Fighting Breaks Out as Mali Army Closes on Tuareg Rebel Town

An aerial view of the rebel-held city of Kidal, where Mali's army is reported to be closing in. SOULEYMANE AG ANARA / AFP/File
An aerial view of the rebel-held city of Kidal, where Mali's army is reported to be closing in. SOULEYMANE AG ANARA / AFP/File
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Fighting Breaks Out as Mali Army Closes on Tuareg Rebel Town

An aerial view of the rebel-held city of Kidal, where Mali's army is reported to be closing in. SOULEYMANE AG ANARA / AFP/File
An aerial view of the rebel-held city of Kidal, where Mali's army is reported to be closing in. SOULEYMANE AG ANARA / AFP/File

Mali's army drove closer on Saturday to the town of Kidal clashing with Tuareg separatist and rebel groups in what could signal the start of fighting for the strategically important northern crossroads.

Since seizing power in a coup in 2020 the African country's military rulers have made a priority of re-establishing sovereignty over all regions and Kidal could become a key battleground, AFP said.

Military, political and rebel sources all reported the clashes.

But details such as a casualty toll or tactics involved could not be confirmed independently in the remote region.

The rebels in Kidal cut telephone links on Friday in anticipation of an army offensive following several days of airstrikes.

The Permanent Strategic Framework (CSP), an alliance of predominantly Tuareg armed groups said it had been involved in "vigorous combat" against a convoy of army soldiers and mercenaries from Russia's Wagner group.

The CSP post on social media said "considerable losses" had been inflicted on the convoy which had retreated.

However, the army said on social media networks that it had "broken the defensive line" set up by the rebels near Kidal, and assured that it was continuing its advance, which "will be carried out successfully".

Earlier, an army officer told AFP: "We are a few dozen kilometers (miles) from Kidal.

"We are continuing our progress to secure the whole territory," he said, on condition of anonymity.

Two local elected representatives, also speaking anonymously because of the sensitivity of the topic, said there was fighting near Kidal.

'A lot of shooting'
"Fighting has started -- there's a lot of shooting," one said, adding that large numbers of Wagner fighters, which the ruling junta called in two years ago, were present.
Another local official said "civilians are fleeing the city. We have to expect a lengthy conflict".

Some 25,000 people live in the Kidal desert area, a key site on the road to Algeria and a historic hotbed of insurrection.

The army had Thursday announced the start of what it termed "strategic movements aimed at securing and eradicating all terrorist threats in the Kidal region".

A large military convoy stationed since early October at Anefis, some 110 kilometers to the south, set off towards Kidal.

Tuareg rebels took up arms again in August and the population have since braced for a confrontation.

The Tuaregs previously launched an insurgency in 2012, inflicting humiliating defeats on the army before agreeing to a ceasefire in 2014 and a peace deal in 2015.

The uprising in 2012 coincided with insurgencies by radical Islamist groups who have never stopped fighting Bamako, plunging Mali into a political, security and humanitarian crisis that has spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The withdrawal of a UN peacekeeping mission since the army took power has added to instability.

One officer spoke Saturday of fighting near a Kidal camp which the UN force recently vacated.



Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
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Israeli Supreme Court Says Ultra-Orthodox Men Must Serve in Military

A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)
A man carries an Israeli flag next to an ultra-Orthodox Jew as protesters gather for a demonstration against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government, near the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 17, 2024. (Reuters)

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ruled unanimously that the military must begin drafting ultra-Orthodox men for military service, a decision that could lead to the collapse of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition as Israel continues to wage war in Gaza. 

The court ruled that in the absence of a law that distinguishes between Jewish seminary students and other draftees, Israel’s compulsory military service system applies to the ultra-Orthodox like any other citizens. 

Under longstanding arrangements, ultra-Orthodox men have been exempt from the draft, which is compulsory for most Jewish men and women. These exemptions have long been a source of anger among the secular public, a divide that has widened during the eight-month-old war, as the military has called up tens of thousands of soldiers and says it needs all the manpower it can get. Over 600 soldiers have been killed. 

Politically powerful ultra-Orthodox parties, key partners in Netanyahu’s governing coalition, oppose any change in the current system. If the exemptions are ended, they could bolt the coalition, causing the government to collapse and leading to new elections. 

During arguments, government lawyers told the court that forcing ultra-Orthodox men to enlist would “tear Israeli society apart.” 

The court decision comes at a sensitive time, as the war in Gaza drags on into its ninth month and the number of dead soldiers continues to mount. 

The court found that the state was carrying out “invalid selective enforcement, which represents a serious violation of the rule of law, and the principle according to which all individuals are equal before the law.” 

It did not say how many ultra-Orthodox should be drafted. 

The court also ruled that state subsidies for seminaries where exempted ultra-Orthodox men study should remain suspended. The court temporarily froze the seminary budgets earlier this year. 

In a post on the social media platform X, cabinet minister Yitzhak Goldknopf, who heads one of the ultra-Orthodox parties in the coalition, called the ruling “very unfortunate and disappointing.” He did not say whether his party would bolt the government. 

“The state of Israel was established in order to be a home for the Jewish people whose Torah is the bedrock of its existence. The Holy Torah will prevail,” he wrote. 

The ultra-Orthodox see their full-time religious study as their part in protecting the state of Israel. Many fear that greater contact with secular society through the military will distance adherents from strict observance of the faith. 

Ultra-Orthodox men attend special seminaries that focus on religious studies, with little attention on secular topics like math, English or science. Critics have said they are ill-prepared to serve in the military or enter the secular work force. 

Religious women generally receive blanket exemptions that are not as controversial, in part because women are not expected to serve in combat units. 

The ruling now sets the stage for growing friction within the coalition between those who support drafting more ultra-Orthodox and those who oppose the idea. Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers are likely to face intense pressure from religious leaders and their constituents and may have to choose whether remaining in the government is worthwhile for them. 

Shuki Friedman, vice-president of the Jewish People Policy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank said the ultra-Orthodox “understand that they don’t have a better political alternative, but at same time their public is saying ‘why did we vote for you?’” 

The exemptions have faced years of legal challenges and a string of court decisions has found the system unjust. But Israeli leaders, under pressure from ultra-Orthodox parties, have repeatedly stalled. It remains unclear whether Netanyahu will be able to do so again. 

Netanyahu’s coalition is buoyed by two ultra-Orthodox parties who oppose increasing enlistment for their constituents. The long-serving Israeli leader has tried to adhere to the court’s rulings while also scrambling to preserve his coalition. But with a slim majority of 64 seats in the 120-member parliament, he's often beholden to the pet issues of smaller parties. 

Netanyahu has been promoting a bill tabled by a previous government in 2022 that sought to address the issue of ultra-Orthodox enlistment. 

But critics say that bill was crafted before the war and doesn’t do enough to address a pressing manpower shortfall as the army seeks to maintain its forces in the Gaza Strip while also preparing for potential war with the Lebanese Hezbollah group, which has been fighting with Israel since the war in Gaza erupted last October. 

With its high birthrate, the ultra-Orthodox community is the fastest-growing segment of the population, at about 4% annually. Each year, roughly 13,000 ultra-Orthodox males reach the conscription age of 18, but less than 10% enlist, according to the Israeli parliament’s State Control Committee.