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News - MENA News

Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-13 10:36:40
Saudi Arabia is throwing its financial and diplomatic weight around in an effort to mask inconvenient but widely documented human rights abuses and violations of international law tied to its war in Yemen. The kingdom's most recent endeavor was revealed in a rare public rebuke from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who said on Thursday he faced "undue pressure" to remove the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a blacklist of countries that kill and maim children. The secretary general said he had made the "painful and difficult" decision to temporarily remove the Saudi-led coalition from the annex of the report earlier this week due to the "very real prospect" that millions of children in Palestine, South Sudan, Syria and Yemen would be cut off from funding. The Saudis and allied Gulf states provide hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to UN bodies annually, including the UN children's fund. The UN report on children and armed conflict, dubbed a "list of shame," found the US-supported, Saudi-led coalition was responsible for 60 percent of the 1,953 children killed or injured in Yemen in 2015. The UN documented 101 attacks on schools and hospitals, for which the coalition was held responsible for about half. Other armed groups in the conflict, including Houthi rebels, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), the "Islamic State," Yemeni government forces and militia were also listed in the annex. Saudi Arabia and its allies, as well as the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council all applied pressure to squash the report. Particularly contentious was the placement of the coalition together with terrorist and extremist groups. The UN report parallels widespread findings by rights groups accusing the Saudi-led coalition of committing grave violations of international law in its prosecution of the war in Yemen. The coalition, which includes the Gulf oil states and is backed by the United States, denies any wrongdoing. Saudi Arabia's UN Ambassador Abdallah Al-Mouallimi denied using "threats or intimidation" against the UN, while opining that it was his view that the delisting was "final, irreversible and unconditional." Ban said the coalition listing will now go to a joint review of cases. The UN's decision triggered a torrent of criticism from human rights groups, which noted removing the Saudi-led coalition sends "a message to parties to armed conflict that if they apply sufficient political pressure, they can manipulate their exclusion from the list and avoid scrutiny and accountability." "If the Saudi-led Coalition wants to be removed from the list, it should stop killing and maiming children and bombing schools and hospitals in Yemen—the violations for which it was listed," Human Rights Watch and 19 other groups wrote in an open letter to the secretary general. The Saudi efforts to squash criticism may even cause rights organizations to double down on their already harsh criticism of the kingdom's conduct in Yemen. Jane Kinninmont, the deputy head of the Middle East and North Africa program at Chatham House, told DW that Saudi strong-arm tactics may further damage its reputation. But, citing the US and Israel, she noted the Saudis threatened to cut funding just as a small number of other powerful countries have done. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-13 10:14:38
Iraq has approved measures requested by the International Monetary Fund to unlock loans that should help the country overcome a cash crunch caused by declining oil revenue, a senior government official said. The agreement, reached last month between Iraq and the IMF, "is on track", Mudher Salih, an adviser on financial policy to Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, told Reuters late on Sunday. Among the measures approved are settling by the end of the year all arrears owed to foreign oil companies operating in Iraq, Salih said. He did not say how much was owed. The OPEC nation sought budget support from the international community after a collapse in oil prices over the past two years. The drop in revenue that resulted caused the public deficit to widen and delayed payments to foreign oil producers. The IMF in May agreed to provide $5.4 billion over three years. But the funds are conditional on Iraq's implementing measures to cut spending, increasing non-oil revenue and settling several billion dollars in arrears to oil companies. The Iraqi government approved the measures at a meeting last week and informed the IMF, Salih said in an interview. Baghdad expects the IMF board to approve by the end of June or early July the disbursement of a first tranche of about $600 million, he added. The reforms include a tax increase, higher electricity fees and better banking supervision to fight corruption and money laundering, Salih said. It also calls for streamlining state-owned companies and auditing the bloated public payroll to purge so-called "ghost employees" who don't show up to work, he said. The crash in global oil prices since 2014 came as Iraq needed more resources to fight Islamic State, the ultra-hardline group that seized vast tracts of the north and west, displacing about four million people. A recent increase in oil prices, to $50 a barrel from below $30 earlier this year, will not delay the reforms, Salih said. The agreement with the IMF should unlock a total of $18 billion in international assistance over three years, Finance Minister Hoshiyar Zebari has said. He cited the World Bank and the Group of Seven leading industrialized nations among the donors, along with the IMF. Zebari said Iraq expects to sell $2 billion in eurobonds in the last quarter of this year, when international aid starts coming in, helping to lower its cost of borrowing. Iraq last sold international debt in 2006, when it issued about $2.7 billion of bonds due in 2028 with a coupon of 5.8 percent. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-12 10:25:57
Iraqi troops attacked Islamic State positions south of Mosul on Sunday as the U.S.-led coalition intensifies its campaign against the militants on multiple fronts across their self-proclaimed caliphate. Officers involved in the operation said Iraqi forces had advanced in tanks and armored vehicles toward the village of Haj Ali, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Mosul, under cover of coalition air strikes and artillery fire. Iraqi forces are also advancing on the edge of the Islamic State bastion of Falluja further south, while in Syria U.S.-backed forces are encircling the militant-held town of Manbij. Iraqi troops were deployed to the northern Makhmour area earlier this year and launched an operation in March touting it as the beginning of a bigger campaign to retake Mosul - the largest city under militant control. Since then, Iraqi forces have captured a handful of villages on the eastern bank of the river Tigris. The commander of the operation blamed the slow pace on a lack of tanks and said he did not have enough men to hold ground after it was retaken from the militants. Last week, an armored brigade was deployed to Makhmour, along with boats and bridges to enable troops to cross the Tigris river to the Islamic State hub of Qayara on its western bank. Qayara is home to an airfield that will serve as a key staging ground for the future operation to recapture Mosul, and control of the oil town would also isolate territory the militants control further south and east. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-12 08:31:54
