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Updated: 5 days 13 hours ago

Iranian press review: Armed forces flex muscles in message to US, Israel

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 14:05
Iranian press review: Armed forces flex muscles in message to US, Israel
Meanwhile, fears grow over risk of collapse of dozens of high-rise buildings, and five million Iranian pilgrims are due to travel to Iraq during Arbaeen
MEE correspondent Fri, 06/03/2022 - 15:05
An underground drone base in an unknown location in Iran, 28 May 2022 (AFP)

Tehran steps up military threats against western targets

In a chain of events, Iranian military forces have intensified threats and attacks on targets linked to western countries and their allies in the Middle East, amid a deadlock in talks with the US over a potential return to the 2015 nuclear deal.

Since the US under Donald Trump abandoned the deal in 2018 and imposed international sanctions on Iran's oil, gas, petrochemical exports and the country's banking system, tensions between the two enemies have increased dramatically.

Iran nuclear deal: An interim plan could still salvage the talks
Read More »

On Saturday, the Islamic Republic of Iran Army, Artesh, unveiled an underground drone base named 313 Strategic Base, near the city of Kermanshah, local media reported.

The Jam-e Jam daily wrote that the most significant drones stationed in the base were Kian, Arash and Omid suicide drones. According to the daily, these operate as the "spiral bone" of Iran's official army's drone forces.

This was the first such unveiling by Artesh, as Iran's military drone programme is directed and controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). In 2019, Washington placed the IRGC on its list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.

The location of the drone base also drew experts' attention, as it is close to the same city where Israel attacked an IRGC drone facility in February.

Artesh disclosed the base a few days after Iran seized two Greek oil tankers in the Persian Gulf. ISNA news agency reported that the IRGC air force confiscated these tankers in retaliation at Athens' seizure of Iran's crude oil carried by a Russian-flagged tanker off Greece in April.

Meanwhile, Iraqi armed forces backed by Iran threatened they would carry out more attacks on US forces in Iraq. In an interview with Iran's official news agency IRNA, Nasr al-Shammari, a spokesperson for the Iraqi Harakat Hezbollah al-Nujaba, said that Shia armed groups would continue combating the US forces "to expel the American occupier forces from Iraq. The initial strategy is to target the US forces and their interests in Iraq, chasing them even inside their bases and imposing the highest tolls on them until they have no way but to escape from Iraq," Shammari said.

He also claimed that Israeli forces had maintained their presence in Iraqi Kurdistan, with active espionage bases run by Mossad.   

Fears over unsafe high-rises following building collapse

Following the collapse of a 10-storey building in the southwestern city of Abadan last week, public fear is increasing about the safety of high-rises in other Iranian cities.

In the recent collapse of the Metropol Building, at least 37 people were killed, and seven are still missing. The incident raised the alarm about numerous buildings constructed across the country without meeting necessary standards.

Iran: Building collapse death toll rises as protests continue
Read More »

On Monday, the Hamshahri daily, belonging to Tehran Municipality, warned that 129 buildings in the capital, Tehran, were categorised as "dangerous" due to risks of collapse and fire. So far, the daily and municipal officials have rejected public demands to name those buildings.

However, other sources said that the actual number of buildings at risk is much higher, and over 3,500 buildings in Tehran are in unsafe conditions.

Despite regulations by Iran's Construction Engineering Organization, well-connected people can receive the required construction permissions without implementing safety protocols. However, political activists such as Abbas Abdi believe that the incident in Abadan demonstrated fundamental problems more severe than "just bribing" officials for permission.

"There are other types of corruption worse than giving bribes," Abdi wrote in an opinion piece under the headline: Life without standards. "Have we ever asked ourselves why a rich person who uses all means to escape paying tax, built and renovated police stations in Abadan, or assisted the judiciary to construct prisons?" he added, referring to activities by Hossein Abdolbaqi, the owner of the Metropol Building.

Five million pilgrims to travel to Iraq in Arbaeen

Tehran and Baghdad are due to sign bilateral agreements to facilitate the pilgrimage of about five million Iranians who will travel to Iraq for this year's Arbaeen religious ceremonies, Tasnim news agency reported.

Before the pandemic, millions of Iranians participated in the Arbaeen walk from Iranian cities to Iraq's Karbala, but during the past two years the number of pilgrims declined to fewer than one million, due to health restrictions.

