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US legislators introduce bills targeting Chinese tech companies

Bipartisan bills seek to ban sales of US chips, parts to Chinese firms violating US sanctions or export control laws.


A bipartisan group of legislators in the United States has introduced bills that would prohibit the sale of US chips or other components to Chinese telecommunications companies that violate Washington’s sanctions or export control laws.

The proposed law was introduced on Wednesday shortly before the Wall Street Journal reported that US authorities are in the “advanced” stages of a criminal probe that could result in an indictment of Chinese technology giant Huawei, the second-largest global smartphone maker and biggest producer of telecommunications equipment.

Citing anonymous sources, the Journal said that an indictment could be coming soon on allegations that Huawei stole Tappy, a T-Mobile technology which mimicked human fingers and was used to test smartphones.

Huawei said in a statement the company and T-Mobile settled their disputes in 2017 following a US jury verdict that found “neither damage, unjust enrichment nor willful and malicious conduct by Huawei in T-Mobile’s trade secret claim”.

Huawei’s challenges in US market

On Capitol Hill, the bills introduced by Senator Tom Cotton and Representative Mike Gallagher, both Republicans, along with Senator Chris Van Hollen and Representative Ruben Gallego, both Democrats, specifically cite Huawei and ZTE, both of which are viewed with suspicion in the US because of fears that their switches and other gear could be used to spy on US citizens.

Both have also been accused of failing to respect US sanctions on Iran.

“Huawei is effectively an intelligence-gathering arm of the Chinese Communist Party whose founder and CEO was an engineer for the People’s Liberation Army,” Cotton wrote in a statement. “If Chinese telecom companies like Huawei violate our sanctions or export control laws, they should receive nothing less than the death penalty – which this denial order would provide.”

The move is the latest in a long list of actions taken to fight what some in Washington call China’s cheating through intellectual property theft, illegal corporate subsidies and rules hampering US corporations that want to sell their goods in China.

The proposed law and investigation are two of several challenges that Huawei faces in the US market.

In addition to allegations of sanctions-busting and intellectual property theft, Washington has been pressing allies to refrain from buying Huawei’s switches and other gear because of fears they will be used by Beijing for espionage.

‘Huawei would not share user secrets’

Ren Zhengfei, the founder of Huawei, denied this week that his company was used by the Chinese government to spy.

In his most direct public response to accusations that his company is controlled by the ruling Communist Party, or is required to facilitate Chinese spying, Ren said on Tuesday that his company would refuse to disclose secrets about its customers and their communication networks.

“We would definitely say no to such a request,” Ren said in a rare meeting with foreign reporters.

Canada detained Ren’s daughter, Meng Wanzhou, who is Huawei’s chief financial officer, in December at the request of US authorities investigating an alleged scheme to use the global banking system to evade Washington’s sanctions against Iran.

The case of Meng, who has denied wrongdoing and is under house arrest awaiting proceedings, has heightened tensions between the US and China, as well as between Ottawa and Beijing.



British PM Theresa May survives no-confidence vote

Prime Minister invites all opposition leaders for Brexit talks after narrowly escaping defeat with 325-306 margin.


Embattled British Prime Minister Theresa May survived a no-confidence vote on Wednesday, a day after members of parliament dealt a crushing blow to the Brexit plan she negotiated with the European Union.

Parliament members voted 325 to 306 against the motion called by Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour party, who had earlier urged May to resign.

It was expected that May would survive the vote, after she secured the backing of her own party’s rebels and the small Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), which props up her minority government.

“I am pleased that this House has expressed its confidence in this government tonight,” May said, welcoming the result and vowing to continue to “deliver on the result of the [Brexit] referendum”.

“My government will continue its work to increase our prosperity, guarantee our security and to strengthen our union.”

“We have a responsibility to identify a way forward that can secure the backing of the House,” she said.

With her leadership secure for the time being, May has to decide the next step as the March 29 deadline for Britain’s departure from the EU, or Brexit, looms.

The prime minister has ruled out calling a general election, saying that it would be the “worst thing” Britain could do now.

“It would deepen division when we need unity, it would bring chaos when we need certainty and it would bring delay when we need to move forward,” May told parliament.

The other options on the table are a second referendum, a renegotiation with the EU or a departure from the bloc without a deal.

May pledged to work with senior politicians to find a compromise that would avoid a disorderly “no-deal” Brexit or another referendum on membership.

The prime minister held talks with representatives from the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party  and Welsh party Plaid Cymru, but said she was “disappointed” that Corbyn chose not to take part in discussions.

She said that her door remains open to Labour, calling on lawmakers to “put self interest aside” and “work constructively together” to find a way forward for Brexit.

Corbyn said he was willing to meet May to discuss the way forward if she agreed to take a no-deal Brexit “off the table.”


During the debate at parliament on Wednesday, Corbyn said that the Brexit vote on Tuesday night had left May’s government ineffective to deliver on her promise.

“This government has failed our country. It cannot govern, it cannot command the support of the people, facing the most important issue at the moment, which is Brexit,” said Corbyn, who opposes a second referendum.

Following the vote on Wednesday, Corbyn called on May to “remove clearly” the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, “and all the chaos that would come as a result of that”.

John McDonnell, Labour’s finance spokesperson, said May could eventually get a deal through parliament if she negotiated a compromise with the opposition party, which wants a permanent customs union with the EU, a close relationship with its single market and greater protections for workers and consumers.

But May’s spokesman said it was still government policy to be outside an EU customs union, while May insisted Britain would leave the bloc on March 29, leaving little time for a solution to be found.

For its part, the SNP urged May to rule out a no-deal Brexit and agree that the possibilities of extending the Brexit negotiations and holding a second referendum remain on the table.



Kenya attack death toll rises to 21 with 50 still missing

More than 700 people were rescued after the hotel complex was attacked, but dozens remain unaccounted for.


Kenyan security forces have killed all five attackers who stormed an upscale Nairobi hotel complex, taking at least 21 lives and causing hundreds to flee, according to authorities.

At least 50 people believed to have been in the compound remained unaccounted for on Wednesday, the Kenya Red Cross said, raising the possibility of a higher final death toll.

