Clashes broke out after Israeli police alleged a firebomb was thrown at their post inside the holy compound.
By Elphas Nkosi
Israeli police said the entrances to Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound will be reopened on Wednesday morning, a day after heavy clashes with Palestine worshipers as the Israeli Authorities closed off the gates in response to what they said was a firebombing of a police station on the site.
Palestinian Activist Abeer Zayyad told Markaz Sahaba Online Radio that the fire was caused by children who were playing with fireworks.
“The thing is that the Israeli Police said there was fire inside a police station situated inside the AL Aqsa Mosques, we do not know who started the fire but of course Israeli immediately said it is the youth that started the fire and used that as an excuse to close Al Aqsa Mosque,” said Abeer.
No injuries were reported, but scuffles broke out between Israeli forces and Palestinian worshipers, which resulted in the arrest of at least two Palestinians.
Abeer Zayyad added: “Dozens of Israeli soldiers stormed the Al-Aqsa compound and assaulted several religious figures,” including Al Aqsa`s Imam Omar Kiswani and Omar Kiswani and Sheikh Wasef al-Bakri, the acting supreme judge of Jerusalem’s Islamic Courts.
“They did not allow us to pray inside Al Aqsa as they continued assaulting our people. Now, we are afraid and we do not know what is going to happen. But we will wait to hear what will happen from now,” said Abeer.
Closing off Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, is a continuation of arbitrary policies of Israel against Palestinian rights.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, in which the Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Markaza Sahaba Online Radio received confirmation from Akram Al Satari Head of International Relations at Sawaed Association for Relief and Development in the Gaza Strip that Al Aqsa Mosque Compound has been re opened for prayers. “Yes I can confirm that this morning already the Al Aqsa Mosque was re opened by the Israeli Authorities after Muslims made it clear that their place of worship shall not be threatened by the Apartheid Israel”.
“We stood firm on our course to continue push for the reopening of the Holy site”. He added.
Pretoria embassy besieged by expats demanding end to president’s 20-year rule
By Alameen Templeton
A crowd of determined Algerians gathered outside their embassy in Pretoria this morning in support of massive protests in their home country demanding an end to the Bouteflika regime.
A small police contingent kept a close eye on proceedings, although the protesters were well-behaved and never got out of control.
“We are here to demand the president and his gang of mafia. They have stolen from our country for more than 20 years and it is time for them to go,” Hafiz, a particularly vocal protester said.
The crowd showed a remarkable degree of commonality on how they read the situation in their home country.
Their first two demands are that President Aboubakr Bouteflika not stand for a fifth term. The wheelchair-bound octogenarian is bidding for his fifth term as head of state, despite promises to the electorate while running for his third and fourth terms that “this election will be my last”.
Bouteflika has made similar promises going into this election, set for next month, that he will sit as president for just two years before handing over to someone else, but few people outside his immediate circle are satisfied with his assurances.
“He is old, he can’t even stand up from his wheelchair. He can’t even sign his name to documents. Our ambassador here in Pretoria was supposed to have been replaced, but Bouteflika is incapable of signing his name to the necessary authorisations. How then can such a man stand as leader of our country?” Nema, a reserved spokesman for the protesters asked.
All protesters interviewed were adamant the mass protests in their country would never go the same way as happened to the “Arab Spring” protests in 2011. They also started out peacefully, but returned to militarism after a few initial, public victories.
“It is impossible! Impossible! Algerians are far too educated and experienced. South Africa in terms of its evolution after its revolution is around about where Algeria was in 1962 (the year Algeria gained its independence from France after bitter years of fighting that claimed about 1.5million lives). We will never let it happen,” Muhammad, a middle-aged protester said.
All were adamant the secretive oil and gas supply agreements with France would have to be cancelled.
Algeria’s government has extended a free provision of oil and gas agreement with France almost indefinitely.
This is something everyone spoken to was adamant would have to be changed.
But first, the president and his “Forty thieves” would have to go, everyone at the protest said.
Palestinian workers say conditions at the notorious checkpoint in occupied West Bank have worsened over the last months.
Bethlehem, occupied West Bank – Frantic clamouring disrupts the usual noises at Israel’s Checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem, where thousands of Palestinian workers queue for hours, starting at 3am, to make it on time for their jobs in Israel.
Workers chat, bicker, joke, frustratingly shout, bang on the steel bars, and rattle the turnstiles that Israeli border police officials intermittently lock amid the heavy traffic.
“He has fainted. Everyone move! Call an ambulance!” The crowd becomes louder as a young man is carried outside the checkpoint. Numerous workers surround the man’s limp body stretched out on the ground, and others attempt to resuscitate him – to no avail.
Several of the bystanders shout: “Move, move! Make room! Let the journalist film! Show the world what is happening to us”, as they push people aside to create a cleared space for Al Jazeera to photograph the scene.
An ambulance arrives, and the young man is lifted onto a gurney and rushed to the hospital. The workers continue on through the single cement lane, sipping on small paper cups of coffee to push past their exhaustion. One worker looks at Al Jazeera and says: “Israel treats animals better than us.”
It’s a typical morning at Checkpoint 300.
Suffocation, broken ribs and death
Palestinians have long complained of the volatile conditions at the checkpoint – also referred to as the Gilo checkpoint. However, Palestinian workers tell Al Jazeera that the conditions at the crossing have worsened over the last two months.
The checkpoint was built more than a decade ago as part of Israel’s separation wall, deemed illegal by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2004. EAPPI, an organisation that monitors Israel’s checkpoints, tells Al Jazeera that 300 is “the worst (checkpoint) in the West Bank”.
Thousands of Palestinians from the southern occupied West Bank must cross this barrier to work in occupied East Jerusalem – part of the occupied Palestinian territory – or Israel. It can take up to three hours to cross the checkpoint during the rush hour. When traffic is less during the day, the journey takes just a few minutes.
Many Palestinians are escaping high unemployment rates in the occupied West Bank, while others prefer to work in Israel for the better wages – at times receiving more than double than what they would make in the West Bank.
The scene each morning is chaotic, with Palestinians squeezed together inside a single lane, and pulling themselves up on the surrounding steel bars, climbing over, and dangling among the crowd.
When Israeli officials unlock the turnstile at the entrance of the checkpoint, Palestinians push forward, passing one by one, until it is locked once again. Those who make it through then enter a warehouse-like compound where they meet more turnstiles, a security conveyor belt – where they must place all of their items – and a metal detector.
Finally, they arrive at the permit check, where Israeli officials verify work permits and take their fingerprints.
Abed Abu Shiera, who has sold coffee outside the checkpoint for 11 years, has seen first-hand the effects of the barrier’s harsh conditions. Every morning, at least one or two workers suffocate and faint from the lack of airflow, he says. Abu Shiera himself often has to call the ambulance to collect them.
The 44-year-old has witnessed legs being broken after Palestinians fall off the steel bars where dozens of workers hang from. Other times, he has seen workers get their ribs broken from the pressure of the crowd pushing forward each time the turnstile is unlocked.
A young Palestinian man faints at Checkpoint 300 [Jaclynn Ashly/Al Jazeera]
Abu Shiera has even witnessed death. In October, a 65-year-old worker from Arroub refugee camp in the southern Hebron district reportedly slipped and fell on his head inside the narrow corridor of the checkpoint. He was rushed to a nearby hospital and pronounced dead.
Despite this daily reality, Abu Shiera echoed the voices of many workers Al Jazeera spoke with: “I have come here six days a week for 11 years,” he said. “But this past month and a half is the worst period I have ever seen.”
‘It gets worse and worse’
Palestinian workers tell Al Jazeera that before a few months, the large crowds would thin out by 7am. However, during Al Jazeera’s visit this week, even at 8am, the checkpoint was still crammed with people.
Amir, a 23-year-old Palestinian who has worked as a cleaner at the checkpoint for a private Israeli company for some five years, says that Israeli officials used to typically lock the turnstiles for five- to 15-minute intervals, before letting more Palestinians pass.
For the past two months, however, Israeli officials have locked the turnstiles for up to one hour, Amir says, causing the already intolerable conditions at the checkpoint to exacerbate. Palestinians are now fainting more frequently, and some workers expressed fear of being crushed in the crowd.
Nasser Abu Maria, a 45-year-old construction worker from Beit Ummar in Hebron, stands to the side with a few dozen other Palestinians, waiting for the crowd to disperse before daring to enter the checkpoint.
A week and a half ago, Abu Maria suffocated and fainted inside the checkpoint. The lane was too crowded for workers to carry him outside, forcing them to hurl his listless body over the steel bars, where workers on the other side grabbed him and settled him on the ground.
He was then rushed to a hospital. “I am too scared to enter the checkpoint when it’s like this,” he said, gesturing to the sea of workers crammed and stacked on top of each other in between the cement and steel.
“All we want is for them (Israelis) to just stop locking the gate. Just let us pass. That’s all we ask. Stop putting us through all this humiliation,” he said. “The exhaustion I experience going through this checkpoint is more tiring than my eight-hour workday.”
Last week, frustrations at the checkpoint reached a boiling point, as Israeli officials locked the turnstiles for long durations throughout the morning hours. Abu Shiera tells Al Jazeera that out of frustration workers broke one of the turnstiles and a gate inside the checkpoint in order to rush through.
Abu Shiera says that the workers were suffocating, but an Israeli border police spokesperson claims the workers were “acting violently, shoving, pushing and breaking things”.
Israeli officials gathered the workers into an open yard inside the compound until they could fix the damage.
“This checkpoint has always been difficult,” Ibrahim Hushiyye, a 28-year-old construction worker from the town of Yatta in Hebron, told Al Jazeera. “But it used to be easier than these days.”
“Every day it gets worse and worse,” he said. “It’s far beyond just being intolerable. If someone has never experienced something like this, then I hope they never have to.”
‘We are humans’
The Israeli border police spokesperson confirmed that the Israeli army is expanding the area of the checkpoint, creating more lanes, and introducing technological upgrades in order to lessen traffic, similar to the recent developments at Israel’s Qalandiya checkpoint near Ramallah.
The exhaustion I experience going through this checkpoint is more tiring than my eight-hour workday.
