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Taliban, Afghan rivals ‘set to meet’ in fresh bid for peace

Rival Afghans will meet starting on Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months. The international efforts to bring warring Afghan sides to the negotiating table comes as the Taliban, which has been fighting the West-backed…

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Taliban, Afghan rivals ‘set to meet’ in fresh bid for peace

Rival Afghans will meet starting on Sunday in Qatar, officials said, in a fresh attempt to make political headway as the United States seeks a peace deal with the Taliban within three months.

The international efforts to bring warring Afghan sides to the negotiating table comes as the Taliban, which has been fighting the West-backed Kabul government, killed 16 in the latest attack in the capital.

The US special peace envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad has been holding a seventh round of peace talks with the Taliban in Qatar, aimed at bringing the 18-year-old war to an end.

“… we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government
Suhail Shaheen, Taliban spokesman in Qatar

On Monday, US President Donald Trump said in an interview that he wants to withdraw US forces from Afghanistan, but will leave a strong intelligence presence in the country to counter what he termed the “Harvard of terrorists.”

The Taliban have refused to negotiate with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, and a previous attempt to bring the armed group together with government officials in Doha collapsed in April in a dispute over attendees.

Germany, a key player in international support for the post-Taliban government, and Qatar, which maintains contacts with the armed group, said that they jointly extended invitations for a dialogue in Doha on Sunday and Monday.

‘Direct engagement between Afghans’

The Afghans “will participate only in their personal capacity and on an equal footing,” Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, said in a statement released on Monday by the US.

“Afghanistan stands at a critical moment of opportunity for progress towards peace,” he said.
“An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans,” he said.

An essential component of any process leading to this objective will be direct engagement between Afghans
Markus Potzel, Germany’s special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan

But the Taliban spokesman insisted that they would not to talk to the Kabul government.

The meeting comes after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo paid a previously unannounced visit last week to Kabul where he voiced hope for a peace deal with the Taliban “before September 1.”

The ambitious timeframe would allow a deal before Afghanistan holds elections in September, which Western officials fear could inject a new dose of instability.

Trump wants to pull all US troops from Afghanistan, believing that the US’s longest war – launched after the September 11, 2001 attacks – no longer makes military or financial sense.

But he said the US will “be leaving very strong intelligence, far more than you would normally think,” in an interview with the Fox New Channel’s “Tucker Carlson Tonight.”

“It just seems to be a lab for terrorists … I call it the Harvard of terrorists,” Trump said.

The Taliban have refused to halt their violence, believing that they have an upper hand as the US is eager to leave.

On Monday, at least 16 people were killed and dozens wounded – including 50 children – after the Taliban hit the defence ministry with a powerful bomb.

Gunmen then stormed a nearby building, triggering a gun battle with special forces. Most of the injured children were hurt by flying glass, officials said.

The US began its seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha [Qatari Foreign Ministry handout via/Reuters]

‘Seeking consensus’

Save the Children branded the attack “utterly deplorable,” warning that “children’s smaller bodies sustain more serious injuries than adults” and that the trauma of such attacks can stay with them for years.

Washington condemned the “brazen” and “callous” attack, but continued the seventh round of talks with the Taliban in Doha that started on Saturday.

“Once the timeline for the withdrawal of foreign forces is set in the presence of international observers, then we will begin the talks to the Afghan sides, but we will not talk to the Kabul administration as a government,” tweeted Suhail Shaheen, the spokesman of the Taliban’s office in Qatar.
Under a peace deal, the US plans to pull its roughly 14,000 troops from Afghanistan.
In return, the Taliban would provide assurances that they would never allow their territory to be a base for foreign attacks – the primary reason for the US invasion in 2001.

Zalmay Khalilzad, the US negotiator with the Taliban, said that dialogue among Afghans was an essential part of a peace deal.

“Mutual acceptance, seeking consensus, and agreeing to resolve political differences without force is what is needed to learn from the tragedy of the last 40 years,” Khalilzad said, referring to Afghanistan’s nearly incessant conflict since the Soviet invasion in 1979.

“I wish participants success,” he tweeted.

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah. One of the facility’s tanks…

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Saudi Aramco says customers unaffected by Houthi attack on Jeddah

Monday’s attack knocked out a tank that contained 10 percent of all fuel stored a the Jeddah plant, Saudi Aramco official says.Oil giant Saudi Aramco says customers were unaffected by an attack by Yemen’s Houthi rebels on a petroleum products distribution plant in Saudi Arabia’s Red Sea city of Jeddah.
One of the facility’s tanks was hit by a missile in early on Monday.
The attack knocked out 10 percent of all fuel that was stored at the plant, a Saudi Aramco official said on Tuesday, adding that the tank – one of 13 at the facility – is currently out of action.
The official described the site as a “critical facility” that distributes more than 120,000 barrels of products per day.
A fire caused by the attack was extinguished in about 40 minutes with no casualties, he said.
The attack was confirmed by a Saudi official who told the Saudi state news agency (SPA) it was a “terrorist attack with a projectile”.
The oil company’s production and export facilities are mostly in Saudi Arabia’s Eastern province, more than 1,000km (621 miles) away from Jeddah, across the country.
Announcing the attack, a military spokesman for the Houthis warned that “operations will continue”.
Yahya Sarea said the attack was carried out with a Quds-2 type winged missile. He also posted a satellite image with the label: “North Jeddah bulk plant-Saudi Aramco”.
“The strike was very accurate, and ambulances and fire engines rushed to the target,” Sarea said.
That facility is just southeast of Jeddah’s King Abdulaziz International Airport, an important site that handles incoming Muslim pilgrims en route to nearby Mecca.
Renewed violence
Yemen has been mired in conflict since a Saudi-led coalition intervened in March 2015 to restore the Yemeni government, which had been removed from power in the capital Sanaa by Houthi forces in late 2014.
Cross-border attacks by Houthi forces have escalated since late May when a truce prompted by the novel coronavirus pandemic expired. The Saudi-led coalition has responded with air raids on Houthi-held territory.
The Houthis control most of north Yemen and most large urban areas. They say they are fighting a corrupt system.
Sarea said the attack was carried out in response to the Saudi-led coalition’s actions in Yemen.
The claimed attack came just after a visit by outgoing US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia to see Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The kingdom also just hosted the annual G20 summit, which concluded on Sunday.

