PARIS - The cost of Hurricane Irma, described as one of the most powerful Atlantic storms in a century, is seen costing at least 1.2 billion euros ($1.44 billion) in Saint Martin and Saint Barthelemy, a French public reinsurance body said on Saturday.
Irma walloped Cuba’s northern coast on Saturday as a Category 5 storm and was expected to hit Florida on Sunday morning, threatening massive damage from wind and flooding to the fourth-largest U.S. state by population.
France’s Caisse Centrale de Reassurance, a state-owned reinsurance group, said Irma would go down as one of the most damaging disasters in decades on French territory.
Saint Barthelemy lies about 35 km southeast of Saint Martin, whose territory is divided between France and the Netherlands.
The French interior ministry said on Saturday that 10 people had been reported dead on the two islands.


LONDON - The latest analysis of UK polling data predicts a comfortable majority for the Conservative and Union Party, though nothing is set in stone according to the analyst.

The next UK general election is set for 12 December 2019 and an analysis of the latest UK polling data currently predicts a Conservative and Union Party (aka Tory Party) victory with 39.7% of the overall vote.

Electoral Calculus, founded by algorithm and modeling expert Martin Baxter, has published its predictions following a review of opinion polls, "from 01 Nov 2019 to 09 Nov 2019, sampling 8,210 people".

Though the analysis makes clear that nothing is set in stone, as was proven by the Labour Party doing better than predicted in the 2017 general election, the current polling data analysis predicts that the Tories will secure 382 seats, compared to 185 seats by Jeremy Corbyn's Labour Party, 42 by the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP), 20 seats by the Liberal Democrats, and 1 seat by the Greens. The Welsh nationalist party Plaid Cymru are currently predicted to go down from 4 seats to 2, while the DUP Protestant Nationalist Party from the North of Ireland are predicted to lose one seat bringing them down to 9.

The "poll of polls" initially had Tories securing a 76 majority on 30 October but that has increased to 114, according to the latest assessment published on 12 November.

One factor influencing the prediction of a loss of seats for Labour (compared to the 2017 general election) is that, "Remain supporters are still split between Labour and the Liberal Democrats", according to Electoral Calculus.

In October 2019 Electoral Calculus noted that there are, "three main factors which could change this prediction: pollster error, campaign swing and tactical voting".

UK elections are based on the first-past-the-post system, which means that the candidate which gets the most votes in a constituency wins, even if most people didn't vote for them. Which means that tactical voting is a big part of what influences many voters' decisions in the final hours at the voting booths. So much so that websites such as Tactical Vote have been established to help people "Stop the Tories" by tactical voting.

Electoral Calculus explains that:

"Although the parties are unlikely to co-operate, we may see voters vote tactically to support Remain-leaning candidates against Leavers. This factor could change the result in many marginal seats, and there are far more marginal seats than usual this year".

"The pollsters have got it wrong before", they write, "and they can't all be right now because there are big disagreements between them".


By Costas Pitas and Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON - Former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized as “shameful” British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision not to publish a parliamentary report on Russian meddling in UK politics until after an election next month.

The report by parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) has been cleared by the security services but it has not yet been given approval for publication by Johnson’s government, so will not appear before the Dec. 12 vote.

“I find it inexplicable that your government will not release a government report about Russian influence. Inexplicable and shameful,” Clinton told the BBC in remarks reported on Tuesday. “Every person who votes in this country deserves to see that report before your election happens.”

“There is no doubt - we know it in our country, we have seen it in Europe, we have seen it here - that Russia in particular is determined to try to shape the politics of Western democracies,” Clinton said.

Britain has accused Russia of meddling in the domestic politics and elections of several Western countries, including the U.S. presidential election. The British government says it has not seen evidence of “successful” Russian interference in UK elections, including the 2016 vote to leave the EU.

Moscow has repeatedly denied any meddling and says the West is gripped by anti-Russian hysteria. U.S. intelligence agencies say Russia sought to influence the 2016 presidential election through hacking and spreading propaganda, aimed at helping Donald Trump defeat Clinton, his Democratic opponent.

The British parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee’s report contains allegations of Russia’s attempts to interfere in Western politics and includes evidence from Britain’s main intelligence agencies, MI5, GCHQ and MI6.

The report was completed in March and then went through redaction by the Cabinet Office and security services, a process completed by early October, according to Dominic Grieve, who chaired the committee.

Grieve, who was expelled from the parliamentary group of Johnson’s Conservatives for defying him over Brexit, said the report was sent to the prime minister on Oct. 17 for final approval, a process he said customarily takes 10 days.

Johnson’s government says the delay is a result of normal procedures: “There is a proper process that these reports go through. The ISC are aware of that,” Johnson’s spokesman said on Monday. “That process hadn’t completed by the time that parliament was dissolved.”

As the report is supposed to be presented to parliament, which is not sitting during the election campaign, its publication could be delayed by months.

The opposition Labour Party has said the decision not to release the report is an attempt to withhold the truth from the public and has said both Johnson and his most senior adviser, Dominic Cummings, have links to Russia.

Johnson’s government has denied suggestions by the Labour Party that either the Conservative Party or the government are linked to Russian disinformation campaigns.

AMSTERDAM - The Netherlands must actively help repatriate the children of women who joined Islamic State in Syria, a court in The Hague ruled on Monday.

The mothers themselves do not need to be accepted back in the Netherlands, the court said.


By Isla Binnie and Emma Pinedo

MADRID - Spain’s Socialist party pledged on Monday to act fast to form a government after its leader and acting prime minister Pedro Sanchez gambled on a repeat election that on Sunday night resulted in no clear winner but a surge for the far right.

A polarised electorate awarded neither right nor left-wing parties enough seats to govern with a majority in Sunday’s vote - Spain’s second this year and its fourth since 2015 - although the Socialists won most seats.

“We will try to keep our promise to form a government as quickly as possible because the country needs it,” senior Socialist official Jose Luis Abalos told broadcaster Radio Nacional.

Asked whether a new vote might be called, Abalos said: “I totally rule it out. It would be an institutional failure.”

The power balance between the traditional ideological blocs has changed little since the April election but the breakdown of votes within conservative parties shifted substantially.

Sanchez’s Socialist Workers’ Party of Spain (PSOE) won 120 of the 350 parliamentary seats - three fewer than in April.

The conservative People’s Party (PP), which alternated in government with the Socialists for decades after Spain emerged from General Francisco Franco’s dictatorship in the 1970s, recovered from a disappointing result in April to take 88 seats.

But the centre-right Ciudadanos slumped from 57 seats to just 10 and was replaced as the third-largest parliamentary group by the far-right Vox, a relative newcomer, which secured 52 seats.

Sanchez has ruled out forming a broad coalition with the People’s Party, and he failed to strike a deal earlier this year with far-left Unidas Podemos, but he will need at least tacit support from other parties to be named prime minister.

In Spain, opposing parties can smooth the way for their rivals to form a government by abstaining in the second round of a parliamentary confirmation vote.

Senior PP official Teodoro Garcia Egea told Onda Cero radio on Monday that Sanchez had not asked his party to do so.

“Sanchez has not asked us to abstain, but even if he did we wouldn’t give it to him because we don’t trust him,” he said.


Unidas Podemos, which surged into Spanish politics in 2014 on a wave of indignation over a financial crisis, lost seven seats to take fourth place with 35 seats.

Its leader Pablo Iglesias said he was ready to start negotiating with Sanchez and urged the left to unite this time.

Sanchez has failed in his bid to garner enough seats to force the far left to back him without agreeing to a coalition, independent political analyst Miguel-Anxo Murado said.

“No one has won,” Murado told Reuters. “The best success has been for the far-right Vox party, but this win does not give them any power... It’s not enough for the right-wing bloc to form a government.”

Joining a nationalist wave in other parts of Europe, Vox’s anti-immigrant stance and particularly vehement opposition to a secessionist drive in Catalonia has become the first far-right party to win more than one parliamentary seat since Spain returned to democracy.

With many Spaniards still remembering the Franco years, the country had long appeared immune to right-wing nationalism. But Vox leader Santiago Abascal said he would now work to buildwhat he called “a patriotic alternative” for Spain.

