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NATO expands Iraq mission up to 4000 soldiers

NATO is expanding its mission in Iraq to about 4000 soldiers. This was decided by the Alliance's defence ministers, as NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg announced. The aim is to prevent the jihadist militia "Islamic State" from gaining strength again.

NATO has been training security forces in Iraq since 2017. So far, the training and advisory mission has a maximum strength of 500 soldiers, of which around 300 are currently in the country, according to the alliance. Iraqi soldiers are trained in particular in the defusing of explosive devices, maintenance and medical care. In addition, they are advising the Iraqi Ministry of Defence and other security authorities.

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Iraq attack: Twin suicide bombings in central Baghdad kill 20
Iraq attack: Twin suicide bombings in central Baghdad kill 20
Credit: Twitter (Reproduction)

Twin suicide bombings ripped through a busy market in the Iraqi capital Thursday, killing at least 28 people and wounding 73 others, officials said.

No one immediately took responsibility for the attack, but Iraqi military officials said it was the Islamic State group's work.

Iraq's military said at least 28 people were killed and 73 wounded in the attack and said some of the injured were in serious condition. Health and police officials said the toll might be higher. They spoke on condition of anonymity in line with regulations.

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US ‘terrorist’ designation of Yemen’s Houthis comes into effect

Just days before the now-former President Donald Trump was set to leave office, his administration announced plans to label the Houthis a “foreign terrorist organization” – effectively barring US citizens and entities from interacting financially with the group.

The designation came into effect on Tuesday, just as the US Treasury Department released details of limited licensing exemptions to the restrictions. For months, international aid groups providing much-needed aid to civilians hard hit by a devastating conflict in Yemen have warned that their work could be disrupted by the US designation of the Houthis – and urged the Trump administration not to do it. But US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on January 10 said the measure aimed “to hold Ansarallah accountable for its terrorist acts, including cross-border attacks threatening civilian populations, infrastructure, and commercial shipping”.

Human rights and humanitarian groups, as well as US lawmakers, are also urging the recently inaugurated US President Joe Biden to rescind the designation. The United Nations’ humanitarian chief last week called for the US to reverse the decision, saying it could lead to “large-scale famine on a scale that we have not seen for nearly 40 years”.

Biden’s incoming national security adviser also recently criticized the move.

Regional News • Middle East
20 per cent of all Israelis have been vaccinated against Covid-19
20 per cent of all Israelis have been vaccinated against Covid-19
Credit: Ashley Winkler for Pendect

The Israeli Health Minister Juli Edelstein announced that around 1.8 million Israelis had received the first vaccination dose. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also received his second vaccination against the coronavirus on Saturday evening. Israel is currently in its third Corona lockdown, as infection numbers had risen significantly again by the end of the year.

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Iran renews Interpol request to arrest Donald Trump, 47 other U.S. officials
U.S. President Donald J. Trump
U.S. President Donald J. Trump Credit: Gage Skidmore (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Iranian judiciary spokesman Gholamhossein Esmaili announced during a press conference on Tuesday that Iran has requested the international police organisation to arrest Trump and 47 other American officials identified as playing a role in the assassination of top general Qassem Soleimani last year.

Soleimani, Iran's top general who led the foreign operations arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, was assassinated on January 3, 2020, in a US drone strike in Baghdad ordered by Trump. In a ceremony in Tehran to mark Soleimani's assassination anniversary, judiciary chief Ebrahim Raisi said Trump was a main target of prosecution and should not be immune because of his political status.

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Saudi Arabia lifts the blockade of Qatar
Mohammed bin Salman and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani
Mohammed bin Salman and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani Credit: bandaralgaloud (Instagram)

In a major thawing of relations, leaders from Saudi Arabia and its regional allies reached a breakthrough agreement with Qatar on Tuesday, ending three and a half years of impasse and restoring ties between the Arabian Gulf neighbours. The agreement brokered by Kuwait and the United States, among others, took place at an annual summit of Gulf Arab leaders, with White House senior adviser Jared Kushner in attendance, along with Avi Berkowitz, special representative for international negotiations.

Prince Faisal bin Farhan told a news conference after the annual GCC gathering in the city of Al-Ula, also attended by Egypt, that there were political will and good faith to guarantee the implementation of the agreement to restore diplomatic and other ties, including the resumption of flights.