NASSER ABU MARIA, PALESTINIAN CONSTRUCTION WORKER
However, he denied that this was the cause of the heavy traffic, instead telling Al Jazeera that it was the result of an increase of permits Israel has been issuing for Palestinians to work in Israel. Yet Abu Shiera says he has not seen any increase in the number of workers, and the main issue is the Israeli officials locking the turnstiles.
When asked by Al Jazeera if Israeli authorities were aware of the difficult conditions Palestinians are facing at the checkpoint, the spokesperson took a long pause, and said: “Yes.” But went on to say these issues are relegated to “the Palestinian side [of the checkpoint], not the Israeli side”, and said it was the responsibility of Palestinian authorities to address these issues.
A source at the Palestinian District Coordination Office, which coordinates with the Israeli army, spoke to Al Jazeera on the condition of anonymity and said that the entire area of the checkpoint is Israeli-controlled. “We have no decision-making power with the Israelis. They don’t consult with us at all. We have no control over the Israeli checkpoints,” he said.
Even if the Israelis were to request Palestinian assistance at the checkpoint, however, the Palestinian side would refuse. “We won’t allow them to put us in front of the workers. Then the workers will fight us instead of the Israelis.”
“We don’t interfere at all,” he added. “The problem is the checkpoint itself and this is caused by the Israelis.”
The Israeli border police spokesperson assured Al Jazeera that a new, upgraded checkpoint would be open in the coming months and would solve the issue of traffic.
Palestinian workers, meanwhile, say that the Israeli army has been renovating a new portion of the checkpoint for at least a year and a half, and each time a date is set for its opening, it gets postponed.
“We are always told that the checkpoint is being renovated and it will get better. But I don’t think Israel is interested in making our lives any easier,” Abu Maria said.
“All of this is completely unnecessary,” he continued. “We pass through this checkpoint almost every day. They (Israeli officials) know us. We are carrying our lunch bags, not weapons. We are just trying to make it to work on time.
The 82-year-old, whose bid to seek a fifth term sparked widespread demonstrations, was in Geneva for medical treatment.
Amid the biggest threat to his 20-year rule, Algerian President Abdelaziz Bouteflikaarrived at an airbase southwest of the capital, Algiers, according to state media.
His aircraft on Sunday flew into the Boufarik military airport from the Swiss city of Geneva, where the 82-year-old leader – whose bid to seek a fifth term has been met with unprecedented protests – had a two-week medical trip, Ennahar television said.
State TV carried a statement from the presidency saying he had returned to Algeria after routine medical checks. Images later showed a convoy departing the airport.
The president, who is confined to a wheelchair, has rarely been seen in public since suffering a stroke in 2013, prompting critics to question whether he is being used as a puppet candidate by a faction of civilian and military figures.
Massive protests began on February 22 to denounce Bouteflika’s plans to extend his rule in the April 18 polls.
Bouteflika has offered to limit his term after the election and has vowed to change the “system” that runs the country. The promises, however, have failed to quell public anger, galvanising discontent among different sectors, particularly students and other young people.
Some long-time allies of Bouteflika, including members of the ruling FLN party, have expressed support for the protesters, revealing cracks within a ruling elite long seen as invincible.
In the clearest indication yet that the generals sympathise with protesters, the chief of staff said the military and the people had a united vision of the future, state TV reported. Lieutenant General Gaid Salah did not mention the unrest.
“Bouteflika’s system is over,” said a commentator on Ennahar, which is close to the president’s inner circle.
Students have been at the heart of the protests and more rallies took place on Sunday in Algiers, where thousands of flag-waving supporters poured onto the streets shouting slogans such as: “Bouteflika, there will be no fifth term.”
Many shops in the capital were shut and residents said train services had been suspended.
“We have taken to the streets today to protest a fifth presidential term. We are against a fifth term. This is enough,” protester Zakaria told Reuters news agency in front of the Central Postal Office.
“We want Bouteflika and all his mafia to leave. They have to leave this country,” added Salim, a high school student among thousands of people demonstrating on Sunday.
A general strike has hit the country’s Mediterranean oil ports of Skikda and Bejaia but exports were not affected, according to port staff.
The government, meanwhile, has brought forward a scheduled university holiday by two weeks – in an apparent attempt to defuse student-led rallies against Bouteflika.
The ministry of higher education’s decision on Saturday came a day after tens of thousands of demonstrators packed the centre of Algiers.
Without giving a reason for the move, the ministry said in a decree the spring break would be brought forward by 10 days to run from Sunday to April 4.
Teachers and students at several universities have gone on strike, while others had vowed to begin striking on Sunday.
While rallies in Algiers and elsewhere were mostly calm, police reportedly used tear gas in several areas of the capital, including to block the road to the presidential palace.
State media also said security forces arrested 195 protesters, citing offences including looting.
Bouteflika has been in Geneva, Switzerland, for the past two weeks for what his office called “routine medical tests”.
On Thursday, he issued his first warning to protesters, saying the movement – now entering its third week – could create chaos in the oil and natural gas-producing North African country.
“This time, it’s quite different. What we see now is a momentum that is building up across Algeria,” Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, who has covered the region extensively, said of the ongoing demonstrations.
“Many people believe if this momentum continues for the next two weeks, it could be a game changer,” Ahelbarra added.
Looking ahead, Ahelbarra said a key date for the country was going to be March 13, when Algeria’s constitutional committee is set to determine the legitimacy of the presented candidacies for next month’s elections.
On Monday, China ordered its domestic airlines to suspend commercial operation of nearly 100 of the jets in question. Ethiopian Airlines followed China’s announcement by grounding all of its Boeing 737 Max 8 aircraft as well, according to a spokesperson.
The crash, that took place just outside Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, comes just months after another deadly accident of that same model in Indonesia when a Lion Air flight crashed after take-off from Jakarta in October, killing all 189 people on board.
Noting the “similarities” between the two accidents, China’s Civil Aviation Administration said domestic airlines have until 6pm local time (10:00 GMT) to ground all 737 MAX 8 aircraft.
It said operation of the model will only resume after “confirming the relevant measures to effectively ensure flight safety”, the administration said in a statement.
“Given that two accidents both involved newly delivered Boeing 737-8 planes and happened during take-off phase, they have some degree of similarity,” it said, adding the order was in line with its principle of zero-tolerance on safety harzards. The 737 MAX 8 is sometimes referred to as the 737-8.
Chinese airlines have 96 737 MAX jets in service, the state company regulator said on Weibo. The aviation authority will contact the US Federal Aviation Administration and Boeing for consultation, it said.
Chinese aviation data firm Variflight said at least 29 international and domestic flights on Monday were cancelled and that airlines swapped out the plane on 256 other flights that had been scheduled to use it.
Caijing, a Chinese state-run news outlet that covers finance and economics, said many flights scheduled to use 737 MAX planes would instead use the 737-800 models.
Cayman Airways said it had grounded both of its new 737 MAX 8 jets until it got more information.
On Monday, Ethiopian Airlines’ spokesperson Asrat Begashaw said although it was not yet known what caused the crash, the airline decided to ground its remaining four 737 Max 8 planes until further notice as “an extra safety precaution”.
Ethiopian Airlines was using five new 737 Max 8 planes and was awaiting delivery of 25 more.
South Korea was also conducting emergency safety inspection on two Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft, according to it transport ministry.
India’s aviation watchdog DGCA is likely to speak to Boeing and local airlines Jet Airways and SpiceJet about the use of the aircraft, NDTV reported citing a senior official.
Indonesia’s ministry of transportation also said it will increase the supervision of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 in the country.
Boeing representatives did not immediately respond for comment. The company tweeted that it was “deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the passengers and crew” on the Ethiopian Airlines airplane.
“A Boeing technical team will be travelling to the crash site to provide technical assistance under the direction of the Ethiopia Accident Investigation Bureau and U.S. National Transportation Safety Board,” a statement on Boeing’s website read.
Fastest growing market
China is an important market for the US aircraft company, accounting for about one-fifth of worldwide deliveries of Boeing 737 MAX models.
The company has delivered 76 Boeing 737 MAX aircraft to Chinese airlines, which have ordered another 104, according to data from the aircraft maker’s website updated through January.
Al Jazeera’s Adrian Brown, reporting from Beijing, said “China became the first country to ground this aircraft”.
“Part of the 737 MAX is actually completed here in China,” he said. “China is where the seats are fitted, the final cosmetic work is carried out before the aircraft actually goes into the air.
“China is the world’s fastest growing aviation sector and by 2030, it’s estimated that it will become the world’s largest aviation market.”
Meanwhile, a US official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter, said there were no plans to follow suit given the 737 MAX had a stellar safety record in the United States and there was a lack of information about the cause of the Ethiopian crash.
Foreign governments said tourists, business people, doctors, and a Kenyan football official were among the dead.
Also on board was at least one staff member of the UN Environment Programme meeting in Nairobi from Monday for an annual assembly of 4,700 heads of state, ministers, business leaders, senior UN officials and civil society representatives. The head of the World Food Programme also wrote on Twitter that agency staff were among those on board.
Ethiopian Airlines said it set up a committee with all stakeholders concerned to conduct forensic investigations and identify the victims.
Al Jazeera’s Catherine Soi, reporting from Nairobi airport, said an “information and service desk has been set up for the relatives looking for information.”
Among them is Edward Gathu, 39, who has been waiting to hear information about his 45-year-old brother, Benson, who was on the flight.
“I feel very weak. I wish they can give me information so that I can accept and move on,” Gathu told Al Jazeera.
“He spoke with his wife last night. Until now we have no information about his whereabouts.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s office tweeted it “would like to express its deepest condolences to the families of those that have lost their loved ones on Ethiopian Airlines Boeing 737 on regular scheduled flight to Nairobi, Kenya this morning.”
Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta offered prayers for the family members and loved ones of those on the flight.
“We are saddened by the news of an Ethiopian Airlines passenger aircraft that is reported to have crashed 6 minutes after takeoff en route to Kenya. My prayers go to all the families and associates of those on board,” Kenyatta said on Twitter.
‘Brand new aircraft’
US aerospace giant Boeing said it was “deeply saddened” by the accident and would provide technical assistance to find out why its aircraft crashed.