In the past decade Spain has suffered from austerity and near financial collapse, and saw a PP government ousted over a corruption scandal.

But this time the Catalan independence drive, which turned violent folllowing the jailing of separatist leaders in October, was at the forefront of voters’ minds.


DAMASCUS - Having endured a deadly, drawn-out civil war which is gradually drawing to a close, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad is facing the daunting task of reuniting and reconstructing a devastated nation, filling in the power vacuum in newly-liberated parts of the country and overcoming a Western-imposed economic blockade.

The Presidential Palace in Damascus overlooks the Syrian capital, but the most troubled parts of the war-ravaged country are out of sight.

The future of those lands, as well as the broader question of how to solve the ongoing political imbroglio and rebuild Syria, are on Bashar al-Assad's mind as he speaks in his first interview to foreign media in over a year.

The president talks to Russua Today's Afshin Rattansi about the origins of the conflict that engulfed his country and the role of Western governments in it, and gives his take on the recent and future developments in Syria and elsewhere.

On the interview embargo

Bashar al-Assad, who turned 54 in September, last gave an interview to a foreign news outlet in June 2018. He says he had stopped speaking to Western media completely because of their hunt for a "scoop", but feels now that "public opinion in the world, and especially in the West, has been shifting during the past few years".

"They know that their officials have told them so many lies about what's going on in the region, in the Middle East, in Syria, in Yemen," he says of the Western public. "They know there is a lie, but they don't know the truth; so, I think, it's time to talk about this truth."

On how the war started

The Syrian conflict broke out in early 2011 with anti-government demonstrations, which coincided with violent Western-backed protests in other Arab-majority nations, known collectively as the Arab Spring. Foreign policy-makers and observers have blamed the Syria protests on various factors, or a combination of thereof, from corruption and mismanagement to a protracted drought that stressed the socio-economic conditions.

While those factors were largely internal, al-Assad believes the lever was pulled from the outside: "The problem started when the money of Qatar came to Syria, and we had contact with many of the labourers, and we told them, 'Why do not you come to your workshop?' and they said, 'We take as much in one hour as we [used to] take in one week'."

"It was very simple. They paid them 50 dollars at the very beginning, then later 100 dollars a week, which was enough for them to live without work, so it was much easier for them to join the demonstrations," he claims, adding that the Qatari government then began arming the protesters.

The demonstrations were originally described as peaceful by Western media, but Bashar al-Assad says this was not the case from the very beginning because policemen were shot during the initial phase of unrest. In the spring of 2011, the government cracked down on the protest movement, which quickly escalated into an insurgency throughout that year and had erupted into a full-on civil war by the summer of 2012.

Western governments, which called for President al-Assad to step down throughout the conflict, responded with tough sanctions on Damascus, including oil bans, trade and financial restrictions, travel bans and arms embargoes.

On chemical attacks

As the fighting intensified, a series of alleged chemical attacks occurred in opposition-held areas in 2013. Damascus and Moscow both suggested that the March attack in Khan al-Assal was a false flag operation by the opposition-aligned militias, which blamed the government in turn.

When UN investigators arrived on the ground to investigate the incident, their visit coincided with an even larger-scale sarin attack in Ghouta on 21 August, which reportedly led to hundreds of casualties. The United States was quick to accuse the Syrian government and was on the brink of a military intervention, averted only when Damascus agreed to surrender all of its chemical weapons.

Bashar al-Assad points out that the timing of the Ghouta attack made no sense to him: "The funny thing about that date is that it is the same date when the first delegation, the international delegation that came to Syria to investigate the incident arrived in Damascus, which is only few kilometres from this place."

"And logically, the Syrian army, if we suppose that it has chemical weapons, it wants to use it, it would not use it on that day, this is first. Second, they talked about two hundred civilians killed. If you use chemical weapons, you may kill tens of thousands in such area where people are living very close to each other. I mean, it's a crowded area."

He calls those incidents and the West's assessment of them "a narrative that was the pretext to attack Syria."

"They did not offer any tangible evidence to prove that there was such an attack, and there were many reports that have refuted that report or those allegations," he maintains. "So, it was only allegation; never, never had the Syrian army used chemical weapons before we handed over all arsenals to the international committee."

A similarly suspicious attack on Khan Sheikhoun, Idlib in April 2017 led the United States, based on unconfirmed claims by the opposition, to bomb a Syrian airbase without a UN mandate.

A conflict between factions of Syrian rebels saw the rise of extremist Islamist groups in 2014; Al-Nusra Front, and offshoot of Al-Qaeda, and Daesh*, aka ISIS, managed to seize large swathes of the country and sparked massive concerns over the regional security.

The United States, along with a few partners, formed a coalition in Syria – without a mandate from anyone whatsoever – while al-Assad invited Russia to intervene on behalf of Damascus.

On the US' role in terrorist insurgence

The president reiterates a widespread assumption that those terror groups emerged as a direct consequence of the CIA arming the mujahedeen in Afghanistan in the 1980s as a counterbalance to the Soviet Union.

He says of the American policy: "They invaded Afghanistan, they got nothing. They invaded Iraq, they got nothing, and they started to invade other countries but in different ways.

"The problem with the Unites States now is that they fight a survival war from their point of view because they are losing their hegemony.

"Al-Qaeda is a proxy against the Syrian government, against the Russian government and the Iranian government. That's why they've been using this, but you have evidence. How did ISIS rise suddenly in 2014?! Out of nowhere!.. In Iraq and Syria at the same time, with American armaments?!.. How could they smuggle millions of barrels of oil to Turkey under the supervision of the American aircraft, how? Because the Americans wanted to use them against the Syrian army."

"Don't forget that there is a war between the United States and the rest of the world. Now, we're talking about tectonic shifting and earthquakes.

"So, you have rising powers like Russia, China and India and other countries. The United States does not accept any partner in leading the world, even UK, France, even other big countries, I wouldn't call them great powers because this is another meaning, they are not great anymore. They don't accept partners. That's why they are fighting now. So, the war in Syria is a microcosm of World War 3, let's say, but without armaments; through proxies."

On the 'looting' of Syria's oil

During the war, terrorists have captured large swathes of oil-rich territories in northeast Syria; they have since been ousted from there by US-backed Kurdish militias which apparently continue extracting and smuggling out Syria's oil.

US President Donald Trump has made it clear in recent weeks that "securing" Syria's oil (i.e. keeping it in the hands of Kurds and away from the Damascus government) is his major priority in Syria. Moscow has recently exposed Washington's efforts to keep the oil fields under its military control, describing them as "banditry."

"Since ISIS started smuggling Syrian oil and looting Syrian oil in 2014, they had two partners: Erdogan and his coterie, and the Americans, whether the CIA or others," al-Assad notes. "So, what Trump did is just announce the truth; he is not talking about something new. Even when some of the Kurds started looting the Syrian oil, the Americans were their partners. So, it's about money, and it's about the oil, and that's what Trump said recently."

"The Americans always try to loot other countries in different ways regarding not only their oil or money, or financial resources. They loot their rights, their political rights, every other right. That's their historical role at least after World War 2."

On Turkey's invasion

Fighting is still going on in some parts of the country, particularly in the rebel-held north-west province of Idlib and in the north-east, where Turkey recently launched an offensive against Kurdish fighters who it designates as terrorists.

It drove the Syrian Democratic Forces – a Kurdish-led alliance of militias that includes Arab groups – to seek protection from Damascus, whose forces have moved into the areas vacated by American troops and Kurds.

Al-Assad views the Turkish encroachment as a violation of Syria's sovereignty but refuses to lay the blame on the Turks altogether.

"The Turkish people are our neighbours, and we have a common history, and we cannot make them the enemy," he says. "The enemy is Erdogan and his policy and his coteries. So, being against those [terrorist] groups in Turkey and in Syria does not mean that we see eye to eye in another aspect, especially after he invaded Syria, publicly and formally."