The al-Shabab armed group, an al-Qaeda affiliate, said it carried out the attack in the Kenyan capital in response to US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Two people accused of facilitating the attack have been arrested.

Of the victims, 16 were Kenyan, one was British, one was from the United States and three were of African descent but their nationalities were not yet identified, police said.

Uhuru Kenyatta, the president of Kenya, announced the end of the 20-hour siege at the DusitD2 complex that echoed a 2013 assault that killed 67 people at the Westgate mall in the same district.

“The security operation at Dusit complex is over and all the terrorists have been eliminated,” Kenyatta said in a televised address on Wednesday.

Authorities sent special forces into the hotel to flush out the gunmen. The president said more than 700 civilians were evacuated from the complex.


Tormented night

It was a tormented night for families of those trapped as they waited outside the hotel with sporadic gunfire ringing out, and the rescue of dozens of people at about 3:30am (00:30GMT).


Mourning relatives and friends gathered at a nearby mortuary on Wednesday. Families who went to the Chiromo morgue were told they could not view bodies until a forensic investigation had been performed, provoking grief and anger.

“My sister is not in any of the hospitals and the last time we spoke she was a bit calm. But suddenly she started crying and shouting and I could hear gunshots and her phone remained on but she wasn’t speaking,” said a woman who gave her name as Njoki.

“We have no doubt her body is here,” she said, weeping.

Coordinated attack

CCTV footage broadcast on local media showed four black-clad, heavily armed men entering the complex.

According to Kenya’s police chief, Joseph Boinnet, the coordinated assault began at 3pm local time (12:00 GMT) on Tuesday with an explosion that targeted three vehicles outside a bank, and a suicide bombing in the hotel lobby that severely wounded a number of guests.

Hiram Macharia, a marketing executive at LG Electronics, said security officers rescued him and some colleagues from their office two hours after the attack began. But one colleague did not survive.

“One of our colleagues went to the top of the building and his body was found there,” he said.

A police source told AFP news agency two attackers were shot dead on Wednesday morning after a prolonged shootout.

“The two have red bandanas tied around their forehead and bullets strapped around their chest with several magazines each,” the senior police officer said. “Each had an AK-47 which has been secured.”

The attack at DusitD2 was the first in Nairobi since the Westgate mall attack in 2013.

On April 2, 2015, another al-Shabab attack killed 148 people at the university in Garissa, in eastern Kenya.

The Westgate attack resulted in many upscale establishments and shopping centres in the capital – including the Dusit – putting up security barriers to check cars and pedestrians.

Like the attack at the Westgate Mall, this one appeared aimed at wealthy Kenyans and foreigners.

It came a day after a magistrate ruled three men must stand trial in connection with the Westgate Mall siege.




Civilians, US troops killed in blast in northern Syria

Suicide bomber strikes area near a US-led coalition patrol in the Kurdish-held Syrian town of Manbij.

Several people, including US troops, were reportedly killed after a blast struck near a US-led coalition patrol in the northern Syrian town of Manbij on Wednesday.

The US-led coalition confirmed on Twitter that US troops were killed during the explosion, but did not elaborate on the number of casualties. It said it was still gathering information about the attack.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said that 20 people were killed, including five US soldiers.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Kurdish-led Manbij Military Council, which administers the town, said the attack occurred near a restaurant.

A website linked to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) claimed responsibility, saying an attacker used an explosive vest to carry out the attack.


A screen grab taken from a video obtained by AFPTV on January 16, 2019, shows US troops gathered at the scene of a suicide attack in the northern Syrian town of Manbij [ANHA/AFP] 


Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency said wounded US soldiers were transferred to a hospital by helicopter.

Videos released by local activists and news agencies showed a restaurant that suffered extensive damage and a street covered in debris and blood. Several cars were also damaged. Another video showed a helicopter flying over the area. The videos could not be immediately verified.

‘We’ll stay to fight so ISIL doesn’t rear ugly head’

The attack comes as the US begins the process of withdrawing about 2,000 troops from Syria. If the death toll is confirmed, it would be the deadliest attack on US forces in Syria since they deployed on the ground there in 2015.

Last month, US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal announcement surprised many politicians in Washington as well as Western and Kurdish allies fighting alongside the US against ISIL.

The move prompted US Secretary of Defense James Mattis to resign, and the top US envoy in the anti-ISIL fight, Brett McGurk, to leave his post earlier than expected.

Trump’s decision was initially expected to be carried out swiftly, but the timetable became vague in the weeks following his announcement.

Following Wednesday’s attack, US Vice President Mike Pence said his country “will stay in the region … to fight to ensure that ISIS does not rear its ugly head again”.

Speaking to a gathering of US ambassadors at the State Department, Pence said, “We will protect the gains that our soldiers and our coalition partners have secured”.

But, he added that the US is “now actually able to hand off the fight against ISIS in Syria to our coalition partners and we are bringing troops home.”

Pence declared ISIL “defeated” without referencing Wednesday’s attack.

US-led coalition forces have been targeted in the area before, although such incidents have been rare.

In March last year, a roadside bomb killed two coalition personnel, an American and UK national, and wounded five in Manbij.


syrian kurds

Syria’s Kurdish fighters ready to help set up ‘safe zone’

SDF says zone must come with guarantees to stop ‘foreign intervention’, in apparent reference to Turkey.


The Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) has said it will support efforts to establish a safe zone in northeastern Syria.

The SDF, a coalition of armed groups backed by the US and led by the Kurdish YPG (People’s Protection Units), said the zone must have “international guarantees…that would prevent foreign intervention”, in an apparent reference to Turkey.

“We will offer all the support and assistance to set up the safe zone that is being discussed, in a way that guarantees the protection of all co-existing sects and ethnicities from annihilation,” the group said in a statement on Wednesday.

It also said it hoped to ensure stability at the border region by reaching agreements with Turkey, which has vowed to crush the YPG.

The idea of a safe zone was suggested by US President Donald Trump on Twitter on Sunday, although he did not elaborate.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday he had discussed such a zone which Turkey would set up inside Syria along the length of their border, during a phone call with Trump.

