Middle East & Africa

Biden called off second strike in Syria last week: Report
Middle East & Africa

Biden called off second strike in Syria last week: Report

Biden called off second strike in Syria last week to prevent killing of civilians in target area

US President Joe Biden called off a second airstrike against the Iran-backed militias in Syria at the last minute on February 26 due to the presence of a woman and children at the targeted spot, as per media reports. 

Significantly, Biden had ordered two airstrikes on Iran-backed militias in Syria last week in retaliation for rocket attacks on US troops in northern Iraq by Iranian-backed Shiite militias on February 15. However, the second strike was called off after the Biden administration received an urgent battlefield intelligence warning indicating the presence of a woman and two children in the target location. A recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report stated that the two F-15E Strike Eagles were already in the air to hit the target when the second strike was called off by Washington. 

In a first military action by the Biden administration, the US launched an airstrike on the Iranian-backed militia last week, in which one member was killed and two others were wounded. 

Pentagon released a statement after the strike, saying that, through President Biden’s order, the United States has made it clear that it will act to protect American and coalition personnel as well as security interests in the region.

In the statement, Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby explained the two-fold reasons behind the attack: First, to make an impact on the groups and their ability to conduct future attacks; Second, to send a clear signal that the United States will protect its people, its interests and those of its partners in the region. 

“At the same time, we have acted in a deliberate manner that aims to de-escalate the overall situation in both eastern Syria and Iraq,” the statement added. 

According to the WSJ report, Washington also sent a confidential message to Tehran after the strike.

“We had a pretty coordinated diplomatic and military plan. We made sure the Iranians knew what our intent was,” a Biden administration official told WSJ. 

While President Joe Biden assumed office with the promise of returning the United States to the Iran nuclear deal, tensions between Washington and Tehran have increased in recent months. 

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Less than a week after the US military hit the Iran-backed militia site in Syria, multiple rockets hit the Al-Asad airbase which hosts the US, Iraqi, and other coalition forces in Iraq on Wednesday.

Responding to the attack, Pentagon has said that the US would not hesitate to consider a military response. Speaking at the White House on Wednesday, President Joe Biden said, “we’re identifying who is responsible and will make judgments from that point.”

Widespread protests in Lebanon as currency hits record low
Middle East & Africa

Widespread protests in Lebanon as currency hits record low

Hundreds of Lebanese took to the streets to protest the government as the local currency hit a record low

In an unprecedented development, protests broke out across several parts of Lebanon on Tuesday, after the local currency (Lebanese Pound) hit an all-time low. Amid the ongoing political crisis, the local currency hit a record low as the dollar traded at 10,000 Lebanese pounds on the black market on Tuesday. 

Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets and chanted slogans across several cities in the country to protest the failure of politicians to rescue the collapsing economy. Protesters across Beirut, Tripoli, Sidon, and other cities blocked roads and highways, set tires on fire, and raised chants to demand the formation of a new government.

Responding to the situation, Lebanese President Michel Aoun took to Twitter and said that he had asked the Central Bank Governor to conduct an inquiry into the reasons behind the sudden fall in the local currency.

Politicians have not been able to agree on a new government since the resignation of Hassan Diab’s cabinet in the wake of the Beirut port blast on August 4, 2020. There have been no meetings or communication between Lebanese President Aoun and Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri to resolve the deadlock over the formation of the new Cabinet in order to carry out the much-needed reforms. With Hariri holding on to his position to form a government of 18 ministers, the political crisis has entered its eighth month. 

At the same time, the government-led by caretaker Prime Minister Saad Hariri has not been able to negotiate a plan to allow foreign aid from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), World Bank and other donors to support the plummeting economy. Lebanon’s talks with IMF for a $10 billion economic bailout package in May 2020 were stalled due to differences in the two sides representing the government and the Lebanese banks.

Lebanon has been struggling with political instability since the resignation of Saad Hariri in October 2019 in the aftermath of widespread anti-government protests the corrupt ruling elite. Prolonging economic and financial deterioration has resulted in declining job opportunities, poverty and hunger among the most-affected sections of society. Lebanese population is grappling with increasing prices of basic consumer goods such as cereals and diapers.

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Last month, Lebanon launched its COVID-19 vaccination campaign with inoculation of healthcare workers and senior citizens with the aim of mitigating the unprecedented spike in Coronavirus cases.

