Iran/Syria/United States – Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif said late on the 17 Jan 17 that his government opposed the United States joining Syrian peace talks to be held in Kazakhstan during the week of 21 – 28 Jan 17 local media reported. "We are hostile to their presence and we have not invited them," Zarif said, according to the Tasnim news agency. That goes against the position of the other two organisers of the talks, Russia and Turkey, which have said the new US administration of Donald Trump should be represented in Astana on the 23 Jan 17. The negotiations mark the first time since the conflict began in 2011 that the US has not been at the centre of peace negotiations. "At this stage, we must keep the tripartite set-up. Any enlargement could increase the risk of failure. Our policy is to not add other countries at this stage," Iran's foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi said on Wednesday. The talks came in the wake of President Bashar al-Assad's symbolic victory in Dec 16 in retaking Aleppo, Syria's second city and a key rebel stronghold through much of the war. Talks were ongoing between Iran, Russia and Turkey on who would attend, Ghasemi said, and other countries could be included in later stages after successful "first steps". "The meeting will not be at the ministerial level. It will probably be at the deputy minister level," he said. Ghasemi denied any major differences with Moscow over the involvement of Washington. Iran and Russia have been the key diplomatic and military backers of Syria in the war. "We have been working alongside each other for a long time, and have some strong convergences. There could at a certain stage, be some differences on certain subjects, but given the type of relations we have, we are sure to put ourselves in agreement through discussion," Ghasemi said.
Iran/United Nations/Arms Embargo – The United Nations Security Council needs to push Iran to abide by an arms embargo, outgoing US Ambassador Samantha Power said on the 19 Jan 17 amid UN concerns that Tehran has supplied weapons and missiles to Hezbollah. Most UN sanctions were lifted a year ago under a deal Iran made with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States and the European Union to curb its nuclear program. But Iran is still subject to an arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the nuclear agreement. In her last appearance at a public Security Council meeting before US President Barack Obama’s administration steps aside on the 20 Jan 17 Power said that recognizing “progress on Iran’s nuclear issues should not distract this council from Iran’s other actions that continue to destabilize the Middle East.” Under a Security Council resolution enshrining the 2015 deal, the UN secretary-general is required to report every six months on any violations of sanctions still in place. UN political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman briefed the 15-member council on the second UN report and said there had been no reports of nuclear-related or ballistic missile-related violations of the council resolution. However, the report expressed concern that Iran may have violated the resolution by supplying arms to Hezbollah. Iran’s senior nuclear negotiator said in 2015 that Tehran had no intention of complying with the arms embargo or ballistic missile restrictions. “We on the council need to come together to push Iran to effectively implement the binding provisions of resolution 2231 – especially restrictions that ban Iran’s export of arms and related material,” said Power. She did not specify how. The council could impose further sanctions over breaches of the arms embargo, but Russia and China - which are council veto powers along with the United States, France and Britain – were unlikely to agree to such a move, diplomats said. US President-elect Donald Trump has threatened to scrap the nuclear agreement or seek a better deal. Trump’s nominee to replace Power, South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, said it would be better to review the deal rather than withdraw from it. She also told lawmakers at her Senate confirmation hearing on the 19 Jan 17 that Iran should be held accountable for sanctions violations. She said: “Anytime that we put sanctions forward we should follow through on those when there are violations.”
Iran/United States – Iran's Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif on the 31 Jan 17 warned the United States against "creating new tensions" with Tehran over ballistic missile tests. "We hope that Iran's defence programme is not used by the new US administration as a pretext to create new tensions," Zarif said in a televised press conference with visiting French counterpart Jean-Marc Ayrault. The UN Security Council is due to hold emergency talks called by Washington on the 31 Jan 17 on Iran's recent test-firing of a medium-range missile, which Tehran has not confirmed. Zarif said Washington, under former president Barack Obama, and Paris had "repeatedly confirmed" that Iran's missiles are not part of a landmark nuclear deal between Tehran and major powers. Iran says its missiles do not breach United Nations resolutions because they are for defence purposes and not designed to carry nuclear warheads. "We have always declared that we will never use our weapons against others except in our defence," Zarif said. Ayrault said France had expressed its concerns over the missile tests. "France has expressed its concern at Iran's continuation of its ballistic missile tests on several occasions," he said. He said the continued tests are "contrary to the spirit" of the Security Council resolution which enshrined a landmark July 2015 nuclear deal between world powers and Iran, and "hamper the process of restoring the confidence established by the Vienna agreement."
