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Friday, April 15, 2016

Turkey sticks to condition that Israel lifts siege on Gaza in return for normalizing relations

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Turkey has not given up its condition to lift the Gaza siege in return for normalizing relations with Israel, Turkish Presidency Spokesman Ibrahim Kalın said Monday, adding that the two sides have not reached a final agreement yet and that talks would continue over the coming weeks.

Al- Araby al- Jadeed news agency cited a source familiar with the Turkish foreign ministry as saying that Israel has accepted two out of three of Turkey’s conditions, including to publicly apologize for what happened in the Mavi Marmara incident and to pay $20 million in compensation for the activists' families.

Israel has also agreed to facilitate the access of Turkish ships to the Gaza Strip to deliver aid.

Ankara also demanded that the electricity situation in Gaza improve by sending a power generating ship. According to the source, the Israeli delegation did not object to the Turkish demand but asked for more time to consult with the government in this regard.

The Turkish foreign ministry said on Friday that the negotiating teams from both sides have agreed to rapidly reach a deal on normalizing ties after talks in London.

"The teams made progress towards finalizing the agreement and closing the gaps and agreed that the deal will be finalized in the next meeting which will be convened very soon," the ministry said in a statement.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/24966-turkey-sticks-to-condition-that-israel-lifts-siege-on-gaza-in-return-for-normalising-relations.

Morsi's release is Erdogan's condition to deal with Sisi

Monday, 11 April 2016

The release of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi and the abolition of executions of Muslim Brotherhood leaders are just some of the conditions Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan would put on the restarting of relations between his country and Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi’s government, Egyptian columnist Imad Adib said.

Almesryoon.com reported Adib saying that Erdogan is scheduled to meet with the Saudi King Salman Bin Abdulaziz next week. It is expected that King Salman will ask Erdogan to deal with Al-Sisi.

Adib said he expects Erdogan to say yes for the sake of the support of the Sunni front and for the sake of cooperation for development and against terrorism.

Erdogan was served a blow in the wake of Morsi’s ouster, Adib explained, especially in the eyes of Washington and the West where he’d marketed the Brotherhood’s rule.

If he said yes to dealing with Al-Sisi, Adib said, this would mean that Erdogan had relinquished his support for the Brotherhood and recognized their failure as well as Al-Sisi’s legitimacy.

Adib said Erdogan would agree to starting dialogue with Al-Sisi on the condition that Morsi is released, the Muslim Brotherhood be allowed to participate in political life and abolition the death sentences passed down to their members and leaders.

This, Adib said, would leave the ball in Egypt’s court.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/africa/24945-morsis-release-is-erdogans-condition-to-deal-with-sisi.

Erdogan calls for UN Security Council reform


Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his call for reform of the UN Security Council on Saturday, pointing out the unfairness of the lack of a Muslim permanent member.

“The world is bigger than five,” Erdogan said at an inauguration ceremony in Istanbul’s Zeytinburnu district. “We cannot convict the fate of world’s 196 states from the two lips of five UN Security Council permanent members. It was the circumstances of the World War I.

“Now the UN’s functioning must be reformed. There is no Muslim country among the five - all of them are Christian, non-Muslim. What is that approach? Is it fair? It’s not!

“We are looking for a fair world. We are fighting for a fair world.”

Erdogan said Turkey raised the issue of Security Council reform at every international meeting and called for a body that represents all continents and religious groups.

The council, which has primary responsibility for maintaining international peace and security, has 15 members including five permanent members with veto power over any resolution - China, France, Britain, the U.S. and Russia.

Permanent members often use their veto to protect their interests or those of their allies and in the past Erdogan has criticized the blocking of UN resolutions on Syria by Russia and China.

Source: Anadolu Agency.
Link: http://aa.com.tr/en/turkey/erdogan-calls-for-un-security-council-reform/552229.

Druze youths protest in Syria's Suweida


BEIRUT – Students have been at the forefront of a recent protest movement in Syria’s Druze-populated Suweida province calling for comprehensive reforms in the regime-controlled region.

The newly-formed “You Broke Us” campaign called for Suweida residents to hit the streets early Thursday afternoon, the latest protest organized by the movement making a raft of social and economic demands that implicitly blame the government with mismanaging the province.

“You Broke Us” announced its public presence on March 13 in an opening statement in which it vowed to organize a “long-term protest” until its demands to help “build a better future for the province” were met.

The organization’s manifesto is not overly political and does not take any firm stance on the regime’s presence in Suweida, similar to a previous grassroots movement that briefly held a series of protests in the fall of 2015.

Instead, “You Broke Us” lists eight main problems it says are blighting the lives of the province’s residents: rampant corruption, poor electrical services, declining provision of fuel and heating gas, the firing of state employees who refuse military service, the fixed salary of state employees amid the inflation wracking the country, high prices for basic commodities, increased lawlessness, and poor healthcare.

Although the campaign has avoided anti-regime rhetoric, it launched an implicit broadside against local government figures in a March 22 post, saying: “We send a message to the concerned dirty and corrupt authorities that the people soon will direct their judgments against you, O criminals.”