“A Boeing technical team is prepared to provide technical assistance at the request and under the direction of the US National Transportation Safety Board.”
Kyle Bailey, an aviation analyst and pilot, said the pilot’s distress call signalled that the plane may have gone down due to a “controllability issue” than an explosion.
“That may lead me to believe that the problem wasn’t imperatively serious,” he told Al Jazeera from New Jersey. “Typically in major disasters when crashes happen, when there are explosions, usually there is no communication from the pilots,” Bailey added.
“The pilots are so focused on that catastrophic event, that they don’t have time to call air traffic control.
The fact that there was a call made to air traffic control, in this instance, makes us believe that it was a controllability issue – that they were struggling for control.”
Speaking to Al Jazeera from Malaga, Spain, aviation analyst Alex Macheras explained that the 737 MAX is the brand new updated version of the Boeing 737.
“The MAX is in service all around the world. Airlines such as the Ethiopian Airlines are using this aircraft, as it is the latest, the most fuel-efficient, short-range Boeing aircraft on the market.
Macheras said new aircraft “do have their hiccups” but that is not to say they are unsafe or more prone to being involved in accidents.
“There are certain advisories for lots of new aircraft and that’s perfectly normal as they enter the market place,” he added.
The Boeing 737 MAX was initiated in response to Airbus’s A320 Neo. Both planes feature modifications to make the aircraft more fuel-efficient.
“It’s a very safe aircraft,” Macheras said, “but of course this accident will send jitters across the industry.”
The US agreed to sell 100 of its latest fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters to Turkey and has so far delivered two of the aircraft. But Congress last year ordered a delay in future deliveries.
NATO nations – particularly the US – view Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made equipment with suspicion. Ankara says it needs alternative missile defences to counter regional threats.
Russia’s advanced S-500 anti-ballistic missile system will enter service with the Russian armed forces soon, Russian media reported last week.
The first group of military officers will complete a training course this year to use S-500, a long-range system that will form the backbone of Russia’s air and missile defence systems, TASS news agency said.
06 march 2019
US warns Turkey not to buy Russian S-400 missile system
Moving forward with the deal will jeopardise the F-35 fighter jet purchase and other future arms transfers, US says.
The United States warned Turkey against moving ahead with plans to buy a sophisticated Russian missile defence system that the Pentagon believes would threaten its advanced F-35 fighter aircraft.
The State Department made the remarks on a day when the head of US European Command spoke to politicians on Capitol Hill and said Turkey should reconsider its plan to buy the S-400 from Russia this year.
“We’ve clearly warned Turkey that its potential acquisition of the S-400 will result in a reassessment of Turkey’s participation in the F-35 programme, and risk other potential future arms transfers to Turkey,” said deputy spokesman Robert Palladino on Tuesday.
The US agreed to sell 100 of its latest fifth-generation F-35 fighters to Turkey and has so far delivered two of the aircraft. But Congress last year ordered a delay in future deliveries.
NATO nations – particularly the US – view Turkey’s purchase of the Russian-made equipment with suspicion. Ankara says it needs alternative missile defences to counter regional threats.
Russia’s S-400 is a massive upgrade to the S-300 missile defence system, its predecessor. Because of its capabilities, countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Indiaand Qatar have said they want to buy the S-400.
Those stating such intentions, however, have been threatened with some kind of diplomatic retaliation from the US or other NATO nations.
The S-400 can track a large number of potential targets, including stealth targets such as the US F-35 fighter jet.
Other advantages included its high mobility, meaning it can be set up, fired and moved within minutes.
US-backed SDF says hundreds of ISIL soldiers captured or surrendered while fleeing armed group’s last enclave.
US-backed Kurdish-led forces in northeastern Syria captured 400 ISIL fighters who were trying to escape the armed group’s last enclave in eastern Syria.
A senior commander for the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) also said on Wednesday that hundreds more Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) soldiers surrendered from the last shred of territory they control in the village of Baghouz in Deir Az Zor province.
“There are a large number of fighters who are inside and do not want to surrender,” said the SDF commander.
Those surrendering were among more than 2,000 people who left Baghouz on Wednesday in the latest evacuation, transported by trucks to a patch of desert where they are questioned, searched and given food and water.
Scenes of surrender, humiliation, and anger highlighted the desperation of the armed group as its last major bastion in Syria teeters on the edge of collapse.
The evacuations came as the US-backed force slowed its latest push on Baghouz, east of the Euphrates River, to allow people to leave the enclave.
Angry civilians evacuating from Baghouz chanted “Islamic State will remain” – underscoring the defiance of ISIL fighters and their supporters even as their defeat looms.
A group of women seen at a reception area in the desert – set up for screening purposes by the SDF – were rowdy, aggressive and defiant, praising ISIL and screaming angrily at journalists.
“Islamic State will stay, God is great, God is great, Islamic State will stay,” they screamed.
The families of ISIL fighters are believed to be among the latest civilians to flee [Bulent Kilic/AFP]
Capturing Baghouz would cap four years of international efforts to roll back the armed group.
American Colonel Sean Ryan, spokesman for the US-led coalition backing the SDF, said the international force had “learned not to put any timetables on the last battle”.
There were no signs of combat on Wednesday from the ISIL-held pocket of less than one-square kilometre.
Since February 20, more than 10,000 people have left the enclave, producing scenes of women, shrouded in black, and children climbing off trucks in the desert to be screened and searched.
The women and children were then taken to a camp for displaced people to the north in Hasakah’s al-Hol, while suspected fighters were moved to detention facilities.
The overcrowded al-Hol camp has now become home to more than 55,000 people, many of whom emerged from Baghouz weak, tired, and hungry.
Aid agencies in the area are struggling to cope with the influx, according to NGOs, including Save the Children.
The International Rescue Committee aid group said 4,000 people arrived on Wednesday. Of the 90 people who have died reaching the camp since December, two-thirds were babies or infants, it said.
People ride in a truck after being evacuated out of the last territory held by ISIL fighters [Andrea Rosa/AP]
A 30-year-old Iraqi woman said her one-month-old baby, who was sick, died overnight in the reception area from the cold.
“I didn’t want to leave except to treat her,” the woman who identified herself as Umm Fatima said..
She cursed the SDF and said: “The Islamic State will remain and expand, God willing,” and walked away.
A group of men were seated on the ground, under the watchful eye of SDF fighters, many of them covering their faces with checkered scarves.
Many among those leaving on Wednesday appeared to be wives and children of ISIL fighters. But also among those who emerged were 13 Yazidi children from Iraq, looking dusty, dirty and in a state of shock.
ISIL subjected the Yazidis to mass slaughter and sexual slavery in what the United Nations called a genocide, after overrunning the community’s heartland of Sinjar in Iraq in 2014.
At least 75 men also came out on Wednesday, heading straight to the interrogation area.
The SDF announced a military operation to liberate Baghouz in September, but has held off on a full-blown assault after it became apparent that a huge number of civilians were still inside.
Syrian military air strikes against ISIL fighters further west, in the country’s central desert, were a reminder of the constant warnings by both Arab and Western officials that the group will continue to pose a serious security threat.
After its sudden advance across swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014, the group held about one-third of both countries, but its wholesale slaughter or sexual enslavement of minorities and its grotesque public killings roused global anger.
Separate offensives by different forces in both countries steadily drove it back, inflicting major ISIL defeats in 2017, and eventually forcing it back on Baghouz, a little cluster of hamlets and farmland on the Euphrates.
Palestinians see any change in status quo a step towards partitioning holy site, building the Third Temple over Al-Aqsa.
Occupied East Jerusalem – Palestinian activist Hanady Halawani has lost count of the number of times she has been banned from visiting the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque.
Over a span of 15 years, she says she’s been arrested at least 24 times, much of the time due to her social media posts, in which she would update her followers on the latest developments unravelling at the flashpoint.
Her posts include videos of Israeli settlers performing prayers at the holy compound, in violation of the status quo. Other photos from the past summer show land and graves that have been dug up by Israeli authorities at the historic Bab al-Rahma cemetery, located just outside the compound’s eastern wall.
Protests over the summer last year by a small group of Palestinians were of no avail as the centuries-old graves of Muslim leaders reportedly lie in the way of a planned Israeli park.
Even when the site – known as Haram al-Sharif (Noble Sanctuary) for Muslims and Temple Mount for Jews – may at times appear to be relatively calm, Halawani and other Palestinians know that this is an illusion.
They believe the fragile status quo is being gradually eroded as Israelis continue to take steps in asserting sovereignty over the site, with the goal of spatially and temporally partitioning the holy compound and eventually building the Third Temple over the ruins of Al-Aqsa, as propagated by the Temple Movement activists.
According to the status quo reaffirmed in 1967 between Israel and Jordan, the holy compound is administered by the Islamic Waqf endowment seated in Jordan. Non-Muslims can visit the site, but cannot pray there.
This coincided with the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s declaration in 1967 that Jews are not allowed to the compound as it would desecrate the site’s holiness.
The latest unrest has broken out over the formerly abandoned building at Bab al-Rahma (Gate of Mercy or Golden Gate) in the Al-Aqsa compound.
For the first time in 16 years, Palestinians have reopened its gates, which had been closed under Israeli order, and hundreds have been praying at the site – their biggest achievement since forcing Israel to remove the unilaterally installed metal detectors from the compound in July 2017.
Israel closed Bab al-Rahma in 2003 alleging the site was being used by members of the outlawed Islamic Movement in Israel Northern Branch for political activities, an allegation denied by the Islamic Waqf.
Since reopening the building’s prayer hall, some 100 Palestinians have been reportedly arrested, including Sheikh Abdel-Azeem Salhab, head of the waqf, and his deputy after they joined Palestinians in prayer at the site.
After being arrested early in the morning last week from his home, Salhab was banned from Al-Aqsa for a week, which was an unprecedented move.
Halawani was also issued another ban following a house raid and arrest. Authorities claimed her presence at Al-Aqsa is dangerous and problematic.