Erdogan’s comments came a day after he had a telephone conversation with Trump to ease tensions after the US leader threatened to “devastate” the Turkish economy if Ankara attacks Kurdish forces in Syria.

Earlier on Wednesday, a political leader of the Syrian Kurdish alliance Movement for a Democratic Society, said it would accept the deployment of United Nations forces along the separation line between Kurdish fighters and Turkish troops, in order to ward off a threatened offensive.

“Other choices are unacceptable as they infringe on the sovereignty of Syria and the sovereignty of our autonomous region,” Aldar Khalil told AFP news agency.

Russia, meanwhile, said only its ally, the Syrian military, should police the war-torn country’s north.

The YPG has been the key US ally in the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS), with an estimated 50,000 of its soldiers killed.

The anti-ISIL campaign is now nearing its conclusion with the group’s fighters confined to an ever-shrinking enclave of just 15 square kilometres in Syria.

Ankara regards the YPG as an offshoot of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a deadly war for autonomy in southeastern Turkey since 1984, and describes the armed group as “terrorists”.

Syrian control

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said on Wednesday the Syrian government must take control of the country’s north.

“We are convinced that the best and only solution is the transfer of these territories under the control of the Syrian government, and of Syrian security forces and administrative structures,” Lavrov told reporters.

Russia is a long-time supporter of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Lavrov said the future of the Kurds could be secured under regime control.

“We welcome and support contacts that have now begun between Kurdish representatives and Syrian authorities so they can return to their lives under a single government without outside interference,” Lavrov said.

He said there was progress in resolving Syria’s nearly eight-year war that has killed hundreds of thousands of people, and the focus should remain on Idlib – the northwestern province that earlier this month fell under the full control of Hay’et Tahrir al-Sham, an armed group dominated by Syria’s former al-Qaeda affiliate.

“The Syrian settlement is progressing, though of course more slowly than we would like,” Lavrov said. “The fight against terrorism must be completed. Now the main hotbed of terrorism is Idlib.”

Trump-Erdogan call

Erdogan said he had a “quite positive” telephone conversation with Trump late on Monday where he reaffirmed “a 20-mile [30-kilometre] security zone along the Syrian border […] will be set up by us”.

The Syrian Kurdish leader said he regretted the US proposal to give Turkey control over the security zone.

“Sadly, Trump wants to implement these safe regions through cooperation with Turkey. But any role for Turkey will upset the balance and the region will not be safe,” Khalil said.

“On the contrary, Turkey is a party [to the dispute] and any party cannot guarantee security.”

Turkey has threatened to attack the YPG in the Syrian city of Manbij.

The Turkish army previously launched two major operations in Syria since 2016.

The last offensive saw Turkish troops and their Syrian rebel allies overrun the enclave of Afrin that was under the control of the YPG and its political arm, Democratic Union Party (PYD), in the northwest – one of several governed by the militia.


{SOURCE: al-jazeera and NEWS AGENCIES}
yemen drone houthi

Houthi drone targets senior Yemeni officers, kills five soldiers

Attack on southern al-Anad military base injures 20 military personnel, including the Yemeni army’s chief of staff.

Sanaa, Yemen – A Houthi drone attack has killed at least five Yemeni soldiers and wounded several senior officers from the Yemeni army, including the country’s chief of staff, a government official and Houthi spokesperson told Al Jazeera.

Thursday’s attack on a military parade at the al-Anad military base wounded at least 20 military personnel, the official said, including Mohammad Saleh Tamah, the head of Yemen’s Intelligence Service, Mohammad Jawas, a senior military commander and Ahmed al-Turki, the governor of Lahij province.

Abdul Guddoos al-Shahari, a spokesperson for the Houthis, told Al Jazeera that the Yemeni army’s chief of staff, Abdullah Al-Nakhee, was also wounded in the attack.

“Our intelligence intercepted communications between the enemy commanders in which they mentioned that the chief of staff was wounded,” al-Shahari said.

He added that drone carried between 70 and 100 kilogrammes of explosives, and was detonated while flying over the main stage of the military parade after an “accurate surveillance of the enemy commanders’ movements”.


Abdul Malik Al-Houthi, the leader of the Houthi movement, had announced a strategy of using drones and ballistic missiles in 2017. The group is at war with a Saudi-UAE-led coalition which began its military campaign in Yemen in March 2015, after the Houthis overran the capital, Sanaa, in 2014.

Since 2017, the rebels have launched several ballistic and drone attacks on neighbouring Saudi Arabia and forces in the country loyal to the Yemeni government.

The Houthi aligned al-Masirah TV network also confirmed the assault, adding it was targeting “invaders and mercenaries”.

However, a senior official from the Yemeni army tried to play down the injuries, saying the drone exploded a “far distance [away] and did not hurt anybody”

“We are all safe, our situations is good and our health is good,” General Thabit Jawas said in a widely circulated video.

However, videos circulating on social media appeared to show that the explosives detonated just metres above where Yemeni officials were seated, and in one video, an Yemeni officer appeared to be bleeding profusely from his torso.


The attack comes just a day after the UN Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, told the Security Council that a peace agreement in Sweden last month had brought a considerable de-escalation to the conflict.

Under the agreement, the first significant breakthrough in peace efforts since the war erupted in 2014, the Houthis were expected to withdraw from the strategic port city of Hodeidah and ease the siege on the southwestern city of Taiz.

The rebels said they would halt all drone and missile attacks, but tensions have risen recently over how to implement the UN-sponsored peace deal.

Both sides have accused each other of violating the agreement, and shortly after Thursday’s attack, fighter jets began hovering over the skies of the rebel-held capital, Sanaa.


Soldiers inspected the scene of the Houthi drone attack on the al-Anad air base [Reuters]
Five people were killed and 20 wounded in the drone attack according to government and Houthi sources [Reuters]
{source: al-jazeera news networks}
syria oil - bolton

Analysis: Bolton’s Syria snafu reveals oil’s biggest risk

Trump administration’s unpredictable policy and personnel swings make dangerous misunderstandings more likely.