Iran/Ukraine – Ukraine has announced that it has seized an airplane destined for Iran loaded with arms at Kiev’s Zhulyany Airport. The plane was reported on the 29 Jan 17 carrying Russian-made anti-tank guided missiles. The Russian agency Interfax confirmed that the weapons were discovered by Ukraine’s border police in Kiev’s airport following a search of 17 containers that were not registered in the flight’s cargo manifesto. A spokesman said that three containers were found to be storing the missiles, which are light weight, infrared guided anti-tank missiles, while the remaining storage boxes contained airplane spare parts. During an investigation, the airliner’s crew members, whose origin of either Iranian or Ukrainian has yet to be confirmed, denied knowledge of the weapons shipment. The shipment was later confiscated by Ukrainian authorities for violating international law governing the transport of goods and weapons. Most UN sanctions on Iran were lifted a year ago under a deal Iran made with Britain, France, Germany, China, Russia, the United States and the European Union to curb its nuclear program. But Iran is still subject to an arms embargo and other restrictions, which are not technically part of the nuclear agreement. 361 COMMENT: The United Nations brought United Nations Security Council Resolution 1749, signed unanimously by the United nations on the 24 Mar 07, on an arms embargo against Iran. One of the five permanent members is Russia. Russia and Iran have become very close since the fight against Da’esh and have been talking about oil for food for some years especially since the Saudi Arabia and Russia oil talks collapsed on the 25 Nov 16. It was a way that Iran saw as a method of circumventing sanctions. There is a possibility that these arms were being sent by Russia using a Ukrainian aircraft to fly the weapons to Iran and the finger pointed elsewhere. But there is always a trail of where they were originated from. However, without any proof it is difficult to come to a conclusion, but, they had to originate from somewhere. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/Israel/United States – Moving the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem would be a declaration of war on Islam, influential Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr said on the 24 Jan 17. "Transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem would be a public and more-explicit-than-ever declaration of war against Islam," he said in a statement. In a break with previous administrations, new US President Donald Trump has pledged to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital and relocate the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Sadr, a firebrand Shiite cleric whose militia once fought US occupation forces in Iraq, called for the "formation of a special division to liberate Jerusalem were the decision to be implemented." Sadr said the Cairo-based Arab League as well as the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, the world's main pan-Islamic body, should take a decisive stand on the issue or dissolve themselves. The Najaf-based cleric also called "for the immediate closure of the US embassy in Iraq" should Washington go ahead with its promised embassy transfer in Israel. Sadr supporters protesting against the lack of services and widespread corruption in the Iraqi state stormed the so-called "Green Zone" in Baghdad twice last year. The protesters entered the parliament buildings and the prime minister's office but did not attempt anything against the US embassy there, which is Washington's largest foreign mission. The United States works with Iraq on a range of issues, notably with military backing for the Iraqi offensive to retake large parts of the country seized by the Islamic State group. The final status of Jerusalem is one of the thorniest issues in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel considers Jerusalem, including the eastern Palestinian sector it annexed in 1980, as its indivisible capital. The Palestinians want to make east Jerusalem the capital of their future state. The White House on the 22 Jan 17 appeared to play down suggestions that a move was imminent, with press secretary Sean Spicer saying: "We are at the very beginning stages of even discussing this subject." 361 COMMENT: Once again we see the cleric Moqtada al-Sadr making threats regarding the United States. He is a Cleric and not an Ayatollah furthermore his influence has long finished. He may at one point been a huge threat but now is just a voice. He only sees what is in front of him and does not see anything on the peripheral. The Israelis, Americans and Palestinians are on the opposite side of the Arabian Peninsula. He should wait until his own house is in order before making threats regarding other states and countries. There is a greater problem with Israel approving 2, 500 settler homes on the 24 Jan 17 in the occupied West Bank than the relocation of an embassy but there is no mention of that. COMMENT ENDS
Iraq/Mosul/Da’esh – An Iraqi officer says Iraqi forces discovered sulfur mustard, a chemical warfare agent, in Mosul alongside a cache of Russian surface-to-surface missiles it was reported on the 28 Jan 17. Iraqi Special Forces Brig. Gen. Haider Fadhil said French officials tested the chemical agent this week and confirmed it was sulfur mustard. Iraqi forces showed journalists a tank of the chemical agent and a warehouse of more than a dozen surface-to-surface rockets bearing Russian inscriptions in eastern Mosul. Fadhil said the types of rockets found lead him to suspect the Islamic State group was experimenting with the rockets to develop a way to weaponize the chemical agent. Iraqi and US officials have repeatedly warned of ISIS efforts to develop chemical weapons. The extremist group has launched attacks using low-grade chemical weapons in Iraq, causing a handful of casualties.