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Iran told IAEA it is enriching uranium with 20% purity

On January 1, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) said the Iranian government had told the watchdog it planned to resume enrichment up to 20% at Fordo site, buried inside a mountain. The announcement would put Tehran's program a technical step away from weapons-grade levels.

The Iranian government spokesman Ali Rabeie said, "A few minutes ago, the process of producing 20% enriched uranium has started in Fordo enrichment complex."

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Saudi Arabia: Temporary travel ban ended and international flights resumed

Saudi Arabia lifted its temporary travel ban on 11 o'clock Sunday after closing borders following the UK's new Coronavirus strain detection. The ministry of interior announced lifting the “precautionary measures related to the spread of a new variant of coronavirus” in a statement.

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Israel: 1 million people vaccinated against coronavirus
The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, visits the vaccination center of the Maccabi Healthcare Services in Jerusalem. Wednesday, December 30, 2020. Photo credit: Haim Tzach / GPO.
The President of Israel, Reuven Rivlin, visits the vaccination center of the Maccabi Healthcare Services in Jerusalem. Wednesday, December 30, 2020. Photo credit: Haim Tzach / GPO. Credit: Haim Zach / Government Press Office (Israel), Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 3.0)

Over a million people in Israel have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, the highest amount for a country globally. This results in 11.55 in 100 people being vaccinated, compared to 1.47 in 100 people in the UK. Israel started vaccinations on December 19th with a rate of 150,000 vaccinations per day.

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Syria: at least 25 killed in ambush on bus

A bus was attacked in Syria’s eastern Deir Az Zor province. 13 were wounded and sources report 25-30 people were killed. The bus carried soldiers and pro-government fighters on their way back to their base. There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack.

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Special Report: UAE shipping firm is helping Venezuela avoid U.S. oil sanctions

Tankers managed by firms based in the United Arab Emirates have transported millions of barrels of oil produced by state-run Petroleos de Venezuela SA, or PDVSA, since June, according to the internal documents and a publicly available shipping database. A shipping document shows that on July 31, the newly rebranded ships under a newly rebranded firm set sail carrying some 650,000 barrels of Venezuelan Boscan crude after a ship-to-ship transfer from the Alasfal, a Crude Oil Tanker flagged in Liberia, off Venezuela's coast.

The three supertankers - the Kelly, Marbella and Rene - each transported nearly 2 million barrels of Venezuelan crude and fuel in the first half of 2020 after coming under Issa's management, a batch of internal PDVSA shipping documents show.

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Explosion at Yemen airport after arrival of new government
Explosion at Yemen airport after arrival of new government
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

A heavy explosion occurred at the airport in the Yemeni city of Aden on Wednesday. According to witnesses, the incident occurred shortly after the landing of a plane coming from Saudi Arabia carrying Yemen's new government.

However, the head of the government and its members are fine, according to Information Minister Muammar Al-Erjani. "We assure our people that all cabinet members are safe," he wrote via Twitter. He said it was a "cowardly terrorist attack by the Iran-backed Huthi militia."

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UK Coronavirus strain detected in Israel
UK Coronavirus strain detected in Israel
Credit: Talmoryair, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

Four cases of the new potent Coronavirus strain have been detected in Israel, the country's health ministry reported Wednesday. Three of the cases had just returned from England. They are isolating at a hotel that is used as a coronavirus quarantine facility. The new strain has first emerged in the United Kingdom.

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Saudi Arabia suspends all international flights for a week
Saudi Arabia suspends all international flights for a week
Credit: Stefan Krasowski from New York, NY, USA, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

Saudi Arabia has suspended all international flights for travellers, as well as entry through land and seaports for a week following the detection of a faster-spreading Covid-19 variant in the United Kingdom.

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Morocco also recognizes Israel as a sovereign state
Morocco also recognizes Israel as a sovereign state
Credit: unsplash.com / emrecan arık

After the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan, Morocco now also wants to normalize relations with Israel. U.S. President Donald Trump declared via Twitter that the two states had agreed to establish "full diplomatic relations." Liaison offices were to be opened immediately in Rabat and Tel Aviv, and ultimately there would also be the opening of reciprocal embassies.