So far, the student-led civil society movement’s protests have focused on the dismissal of public teachers who refused to sign-up for state military reserve service, a heavy-handed regime move that ran contrary to Suweida residents’ long-running opposition to conscription in the Syrian army to potentially fight in far-off battlefronts.

The first student protest over the matter was held on March 1 in front of Suweida’s Department of Education amid a heavy presence of security forces. Although the sit-in came over a week before the official launch of “You Broke Us,” the group has since claimed it organized the demonstration.

In the ensuing weeks, “You Broke Us,” dozens of students have gathered five subsequent times for marches and sit-ins, all of which were peaceful in nature and were not brutally suppressed by regime forces, as other protests in the early days of the Syrian uprising were.

Their latest protest on April 12 went beyond the local situation, with “You Broke Us” organizers saying the rally was in response to the situation in not only Suweida, but the country as whole. The call for action for the sit-in railed against “injustice, corruption and the violation of the rights of young people.”

Although Suweida is under regime control, a number of grassroots movements have sprung up in the past two years to protest decreasing living standards in the Druze-populated province.

In the fall of 2015, the short-lived “We Are Being Strangled” movement organized a series of protests, one of which turned into an unprecedented show of anger on September 2 when demonstrators went as far as storming the provincial government’s local HQ in Suweida.

Two days after the protest, the leader of the fiercely independent Sheikhs of Dignity Movement—the most powerful group challenging regime authority in Suweida—was assassinated by a massive car bombing in the provincial capital.

The Sheikhs of Dignity never made any official statement of support for the “We Are Being Strangled” movement, and the group has also remained mum on the recently-formed student protest group.

Although the Sheikhs of Dignity and its armed affiliates insist they are neutral, they have struck increasingly challenging positions against the Syrian government, and have announced they seek self-security.

Source: NOW.
Link: https://now.mmedia.me/lb/en/NewsReports/566869-druze-youths-protest-in-syrias-suweida.

Syrian regime jet downed near Aleppo

Wednesday, 06 April 2016

A fighter aircraft belonging to the Syrian government was shot down by a surface to air missile on Tuesday, Syria’s SANA news agency has reported. Pro-regime media sources said that the pilot of the Sukhoi-22 was captured after his jet was downed in the town of Eis, near Aleppo.

No Syrian faction has claimed responsibility for bringing the fighter down. However, according to the UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, rebels from Al-Nusra Front were responsible.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24867-syrian-regime-jet-downed-near-aleppo.

Palestinians in Israel launch new Islamic movement

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

Arab Israeli politicians yesterday announced the formation of a new party called Al-Wafaa and Al-Islah (Gratitude and Reform), AlKhaleejOnline.com reported. Sheikh Husam Abu Leil, the chairman of the new party, said in a press conference held in Nazareth: “We announce the birth of Al-Wafaa and Al-Islah party as a political, popular and non-parliamentary party based on Islamic values.”

“We reaffirm sticking to our national principles, as well as to undermining all plans aiming to expel us from our homeland. We pledge to help all our people in the occupied land.”

AlKhaleejOnline.com said it expects the party to be the political cover for the Islamic Movement which was banned in November last year. Many of the new party’s leaders were members of the Islamic Movement, including Abu Leil who was the second deputy head of the movement.

The party will not run for seats in the Knesset.

When asked whether the Israeli government might ban his party like it banned the Islamic Movement, Abu Leil said: “All of us, in occupied Palestine, are being targeted by the ruling institution [Israeli government].”

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/middle-east/24967-palestinians-in-israel-launch-new-islamic-movement.

Will Jordan ban the Muslim Brotherhood?

Author Osama Al Sharif
April 6, 2016

Two incidents in March have heightened tensions between Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood Group (MBG) and the government to the point of raising speculation about the future of the 70-year-old Islamist movement.

In the first incident, the Islamic Action Front (IAF), the MBG's political arm, received notice March 13 from the governor of Aqaba ordering the closure of its office in that port city to comply with a court order. The closure was based on a complaint by the Muslim Brotherhood Society (MBS), an offshoot founded last year by disaffected MBG members, regarding a legal dispute over ownership of the property. It is the first time the IAF has been involved in a dispute between the MBG and the MBS.

Following the MBS' registration in March 2015, the government asserted that the MBG lacked legal registration. It was therefore prevented from holding public rallies and other events. The MBG insisted that it has had a known legal presence since its establishment in the 1940s. In the second incident, on March 31, the governor of Amman informed MBG officials that because their group was not officially registered, they were prohibited from holding internal elections to select Shura Council members and a general overseer.

It remains unclear whether the government is moving closer to banning the MBG or whether it is forcing it to limit its activities to the IAF, which has been officially registered as a political party since 1992. The government's actions follow parliament’s adoption in March of a new election law, which all Islamist parties in the kingdom had welcomed. The IAF boycotted the 2013 local elections to protest the one-person, one-vote electoral system, which had been in place for decades and has been removed in the new law. Under the old law, voters could only cast their ballot for a single candidate, even if there were multiple parliamentary seats available in their district. Now a voter can cast a number of votes equal to the number of available seats in his district.