Lebanon – Lebanese soldiers arrested a would-be suicide bomber inside a crowded cafe in one of the busiest neighbourhoods in the capital Beirut on the night of the 21 Jan 17 security sources said. The sources said a man wearing an explosive bomb belt had been detained by authorities after entering a coffee shop in the upscale Hamra neighbourhood in west Beirut. The cafe is on the main street of the bustling area, and was filled with people socialising on a weekend evening when the arrest occurred around 2100 hrs GMT. The sources said the man was being followed by security forces, who have stepped up foot patrols in the neighbourhood in recent weeks. The man was injured during the arrest, with several soldiers holding him down to ensure he was not able to detonate the belt, one security source said. He was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment before interrogation, the sources added. Lebanon has been hit by a string of bomb attacks in recent years, with some linked to the ongoing war in neighbouring Syria. Some of the deadliest blasts have targeted neighbourhoods sympathetic to the powerful Shiite Hezbollah movement, which is fighting alongside Syria's government against an uprising. The Hamra neighbourhood, a district known for shopping and nightlife, has not previously been hit by an attack. But in Jun 16, the army said it had arrested jihadists from the Islamic State group planning attacks against busy areas, including Hamra.
Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia’s Interior Ministry reportedly captured 14 extremists involved in terror activities it was reported on the 24 Jan 17. The ministry announced that two of those arrested were Saudi nationals while the rest came from Pakistan. Further details were announced on the recent security operation that led to two ISIS extremists suicide bombers detonating themselves in the Harazat area of Jeddah on the 21 Jan 17. Both men were identified as Ghazi Hussain al-Sarwani and Nadi Marzooq al-Medhiani after forensic tests were conducted on their remains. Tests also proved that there were others involved in that operation with their remains still unidentified pending further investigations. Al Arabiya has also obtained photos of what remained in the Jeddah operation in the Harazat area as well from an apartment in the al-Naseem neighborhood where one Saudi extremist and his Pakistani wife were arrested on the same day.
Saudi Arabia – Saudi Arabia has confirmed that six explosives factories were found and destroyed after multiple operations were conducted in the past 28 months. Saudi Arabia Interior Ministry General Bassam Attiyah confirmed the news on the 24 Jan 17 when further details were revealed on the operations that killed two ISIS extremists in Jeddah last week. When asked about the improvement of Mohamed Bin Nayef Center for Counselling and Care, General Attiyah said that all the experience and expertise are the result of the establishment of this centre, pointing out that counselling has nothing to do with extremist attacks or the reoccurrence of terror activities after the counselling period. “The centre is an extra effort supporting the counter-terrorism authorities. Those who are charged after trials will serve their prison sentence and then be released. So which is better, to release them directly or to send them to the counselling centre to treat them and rearrange their lives?” he said. “The program is fulfilling its duties and we will not give up on it. It has become one of the most important programs to combat extremism in the Saudi Kingdom. “It’s hard to be sure that all those who get enrolled in the centre will come out 100% clean, similarly to those who go to hospitals. You cannot guarantee that you will get out of the hospital and be 100% healthy. We are deploying all our efforts to improve the centre and we will certainly keep it open,” Major General Mansour Al-Turki said at a press conference. As for combating the funding of terror activities, Turki said that Saudi Arabia is doing all the necessary to prevent the exploitation of charity works that are being exploited to raise money to support extremism. “Our programs are unparalleled by any organization anywhere in the world. Our regime punishes and arrests those who commit any violation; the proof is that there are currently people in trials for funding and supporting terrorist activities in the Kingdom.”
Syria/Jordon – A car bomb blast killed at least four civilians at a camp for displaced Syrians by the border with Jordan on the 21 Jan 17 the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor said. "A car bomb exploded on the outskirts of the Rukban camp on the Jordanian border, killing four displaced people and injuring others," said Rami Abdel Rahman, director of the Britain-based monitor. Jordan's official Petra news agency, citing a military source, also reported the blast at the isolated makeshift camp, which houses around 85,000 Syrians according to the United Nations. The source said 14 wounded people had been taken to a clinic in the border area for treatment, adding that no decision had been taken yet on whether they would be transported to Jordanian hospitals. The source added that there were no Jordanian casualties in the blast. Jordan closed its nearby border in June 2016, halting aid deliveries to the camp, after a bombing claimed by the Islamic State jihadist group killed seven Jordanian soldiers. Jordanian officials said at the time that the bomber had come from the camp and declared the borders a closed military zone.