On the Kurdish deal

Al-Assad, now probably in a much stronger military position than ever in the past nine years, has ruled out a power-sharing agreement with Kurds. He says the deal with the SDF is intended for the Syrian government to restore "full sovereignty" over the previously Kurdish-held territories and pull the Kurds from the Turkey border in order to "remove the pretext for the Turks to invade Syria."

He adds he has also invited Kurds to join the government forces; some heeded the call and some did not.

A major issue appears to be with the Democratic Union Party (PYD), which has formed the militarised People's Protection Units (YPG) and is a member of an umbrella of Kurdish political groups that also includes the Kurdistan Workers' Party – an organisation responsible for a decades-long insurgency in Turkey and outlawed by Ankara as a terror group.

Al-Assad argues that the majority of Kurds have "a good relationship with the government, and the majority of Kurds supports the government, but this part which is called the PYD is the one which has been supported by the Americans publicly, their armament, their money, they smuggled oil together."

He claims that the PYD's policy in the last few years was "to invite the Americans to stay, to be angry when America wants to leave and to say: we do not want to join the Syrian Army recently." He did not expand on the opportunities for a compromise with this group.

On attacks by Israel

Tel Aviv, which is at loggerheads with Damascus over the Golan Heights, has on many occasions bombed targets in Syria throughout the war that it believes are signs of Iran's military presence in the country.

Asked if Israel provides a direct support to terrorists, al-Assad says: "Every time the Syrian army advanced against those Al-Nusra terrorists in the south, Israel used to bombard our troops, and whenever we advance somewhere else in Syria, their airplanes started committing air strikes against our army."

In his opinion, this indicates that there was a "correlation" between the operations of Israel's army and Syria-based terrorists.

On Iranian tanker arrest

Al-Assad took a back seat over the summer when headlines from the Middle East were mostly dominated by Iran's stand-off with the US and the UK.

Syria was indirectly implicated in a spat between Tehran and London over a tanker seized by the Royal Marines off Gibraltar on suspicion of shipping Iranian oil to Syria in violation of EU sanctions.

The president strikes a tone similar to that of his allies in Iran, calling Britain's actions an act of "piracy." He suggested that the UK "wanted to affect the people in Syria" in "the last-ditch attempt" to turn them against his government.

On the rise and fall of al-Baghdadi

In one of the latest positive pieces of news for the anti-terror efforts in Syria, Daesh chief Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi was reportedly killed in a night-time aid by US commandos.

The self-proclaimed 'caliph' – the architect behind atrocious terror attacks and brutal executions – had spent 10 months in an American prison in Iraq after his arrest for participation in the anti-US insurgency in 2004.

"He was prepared by the Americans to play that role and we don't believe this recent story of killing him," al-Assad says. "Maybe he is killed, but it's not about what they've mentioned. The whole story was about whitewashing the American hand from being hand in a glove with the terrorists during the last, not only few years, but during the last decades.

"When Saddam Hussein was captured, they showed him. When he was executed, they showed the event of the execution. When his children were killed, they showed their bodies. The same with al-Gaddafi. Why didn't they show us the body of Bin Laden? Why didn't they show us the body of Al-Baghdadi?

"Just a fake story about being against terrorists and this very sophisticated operation. Maybe he has been killed because he has expired as a person [and] they needed somebody else. And maybe they wanted to change the whole name of ISIS to another name to bring ISIS as a moderate organisation to be used again in the market against the Syrian government."

On what's next in Idlib

The province of Idlib, mostly controlled by the jihadist group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, remains the last major stronghold of anti-government forces.

According to al-Assad, it won't take long to liberate Idlib but the plan now is to give a chance to the civilians to leave the area before the final showdown. "Our interest lies in killing the terrorists in order to protect the civilians, not leaving those innocent civilians under the supervision of the terrorists," he explains.

On rebuilding Syria

Cornered by Syrian troops and Russian airstrikes, the Idlib terrorists are posed to surrender sooner or later. And however preoccupied President al-Assad may be with the restive province, a transition from war to peace will be needed next.

That transition is complicated by international sanctions, but al-Assad is adamant that Syria will be able to overcome it – with a little help from its friends.

"We have the human resources enough to build our country," the president reassures, "so I would not worry about this embargo, but definitely, the friendly countries like China, Russia and Iran, will have priority in this rebuilding."

When asked whether the EU member states would be allowed to participate, he answeres flatly: "Every country which stood against Syria will not have a chance to be part of this reconstruction."

What about Britain?

"Definitely not."


By Ece Toksabay and Tuvan Gumrukcu

ANKARA - Turkey said on Monday it had deported two Islamic State militants — a German and an American — beginning a programme to repatriate fighters that has caused friction with its NATO allies since it launched an offensive in northern Syria.

Allies have worried that Islamic State militants could escape as a result of the Turkish offensive, which began last month. Turkey has accused Western countries, especially in Europe, of being too slow to take back citizens who travelled to the Middle East to fight on behalf of the militant group.

Since launching its cross-border assault, Turkey has been seizing territory from Kurdish militia who have been holding thousands of Islamic State fighters and tens of thousands of their family members, including foreigners.

Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu had said last week Ankara would begin to send Islamic State militants back to their home countries starting on Monday, even if the nations the fighters came from had revoked their citizenship.

Interior Ministry Spokesman Ismail Catakli said one American and one German fighter were deported on Monday. He did not specify where they were sent, although Turkey has repeatedly said fighters would be sent to their native countries.

The 23 others to be deported in coming days were all European, including a Dane expected to be sent abroad later on Monday, as well as two Irish nationals, nine other Germans and 11 French citizens.

“Efforts to identify the nationalities of foreign fighters captured in Syria have been completed, with their interrogations 90% finished and the relevant countries notified,” Catakli said. “The process of repatriating foreign fighters to their countries will continue with determination,” he was cited as saying by the state-run Anadolu news agency.

Turkey launched its offensive into northeastern Syria against the Kurdish YPG militia last month, following President Donald Trump’s decision to move U.S. troops out of the way.

The YPG, the main element of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) and a U.S. ally against Islamic State, has kept thousands of jihadists in jails across northeast Syria and has also overseen camps where relatives of fighters have sought shelter. Ankara views the YPG as a terrorist group.

The Turkish offensive prompted widespread concern over the fate of the prisoners, with Turkey’s Western allies and the SDF warning it could hinder the fight against Islamic State and aid its resurgence. Turkey has rejected those concerns and vowed to combat Islamic State with its allies.

Ankara has repeatedly urged European countries to take back citizens fighting for the jihadists. It has also accused the YPG of vacating some Islamic State jails.

European states are trying to speed up a plan to move thousands of jihadists out of Syrian prisons and into Iraq.

So far, Denmark, Germany and Britain have revoked citizenship from some fighters and family members.

Last week, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan was quoted as saying that there are 1,201 Islamic State prisoners in Turkish jails, while Turkey had captured 287 militants in Syria.

On Monday, state broadcaster TRT Haber said Turkey aimed to repatriate around 2,500 militants, the majority of whom will be sent to European Union nations. It said there were 813 militants at 12 deportation centres in the country.

Erdogan said Turkey had captured 13 people from the inner circle of Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who died during a U.S. raid last month.

WASHINGTON - A top US army general says American troop levels in Syria are expected to stabilize at around 600 and that the presence of the military forces in the Arab country is for US national interests.

"There will be less than 1,000 [US troops], for sure," General Mark Milley, the US army chief of staff, said in an interview with the ABC News on Sunday. "Probably in the 500ish frame, maybe six."

Milley added that American troops would remain in Syria "for a significant amount of time because it's in our national interest to be there to help out."

The army general also claimed that it was important for US troops to remain in Syria so long as the Daesh (ISIS) terrorist group has a presence there.

"There are still ISIS fighters in the region," he told ABC. "Unless pressure is maintained, unless attention is maintained on that group, there's a very real possibility there could be a re-emergence of ISIS."

The statement comes as US President Donald Trump has recently approved an expanded military mission to secure oil fields in Syria's east, after announcing a complete withdrawal from the country.

In a major U-turn in US military policy, Trump announced on October 6 that Washington would be withdrawing its forces from northeastern Syria, clearing the path for an expected Turkish incursion into the region.