“‘The most dangerous woman’ – that’s what they chose to call me to justify bringing a big army force to knock down the door of a defenceless woman. They searched every room in the house then beat me and forcefully dragged me on the floor before arresting me,” Halawani wrote on Instagram, adding that she’s been banned for another six months.
Reportedly days after the gate was reopened, an Israeli court ruled that several Palestinians arrested for praying at the site are not guilty of any crime as the structure no longer belongs to an alleged “terror organisation”, but to the waqf.
Bab al-Rahma’s closure for 16 years under the claim of a court order turned out to be false, Wafa news reported.
Battle over sovereignty
Despite the court’s recent ruling and with Muslim prayers currently being held inside the building, Israeli MKs have been pressuring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reclose the gate and assert Israel’s sovereignty over the site.
Palestinian anxiety about the possibility of forced removal remains high, Israeli NGO Ir Amim noted in a press release on Thursday.
According to Ahmad Sub Laban, a field researcher with Ir Amim, the Islamic High Commission of the Waqf had decided to reopen Bab al-Rahma to assert their authority “in a move to show that this area is part of Al-Aqsa and that it’s under the Islamic Waqf’s responsibility”.
“All 144 dunums, everything [within the compound] [belongs to the Waqf],” Sub Laban said, adding that when the Israeli police returned to lock the gate again, Palestinians considered this as interfering with the status quo since the compound’s management is under the jurisdiction of the Jordanian Hashemite Kingdom and the waqf.
“As Muslims, we consider any kind of interference as an attempt to change the mosque and to divide it as part of the occupation,” Sub Laban said.
“For foreigners who come to visit the mosque, we welcome this but we don’t welcome anyone who comes to visit with the intention to change the situation at the mosque, damage it, divide it or take a part of it. It’s a holy area, it’s not going to be divided at all,” Sub Laban said.
Despite the “relative calm” at the site over the past year and a half, Israel has continued to take actions that compromise the management role of the waqf and contribute to the erosion of the status quo, Ir Amim wrote.
Over the past two years, the Israeli police have repeatedly restricted the waqf from carrying out maintenance in the compound and have installed a watchtower over Bab al-Rahma, defying waqf authorities.
Building the Third Temple
For years, Ir Amim has been issuing reports warning of the danger and growing prominence of Temple Movement activists.
Temple activists openly declare that ascension to the compound and praying at the site is central in their strategy of breaking the status quo, asserting Israeli control and serves as the first step in eventually building the Third Temple over Al-Aqsa.
The number of Jewish visitors to the compound has been breaking records over the past few years.
In the last Jewish year, 22,552 Jewish visitors ascended to the compound, which more than doubled compared with the number two years ago.
Ir Amim warned in 2017 that the Israeli police, who are supposed to prevent non-Muslim worship at the site, are now working in “close coordination” with temple activists and disregard Jewish worship that takes place, marking a “radical shift” in their relationship.
Activists have been seen praying at the Muslim cemetery and adjacent to Bab al-Rahma.
“Given the deepening ties between the movement and the right-wing Israeli political establishment, there are rising suspicions in the Palestinian community that the state intends to establish a synagogue at the site,” Ir Amim noted.
“As a result, there is increasing pressure among some Palestinians to consolidate the Muslim presence at Bab al-Rahma in order to curtail any potential plans.”
Restrictions for Palestinians
For Palestinians, maintaining a presence at the compound is necessary to ensure control over Al-Aqsa.
With the desecration of mosques and other holy sites after 1948 and the division of Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque to allow Jewish worship, Palestinians have progressively lost control over religious sites and national symbols, Brussels-based International Crisis Group (ICG) reported in 2015.
While religious Jews are increasingly visiting the holy site, for Palestinians living in the occupied territories, visiting Al-Aqsa remains a dream as they are typically not allowed to visit.
“Of course the occupation is trying to restrict [access for Palestinians], have fewer [Palestinians] go there,” Halawani said.
“It’s not giving permits for people from the West Bank. The police are always at the doors [to Al-Aqsa] scaring people. They threaten people: ‘If you do what [Halawani’s] doing, you’re going to end up like her.'”
Halawani said it was when she started attracting large numbers of Palestinians to visit Al-Aqsa that she first caught the attention of Israeli authorities.
In 2011, she started a programme for women at the mosque teaching Quran recitation. In the beginning, 50 women attended. Two years later, the number had grown to 650, with women arriving from across the country, including from the Naqab (Negev) desert.
In the summertime, the numbers multiplied with around 1,000 children attending camp at the compound every day.
It led to her first ban in 2012 and the programme was disbanded.
“The idea of encouraging people to come to Al-Aqsa, to be there, that in itself [is seen] as a threat,” Halawani said.
With little being done about the eroding status quo and with Israeli MKs continuously calling for Israeli sovereignty over the site, Halawani is determined to at least inform others through social media about the dangers facing Al-Aqsa, even if it means another arrest or ban.
ICG explained in its analysis that “Jewish historical and religious sites in East Jerusalemhave become foci of Israeli control, attracting a Jewish presence that securitises Arab surroundings and embitters residents”.
“Many Palestinians believe their last stand is at Al-Aqsa, in a city already lost.”
Two relatives of JeM leader among 44 people detained as part of crackdown against armed groups, interior ministry says.
Tensions are running high between India and Pakistan following a suicide attack on an Indian paramilitary convoy last month, which killed 42 soldiers in Indian-administered Kashmir.
The suicide attack, the deadliest in 30 years of Kashmir conflict and claimed by Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM), escalated into a massive standoff between the two South Asian nuclear powers.
On February 26, 12 days after the JeM attack, Indian fighter jets bombed inside Pakistani territory, claiming to have hit a camp belonging to the armed group and eliminating “many rebels”.
An infuriated Islamabad, which denied any casualties in the Indian bombing, launched its own incursion across the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border between the two countries in the disputed Kashmir region.
The dogfight resulted in the capture of a downed Indian air force pilot, who was releasedon March 1 as part of a “peace gesture” by Pakistan.
Meanwhile, violence and deaths continue in Kashmir, the Himalayan territory claimed in full by the two nuclear-armed rivals.
Here are all the latest updates as of Tuesday, March 5:
Pakistan’s envoy to India to return to New Delhi
Pakistan has announced that its envoy to India will return to New Delhi upon consultations in Islamabad after Pulwama attack, an official says.
The consultations aim to de-escalate the ongoing tension between both nuclear neighbours, Mohammad Faisal, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, says in a statement.
A Pakistani delegation will also visit the Indian capital New Delhi on March 14, followed by the return of the Indian delegation to Islamabad on March 28, to discuss the draft agreement on Kartarpur Corridor, Faisal adds.
India-Pakistan border ‘relatively calm’
Pakistan’s military says the “situation along the LOC remained relatively calm”, but a 26-year-old man from the village of Dara Sher Khan was wounded because of Indian army fire that “deliberately” targeted civilians.
In a statement, the military says its troops responded to the Indian fire.
Pakistan’s navy remains vigilant and alert after detecting an Indian submarine near Pakistani waters, the statement adds.
Pakistan arrests dozens, including relatives of JeM chief
Pakistan has detained two close relatives of the leader of Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM), Masood Azhar, as part of a new crackdown against armed groups, the interior ministry says.
“Forty-four under-observation members of proscribed organisations, including Mufti Abdul Raoof and Hamad Azhar, have been taken in preventive detention for investigation,” the ministry says in a statement.
“These actions will continue, as per the decisions taken in the National Security Committee (NSC) meeting on March 4, while reviewing the National Action Plan,” the statement adds.
Indian navy chief warns of ‘terror’ operations at sea
India’s navy chief says there are reports about terrorists being trained to carry out operations through the sea, according to local news agency PTI.
“We have reports of terrorists being trained to carry out operations in various modus operandi, including through the medium of the sea,” Admiral Sunil Lanba says.
“We recently saw the horrific scale of the extremist attack in Jammu and Kashmir about three weeks ago,” he adds, referring to the suicide attack on an Indian security forces convoy in the Indian-administered town of Pulwama.
“This violence was perpetrated by extremists aided and abetted by a State that seeks to destabilise India,” the navy chief says without naming Pakistan.
Pakistan navy ‘foils intrusion’ by Indian submarine
Pakistan’s navy says it successfully foiled an attempt by an Indian submarine to enter Pakistani waters.
“The Pakistan navy used its specialised skills to ward off the submarine, successfully keeping it from entering Pakistani waters,” a statement from the navy spokesperson says.
“In line with the government’s policy of maintaining peace, the Indian submarine was not targeted,” the statement adds.
A video released by the navy shows grainy black and white footage of what appears to be a periscope above water.
The timestamp on the video clip shows it began at 8.35pm local time (15.35 GMT) on Monday.
After November 2016, this is the second time Pakistan has detected an Indian submarine trying to enter its waters.
There was no immediate comment from Indian officials about the latest maritime incident.
Pakistan has ‘taken many steps’ against armed groups
Pakistan is taking a range of measures to deal with armed groups, a government official says.
In an interview with Al Jazeera in the capital, Islamabad, Fawad Chaudhry, the country’s information information, says a National Action Plan signed in 2014 proposed a road map for dealing with armed groups.
WATCH: Al Jazeera’s interview with Pakistani information minister
“It is stated policy that we will not allow any armed groups to operate or use Pakistani soil and the monopoly on violence will rest with the state,” he says.
“After that, we have taken many steps, but still there were some requirements that need to be filled, for example the FATF (Financial Action Task Force) requirements that largely deals with the funding of these groups,” Chaudhry tells Al Jazeera.
“We have economic plans, political plans, and if need be, we can also use force to curb these groups,” he says, while adding: “This has nothing to do with Kashmir or Pulwama.”
Monday, March 4
Pakistan to freeze assets of armed groups
The government of Pakistan passes a regulation authorising the seizure of assets of armed groups that have been sanctioned by the United Nations and also enlisted under Pakistani domestic anti-terrorism laws.
“The objective of the UNSC (Freezing and Seizure) Order 2019 is to streamline the procedure for implementation of Security Council Sanctions against designated individuals and entities,” Pakistan’s foreign ministry says in a statement.
The JeM group, Lashkar-e-Tayyaba and its charitable arms Jamaat-ud-Dawa and Filah-e-Insaniyat Foundation (FIF) are subject to the new measure.