The caretaker government has been facing increasing pressure to hold by-elections to fill the vacant positions in the parliament after eight MPs resigned and two died due to COVID-19. Meanwhile, parliamentary elections are slated take place in the crisis-hit country in next year.

UN inquiry reveals appointment of Libya’s interim PM through bribery
Middle East & Africa

UN inquiry reveals appointment of Libya’s interim PM through bribery

A shocking revelation by a United Nations inquiry has cast a shadow on the legitimacy of the interim Prime Minister of Libya, Abdul Hamid Dheibah. The inquiry has found that Dheibah was elected after his supporters had offered bribes as high as $200,000 to cash in votes in Libya. 

The money in bribes was allegedly offered in a Tunis hotel a political forum of 75 selected by the UN had met to select Libya’s next interim prime minister to lead the country towards general elections scheduled for December. Inquiry exposes that after the number of bribes offered to different delegates revealed, a row broke out in the hotel lobby. A delegate shares that one offer amounted to $500,000. 

The UN investigation into bribery was demanded by then acting special UN envoy to Libya, Stephanie Williams. The investigative report is due to be published on March 15. The report states that two people had allegedly offered bribes to three forum participants, amounting to between $150,000 and $200,000 for their promise to vote for Dheibah. 

The office of interim PM has rubbished all the claims, describing them as fake to disrupt peaceful progression in the country towards general elections.

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Bribery rumors around the interim PM election have been making rounds for the past 2 months. The 75 member UN-appointed forum since beginning backed Dheibah’s candidacy and turned a corner to what was seen as a sure-shot win for interior minister Fathi Bashagha candidacy and parliament speaker Ageela Saleh. 

Elham Saudi, the director of Lawyers for Justice in Libya and a forum member said, “The situation we are in today is the result of the UN prioritizing expediency above all else and at the expense of the due process. The root cause of this is there was a rejection of any meaningful criteria to those standing concerning their record – and the allegations against them – concerning human rights and corruption. That approach is now risking undermining the credibility of the whole process.” Saudi had abstained from forum participation due to her concerns.  

America Strikes Iranian Militia In Syria As Retaliatory Measure
Middle East & Africa

America Strikes Iranian Militia In Syria As Retaliatory Measure

The sly attack by Iran over American representatives in Iraq has left Syrian population vulnerable, once again. Under the instructions of the newly appointed President Joe Biden ordered retaliatory strikes against the Iranian militias that set off attacks in Erbil recently.

However, the attack was not as big as the retaliation has been ordered by Biden administration. The attack in Erbil of Iraq left one civilian contractor and wounded a U.S. service member. 

It was not obviously one strike but more than one on property that apparently belonged to Iran backed militia. The latter has been using Iraq as its hideout and base to carry out attack and operations all over the Middle East or whenever necessary. 

According to confirmed American sources, a rocket attack was made by Iranian militia on February 15 on the airport in Erbil, in northern Iraq. This lead to the death of a Filipino contractor with the American-led military coalition and left six others wounded, including a Louisiana National Guard soldier and four American contractors.

In response, the Pentagon has confirmed that the counterstrikes have been well-planned and calibrated to target the ammunition buildings and storehouses of the Iranian militia. While Pentagon wanted to cover more area, Biden has been cautious not to disturb the diplomatic equation with Iraq, or harm general public. In the past, airstrikes have led to massive destruction and loss of human life in Syria. 

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Official reports have said that the retaliatory strikes are a way to shut the workings of notorious militia at work. While there are indications that the militia might be funded by Iran, there is no direct link found. The attack on the Erbil airport was finally claimed by a little-known group called Awliya al Dam, or Guardian of the Blood, brigades. The group also claimed responsibility for two bombings against U.S. contractor convoys in August 2020.

Biden administration has confirmed that there is no intention of rustling feathers or disturbing equation with Iran, at a time when his administration wants to discuss the nuclear deal, that was rail road(ed) by Trump all through his presidency. 

Assassination Of UN Ambassador To Congo First Ever Open Attack On Peace Attempts
Middle East & Africa

Assassination Of UN Ambassador To Congo First Ever Open Attack On Peace Attempts

The Italian Carabinieri is joining hands with the united nations to investigate the mysterious death of the Italian ambassador, his driver and his bodyguard. The Italian Ambassador to Congo was shot dead along with his Italian bodyguard recently, while his two-car convoy was on its way to one of the World Food Programme centres. 