It is difficult to tell who is more peeved at National Security Adviser John Bolton right now: his boss President Donald Trump or Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

In seeking to reassure Israel this weekend about the withdrawal of US troops from Syria, Bolton added some nuances that first prompted Trump to tweet nothing had changed and then drew outrage from Erdogan, who skipped the reassuring meeting Bolton was supposed to have with him.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo must surely be relishing the prospect of his own damage-limitation tour of the Middle East, which just got under way.

Meanwhile, in the somewhat gentler environs of Texas, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas just published the latest edition of its quarterly energy survey and quoted one anonymous oil executive saying this:

“The administration’s head fake with the Saudis regarding Iran sanctions, followed by leverage on Saudi Arabia with the Khashoggi murder, have compromised oil price market dynamics. The volatility in commodity and capital markets is unsettling, along with the challenge to the administration’s ongoing leadership posed by the Democratic majority in the House. The administration is our largest uncertainty in our business at this point, as they want low oil prices and will do everything in their power to deliver low oil prices.”

All these things are not unrelated.


Trump’s desire to pull troops out of Syria shouldn’t be a shock. Antipathy to America’s foreign entanglements has been one of the more consistent positions for this president and fits with a broader shift in the global order that predates Trump and will likely outlast him.

What did come as a shock was the way Trump sprung his decision last month, followed quickly by the resignations of defence secretary James Mattis and Brett McGurk, the US envoy overseeing efforts to defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL, ISIS). The dissonance over what exactly is happening, how and when has only grown since.

Whether or not you regard this as 10-dimensional chess or mere disarray, we can surely agree it comes across as somewhat mercurial and creates one of those margins where misunderstanding can flourish.

Scapegoating the White House?

The “head fake” over Iranian sanctions lamented by that oil executive is a good example of this in action.

The widespread assumption that Washington would tighten the screws on Iran immediately in the fall stoked an oil rally even as Saudi Arabia boosted output to offset any concerns about supply. Trump’s granting of waivers to several countries importing Iranian oil (with an eye on gasoline ahead of midterms) undercut that, coinciding with an accelerating slide in prices. Little wonder another anonymous oil boss told the Dallas Fed: “The biggest distraction to conducting business is the uncertainty provided by the erratic and dysfunctional behaviour of the current presidential administration.”

Are they scapegoating the White House to some degree? Undoubtedly. Signs of weak demand and swaps dealers scrambling to reduce risk on hedging books were also at play in the oil sell-off. Moreover, in the same Dallas Fed survey, almost half the respondents said their primary goal in 2019 was to grow production. Just seven percent prioritised returning capital to shareholders. Given the industry’s broken relationship with investors, this is the opposite of getting with the programme.

Still, the extra layer of risk emanating from Washington DC is real enough, and that’s actually a novel thing. A few years ago, oil bosses griped about this or that federal regulation. Now, they fret about geopolitical curve balls and direct interventions in the oil market – something traditionally associated with the likes of OPEC members, not the US.

If it’s a novel feeling in Houston’s c-suites, imagine how it plays in the palaces and ministries of the Middle East. A region where virtually every state has come to either rely on US support (or regard it as a reliable adversary) must now adjust to not merely a more transactional Washington, but also one with conflicting voices and a changing set of faces. In short, the risk of local governments and the US talking past each other has ratcheted up in a region where the room for misunderstanding is vanishingly small.


Saudi Arabia’s aggressive posture

It is useful that the anonymous E&P executive specifically cited the Khashoggi affair because it gets at what may be the biggest, and most unexpected, risk to emerge. The backlash against the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi clearly caught Saudi Arabia and its de facto leader, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) , off-guard. In several respects – public opinion, Congress’ freedom to take a different line than the White House – that had nothing to do with Trump per se.

But in light of the administration’s close embrace of MBS and the great lengths to which Trump went in downplaying the incident, it is legitimate to ask just how enabled the prince feels in conducting policy. That’s especially so as Saudi Arabia’s foreign posture has become notably more aggressive, in parallel with its power structure transforming away from one of consensus among the ruling family toward a more autocratic model.

The added wrinkle is Trump’s own domestic headaches, as exemplified by the current face-off with a Democratic-controlled House over his wall idea. These pressures are likely to exacerbate Trump’s penchant for dramatic moves and populist crusades, with foreign policy and gasoline prices likely to figure large (not least because they mostly lie beyond the reach of Congress).

As with last year’s waivers for Iranian sanctions, the interplay of domestic US politics, oil markets and the administration’s mixed messaging could make for many a miscalculation. Consider what might happen if, like Erdogan today, MBS made plans for a bold move assuming US backing that turned out to be less forthright than anticipated.

The relationship between Washington and Riyadh may look more solid than it has in a long time. That could be its biggest problem.


This analysis was originally published by Bloomberg News


uk stole egyptian artefact

Egypt recovers smuggled ancient artefact from London auction

It is unclear how the tablet fragment made its way from the Temple of Karnak in Luxor to the UK.


Egypt has recovered an illegally smuggled artefact from an auction hall in London, Egyptian officials have said.

The archeological item, which is part of a tablet containing hieroglyphs of the name of King Amenhotep I from the 18th dynasty, was retrieved following searches of international auction websites, Egypt’s ministry of antiquities said on Tuesday.

The Egyptian embassy in London received the artefact last September.

It is not clear how the tablet, previously exhibited at the open museum of the ancient Temple of Karnak in the southern Egyptian city of Luxor, was smuggled out of the country.

The antiquities ministry worked with the Egyptian foreign ministry, Egypt’s embassy in London and British authorities to recover the section of tablet, the ministry’s director-general, Shaaban Abdel Gawad, told the BBC.

The looting of ancient Egyptian artefacts spiked during a period of unrest following the 2011 uprisings, but Egypt has since stepped up efforts to stop the trafficking of its archaeological items.

Cairo warned foreign museums that it will not help them mount exhibits on ancient Egyptian sites unless they return smuggled artefacts.