India, Pakistan ‘exchange fire on Kashmir frontier’
Pakistan’s military says its troops “responded effectively to Indian fire” from across their de facto border in Kashmir.
There are “no casualties on the Pakistani side”, the military says in a statement. “Pakistan armed forces continue state of alert and vigilance,” it adds.
Pakistan vows again to act against armed groups
Pakistan plans to take action against armed groups operating on its soil, according to a government official, amid global pressure to act after a suicide bomber killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in Indian-administered Kashmir last month.
But Fawad Chaudhry, Pakistan’s information minister, denies Indian accusations that Islamabad was involved in the February 14 attack, which led to a sharp rise in hostilities, saying it “had nothing to do with us”.
Chaudhry says the decision to act was taken at a meeting of the National Security Committee before the suicide bombing, claimed by armed group Jaish-e-Mohammad (JeM), in the town of Pulwama.
“A full-fledged strategy is now in place,” Chaudhry tells Reuters news agency.
“We have different strategies for different groups, but the main aim is that we have to enforce the writ of the state. We have to demilitarise if there are groups (on our soil),” he adds.
Shrinking pro-freedom space in Pakistan-administered Kashmir
Political parties seeking independence for all of the disputed territory of Kashmir from both Indian and Pakistani control are facing a fresh round of intimidation and legal action in the Pakistan-administered portion of the region, political activists have said.
The government of Pakistan-administered Kashmir, known locally as Azad Jammu and Kashmir (AJK), denied that it has restricted space for pro-freedom parties and electoral analysts said those parties have historically had marginal support in the territory.
The same parties in Indian-administered Kashmir regularly face arrests, arbitrary detentions and other alleged human rights abuses while in custody, activists tell Al Jazeera.
The operation of a bi-weekly cross-border train service between India’s capital New Delhi and Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore has resumed, according to a Pakistani railway official.
Ejaz Shah, Pakistan railways spokesman, said the train service, known as Samjhauta Express, left Lahore on Monday for India’s border town of Attari, with some 180 passengers on board.
The neighbours agreed on Saturday to restart the rail link after suspending it last week due to the “prevailing tensions” between the two countries.
The first train left India on Sunday.
Pakistan PM: ‘I’m not worthy of Nobel Peace Prize’
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said he is “not worthy” of the Nobel Peace Prize after growing calls on social media and by his ruling party to award him for his “sagacious” role in defusing tensions with India.
“The person worthy of this would be the one who solves the Kashmir dispute according to the wishes of the Kashmiri people and paves the way for peace and human development in the subcontinent,” Khan writes on Twitter. .
Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry submitted a resolution to the National Assembly on Saturday, suggesting Khan, 66, receive the prestigious award.
More than 400,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the prize be given to Khan.
Trevor Noah slammed for India-Pakistan war joke
South African comedian and US TV show host Trevor Noah is under fire for joking about the recent tensions between India and Pakistan, with social media users criticising his comments as “racist”, “insensitive” and “stereotypical”.
During an episode of The Daily Show, a satirical news programme, on Wednesday night, host Noah said that if the nuclear-armed neighbours went to war, “it would be the most entertaining of all time”.
“It would also be the longest war of all time – another dance number!” he added while putting on an Indian accent and suggesting that a potential war scene would play out like a Bollywood musical.
The playful satire drew outrage on Twitter, forcing the 35-year-old comic to apologise.
Indian Air Force chief: ‘We don’t count human casualties’
Amid conflicting claims over the number of armed fighters killed in the Indian air attack inside Pakistani territory, the country’s air force chief said it is not their job to count casualties.
Air Chief Marshal BS Dhanoa, responding to questions from Indian media over how many JeM fighters were killed in the February 26 raid, said: “Indian Air Force is not in a postilion to clarify the number of casualties. The government will clarify that. We don’t count human casualties, we count what targets we have hit or not.”
Dhanoa’s response came amid a controversy over the Indian government’s failure to present evidence to back its claim that its attack had destroyed JeM camps in Balakot area in northern Pakistan and killed “a very large number” of rebels.
Islamabad denied the claim.
On Sunday, India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) chief Amit Shah claimed “250 terrorists were killed”.
His statement came shortly after an Indian minister said the Balakot strike was “meant to warn [Pakistan], not kill.”
Sunday, March 3
Kashmiris use lull in violence to move to safety
Residents of villages near the LoC said it was quiet overnight on Sunday, their first lull since the dangerous escalation between Pakistan and India erupted last week.
In the Chakoti area in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, many villagers used the calm to leave their homes and move to safety.
Nazakat Hussain said he has no other option but to leave because his family does not have underground shelters or bunkers to protect them. He told The Associated Press news agency that the rough weather and snow, along with the cross-border shooting, prevented his family from leaving earlier.
Moazzam Zafar, a Pakistani government official, said 200 families are taking shelter in three large government buildings in the territory.
Zafar said the authorities are providing warm clothing, bedding, food and medicine, and will establish more such camps.
In call with Khan, May urges action on armed groups
British Prime Minister Theresa May‘s office said she emphasised the importance of Pakistan taking action against all “terrorist groups” in a call with Prime Minister Imran Khan.
“She welcomed his commitment to reducing tensions with India,” May’s office said.
“The leaders discussed the need to address the causes of this conflict. The prime minister emphasised the importance of Pakistan taking action against all terrorist groups, in support of global efforts to combat terrorism.”
Protesters in Lahore condemn India’s ban of JeI
Hundreds of people gathered in Pakistan’s eastern city Lahore to protest against India’s decision on Thursday to ban the Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) group in the disputed territory of Kashmir.
India’s home ministry has accused the group of “unlawful association” and supporting rebellion in the region.
The Lahore protest was organised by the political party Jamaat-e-Islami Pakistan.
“Kashmir will become Pakistan,” chanted protesters holding Pakistan and party flags.
Liaquat Baloch, a senior JeI leader in Pakistan, said: “India is crazy about war and their failure is in front of the world. They are killing Kashmiris, firing is going on continuously at the Line of Control and now they have imposed a ban on Jamaat-e-Islami in occupied Kashmir.”
US looking into ‘misuse of F-16s’ by Pakistan
The embassy of the United States in Islamabad said Washington is “seeking information” on whether Pakistan used US-built F-16 jets to down the Indian fighter jet, which may violate the F-16 sale agreements between the two countries.
Pakistan says it did not use F-16s in shooting down the jet when it crossed the LoC that acts as a de facto border in Kashmir. Islamabad says this was an act of self defence.
“We are aware of these reports and are seeking more information,” a US embassy spokesperson told the Reuters news agency. “We take all allegations of misuse of defense articles very seriously.”
US often inserts restrictions on how its exported military hardware can be used through so-called end-user agreements.
Pakistan moves all PSL matches to Karachi
Pakistan’s cricket board announced that all eight matches of the country’s T20 cricket league scheduled to be held in Pakistan will now be played in Karachi due to “logistical and operational challenges”.
The decision was made following the delayed resumption of commercial flights to the airport in Lahore, which was set to host three matches on March 9, 10 and 12, the board says in a statement.
“Due to the recent and prevailing uncertainty, we felt it critical to make a decisive decision at this juncture,” PCB chairman Ehsan Mani said.
The Pakistan Super League kicked off in the United Arab Emirates last month. The final will be played in Karachi on March 17.
Pakistanis seek Nobel Peace Prize for PM Khan
Pakistan’s ruling party joined a social media campaign advocating a Nobel Peace Prize for Prime Minister Imran Khan for his “sagacious” role in defusing tensions with India.
The move came a day after Information Minister Fawad Chaudhry submitted a resolution suggesting he receive the prize to the National Assembly..
The resolution is likely to be tabled on Monday for a vote in the assembly, Sibghat Virk, a member of Khan’s Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaaf (PTI) says.
More than 300,000 people have signed an online petition calling for the award be given to Khan.
The hashtag #NobelPeacePrizeForImranKhan began trending on Twitter after Islamabad handed back captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman as a “peace gesture” on Friday.
Pakistan allows restricted flights at Lahore airport
Pakistan’s civil aviation authority says it is allowing restricted operations at the Allama Iqbal international airport in the eastern city of Lahore.
This comes after the resumption of partial operations at Karachi, Quetta, Peshawar and Islamabad.
Other airports in Gilgit Baltistan, Punjab province and the interior Sindh region remain closed, the agency said on Twitter.
Pakistan’s foreign ministry said the world’s largest body of Muslim-majority nations has adopted a resolution urging India and Pakistan to de-escalate tensions and resolve their issues “through peaceful means”.
The ministry said in a statement that at the end of a meeting in the United Arab Emirates, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) “reaffirmed its unwavering support for the Kashmiri people in their just cause”.
It said the OIC expressed concern over this past week’s “Indian violation of Pakistani airspace; affirmed Pakistan’s right to self-defense; and urged India to refrain from the threat or use of force”.
The resolution came a day after Pakistan’s foreign minister skipped the meeting to protest the host’s decision to invite India, a non-member.
Pakistan receives body of citizen killed in Indian jail
Pakistani authorities have received the body of a citizen killed in an Indian jail amid growing tensions between the countries, Pakistan’s foreign office has said.
“India had failed to protect the Pakistani prisoner,” Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi told in a press conference in the eastern city of Lahore.
Shakir Ullah was allegedly stoned to death by inmates of Jaipur central jail on February 20.
Pakistan has formally lodged a complaint with the Indian government and requested India to immediately provide the details of inquiry of the murder and post-mortem report, which have not been provided so far.
Pakistan has demanded “safety of all Pakistanis, especially Pakistani prisoners in Indian jails to prevent recurrence of such tragic and reprehensible incidents”.
Indian authorities handed over Shakir Ullah’s body at Wagah border, a day after Pakistan released an Indian pilot as a peace gesture to help calm tensions.
India’s defence minister meets freed pilot
India’s defence minister has met the pilot who was handed over by Pakistan on Friday in a “gesture of peace”.
The ministry of defence released images showing Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman meeting Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman at an air force medical facility in New Delhi.
The Press Trust of India news agency reported that the air force pilot debriefed the minister about his detainment in Pakistan.