Three days later, Turkey launched the offensive with the aim of purging the northern Syrian regions near its border of US-backed Kurdish militants, whom it views as terrorists linked to local autonomy-seeking militants of the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK).

Damascus and the regional movers and shakers have voiced their strong opposition to Trump's decision to seize Syrian oilfields.


TEL AVIV - Earlier, King Abdullah II of Jordan announced the termination of a land lease agreement which allowed Israeli farmers to farm on a Jordanian enclave south of the Dead Sea, with the enclave expected to return to Jordanian control 25 years after the signing of the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace treaty.

The Israeli military contradicted on Sunday Amman's announcement that a Jordanian enclave allowed to be used by Israeli farmers will be returned to Jordanian jurisdiction, saying the lease agreement has been extended until next April, although with new restrictions.

"In continuation of the deliberation on the diplomatic arrangements in the Tzofar enclave, security forces are protecting the area and working together with the community," the Israel Defence Forces said in a press statement cited by the Times of Israel, using the Hebrew name for the territory of Ghamr.

"The farmers' work in the enclave is continuing subject to agreements and coordination," the IDF statement added.

The military did not elaborate on the terms and conditions of the lease agreement extension.

The Israeli foreign ministry later tweeted Tel Aviv's "regret" over Jordan's "decision to terminate the annexes" to the peace treaty, but added that "the Government of Jordan will continue to respect private ownership rights in Naharayim [Baqoura]," and that Jordan will "allow Israeli farmers to harvest the crops that were planted before the annex expired" in Tzofar (Ghamr).

Jordan has yet to make a statement on any possible agreement.

Earlier, media reported that Israel was preparing to return the two parcels of agricultural land south of the Dead Sea, after negotiations between Tel Aviv and Amman failed to achieve a breakthrough. Amman had first announced its intention to take the land back in October 2018.

The territories have been used by the Israelis over the past quarter century under the 1994 peace treaty, which allowed for private farming in the area, although Jordan retained formal sovereignty over the lands.

AFP reported earlier Sunday that Israeli farmers were barred from entering the Jordanian border enclaves as King Abdullah II announced "full sovereignty" over the territories.

"I announce the end of the annex of the two areas, Ghumar and Al-Baqoura, in the peace treaty and impose our full sovereignty on every inch of them," the king said earlier Sunday.

More than half of Jordanians have expressed their opposition to the 1994 treaty in recent polls, with relations between the two countries regularly complicated by diplomatic conflicts and violence, including a 2017 incident in which an Israeli Embassy guard in Amman killed two Jordanians. Jordan temporarily withdrew its ambassador from Israel in October over the detention of two Jordanian nationals without trial, with the ambassador returning after the Jordanians were released. A 1997 incident saw a Jordanian soldier open fire on a group of Israeli schoolgirls visiting the farm land, killing seven and prompting the king to issue an apology.

In September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu threatened to annex the Jordan Valley, which comprises almost one-third of the territory of the West Bank, if re-elected.

Israel has been in de-facto control over the two Jordanian enclaves for over 70 years.

North Africa

RABAT - Morocco hosted the first Libyan economic forum where the UN-backed Government of National Accord seeks a bigger role of the private sector and closer cooperation with Moroccan enterprises.

Some 400 participants mostly from Libya gathered in Rabat for the event as Libya struggles to rebuild the country after a devastating civil war.

Organizers from the Libyan private sector and the GNA said that the event is held in Rabat in tribute for Morocco’s support for Skhirate agreement and also to learn from Morocco’s economic development experience.

Speaking at the opening of the forum, planning minister Taher Al-Juhaimi said “Libya is a promising country for investments,” mentioning the country’s comfortable finances with zero debt and comfortable international reserves boosted by a trade and budget surplus.

He invited the Moroccan and Libyan businessmen to grab the investment opportunities offered in Libya, saying that his country looks to build on its potential to develop renewable energies in tandem with $12 billion investment in infrastructure and oil and gas production which currently stands at 1.3 million barrels per day.

Head of Moroccan chambers of commerce Omar Moro, for his part, said that the potential of trade between Morocco and Libya remains unlocked as the two countries traded only $105 million in 2018.

For his part, employment minister Mohamed Amkraz, speaking on behalf of head of the government Saad Eddine El Otmani, said that Morocco will continue to support Libya and contribute to rebuild the country along with the Maghreb union.

Organizers also said that Libyans aim at learning from the experience of Morocco’s private sector as they seek to open up their economy to local and foreign investors.

The event will wrap up with the signing of cooperation agreements to pave the way for Moroccan investments in Libya.

GENEVA - A group of independent UN human rights experts said on Friday that there was “credible evidence” that inadequate prison conditions in which former Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was held may have led “directly” to his death in June, and thousands of other detainees may be at “severe risk”.

“Dr. Morsi was held in conditions that can only be described as brutal, particularly during his five-year detentions in the Tora prison complex”, said Agnes Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, together with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention.

“Dr. Morsi’s death after enduring those conditions could amount to a State-sanctioned arbitrary killing”, they added in a press release.

The late Egyptian leader was placed in solitary confinement for 23 hours of each day, the experts explained. While serving six years of jail time on charges of alleged terrorism, spying and escape from prison, “he was not allowed to see other prisoners, even during the one hour a day he was permitted to exercise.”

“He was forced to sleep on a concrete floor with only one or two blankets for protection. He was not allowed access to books, journals, writing materials or a radio”, the independent rights experts detailed in an “official communication” to the Government.

Mr. Morsi, who took office as the first democratically-elected head of State in modern Egyptian history from 2012 to 2013 - before a military takeover - also “was denied life-saving and ongoing care for his diabetes and high blood pressure” while incarcerated, the group went on, and consequently, “he progressively lost the vision in his left eye, had recurrent diabetic comas and fainted repeatedly. From this, he suffered significant tooth decay and gum infections.”

Despite repeated warnings to authorities that such conditions would gradually undermine Mr. Morsi’s health, to the point of killing him, “there is no evidence they acted to address these concerns, even though the consequences were foreseeable.”

Prisoners ‘effectively being killed by the conditions’

Former affairs adviser to the late President, Dr. Essam El-Haddad, and his son, Mr. Gehad El-Haddad, who was chief spokesman for the banned Muslim Brotherhood organisation, considered a terrorist group by Egyptian courts, at the time of his arrest, are among the thousands of other prisoners enduring similar conditions.

“These two men are effectively being killed by the conditions under which they are held and the denial of medical treatment. It appears that this is intentional or at the very least allowed to happen through the reckless disregard for their life and fate”, the experts noted.

"We have received credible evidence from various sources” that gross human rights violations may be a reality for thousands of detainees more across the State, “many of whom may be at risk of death”, they went on.

Further, they urged Egypt to promptly address its prison conditions “and reverse what appears to be deeply entrenched practices” on people’s right to a life free of torture, ill-treatment, and the right to due process and medical attention.

These violations place Egypt’s inmates at risk of death or “irreparable damage to their health”, thus, the experts called for an effective and impartial investigation into Mr. Morsi’s “unlawful death…and all other prisoners who died in custody since 2012.”

The experts said they have engaged with the Egyptian Government and will continue to monitor the situation and have offered their assistance to collaborate with relevant stakeholders to address the larger problem of dire prison conditions in the country.

The UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has previously expressed extreme concern for the country’s prosecution approach, after the Egyptian court confirmed it would sentence 75 people to death, and 47 to life in prison in a crackdown on Muslim Brotherhood-led protests in 2013. She called the sentences a “gross and irreversible miscarriage of justice.”



THE UNITED NATIONS - Libya remains entangled in a “cycle of violence, atrocities and impunity”, International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda told the UN Security Council on Wednesday, nearly a decade since the Court began its work in the country.

“There has been an escalation of violence”, she stated, citing reports indicating a “high number of civilian deaths, thousands of persons internally displaced, and a sharp increase in abductions, disappearances and arbitrary arrests across Libya”.

The Prosecutor underscored that without the “unequivocal support” of the Council and international community to end the Libyan conflict, the country risks being “embroiled in persistent and protracted conflict and continued fratricide”.

