Ammon News, World

Israeli Knesset to vote on Jewish Nation-State Bill


[7/18/2018 3:47:57 PM]

AMMONNEWS - The Israeli parliament is due on Wednesday evening to vote on a controversial bill that seeks to define Israel exclusively as "the nation-state of the Jewish people", local media reported. On Monday, a parliamentary committee approved the final draft of the bill. It has since been fast-tracked since the Israeli cabinet endorsed it in March, meaning that Wednesday's vote at the Knesset will turn the bill into law, if it passes the second and third readings. If approved, the new Basic Law, which carries greater weight than normal legislation, would marginalise 1.8 million Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, and would strip Israel of its "democratic" component that is in its definition, critics have warned. Palestinian members of the Israeli parliament have condemned the bill, calling it a "Zionist flagship bill". In advance of Monday's vote, Aida Touma-Suleima, a Palestinian member of the Israeli parliament, said in a video she posted on her official Facebook page: "Now when we start the discussion on the Jewish State Bill in the Knesset, finally the Zionist extreme right wing put the official stamp on the Apartheid Israeli regime." Similarly, Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi warned of the bill's "dangerous" nature. "The nationality bill is dangerous. It is threatening what remains of a so-called 'democracy'. It is targeting the Arab minority in Israel," he said. Land annexation The legislation - known as the Jewish Nation-State Bill - revokes the status of Arabic as an official language, leaving only Hebrew as the country's official language. Additionally, it would allow Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government to expand the state's annexation of Palestinian lands in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. The bill considers the expansion of the Jewish-only settlements a national value. It also encourages and promotes their construction. Israel had already been expanding and planning to construct new settlement complexes that are considered illegal under international law. In the legislation's first draft, the bill was meant to also increase the powers of so-called "residential admission committees", which have the ability to market state lands and to determine prerequisites for residency - but legislators removed the clause after it was criticised as racist. In almost half of Israeli towns, residential admission committees already filter out Palestinian applicants on the grounds of "incompatibility with the social and cultural fabric". Since 2002, Israel has also been building a separation wall that is still under construction, annexing Palestinian land inside the West Bank despite widespread international condemnation. A first version of the contentious bill was initially introduced in 2011 by a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party. Israel's government has argued that the bill, which has constitution-like standing, preserves the nation's Jewish character into law. It will likely face a Supreme Court challenge if passed. *Agencies

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Saudi Arabia intercepts Houthi ballistic missile targeting Najran


[7/18/2018 6:19:04 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Saudi air forces intercepted a ballistic missile launched from Yemen on Saturday. The missile was launched by Houthi militias inside Yemen targeting the border town of Najran, but no casualities have been reported yet. *Al Arabiya

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Air strikes kill seven civilians in southern Syria


[7/17/2018 5:36:08 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Air strikes on Tuesday killed seven civilians in a sensitive southwestern province of Syria bordering the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, a war monitor said. The Damascus regime has been pounding Quneitra since Sunday in a bid to retake the southwestern province from rebels, after winning back most of the neighbouring governorate of Daraa in less than a month. “Six civilians including two women and three children were killed in air strikes near Ain al-Tina” on Quneitra’s border with Daraa province, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. It was not immediately clear whether the strikes were carried out by the regime or its Russian ally, the Britain-based monitor said. The monitor determines who carried out strikes based on the type of aircraft and munitions used, locations and flight patterns. In the west of the adjacent province of Daraa, Russian air raids killed one civilian near the village of Al-Aliya, it said. “Since Tuesday morning, heavy Russian air strikes and barrel bombs dropped by the regime have been targeting an area straddling Quneitra and Daraa,” Observatory head Rami Abdel Rahman said. Hayat Tahrir al-Sham, a group led by Syria’s former Al-Qaeda affiliate, is present in that area, he said. HTS jihadists are not included in a ceasefire between regime and rebels in Daraa announced earlier this month, which has allowed the regime to retake control of more than 90 percent of the province. President Bashar al-Assad’s regime has advanced in Daraa thanks to a deadly bombardment campaign since June 19, along with Russia-brokered deals between opposition fighters and the regime. In Quneitra on Monday, rebels in at least five towns raised the national flag, seeking a similar agreement with the regime, Abdel Rahman said. “Rebel factions in these towns have stopped fighting to avoid bombardment and destruction,” he said. In two days since Sunday, at least 43 regime fighters have been killed in both Daraa and Quneitra, while 48 jihadists and rebels have lost their lives, the Observatory said. More than 350,000 people have been killed and millions displaced by Syria’s war since it started in 2011 with a brutal crackdown on anti-government protests. *AFP

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Trump-Putin summit brings end to frosty US-Russia relations


[7/16/2018 5:17:37 PM]