Dubai International Airport, the world's busiest airport for international travel, closed its airspace for 69 minutes due to unauthorized drone activity on Saturday, causing 22 flights to be diverted, aviation authorities said. Government-owned Dubai Airports, which operates Dubai's two main airports, said in a statement the closure lasted between 11:36 a.m. and 12:45 p.m. (0639-0745 GMT), and Dubai Airports chief executive Paul Griffiths said thousands of passengers suffered disruption to their journeys. Sixteen of the diverted flights went to Dubai World Central, Dubai's other main airport, a Dubai Airports spokesperson told Reuters. Dubai, a trade, tourism and investment hub for the Gulf region, is one of seven emirates that make up the United Arab Emirates (UAE). "This is a very serious incident and we obviously take the safety of our customers and our staff extremely seriously," Griffiths told Dubai's Dubaieye 103.8 radio. "As you can imagine, this is the busiest international airport in the world and there was major inconvenience to thousands of passengers ... There are very clear restrictions and no fly zones around all airports in the UAE, saying that this type of activity is actually illegal." The flying of drones is prohibited within 5 km (3 miles) of airports, helipads, landing areas or manned aircraft in the UAE. Around the world the use of civil drones, whether for commercial purposes or just as a leisure activity, is rising. That popularity has led to increasing reports of near-misses with commercial aircraft, such as when a Lufthansa plane was approaching Warsaw airport last month. Aviation concerns focus on smaller drones, operated like model planes and flown for recreation, because their users are often not familiar with the rules of the air. The UK's Civil Aviation Authority issued a warning in July 2015 after seven incidents where drones had flown near planes at different British airports in less than a year. Recognizing the threat, the European Commission conceded in 2015 that "drone accidents will happen" and has charged its aviation safety agency arm with developing common rules for operating drones in Europe. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-12 08:19:32
Islamic State militants claimed responsibility for car and suicide bomb blasts that killed at least eight people and injured scores in a suburb of the Syrian capital Damascus on Saturday, the IS-affiliated Amaq news agency said. The Sayeda Zeinab suburb contains Syria's holiest Shi'ite shrine and is a base for Shi'ite militant groups from Lebanon and Iraq who are on the side of President Bashar al-Assad in the country's five-year-old civil war. Amaq news agency said that in Saturday's attack, militants detonated an explosives-laden car in Sayeda Zeinab while two suicide bombers blew themselves up nearby. Syrian state media showed footage of wide-scale damage in a busy marketplace. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-11 08:38:05
Two blasts have rocked the south Damascus suburb of Sayyida Zeinab, resulting in a number of casualties, Syrian state TV reports. At least one of the attacks was caused by a car bomb. Sayyida Zeinab is home to Syria's holiest Shia Muslim shrine. The neighbourhood has been hit by a number of attacks. Two bombings earlier this year - both claimed by the so-called Islamic State - killed more than 150 people. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-09 11:58:18
France has deployed special forces in northern Syria to advise the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) fighting the Islamic State group, a defence ministry official said Thursday. "The offensive at Manbij is clearly being backed by a certain number of states including France. It's the usual support -- it's advisory," the official told AFP, without giving further details on the deployment. France until now has only acknowledged the presence in the region of around 150 members of its special forces, deployed in Iraqi Kurdistan. The SDF, a US-backed Kurdish and Arab alliance, are on the northern edge of Manbij, a strategic town held by IS group that serves as a waypoint between the Turkish border and the jihadists' stronghold of Raqa. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-08 10:15:21
The United States said Tuesday that Bashar al-Assad's vow to recapture "every inch" of Syria was discouraging and urged Russia and Iran to pressure their ally into respecting a ceasefire. The Syrian leader made the threat in his first address to a newly-installed parliament in Damascus, calling into question his commitment to a UN-led peace process and a truce between government and opposition forces. "We have no choice but victory," he said, to applause from a parliament elected under civil war conditions in a vote that Washington and Assad's other international critics have not recognized as legitimate. US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said the belligerent speech was unsurprising and dubbed it "vintage Assad," adding that Washington would call on Russia, its co-chair of the International Syria Support Group (ISSG), to restrain its ally. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-08 09:37:42
The Saudi cabinet has approved a major plan to diversify the national economy away from oil and to generate 450,000 non-government jobs by 2020. The National Transformation Programme (NTP) 2020, endorsed by cabinet late Monday, also seeks to cut the share of public wages in the budget to 40 percent over the next five years, and to boost the contribution of the private sector. NTP is one of several programmes designed to achieve the goals of the Saudi Vision 2030, an 84-page document released in April by Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, 30, who is leading the reform charge. At the heart of Vision 2030 is a plan to float less than five percent of state oil firm Saudi Aramco on the stock market. The proceeds would become part of the world's largest state investment fund, with $2 trillion in assets. Profits from the investment fund would help economic diversification and provide an alternative to oil revenues that have fallen by about half since 2014. The collapse has accelerated Saudi efforts to move away from petroleum which still accounts for the bulk of government income in the kingdom, which projected a deficit of $87 billion this year. More»
Amwal Al Ghad English - 2016-06-07 11:06:30
The United Nations said on Monday it had removed the Saudi Arabia-led coalition fighting in Yemen from a child rights blacklist pending a joint review by the world body and the coalition of the cases of child deaths and injuries. More»