Iran designates as terrorists all U.S. troops in Middle East

FILE PHOTO: Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a meeting with tribal leaders in Kerbala, Iraq, March 12, 2019. REUTERS/Abdullah Dhiaa Al-Deen/File Photo

LONDON (Reuters) – Iranian President Hassan Rouhani signed a bill into law on Tuesday declaring all U.S. forces in the Middle East terrorists and calling the U.S. government a sponsor of terrorism.

The bill was passed by parliament last week in retaliation for President Donald Trump’s decision this month to designate Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a foreign terrorist organization.

It was not clear what the impact of the new law might be on U.S. forces or their operations.

Rouhani instructed the ministry of intelligence, ministry of foreign affairs, the armed forces, and Iran’s supreme national security council to implement the law, state media reported.

The law specifically labels as a terrorist organization the United States Central Command (CENTCOM), which is responsible for U.S. military operations in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

The United States has already blacklisted dozens of entities and people for affiliations with the Guards, but until Trump’s decision not the organization as a whole.

Comprising an estimated 125,000-strong military with army, navy and air units, the Revolutionary Guards (IRGC) also command the Basij, a religious volunteer paramilitary force, and control Iran’s ballistic missile programs. The Guards’ overseas Quds forces have fought Iran’s proxy wars in the region.

The long-tense relations between Tehran and Washington took a turn for the worse last May when Trump pulled out of a 2015 nuclear deal between Iran and six world powers, reached before he took office, and reimposed sanctions.

Revolutionary Guards commanders have repeatedly said that U.S. bases in the Middle East and U.S. aircraft carriers in the Gulf are within range of Iranian missiles.

Rouhani said on Tuesday that Iran will continue to export oil despite U.S. sanctions aimed at reducing the country’s crude shipments to zero.

(Reporting by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin; Editing by Peter Graff and Frances Kerry)

Gunman kills seven outside Coptic church in Cairo suburb: ministry

People look at the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017.

CAIRO (Reuters) – A gunman opened fire on worshipers and Egyptian security forces stationed outside a Coptic church in a Cairo suburb on Friday and killed at least seven people before he was wounded and arrested, the Interior Ministry said.

Earlier reports by security sources and state media said at least two attackers were involved, and that one was shot dead and another fled the scene. The Interior Ministry did not explain the reason for the different accounts.

It said the attacker had first fired at a shop 4 km (3 miles) away, killing two people, before proceeding to the Mar Mina church in the southern suburb of Helwan, where he opened fire and tried to throw an explosive device.

There was no immediate claim of responsibility for the attack. Islamist militants have claimed several attacks on Egypt’s large Christian minority in recent years, including two bombings on Palm Sunday in April and a blast at Cairo’s largest Coptic cathedral in December 2016 that killed 28 people.

Nine were killed in total, including one policeman at the church, the ministry said. Several security sources and local media earlier reported three policemen had been killed.

People stand behind police tape cordon at the site of attack on a church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017.

People stand behind police tape cordon at the site of attack on a church in the Helwan district south of Cairo, Egypt December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

The ministry said forces had “immediately dealt with the (attacker) and arrested him after he was wounded.” It added,

“Legal measures have been taken,” without elaborating.

The general prosecutor said in a statement that an investigation has been launched into the incident.

“The shooting began at 10:30 a.m. and carried on for more than 15 minutes … there was more than one attacker,” Mohammed Hussein Abdelhadi, who lives close to the church, told Reuters.

A witness who did not want to give his name said a policeman was killed while he was closing the church gate to stop the gunman getting in.

The church was being guarded by police in the run-up to Orthodox Christmas celebrations next week.

The Health Ministry said in an earlier statement that nine people had been killed on Friday in addition to the gunman, and five wounded, including two women in serious condition.

People are seen outside the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt after a blast December 29, 2017.

People are seen outside the Mar Mina Church after a blast, in Helwan district on the outskirts of Cairo, Egypt after a blast December 29, 2017. REUTERS/Amr Abdallah Dalsh

Police have stepped up security measures around churches ahead of Coptic Christmas celebrations on Jan. 7, deploying officers outside Christian places of worship and setting up metal detectors at some of the bigger churches.

President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi offered his condolences to the families and ordered security forces to increase safety measures at sensitive sites, his office said in a statement.