Luca Attanasio and Carabinieri officer Vittorio Iacovacci were accompanied by a Congolese driver Moustapha Milambo who was also shot dead instantly. The car was ambushed on a deserted road which is usually given security clearance by WFP officials in Congo, before a convoy moves on the roads. There is now an investigation into understanding the slip in protocol that has led to the assassination of a key Italian official. 

The UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric has already communicated that the United Nations has already underway to undertake a detailed investigation into the matter, as the bodies of the Italian official and his bodyguard received special respects back home from the Pope itself. 

For the last two or more decades, East Congo is a hotbed of rebel groups that have disturbed the peace and stability of this region that is the size of Western Europe. The sustained effort of UN led programmes like the World Food Programme is what has helped keep the innocent civilians alive. There could be many or one group to be blamed for the attack. But no one has come forward to claim responsibility of the attacks. 

The Congo government is blaming the Rwandan rebels who have denied the attack. According to Cure Ngoma, the spokesperson for the rebel group, We are not to be implicated in this heinous crime. The ambassador’s convoy was attacked in an area known as the ‘three antennas’, along the border with Rwanda, not far from positions of the Congolese army, the Fardc, and Rwandan military, the Forces de Defense Rwandaises.

The spokesperson continued, reiterating a version also circulated in a note: ‘Those responsible for this despicable murder are to be sought in the ranks of these two armies and their supporters, who have formed an alliance against nature to continue plundering the east of the Democratic Republic of Congo’.

Surprisingly, the provincial authorities of North Kivu, the area from which the convoy was to pass, had no idea about the ambassador’s presence and therefore did not provide him with adequate security measures, according to the Congo Interior Ministry. 

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Eastern Congo remains one of the most insecure parts of the expansive country. More than 2,000 civilians were killed last year in eastern Congo provinces by armed rebel groups, according to U.N. reports last week.

The U.N. peacekeeping mission has been working toward reducing its more than 17,000-troop presence in the country and handing over its security work to Congolese authorities.

However, it is for the first time that an attack has been carried off on a senior official of a humanitarian organization. 

Why Biden Administration Might Not Reverse The Western Sahara Arrangement?
Middle East & Africa

Why Biden Administration Might Not Reverse The Western Sahara Arrangement?

There seems to be no indication that the Biden administration is going to change its stance on the Western Sahara recognition decision that was taken earlier on. In the last few weeks, twenty-seven US senators have written a letter to the President asking him to reverse what damage seems to be have done in the Western Sahara decision, under his predecessor’s leadership.

The letter was headed by the Oklahoman senator, James Inhofe, and senior senator from Vermont, Patrick Leahy that was later co-signed by 25 other US senators urging Biden to reverse US policy on Western Sahara. Apparently, both senator’s previous attempts to garner support have never met with success and there have been confirmed news that their alliance is funded by an Algerian top lobbying firm.

According to the letter by not reacting to the US recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, it is a “misguided” move and has also called the US’ key non-NATO ally’s claims as “illegitimate.” Further, the letter said that the move in the first place was shortsighted that has alienated many African nations. 

As of now, Ned Price, the spokesperson of the state department, spoke at a press briefing and has referred to Morocco’s position favorably welcoming the tripartite agreement, according to which, the US recognized the Moroccan territorial integrity and Morocco re-established its relations with Israel.

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The fact that Price has said ‘there is no update’ is being interpreted as Biden’s administration might not have any intentions of reversing the decision made in Trump’s administration. The underlying reasons for refusal for reversal are rules of international law, US intends to use Morocco as an ally to re-strengthen America’s position in MENA, maintain or balance an arms status quo if not increase the sales, counter-back China and Russian elements working in the African region, amongst many other. 

Haber Gaalu apologies on behalf of Somali Information Minister Osman Dubbe’s Remarks
Middle East & Africa

Haber Gaalu apologies on behalf of Somali Information Minister Osman Dubbe’s Remarks

On Tuesday, Haber Gaalu, a sheik representing the tribe of Emiratis in Somalia issued an official statement apologizing to the partner Arab nations, especially the United Arab Emirates on behalf of the Somali Information, Culture, and Tourism Minister, Osman Dubbe. Dubbe in his recent remarks supported the extension of the rule of the outgoing President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo, whose tenure ended on February 7. Gaalu said that Dubbe despite being a member of the tribe and being governed by tribal laws and customs, seems to have betrayed the tribe by siding with the autocratic president. 