The news agency said the pilot was undergoing medical tests at the facility.
Varthaman was captured on Wednesday after his plane was shot down by the Pakistani military.
Two Pakistani soldiers killed: army statement
Pakistan’s army says in a statement that two of its soldiers were killed in Nakiyal near the Line of Control in an “exchange of fire while targeting Indian posts undertaking firing on civilian population”.
This brings the toll on both sides to seven since the release of the Indian pilot on Friday.
Kashmir shelling resumes after release of captured Indian pilot
Indian and Pakistani soldiers again targeted each other’s posts and villages along their volatile frontier, killing at least five civilians and wounding several others, officials on both sides said.
Two siblings and their mother were killed by Pakistani shelling into Indian-administered Kashmir, police said, while a boy and man were killed by Indian shelling on the Pakistani side of the Line of Control.
Friday, March 1
Seven killed in Kashmir clashes
Four members of India’s security forces, two rebels and one civilian have been killed during gunfights in Kupwara district, Indian-administered Kashmir, according to local media reports.
In response to a tip-off about the presence of rebels, security forces launched a cordon and search operation in Kupwara, The Indian Express newspaper reports, involving police and military personnel.
The civilian, who died at hospital from a bullet wound sustained during clashes with security forces in a nearby area, has been identified as 21-year-old Wasim Ahmad Mir, according to an official statement by local police.
Modi praises returned pilot
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi says in a tweet India is “proud” of returned pilot Abhinandan Varthaman’s “exemplary courage”.
Modi has been accused by opposition politicians of exploiting the ongoing confrontation with Pakistan for political gains ahead of India’s upcoming elections, which are scheduled to be held in April and May.
Pakistan: Varthaman treated ‘in line with international law’
Pakistan’s foreign ministry says in a statement Varthaman has been “treated with dignity and in line with international law”, and that his release is “aimed at de-escalating rising tensions with India”.
Pakistan releases captured Indian pilot
Pakistan has released captured Indian pilot Abhinandan Varthaman, handing him back to Indian authorities after days of hostility between the nuclear-armed neighbours.
He crossed over into India by foot, escorted by Pakistani troops and Indian diplomats.
Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from the Indian capital, New Delhi, said the processing of Varthaman’s return at the Wagah-Attari border crossing had appeared to have gone “according to plan, though the Pakistani’s have delayed the release of the Wing Commander at least three times during the day”.
“We don’t know why there has been a delay, but it seems that the wing commander … is now on his way home,” Rahman said.
Indian defence official Air Vice Marshal RGK Kapoor tells reporters at the scene Varthaman is being taken for medical checks.
“This check-up is mandated particularly because the officer has had to eject from an aeroplane,” Kapoor says.
Situation remains ‘critical’
Al Jazeera’s Kamal Hyder, reporting from Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad, said the situation remains “critical” following Varthaman’s release amid concerns over how to “defuse this escalating crisis”.
“The Pakistani military is on full red alert, they are flying constant air patrols all over Pakistan and although the airspace has been open, the movement of aircraft between India and Pakistan, especially commercial aircraft is still under restrictions,” Hyder said.
“What we are being told here in Pakistan is that the Indians are still in a belligerent mood, that Modi is trying to capitalise on this crisis for the elections coming up within the next two months,” he added.
“So the ball, as far as Pakistan is concerned, is in India’s court.”
Red cross expected to process pilot’s return
Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from the Indian capital, New Delhi, said Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman’s release and return to India was likely going to be processed by the Red Cross as “neutral arbiters”.
“We do not expect any sort of a press conference with the Wing Commander but there may be a press statement or a press conference with senior air force or military officials later in the day,” Rahman said, adding the pilot’s release was unlikely to end the ongoing row between Islamabad and New Delhi.
“As far as India is concerned the situation is still very tense, Indian-administered Kashmir is still under curfew, there was a skirmish on Thursday with cross-border firing which resulted in the death of one woman … and earlier on Friday there has been an ongoing gun battle in the area of Handwara [in Indian-administered Kashmir] where four security personnel and one civilian have been killed,” Rahman said.
“Regardless of what’s going on with the wing commander and him being transferred back to India, the situation in terms of any semblance of peace and tranquility is certainly far from it. The fighting continues in the administered areas, both on the Pakistani and Indian side, and the [Indian] government itself says it is still going to deal with Pakistan and isolate it internationally.”
Pakistan’s army chief holds talks with US, UK military officials
Pakistan’s army chief Qamar Javed Bajwa has spoken with top military officials from the United States, Britain and Australia amid a volatile standoff with neighbouring India, according to a spokesperson for the country’s armed forces.
Military spokeperson Major General Asif Ghafoor said in a tweet on Friday that Bajwa discussed the ongoing spat with India and its “impact on peace & stability in the region” in a call with US Central Command Commander Joseph Votel as well as with top British and Australian military figures.
Bajwa vowed Pakistan would “surely respond to any aggression in self-defence”, according to the Twitter post. Ghafoor confirms Bajwa has also spoken by phone with the ambassadors of China, Britain, and the United States.
Indian PM Modi pledges tough response to ‘terror’
India’s prime minister said a tough response by his country’s armed forces to recent attacks in Indian-controlled Kashmir have curtailed the influence of “terror” groups in the country.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi pledged to curtail acts of “terrorism” further.
Modi, who faces elections this spring, spoke at a public rally on Friday in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu.
Pakistan brings Indian pilot to border for handover
Pakistani officials have brought the Indian pilot captured from a downed plane to the Wagah border crossing with India for handover.
On the Indian side of the border, turbaned Indian policemen lined the road as a group of cheering Indian residents from the area waved India’s national flag and held up a huge garland of flowers to welcome Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman back.
Pakistan to lodge ‘eco-terrorism’ complaint against India
Pakistan plans to lodge a complaint against India at the United Nations, accusing it of “eco-terrorism” over air raids that damaged pine trees and brought the nuclear-armed nations to blows, a government minister said on Friday.
Indian warplanes on Tuesday bombed a hilly forest area near the northern Pakistani town of Balakot, about 40km from India’s border in the Himalayan region of Kashmir. New Delhi said it had destroyed an armed training camp and killed hundreds of “terrorists” – which Pakistan denied.
Climate Change Minister Malik Amin Aslam said Indian jets bombed a “forest reserve” and the government was undertaking an environmental impact assessment, which will be the basis of a complaint at the UN and other forums.
“What happened over there is environmental terrorism,” Aslam told the Reuters news agency, adding that dozens of pine trees had been felled. “There has been serious environmental damage.”
Pakistan partially reopens airspace
Four Pakistani airports will begin partial operations on Friday with a full resumption of commercial flights on Monday, the country’s civil aviation authority said.
The agency issued a statement on Friday saying some domestic and international flights will be allowed to and from the cities of Karachi, Islamabad, Peshawar and Quetta.
It said full operations at all airports, including the one located in the eastern city of Lahore that borders India, will resume on March 4 at 1pm local time (08.00 GMT).
Thousands of Indians, some waving flags and singing, gathered on Friday to give a hero’s welcome to an Indian air force pilot due to be returned across the border after being shot down by Pakistan.
Media on both sides of the Wagah border crossing was pushed back around 1 kilometre from the border, sources told Al Jazeera.
“He [Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman] will be debriefed by not only the secret service, but mainly the air force and there will be no media sound bites from him for the foreseeable future as and when he will come back to Indian soil,” said Al Jazeera’s Sohail Rahman, reporting from the Indian capital, New Delhi.
“That is part of the protocol when you are, in theory, a prisoner of war,” he added.
Pakistan FM boycotts OIC meeting
Pakistan’s foreign minister said on Friday he would not attend a meeting of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation in Abu Dhabi this weekend because his Indian counterpart had been invited to the event.
“I will not go to the council of foreign ministers,” Shah Mahmood Qureshi told parliament in the capital, Islamabad, adding that lower ranking officials would attend to represent Pakistan’s interests.
Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj has been invited by the Emirati hosts as a “guest of honour” to the two-day gathering, set to kick off on Friday.
Qureshi said India is neither a member of the 57-nation organisation nor has observer status.
Social media fake news fans tension
With India and Pakistan standing on the brink of war this week, several false videos, pictures and messages circulated widely on social media, sparking anger and heightening tension in both countries.
The video of an injured pilot from a recent Indian air show and images from a 2005 earthquake have been taken out of context to attempt to mislead tens of millions on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and its messenger service, WhatsApp.
Pratik Sinha, co-founder of fact-checking website, Alt News, said they had received requests to verify news from journalists and people on social media..
“It’s been crazy since Tuesday. There is so much out there that we know is fake, but we’re not able to fact-check all of it,” Sinha told Reuters news ageny.
In Pakistan, a purported video of a second captured Indian pilot was being widely circulated. Fact-checking website Boom noted the clip was from an air show in the southern Indian city of Bengaluru, where two planes crashed on February 19.
“Everyone has a role to play in ensuring misinformation doesn’t spread on the internet and we encourage people who use Twitter not to share information unless they can verify that it’s true,” a spokeswoman for Twitter said.
Thursday, February 28
JeM chief in Pakistan, says FM
The founder of armed group Jaish-e-Mohammed, Masood Azhar, is in Pakistan and is “very unwell”, Pakistan’s foreign minister has revealed.
“He’s unwell to the extent that he cannot leave his house. Thats the information I have,” Shah Mehmood Qureshi told the CNN in an exclusive interview on Thursday.
When questioned why he was not arrested, Qureshi replied: “If they [India] give us evidence which is acceptable to the courts of Pakistan… they [JeM] will go to the court.”
“If they [India] have solid inalienable evidence, share it with us so that we can convince the people and the independent judiciary of Pakistan,” he added.
Putin hopes for prompt settlement
Russian President Vladimir Putin has expressed hope for a prompt settlement between India and Pakistan, according to a Kremlin statement.
Putin spoke to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the telephone on Thursday.
The Russian leader expressed his condolences on the Pulwama suicide attack on February 14 that killed Indian paramilitary troops.
“The two leaders condemned international terrorism and any methods used to support it, stressing the need to step up the uncompromising fight against the terrorist threat,” the statement read.