Earlier this month, Egypt announced the only casing from the Pyramid of Giza to be displayed outside of Egypt would be going on show at the National Museum of Scotland from February 8.



Khashoggi case: Saudi refuses to confirm Qahtani’s whereabouts

After seven weeks of investigation, the former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince is still missing, Washington Post reports.

Saudi authorities are refusing to confirm the whereabouts of Saud al-Qahtani, the former top aide to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), according to the Washington Post.

Qahtani was fired in October, just days after the gruesome murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi came to light.

In November, the Kingdom confirmed that he was under investigation and banned from leaving the country. Since then there has been no official statement in the case, the Washington Post reported.

Saudi prosecutors allege that Qahtani played a major role in Khashoggi’s killing inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2 last year. He was among 17 Saudis sanctioned by the US government over the murder.

Saudi officials say Prince Mohammed was not aware of the plot to kill Khashoggi, the Washington Post reported.

The US and western countries are watching the Saudi government’s treatment of Qahtani as a measure of its seriousness in bringing to justice Khashoggi’s killers, the paper reported.

A number of questions remain to be answered about Qahtani’s involvement, including his role in planning the killing or whether he was framed.

Khalil Jahshan, executive director of the Arab Centre of Washington, told Al Jazeera that Qahtani’s disappearance is a “natural progression of [Saudi Arabia’s] investigation” and is likely used as a strategy to keep MBS protected from accusations regarding Khashoggi’s murder.


“They have sheltered some of the key players accused of being involved [in the murder] whether by Turkey or by the international community,” Jahshan said.

“The intention of the Saudi campaign right now is to keep the crown prince clear of any accusations with regards to the murder of Khashoggi.”

‘They are above the law’

Abdulaziz Almoayyad, Saudi human rights activist told Al Jazeera from Ireland that his disappearance is simply “what is expected from Saudi ideology”.

Almoayyad said that non-violent Saudi dissidents who are asking for some reforms from the government are punished with capital punishment.

“They don’t even need to be a reformer. This is the way the government deals with different opinions, to deal with people who ask for peoples representation,” Almoayyad said, adding that the perpetrators of the murder won’t be brought to justice.


“[MBS] isn’t willing to punish [the murderers]; he isn’t willing to punish his own and that will lead him to lose his power.

“In Saudi Arabia, this is a small minority that controls the people … Saudi people are fighting for their rights and they are imprisoned for it.

“But this small circle [of MBS] cannot be harmed. They are super rich, super powerful and they really think they are above the law of Saudi Arabia, or international.”

Last November, the CIA concluded that MBS ordered the assassination of Khashoggi in Istanbul, a finding that contradicts Saudi government assertions that Prince Mohammed was not involved.

US officials expressed high confidence in the CIA assessment, according to the Washington Post.


Source who read transcript of tape tells CNN text suggests calls were made to give briefings on the murder’s progress.

Saudi Arabia has admitted Jamal Khashoggi was killed inside its consulate in the Turkish city of Istanbul.

Khashoggi – a Saudi writer, United States resident and Washington Post columnist – had entered the building on October 2 to obtain documentation certifying he had divorced his ex-wife so he could remarry.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had anything to do with his disappearance, the kingdom eventually acknowledged that its officials were behind the gruesome murder. The whereabouts of his body are still unknown.

Here are the latest related developments:

Sunday, December 9

Report: ‘I can’t breathe’ were Khashoggi’s last words

“I can’t breathe.” These were Khashoggi’s final words, according to a CNN report, which cited a source who has read the transcript of an audio tape of the final moments before the journalist’s murder.

The source told the US network the transcript made clear the killing was premeditated, and suggests several phone calls were made to give briefings on the progress.

CNN said Turkish officials believe those calls were made to top officials in Riyadh.

The transcript of the gruesome recording includes descriptions of Khashoggi struggling against his murderers, CNN said, and references sounds of the dissident journalist’s body “being dismembered by a saw”.

The original transcript was prepared by Turkish intelligence services, and CNN said its source read a translation version and was briefed on the probe into the journalist’s death.

Last month, the head of investigations at the Turkish Sabah newspaper told Al Jazeera that Khashoggi’s last words were “I’m suffocating … Take this bag off my head, I’m claustrophobic”, according to an audio recording from inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Khashoggi fiancee: No normal person could imagine such ‘horrific’ crime

Hatice Cengiz, the fiancee of Khashoggi, has called for the perpetrators of the murder to be identified and put on trial.

In an exclusive interview with Al Jazeera that aired on Monday, Cengiz said she will keep fighting to ensure everyone responsible for his murder is brought to justice.

“I want to expose the details of this horrific crime, identify the perpetrators and put those who carried out the killing on a fair trial, including those who ordered the hit so they get the punishment they deserve,” she said.

“On behalf of Jamal’s relatives and loved ones, and I say this as one of them, we need to know the whereabouts of his body. This is a basic human right.”

Saturday, December 8

The Washington Post: Return of Saudi envoy to US is ‘stunningly arrogant’

The Washington Post has criticised the Saudi ambassador’s return to the United States and described it as “stunningly arrogant”, accusing him of lying openly about the murder of Khashoggi.

In an editorial, the newspaper said that in the days following Khashoggi’s disappearance inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Saudi Ambassador Khalid bin Salman launched “an epic campaign of lies” – as the newspaper put it – and told anyone who would listen to him, from senators to the Washington Post publisher, that reports that Khashoggi had been detained or killed inside the consulate was “absolutely false, and baseless”.

The ambassador left Washington D.C. a couple of weeks later as the truth about Khashoggi’s murder was revealed.

“Anyone who does not object to the murder of a journalist, the use of a diplomatic facility for such a crime or the wanton lying to cover it up will welcome him back to Washington,” the newspaper said. “He should be shunned by everyone else.”


Thursday, December 6

Deposed aide to Saudi crown prince accused of role in female activist torture

A top aide to Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, fired for his role in the killing of Khashoggi, personally oversaw the torture of at least one detained female activist earlier this year, two sources told Reuters news agency.

Saud al-Qahtani was a royal adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman until October, when he was sacked and then sanctioned by the US Treasury over the Washington Post columnist’s murder.