Khaled al-Kalaldeh, Jordan's minister of political development, denies that the government is considering banning the MBG. He told Al-Monitor, “The government is dealing with this issue with restraint knowing the weight of the group and its party on the popular political scene.” Kalaldeh admitted, however, that there might be pressure from certain political centers inside the government that want a confrontation in light of recent divisions within the Islamist movement.

He also emphasized that forbidding the MBG to hold internal elections is based on the legal complaint made by the registered MBS, which has claimed that the MBG is illegally using its name. “The fact is that the [MBG] is not a legal entity, and this has nothing to do with any government position,” Kalaldeh asserted.

The MBG has been struggling with internal divisions for years. In 2013, a group of moderate members calling for bold reforms launched what became the Zamzam Initiative. They opposed the movement’s decision to boycott elections and wanted the MBG to sever its historical ties to the main group in Egypt. In addition, they called on the MBG to focus on national issues and to act as an opposition in the political system. Having been repeatedly rebuffed by the hawkish leadership of the MBG, the members behind Zamzam, who were later expelled from the MBG, decided to form their own movement. On March 26, the Zamzam leadership unveiled plans to establish their own political party to contest legislative elections expected to be held later this year.

Irhail al-Gharaibeh, general coordinator for the Zamzam Initiative, told Al-Monitor that he expects the government to dissolve the MBG, because it is not registered in Jordan, and defended the decision to prevent the group from holding internal elections. “It has no legal structure, and if the group insists on holding elections, then the authorities must intervene and take action,” Gharaibeh said.

According to Gharaibeh, the divisions within the MBG are long-standing, but they resurfaced following the events of the Arab Spring. “We wanted to have flexibility in political action and to avoid the mistakes of the past,” he said. “But the conservatives rejected our efforts, and we as reformers had to take action through what we call conciliatory democracy.”

Gharaibeh warned that the Islamist movement in Jordan could collapse if it fails to adapt and that it should break from its ideological trenches and accept competition based on merit rather than tribe. He reiterated the decision by the Zamzam Initiative to contest future elections as a moderate Islamist party.

Ali Abu al-Sukkar, former chairman of the MBG’s Shura Council, dismissed speculation that the government's recent decisions might eventually lead to banning the group. “Practically and historically, we had a good working relationship with governments, and we were never extreme in our policies,” he told Al-Monitor.

Abu al-Sukkar described the present relationship as tepid, but said it would never result in a total break. “The rise of the Islamist movement in the region has raised fears here, and the presence of Daesh [the Islamic State] has created a fear of Islamist parties,” he said. Abu al-Sukkar also said the MBG will hold its internal elections before the end of this month, regardless of the government's position.

Meanwhile, the MBS has announced its intention to participate in this year's parliamentary elections, but has not yet filed for a political party license. On April 3, its Shura Council adopted a unanimous decision to end years of political boycott, which began with the 2013 IAF election boycott.

The fragmentation of the Islamist movement is already having an effect on society. On March 30, the Teachers Association, the largest professional union in Jordan, held general elections and the results clearly revealed the MBGs waning popularity. The group's candidates lost ground to independents, who won 56% of the seats on the union's central committee.

These results will be used by MBG critics to point to its exaggerated influence on the Jordanian electorate. The real test, however, will be how the IAF performs in legislative elections in competition against the two new planned Islamist parties. Meanwhile, as the government’s legal siege against the MBG continues, the group's big showdown, its internal elections, awaits the end of this month.

Source: al-Monitor.
Link: http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2016/04/muslim-brotherhood-group-jordan-government-tension.html.

Brazil's Supreme Court rejects motion to block impeachment

April 15, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — In a blow to President Dilma Rousseff, Brazil's Supreme Court early Friday rejected a motion seeking to block an impeachment vote against her in Congress' lower house. It was another defeat for the embattled leader, who has lost support of key allies this week and is now even closer to a first major defeat in the process.

The high court's extraordinary session ran about 7½ hours and ended with justices voting 8-2 against the president, turning aside her claim that the voting procedures planned by the Chamber of Deputies were "contaminated."

House Speaker Eduardo Cunha, a fierce enemy of Rousseff, initially organized the vote to begin with legislators from the industrial and rich south, where opposition to the president is strongest. After the justices began meeting, Cunha's lawyer presented a different plan that would alternate between the south and the north, where Rousseff has more support.

The Supreme Court's decision to deliver a ruling so soon had not been expected, but Chief Justice Ricardo Lewandowski said that "exceptional situations require exceptional measures." The special session of the justices was the latest development amid weeks of legal wrangling over a process in Congress that has exposed deep divisions in Latin America's largest country.

The lower house's vote on whether to impeach Rousseff is based on allegations that she broke fiscal rules to mask budget problems by shifting around government accounts. Solicitor General Jose Eduardo Cardozo's filing to the court argued Cunha had presented the impeachment push in such a way that went beyond the actual accusations against Rousseff.

Cardozo made the same claim about the report submitted to the special congressional committee that voted Monday to send the impeachment measure to the full Chamber of Deputies. He said discussion included the overall political crisis, the recession and a sprawling corruption probe at state-run oil company Petrobras.