UAE crown prince speaks to Modi, Khan
UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed held telephone conversations on Thursday with both Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his Pakistani counterpart Imran Khan in an effort to defuse tensions between the two neighbours.
“Mohammed bin Zayed emphasised on the importance of addressing recent developments and prioritising dialogue and communication,” according to his Twitter account.
Turkey’s Erdogan welcomes pilot’s release
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan welcomed Pakistan’s announcement to release the Indian fighter pilot it captured after downing his jet, Prime Minister Imran Khan’s party said.
In a telephone conversation, Khan and Erdogan discussed the recent tensions between India and Pakistan, as well as recent developments in the region, the Turkish president’s office confirmed.
India bans Jamaat-e-Islami in Kashmir
Indian government bans Jamaat-e-Islami (JeI) in Indian-administered Kashmir for five years, accusing it of supporting an armed rebellion in the disputed region that is at the heart of an escalating conflict with rival Pakistan.
India’s home ministry said the JeI has been banned for “unlawful association” and for activities “prejudicial to internal security and public order”.
India on ‘heightened’ alert despite Pakistan promise on pilot
India is welcoming Pakistan’s decision to free a captured pilot whose Mig-21 fighter was shot down in air raids this week, but top generals from the army and air force make it clear that their forces remain on high alert to respond to any “provocation” from Islamabad.
“We are happy that our pilot, who had fallen across the line of control and was in the custody of Pakistan, is being released,” says R J K Kapoor, air vice marshal.
“We are extremely happy to have him back. We want to see him back,” he tells reporters.
Standing alongside him, Major General Surendra Singh Mahal of the Indian army warns Pakistan: “We are fully prepared and in a heightened state of readiness to respond to any provocation from Pakistan.”
Kashmir – Uneasy calm by day, ‘sheer terror’ at night
In the village of Bakoot, just a few kilometers away from the disputed Pakistan-India frontier, an uneasy calm prevails during the day. But the nights bring sheer terror, with darkness accompanied by a furious exchange of artillery shelling.
Read our correspondent Imran Khan’s dispatch from Pakistan-administered Kashmir here.
Modi criticised for ‘politicising’ Pakistan standoff
India’s opposition parties and civil society groups are criticising Modi for continuing his scheduled public events, including an election rally, while staying mum amid a major military stand-off with Pakistan.
Pompeo urges ratcheting down of India, Pakistan tensions
Mike Pompeo, US secretary of state, says he has spoken with the leaders of India and Pakistan and has urged them to avoid “any action that would escalate and greatly increase risk”.
Pakistani airspace to open at 6pm on March 1
Pakistan’s airspace will remain closed to commercial flights until 6pm local time (13.00 GMT) on Friday, the country’s civil aviation authority said.
International flights have been rerouted, causing delays, instead of taking the normal route over the India-Pakistan airspace.
PM: Pakistan to release Indian pilot tomorrow
Prime Minister Imran Khan says Pakistan will release the Indian pilot on Friday, two days after he was captured.
“We have an Indian pilot. As a peace gesture we will release him tomorrow,” Khan told a joint sitting of parliament in the capital, Islamabad on Thursday.
Khan also said he had unsuccessfully tried to make telephone contact with his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi on Wednesday night.
Pakistan on high alert along LoC
Pakistan’s army is on “high alert” along the Line of Control – the de facto border dividing Kashmir into two parts, each administered by India and Pakistan.
“Pakistan armed forces are in a state of readiness for all eventualities,” a military statement on Thursday said.
Imran Khan ‘ready to speak’ to Indian PM Modi
Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan is ready to speak with his Indian counterpart, Narendra Modi, on telephone, while offering peace, Pakistan’s foreign minister has said.
Speaking to local television channel Geo News on Thursday, Shah Mehmood Qureshi said that Pakistan is prepared to return the captured Indian pilot if it helps reduce tensions.
“I am sending a message to India: if the return of this pilot allows for a de-escalation, then Pakistan is ready to consider it,” Qureshi said.
“If you have any concerns, share them. If you have any evidence, give it to us. Today, [India] has sent a dossier … we have received it, we will examine it, and now come and speak to us on the basis of this dossier.”
“Pakistan is ready for any positive step,” he added. “Pakistan is ready to de-escalate the situation.”
Trump hopeful for India-Pakistan peace
US President Donald Trump is hopeful that India and Pakistan may be on the cusp of progress after increasing tensions.
Trump told reporters at the end of a two-day summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong un in Vietnam that India and Pakistan have “been going at it” and that the US has been involved, “trying to help them both out” to “see if we can get some organisation and some peace.”
“Hopefully that’s going to be coming to an end,” he said in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, on Thursday.
“I think probably that’s going to be happening,” adding: “We have, I think, reasonably decent news from Pakistan and India.”
India-Pakistan crisis: What we know so far
It has been two weeks since the suicide car bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir that killed at least 42 Indian paramilitary troops, sparking tensions between India and Pakistan.
UK urges restraint and de-escalation
British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has expressed concern at the current situation in the region, urging India and Pakistan to show restraint and de-escalate, Pakistan’s foreign ministry said.
Hunt spoke to Pakistan’s Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi on the phone on Wednesday evening.
Qureshi called on the UK to “play its due role in bringing down tensions between Pakistan and India.”
“The foreign minister added that the captured Indian air force pilot would be treated humanely in accordance with the Geneva Conventions,” the ministry statement on Thursday said.
Signed in 1949 by representatives of 64 countries, the Geneva Conventions govern the protection for wounded members of armed forces, prisoners of war and civilians during armed conflict.
India-Pakistan rail link suspended
The operation of a bi-weekly cross-border train service between India’s capital New Delhi and Pakistan’s eastern city of Lahore has been temporarily suspended due to the “prevailing tensions” between the two countries.
“Samjhuta Express will resume its operations as soon as the security situation improves between India and Pakistan,” a statement by Pakistan’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Pakistan airspace to remain closed till Thursday midnight
Pakistan’s airspace will remain closed to commercial flights until midnight on Thursday, the country’s civil aviation authority said.
Pakistan International Airlines, the national carrier, advised its customers to expect further delays, adding that all flights were being rescheduled.
Wednesday, February 27
India demands ‘safe’ return of pilot
India’s foreign ministry has told Pakistan’s acting high commissioner that New Delhi expects the immediate and safe return of a military pilot held by Pakistan after two Indian fighter jets were shot down over Pakistani airspace.
“It was made clear that Pakistan would be well advised to ensure that no harm comes to the Indian defence personnel in its custody. India also expects his immediate and safe return,” the foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday.
‘There is no camp here, and no terrorists either’
Al Jazeera’s Asad Hashim reports from the site of Tuesday’s air raid by the Indian Air Force and found no sign of serious casualties or structural damage.
The Line of Control (LoC) is a 740km de-facto border separating Pakistani and Indian-administered Kashmir.
Islamabad and New Delhi have fought two wars over Kashmir since independence, with the LoC being the focus of the hostilities.
The actual line marks the military front when the two South Asian states declared a ceasefire ending the First India-Pakistan War.
Iran offers to mediate between India and Pakistan
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke on Wednesday on phone with his Pakistani counterpart, Shah Mahmood Qureshi, and offered mediation between India and Pakistan, after rising tensions between the two countries.
Zarif, whose Monday’s resignation was rejected by Rouhani on Wednesday, urged both countries to exercise restraint, the semi-official news agency ISNA reported. ISNA said Zarif is going to speak to his Indian counterpart as well but did not specify any date.
Germany appeals for calm
Germany on Wednesday called on both Pakistan and India to de-escalate tensions after cross-border air raids set the region on edge.
“The federal government makes an urgent appeal for both sides to refrain from steps that could further escalate the conflict,” German Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Adebahr told a news conference in Berlin, adding that India and Pakistan bear responsibility for regional stability.
Indian and Pakistani nuclear power
The Kashmir conflict, explained
In this explainer video, Al Jazeera looks at the history behind the conflict in Kashmir, and the factors that continue to fuel tensions.
India and Pakistan: Face to Face
This handy data set gives you some idea of just how powerful India and Pakistan are. From the number of fighter planes and tanks, to the types of missiles each has, we have you covered.
Flights to Pakistan and India cancelled
Airlines including Qatar Airways, Emirates, and Etihad, have cancelled flights to Pakistan and some parts of India amid heightened tensions between the two nuclear-armed neighbours.
EU Foreign Affairs Representative urges calm
Federica Mogherini has urged the “utmost restraint” amid tensions between New Delhi and Islamabad.
India condemns ‘vulgar’ display of prisoner
Indian media outlet NDTV says government officials in New Delhi have condemned Pakistan’s publication of video and images showing a captured Indian pilot.
“India also strongly objects to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel of the Indian Air Force in violation of all norms of International Humanitarian Law and the Geneva Convention,” the Indian government says in a statement.
The comments come as Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi meets military officers to discuss the capture of the pilot.
Pakistani PM Imran Khan urges talks to calm situation
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan has urged his Indian counterpart Narendra Modi to negotiate an end to the current crisis.
In a televised address, he said: “History tells us that wars are full of miscalculation. My question is that given the weapons we have can we afford miscalculation.”
Pakistani military now says it has one Indian pilot
Pakistan Armed Forces spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor, has said the Pakistani army holds just one Indian pilot.
In an earlier comment, the military said it had two members of the Indian armed forces in custody. India says it has one pilot unaccounted for.
UK “deeply concerned” about rising tension
UK Prime Minister Theresa May urged India and Pakistan to show restraint.
“The UK is deeply concerned about rising tensions between India and Pakistan and urgently calls for restraint on both sides to avoid further escalation,” May told Parliament.
“We are in regular contact with both countries, urging dialogue and diplomatic solutions to ensure regional stability.
“We are working closely with international partners including through the UN Security Council to deescalate tensions,” May says.
Emirates cancels flights to Pakistan
Dubai-based Emirates airline cancelled all flights to Pakistan and Afghanistan due to the closure of Pakistan’s airspace.
The news followed a similar decision by Bahrain’s national carrier, which suspended all flights to Pakistan earlier on Wednesday.