(Reporting by Ahmed Mohamed Hassan and Amr Abdallah; writing by John Davison; editing by Mark Heinrich)

Australia police say don’t suspect terrorism after car plows into pedestrians

Australian police stand near a crashed vehicle after they arrested the driver of a vehicle that had ploughed into pedestrians at a crowded intersection near the Flinders Street train station in central Melbourne, Australia December 21, 2017.

By Melanie Burton and Byron Kaye

MELBOURNE (Reuters) – An Australian man of Afghan descent with a history of mental health issues drove a car into Christmas shoppers in the city of Melbourne on Thursday, injuring 19 people, but police said they did not believe the attack was terror-related.

In January, four people were killed and more than 20 injured when a man drove into pedestrians just a few hundred meters away from Thursday’s attack. That too was not a terror attack.

Jim Stoupas, the owner of a donut shop at the scene, told Reuters the vehicle was traveling up to 100 kph (62 mph) when it drove into the intersection packed with people, hitting one person after another.

“All you could hear was just ‘bang bang bang bang bang’ and screams,” Stoupas said in a telephone interview, adding the car came to rest by a tram stop.

Police said they detained the 32-year-old driver, an Australian of Afghan descent with a history of assault, drug use and mental health issues.

“At this time, we don’t have any evidence or intelligence to indicate a connection with terrorism,” said the acting chief commissioner of Victoria State, Shane Patton.

Four of the injured were in critical condition, including a pre-school aged boy who suffered a head injury.

Police also detained a 24-year-old man at the scene who was filming the incident and had a bag with knifes.

Patton said it was “quite probable” the 24-year-old was not involved.

The men had not been charged and their names have not been released by police.

The attack took place on Flinders Street, a major road that runs alongside the Yarra River, in the central business district of Australia’s second-biggest city.

Melbourne has installed about 140 concrete bollards in the city center to stop vehicle attacks by militants similar to recent attacks in Europe and the United States.

“We’ve seen an horrific act, an evil act, an act of cowardice perpetrated against innocent bystanders,” said the state premier, Daniel Andrews.

Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, has also installed concrete barricades in main pedestrian thoroughfares.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and the emergency health workers who are treating them,” Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull said in a post on his official Twitter account.

Australia has been on a “high” national threat level since 2015, citing the likelihood of attacks by Australians radicalized in Iraq and Syria.

Two hostages were killed during a 17-hour siege by a “lone wolf” gunman, inspired by Islamic State militants, in a cafe in Sydney in December 2014.

 

(Reporting by Melanie Burton in MELBOURNE and Byron Kaye in SYDNEY; additional reporting by Sonali Paul and Paulina Duran; writing by Jonathan Barrett; Editing by Nick Macfie, Robert Birsel)

Palestinian stabs Israeli in Jerusalem; anti-Trump protest flares in Beirut

A Palestinian demonstrator shouts during clashes with Israeli troops at a protest against U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, near the Jewish settlement of Beit El, near the West Bank city of Ramallah December 11, 2017.

By Jeffrey Heller

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – A Palestinian stabbed an Israeli security guard at Jerusalem’s main bus station on Sunday, police said, and violence flared near the U.S. Embassy in Beirut over U.S. President Donald Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Four days of street protests in the Palestinian territories over Trump’s announcement on Wednesday have largely died down, but his overturning of long-standing U.S. policy on Jerusalem — a city holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians — drew more Arab warnings of potential damage to prospects for Middle East peace.

“Our hope is that everything is calming down and that we are returning to a path of normal life without riots and without violence,” Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on Army Radio.

But in Jerusalem, a security guard was in critical condition after a 24-year-old Palestinian man from the occupied West Bank stabbed him after approaching a metal detector at an entrance to the city’s central bus station, police said. The alleged assailant was taken into custody after a passer-by tackled him.

In public remarks on Sunday, Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, a frequent critic of Israel, called it an “invader state” and a “terror state”.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who spoke at a news conference in Paris alongside French President Emmanuel Macron after the two leaders met, fired back:

“I’m not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villages in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, helps Iran go around international sanctions and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people,” Netanyahu said.

Macron told Netanyahu that he needed to make gestures to the Palestinians to break the impasse between the two sides.