The pro-impeachment camp needs two-thirds of the 513 votes in the lower house, or 342 votes, to send the proceedings to the Senate for a possible trial. If the Senate takes it up, Rousseff would be forced to step down until the measure was voted on.

Both government and opposition forces say they have enough votes to win on Sunday, but daily counts by Brazilian media suggest the opposition is much closer to victory.

Ukrainian president's ally is elected as new prime minister

April 14, 2016

MOSCOW (AP) — The speaker of the Ukrainian parliament was elected the country's new prime minister Thursday in a vote that the government hopes will end a months-long political crisis but which reformers say gives Ukraine's oligarchs a free hand in running the country.

In recent months, political tensions have risen in Ukraine and some respected reformers have resigned, citing disenchantment with the government's cronyism and entrenched corruption. The Supreme Rada on Thursday voted 257-50 in favor of Volodymyr Groysman, a compromise choice nominated by President Petro Poroshenko after his apparent first choice, U.S.-born Finance Minister Natalie Jaresko, was rejected by the governing coalition.

"The new prime minister and the cabinet will help to bring the government out of a months-long lethargy," Kiev-based analyst Vadim Karasyov said. Jaresko had been lauded as a West-friendly reformist untainted by Ukraine's rampant cronyism and corruption. She helped to negotiate a deal to restructure Ukraine's $15 billion debt and has been negotiating a bailout with the International Monetary Fund, but lost her post later Thursday when Groysman announced his new Cabinet.

Ukraine's outgoing prime minister, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, resigned this week after weeks of pressure for him to step down. Yatsenyuk's cabinet survived a no-confidence vote in February, but two parties left the governing coalition to protest the failure to oust the prime minister, who was under fire over the worsening economy and the slow pace of reforms.

Groysman, however, kept several ministers from Yatsenyuk's government who have faced accusations of corruption and cronyism, including Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. In Groysman's acceptance speech, which was greeted by shouts and a murmur of discontent, the new prime minister said Ukraine faces three major challenges: corruption, poor governance and a populism that he described as "a no less threat than the enemy in the east."

Fighting between Russia-backed separatists and government troops in eastern Ukraine has claimed more than 9,100 lives since April 2014, and a political settlement remains a dim prospect. Oleh Lyashko, leader of the right-wing Radical Party that left the coalition earlier this year, dismissed Thursday's vote as an oligarchs' coup to secure their vested interests.

Yulia Tymoshenko, a former prime minister and a leading figure in the 2004 "Orange Revolution" protests, announced that her party will oppose the new government. After a crushing defeat in the 2014 presidential vote, Tymoshenko largely disappeared from public view before being elected into parliament later that year. The latest opinion polls show Tymoshenko as the nation's second-favorite politician, gaining ground on Poroshenko.

In Germany, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier lauded Groysman's appointment as a "chance to end the phase of political uncertainty in Kiev." He urged the government to speed up the pace of reform, saying that Ukraine "has no time to lose."

Ukraine's gross domestic product fell a staggering 10 percent last year after a recession a year before. The Ukrainian economy is expected to return to a moderate growth this year but the country needs to persuade Western donors to unfreeze the transfer of $10 billion in loans.

Karmanau reported from Minsk, Belarus. David Rising in Berlin contributed to this report.

Serbia backs Vuk Jeremic for UN Secretary-General

April 12, 2016

BELGRADE, Serbia (AP) — Former President of the U.N. General Assembly Vuk Jeremic says the Serbian government has put forward his candidacy to be the next Secretary-General of the United Nations. Serbia's former foreign minister says the government made the decision at a session Tuesday. He says he will be traveling to New York shortly, where initial hearings have already begun.

An official Serbian government statement is expected later Tuesday. Jeremic has told B92 television the candidacy presents "an honor and a privilege" and a "chance to improve the image of the country."

The secretary-general is chosen by the 193-member General Assembly on the recommendation of the 15-member Security Council. For the first time this year, all member states will have a chance to question candidates.

Jeremic was General Assembly president in 2012-13.

Migrants stuck in limbo in Serbia after Balkan route closure

April 10, 2016

PRINCIPOVAC, Serbia (AP) — Walking a winding path inside a thick oak forest at the border between Serbia and Croatia, Jiyan Ali cannot believe his misfortune: he barely made it to Europe across rough seas and rugged mountains, only to be abruptly halted just meters away from his dream destination — the European Union.

The 20-year-old Kurd from Rojava, Syria, has been stuck on the Serbian side of the frontier together with some 200 of his fellow refugees since early March when Balkan countries suddenly shut their borders for migrants escaping wars and poverty in their home countries.

Now there is no legal way for the group to move forward to the heart of Europe, or backward toward Greece or Turkey, and they are stuck living in a rundown former psychiatric hospital in a country that cannot offer them work or other opportunities they desperately seek.

As officials focus on the EU-Turkey deal to return migrants from Greece to Turkey and on the tens of thousands stuck near Greece's border with Macedonia, Ali and some 1,000 other Syrians, Afghans and Iraqis stranded in Serbia feel abandoned by the international community.