What is Arbaeen and how do Shia Muslims mark it?
Read More »

The news agency wrote that after the removal of pandemic-related restrictions in both countries, officials predicted that between three to five million Iranian pilgrims would visit Iraq.

Tasnim added that during Arbaeen, the Khosravi and Chazabeh border crossings between Iran and Iraq would operate 24 hours a day. 

Other reports from government offices indicated that Iranian authorities were preparing for a massive Arbaeen march in September as a show of power and demonstration.

On Tuesday, Yadollah Azizi, a provincial deputy at the powerful Setad organisation, dubbed the Arbaeen march a "military drill", adding that Setad would found an ice-making factory at the Mehran border crossing.

"As this year's massive Arbaeen military drill takes place during the hot summer, the Setad will build an ice factory to provide cold and hygiene water to pilgrims," Borna news agency quoted Azizi as saying.

Arbaeen is one of the most important religious ceremonies for Shia Muslims, taking place every year on the 40th day of the killing of Hussein ibn Ali, the Prophet Muhammad's grandson.

*Iranian press review is a digest of news reports not independently verified as accurate by Middle East Eye

Tehran
Iranian press review: Armed forces flex muscles in message to US and Israel

Turkey planned Syria military operation after Russian troops withdrew over Ukraine

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 13:52
Turkey planned Syria military operation after Russian troops withdrew over Ukraine
Preparations for offensive in Tal Rifaat and Manbij are now complete, Turkish military sources tell Middle East Eye
Levent Kemal Fri, 06/03/2022 - 14:52
The military operation will be the fourth of its kind mounted by Turkey in northern Syria since 2016 (File pic/AFP)
The military operation will be the fourth of its kind mounted by Turkey in northern Syria since 2016 (AFP)

Turkey decided to announce it would undertake a military operation in northern Syria after Russia moved a significant number of troops out of the country due to the war in Ukraine, Turkish military sources familiar with the situation have told Middle East Eye.

The sources said the timing of the decision, announced earlier this week, was also a result of Ankara’s ongoing offensive against Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) fighters in northern Iraq, where it is bidding to end PKK infiltration by sealing the last remaining land corridor between Turkey and Iraq.

“The recent PKK activities to transfer fresh forces and ammunition to Iraq from Syria triggered a response," one of the military sources told MEE.

Turkey plans to end PKK access to Iraqi border with new offensive
Read More »

"These two operations must continue simultaneously. 

"This isn’t solely about Russia getting bogged down in Ukraine. There are Ankara’s own concerns and intelligence on PKK activities in Syria.” 

The operation will be the fourth of its kind mounted by Ankara in northern Syria since 2016, and will be conducted with the declared purpose of combating threats to Turkey from the Islamic State (IS) group and PKK-allied Syrian Kurdish groups, as well as enabling the resettlement of internally displaced Syrians.

Earlier operations - namely Euphrates Shield in 2016, Olive Branch in 2018 and Peace Spring in 2019 - saw Turkey and its Syrian allies seize border territory previously controlled by the People's Protection Units (YPG), a group that Ankara says has direct links to the PKK.

Turkey and western governments, including the United States and the European Union, designate the PKK as a terrorist organisation.

Strategic target

The US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), of which the YPG is the spearhead, still control large swathes of northeast Syria.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said earlier this week that the military would target two key areas west of the River Euphrates. 

"We are taking another step in establishing a 30km security zone along our southern border," said Erdogan on Wednesday.

'We are taking another step in establishing a 30km security zone along our southern border'

- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan

"We will clean up Tal Rifaat and Manbij," he said, referring to two northern Syrian cities held by the SDF.

Tal Rifaat is significant due to its strategic position, sandwiched between Turkish and Syrian government forces, and has sometimes become a point of frustration for Ankara due to repeated deadly YPG attacks from the area on Turkish positions. 

“The YPG has conducted at least 100 attacks on Syrian rebel-held territories and Turkish military bases in the form of rockets, anti-tank missiles, cannon fire and multiple rocket launchers,” the military source said.

The source added that capture of the Menagh airbase, which the SDF took over in 2016 with the help of Russian airstrikes, had also been an advantage for the group. 

Ankara claims that since the YPG captured the area from Syrian rebels in 2016, 250,000 Syrian Arabs have fled Tal Rifaat for the Turkish-controlled Syrian city of Azaz. 

“Tal Rifaat is hosting 60 percent of the clean water in the region and that alone makes it a strategic target,” the source added. 

“The return of displaced locals and the management of the water resources is fundamental. It will revive agriculture and encourage returns.” 

Russian withdrawal

Turkish military sources say Russian forces, which had the second-largest presence in Tal Rifaat, have now largely left the area. 

The source said Ankara does not expect Syrian government forces to try to repel any Turkish offensive.  

“The [Turkish] military and Syrian National Army have already completed their preparations and may begin the operation at any moment,” the source added. 

“Russia is finding it hard to resupply its troops in Tal Rifaat and has already abandoned some of its bases near Aleppo to Iranians.” 

Other Turkish officials told MEE that Iran would be more concerned by any Turkish move into Tal Rifaat than the Russians, since Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp-allied militias are actively participating in Syrian government efforts to guard northern Aleppo. 

“The Iranians don’t want Syrian rebel forces to have a presence near Aleppo,” one of the Turkish officials said. 

Refugee factor

The military sources said that Turkey’s bilateral deals with Russia, and specifically with the US on Manbij, had been very clear. 

Since 2016, Washington has repeatedly said that it would clear YPG elements out of Manbij but has not done so. 

Syria: Erdogan says military operation will target Tel Rifaat and Manbij
Read More »

Russia, on the other hand, is continuing to try to convince Ankara to stage an offensive in Kobane - which would provoke a much larger western outcry and possible sanctions due to its significance for the anti-IS fight. 

The sources say that Turkey's military continues to evaluate the situation, and has plans laid out to seize Kobane if the political leadership deems it necessary. 

The sources said that Turkish military preparations for an offensive in Tal Rifaat and Manbij had been completed, and that it could begin at any time. 

Along with Tal Rifaat, Manbij would be able to host thousands of Syrian refugees currently in Turkey. 

Erdogan's government has been under fire due to the presence of 3.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, which itself is facing increasing economic hardship. 

Capitalising on increasing animosity towards Syrian refugees, opposition politicians have been promising to send them back if they are elected to government.

Istanbul

Egypt releases more political prisoners, including prominent dissident

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:52
Egypt releases more political prisoners, including prominent dissident
The activists were all detained about three years ago on charges of 'spreading false news'
MEE staff Fri, 06/03/2022 - 11:52
Egyptian opposition politician Mohamed Mohieldin (R) after his release on 2 June 2022 (Twitter/@ECRF_ORG)

Egyptian authorities released several political figures and activists on Thursday, including prominent dissident Mohamed Mohieldin, lawyers and rights groups announced.

Mohieldin's release comes a day after the Egyptian authorities released Yahya Hussein, the coordinator of the Civil Movement who is known for his campaigns against corruption.

Authorities have also released activists Kholoud Saeed, Hussein Shebl, Abdel Rahman (Moka) and Alaa Essam Ramadan.

Egyptian court sentences Al Jazeera presenter in absentia to 15 years in prison
Read More »

All the released detainees were arrested almost three years ago on charges of "spreading false news", a common accusation against government opponents. 

Laywer Muhammad Ahmed wrote on Thursday that the Supreme State Security Prosecution, which handles charges of terrorism and threats to national security, had released nine Egyptians, including three women, from three separate cases launched between 2021 and 2022.

President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has repeatedly denied that his country holds any political prisoners, but his administration has recently launched an initiative to pardon prisoners detained in connection with political cases. 

More than half of all prisoners in Egypt are political, according to the Arabic Network for Human Rights Information.

The number of prisoners in the country totalled 120,000 in March 2021, at least 26,000 of whom were held in pre-trial detention.

The Presidential Pardon Committee, tasked with facilitating prisoners’ release, was launched on 26 April during Ramadan, the month when presidential pardons have traditionally been handed out.

خلود سعيد ومحمد محيي الدين وحسين خميس على الأسفلت
_
خرج منذ قليل كلا من المترجمة خلود سعيد، المهندس محمد محي الدين، وحسين خميس، اليوم الخميس، من محبسهم على ذمة قضايا مختلفة.

وكانت النيابة قد قررت إخلاء سبيل خلود سعيد وآخرين، الإثنين الماضي، على ذمة قضايا سياسية مختلفة. pic.twitter.com/ga7aN2Xi5T

— ECRF (@ECRF_ORG) June 2, 2022

Translation: A short while ago, the translator Kholoud Saeed, Engineer Mohamed Mohieldin, and Hussein Khamis, were released, Thursday, from prison pending various cases. On Monday, the Public Prosecution decided to release Kholoud Saeed and others, pending various political cases.

Following the move, more than 3,000 prisoners were reportedly released, as well as a number of high-profile political prisoners, including Hossam Moniss, a prominent leftist organiser and journalist. Most of those released were not political prisoners, however. 

Sisi rose to power after ousting Egypt's first democratically elected president, Mohamed Morsi, a leading figure in the Muslim Brotherhood, in a 2013 military coup. Since then, his government has targeted members and supporters of Morsi's administration in a widespread crackdown. More recently, Sisi has also targeted the secular opposition.

Tariq Al-Awadi, a member of the presidential pardon committee, said on Monday that the number of prisoners included in the amnesty lists is 1,074. Only 21 of these have been released since April.

'Long overdue'

Amnesty International on Tuesday called on the Egyptian authorities to exclude security agencies from the process of reviewing decisions on whether to grant pardons to political prisoners.

"We welcome the long-overdue release of those detained solely for exercising their human rights - and the promise to free more," said Amna Guellali, Amnesty's deputy director for the Middle East and North Africa.

Why Egypt is not too big to fail
Khalil al-Anani
Read More »

"Yet thousands of opponents and critics continue to languish in Egyptian jails, while fresh arrests and prosecutions continue unabated," she said, calling on the authorities to "immediately and unconditionally release anyone detained solely for exercising their human rights".

The prisoners' release comes after an Egyptian court on Sunday sentenced former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul-Fotouh to 15 years in prison for "spreading false news" and "incitement against state institutions".

Ahmed Taha, a journalist and news presenter working with Al Jazeera Media Network since 2011, was sentenced in the same case to 15 years in absentia for interviewing Aboul-Fotouh in 2018 to discuss the presidential elections.

Aboul-Fotouh, 71, was arrested in 2018 after he joined a call to boycott that year's presidential election, which Sisi won in a landslide after all candidates - except one, who was his ally - were either arrested or excluded. 

Egypt releases more political prisoners, including prominent dissident

Louvre probe: Five ancient Egyptian artefacts seized from New York's MET

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:47
Louvre probe: Five ancient Egyptian artefacts seized from New York's MET
The pieces date back to 450 BCE and form part of a trafficking investigation into treasures sold via the Louvre
MEE and agencies Fri, 06/03/2022 - 11:47
Ancient Egypt Transformed: The Middle Kingdom exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York on 5 October 2015 (AFP/file photo)

New York prosecutors have seized five Egyptian antiques from the Metropolitan Museum of Art as part of an international trafficking investigation involving the former head of the Louvre in Paris. 

A New York state judge ordered the confiscation of the items on 19 May, a court document shows. 

The spokesperson for the district attorney told AFP on Thursday that, “The pieces were seized pursuant to the warrant.”

He added that they were “related” to the investigation into Jean-Luc Martinez, who was charged in Paris last week with complicity in fraud and “concealing the origin of criminally obtained works by false endorsement”.

Former Louvre director charged with trafficking Egyptian artefacts
Read More »

The antiques, which include a group of painted linen fragments dated between 450-250 BCE depicting a scene from the book of Exodus, are worth more than $3m, according to the Manhattan district attorney’s office. 

Also among the five works is a painted portrait of a woman dated between CE 54-68 and worth $1.2m. 

According to The Art Newspaper, which first reported the news, the Met purchased them from the Louvre between 2013 and 2015, when Martinez was head of the museum.

When AFP contacted the Met, a spokesperson referred to a previous statement wherein the museum said it was “a victim of an international criminal organisation”.

This is not the first time the Met has been sold items with false documentation. In 2019, it returned the gilded sarcophagus of the priest Nedjemankh to Egypt after New York prosecutors found it had been stolen during the Arab spring protest in 2011. The Met purchased the coffin in 2017 and later claimed that it had been a victim of false statements and fake documentation. 

Robin Dib, a gallery owner in Hamburg who was arrested in March and extradited to Paris for questioning, which led to Martinez’s indictment, was also involved in the sarcophagus sale to the Met, according to a 2019 report by the Manhattan district attorney. 