Syria/Tahrir al-Sham – Several Islamist factions in Syria have announced the formation of a new rebel group. The move comes amid infighting between hard-line and moderate rebels. Rebel forces announced on the 28 Jan 17 the formation of Tahrir al-Sham ("Liberation of the Levant Committee") amid ongoing fighting in north-western Syria. "In view of the plots shaking the Syrian revolution we announce the dissolution of all groups mentioned below and their total merger into a new entity named 'Tahrir al-Sham,'" they said in a statement. The new organization is an alliance between four rebel factions and the former al-Nusra Front, a hardline militant group affiliated with al Qaeda. The announcement of its formation comes just days after other rebel factions said they were joining the group Ahrar al-Sham. Besides al-Nusra, the signatories were Nureddin al-Zinki, Liwa al-Haq, the Ansar al-Din Front and Jaish al-Sunna. Al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham have often fought together against their shared enemy, government forces loyal to President Bashar al-Assad, in the northern province of Idlib. However, the groups have split in recent days after al-Nusra launched attacks on several factions of the Western-backed Free Syrian Army (FSA).
West Bank/Gaza – The main Palestinian parties on the 17 Jan 17 announced a deal to form a national unity government prior to the holding of elections, after three days of reconciliation talks in Moscow. "We have reached agreement under which, within 48 hours, we will call on (Palestinian leader) Mahmud Abbas to launch consultations on the creation of a government" of national unity, senior Fatah official Azzam al-Ahmad told a press conference. After the government is formed, the Palestinians would set up a national council, which would include Palestinians in exile, and hold elections. "Today the conditions for (such an initiative) are better than ever," said Ahmad. The non-official talks in Moscow began on the 15 Jan 17 under Russian auspices with the goal of restoring "the unity of the Palestinian people." Representatives came from Fatah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions. Abbas's secular party Fatah and the Islamist Hamas have been at loggerheads since the latter seized Gaza in a near civil war in 2007. Last year the Palestinian government postponed the first municipal polls in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip in 10 years after the high court ruled they should be held only in the Fatah-run West Bank. The last time the Palestinians staged elections in which both Hamas and Fatah took part was in 2006. The Palestinian representatives also met on Monday with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, and asked him to dissuade incoming US president Donald Trump from carrying out a campaign pledge to move the US embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Israel captured east Jerusalem during the 1967 war and later annexed it, in a move not recognised by the international community, declaring the entire city its unified capital. "We sensed understanding on the part of Mr. Lavrov," said Ahmad. Ahmad and Moussa Abu Marzouk of Hamas spoke derisively of the Quartet (the United States, Russia, the EU and UN) in its years-long effort to end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. "The Quartet's work completely failed. It was unable to advance the decisions taken by the international community, including (UN) resolutions," said Ahmad. "It is imperative to find a new working mechanism for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict," he said. Abu Marzouk, a senior Hamas official, said he no longer wanted to work with the Quartet but instead with countries and organisations on an individual basis. "Russia can play a substantial role" in the region, he said.
Yemen – Arab Coalition Forces, with the help of UAE Air Force in Yemen, have destroyed on the 28 Jan 17 an Iranian military drone in the northern port city of Mokha. The aircraft was at a mobile launching platform, intended to target Yemeni forces participating in the liberation of Mokha city. Deputy Chief of General Staff of Yemeni Armed Forces General Ahmed Saif Al Yafei confirmed that Yemeni forces detected the drone during surveillance of northern areas in Mokha, adding that the aircraft was about to take off for its mission when it was destroyed by an air to surface missile in coordination with the UAE Air Force operating in Yemen. He said that the Houthi militias after being trapped have started using the smuggled weapons from Iran to Yemen, including the destroyed drone.
Yemen/Saudi Arabia/Huthi Militia – Yemeni rebel "suicide" boats attacked a Saudi warship on patrol in the Red Sea, killing two sailors in a rare naval clash in the nearly two-year-old war, the Saudi-led coalition said. The assault off the rebel-held port city of Hodeida came as government forces backed by the coalition pressed a deadly drive up the Red Sea coast despite mounting international pressure for a ceasefire. "A Saudi frigate came under a terrorist attack by three suicide boats belonging to the Huthi militias," the coalition said late on the 30 Jan 17 without specifying when the incident occurred. Suicide attacks are uncharacteristic of the Shiite Muslim Huthi rebels. They are normally the work of Sunni extremists of Al-Qaeda or the Islamic State group. Although the Saudi warship "dealt with the boats," one of them "collided with the back of the ship and exploded and caused a fire," which the crew brought under control, the coalition said. As a result of the incident, two Saudi crewmen lost their lives and three were wounded, the coalition said, adding the frigate was able to resume its patrol. In purported video of the attack shown on the rebels' Al-Masirah television website, the stern of a warship exploded in a large fireball. The rebels claimed responsibility for the attack without specifying how the vessel was targeted. "It was hit with precision after an accurate surveillance operation off the western coast," a rebel military official said in a statement. Since it began air strikes in March 2015, the coalition has imposed an air and sea blockade of rebel-held areas. It has carried out patrols of the Red Sea to prevent what it says is attempted arms smuggling to the rebels by Shiite Iran.