"We are forgotten," Ali said while making his daily routine with a few of his refugee friends. The routine involves walking toward the border on a narrow dirt path to an old and rusty wire fence that marks the no-man's land between the two former Yugoslav republics, and to have some fun by jumping with one foot inside what they believe is Serbia and the other inside Croatia, an EU member state.

"Balkans, Europe, Balkans, Europe," Ali and his friends chuckle, with their laughter echoing inside the dense forest with blossoming spring leafs and wild flowers. No border guards were seen on Friday on either side of the border, which in the 1990s was a heavily mined frontier between the two Balkan wartime foes.

"I sometimes think, this is Balkans, this is Europe. I only need a few steps to cross," Ali said. "I don't know how smart is it to make that step, but maybe it is better to use the smugglers to make it there."

With their hope, patience and money running out, the migrants stuck in Serbia are increasingly turning to people smugglers to try to get out of the impasse. Local aid workers say that some 100 people try daily to cross from Serbia to Croatia or further north to Hungary, but most of them get caught. Also, some 130 new migrants arrive daily in Serbia, mostly through Bulgaria, using clandestine crossings, officials say.

"I am here for two and half months," said Amir Eskandari, a 17-year-old from Afghanistan who is traveling alone and wants to get to Germany. "I tried three times to Hungary, two times to Croatia. Police caught me every time. I'll keep on trying."

Over a million people have used the Balkan route to reach further into Europe since last year, mostly heading for Germany or other wealthy EU states. Ehsan Rahmatjan, 20, from Herat, Afghanistan, says he has had enough of waiting for the borders to reopen. He just wants to go back home.

"I think I will decide to go back because I came up to here by smugglers ... I had lots of bad experiences, dangerous things. So, I don't want to try by smugglers again, it's dangerous, it's very hard. I don't know, maybe I go back."

Protests continue for 3rd night in Macedonia over pardons

April 14, 2016

SKOPJE, Macedonia (AP) — Thousands have joined anti-government protests for a third consecutive night in Macedonia's capital, Skopje, and authorities say five police officers were hit by rocks and injured and one demonstrator was detained.

The protesters late Thursday marched past Parliament, government and party buildings, demanding the resignation of President Gjorge Ivanov. The president issued pardons this week for top members of the previous government, including former prime minister Nikola Gruevski.

The action came ahead of early elections on June 5, called after months of political crisis triggered by wiretapping and corruption scandals. European Union officials and the U.S. State Department have sharply criticized Ivanov's decision on the pardons and urged him to reconsider.

French president won't withdraw labor reform bill

April 14, 2016

PARIS (AP) — French President Francois Hollande is standing firm on labor reforms which have angered his left-wing base, saying in a nationally-televised appearance Thursday that the government won't withdraw a bill on the issue.

The bill to relax the rules governing France's 35-hour work week and layoffs has sparked weeks of protests and pushed ministers to repeatedly tinker with the proposal in an effort to make it more palatable. And while Hollande acknowledged that he was "trying to find the right balance," he said the bill wasn't going anywhere.

"It won't be withdrawn," he said. Hollande made the comments during an exchange with journalists during a round of question-and-answer sessions with three journalists and four citizen panelists brought at Paris' Museum of Man. The nearly two-hour-long event was widely seen as an attempt to revive his flagging approval ratings as leaders from across the political spectrum begin jockeying for position before next year's elections.

But Hollande's labor reforms are angering young left-wingers, notably spawning an Occupy Wall Street-style sit-in at Paris' Place de la Republique. Although the sit-in and other demonstrations have been mostly peaceful, there have been routine bouts of violence, including earlier Thursday, when several school administrators were injured by young protesters in Paris.

A march across the capital also turned violent, with riot police using tear gas to disperse masked demonstrators throwing rocks and glass bottles near the Stalingrad metro station. Police wielding batons also charged protesters who entered the Gare du Nord train station, a hub used for Eurostar trains to London and other international routes.

The SNPDEN school administrators' union said that school officials have repeatedly been subjected to violence, including one school principal who suffered three fractured ribs when a protester jumped on her.

France slams Syrian parliamentary elections

Thursday, 14 April 2016

Syria's parliamentary elections in government-held areas on Wednesday are a "sham" organized by "an oppressive regime", France's foreign ministry said. “France denounces this sham of an election organized by the regime," Foreign Ministry Spokesman Romain Nadal said in a daily briefing on Wednesday.

"They are being held without campaigning, under the auspices of an oppressive regime and without international observation," he added.

Nadal said viable elections could only take place after a political transition and new constitution, stressing that only elections as part of a UN resolution that paves the way for a transition in the country would be valid.

Nadal said millions of Syrians were forced to abandon their areas and did not participate in the elections.

The United Nations announced Tuesday that it does not recognize the vote.

Source: Middle East Monitor.
Link: https://www.middleeastmonitor.com/news/europe/25010-france-slams-syrian-parliamentary-elections.

Pentagon wants drones to replace some US troops in Sinai

Washington (AFP)
April 12, 2016

The Pentagon wants to cut the number of US peacekeeping troops in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula, partly because of the growing threat from the Islamic State group, an official said Tuesday.

About 700 US troops participate in a UN operation established after Israel and Egypt signed a 1979 peace deal and agreed for a Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) mission to monitor compliance.

The mission has historically been somewhat low-key, but in recent months attacks from IS jihadists have put forces on a state of constant high alert.

In September for instance, a roadside bombing injured six peacekeepers including four Americans.

Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said the Pentagon remains "fully committed" to the MFO mission but wants to use drones and other high-tech tools to assume some of the riskier work.

"I don't think anyone is talking about a wholesale withdrawal, I think we are just going to look at the number of people we have there and see if there are functions that can be automated," Davis said.

Defense Secretary Ash Carter and other US officials have begun "formal conversations" with Israel and Egypt, Davis added.

US officials are also considering moving some US and international troops into a camp in the southern Sinai, far from their current base -- called El-Gorah -- near the Gaza Strip.

Sinai jihadists pledged allegiance in November 2014 to IS fighters, who control parts of Iraq and Syria and also has a presence in conflict-ridden Libya.

Jihadist fighters have long used Sinai as a base and launched an insurgency after the military overthrew Egypt's Islamist president Mohamed Morsi in 2013.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Pentagon_wants_drones_to_replace_some_US_troops_in_Sinai_999.html.

NASA begins testing of revolutionary e-sail technology

Huntsville AL (SPX)
Apr 13, 2016

Testing has started at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, on a concept for a potentially revolutionary propulsion system that could send spacecraft to the edge of our solar system, the heliopause, faster than ever before.

The test results will provide modeling data for the Heliopause Electrostatic Rapid Transit System (HERTS). The proposed HERTS E-Sail concept, a propellant-less propulsion system, would harness solar wind to travel into interstellar space.

"The sun releases protons and electrons into the solar wind at very high speeds - 400 to 750 kilometers per second," said Bruce Wiegmann an engineer in Marshall's Advanced Concepts Office and the principal investigator for the HERTS E-Sail. "The E-Sail would use these protons to propel the spacecraft."

Extending outward from the center of the spacecraft, 10 to 20 electrically charged, bare aluminum wires would produce a large, circular E-Sail that would electrostatically repel the fast moving protons of the solar wind. The momentum exchange produced as the protons are repelled by the positively charged wires would create the spacecraft's thrust.

Each tether is extremely thin, only 1 millimeter - the width of a standard paperclip - and very long, nearly 12 and a half miles - almost 219 football fields. As the spacecraft slowly rotates at one revolution per hour, centrifugal forces will stretch the tethers into position.

The testing, which is taking place in the High Intensity Solar Environment Test system, is designed to examine the rate of proton and electron collisions with a positively charged wire.

Within a controlled plasma chamber simulating plasma in a space, the team is using a stainless steel wire as an analog for the lightweight aluminum wire. Though denser than aluminum, stainless steel's non-corrosive properties will mimic that of aluminum in space and allow more testing with no degradation.

Engineers are measuring deflections of protons from the energized charged wire within the chamber to improve modeling data that will be scaled up and applied to future development of E-Sail technology. The tests are also measuring the amount of electrons attracted to the wire.

This information will be used to develop the specifications for the required electron gun, or an electron emitter, that will expel excess electrons from the spacecraft to maintain the wire's positive voltage bias, which is critical to its operation as a propulsion system.

This concept builds upon the electric sail invention of Dr. Pekka Janhunen of the Finnish Meteorological Institute, and the current technologies required for an E-Sail integrated propulsion system are at a low technology readiness level.

If the results from plasma testing, modeling, and wire deployer investigations prove promising after the current two-year investigation, there is still a great deal of work necessary to design and build this new type of propulsion system. The earliest actual use of the technology is probably at least a decade away.

The HERTS E-Sail concept is being studied in response to the National Academy of Science's 2012 Heliophysics Decadal Survey, a study conducted by experts from NASA, industry, academia and government agencies, that identified advanced propulsion as the main technical hurdle for future exploration of the heliosphere. The survey, which offered the agency a road map of the heliophysics community's priorities for 2013-2022, highlighted the need for propulsion systems that could reach the edge of our solar system significantly faster than in the past.

To send a scientific probe on a deep space journey, the sail would have to have a large effective area. Space travel is generally measured in astronomical units, or the distance from Earth to the sun. At 1 AU, the E-Sail would have an effective area of about 232 square miles, slightly smaller than the city of Chicago. The effective area would increase to more than 463 square miles - similar to Los Angeles - at 5 AU.

This increase in area would lead to continued acceleration much longer than comparable propulsion technologies. For example, when solar sail spacecraft reach the asteroid belt at 5 AU, the energy of the solar photons dissipates and acceleration stops. Wiegmann believes the E-Sail would continue to accelerate well beyond that.

"The same concerns don't apply to the protons in the solar wind," he said. "With the continuous flow of protons, and the increased area, the E-Sail will continue to accelerate to 16-20 AU - at least three times farther than the solar sail. This will create much higher speeds."