AMMONNEWS - President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump have committed to improving relations between the United States and Russia, with Putin saying there was no longer any reason for tensions between the superpowers. The two leaders met in the Finnish capital Helsinki on Monday to talk about "everything from trade to military to missiles to China". "There are no objective reasons for difficulties [between Russia and the US]. The Cold War is a thing of the past, the situation in the world has drastically changed," said Putin. Earlier, Trump blamed his own country's past "foolishness and stupidity" for the two powers' hostile relations. At a press conference following the summit, Trump praised their "direct, open and deeply productive dialogue" and emphasised the need for continued diplomacy over confrontation. "A productive dialogue is not only good for the United States and good for Russia, but it is good for the world," he said. "Our relationship has never been worse than it is now, however that changed as of about four hours ago... To refuse to engage would not accomplish anything." International security Putin said the two countries would need to work together to cope with challenges such as terrorism, international crime, the economy and the environment, while pointing to counterterrorism and cybersecurity as areas in which they are already doing so. "As major nuclear powers, we bear special responsibility for maintaining international security," he said. Putin said the US and Russia could collaborate to "establish peace and reconciliation" in Syria, with Trump adding by working together to end the conflict, the US and Russia could "save hundreds of thousands of lives". The two leaders also committed to securing Israel's border with Syria in accordance with the 1974 Agreement on Disengagement between Israel and Syria. Russian meddling During the conference, Putin reiterated his denial of alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential elections. "The Russian state has never interfered and is not going to interfere in internal US affairs," he said. Putin added Russia would be ready to analyse any findings together with the US. For his part, Trump criticised the ongoing US investigation into the allegations as a "disaster". "If they had [evidence], it would have been out long ago," he said. Many US critics had called for the summit's cancellation after new revelations surrounding the alleged election meddling. Last week, US authorities indicted 12 Russian military intelligence officers for alleged interference in the 2016 presidential vote. "I was an intelligence officer myself and know how these dossiers are put together," said Putin. 'First important step' While acknowledging there were still challenges ahead in improving relations between the two countries Putin said he was "glad" at the outcome of Monday's talks. "We were not able to clear all the backlog, but I think we made a first important step in this direction," he said. Putin told Trump at the start of their summit on Monday "the time has come to talk thoroughly about bilateral relations, as well as various hotspots in the world". Key members of the US Congress, including some Republicans, criticised Trump's comments. Senator John McCain called the press conference "one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory". The Arizona Republican said the summit with Putin in Helsinki was "a tragic mistake", adding Trump made a "conscious choice to defend a tyrant". House Speaker Paul Ryan delivered a strongly worded statement saying there's "no question" that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election. "The president must appreciate that Russia is not our ally," Ryan said, adding Moscow "remains hostile to our most basic values and ideals". Other high-profile Republicans also expressed dismay. "I never thought I would see the day when our American president would stand on the stage with the Russian president and place blame on the United States for Russian aggression," tweeted Senator Jeff Flake. "This is shameful." *AL JAZEERA

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Syrian regime intensifies shelling of ‘Triangle of Death’ around Daraa


[7/16/2018 6:54:31 AM]

AMMONNEWS - The Syrian regime’s air forces intensified shelling over the “Triangle of Death”, which includes areas in northwest Daraa and the Quneitra’s central countryside. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the regime’s air forces targeted positions in Tal Al-Hara, Aqrba, Tal Mashra and others, adding that the number of raids targeting the Triangle of Death since Sunday morning increased to around 230. The regime also used explosive barrels, the observatory added. Evacuating opposition fighters and their families from Daraa began on Sunday. The evacuation implements the ceasefire decision reached between Russia and opposition factions on July 6. Hundreds of fighters and their family members boarded 15 buses on Sunday leaving Daraa. Opposition factions in Daraa also began handing their heavy weapons over to the regime on Saturday. The observatory noted that opposition factions control around 70% of Quneitra, which bears a sensitive location considering its borders with the Golan Heights occupied by Israel. *Al Arabiya

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US President Trump has ‘low expectations’ for Putin meeting


[7/15/2018 3:57:11 PM]