Turkey calls for calm between India and Pakistan
Turkey‘s foreign minister, Mevlut Cavusoglu voiced concern over the increasing tension between India and Pakistan.
“We are concerned over this tension. We want to call for common sense and calm between the parties. Steps that will escalate the tension should be avoided,” Cavusoglu said.
He pointed to the dispute over Kashmir as the source of the tension, telling reporters in the Turkish capital, Ankara, that it must be solved as soon as possible within the framework of international law.
Imran Khan urges “wisdom”, offers dialogue
Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said his country is ready for dialogue with India and urged the need for “better sense to prevail”.
“I am addressing India. It is very important that we use wisdom,” Khan said in a televised address, emphasising that several countries have ended up at war in the past due to a lack of dialogue.
He stressed the need for the two nuclear-armed countries to remain cool-headed and to cooperate on security in the disputed Kashmir, saying “we will go and fight with you against terrorism”.
India says it shot down one Pakistani fighter jet and lost one of its own
India said it shot down one Pakistani fighter jet and lost one of its own to Pakistan.
Pakistan claimed to have shot down two Indian warplanes.
India’s Foreign Ministry admits one pilot is missing
India’s Foreign Ministry said one of their pilots is missing after Pakistan claimed to have captured two Indian pilots.
Ravish Kumar, the ministry spokesperson, also stressed need to “ascertain the facts” amid competing narratives with Pakistan.
“In this engagement, we have unfortunately lost one MiG 21. The pilot is missing in action. Pakistan has claimed he is in their custody. We are ascertaining the facts,” Kumar said.
Bahrain’s Gulf Air suspends all flights to and from Pakistan
Bahrain’s national carrier Gulf Air has suspended all flights to and from Pakistan with immediate effect due to the closure of Pakistani airspace, according to a statement from the company.
“On February 27, flights to/from Lahore, Multan and Islamabad are cancelled and all passengers will be transferred to next available flights when the airspace is open again,” the statement said.
India’s former ambassador to the US warns Pakistan
Retired diplomat Lalit Mansingh said a new red line with Pakistan has been drawn, adding that India’s policy of strategic restraint “is no longer”, according to the AP news agency.
India, Pakistan suspend flights, partially close airspaces
India and Pakistan confirmed the partial closure of their airspaces and suspension of commercial flights from several airports.
Pakistan indefinitely closed at least three airports in cities located near the Indian border, military spokesman Asif Ghafoor told reporters.
All international and domestic flights from major airports, including Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore, were also suspended for an indefinite period.
Meanwhile, India suspended flights from airports in the disputed region of Kashmir and the state of Punjab until further notice, officials said.
Pakistan does ‘not want to go towards war’: Military spokesman
Pakistan’s military spokesman said the country does “not want to go towards war” with India.
“We do not want escalation, we do not want to go towards war,” Major General Asif Ghafoor told reporters at a press conference in Rawalpindi, a city in western Pakistan.
He adds that the two Indian pilots who have allegedly been captured are “being treated well”. One is currently in custody and the other in the hospital, he said.
Pakistan claims it has captured two Indian pilots
Pakistan’s military said two Indian pilots were captured after their planes were shot down over Pakistani airspace. India denied the claim, saying all its pilots are accounted for, according to local media.
Airports in several Indian cities shut, Lahore airport cancels and delays flights
Indian news reports said that airports in Indian-administered Kashmir have been closed to civilian traffic shortly after an Indian air force jet crashed in the area.
The Press Trust of India news agency said the airports are in Srinagar, Jammu and Leh. Indian authorities declined to comment.
There were reports that several airports in Pakistan also closed, but Pakistan’s civil aviation authority said it cannot confirm that at this time. However, the website for the international airport in Lahore appeared to show a suspension of flights departing the city.
China’s Foreign Ministry reiterated its call for India and Pakistan to exercise restraint.
“We hope that both India and Pakistan can exercise restraint, take initiatives that are conducive to promoting dialogue, meet halfway and make active efforts for lasting peace and stability in South Asia,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
Pakistani warplanes enter Indian airspace, forced back: Indian official
Indian air force jets intercepted at least three Pakistani warplanes that crossed into Indian-administered Kashmir on Wednesday and forced them to turn tail, an Indian official says, amid heightened tensions following an Indian air attack that targeted a rebel camp inside Pakistan a day earlier.
The Pakistani jets intruded over the Bimber Gali-Naushera sector at the Line of Control, a ceasefire line that serves as the de facto border in the disputed Kashmir region, the official, who is based in the area, said.
The main airport in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir state, has been shut down for three hours, police in the city said.
India says it doesn’t want ‘escalation’
New Delhi is seeking to ease tensions with Islamabad as the US urges the nuclear-armed neighbours to “exercise restraint”.
India promised to act, sending warplanes into Pakistani airspace and striking what it says was a camp of JeM, the group that claimed the February 14 Kashmir bombing.
“The limited objective of that pre-emptive strike was to act decisively against the terrorist infrastructure of Jaish-e-Muhammad in order to pre-empt another terror attack in India,” Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj says during talks in Beijing with her counterparts from China and Russia.
“India does not wish to see further escalation of this situation. India will continue to act with responsibility and restraint.”
Despite Israel’s ultimatum to close the site by Monday, Waqf says Bab al-Rahma will remain open for Muslims to pray.
The Islamic authority that oversees Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem has rejected an Israeli court order to close a hall in the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque compound that has ignited tension between Palestinian worshippers and Israeli police in recent weeks.
Sheikh Abdel Azeem Salhab, head of the Waqf Council appointed by neighbouring Jordan, said on Tuesday that the structure, Bab al-Rahma, also known as the “Gate of Mercy”, would “remain open for Muslims to pray,” despite Israel’s ultimatum to close the site by next Monday.
“We will not respond to courts of the occupation regarding the issue of Bab al-Rahma and Al-Aqsa Mosque and it [does not have authority over the matter],” the council said in a statement after it convened for an emergency meeting on Tuesday.
Salhab demanded that Israel permit the Waqf to renovate the building and revoke orders banning dozens of Waqf officials, guards and worshippers from the sacred compound.
Israeli authorities banned 133 Palestinians from entering the Al-Aqsa Mosque in February, according to a report by the Jerusalem-based Wadi Hilweh Information Centre.
Among them was Salhab, who was banned from entering the holy compound for 40 days, an unprecedented move by Israeli authorities.
The deputy director Sheikh Najeh Bkerat was also issued a ban for four months.
Some 229 people were also arrested in February, according to the report.
Tensions have mounted in Jerusalem since Palestinians opened Bab al-Rahma last month, located in the compound by the eastern wall of the Old City. Prayers by Muslim worshippers have been taking place at the site since then.
Israel had sealed off the structure in 2003, claiming the building was being used for political activities by an outlawed group. The Waqf has recently challenged the closure, claiming that it has administrative authority over all structures within the compound.
Calls for a synagogue
Adding to the tension, activists from the Israeli right wing have called on the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to build a synagogue at Bab al-Rahma, according to The Jerusalem Post newspaper.
The daily reported on Tuesday that activists have urged the government to open “the synagogue for Jewish prayers”.
This came during a meeting attended by scores of right-wing activists on Sunday, the newspaper said.
At the end of the meeting, the activists called for Israelis to ascend to the holy compound en masse on Thursday “to strengthen the Jewish hold on the holy site”, according to the JewishPress news website.
For Muslims, Al-Aqsa represents the world’s third-holiest site after Mecca and Medina. Jews refer to the area as the “Temple Mount” claiming it was the site of two Jewish temples in ancient times.
Israel occupied East Jerusalem, where Al-Aqsa is located, during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. It annexed the entire city in 1980 in a move never recognized by the international community.
Satellite imagery shows at least six Jaish-e-Muhammad structures still standing on March 4 – six days after air strikes.
Satellite images show a religious school run by Jaish-e-Muhammad (JeM) in northeastern Pakistan still appears to be standing days after India claimed warplanes destroyed it and killed a large number of fighters.
The images produced by Planet Labs Inc, a San Francisco-based private satellite operator, show at least six buildings on the madrasa site on March 4 – six days after the air strikes. Until now, no high-resolution satellite images were publicly available.
The images are virtually unchanged from an April 2018 satellite photo of the facility. There are no discernible holes in the roofs of buildings, no signs of scorching, blown-out walls, displaced trees around the madrasa or other signs of an aerial attack.
The images cast further doubt on statements made over the last eight days by the Indian government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi that the raids, early on February 26, had hit all the intended targets at the madrasa site in northern Pakistan’s Balakat region.
India’s foreign and defence ministries did not reply to questions emailed by Reuters news agency about the satellite images.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Project at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies, confirmed the photographs showed the structures in question still standing.
“The high-resolution images don’t show any evidence of bomb damage,” he said.
Government sources said last week 12 Mirage 2000 jets carrying 1,000kg bombs carried out the attack.
Lewis and Dave Schmerler, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for nonproliferation studies who also analyses satellite images, said weapons that large would have caused obvious damage to the structures visible in the picture.
“If the strike had been successful – given the information we have about what kind of munitions were used – I would expect to see signs that the buildings had been damaged,” said Lewis. “I just don’t see that here.”
Pakistan has disputed India’s account, saying the operation was a failure that saw Indian jets, under pressure from Pakistani planes, drop their bombs on a largely empty hillside.
“There has been no damage to any infrastructure or human life as a result of Indian incursion,” Major-General Asif Ghafoor said. “This has been vindicated by both domestic and international media after visiting the site.”
India must hold a general election by May and pollsters say Modi and his Hindu nationalist party stand to benefit from his aggressive response to a suicide bomb attack that killed 40 Indian paramilitary police in the disputed Kashmir region on February 14.
Indian officials said hundreds of “terrorists” were killed in the air strikes.
But the Indian government failed to produce evidence that the camp was destroyed and fighters were killed. That prompted some opposition politicians to push for more details.
Modi has accused the opposition Congress party and other opponents of helping India’s enemies by demanding evidence of the attacks.
After the Indian air force incursion, a dogfight resulted in the capture of a downed Indian pilot, who was released on March 1 as part of a “peace gesture” by Pakistan.