Now, French investigators are also looking to establish whether the Louvre's branch in Abu Dhabi acquired pieces looted during the Arab Spring protests. They suspect that hundreds of artefacts were pillaged from Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries during the Arab Spring in 2011 and were then sold to galleries and museums that did not ask about previous ownership.

Five Egyptian artefacts seized from New York's MET as part of Louvre trafficking investigation

Turkey: Inflation hits highest level since 1998

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:23
Turkey: Inflation hits highest level since 1998
Official data showed inflation hitting an annual 73.5 percent in May as ordinary people continue to suffer
MEE staff Fri, 06/03/2022 - 11:23
People burn their electricity bills as a protest against high energy prices in on February 9, 2022 (AFP)
People in Ankara burn their electricity bills as a protest against high energy prices, 9 February 2022 (AFP)

Inflation in Turkey has rocketed to its highest level since 1998 as ordinary Turks continue to suffer devastating rises in the price of basic goods.

Official data released on Friday showed that inflation rose to 73.5 percent in May. Transport prices jumped by 107.6 percent, while food was up by 91.6 percent.

Some economists, however, have suggested that the real inflation figure could be even higher.

Israel warns against travel to Turkey over Iranian retaliation fears
Read More »

The independent Inflation Research Group on Friday said that inflation actually accelerated by a massive 160.8 percent - more than double the figure given by the government.

The ongoing economic crisis is likely to weigh heavily on the mind of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (AKP) ahead of the 2023 elections.

Sky-high inflation in the late 90s eventually brought down the coalition government of the time and helped sweep the AKP to power on a promise of tackling the issue.

Analysts now suggest the AKP is in a similar situation and could risk losing power for the first time since 2002 if there is no let-up in the financial hardship facing Turkish citizens.

The Turkish lira also took a beating following suggestions by Erdogan that a new military intervention in northern Syria could be imminent, leaving it at 16.49 to the dollar on Friday.

Over the past year, the currency has lost nearly 48 percent in value.

Inflation in Turkey hits highest level since 1998

UK: Prevent strategy failing to engage Muslim communities, says government adviser

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 09:41
UK: Prevent strategy failing to engage Muslim communities, says government adviser
Dame Sara Khan says officials need to do more to explain the controversial strategy as ministers prepare to publish a review of its effectiveness
Edna Mohamed Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:41
Muslims gather to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at Bradford Central Mosque, northern England, on 13 May 2021 (AFP)
Muslims gather to perform the Eid al-Fitr prayer, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, at Bradford Central Mosque, northern England, on 13 May 2021 (AFP)

The British government’s counter-terrorism Prevent programme is failing to connect with Muslim communities, a government adviser has said.

Dame Sara Khan, a human rights campaigner who advises the government on social cohesion and is a vocal supporter of Prevent, told BBC’s Political Thinking podcast that the government had failed to explain the strategy to Muslim communities. 

Khan said that the lack of explanation “in essence… left a vacuum” about Prevent’s purpose, leaving the scheme “dominated” by Islamists.

UK Prevent strategy harmful to democracy and children, reports find
Read More »

“So those types of challenges have continued and I think continuing to engage with communities, explaining what the programme is, addressing concerns - that's got to continue in a much better way than we’ve seen previously,” Khan said. 

She added that fears of being accused of racism made some local authorities uncomfortable with tackling extremism and claimed that some groups had used the accusation of Islamophobia as a cover for extremist practices. 

The Prevent programme, launched in 2007, was set up to reduce the terror threat in the UK by allowing schools and workplaces to flag up people they deemed to be at risk of radicalisation. 

​​Critics of the Prevent Duty say that it has had a “chilling effect” on free speech in classrooms and universities, and that it has turned public-sector workers into informers expected to monitor pupils and patients for “signs of radicalisation”. 

'Climate of mistrust'

Other critics have said that it may even be counter-productive.

In March, a report by Rights and Security International, a human rights advocacy group, found that Muslim communities continued to be disproportionately affected by Prevent. 

Another report, by the Child Rights International Network, looking into the effect of the Prevent strategy on children, also found that the programme has "engendered a climate of mistrust".

"The knowledge that a teacher, social worker or health worker could refer any child to a police-led counter-terrorism programme without the family’s prior knowledge or consent has engendered a climate of mistrust that undermines children’s full access to essential services to which they are entitled," it said.