Gaalu said that being the head of the tribe he would like to apologize to everyone who was been offended by Dubbe’s recent claims, including countries, institutions, or individuals, as the Somalian minister said that he represented Farmajo’s government and stood by the Somali president’s brutal politics. Gaalu said that Dubbe’s remarks might have insulted the neighboring countries such as Djibouti, Kenya, and even the UAE, who had been supporting the African nation for years. He emphasized, “They have historical ties, and I especially mention the UAE, which has never stopped supporting the Somalis.”

The tribe head added the Somali minister didn’t know the extent of the harm he was inflicting on his fellow countrymen with his speech, which he clearly made to appease the Somali president. Gaalu said that Dubbe was unknowingly hurting not only the sentiments of his own nation and also its people residing in the neighbouring friendly nations and putting at stake the historical ties between them, just to secure his position in the current regime.

In his recent statement, Gaalu stressed that the recent statements made by Dubbe and his companions, who no longer held any legal authority to lead the country, did not represent the voice of the African nation.

He added, “Finally, I advise this disobedient son to return to his senses, to withdraw from these stances, and to ask for forgiveness from Somaliland and return to it, to distance himself from imminent dangers emerging because of these situations.”

Earlier this month, the Somalian parliament ruled out the possibility of extending the tenure of incumbent President Farmajo. As per the Somalian constitution, a President’s terms lasts for four years, hence Farmajo has been asked to step down which the power-hungry leader denied. The Parliament Speaker Mohamed Mursal Sheikh emphasized that the National Assembly in no way permitted Farmajo’s term expansion beyond its expiry date. 

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The country which is currently mired in political crisis was also heading towards a constitutional crisis as Farmajo has been trying to manipulate the county leaders into accepting his electoral agreement. The agreement introduced on September 17, 2020, would turn his 4 years of the semi-authoritarian rule into an untrammeled despotism. Contrary to Farmajo’s arm twisting of the constitution, Somalia had a history of peaceful transition of leadership after every four years since 2000, and it earned the distinction of being the first African nation to have a democratically elected president to peacefully step down.

To gain absolute control over the nation, Farmajo orders the security forces to snub the ongoing peaceful demonstrations by his opponents. Last week the country witnessed an unprecedented bloodbath as the forces fired shots at its own citizens, labeling them as militia. Dubbe issued a statement in support of the government and said that “armed militia” attacked a military post but were repulsed. 

Former Somali President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed contested Dubbe’s claims stating that the government forces raided the hotel near the palace where he and another former president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, were staying ahead of the protest. The attack was ordered by the outgoing president,Ahmed said. Mohamud accused the Farmajo of orchestrating a “coup” in order to stay in power.

Prisoner Exchange Has Hiccups For Syria, Russia and Israel
Middle East & Africa

Prisoner Exchange Has Hiccups For Syria, Russia and Israel

Russia might be trying to act as the peacemaker between Israel and Syria. Moscow has supported the Assad government since the civil war broke out in Syria in 2015. 

It is now seems to be mediating exchange of prisoners as its first step towards creating an atmosphere of mutual peace, as Syria tries to get its government back on tracks.

In the exchange, two Syrian shepherds were exchanged for an Israeli woman under a prisoner exchange deal between Israel and Syria. Both shepherds seemed to have crossed the Israeli occupied Golan Heights and were arrested by the army that later handed them over to the International Committee of the Red Cross representatives. 

As a part of the exchange agreement, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has shared that a Syrian activist called Nihal al-Mokt who is currently serving community service would have her sentence shortened by three months too. 

Israel continues to carry airstrikes on Syria, in a bid to ensure that Iran does not create a stronghold on the northern border. Syria has been through a huge loss of infrastructure,  human capital, and much more since 2010 when the civil war started amongst factions and the Syrian legitimate government. 

Apparently, the Israeli lady was sent to Russia from Syria from where she was later picked up and sent to Israel. PM Netanyahu said that he was indeed thankful to his friend Vladimir Putin who engineered the pickup. In the whole exchange process, two more Syrians were seen as a part of the exchange program

The two Syrians were identified as Nihal al-Makt, who had been under house arrest in her village in the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights, and Ziyab Qahmouz, detained in 2016 and serving 14 years in Israeli jails. But the deal ran into complications after al-Makt and Qahmouz, who are both from the Golan, refused to be transferred to Syria.