In 2012, NASA's Voyager 1 became the first spacecraft to ever cross the heliopause and reach interstellar space. Launched in 1977, Voyager 1 took almost 35 years to make its 121 AU journey. The goal of HERTS is to develop an E-Sail that could make the same journey in less than one-third that time.

"Our investigation has shown that an interstellar probe mission propelled by an E-Sail could travel to the heliopause in just under 10 years," he said. "This could revolutionize the scientific returns of these types of missions."

The HERTS E-Sail concept development and testing is funded by NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate through the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts Program, which encourages visionary ideas that could transform future missions with the creation of radically better or entirely new aerospace concepts. NIAC projects study innovative, technically credible, advanced concepts that could one day "change the possible" in aerospace.

Selected as a Phase II NIAC Fellow in 2015, the HERTS team was awarded an additional $500,000 to further test the E-Sail and possibly change not only the way NASA travels to the heliopause, but also within our solar system.

"As the team studied this concept, it became clear that the design is flexible and adaptable," said Wiegmann. "Mission and vehicle designers can trade off wire length, number of wires and voltage levels to fit their needs - inner planetary, outer planetary or heliopause. The E-Sail is very scalable."

Steering can be accomplished by modulating the wire's voltage individually as the spacecraft rotates. Affecting a difference in force applied on different portions of the E-Sail, would give engineers the ability to steer the spacecraft, similar to the sails of a boat.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_begins_testing_of_revolutionary_e_sail_technology_999.html.

First joint EU-Russian ExoMars mission to reach Mars orbit Oct 16

Moscow (Sputnik)
Apr 13, 2016

The first ever joint project between the European Union and Russia on the search for life on Mars - the ExoMars spacecraft- will reach Mars' orbit on October 16, the head of Roscosmos State Corporation said.

"We expect the ExoMars spacecraft to enter the orbit of Mars around October 16 and later start its work," Igor Komarov said.

A Russian Proton-M rocket carrier lifted off with the ExoMars' orbital and the landing modules from the Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan on March 14.

The ExoMars-2016's main mission is to prove the existence of methane in the planet's atmosphere, which would confirm the existence of life on Mars.

Source: Mars Daily.
Link: http://www.marsdaily.com/reports/First_joint_EU_Russian_ExoMars_mission_to_reach_Mars_orbit_Oct_16_999.html.

NASA to attach, test first expandable habitat on ISS

Houston TX (SPX)
Apr 13, 2016

The first human-rated expandable structure that may help inform the design of deep space habitats is set to be installed to the International Space Station Saturday, April 16. NASA Television coverage of the installation will begin at 5:30 a.m. EDT.

The Bigelow Expandable Activity Module (BEAM) will be attached to the station's Tranquility module over a period of about four hours. Controllers in mission control at NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston will remove BEAM from the unpressurized trunk of SpaceX's Dragon spacecraft, using the robotic Canadarm2, and move it into position next to Tranquility's aft assembly port. NASA astronauts aboard the station will secure BEAM using common berthing mechanism controls. Robotic operations begin at 2:15 a.m. and are expected to be complete by 6:15 a.m.

BEAM launched aboard Dragon on April 8 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. At the end of May, the module will be expanded to nearly five times its compressed size of 7 feet in diameter by 8 feet in length to roughly 10 feet in diameter and 13 feet in length.

Astronauts will first enter the habitat about a week after expansion and, during a two-year test mission, will return to the module for a few hours several times a year to retrieve sensor data and assess conditions.

Expandable habitats are designed to take up less room on a rocket, but provide greater volume for living and working in space once expanded. This first test of an expandable module will allow investigators to gauge how well the habitat performs overall and, specifically, how well it protects against solar radiation, space debris and the temperature extremes of space. Once the test period is over, BEAM will be released from the space station, and will burn up during its descent through Earth's atmosphere.

BEAM is an example of NASA's increased commitment to partnering with industry to enable the growth of the commercial use of space. The BEAM project is co-sponsored by NASA's Advanced Exploration Systems Division and Bigelow Aerospace.

The International Space Station serves as the world's leading laboratory for conducting cutting-edge microgravity research and is the primary platform for technology development and testing in space to enable human and robotic exploration of destinations beyond low-Earth orbit, including asteroids and Mars.

Source: Space Daily.
Link: http://www.spacedaily.com/reports/NASA_to_attach_test_first_expandable_habitat_on_ISS_999.html.

Russia, Bolivia look to strengthen military ties

by Carlo Munoz
Moscow (UPI)
Apr 12, 2016

Russia and Bolivia are holding negotiations over how Russian defense firms can help the South American nation revitalize its aging military arsenal over the next decade.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with Bolivian Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca in Moscow on Tuesday to discuss current and future foreign military sales requests filed by Sucre in support of that long-term rearmament plan.

The two diplomats also discussed broader plans for bilateral cooperation on economic and political issues as well, according to Lavrov.