‘Grave international crimes’

She informed the room that arrest warrants are still outstanding for “three ICC fugitives” accused of “grave international crimes”, including war crimes and crimes against humanity, including “persecution, imprisonment, torture, and other inhumane acts”.

“Perpetrators of serious international crimes are emboldened when they believe they will never face justice”, Ms. Bensouda continued, adding that this “cycle of impunity has provided a breeding ground for atrocities in Libya”.

She pointed out that with the fugitives at large, “justice still eludes the victims of their alleged crimes”.

Referencing “reliable information” the Prosecutor said that Saif Al-Islam Gaddafi, is believed to be in Zintan, Libya; Al-Tuhamy Mohamed Khaled is in the Benghazi area; while Mahmoud Mustafa Busayf Al-Werfalli is in Cairo, Egypt.  

Impunity “serves both as an obstacle and a threat to stability and must be checked through the force of law”, she maintained.

She said Mr. Al-Werfalli appeared to have been “rewarded for his behaviour”, having been promoted twice by the leadership of the self-styled Libyan National Army (LNA) which is still laying siege to the capital Tripoli – first of all in 2017, after videos depicting the first four unlawful executions he allegedly perpetrated, had been posted online.

“The effective power to arrest and surrender ICC suspects rests solely with States”, she asserted, adding that her Office is however, “developing, in coordination with States, enhanced strategies and methodologies to track and arrest suspects”.

The Prosecutor underscored the need for “a concerted international effort to ensure accountability for atrocity crimes” to break the cycle.

“Through the arrest and surrender of the ICC fugitives, the international community can begin to bring justice to the victims in Libya and help prevent future crimes”, she said, calling on all States “to do everything in their power to ensure the surrender of all three ICC Libya fugitives to the Court”.

A grave situation

Ms. Bensouda was “deeply alarmed” by reports indicating that since April “more than 100 civilians have been killed, 300 injured and 120,000 displaced” during fighting, calling for all combatants to “pay heed to the rules of international humanitarian law”.

Condemning all unlawful violence in Libya, she spelled out, “Let me be clear: I will not hesitate to bring new applications for warrants of arrest against those most responsible for alleged crimes that fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC”.

Targeting migrants

Turning to crimes against migrants, she recalled that “the ICC is a court of last resort”, and only acts when States do not “investigate and prosecute serious international crimes”.

However, through collecting and analysing documentary, digital and testimonial evidence on alleged crimes in detention centres, her Office has facilitated progress in “a number of investigations and prosecutions relating to crimes against migrants in Libya”.

In closing she flagged that the country will continue to be a priority for her Office next year, saying, “the people of Libya deserve peace and stability”.


LONDON - Warring parties in the ongoing battle for Tripoli have killed and maimed scores of civilians by launching indiscriminate attacks and using a range of inaccurate explosive weapons in populated urban areas, Amnesty International said in a new report today.

In the first in-depth field investigation across the frontline since fighting broke out on 4 April, the organization visited 33 air and ground strike sites in Tripoli and surrounding areas. It unearthed evidence of potential war crimes by both the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army (LNA), who have been fighting in and around the city.

“Our on-the-ground investigation on both sides of the frontline revealed a systematic disregard for international law fuelled by the continued supply of weapons to both sides in violation of a UN arms embargo,” said Donatella Rovera, Senior Crisis Response Adviser at Amnesty International.

“Scores of civilians have been killed and injured as both sides use everything from Gaddafi-era unguided rockets to modern drone-launched guided missiles in attacks that could amount to war crimes,” said Brian Castner, Amnesty International’s Senior Crisis Advisor on Arms and Military Operations.

First investigation on both sides of Tripoli frontline

Amnesty International investigators were on the ground in Libya from 1 to 14 August, and visited both sides of the conflict in and around Tripoli, Tajoura, Ain Zara, Qasr Bin Ghashir and Tarhouna. They interviewed 156 residents, including survivors, witnesses and relatives of victims, as well as local officials, medical workers and members of militias.

Amnesty International experts in remote sensing, weapons and ordnance, photographic and video verification, and members of its Digital Verification Corps also carried out an open source investigation into many of the strikes.

GNA and LNA officials have not responded to questions Amnesty International sent about their strikes.

Civilians caught in the crossfire

According to UN statistics, the fighting over the last six months has killed and wounded more than 100 civilians – including dozens of detained migrants and refugees – and has displaced more than 100,000. Air strikes, artillery barrages and shelling have struck civilian homes and other key infrastructure, including several field hospitals, a school, and a migrant detention centre, and have forced the closure of the Mitiga airport, Tripoli’s sole international air link.

Some of the attacks documented by Amnesty International were either indiscriminate or disproportionate – meaning they violated fundamental principles of international humanitarian law and could amount to war crimes. In other cases, the presence of fighters at or near civilian homes and medical facilities endangered civilians there.

Children as young as two years old playing outside their homes, mourners attending a funeral, and ordinary people going about their daily activities were among those unlawfully killed or injured.

“What kind of war is this, killing civilians, families, in their homes? What can we do? May God help us,” one woman told Amnesty International. Her husband, a 56-year-old father of six, was killed when a rocket struck his own bedroom where he was resting after returning home from playing football.

It was part of an indiscriminate attack launched by the LNA on the Abu Salim neighbourhood just before 11pm on 16 April, 2019. The salvo of six notoriously inaccurate ground-launched “Grad” rockets rained down over several city blocks, killing eight civilians, injuring at least four more, and leaving the survivors badly traumatized.

A GNA artillery attack on the densely populated civilian neighbourhood of Qasr bin Ghashir at around 12.15pm on 14 May, 2019, hit a three-storey building, killing at least five civilians and injuring more than a dozen. Many people were moving about the area at the time to attend the funeral of a well-known neighbour.

“I was at home and my brother was standing outside on the street. The strike was massive; it sent a vehicle flying on top of another vehicle and for a moment everything was black. I rushed outside and there were many neighbours dead and injured on the ground; there were severed body parts. It was a shocking sight. Then we found my brother; he had injuries everywhere; he died. I couldn’t believe it,” the brother of 19-year-old Ahmad Fathi al-Muzughi, who died in the strike, told Amnesty International.

GNA air strikes in Qasr Bin Ghashir and Tarhouna have also hit civilian homes and infrastructure, utilizing FAB-500ShL unguided “parachute” bombs. With a blast radius of over 800m, this weapon is completely inappropriate for use in urban areas.

Airport and field hospitals attacked

Mitiga Airport – for months Tripoli’s only functioning airport – is now closed after being repeatedly targeted by LNA attacks. Nearby civilian homes and a school have also been struck in what appear to be indiscriminate attacks. Amnesty International experts examined craters and munitions fragments at several of these strike sites, pointing to the use of unguided, large explosive weapons.

LNA attacks have also damaged or destroyed several ambulances and field hospitals used to treat wounded fighters. Medical workers and facilities – including those treating sick or wounded fighters – have special protection under international humanitarian law and should not be targeted. Amnesty International has found that GNA fighters have used field hospitals and medical facilities for military purposes, thereby rendering them vulnerable to attacks.

The deadliest such attack was a missile strike on a field hospital near the closed Tripoli International Airport on 27 July 2019 that killed five medics and rescuers and injured eight more. Based on Blue Arrow 7 munition fragments found at the site and other evidence, Amnesty International determined that the strike was launched from a Chinese Wing Loong drone – which the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has been operating on behalf of the LNA. The organization also established that the facility was not marked as a medical facility and had also been used by fighters for eating and other purposes.

UN arms embargo violated

Despite a comprehensive UN arms embargo in place since 2011, the UAE and Turkey have been supporting the LNA and GNA, respectively, through illicit arms transfers and direct military support.

“The international community must uphold the UN arms embargo, which Turkey, the UAE, Jordan and other countries have flagrantly violated,” said Brian Castner.

“All sides must take immediate and concrete steps to protect civilians in line with the laws of war and investigate the conduct of their forces. A Commission of Inquiry should be put in place to pave the way for justice and reparation for the victims and their families,” said Donatella Rovera.

“Members of the UN Human Rights Council should work together to establish this mechanism as a matter of urgency, which could determine responsibility for violations and preserve evidence of crimes.”