“I asked Prime Minister Netanyahu to make some courageous gestures towards the Palestinians to get out of the current impasse,” Macron said, suggesting that a freeze of construction in settlements could be a first step.

Most countries consider East Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in a 1967 war, to be occupied territory and say the status of the city should be decided at future Israeli-Palestinian talks. Israel says that all of Jerusalem is its capital, while Palestinians want East Jerusalem as the capital of a future independent state.

The Trump administration has said it is still committed to reviving Palestinian-Israeli talks that collapsed in 2014, but jettisoning old policies is necessary to break the deadlock.

Washington says it has not taken a position on Jerusalem’s final status or borders, but it is sensible to recognize that any future peace deal will have Israel’s capital in the city.

The United States was “as committed to the peace process as we’ve ever been”, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said on Sunday. Trump “didn’t talk about boundaries, he didn’t talk about borders… Because the final status of Jerusalem is between the Palestinians and the Israelis. It’s not for the Americans to decide.”

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will not meet U.S. Vice President Mike Pence during his visit to the region, Foreign Minister Riyad Al-Maliki said on Saturday. The White House said on Sunday that decision was unfortunate and Pence looked forward to seeing Netanyahu and Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

“It’s unfortunate that the Palestinian Authority is walking away again from an opportunity to discuss the future of the region,” said Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Pence.

Netanyahu reacted to critics in a statement before talks with Macron, to be followed by a meeting with European foreign ministers in Brussels on Monday.

“I hear (from Europe) voices of condemnation over President Trump’s historic announcement, but I have not heard any condemnation for the rocket firing against Israel that has come (after the announcement) and the awful incitement against us,” Netanyahu said.

A Palestinian protester throws back a gas canister fired by Israeli forces during a protest in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 10, 2017. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

DEMONSTRATIONS

In Beirut, Lebanese security forces fired tear gas and water cannons at protesters, some of them waving Palestinian flags, near the U.S. Embassy.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched U.S. and Israeli flags and threw projectiles towards security forces that had barricaded the main road to the complex.

In the Moroccan capital, Rabat, tens of thousands of protesters marched down the city’s main thoroughfare chanting slogans including, “The people want to liberate Palestine” and “Death to Israel, enemy of the people and provoker of wars.”

Waving Palestinian flags and holding up pictures of Jerusalem, they expressed anger at the “betrayal” by Arab governments perceived to have backed Trump’s move.

In the Indonesian capital Jakarta, thousands protested outside the U.S. embassy, many waving banners saying “Palestine is in our hearts”.

Maliki has said the Palestinians will be looking for a new peace talks broker instead of the United States and would seek a United Nations Security Council resolution over Trump’s decision.

Arab foreign ministers who met in Cairo on Saturday urged the United States to abandon its decision on Jerusalem and said the move would spur violence throughout the region.

Echoing that view, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, the de facto leader of the United Arab Emirates, said the U.S. move “could throw a lifebuoy to terrorist and armed groups, which have begun to lose ground” in the Middle East.

GAZA TUNNEL

Along Israel’s tense frontier with the Gaza Strip, the Israeli military on Sunday destroyed what it described as a “significant” cross-border attack tunnel dug by the enclave’s dominant Islamist group, Hamas.

There was no immediate comment from Hamas on the demolition, which came as Palestinian factions tried to meet Sunday’s deadline for an Egyptian-mediated handover of Gaza by Hamas to Western-backed President Abbas after a decade’s schism.

Pre-dawn Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip on Saturday killed two Palestinian gunmen after militants fired rockets from the area into Israel on Friday.

(Additional reporting by Dan Williams and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem, John Irish in Paris, Tom Perry in Beirut, Agustinus Beo Da Costa in Jakarta, Sami Aboudi in Dubai, Doina Chiacu in Washington, and Jeff Mason in West Palm Beach, Florida; Editing by Peter Graff and Mary Milliken)

Six killed as Israel destroys Gaza tunnel

An Israeli soldier walks near the border line, between Israel and the Gaza Strip, in Israel October 30, 2017.

By Nidal al-Mughrabi and Dan Williams

GAZA/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Six Palestinian militants were killed on Monday when Israel blew up what it said was a tunnel being dug across the Gaza Strip border.