"Contacts are being prepared on the meeting results in connection with specific requests made by our Bolivian friends in the context of the approved in their country program for the re-equipment of the Bolivian armed forces within the next 10 years," Lavrov said at a press conference after the bilateral talks

"We'll try to take an active part in these affairs," he added. He did not comment on the specifics of the Bolivian requests for weapons and military hardware, or the potential value of those requests.

Lavrov did note the two diplomats discussed broader plans for bilateral cooperation on economic and political issues as well.

Both countries have established a working commission to discuss issues related to military cooperation, trade and potential investment partnerships, meeting last year to negotiate those issues.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Russia_Bolivia_look_to_strengthen_military_ties_999.html.

Iran's new aerial drone makes maiden flight

by Carlo Munoz
Tehran (UPI)
Apr 12, 2016

Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps, or IRGC, on Tuesday unveiled its newest aerial surveillance drone during large-scale military exercises in the western part of the country.

Iranian media reports the drone, named "Hamasseh" or "Epic" in English, conducted its first ever surveillance flights during the exercise in Sistan and Baluchestan Province in western Iran. The drone flew as part of a three-plane formation and carried out several high-altitude reconnaissance flights, Iranian news outlet Press TV.

The Iranian military's smaller, tactical Mojahr-1 and Ababil-5 drones as well as the high-altitude Shahed-129 surveillance drone flew alongside the Hamasseh during the exercises, IRGC's Ground Forces Brigadier General Mohammad Pakpour said.

Aside from long-range surveillance operations, the drone is also reportedly designed to carry out airstrikes as part of its anticipated multimission package.

The drone will continue to see action during the exercise in Kerman, South Khorasan and Homozgan, Pakpour added. The drills are expected to wrap up on April 14th.

On Monday, Tehran announced the first tranche of Russian-built S-300 long-range surface-to-air missile systems are en route to the Iranian military. The weapons transited to Iran via the Caspian Sea arriving this week, the country's Foreign Ministry spokesman Jaberi Ansari said Monday.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/Irans_new_aerial_drone_makes_maiden_flight_999.html.

US, India agree to strengthen maritime cooperation

By Laurent Bathelemy
New Delhi (AFP)
April 12, 2016

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter and his Indian counterpart agreed Tuesday to strengthen their cooperation on maritime security, as concerns grow in Washington over Beijing's growing military ambitions.

Carter is in New Delhi to bolster a strategic relationship Washington considers crucial in the face of what it sees as China's rising assertiveness, particularly in the South China Sea.

"Both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation in the area of maritime security," said a joint statement issued after Carter held talks with Indian Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The two sides "reaffirmed the importance of safeguarding maritime security and ensuring freedom of navigation and over flight throughout the region, including in the South China Sea," said the statement.

Washington has increasingly turned its focus to Asia as it tries to counter China's growing assertiveness in the South China Sea, and is eager for India to play a greater role in its network of regional defense alliances.

Regional superpower China is expanding its deep-water naval presence and staking a claim to disputed areas of the South China Sea and the East China Sea.

Beijing claims almost all of the contested South China Sea, which is important for international shipping, and has in recent months built massive structures including radar systems and an airstrip over reefs and outcrops.

It has also courted countries in the Indian Ocean, pouring money into the Maldives and Sri Lanka to the annoyance of New Delhi, which regards those countries as part of its sphere of influence.

A senior US defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said China was "operating more frequently both throughout Southeast Asia and in the Indian Ocean", something both Washington and New Delhi were "watching closely".

Carter also held talks with Prime Minister Narendra Modi later on Tuesday as part of his three-day visit, aimed at shoring up security and defense ties with regional power India.

"#SecDef meets with @PMOIndia to discuss the significant progress on US-India defense relationship and innovation," the US Department of Defense posted on Twitter.

Modi, who enjoys close ties with US President Barack Obama, has in the past criticized what he called China's "expansionist mindset".

- Biggest arms importer -

Carter said after his meeting with Parrikar that the two countries had agreed "in principle" to share and exchange military logistics, a deal which has been in the pipeline for years and would allow the two countries to expand military cooperation.

But there was no final agreement on a series of deals under negotiation.

India, the world's biggest arms importer, wants access to US technology so it can develop sophisticated weapons at home -- a key part of Modi's "Make in India" campaign to boost domestic manufacturing.

New Delhi has historically relied heavily on Russia for arms imports, but is now seeking US help to develop its own new-generation aircraft carriers.

India wants American know-how on building more sophisticated launch technology that would allow it to deploy heavier aircraft on the vessels than existing carriers allow.

The US is also hoping to sell its F-16 or F-18 fighter jets to India as part of a major co-production deal involving more than 100 planes which would be partly manufactured in India.

The two countries had a long history of mutual suspicion during the Cold War, when non-aligned India developed closer ties to the Soviet Union, while the US allied with Pakistan.

But Modi's election in May 2014 gave fresh momentum to negotiations on a number of issues that had become bogged down under the previous administration.

"The courtship began more than a decade ago, but in the last two years we have really seen things move a lot faster on a range of things," said Rick Rossow, India specialist at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the US.

Source: Space War.
Link: http://www.spacewar.com/reports/US_India_agree_to_strengthen_maritime_cooperation_999.html.