Three sources, briefed on the activists’ treatment, say a group of men subjected this woman and at least three others to sexual harassment, electrocution, and flogging between May and August at an unofficial holding facility in Jeddah.

They described the group of about six men as distinct from the regular interrogators the women saw and said they belonged to the Saudi Federation for Cybersecurity, Programming and Drones, which Qahtani headed at the time, or to state security.

Qahtani was present when at least one of the women was tortured, two of the sources said.

A Saudi official said the allegations of mistreatment and torture of the female detainees were “false … and have no connection to the truth”.

“The detainees were detained based on accusations related to harming the security and stability of the kingdom,” the official said in response to questions from Reuters.

The women are among more than a dozen prominent activists arrested since May amid a broader crackdown targeting clerics and intellectuals. Activists say 11 women are still being held, including the four alleged to have been tortured.

HRW: Turkey should internationalise Khashoggi case to the UN

Turkey should submit a formal request to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to conduct an independent international probe into the killing of Khashoggi, Human Rights Watch said.

The investigation, the rights group said, would cut through attempts intended to protect Saudi officials and muddle the truth.

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has come under increasing scrutiny with many publicly accusing him of complicity in the assassination.

“A UN investigation has the best chance of pushing Saudi Arabia to provide the needed facts and information about Mohammed bin Salman’s precise role in this murder – information that is available only from sources in Saudi Arabia,” Sarah Leah Whitson, the Middle East director at Human Rights Watch, said.

Read more here.

Istanbul’s chief prosecutor has filed warrants for the arrest of a top aide to Saudi Arabia’s de facto ruler and the deputy head of foreign intelligence on suspicion of planning the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

The prosecutor’s office concluded that there is “strong suspicion” that Saud al-Qahtani and Ahmed Asiri, who were both removed from their positions following the murder, were among the planners of the murder, two Turkish officials said on Wednesday.

Jamal Khashoggi, a United States resident and columnist for the Washington Post, was killed shortly after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2.

“The prosecution’s move to issue arrest warrants for Asiri and Qahtani reflects the view that the Saudi authorities won’t take formal action against those individuals,” one of the officials told Reuters news agency.

The official added that Saudi Arabia could address the international concern by extraditing all suspects in the case to Turkey.

According to AFP news agency, the application for the warrants was filed on Tuesday.

At the time of publication, Saudi Arabia had not publicly responded to the request.

Al-Qahtani worked as a media adviser to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman [Al Jazeera]

The Saudi prosecution has previously acknowledged that al-Qahtani and Asiri were part of the plot to kill Khashoggi.

The two men were both high-ranking officials with close ties to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Al-Qahtani is one of the highest-profile figures implicated in the killing. Believed to have been Prince Mohammed’s right-hand man.

The 40-year-old was removed as a royal court adviser following Khashoggi’s assassination. Prior to that, he served as a media adviser to Prince Mohammed.

Al-Qahtani is believed to have supervised a 15-man hit squad that flew from the Saudi capital, Riyadh, to Istanbul to carry out Khashoggi’s murder, although he did not travel to Turkey.

Nor did Asiri, who served as spokesperson for the Saudi-led coalition in Yemen before being appointed as an adviser to Prince Mohammed, who then promoted him to his intelligence position in 2017.

Asiri is believed to be one of the planners of Khashoggi’s murder [Amr Nabil/AP Photo]

Asiri frequently was the subject of condemnation from rights groups over apparent disregard for civilian casualties in the war in Yemen.

Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall, reporting from Istanbul, said it is possible that more arrests will be ordered.

“The Turkish prosecution believes that these men are only a part of the planning and we understand that the list is not conclusive.

“We understand also that there was a previous request from the Turks to Saudi Arabia to extradite the 18 men they mentioned were involved in the crime but none of that has happened.

“No response came from Saudi Arabia and now there is this specific mention of these two men at the top, but it’s not a conclusive list and they said these men are among the planners, not all the planners,” he said.

US pressure needed

Wednesday’s announcement came hours after CIA director Gina Haspel briefed US senators on new evidence in the Khashoggi case.

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham said he felt there was “zero chance” the crown prince wasn’t involved in Khashoggi’s death.

While several countries have taken steps to put pressure on the kingdom, including in some cases suspending weapons exports, it is felt that Saudi Arabia is unlikely to comply with Turkish demands without encouragement from the US.

“We know that Mohammed bin Salman takes his cues from President Trump and that Trump so far has not commented on the statements that have been issued during the night from Congress members.

“I think the Saudis on their own will not comply with any Turkish demands unless there is enough pressure put on them from the American side,” Valls said.

Also on Wednesday, United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said that an international investigation was needed to determine who was responsible for Khashoggi’s murder.

“I do believe it is really needed in terms of ensuring what really happened and who are the [people] responsible for that awful killing,” she said at a news conference in Geneva.

Speaking in Brussels on Wednesday, Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu urged Saudi Arabia to be transparent, saying Ankara would not hesitate to launch an international probe if its investigation becomes deadlocked.

Khashoggi’s murder prompted international outcry and forced many countries to reassess their ties with the kingdom.

After weeks of repeated denials that it had any involvement with his disappearance, Riyadh eventually acknowledged that Saudi officials had planned and executed the killing.

The whereabouts of his remains are still unknown.

Newly-released private messages of journalist appear to show candid account of his take on MBS, CNN report says.

Did the PA play a role in Jerusalem home sale to settlers?

A home in the Old City sold to settlers has raised questions about possible involvement of the Palestinian Authority.

Adeeb Joudeh’s old house is just a two-minute walk from the coveted holy Al Aqsa compound, also known as Temple Mount for Jews [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]


Occupied East Jerusalem – Early one morning in October, Adeeb Joudeh woke up to the news that Jewish settlers were moving into his former house in the Old City.

Joudeh was shocked as he had sold his house to Khaled Attari, a Palestinian businessman, just six months ago, after spending six years trying to find a trustworthy buyer.

“For the whole family, it’s like the sky has fallen on our heads,” Joudeh told Al Jazeera from his parents’ house in Sheikh Jarrah.