AMMONNEWS - US President Donald Trump said he had low expectations for the Monday summit with Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin just days after 12 Russian intelligence officers were charged by a federal grand jury for hacking the Democrats ahead of the 2016 election. The summit, which comes at one of the most crucial junctures for the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, has alarmed some NATO allies who fear Putin might seek a grand deal that undermines the US-led transatlantic alliance. Trump, who has been preparing for the summit by playing golf at his Trump Turnberry course on the western coast of Scotland, told CBS in an interview that “nothing bad” would come out of the summit with Putin. “I go in with low expectations,” Trump told CBS in Turnberry. “I’m not going with high expectations.” A US federal grand jury charged 12 Russian intelligence officers on Friday with hacking Democratic computer networks in 2016, in the most detailed US accusation yet that Moscow meddled in the election to help Republican Trump. Trump has repeatedly said the investigation into suspected Russian interference in the 2016 US election - which he casts as a “rigged witch hunt” - makes it hard for him to do substantive deals with Moscow. Others on the US side sought to lower expectations, attempting to downgrade the summit to just a regular bilateral meeting, given that no major achievements are likely. “We have asked, and the Russians have agreed, that it will be basically unstructured. We are not looking for concrete deliverables,” White House national security adviser, John Bolton, told ABC’s “This Week” in an interview. “It isn’t a summit,” US Ambassador to Russia Jon Huntsman told NBC’S “Meet the Press” moderator Chuck Todd. “It’s a meeting… This is an attempt to see if we can defuse and take some of the drama, and quite frankly some of the danger, out of the relationship right now.” Time alone The grand jury charges shine an even brighter spotlight on Trump’s treatment of Putin, who has repeatedly denied that Russia sought to skew the election that Trump, a Republican, unexpectedly won. When asked by CBS if he would ask Putin to extradite the Russians to the United States, Trump said he hadn’t thought of that idea but that he might. Russia’s constitution forbids the extradition of its own citizens. “I hadn’t thought of that,” Trump said. “But certainly, I’ll be asking about it. But again, this was during the Obama administration. They were doing whatever it was during the Obama administration.” When Trump meets Putin, he sits down with a disciplined, detail-oriented and experienced Russian leader who has played on the world stage for more than 18 years, in contrast to the US president’s 18 months in office. Trump, a 72-year-old former New York real estate developer who praises his own deal-making skills, and Putin, a 65-year-old former KGB spy who cultivates a macho image as a man of action, are due to have some time alone at the summit. “I think it’s a good thing to meet,” Trump said. “Nothing bad is going to come out of it, and maybe some good will come out.” Around 2,500 people gathered in Helsinki for a peaceful demonstration to promote human rights, the protection of the environment and democracy ahead of the summit on Sunday. Trump has said he wants to raise nuclear arms control, Ukraine and Syria with Putin, who has served as Russia’s preeminent leader since Boris Yeltsin resigned on the last day of 1999. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned Trump against making any unilateral deals with Russia that come with a cost for the United States’ Western allies. Trump was seen playing golf on Sunday at his course by two Reuters reporters. Putin was expected to attend the soccer World Cup final between France and Croatia at the Luzhniki stadium in Moscow on Sunday. *Reuters

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Rebels, families begin evacuating Syria’s Daraa city


[7/15/2018 8:25:10 AM]

AMMONNEWS - Syrian rebels and their relatives began evacuating the southern city of Daraa on Sunday, an AFP correspondent and a monitor said, more than seven years after the country’s ill-fated uprising erupted there. The AFP correspondent said hundreds of fighters and a few of their relatives had boarded around 15 buses which had then set off. “Buses began moving from the gathering point towards the edge of the city to be searched,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights war monitor. Intense shelling of of Quneitra The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said government forces have been intensively shelling the southern province of Quneitra since early Sunday and seized part of the region. “The bombardment started from 03.00 (midnight GMT) and continued for the last six hours,” said Rami Abdel Rahman, the head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights. “Around 800 missiles and shells have been fired against several areas in the province and fierce fighting continues on the ground between regime forces and rebels,” the chief of the Britain based monitor said. Regime forces have retaken the area of Masshara, he added. “Bombardments have also hit areas in (neighboring) Daraa province.” He did not immediately provide an estimate of casualties. After securing Damascus and outlying areas of the capital, President Bashar al-Assad’s regime on June 19 launched an offensive against Daraa, with support from Russia. The Daraa onslaught took less than three weeks to break the rebels’ grip, with the regime now in control of more than four-fifths of that province’s territory, the monitor said. Rebels and militant groups still control 70 percent of Quneitra, while the Syrian government is in full control of Sweida -- a third southern province -- the Observatory added. Quneitra province borders the Israeli-annexed Golan Heights. High alert in Israel Israel has been on high alert in recent weeks as Assad’s forces have tackled rebel-held areas of southern Syria. Abdel Rahman said that unlike in Daraa, fighter planes had not been used in the Quneitra offensive and that Russia was not yet taking part. The Israeli army said on Friday it had fired a missile and “very probably” destroyed a drone flying over the demilitarized zone between Israel and Syria, after intercepting another drone on Wednesday. Spurred on by Russia’s entry into Syria’s civil war in 2015, Assad’s regime now controls 61 percent of the country’s territory, according to the Observatory. Syria’s conflict has killed more than 350,000 people since March 2011. *AFP

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