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While Al Makt’s sentence has been shortened to three months, both continue to be in Israel and are not willing to go to Syria. 

After criticized vaccine hold up, Israel delivers 2000 doses to Gaza
Middle East & Africa

After criticized vaccine hold up, Israel delivers 2000 doses to Gaza

Israel has finally permitted Palestine to deliver blocked 2000 doses of Sputnik Covid-19 vaccine to the Gaza Strip after much-criticized development in which vaccine doses were blocked at an Israeli checkpoint on Monday. After Palestinian authorities criticized the hold-up, Israel released vaccines that would vaccinate 1000 people in Gaza out of 2 million population. 

An Israeli security official said over vaccine release on Wednesday, “The 1,000 Sputnik vaccines delivery, donated by Russia and provided to the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Authority, have just been transferred.”

The rather small batch of vaccine doses was planned to be transferred on Monday when it was blocked to the coastal Gaza Strip that is geographically disconnected from the West Bank that is under the control of Palestinian authorities. The vaccine blockage at the border was initiated by the national security council, which is under the Israeli prime minister’s office, who said that it isn’t yet decided whether to provide vaccines to Gaza. 

Israeli authorities said that these vaccines are intended for healthcare workers in Gaza, giving priority to medical staff working in Intensive Care Units and emergency rooms. But Gaza officials said that vaccine would first be given to vulnerable groups of people like those with organ transplants, and elderly people with kidney problems. 

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Gaza Strip is under the control of an Islamic militant group, where Israel maintains border control along with Egypt. Fatah, the Palestinian political group, and Hamas are rivals but cooperate on many issues like healthcare. Many Israeli officials argued that vaccines must be delivered to Gaza in exchange of some concessions from Hamas. In an argument parliamentarian from Israel’s Arab Minority, Ahmad Tibi said that even discussion around withholding vaccine from people in need was shocking and inhumane. He said, “Your children will be ashamed”, as quoted by Jerusalem Post. 

Israel is conducting one of the most successful vaccination drives in the world and is targeting all individuals over 12 years of age.  

Israel Calls For Secret Agenda Meeting With Moscow About Syria
Middle East & Africa

Israel Calls For Secret Agenda Meeting With Moscow About Syria

The Israeli cabinet along with Russia involved in taking Syrian humanitarian efforts seriously, as they called for an urgent ‘unscheduled’ virtual voting session recently. 

The military censor has barred any publication of the details of the meeting as of now. The cabinet was informed only an hour before the unscheduled voting happened about a sensitive security matter. 

Russia is roped in as it continues to act as a mediatory between Damascus and Jerusalem. The discrete discussion comes after an alleged Israeli attack on the capital of Syria, Damascus recently. According to the Assad regime, Syria intercepted Israeli missiles. Damascus is home to various military groups including the Syrian regime army, Iranian representation, and other foreign terrorist groups. 

Since the beginning of the civil war in Syria in 2011, Israel has launched several attacks on Iran-backed Hezbollah forces and the Syrian military, claiming it had to do this in retaliation of rockets Syria was firing on Israeli territory from time-to-time from Syria and the Golan Heights.

The recent voting meeting was conducted along with both Netanyahu and Gantz, who ensured that the ministers signed non-disclosure agreements before the start of the meeting. The meeting used secure video conferencing software.

Indeed, political analysts feel that the meeting is shrouded in mystery and intrigue. There has been an unusual amount of discussion between Israel and Russia over the hidden matter, which also saw Gantz and Netanyahu come on a level plain. 

While previous discussions with Russia have centered around Israel’s interest in IDF aerial activity to root out Iranian military entrenchment, this time, it remains unclear as to the nature of humanitarian assistance that Jerusalem is seeking as of now.  

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A few weeks back, discussions were centering around security concerns of the Middle East, especially Syria, between Russia and Gantz. The Russian defense minister Sergei Shoigu’s office has confirmed that “both had agreed to continue the dialogue between Russia and Israel to ensure troop safety, and affirmed the importance of taking steps to ease humanitarian conditions on the ground.”

There is a rumor emerging that Russia might be helping Israel recover the remains of commanders and soldiers who expired or were lost in action at the Syrian border. But the intention of the meeting continues to be unclear. 

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