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations. James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a…

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US appoints first Venezuela ambassador in a decade amid tensions

The two nations have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations began to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.The United States has its first ambassador for Venezuela in 10 years despite Washington having no diplomats at its Caracas embassy amid a breakdown in relations.
James Story’s nomination as ambassador was confirmed on Wednesday by a US Senate voice vote.
The South Carolina native takes the job that he will carry out from the capital of neighbouring Colombia as Venezuela endures an historic economic and political crisis.
The US and Venezuela have not exchanged ambassadors since 2010 when relations first started to fray under late President Hugo Chávez.
The two nations totally broke diplomatic ties last year, each withdrawing its diplomats shortly after Washington backed Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the country’s leader.
Story, 50, will likely play a key role in helping guide US policy on Venezuela during the transition of President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden’s win has sparked debate among those who back President Donald Trump’s hardline approach of isolating his Venezuelan counterpart Nicolas Maduro and others who say it is time for a new course.
The critics say heavy sanctions have failed to remove Maduro from power, opening Venezuela to US competitors such as China, Russia and Iran, while making life harder on millions of residents of the South American nation.
The US leads a coalition of dozens of nations that rejected Maduro following his election in 2018 to a second term in a vote Washington called fraudulent.
The US has since heavily sanctioned Maduro, his inner circle and the state-run oil firm, attempting to isolate them.
The Trump administration offered a $15m reward for Maduro’s arrest after a US court indicted him on drug charges.

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says. Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former…

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‘UAE, Israel can stamp out Islamophobia, anti-Semitism’

People to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in change mindsets, Ban Ki-moon says.

Countries like the UAE and Israel who have signed the Abraham Accords should stamp out anti-semitism and Islamophobia and devise curriculums to educate their youth on the significance of the peace deal, said former UN chief Ban Ki-moon.
He said that one of the major achievements of the deal – considered a huge political and diplomatic win – is that it opens up a “cooperative space not only for leaders but also for citizens of all the participating countries”
“The architects of this important agreement must ensure that the Accords is not an agreement just for their countries but for their people. Abraham Accords should serve as a launchpad for the sustainable peace and prosperity in the region,” Ban Ki-moon said while addressing a virtual conference on ‘The Abraham Accords: Advancing UAE-Israel, Regional, and Muslim-Jewish Cooperation’ organised by UK-based Emirates Society.
Stressing on the important role of education in building secure, peaceful, resilient and prosperous societies in both a short and long term, the Secretary General said it is his “sincere hope that the UAE and Israel and others redouble their sustained effort to educate their students and citizens – both young and old – about the significance of this important agreement and each other.”
“Devising curriculum and expanding global citizenship education as well as being aggressive about stamping out instances of anti-Semitism and islamophobia are important steps to take in this regard, he added.
He said people to people contact, academic, civil society exchanges and cooperation will go a long way in helping to change mindset and begin a dynamic new era of cooperation.
Palestinian cause
The UAE is the first GCC country and the third Arab nation to establish diplomatic relations with Israel by signing the US-brokered Abraham Accords on September 15. Bahrain and Sudan also followed suit and have signed peace deals with Israel.
The deal is considered a game changer for peace and stability in the region, as in exchange, Israel has agreed to temporarily halt annexations in the West Bank.
Reem Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, said the UAE continues to consider the issue of a Palestinian state as the most important one but without impeding opportunities for dialogue and open communication.
She said Abraham Accords was born from a “desire to change the business as usual approach” that has mired the countries of Middle East in conflict for long.
Even as the UAE continues to work for its own national agenda, Al Hashimi said the country is “really looking to learn from each other and also to explain to one another who we are and what matters to us”.
“And it does matter to the Arab and the Muslim world that a Palestinian state in its rightful place … exists.”
Ban Ki-Moon said it would be difficult to forge lasting peace without addressing the Palestinian question as well as issues like the final status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlement.
“To truly advance the vision of peace throughout the Middle East, we should not forget that the Palestinians must be involved in determining a future that is based on security and prosperity for all people in the region. I hope that Abraham Accords can function as a springboard for invigorated action on ensuring a negotiated two-state solution aligned with the relevant UN security council resolutions.”
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Anjana Sankar

Anjana Sankar is a UAE-based journalist chasing global stories of conflict, migration and human rights. She has reported from the frontlines of the wars in Yemen and Syria and has extensively written on the refugee crisis in Bangladesh, Iraq and Europe. From interviewing Daesh militants to embedding with the UAE army in Yemen, and covering earthquakes, floods, terrorist attacks and elections, she has come out scathe-free from the most dangerous conflict zones of the world. Riding on over 14 years of experience, Anjana currently is an Assistant Editor with Khaleej Times and leads the reporting team. She often speaks about women empowerment on her Facebook page that has 40,000 plus followers.

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