noted.