“We’re a long-rooted family here in Jerusalem. We were very diligent in making sure that the person who buys this property is clean. And then our fears came true when we heard that our home was leaked to the settlers.”

“We wouldn’t wish this even on our worst enemy.”

His former house located in a prime location just a two-minute walk from the Holy Al-Aqsa Mosque now reportedly belongs to Ateret Cohanim – a settler organisation whose purpose is to Judaise the Old City and its surroundings.

Joudeh holds the title of “key holder of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre” in the Old City, one of Christianity’s most sacred sites. His ancestors have served as custodians of the keys since the 12th century.

Not only has his family’s reputation been damaged and is under pressure to relinquish the key, but Joudeh has also received death threats from fellow Palestinians over the sale, a grave crime.

‘I’m one of those people who trusted the reference checks [by the PA], but today I’m in trouble,’ Joudeh said [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

Under PA law, the selling of land and property to Jews is illegal. The laws aim to protect Palestinian properties from Zionist settler takeovers.

While this isn’t the first time a Palestinian home has been transferred to a settler group through an intermediary, it has provoked a wave of reactions among the residents of Jerusalem as the case raises questions about the possible involvement of the Palestinian Authority (PA).

Due diligence

Joudeh says he had done his due diligence to make sure his house ends up in safe hands.

He says he was first approached in 2014 by Fadi Elsalameen, an American Palestinian activist from Hebron known for his criticism of Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the PA’s corruption, and a non-resident fellow at the Foreign Policy Institute at John Hopkins School of Advanced Studies.

Since it was Nabil Jaabari, a respected leader and chairman of the board of Hebron University who had suggested Elsalameen, Joudeh felt confident that he had a trustworthy buyer.

Through his contacts in the Gulf, Elsalameen learned that an Emirati business conglomerate was interested in protecting Palestinian homes from settlers and that they would transfer $2.5m as a grant to buy the house.

However, shortly after Elsalameen proceeded with a down payment of $1.5m, the PA reportedly froze his bank funds for allegedly having ties with Mohammed Dahlan, a former Gaza security chief living in exile in the UAE and Abbas’ most bitter rival.

With Elsalameen unable to transfer the rest of the money, Joudeh cancelled the contract.

Israeli flags are raised in the Old City’s Muslim Quarter in occupied East Jerusalem [Mersiha Gadzo/Al Jazeera]

Elsalameen, however, has denied accusations of being Dahlan’s proxy.

“I’m not a part of Dahlan’s political movement, I’m not part of Dahlan’s political orbit, I do not work for Dahlan. I have nothing to do with any political work for Dahlan whether inside or outside of Palestine,” Elsalameen told Al Jazeera.

“The PA has continuously tried to discredit me in every possible way, mainly because of my anti-corruption work.”

Joudeh was then contacted by Khaled Attari, a Palestinian businessman. He’s considered to have close ties with the PA, particularly its intelligence chief Majed Faraj, according to Israel‘s Haaretz newspaper.

Prior to making the deal with Attari, the PA’s appointed governor of Jerusalem at the time, Adnan Husseini, gave Joudeh the green light to sell his home to Attari.

It’s a standard practice for Jerusalemites to confirm with the governorate prior to selling one’s home, as it consults with the PA’s specialised security forces, who complete a check on the buyer.

Since the PA had given their blessing, Joudeh sold the house on April 23, 2018, to Attari.

The same day, Attari transferred ownership of the home from his name to his company, Daho Holdings, registered in the West Indies to save on taxes, Joudeh said.

Some six months later, settlers moved into the house. Ateret Cohanim had reportedly bought the house from Daho Holdings for $17m.


Sheikh Abdullah al-Qam, the secretary-general representing the families of Jerusalem, formed a committee to investigate the case. Qam told Al Jazeera they had obtained documents which prove that Attari did sell the home to settlers.

The same month, the Israeli police arrested members of the committee, including Qam, for investigating the case, Qam said. Upon his release, Qam was told not to pursue the investigation.

But this didn’t deter the group and they quickly planned for another session. This time, the PA intervened and made the same demand as the Israeli authorities, breaking up the committee, Qam told Al Jazeera.

“I was asked by one of the official representatives of the PA, Adel Abu Zunied [to stop the investigation],” Qam said.

“The PA gave their blessing and approval that the house would be sold to Khalid Attari … The $17m, where did it go? It went to the PA,” Qam alleged.

The spokesperson for the PA’s security service did not respond to Al Jazeera’s request for comment.

Jerusalem’s political orphans

The problem of homes being leaked to settlers is emblematic of a larger problem – Jerusalem’s 330,000 Palestinians turning into “political orphans” due to the absence of a “unified political leadership that can guide” them, as journalist Daoud Kuttab wrote in his article about the case.

Khaled Abu Arafeh, former minister for Jerusalem affairs during the 2006-2007 Palestinian government led by Hamas, told Al Jazeera that the PA should submit formal complaints for legal action to be taken against Israel as it had breached the Oslo Accords.

“Contracts between the local civilian population and the occupying power are considered null and void under international law,” Arafeh said, noting that this includes contracts with settler organisations as they are funded by the Israeli government.

“The PA is meant to exercise its role in Jerusalem especially to combat this problem. They should have held Israel accountable via Oslo agreements for attempting to change the demographics of the city.”

“It is also the responsibility of international organisations to uphold their commitments towards Jerusalem, to implement the relevant international agreements that consider Jerusalem as occupied land, and to not leave Jerusalemites under the mercy of occupying forces,” Arafeh said.

“The PA has been doing a poor job at addressing the issue. It has only taken superficial steps so far and that’s just to save face in front of the Palestinian people.”

Israeli flags flying above the home of Palestinian family Abu Sneina whose building was occupied by Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem’s Silwan in 2015 [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

Al Akhbar news reported in 2016 that eight of the 10 houses on the same street as Joudeh’s former home had already been leaked to settlers over the past few years.

Some 2,500 settlers currently live in about 100 buildings in Palestinian neighbourhoods in and around the Old City.