Research Papers & Reports

GENEVA - From before birth, to the end of life, taking to the dance floor or sketching a still life, can positively affect our health and even prove more cost-effective than conventional medical treatment, the World Health Organisation (WHO) found in a new study published on Monday.

The Health Evidence Synthesis report, from WHO’s Regional Office for Europe, analysed evidence from over 900 publications supporting ways in which the arts can help improve physical and mental health, in the most comprehensive review of its kind to date.

The report reviewed the health benefits (either through active or passive participation) in five broad categories of arts: performing arts (music, dance, singing, theatre, film); visual arts (crafts, design, painting, photography); literature (writing, reading, attending literary festivals); culture (going to museums, galleries, concerts, the theatre); and online arts (including animation and digital arts).

Piroska Östlin, WHO Regional Director for Europe, said in a Monday press statement that examples cited in the groundbreaking study, “consider health and well-being in a broader societal and community context, and offer solutions that common medical practice has so far been unable to address effectively.”

Different kinds of cultural and artistic engagement can trigger psychological, physiological, social and behavioural responses, linked to health outcomes, report authors explain, and art as medicine can be distinguished into two broad themes; prevention and promotion, and management and treatment.

For the former, music specifically selected to inspire attitudes of independence and self-empowerment helped HIV patients stay on course with treatment programmes, decreasing the volume of the virus in their bodies.

Art therapy sessions during cancer treatment have been shown to reduce the adverse side-effects of drowsiness, lack of appetite or energy, and depression.

Focusing on management and treatment, expecting mothers who engaged in weekly art therapy sessions helped reduce their fear of childbirth, and the general depression and anxiety sometimes associated with becoming a new parent. Singing during pregnancy can strengthen mother-infant bonding, reduce an infant’s crying episodes, and help newborns get a better night’s sleep.

The report indicates that some cultural activities show equivalent - or even greater - cost-effectiveness, as traditional health interventions. Because the arts can provide multiple health-promoting factors within a single activity, they may be better at preventing ailments or disease in the first place, the authors note.

Furthermore, in its various forms, artistic expression can be tailored to each individual, and thus, can help reach minority groups, which are often at higher risk of poor health.

Closing the policy gap

The report outlines policy considerations for decision-makers in the health sector and beyond, including ensuring access to health programmes, promoting public awareness of health benefits of arts engagement, and investment in further research.

Since the beginning of the 21st century, major research developments have traced the effects of art on health and well-being, however, this has not led to significant policy development across Member States within the European region, which was the focus of WHO’s study.

Although since the early 2000s, England, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden have implemented policies enhancing the contribution of art and culture to health and well-being.

Last year, the Secretary-General launched the Mental Health and Well-Being Strategy specifically serving UN personnel. The five-year UN workplace plan aims to create working environments that enhance mental health and well-being, in line with the Sustainable Development target for healthy lives worldwide, SDG 3.


PARIS - In a speech to the Paris Peace Forum in Paris on Monday, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that to thrive, multilateralism had to adapt, mindful that “conflicts persist, creating suffering and displacement: our world is unsettled”.  He was speaking as commemorations took place in countries across the world, marking the official end of the First World War, in 1918.

Drawing parallels with the geopolitical landscape in the early 20th Century, Mr. Guterres described today’s world as neither bipolar, unipolar, nor multipolar, but rather “chaotic and uncertain”.

Prevention ‘more indispensable than ever’

Today, he said, conflicts are not between sovereign States, but rather consist of asymmetrical conflicts, in which countries are often pitted against non-State actors.

When third-party states interfere, these conflicts take on a regional dimension, continued Mr. Guterres, at a time when relations between the most powerful countries are dysfunctional, and with a Security Council that is frequently paralysed.

The UN chief declared that conflict prevention is more indispensable than ever, citing growing links to a new form of global terrorism, as seen in Libya and the Lake Chad region, and the danger of nuclear proliferation. He called for the root causes to be addressed, as well as the prevention of new tensions and conflicts.

Mr. Guterres explained that international cooperation is the only way to solve these issues, which is why crisis prevention and mediation, as well as a framework for fighting violent extremism, and reinforcing peace and international security, are at the heart of his UN reforms.

Five fault-lines that threaten the world

The world is facing five major risks, declared the Secretary-General. Firstly, an economic, technological and geostrategic fault line. This sees the planet divided in two, with the two largest economies dividing the world between them, each imposing their own financial and economic rules on their spheres of influence.

"We must do all we can to avoid this ‘Great Fracture’ and preserve a global system, a universal economy that respects international law, a multipolar world with solid multilateral institutions”.

The second risk lies in the social contract between citizens and governments, leading to a wave of demonstrations around the world, said Mr Guterres, which demonstrates a growing distrust in institutions and political leaders. “The people are suffering”, he declared, “and want to be heard”.

This leads to a third risk, said the UN chief: a solidarity gap, and rise in inward-looking attitudes, in which the most vulnerable – minorities, refugees, migrants, women and children – are the first to suffer:

“Fear of foreigners is being used for political ends. Intolerance and hatred are becoming commonplace. People who have lost everything are being blamed for all the world's ills. This exacerbates the polarization of political life and the risk of divided societies”.

The fourth risk, Mr. Guterres spelled out, is the climate crisis, a “race against time for the survival of our civilization, a race that we are losing”. The UN chief described record temperatures, receding icecaps, expanded deserts, and destructive storms, such as those he has witnessed as UN chief in Dominica, Mozambique and the Bahamas

It’s not too late to act

“If we fail to act now”, said Mr. Guterres, “history will remember that we had all the means needed to fight back, but that we chose to do nothing”.

However, he continued, solutions exist and if countries find the political will to act, honour pledges to cut emissions, and mobilize funding for sustainable development, catastrophe can be averted.

A technological divide, declared Mr. Guterres, is the fifth emerging global fault-line, because, whilst new technology has the potential to be a powerful tool for peace and sustainable development, it can also increase risk and accelerate inequalities.

Solutions outlined by the Secretary-General include education systems that integrate lifelong learning, because “we must no longer simply learn, but learn how to learn.”

Overcome hate, together

Turning to the rise of hate speech and the manipulation of information, Mr. Guterres said that he plans to make the UN a place in which governments, companies, researchers and civil society can meet to “define together the red lines and best practice rules”.

The threat of cyber-attacks and a new “cyber-arms” race involving killer robots and autonomous weapons must also be tackled, warned Mr. Guterres, who said that “machines that have the power and discretion to kill without human intervention are politically unacceptable and morally despicable”.

The world must instead ensure, said the UN chief, that artificial intelligence is used to guarantee that everyone can live in dignity, peace and prosperity.

Multilateralism must “adapt to challenges of today and tomorrow”

The Secretary-General concluded his speech with a vision of multilateralism, that can adapt to the challenges of today and tomorrow, and make the UN more effective and agile.

Multilateralism, he said, must be networked, and close to the people, working hand in hand with regional organizations, but also with international financial institutions, development banks and specialized agencies.

It must also be inclusive, he added, with the full participation of civil society, including young people, business, academic and philanthropic circles, and tackle gender equality, an issue that the UN is addressing, with a strategy to achieve parity well before 2030.

The UN chief called for a “sustained strategic vision” to solve the world’s interdependent and long-term challenges, noting that the international community has shown, in the past, that it can come together and rise to the occasion: “So let us fight, fight and not give up”.


NAIROBI - An experimental tuberculosis (TB) vaccine could prevent people who have TB with no sign of illness from progressing to TB of the lungs for up to three years, potentially saving millions of lives, a study shows.

The WHO reports that a quarter of the world’s population are infected with the TB germ Mycobacterium tuberculosis but do not have signs of active TB disease and do not feel ill — a phenomenon called latent TB.  About five to ten per cent of those with latent TB develop active tuberculosis disease in their lifetime.

Tuberculosis that usually affects the lungs is a top ten killer globally, according to the WHO. In 2018, about 10 million people fell ill with TB, with 1.5 million people dying as a result.