Khan, who is currently working with the secretary of state for levelling up, housing and communities, Michael Gove, on how local communities can counter extremism, has also faced allegations of being too close to the Home Office. 

But her intervention comes as ministers are preparing to publish a review of the strategy’s effectiveness after it emerged that the man suspected of killing the Conservative MP David Amess had previously been referred to Prevent. 

Prevent strategy failing to engage Muslim communities, says government advisor

US House panel probes Jared Kushner firm's business deals with Saudi Arabia

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 09:38
US House panel probes Jared Kushner firm's business deals with Saudi Arabia
Committee to examine whether former adviser to Donald Trump improperly used position to obtain billions of dollars from kingdom
MEE and agencies Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:38
Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (right) was a beneficiary of Kushner’s (left) support when he worked at the White House (AFP)

A US House of Representatives committee said on Thursday that it was investigating the Saudi Arabian government's $2bn investment with a firm founded by Jared Kushner, the son-in-law of former US President Donald Trump.

"The Committee on Oversight and Reform is investigating whether you (Kushner) have improperly traded on your government position to obtain billions of dollars from the Saudi government and whether your personal financial interests improperly influenced US foreign policy during the administration of your father-in-law, former President Trump," Representative Carolyn Maloney said on Thursday in a letter.

Maloney, the New York Democrat who leads the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, sent the letter to Kushner, who served as a White House adviser to Trump, requesting documents on the investment in his firm, Affinity Partners.

A spokesman for Kushner told the New York Times (NYT) that he "abided by all legal and ethical guidelines both during and after his government service". 

The firm did not immediately respond to a Reuters request for comment on Thursday.

Saudi Arabia: Panel advising sovereign wealth fund objected to $2bn funding of Kushner firm
Read More »

Records showed that the firm is registered as an investment adviser with about $2.5bn under management in pooled investment vehicles.

In a typical private equity investment, Saudi Arabia would have put money into a fund managed by Affinity Partners, rather than investing in the firm itself. The details of this investment were not known.

In April, the NYT reported that Kushner had secured a $2bn investment from the kingdom's sovereign wealth fund - the Saudi Public Investment Fund (PIF) - despite objections from the PIF's advisers about the potential benefits of the deal.

Objections cited by the panel included: the "inexperience" of the fund's management; a proposed asset management fee that seemed "excessive”; and “public relations risks” arising from Kushner’s previous role as Trump's senior adviser, according to the minutes of the panel’s meeting in June 2021.

Despite the objections, the full board of the PIF - headed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), a close ally and beneficiary of Kushner’s support when he worked at the White House - overruled the panel's objections.

Earlier this year, ethics experts told the NYT that the deal came across as potential payback for Kushner’s previous support of MBS, or as an effort to secure future favour if Trump were to become president again.

'Unwavering support for Saudi interests'

Kushner was the crown prince’s primary defender inside the White House following the murder of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed by Saudi agents inside the kingdom's Istanbul consulate in 2018. 

US intelligence agencies have concluded that the killing of Khashoggi, a former MEE and Washington Post columnist, was ordered by MBS, a charge the Saudi government denies.

"Your support for Saudi interests was unwavering, even as Congress and the rest of the world closely scrutinised the country’s human rights abuses in Yemen, the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi assassins tied to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and Saudi Arabia’s crackdown on political dissidents at home," Maloney wrote in Thursday's letter.

Jared Kushner's new fund 'to invest Saudi money in Israeli startups'
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Last month, the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Affinity Partners was planning to invest millions of dollars of Saudi Arabia’s money in Israeli startups.

Citing people familiar with the investment plan, the US newspaper said Affinity Partners had already selected the first two Israeli firms to invest in, in what would be the first known case of PIF money being directed to Israel.

While in the White House, Kushner helped negotiate a series of normalisation agreements between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco. 

The move came after MBS signalled that he was in favour of closer relations between Israel and other Arab nations.

In a column published in the WSJ in March 2021, Kushner wrote that normalisation between Saudi Arabia and Israel was "in sight", proclaiming that "we are witnessing the last vestiges of what has been known as the Arab-Israeli conflict".