Regional News • Middle East
Iran's top nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh assassinated, according to state media
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's car after the alleged assassination
Mohsen Fakhrizadeh's car after the alleged assassination Credit: Fars News Agency, via Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution 4.0)

Mohsen Fakhrizadeh, Iran's top nuclear scientist, has been assassinated near Tehran on Friday, according Iran's semi-official news agency ISNA. Fakhrizadeh was injured after armed assassins fired at his car and died later in the hospital.

"Terrorists murdered an eminent Iranian scientist today," Iranian Foreign Minister Zarif said in a tweet. "This cowardice -- with serious indications of Israeli role -- shows desperate warmongering of perpetrators Iran calls on int'l community -- and especially EU -- to end their shameful double standards & condemn this act of state terror."

Ali Akbar Velayati, international affairs adviser to Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, stated that "the Iranian nation will avenge the blood of this great martyr from the terrorist elements and their supporters."

On Saturday, Iran's president Hassan Rouhani accused Israel of the assassination, saying that "once again, the evil hands of Global Arrogance and the Zionist (Israeli) mercenaries were stained with the blood of an Iranian son" and adding "Iran will surely respond to the martyrdom of our scientist at the proper time." Israel has not responded to the accusation yet.

Regional News • Middle East
Scientist considered as the architect of the Iranian nuclear program assassinated

A leading Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh was assassinated near the capital Tehran on Friday, Iran's Defense Ministry announced on state television. Iran's state media reports that the scientist died during an attack in the Absard area of the province of Damavand, about 60 kilometres east of Tehran.

Western officials and experts believe Fakhrizadeh played a pivotal role in suspected Iranian work in the past to develop the means to assemble a nuclear warhead behind the facade of a declared civilian uranium enrichment programme.

In 2018, Netanyahu gave a presentation in which he unveiled what he described as material stolen by Israel from an Iranian nuclear archive and showed a photograph of Fakhrizadeh.

Regional News • Middle East
Kabul: Rockets strike residential areas, several killed

Twenty-three rockets have struck Kabul, Afghan, hitting areas in the centre and the north. According to Tariq Arian, spokesman for the interior ministry, the rockets were fired from a small truck. The regional Islamic State group claimed responsibility. At least eight people have been killed, over 30 wounded.

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Mike Pompeo makes unprecedented visit to Israeli settlement in West Bank
Mike Pompeo makes unprecedented visit to Israeli settlement in West Bank
Credit: Twitter Reproduction

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has toured a Jewish settlement in the Israeli-occupied West Bank - the first such visit by a top US official.

Israel’s military occupation has received a symbolic US stamp of approval after Mike Pompeo toured an archaeological dig run by a far-right settler group and visited a settlement that farms grapes on land Palestinians say was stolen from them.

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Economic crisis hits Turkey's population hard
Economic crisis hits Turkey's population hard
Credit: unsplash.com / Osman Köycü

In Turkey, at least 38% percent of the households haven't a monthly income which is sufficient to buy enough food. The consume of red meat sunk by 30 % in the last twelve months, while noodles, one of the cheapest kinds of foods, is up by 25 %. The coalition partner of President Erdogan's AKP, the MHP set up a program to hand out free loaves of bread, which was criticised by the President himself for he claims that the situation isn't that bad.

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Islamic laws get less priority in United Arab Emirates in exchange for personal freedoms
Islamic laws get less priority in United Arab Emirates in exchange for personal freedoms
Credit: unsplash.com / Ainur Kamaev

With newly announced reform plans the United Arab Emirates aim to boost the country’s economic and social standing and “consolidate the UAE’s principles of tolerance,” according to the state-run WAM news agency.

As of now, it's unclear how the new regulations will put into law, but according to the report they aim to "protect women’s rights," and get rid of laws defending "honor crimes".

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Continued protests against Netanyahu: assaults against protesters reported
Continued protests against Netanyahu: assaults against protesters reported
Credit: Courtesy of Twitter

During protests against the Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, several assaults against protestors have been reported at different locations in the country. At his official residence in Jerusalem, around 6,000 people have reportedly protested against him.

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Trump: "We're getting your husbands back to work"

At his Michigan rally, President Donald Trump told attendees that he is helping women's husbands to get back to work, in a remark that was wildly called out as sexist.