A source for the Islamic Jihad militant group said Arafat Abu Marshould, head of the faction’s armed wing in central Gaza, was killed along with a senior associate and two other gunmen. The group said it had put its fighters on “full alert.”

The armed wing of the Islamist Hamas group said two of its gunmen were killed while trying to rescue Islamic Jihad men working in the tunnel. Gaza health officials said nine people were wounded.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in remarks to legislators of his right-wing Likud party, said “groundbreaking technology” aided the tunnel’s discovery, but gave no details.

Israel has been constructing a sensor-equipped underground wall along the 60-km (36-mile) Gaza border, aiming to complete the $1.1 billion project by mid-2019.

During the last Gaza war in 2014, Hamas fighters used dozens of tunnels to blindside Israel’s superior forces and threaten civilian communities near the frontier, a counterpoint to the Iron Dome anti-missile system that largely protected the country’s heartland from militant rocket barrages.

Lieutenant-Colonel Jonathan Conricus, an Israeli military spokesman, said the tunnel destroyed on Monday was in the process of being dug from the Gaza town of Khan Younis across the border, where it was blown up.

Asked by reporters if Hamas, rather than another armed faction, had dug it, Conricus said: “I cannot confirm that.”

“The IDF (Israel Defence Forces) does not intend to escalate the situation but stands prepared for a variety of scenarios,” Conricus said. “The working assumption is that this is not the only tunnel that Palestinian terrorist organizations are trying to dig.”

“We see Hamas as being responsible for any attempt emanating from its territory, and carried out by people who are under its authority, to impinge on our sovereignty,” Netanyahu told the Likud lawmakers, stopping short of accusing Hamas directly of digging the tunnel.

Islamic Jihad spokesman Daoud Shehab in a statement said Israel’s bombing of “a tunnel of the resistance is a terrorist aggression” and Palestinian resistance factions retained the right to respond “at the suitable time”.

Hamas reached a reconciliation deal with Western-backed President Mahmoud Abbas’s Palestinian Authority earlier this month, a decade after Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a brief civil war.

Israel and the United States have called for Hamas to be disarmed as part of the pact so Israeli peace efforts with Abbas, which collapsed in 2014, could proceed. Hamas has rejected the demand.

On Saturday, UNRWA, the main U.N. welfare agency for Palestinians said it had discovered “what appeared to be a tunnel” underneath one of its schools in Gaza on Oct. 15 and had sealed the cavity.

 

 

(Editing by Jeffrey Heller and Janet Lawrence)

 

Islamic State claims responsibility for attack on Iraqi embassy in Kabul

A member of the Afghan security forces aims his rifle during gun fire at the site of an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan July 31

By Mirwais Harooni

KABUL (Reuters) – Militant group Islamic State on Monday claimed responsibility for an attack on the Iraqi embassy in Kabul that began with a suicide bomber blowing himself up at the main gate, allowing gunmen to enter the building and battle security forces.

The assault came a week after 35 people were killed in a Taliban attack on government workers in Kabul and underlines Afghanistan’s precarious security as the United States weighs an overhaul of its policy in the region.

Afghan security forces confronted three gunmen for hours before the interior ministry announced in mid-afternoon that the attack, in a normally busy business district of the capital, had been suppressed.

“Terrorist attack on Iraqi embassy in Kabul over after all terrorists killed,” the ministry said in a statement.

Islamic State’s Amaq agency said two attackers had blown up the gate, killing seven guards, and two fighters had broken into the compound.

There was no immediate official word on casualties but an Italian-operated hospital nearby said two injured people had been brought in for treatment.

Islamic State has carried out a series of high-profile attacks in Kabul, mainly targeting members of the mainly Shi’ite Hazara community, and fuelling concerns of a possible spillover into Afghanistan from fighting in Syria and Iraq.

The local branch of the movement, often called Daesh, is often known as Islamic State in Khorasan (ISIS-K), after an old name for the region that now includes Afghanistan.

U.S. commanders say it has been severely hit by a campaign of drone strikes and joint Afghan and U.S. Special Forces operations, with hundreds of fighters and commanders killed.

However Afghan security officials say the movement operates in as many as nine provinces, from Nangarhar and Kunar in the east to Badakhshan, