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Explosion near Saudi’s Medina holy site

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The world has witnessed yesterday a terrible suicide booming near a Saudi holy site – exactly what many Muslims globally feared to happen for too long as Saudi Arabia also joined the USA in attacking Muslims and financing the NATO terror war essentially on Islam, thereby promoting Islamophobia as well.

The supposed Sunni Muslim jihadist group has called for the overthrow of the Saudi monarchy and its supporters have previously carried out bombings in the Gulf state, targeting the Shia minority community and security forces.

ISIS has also claimed, or been blamed for, a series of deadly attacks in the predominantly Muslim countries of Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq during the holy month of Ramadan.

Even as tension building up between super power USA and Arab leader Saudi Arabia over crucial issues and amid war in Syria and terror attacks in Turkey, a suicide bomber, according to Saudi internal ministry, has killed four security officers and injured five others near one of Islam’s holiest sites in the Saudi city of Medina on July 05.

In fact, the Bombings rocked three cities across Saudi Arabia, including near the Prophet’s Mosque in the holy city of Medina, raising the specter of increasingly coordinated attacks by ‘militants’ who were seeking to destabilize the monarchy serving the cause of USA and anti-Islamism.

A suicide bomber struck near the United States Consulate in the coastal city of Jidda in the morning, wounding two security officers. Then, near dusk, when Muslims were ending their daily Ramadan fasts, other blasts struck near a Shiite mosque in the country’s in the eastern region of Qatif and killed no one but the bomber, according to witnesses quoted by the Reuters news agency.

Medina, where Millions of pilgrims visit every year, is Islam’s second holiest city, after Mecca and the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad (SAS).

The attacks occurred amid fears that extremists had planned further violence during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and for the holiday that celebrates its conclusion this week, Eid al-Fitr. No one immediately claimed responsibility for the Saudi bombings, although Islamic State extremists have attacked the kingdom repeatedly in recent years, mostly targeting the Shiite minority and state security personnel.

One of the suspects is a young Kuwaiti man who had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and was planning to bomb a mosque during Eid al-Fitr. The man had studied petroleum engineering in Britain and had moved to Syria to work in oil production for the Islamic State after his older brother was killed while fighting for the group in Iraq. The man said after his arrest that he had received instructions from an Islamic State operative abroad, the agency reported, to send a young recruit with no security record to obtain explosives and guns for the attack. Another is a Pakistani origin. An interior ministry spokesman identified the assailant as a 35-year-old Pakistani expatriate called Abdullah Qalzar Khan, who it said had worked as a private driver in Jeddah for 12 years. The second attack took place near dusk outside a Shia mosque in the mainly Shia eastern city of Qatif.

The Medina attack struck the security office of the mosque where the Mosque of Prophet Muhammad (SAS), which has been an important stop for millions of pilgrims who visit the holy cities each year. The blasts in Saudi Arabia followed a bloody week in which terrorist attacks caused mass casualties in the largest cities of three predominantly Muslim countries: Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq.

The Jidda attack took place when security officers confronted a man acting suspiciously near the United States Consulate. He detonated his explosives, killing himself and wounding two guards. The US Embassy in Riyadh, the capital, said in a statement that none of its consular staff members in Jidda had been wounded, and it warned American citizens to limit nonessential travel to the kingdom and to remain cautious inside it. An attack by Al Qaeda on the consulate in 2004 left five staff members and four gunmen dead.

In Kuwait, officials announced the arrest of four people accused of plotting two attacks in the country and said they had repatriated a Kuwaiti family who had joined the Islamic State in Syria. Two Kuwaitis and a man from an unspecified Asian country were arrested in the second plot and had two assault rifles, ammunition and the black flag of the Islamic State, the report said. Kuwait is predominantly Sunni, but Sunnis and Shiites live together with few sectarian tensions.

An Islamic State suicide attack on a Shiite mosque in Kuwait City killed 27 a year ago. The bomber was a Saudi citizen. The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has claimed responsibility for the attacks in Dhaka, Bangladesh, and in Baghdad, and it is suspected of carrying out the one in Istanbul. Earlier, at least one explosion rocked Qatif, an eastern city which is home to many minority Shia Muslims. The blast appeared to target a Shia mosque. The attacker was killed but no other casualties were reported.

The explosions come with the holy month of Ramadan drawing to a close and ahead of the Eid al-Fitr holiday. A series of deadly attacks worldwide were either claimed by, or blamed on, IS over the past week: A suicide gun and bomb attack targeted Istanbul airport on 28 June, killing 45 people. Attackers struck a cafe in Bangladesh’s capital, Dhaka, last Friday night. Twenty hostages and two policemen were killed. A massive truck bomb in Iraq’s capital, Baghdad, on Sunday left at least 165 people dead.

Early Monday, the Saudi police became suspicious of a man who appeared to be roaming around a parking lot of a major hospital, the news agency reported. When officers approached him, the man detonated what appeared to be an explosive belt. The explosion happened roughly 33 feet (10 meters) from the consulate’s wall. The blast occurred about 3 a.m. local time. The Saudi news agency reported that two policemen were slightly injured and that they were taken to the hospital. The report did not specify how many were hurt. None of the bystanders in the parking lot were injured in the attack, according to SPA. Police found three devices inside the bomber’s car. A bomb disposal unit used a robot to detonate them, said a journalist who was on the scene.

A US State Department official told CNN that all chief of mission personnel were accounted for. The bombing came after a week of attacks in Turkey, Bangladesh and Iraq, which have left many on edge. In 2004, the US consulate in Jeddah was attacked by gunmen linked to al Qaeda, who killed five employees.

Being a close ally of USA and NATO, Saudi Arabia has been the target of attacks by IS over the past two years. In June, the interior ministry said there had been 26 “terror attacks” in the kingdom in that time.

No-one has yet said they were behind any of the attacks. A suspected suicide bomber also died after detonating a device near the US consulate in the city of Jeddah in the early hours of Monday. Two security officers were slightly injured as they tackled the man, but no-one else was hurt.

The bomber detonated his explosives after being stopped outside the Prophet’s Mosque. The mosque is the burial place of the Prophet Muhammad and Medina the holiest city in Islam after Mecca. The fact that an attack happened in Medina at such a place is likely to leave Muslims around the world aghast. Four guards were killed near the Prophet’s Mosque in Medina, while only the bombers died in Jeddah and Qatif. No group has yet said it was behind the attacks, but suspicion has fallen on so-called Islamic State (IS).

Suspicion is likely to fall on so-called Islamic State (IS). Al-Arabiya gave a different account of the incident, saying the bomber had targeted the security officers by pretending he wanted to break his Ramadan fast with them. Qari Ziyaad Patel, 36, from South Africa, who was in the mosque, told the Associated Press news agency people had at first thought it was the sound of the cannon fire that marks the breaking of fast. The ground shook, he said, adding: “The vibrations were very strong. It sounded like a building imploded.”

Ramadan is traditionally viewed as the most holy and spiritual month in the Islamic calendar, a time of penance and temperance. Mosques are consequently fuller than usual, typically packed with worshippers seeking divine mercy and blessings. Juxtaposed alongside that ascetic puritanism is the view of radicals who regard Ramadan as a month of conquest and plunder. They may believe it is an opportune moment to double down on their millenarian war against civilization and therefore launch more attacks than normal.

The foreign minister of Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia’s main regional rival, wrote on Twitter: “There are no more red lines left for terrorists to cross. Sunnis, Shiites will both remain victims unless we stand united as one. The Afghan Taliban also condemned the attack, saying: “The Islamic Emirate (Taliban) – which has been shocked by this gruesome act – condemns this incident in the strongest of terms and considers it an act of enmity and hatred towards Islamic rituals.”

Saudi Arabia’s highest religious body has denounced the three suicide attacks in the kingdom on Monday, including one near Islam’s second holiest site. The Senior Council of Ulema said the bombers had “violated everything that is sacred”. Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince and Interior Minister, Mohammed bin Nayef bin Abdul Aziz, meanwhile sought to reassure his fellow citizens.

One does not know if ISIS hit the targets in Saudi Arabia on instructions from USA or on their own. But the USA is very eager to get Saudi Arabia and GCC back on US board and the explosions in Saudi kingdom may have been inspired by such hidden agenda.

After all, USA is the surveillance master who watches and controls world affairs to suit pursuance of its national requirements.

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Turkey’s Destruction of Cultural Heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Artsakh

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The Mother See of Holy Etchmiadzin of the Armenian Apostolic Church has recently hosted a conference on international religious freedom and peace with the blessings of His Holiness Karekin II, the Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians.

Tasoula Hadjitofi, the founding president of the Walk of Truth, was one of the invited guests. She spoke about genocide and her own experience in Cyprus, warning of Turkey’s religious freedom violations. Hadjitofi also called for joint legal actions against continued ethnic cleansing and destruction of Christian cultural heritage in Cyprus, Turkey, Nagorno-Karabakh (Artsakh) and other places by the Turkish government and its regional allies including Azerbaijan.

During the two-day conference, access to places of worship in war and conflict zones, the protection of religious and ethnic minorities, and preservation of cultural heritage were among the topics addressed by many distinguished speakers.  The conference paid particular attention to the situation of historic Armenian monasteries, churches, monuments, and archeological sites in parts of Nagorno-Karabakh that have been under Azeri occupation since the 2020 violent war unleashed by Azerbaijan.

Hadjitofi presented about the situation of Cyprus, sharing her recent visit to the Cypriot city of Famagusta (Varoshia), making historic parallels between the de-Christianisation of Asia Minor, Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh by Turkey, and its allies such as Azerbaijan. See Hadjitofi’s full speech here.

Author of the book, The Icon Hunter, Hadjitofi spoke with passion about her recent visit to the ghost city of Famagusta, occupied by Turkey since 1974. Her visit coincided with the 47th anniversary of the occupation. She was accompanied by journalist Tim Neshintov of Spiegel and photographer Julien Busch as she made several attempts to visit her home and pray at her church of Timios Stavrou (Holy Cross).

Hadjitofi explained how her own human rights and religious freedoms, alongside the rights of tens of thousands of Cypriots, were violated when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdogan illegally entered her country and prayed at the newly erected mosque in her own occupied town whereas she was kneeling down in the street to pray to her icon in front of her violated Christian church. In comparison, her church was looted, mistreated and vandalized by the occupying forces.  

Hadjitofi reminded the audience of the historic facts concerning Turks discriminating against Christian Greeks, Armenians, and Assyrians. They also massacred these communities or expelled them from the Ottoman Empire and the modern Republic of Turkey, a process of widespread persecution which culminated in the 1913-23 Christian genocide. Hadjitofi then linked those genocidal actions with what Erdogan is doing today to the Kurds in Syria, and the Armenians in Nagorno-Karabakh by supporting Turkey’s wealthy friends such as the government of Azerbaijan.  She also noted that during her recent visit to her hometown of Famagusta, a delegation from Azerbaijan referred to Turkish-occupied northern Cyprus as “Turkish land” and a “part of Greater Turkey”. This is yet another sign of Turkish-Azeri historic revisionism, and their relentless efforts for the Turkification of non-Turkish geography.

Hadjitofi called for a series of legal actions against Turkey and its allies, reminding Armenians that although they signed the Rome Statute for the International Criminal Court (ICC), they have not ratified it. She noted that it must be the priority of Armenians if they want to seek justice. Azerbaijan and Turkey, however, neither signed or ratified the Rome Statute.

During her speech Hadjitofi also emphasized the need for unity amongst all Christians and other faiths against any evil or criminal act of destroying places of worship or evidence of their historical existence anywhere in the world. 

In line with this call, the Republic of Armenia instituted proceedings against the Republic of Azerbaijan before the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, with regard to violations of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD).

In its application, Armenia stated that “[f]or decades, Azerbaijan has subjected Armenians to racial discrimination” and that, “[a]s a result of this State-sponsored policy of Armenian hatred, Armenians have been subjected to systemic discrimination, mass killings, torture and other abuse”.

Hadjitofi said that “Armenia’s lawsuit against the government of Azerbaijan is a positive move in the right direction and more legal actions should be taken against governments that systematically violate human rights and cultural heritage. I’m also in the process of meeting members of the Armenian diaspora in Athens, London, and Nicosia to discuss further joint legal actions. But the most urgent action that Armenia should take is the ratification of Rome Statute of the ICC,” she added.

Other speakers at the conference included representatives of the main Christian denominations, renowned scholars and experts from around the globe, all of whom discussed issues related to international religious freedom and the preservation of the world’s spiritual, cultural and historical heritage.

Baroness Cox, a Member of the UK House of Lords and a prominent human rights advocate, was among the participants. She has actively defended the rights of the Armenians of Nagorno-Karabakh and Armenia through her parliamentary, charity and advocacy work.

Meanwhile, the organizing committee of the conference adopted a joint communiqué, saying, in part:

” We re-affirm the principles of the right to freedom of religion or belief, as articulated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and subsequent international and regional human rights treaties. We claim this right, equally, for all people, of any faith or none, and regardless of nation, history or political circumstances – including for those Armenian prisoners of war still illegally held in captivity by Azerbaijan, for whose swift release and repatriation we appeal and pray, and for the people of Artsakh/Nagorno-Karabakh whose rights to free and peaceful assembly and association necessarily implicate the sacred character of human life.”

On September 11, the delegates of the conference were received by the President of Armenia, Armen Sarkissian, in his palace in Yerevan where they were thanked. The guests also visited the Armenian Genocide Memorial-Museum (Tsitsernakaberd), where Hadjitofi was interviewed on Armenian national TV. She said:

“I read about the Armenian Genocide and I am glad that more countries recognize it as such but I am disappointed that politicians do not condemn actions of Turkey and its allies in their anti Christian attitude towards Cyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. I see an interconnection between the genocide and the adopted politics of Azerbaijan, when the ethnic cleansing takes place, when cultural heritage is destroyed, gradually the traces of the people once living there are eliminated and that is genocide”. 

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After 10 years of war in Syria, siege tactics still threaten civilians

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The future for Syria’s people is “increasingly bleak”, UN-appointed rights experts said on Tuesday, highlighting escalating conflict in several areas of the war-ravaged country, a return to siege tactics and popular demonstrations linked to the plummeting economy.

According to the UN Commission of Inquiry on Syria, the country is not safe for refugees to return to, after a decade of war.

The panel’s findings come amid an uptick in violence in the northwest, northeast and south of the country, where the Commissioners highlighted the chilling return of besiegement against civilian populations by pro-Government forces.

“The parties to the conflict continue to perpetrate war crimes and crimes against humanity and infringing the basic human rights of Syrians,” said head of the Commission of Inquiry, Paulo Pinheiro. “The war on Syrian civilians continues, and it is difficult for them to find security or safe haven.”

Scandal of Al Hol’s children

Professor Pinheiro also described as “scandalous” the fact that many thousands of non-Syrian children born to former IS fighters continue to be held in detention in dreadful conditions in Syria’s north-east.

“Most foreign children remain deprived of their liberty since their home countries refuse to repatriate them,” he told journalists, on the sidelines of the 48th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“We have the most ratified convention in the world, the Convention on the Rights of the Child, is completely forgotten. And democratic States that are prepared to abide to this Convention they neglect the obligations of this Convention in what is happening in Al Hol and other camps and prison places.”

Some 40,000 children continue to be held in camps including Al Hol. Nearly half are Iraqi and 7,800 are from nearly 60 other countries who refuse to repatriate them, according to the Commission of Inquiry report, which covers the period from 1 July 2020 to 30 June 2021. 

Blockades and bombardment

The rights experts also condemned a siege by pro-Government forces on the town of Dar’a Al-Balad, the birthplace of the uprising in 2011, along with “siege-like tactics” in Quineitra and Rif Damascus governorates.

“Three years after the suffering that the Commission documented in eastern Ghouta, another tragedy has been unfolding before our eyes in Dar’a Al-Balad,” said Commissioner Hanny Megally, in reference to the siege of eastern Ghouta which lasted more than five years – and which the commissioners previously labelled “barbaric and medieval”.

In addition to the dangers posed by heavy artillery shelling, tens of thousands of civilians trapped inside Dar’a Al-Balad had insufficient access to food and health care, forcing many to flee, the Commissioners said.

Living in fear

In the Afrin and Ra’s al-Ayn regions of Aleppo, the Commissioners described how people lived in fear of car bombs “that are frequently detonated in crowded civilian areas”, targeting markets and busy streets.

At least 243 women, men and children have been killed in seven such attacks over the 12-month reporting period, they said, adding that the real toll is likely to be considerably higher.

Indiscriminate shelling has also continued, including on 12 June when munitions struck multiple locations in Afrin city in northwest Syria, killing and injuring many and destroying parts of al-Shifa hospital.

Insecurity in areas under the control of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in northeast Syria has also deteriorated, according to the Commission of Inquiry, with increased attacks by extremist “remnants” and conflict with Turkish forces.

Division remains

The Commissioners noted that although President Assad controls about 70 per cent of the territory and 40 per cent of the pre-war population, there seems to be “no moves to unite the country or seek reconciliation. On the contrary.”

Despite a welcome drop in the level of violence compared with previous years, the Commission of Inquiry highlighted the dangers that continue to be faced by non-combatants

The senior rights experts also highlighted mounting discontent and protests amongst the population, impacted by fuel shortages and food insecurity, which has increased by 50 per cent in a year, to 12.4 million, citing UNFPA data.

“The hardships that Syrians are facing, particularly in the areas where the Government is back in control, are beginning to show in terms of protests by Syrians who have been loyal to the State,” said Mr. Megally. They are now saying, ‘Ten years of conflict, our lives are getting worse rather than getting better, when do we see an end to this?’”

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IAEA Director General reaches agreement in Tehran, as Biden’s clock is ticking

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IAEA Director General Rafael Grossi at a press conference. Photo: IAEA/Dean Calmaa

A meeting to resolve interim monitoring issues was held in Tehran on 12 September between the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization, Mohammad Eslami, and the Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Grossi. Grossi was on a visit to Tehran to fix roadblocks on the stalled monitoring of Iran’s nuclear program, which is ever more challenging in a context where there is no diplomatic agreement to revive or supersede the JCPOA. Grossi said in a press conference on 12 September that the IAEA had “a major communication breakdown” with Iran. But what exactly does that mean?


The IAEA monitoring equipment had gone three months without being serviced and Grossi said he needed “immediate rectification” of the issues. He was able to get the Iranian side to come to an agreement. The news from Sunday was that the IAEA’s inspectors are now permitted to service the identified equipment and replace their storage media which will be kept under the joint IAEA and AEOI seals in Iran. The way and the timing are now agreed by the two sides. The IAEA Director General had to push on the terms of the agreement reached in February 2020.

Grossi underlined on Sunday that the new agreement can’t be a permanent solution. Data from the nuclear facilities is just being stored according to what commentators call “the continuity of knowledge” principle, to avoid gaps over extended time periods but the data is not available to inspectors.

When it’s all said and done, basically, it all comes down to the diplomatic level. The American withdrawal from the JCPOA nuclear agreement in 2018 keeps undermining the Iran nuclear inspections on the technical level. All the inspection activities have been stalled as a result of the broken deal. The IAEA’s strategy in the interim is that at least the information would be stored and not permanently lost.

Everyone is waiting for the JCPOA to be restored or superseded. As Vali Nasr argued in the New York Times back in April this year, the clock is ticking for Biden on Iran. Iran diplomacy doesn’t seem to be on Biden’s agenda at all at the moment. That makes the nuclear inspectors’ job practically impossible.  Journalists pointed out on Sunday that the Director General’s visit found one broken and one damaged camera in one of the facilities. Grossi assured it has been agreed with Iran that the cameras will be replaced within a few days. The IAEA report notes that it was not Iran but Israel that broke the IAEA cameras in a June drone attack carried out by Israel. Presumably, Israel aimed to show Iran is not complying by committing the violations themselves.

Grossi’s visit was a part of the overall IAEA strategy which goes along the lines of allowing time for diplomacy, without losing the data in the meantime. He added that he thinks he managed to rectify the most urgent problem, which is the imminent loss of data.

The Reuters’s title of the meeting is that the agreement reached on Sunday gives “hope” to a renewed Iran deal with the US, after Iran elected a hardliner president, Ebrahim Raisi, in August this year, but that’s a misleading title. This is not the bit that we were unsure about. The question was never on the Iranian side. No one really expected that the new Iranian president would not engage with the IAEA at all. Earlier in November 2019, an IAEA inspector was not allowed on a nuclear cite and had her accreditation canceled. In November 2020, Iranian lawmakers passed a law that mandated the halt of the IAEA inspections and not to allow inspectors on the nuclear sites, as well as the resuming of uranium enrichment, unless the US sanctions are lifted. In January 2021, there were threats by Iranian lawmakers that IAEA inspectors would be expelled. Yet, the new Iranian President still plays ball with the IAEA.

It is naïve to think that Iran should be expected to act as if there was still a deal but then again, US foreign policy is full of naïve episodes. “The current U.S. administration is no different from the previous one because it demands in different words what Trump demanded from Iran in the nuclear area,” Khamenei was quoted to have said in his first meeting with President Raisi’s cabinet.

“We don’t need a deal – you will just act as if there was still a deal and I will act as if I’m not bound by a deal” seems to be the US government’s line put bluntly. But the ball is actually in Biden’s court. The IAEA Director General is simply buying time, a few months at a time, but ultimately the United States will have to start moving. In a diplomatic tone, Grossi referred on Sunday to many commentators and journalists who are urging that it is time.

I just don’t see any signs on Biden’s side to move in the right direction. The current nuclear talks we have that started in June in Vienna are not even direct diplomatic talks and were put on hold until the outcome of Iran’s presidential elections were clear. US hesitance is making Grossi’s job impossible. The narrative pushed by so many in the US foreign policy space, namely that the big bad wolf Trump is still the one to blame, is slowly fading and reaching its expiry date, as Biden approaches the one-year mark of his presidency.

Let’s not forget that the US is the one that left and naturally is the one that has to restart the process, making the parties come back to the table. The US broke the deal. Biden can’t possibly be expecting that the other side will be the one extending its hand to beg for forgiveness. The US government is the one that ruined the multi-year, multilateral efforts of the complex dance that was required to get to something like the JCPOA – a deal that Republicans thought was never going to be possible because “you can’t negotiate with Iran”. You can, but you need skilled diplomats for that. Blinken is no Kerry. Judging from Blinken’s diplomacy moves with China and on other issues, I just don’t think that the Biden Administration has what it takes to get diplomacy back on track. If he follows the same line with Iran we won’t see another JCPOA in Biden’s term. Several weeks ago, Biden said that there are other options with Iran if diplomacy fails, in a White House meeting with Israel’s new prime minister Bennett. I don’t think that anyone in the foreign policy space buys that Biden would launch a military attack on Iran’s nuclear facilities. But I don’t think that team Biden can get to a diplomatic agreement either. Biden and Blinken are still stuck in the 2000, the time when others would approach the US no matter what, irrespective of whose fault it was. “You will do as I say” has never worked in the history of US foreign policy. That’s just not going to happen with Iran and the JCPOA. To expect otherwise is unreasonable. The whole “Trump did it” line is slowly and surely reaching its expiry date – as with anything else on the domestic and foreign policy plane. Biden needs to get his act together. The clock is ticking.

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