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Taliban reject direct talks with Afghan government

The Taliban said on Sunday they will not hold direct talks with Afghan government and rejected a statement from a senior minister about plans to hold the meeting within the next two weeks, a senior Taliban official said. “Intra-Afghan talks will start only after a foreign force withdrawal is announced,” said Suhail Shaheen, a spokesman for the Taliban’s political office ... Read More »

Kerry: Israeli-Palestinian two-state solution ‘now in jeopardy’

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry "deeply disappointing" and "anti-Israel." Berlin said the speech was a "call to action" for a two-state solution" for peace. Outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out parameters for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a speech in Washington on Wednesday, saying the US could not stay silent while Israel continues to build illegal settlements. "Despite our best efforts over the years, the two-state solution is now in serious jeopardy," he said. "We cannot, in good conscience, do nothing, and say nothing, when we see the hope of peace slipping away." Kerry's remarks come just weeks before the Obama administration hands over power to President-elect Donald Trump, who on Wednesday reiterated his support for Israel over the settlement issue. Kerry also attempted to answer to Israel's fury over Washington's decision last week not to veto a UN resolution demanding an end to Israeli settlements, which are considered illegal under international law. Kerry's final endeavor Kerry warned that expanding settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem was leading to an "irreversible one-state reality." He added that it was happening despite polls showing that most Israelis support the creation of a separate Palestinian state. "The truth is that trends on the ground - violence, terrorism, incitement, settlement expansion and the seemingly endless occupation - are destroying hopes for peace on both sides and increasingly cementing an irreversible one-state reality that most people do not actually want," Kerry said. Washington's most senior diplomat reiterated that despite recent differences in policy, the US continued to be Israel's closest ally. In response, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Kerry's speech had been "deeply disappointing" and "anti-Israel." Netanyahu went on to say that Israel was looking forward to working with Trump "to mitigate the damage this resolution has done and ultimately repeal it." One of his ministers earlier dismissed Kerry's remarks as "pathetic" and "anti-democratic." Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Israel's Army Radio that the Obama administration was attempting to tie Trump to positions that are difficult to change. Erdan insisted that the Middle East had become more chaotic under Obama, especially in Syria and Iraq. More than 130 Israeli settlements, built on lands occupied by Israel since 1967, currently house around 630,000 Jewish people. The settlements remain one of the more vexing issues between Israelis and Palestinians. Abbas 'ready to resume peace talks' Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed Kerry's remarks, saying he was convinced peace was still achievable but only if Israel halts its settlement building. Abbas also said last week's UN resolution would underpin any future negotiations. "The minute the Israeli government agrees to cease all settlement activities... the Palestinian leadership stands ready to resume permanent status negotiations on the basis of international law and relevant international legality resolutions ... under a specified time frame," he said in a statement. The last round of US-backed peace negotiations between Israel and Palestine broke down in 2014, with President Barack Obama blaming both sides for the collapse in talks. German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also welcomed Kerry's speech, rebuking any attacks directed by the Israeli government. Germany's top diplomat said his US counterpart's speech served as both a "warning" and a "call to action." "It was a warning that a two-state solution cannot be allowed to become an empty phrase, and a call for both sides to take the necessary steps towards fostering such a two-state solution," he said. Speaking out against Netanyahu's criticisms, the foreign minister also praised his "friend" John Kerry for "working tirelessly since becoming secretary of state to foster a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict." New settlements approved On Wednesday, despite attempts to delay a local housing committee from approving plans to build 492 new homes in annexed east Jerusalem, the construction was later given the go-ahead, a local non-profit organization said. For his part in a worsening row, Trump took to Twitter ahead of Kerry's speech on Wednesday to say: "Stay strong Israel, January 20th is fast approaching!" referring to his upcoming inauguration. The businessman said Obama had treated Israel with "total disdain and disrespect," adding that "they used to have a great friend in the US, but not anymore." Netanyahu praised Trump for his support in a tweet, thanking him for his "warm friendship and...clear-cut support for Israel." Trump's pick for ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, opposes a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestinian situation and has publicly stated that Israel's settlement activity is not illegal.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called a speech by US Secretary of State John Kerry “deeply disappointing” and “anti-Israel.” Berlin said the speech was a “call to action” for a two-state solution” for peace. Outgoing US Secretary of State John Kerry laid out parameters for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict during a speech in Washington on Wednesday, saying ... Read More »