The vaccine called M72/AS01E and developed by pharmaceutical firms GlaxoSmithKline Biologicals and Aeras, was trialled in 3,575 adults with latent TB in Kenya, South Africa and Zambia from August 2014 through November 2015. Their condition was tracked for three years.

Mark Hatherill, a co-author of the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last week (29 October), says the study shows that TB can be prevented by vaccinating previously infected individuals, describing it as “a potential game-changer for global TB control efforts”.

“The M72/AS01E vaccine was well tolerated and offered 50 per cent protection against development of pulmonary [lung] TB for at least three years, when given to HIV-uninfected adults with ‘latent’ TB infection,” he said.

Participants were randomly assigned to receive two doses of either M72/AS01E or placebo, administered one month apart.

If the vaccine’s outcome is consistent in larger trials incorporating more diverse populations including different geographies, ancestries, ages and risk groups, millions of lives could be saved, added Hatherill, director of the South African Tuberculosis Vaccine Initiative at the University of Cape Town.

“Funders will be needed to support the next stage of trials to confirm these exciting results in a larger and more diverse population,” he told SciDev.Net.

The existing TB vaccine, BCG, is only partially effective for children and offers poor protections for adults.

Paul Yonga, a consultant in infectious and tropical diseases and a clinical epidemiologist at Fountain Health Care Hospital in Eldoret, Kenya, told SciDev.Net that the results of the study were promising given the large sample size.

He noted that the 50 per cent efficacy and three years’ protection met the WHO threshold for recommended TB vaccines but said it was too early to draw conclusions from the findings.

“For now, I think the results presented are quite interesting and encouraging but are still not good enough to influence policy from a public health perspective,” he added.

Terrorism Monitor Volume: 17 Issue: 21

By Ben Abboudi, Terrorism Monitor, the Jamestown foundation,6 November 2019

The latent threat Islamic State (IS) poses to Morocco was again highlighted by recent large-scale counter-terror operations in Morocco. The country’s internal security forces, the Central Bureau of Judicial Investigation (Bureau Central d’Investigations Judiciaires—BCIJ), dismantled suspected IS cells on October 25 in Casablanca, Ouezzane, and Chefchaouen. In the raids, seven people were arrested and chemical agents, two rifles, and three automatic pistols were seized across the sites (Middle East Online, October 25). Reports indicate that the disrupted IS cells were at an advanced stage in planning attacks that would have targeted unspecified sensitive economic infrastructure and strategic sites, with the support of foreign IS operatives. These attacks would have been unprecedented in scale in Morocco. Local reports suggest the group received weaponry from the Sahel, which was sourced through a Syrian IS member who transited to Morocco following the caliphate’s destruction.

While counter-terrorism raids are common in Morocco, the scale of this operation is indicative of the persistent and underlying risk of terrorism in the country. Morocco has been spared many of the high profile IS attacks inflicted upon neighboring countries when the group was at its most powerful. The last major mass-casualty attack was in 2011, when militants belonging to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) attacked a cafe in Jemaa el-Fnaa square in Marrakech, killing 17.

Strength of the BCIJ

AQIM, and subsequently IS, have struggled to gain a foothold in Morocco, largely due to the creation of the BCIJ in 2015; the organization has been instrumental in breaking up dozens of militant cells. The BCIJ has also helped prevent numerous attacks in Europe through intelligence sharing; one notable example of this success was on December 22, when the BCIJ reportedly disclosed the location of a lead 2015 Paris attacker, Abdelhamid Abaaoud, to French authorities who was then identified at Stuttgart airport in Germany. The organization has received widespread international support, typified by the announcement on October 22  that the United States and Morocco were increasing counter-terror cooperation (Yabiladi, October 23). However, the BCIJ’s mammoth task in preventing such high profile attacks was highlighted in January when two Scandinavian tourists were murdered in Imlil, in the Atlas Mountains, by jihadist operatives. The BCIJ has recorded countless successes and conducts almost monthly counter-terror
operations and arrests. However, there are certain trends within Morocco that makes the anti-terrorism mission harder. For example, the increasing prevalence of radicalized youths and concerns regarding a chemical weapons attack.

Issue of Radicalized Youths

A key issue faced by the BCIJ is a problem faced by many other security forces globally; there is a growing population of impoverished and politically excluded youths, who are more susceptible to radicalization. Reports indicate that those involved in the Casablanca, Ouezzane, and Chefchaouen cells were overwhelmingly young men between the ages of 19 to 27, with little formal education and who were working low-paid jobs (Telquel, 28 October). These are long-standing issues in Morocco; a bomb attack in Marrakech in 2003 was conducted by young men recruited from economically deprived areas of Sidi Moumin.

Higher poverty rates and lower life expectancy levels in the mountainous Rif region in the north provide an environment favorable for those seeking to radicalize local populations. This is in line with global trends—domestically radicalized jihadists are most commonly profiled to be disaffected young men. Morocco’s internal security forces have taken steps to address the radicalization of its population, especially identifying those returning from Syria and Iraq, by introducing numerous counter-radicalization measures. Implemented measures include the introduction of ‘aljamia attarbawiya’ (the educational university), which critiques radical interpretations of Islam, and training centers for imams to encourage a moderate interpretation of Islam and to discourage young people away from the potential lure of jihadism. These measures have helped the country deal with the large amounts of returning jihadists from Syria.

The Threat of Chemical Weapons

While it is more likely that the chemical agents that were seized in the October raid were intended to be used to create explosives, its discovery has caused concern among the internal security forces. While the details have not yet been made public, the authorities have stated that terrorists in-country have increasingly trended toward the use of chemical weapons, as opposed to commonly used tactics of car and suicide bombings. The seriousness of this threat was underscored by the inclusion of chemical weapons as a priority threat in a new anti-terror plan implemented at the beginning of the year (Africa News, October 28). However, there is little precedent for the usage of chemical weaponry by terrorist actors, particularly in Morocco. Unsophisticated attacks such as that in Imlil are likely to be the continued modus operandi of terrorist actors in Morocco, who have little operational maneuverability within the country.

Looking Forward

Going forward, the security forces in Morocco will likely continue to dismantle terrorist cells, securing a continuation of financial and logistical support from U.S. and European allies, thus enabling the BCIJ to prevent both lone-actor and cell-based attacks from becoming a regular occurrence. However, criticisms leveled at the BCIJ, such as intrusive surveillance, torture of detainees, and detainment and prosecution on politically motivated charges will likely continue to ensure a low-lying jihadist presence.

Community-led resistance continues to hinder the growth of sympathy for jihadist views. There were numerous well-attended vigils throughout Morocco to commemorate the Imlil attack and it has been condemned across the political spectrum. Despite being a majority-Sunni country, there has been little evidence of radical interpretations of Islam triggering widespread jihadist thought.


THE HAGUE - Gambia has filed a case at the United Nations’ top court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority, Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said on Monday.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, is the United Nations’ top legal institution that rules on disputes between states.

Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which not only prohibits states from committing genocide but also compels all signatory states to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.

“We have just submitted our application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention,” Tambadou told a news conference in The Hague, where the court is based.

“The aim is to get Myanmar to account for its action against its own people: the Rohingya. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right under our own eyes.”

His tiny West African nation, which is predominantly Muslim, has filed its case with the support of the Organisation for Islamic Coooperation (OIC).

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which U.N. investigators have said was executed with “genocidal intent”.

Myanmar, which has a Buddhist majority, denies accusations of genocide and says its crackdown targeted militant separatists in Rakhine state.

In its filing, Gambia asked the court to grant so-called provisional measures to make sure Myanmar immediately “stops atrocities and genocide against its own Rohingya people”.

The law firm helping Gambia, Foley Hoag, said it expected the first hearings on the provisional measures to take place next month.

Human rights groups which have been pushing the international community to act in the Rohingya crisis hailed Gambia’s move.

“Gambia has found a way to turn the international community’s handwringing over the Rohingya into action,” Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.

While the ICJ has no means to enforce any of its rulings, going against the decisions of the court could further harm Myanmar’s international reputation.


by Khaled Abdelaziz, Ulf Laessing and Michael Georgy

KHARTOUM - Sudan needs up to $5 billion in budget support to avert economic collapse and launch reforms after the ouster of veteran ruler Omar al-Bashir, its finance minister told Reuters.