Fakhri Abu Diab, spokesperson for a local committee defending Palestinian properties in Silwan just outside the Old City, told Al Jazeera that a new, independent body is needed, run by renowned individuals and institutions in Jerusalem in order to properly vet potential buyers and make sure the homes remain in safe hands.

However, their calls for a new body have gone unanswered for years from the Palestinian leadership including the governor of Jerusalem, Abu Diab said.

A Palestinian boy walks by the densely populated Palestinian neighbourhood of Silwan. Jewish settlers have been notching up property gains in the heart of Palestinian East Jerusalem through a series of indirect deals involving local frontmen or straw companies [Ahmad Gharabli/AFP]

A similar situation arose in 2014 when a Palestinian businessman from Israel offered to buy Palestinian homes in Silwan.

The buyer presented himself as having connections with wealthy businessmen in the Emirates and claimed that the properties would be used to house Muslim tourists visiting the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque, according to locals.

After the sale was made, settlers accompanied by police and armed guards moved into their homes.

“It was the biggest deal of its kind to have taken place in Silwan when 27 houses were sold to him at once,” Abu Diab said.

According to him, there are currently 72 settler housing units in Silwan, 43 of which were leaked to settlers.

Palestinians are in a difficult position as they resort to selling their homes in order to make ends meet amid crippling poverty. Eighty-two percent of East Jerusalem residents live below the poverty line.

“It is one thing when the occupation confiscates or demolishes your home by force, but it’s another when it comes in the form of being presented to settlers on a gold platter,” Abu Diab said.

“It’s a painful phenomenon that has created a black mark on our society.”

Farah Najjar contributed to this report.




Thousands flee clashes between Buddhist group and Myanmar army

UN says 2,500 displaced in Rakhine State, where 2017 military campaign forced over 700,000 Rohingya to flee.


Intensified fighting between a Buddhist armed group and Myanmar’s security forces has driven thousands of people from their homes in the country’s western Rakhine State over the past month, amid rising tensions in the area where the Rohingya crisis broke out in 2017.

Farhan Haq, United Nations spokesperson, said on Wednesday that about 2,500 people had been displaced since early December when clashes broke out with the Arakan Army, one of the several groups fighting Myanmar’s military that want more autonomy for ethnic minorities.

The Myanmar military last month announced a four-month cessation in fighting in the north and northeast of the country, in what appeared to be a rare conciliatory move aimed at kick-starting peace talks with the armed groups.

Rakhine State was excluded from the pause, stoking doubts about the military’s willingness to bring an end to all the country’s conflicts.

Analysts say the military left Rakhine State out because it does not want the Arakan Army – which claims to represent the Rakhine, the Buddhist ethnic group that makes up the majority in the state of the same name – to gain a foothold in the area and has lingering concerns over the less powerful Rohingya armed groups, who call themselves the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

Rakhine clashes

The state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper on Wednesday said that one police officer was critically wounded when border guard police were attacked by about 30 men carrying “small and heavy arms” the previous day near Saytaung, a village in the Buthidaung area.

Khine Thu Kha, a spokesperson of the Arakan Army, denied that the group attacked the police, but said its fighters did clash with government security forces in Saytaung on Tuesday, according to Reuters news agency.

Hundreds of border guard police had been deployed in areas far from the border with Bangladesh as part of a broader military offensive against the group, Khine Thu Kha told Reuters on Wednesday.

There was no immediate comment from Myanmar’s military.

Rakhine State was where Myanmar’s security forces launched a brutal campaign in August 2017 that drove more than 730,000 Muslim-majority Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh.

report by UN investigators in August last year found that Myanmar’s military carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent” and said the commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted under international laws.

Myanmar has denied most of the allegations in the report.

Last month, a human rights law group of the United States State Department to investigate the Myanmar military’s crackdown on the Rohingya, said it had found evidence of genocide and called on the international community to establish a criminal investigation into the atrocities and ensure justice for the victims.



Russia criticises Israel for ‘gross violation’ in Syria strikes

Moscow accuses Israel of endangering civilian aircraft after F-16 jets launch assault on targets in Damascus.

Russia has accused Israel of violating Syria’s sovereignty and threatening two civilian flights after Israeli warplanes launched air raids in Damascus on Tuesday.

“We are very concerned by the attacks and how they were made. This is a gross violation of the sovereignty of Syria,” the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement on Wednesday.

Syrian state media said the country’s air defences intercepted Israeli missiles near Damascus, while Israel said it was protecting itself from anti-aircraft fire.

“An [Israeli military] aerial defence system activated in response to an anti-aircraft missile launched from Syria,” the Israeli army’s official Twitter account later said.

Moscow also said the Israeli attacks endangered two passenger planes.

“The provocative actions of the Israeli air force … directly threatened two airliners,” Russian defence ministry spokesman Igor Konashenkov said in a statement.

He said the attack from over the Lebanese territory came as “two airliners, not from Russia, were preparing to land at the airports of Beirut and Damascus”.

He said restrictions were imposed on the use of Syrian government forces’ air defence systems “to prevent a tragedy”. One of the planes was redirected to a Russian airbase within Syria.

The Russian defence ministry said three Syrian soldiers were injured in an attack that saw Israeli warplanes drop 16 bombs.

Of these, 14 were destroyed by the Syrian defence systems, according to the ministry.

Upgraded anti-missile systems

Moscow is a key ally of Damascus and its intervention in Syria’s civil war in 2015 was seen as key to propping up President Bashar al-Assad‘s regime.

In September, a Russian Il-20 military plane was struck in a similar attack, killing 15 servicemen on board.

That day, several Israeli F-16s entered the Syrian airspace hoping to bomb its military targets in the northwestern Latakia province.

Russian officials said that when Syria’s S-200 air-defence system responded to the breach, an Israeli F-16 hid behind the Russian plane which was hit by a Syrian missile.

Shortly afterwards, Moscow, blaming Israel for the incident, announced its decision to provide Syria with the more advanced S-300 defence system.

Israel has in the past carried out dozens of air raids in Syria against what it says are Iranian targets, many of them south of Damascus.


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