US warns Russia over civilian deaths in Syria

Secretary of State John Kerry says the US is concerned that hundreds of residents have been killed by Russian air raids. He conveyed Washington's worries in a phone call to his counterpart in Moscow. Amid what he described as "indiscriminate" Russian airstrikes in Syria from "credible human rights organizations," US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday that Washington had raised the issue with Moscow. "We've seen a marked and troubling increase in reports of these civilian casualties since Russia commenced its air campaign," he added. The Kremlin ordered its airstrikes in Syria on September 30. Residents targeted Toner said that more than 130,000 Syrians had been forced to flee their homes during the first six weeks of Russian air bombardments and that hundreds of civilians had been killed, as "medical facilities, schools and markets" were hit. He told reporters that John Kerry had spoken of Washington's displeasure in a phone chat with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday. He said Russia's action is undermining hopes for a ceasefire between Bashar al-Assad's government and leading rebel groups. Moscow has angrily denied reports from Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and Syrian rights groups that its air campaign in support of the Assad regime is hitting civilians, insisting that it is targeting the "Islamic State" (IS) group. No combatants? An Amnesty International report last week cited evidence of Russian use of cluster munitions and unguided bombs in populated residential areas. Toner also blamed Russia for an airstrike that killed the top Syrian rebel commander Zahran Alloush, who led one of the most powerful groups battling Assad's forces. The Syrian regime said it carried out the killing. Washington had welcomed his group's support for US-Russian mediation efforts with Assad and opposing the Islamic State and believes that his killing may prolong the nearly five-year-old conflict. Hopes for a truce Peace talks are due to start in Geneva in the last week of January, subject to a number of hurdles being overcome. The opposition must first announce its delegation to the negotiations, and a host of rival countries must agree on a list of rebel militias that would be welcomed into a political process.

Secretary of State John Kerry says the US is concerned that hundreds of residents have been killed by Russian air raids. He conveyed Washington’s worries in a phone call to his counterpart in Moscow. Amid what he described as “indiscriminate” Russian airstrikes in Syria from “credible human rights organizations,” US State Department spokesman Mark Toner said on Tuesday that Washington ... Read More »

Turkish airstrikes ‘very damaging’ to Kurdish peace process

Turkish airstrikes against the PKK Kurdish minority have jeopardized a 2013 ceasefire with the group. EU lawmaker Kati Piri told DW the Turkish response has been "disproportionate." Martin Kuebler reports from Brussels. In the wake of last Monday's suicide attack in the town of Suruc, in which an "Islamic State" ("IS") militant killed 32 Turkish citizens, Ankara has stepped up its campaign against the group in an attempt to create what it has called "a safe zone" across its southeastern border with Syria. But the Turkish government has come under criticism - including from Germany - for also launching airstrikes against the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) in Iraq, jeopardizing a 2013 ceasefire with the outlawed group, which has led a decades-long insurgency in support of Kurdish rights and autonomy. Turkey has called for an emergency meeting with its NATO allies to discuss the fighting. Kati Piri, a Dutch lawmaker with the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and responsible for EU-Turkey relations, told DW that Turkey's strikes have put the Kurdish peace process at risk. DW: What do you make of the Turkish response to last week's terrorist attack in Suruc? Kati Piri: While Turkey, in the view of many in the international coalition against ISIL [another term for the "Islamic State" group], was a bit reluctant to enter full scale into the coalition, it was also left with no other choice after this attack in which 32 of its citizens died. On the other hand, after the PKK attacked and killed two police officers [on Wednesday], Turkey started a new spiral of violence also against the PKK. That, to say the least, is very worrying. So you believe that Turkey's response has been disproportionate? It's not just an attack on an organization [the PKK] with, in this case, camps in another country, northern Iraq. We're also talking here about millions of Kurdish people living in Turkey, with whom there was a peace process, although very fragile, during the last two years. There was a truce, a ceasefire agreement between both the PKK and the government. In my view, if [the Turkish government] wants to keep the peace process with the Kurds alive, this full-size attack on the PKK looks a bit, to be honest, disproportionate. What's been happening over the last three days has once again put the peace process very much into question. Is it dead? I hope not, but it doesn't look very alive either. It's very damaging. Did last week's attack in Suruc simply give Turkey an excuse to relaunch its campaign against the PKK? Let's not forget: Turkey does have the right to self defense. When its officers are killed by an organization which is also included on the European terrorist list, this is totally unacceptable. No one is saying that Turkey should just leave this alone and pretend that nothing has happened. On the other hand, knowing that there is such a delicate peace process going on, then you need to have a proportionate response as well. What is much more dangerous to me now is that some politicians from the [ruling Justice and Development party] AKP, along with some politicians from the more right-wing party, MHP, are framing this pro-Kurdish party HDP [People's Democratic Party] now as being directly linked to the PKK, which it is not. [The HDP] has also decried the violence, and [the government] is actually framing the 6 million people who voted for this party as potential terrorists, or terrorist supporters. And this rhetoric is very dangerous for a country which has gone through such a circle of violence. On Saturday, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini spoke with Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and HDP head Selahattin Demirtas, stressing the "fundamental importance" of keeping the peace process with the Kurdish people "alive and on track." Has the EU response been sufficient? I think she [called both men] on purpose, to show that this is not just a fight against terrorism, that this is about keeping the peace process on the tableā€¦and giving the Kurdish people the rights they deserve as citizens of Turkey. And for me, the signal that Mogherini gave over the weekend shows that the EU has a very strong commitment to the peace process. To what extent will Turkey's recent strikes on IS and the PKK affect its ongoing cooperation with the EU when it comes to counterterrorism operations? The EU's main focus is on ISIL, as a threat to our society. And this is where Turkey now seems to be stepping up its commitment, by opening its airspace, by opening its air base in Incirlik also to the American forces. On the one hand, it's a positive development: we have been pushing Turkey for many months to commit much more to this international coalition. On the other hand, it's also worrying to see [the disproportionate response], that they are not just focusing on ISIL but also focusing on the PKK. Turkey has called for a meeting with its NATO partners in Brussels on Tuesday. How do think the ongoing peace process with the PKK will factor into NATO's decision to intervene? Turkey will want to inform its partners about the threat it perceives, and tell them more in detail about its reaction. But we've already seen some statements [from Turkey's partners] that the attacks on the PKK were not a part of the agreement that Turkey reached with the international coalition against ISIL. In diplomatic words, I think we'll see the same kind of message coming out of the NATO debate. In essence: We support you in the fight against terrorism, but be careful not to let things get out of control? Exactly. And in the fight against terrorism, all countries in the world have in some way been faced with that. For Turkey, we know that many, many lives have been lost [in clashes with the PKK]. But after how far they've come in two years, with no severe violence happening in the country, with a democratic representation of Kurds being elected to the national parliament for the first time, having seen the level Turkey has reached coming close to peace, there's too much to lose now. And I think that, even if not formally, all NATO partners will certainly pass on this message to the Turkish government. Kati Piri is a Dutch MEP with the Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament and responsible for EU-Turkey relations.

Turkish airstrikes against the PKK Kurdish minority have jeopardized a 2013 ceasefire with the group. EU lawmaker Kati Piri told DW the Turkish response has been “disproportionate.” Martin Kuebler reports from Brussels. In the wake of last Monday’s suicide attack in the town of Suruc, in which an “Islamic State” (“IS”) militant killed 32 Turkish citizens, Ankara has stepped up ... Read More »

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