BREAKING NEWS

Saudi Arabia rejects UN calls for international Yemen probe
 
Iran arrests Islamic State member allegedly planning Ashura attack
 
Michael Flynn accused of failing to disclose Middle East trip
 

ON THE GROUND


Iraqi Kurds to proceed with referendum despite Baghdad threats

The president of Iraq’s Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG), Masoud Barzani, on Tuesday rejected an Iraqi parliament vote authorizing Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi “to take all measures” to reject the Kurdish independence referendum and preserve Iraqi unity. Speaking in Kirkuk following the vote, Barzani vowed that the referendum would still go ahead on September 25. Abadi has threatened that Kurds will lose all their political gains if they proceed with the vote and instead urged them to come to Baghdad for a dialogue. While the referendum has little international support, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaffirmed Tuesday that Israel “supports the Kurdish people's legitimate attempts at self-determination.”

 

Russian defense minister visits Assad in Syria

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu made a surprise visit to President Bashar al-Assad in Syria on Tuesday to discuss military cooperation between Moscow and Damascus. Assad’s office said the two sides discussed the recapture of Deir ez-Zor from the Islamic State (IS). Even as Russian-backed forces loyal to Assad advance on the eastern city, US-backed forces are also converging on the oil-rich province. While the Russian military claimed that the Syrian army has recovered 85% of Syrian territory, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said that the Syrian regime holds less than half of the country.

Meanwhile, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif arrived in the Russian resort town of Sochi this morning to discuss regional issues, in particular the situation in Syria. While it is unclear who Zarif will meet with, Iranian media reported that he is carrying a letter for President Vladimir Putin from Iranian President Hassan RouhaniIran is working with Russia and Turkey to finalize de-escalation zones in Syria.

 

Israeli top court cancels law allowing ultra-Orthodox to avoid draft

Israel’s Supreme Court on Tuesday ordered the government to revise a two-year-old law that allows many ultra-Orthodox youth to avoid the army draft. The justices ruled that the law was “unconstitutional, disproportionate, and harms equality.” The ruling immediately provoked harsh reactions by ultra-Orthodox leaders, and could generate a government coalition crisis.

 

Saudi coalition justifies its airstrikes amid rising Yemen death toll

An investigatory panel formed by the Saudi-led coalition fighting in Yemen to probe civilian casualties concluded Tuesday that its actions were justified given the presence of armed elements inside homes, schools and clinics targeted by airstrikes. The panel reviewed 15 incidents and claimed that only three resulted in the loss of civilian life. Outside human rights monitors say the civilian death toll is much higher and the United Nations has said that most of the 5,144 civilian deaths in the war have resulted from Saudi airstrikes. 

 

Bahrain rearranges National Security Agency

Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa issued a decree on Tuesday rearranging the National Security Agency. The king appointed Lt. Gen. Adel bin Khalifa Al Fadhel as the National Security Agency president and Sheikh Talal bin Mohammed bin Khalifa Al Khalifa as the deputy interior minister. The agency is at the heart of the Sunni-ruled kingdom’s efforts to squash protests, and human rights groups have accused it of repressing the country’s Shiite majority. 

 

Israeli far-right approves West Bank annexation plan

The far-right Ichud Leumi faction, which is part of the Jewish Home coalition, adopted a diplomatic program on Tuesday that essentially calls for annexing West Bank territories. The plan calls for either financially encouraging Palestinians to immigrate or allowing them to remain, but without voting rights.

 

Erdogan hosts Qatari foreign minister in Ankara

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in Ankara on Tuesday amid the simmering crisis in the Gulf. According to Qatar's Foreign Ministry, the two sides discussed ways of further boosting bilateral ties, even as four Arab countries led by Saudi Arabia continue their embargo. Meanwhile, Qatar Airways announced that it will be launching a fourth direct route to Turkey in November.

 

Turkey condemns German arms sales restrictions

Turkey’s European Union affairs minister, Omer Celik, on Tuesday condemned Germany’s recent decision to restrict certain arms sales to Ankara. Celik warned that the arms restrictions would weaken Turkey’s security and borders, and therefore Europe's as well. German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel announced on Monday that Berlin had suspended all major arms exports after Turkey detained two more German nationals. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, walked back Gabriel’s comments on Tuesday, noting that only some arms sales would be restricted on a case-by-case basis.

 

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