The country, in crisis since losing most of its oil wealth with South Sudan’s secession in 2011, has only enough foreign currency reserves to fund imports for a few weeks, said Ibrahim Elbadawi, part of a transitional government formed in August.

Sudan has had some support for fuel and wheat imports but about 65 percent of its 44 million people live in poverty and it needs up to $2 billion in development funding along with a hoped-for $2 billion from Arab development funds, he said.

Outlining reform plans in detail for the first time, Elbadawi said public salaries would need to be increased and a social support network established to prepare for the painful removal of fuel and food subsidies.

Months of demonstrations over price hikes for fuel and bread and cash shortages triggered the uprising against Bashir, who was toppled in April by the military. Protests have continued since, with people killed in clashes with security forces.

“We have started the process (of reforms),” Elbadawi said in an interview on Thursday. “The people of Sudan deserve to be seen in a radically different prism than the international community used to see Sudan, as a country ruled by a pariah state.”

“Now we have a revolution,” he said. Asked how much budget support was needed for 2020 he said: “Some estimates say between three to four billion (US dollars), maybe even five billion.”

The civilian government Elbadawi is part of has taken over for three years under a power-sharing deal with the military. It has drawn slightly more than half of $3 billion in support for imports of wheat and fuel offered by Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates in April, he said.

A “friends of Sudan” donor meeting is planned for December and the government had agreed with the United States it could start engaging with international institutions while still on a list of countries deemed sponsors of terrorism, Elbadawi said.

The designation, which dates from allegations in 1993 that Bashir’s Islamist government supported terrorism, makes it technically ineligible for debt relief and financing from the IMF and World Bank. Congress needs to approve a removal.


The first experts from international institutions had arrived in Khartoum to help with reforms and a delegation of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) would come this month for Chapter IV discussions, Elbadawi said. There was no immediate comment from the IMF, World Bank or U.S. State Department.

Part of a roadmap agreed with the IMF and World Bank was that Sudan did not have to pay back $3 billion in arrears from international institutions.

“We don’t need to pay anything. What we need to ... deliver really is policy,” he said. Sudan is one of the most indebted countries, owing $60 billion, which needs to be settled separately.

Sudan would start to increase its tax base and overhaul the civil sector, Elbadawi said. Salaries — eroded by double digit inflation rates — could be raised as much as 100 percent by April.

In the second half of next year a social support network would be set up to allow the lifting of subsidies by June or later. Some donor funding would be used to collect data to allow cash transfers for the needy.

Sudan also wanted to produce bread based on sorghum, a local cereal, to import less wheat. He said he hoped a spread between official and black market would be ended by June. But this week the local pound dropped to 80 for a dollar on the black market versus the official rate at 45.

He said the 2020 budget would have sustainable development targets for education, health care and social spending, suggesting Sudan might move away from the dominant military spending choking development.

GENEVA - Organized crime, breakdowns in law and order, and attacks by extremists, are examples of the challenges faced by UN peacekeepers, the Security Council was told on Wednesday, during a briefing by senior UN Police Commissioners, and UN Under-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, Jean-Pierre Lacroix.

Fighting the ‘scourge’ of organized crime

Organized crime has become a “central scourge facing many countries”, Awale Abdounasir, Police Commissioner for the UN Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo (MONUSCO), warned the Council. Mr. Abdounasir said that the problem particularly affects fragile states, such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

Many countries, noted Mr. Abdounasir, have concentrated on a military response to the challenge, but “a judicial response that holds perpetrators of crimes accountable would have been more effective”, and a better strategy for combatting conflict and insecurity involves building up police forces, along with justice sector and prison system reform.

The MONUSCO police commissioner declared that his force has developed an organized crime prevention strategy for DRC, and called for concerted efforts to combat the phenomenon at a regional and sub-regional level, as well as the reinforcement of State authority, and strengthened rule of law.  

Sudan’s ‘law and order vacuum’

Slow progress on implementing a 2011 peace deal between the Sudanese Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, regarding the security of the Abyei region, has created a “law and order vacuum”, Mary Gahonzir, Senior Police Adviser for the UN Interim Security Force for Abyei (UNISFA), told the Council.

Abyei has no formal governance, and boundary lines for the oil-rich territory have not been formally agreed between the Sudan and neighbouring South Sudan. Since the formation of South Sudan in 2011, UNISFA has monitored an uneasy peace in the area.

In response to the insecurity, she said, informal community protection committees have been formed, supported, trained, and monitored by UNISFA police. These committees, added Ms. Gahonzir, play a crucial role in sustaining peace and security, particularly by addressing sexual and gender-based violence.

Reducing inter-communal violence, extremist attacks in Mali

In Mali, inter-communal violence and extremist attacks have resulted from the slow progress of the country’s peace process, and the vastness of Malian territory, Issouffou Yacouba, the Police Commissioner of the UN Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) reported.

MINUSMA police are engaged in protecting civilians and re-establishing State law, said Mr. Yacouba, as well as implementing Government strategies for reducing inter-communal violence, and re-establishing basic social services.

However, the work of the UN peacekeepers is hampered by the slow pace of security sector reform, the fallout of military operations, border management problems, and the lack of adequate funding for the Malian Defence and Security Forces.

Partnerships ‘central to success’

Acknowledging that peacekeepers are likely to face increasing challenges, Peace Operations chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix, noted the central importance of partnerships to the success of operations, such as the African Union-United Nations Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), which is planning for the mission’s transition, and exit, with the aim of sustaining peace gains and preventing a return to conflict.

Mr. Lacroix added that peacekeeping has been made more effective by the increased number of women: the UN, he said, has met its targets for the percentage of female peacekeepers deployed as individual officers, and allegations of sexual exploitation and abuse are on a steady downward trend. Nevertheless, he stressed, vigilance remains essential.

The coordination between police officers from the UN Mission in the Central African Republic (MINUSCA), and local authorities, was praised by Marie-Joseph Fitah-Kona, Adviser to the Mayor of the Third Arrondissement of Bangui, in Central African Republic (CAR).

Ms. Fitah-Kona said that the Mission’s officers are gradually regaining the trust of the local population, and religious communities are now existing more peacefully. Since MINUSCA’s arrival in 2013, she continued, the “rampant insecurity” lessened, shops reopened and life for many returned to normal. However, she added that the CAR “mustn’t be abandoned, because the situation is far too fragile,” and welcomed the ongoing recruitment of 1,000 more police and gendarmerie officers to the national security forces, with MINUSCA support.

The Security Council briefing took place during the 14th UN Police Week, (4-8 November), when heads of UN police components and police experts from 14 peacekeeping operations, special political missions and regional offices, discuss topics related to performance, conduct and discipline, and strengthening and sustaining peace through human rights.

THE UNITED NATIONS - The Security Council highlighted the growing partnership on matters of peace and security between the United Nations and African Union (AU) on Wednesday amidst calls to bolster overall effectiveness.

“The partnership between the African Union and the United Nations continues to grow from strength to strength”, Hanna Tetteh, Special Representative and Head of the UN Office to the AU told the Chamber via videolink.  

In introducing the Secretary-General’s annual report on the partnership, she elaborated on a various mechanisms based on the 2018 Joint UN-AU Framework for an Enhanced Partnership in Peace and Security.

Ms. Tetteh also highlighted joint field visits and consultations between the Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council and noted some “major challenges” that need to be addressed, including workable funding for AU peace operations.

Meanwhile, in her video briefing, AU Ambassador Fatima Kyari Mohammed described the burgeoning cooperation between the two organizations, noting that their combined efforts have contributed to positive recent developments in Sudan, following its major political upheavals this year.

She pointed out that both organizations also prioritize the accelerated implementation of the new 17 August Constitutional Declaration on the full transition from military to civilian rule.

Ms. Mohammed asserted that the two organizations should enhance joint work in technical areas, such as mission planning, financial management and accountability for peace operations.

Following their briefings, Council members similarly welcomed the growing collaboration between the Security Council and the AU’s Peace and Security Council and called for strengthening the relationship further.