Joe Biden set to visit Saudi Arabia, a country he once derided as 'pariah' state

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 09:18
Joe Biden set to visit Saudi Arabia, a country he once derided as 'pariah' state
US media reports president will fly to Riyadh despite his 2020 comments over the killing of Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi
MEE staff Fri, 06/03/2022 - 10:18
US President Joe Biden at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, 2 June 2022 (AFP)
US President Joe Biden at the Cross Hall of the White House in Washington, DC, 2 June 2022 (AFP)

US President Joe Biden is set to travel later this month to Saudi Arabia, a country he once derided as a "pariah" state, according to reports in a number of US media outlets.

The move comes as the US president is seeking to secure lower fuel prices and shore up support for isolating Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

In what the New York Times described as a "triumph of realpolitik over moral outrage", Biden is expected to tack on a visit to Riyadh and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS) to an already planned trip to Europe and Israel.

The meeting with MBS will mark a stark contrast to Biden's comments as a presidential candidate prior to being elected in 2020, when he denounced Saudi Arabia as a "pariah" state over the killing of Washington Post and Middle East Eye columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Israel accepts security arrangements allowing Egypt to transfer islands to Saudi Arabia
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Although MBS has denied involvement in the killing and dismemberment of the dissident Saudi journalist in the Istanbul consulate in 2018, US intelligence reports have laid the blame squarely on the crown prince.

A senior administration official told AFP that if Biden "determines that it's in the interests of the United States to engage with a foreign leader and that such an engagement can deliver results, then he'll do so".

He added that there was "no question that important interests are interwoven with Saudi Arabia", though he refused to confirm the trip was taking place.

Biden's visit would come amid a major strain in relations between the two longstanding allies.

Washington and Riyadh have clashed over the kingdom's response to the war in Ukraine, and Saudi Arabia has rejected pleas from the Biden administration to pump more oil at a time of rising prices.

The report of the planned Saudi trip was criticised on social media, including by Saudi dissidents.

"We as Saudi activists harmed by MBS feel betrayed by Biden," tweeted Abdullah al-Odah, an activist whose cleric father is currently imprisoned in the kingdom.

"Shaking hands with the same person who killed our friend Khashoggi, arrested our loved ones and tortured them, banned many of our family members from travel in order to blackmail us, and harass us here in the US?!"

Kuwait: Foreign ministry summons US embassy official over pro-LGBTQ+ tweets

Fri, 06/03/2022 - 07:15
Kuwait: Foreign ministry summons US embassy official over pro-LGBTQ+ tweets
Kuwait stressed that the embassy should respect the laws and regulations in the emirate and not publish such tweets
MEE and agencies Fri, 06/03/2022 - 08:15
Pride Month is celebrated in June in many countries around the world to commemorate the 1969 Stonewall riots in the US (AFP)

Kuwait's foreign ministry on Thursday summoned the United States embassy's acting charge d'affaires over tweets the embassy published that "support homosexuality", the ministry said in a statement.

US officials there had posted a rainbow flag and a message of solidarity from President Joe Biden for Pride month.

In a pair of tweets published in English and Arabic on Thursday, the embassy had tweeted: "All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.

"@POTUS is a champion for the human rights of #LGBTQI persons."

“All human beings should be treated with respect and dignity and should be able to live without fear no matter who they are or whom they love.” @POTUS is a champion for the human rights of #LGBTQI persons. #Pride2022 #YouAreIncluded pic.twitter.com/gdPPBDlHZH

— U.S. Embassy Kuwait (@USEmbassyQ8) June 2, 2022

Kuwait said it handed the charge d'affaires a memorandum stating its rejection of what was published and stressing the need for the embassy to respect the laws and regulations in force in the emirate and the obligation not to publish such tweets.

Homosexuality is punishable by law in a number of majority Muslim countries, including Kuwait.

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On Wednesday, the US embassy in Saudi Arabia published a tweet that included support for the LGBT community, saying: "During #Pride2022, @StateDept celebrates the contributions members of the LGBTQI+ community make to our nation. We are committed to ending violence, discrimination, and stigma against LGBTQI+ persons worldwide."

Pride Month is celebrated in June in many countries to commemorate the Stonewall riots. 

The protests took place in 1969 in the US and sparked widespread change for LGBTQ+ rights around the world.

The entire month is dedicated to celebrating LGBTQ+ people and culture and raising awareness about ongoing issues faced by the communities.

Kuwait's foreign ministry summons US embassy official over pro-LGBTQ+ tweets

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