"I'm also getting your husbands, they want to get back to work, right? They want to get back to work. We're getting your husbands back to work, and everybody wants it," so the president. "We're going to do great. And I love women, and I can't help it. They're the greatest. I love them much more than the men."

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UN's atomic watchdog: Underground nuclear facility being built in Iran
UN's atomic watchdog: Underground nuclear facility being built in Iran
Credit: unsplash.com / Jakob Madsen

The United Nation's atomic watchdog has confirmed that Iran has been building an underground centrifuge assembly plant. Satellite images have not yet shown any signs of construction. Rafael Grossi, director-general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, reported that the facility has not been completed yet and further information were confidential.

The country's old facility exploded in what was called "a sabotage attack" during summer.

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Ceasefire in Libya agreed upon

According to the UN, the two opponents in the civil war have signed an agreement for a ceasefire in Geneva. Military representatives of Prime Minister Fayez Sarraj and General Khalifa Haftar had been in Switzerland since Monday to prepare political talks on Libya's future.

The internationally recognized government of Sarraj, based in the capital Tripoli, has been fighting for years against Haftar and a counter-parliament in Tobruk in eastern Libya for power. According to experts, about 1400 Russian mercenaries are currently fighting in Libya.

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Armenia, Azerbaijan accuse each other of breaking new truce
Shushan Stepanyan post on Twitter
Shushan Stepanyan post on Twitter Credit: Twitter (Reproduction)

Armenia and Azerbaijan have accused each other of violating a humanitarian ceasefire that came into force midnight on Sunday. In the early hours of Sunday, Azerbaijan fired artillery shells and rockets. This was reported by Shusan Stepanyan, a spokeswoman for Armenia’s defence ministry. Azerbaijan later accused Armenia of breaking the truce.

The countries have been fighting over Azerbaijan’s ethnic Armenian-controlled enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh.

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Israel: Protests demanding resignation of the PM Benjamin Netanyahu
Protests against Netanyahu, July 2020
Protests against Netanyahu, July 2020 Credit: Nir Hirshman (ניר הירשמן) / Nir Hirshman Communication / Wikimedia Commons (Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 4.0)

On Sunday, thousands of demonstrators gathered outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s official residence in central Jerusalem to demand his resignation. Protests have been happening throughout the summer. Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption charges.

People were protesting even though Israel has been under a strict nationwide lockdown since Friday.

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U.S. unilaterally declares U.N. sanctions on Iran are back in force
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo Credit: Bundesministerium für europäische und internationale Angelegenheiten (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

The United States unilaterally proclaimed on Saturday that United Nations sanctions against Iran are back in force. The U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said "Today, the United States welcomes the return of virtually all previously terminated UN sanctions on the Islamic Republic of Iran."

Pompeo also stated "If UN member states fail to fulfill their obligations to implement these sanctions, the United States is prepared to use our domestic authorities to impose consequences for those failures and ensure that Iran does not reap the benefits of UN-prohibited activity."

In a joint letter to the U.N. Security Council, France, Germany, and United Kingdom said "Any decision or action taken with a view to re-installing [the sanctions] would be incapable of legal effect."

And the Russian foreign ministry stated "The illegitimate initiatives and actions of the United States by definition cannot have international legal consequences for other countries."

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Israel three-week lockdown to start on September 18
Benjamin Netanyahu
Benjamin Netanyahu Credit: Hudson Institute (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)

The Israeli government agreed to impose a three-week nationwide lockdown that would go into effect on Friday at 11:00 UTC, on the eve of Rosh Hashana holiday. The country will be the first to reimpose restrictions on a national scale.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu stated in a press briefing that warnings by health officials led to the government's decision, which would restrict Israelis to a 500-meter radius of their residence.

With the country already hit by a deep, pandemic-induced recession, the decision to reinstate lockdown has divided the government and the nation.

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Israel goes back into complete lockdown
Israel goes back into complete lockdown
Credit: unsplash.com / Daniel Lerman

With 4.038 newly reported Covid-19 cases on Thursday, Israel has reached the highest one-day value of new cases in the country since the beginning of the pandemic for the fourth consecutive day.

The Covid-19 cabinet has now decided in favor of a new two-week lockdown, pending the approval of the government. Israelis would then be only allowed to move up to 500 meters away from their home. Schools, restaurants and shops would be closed.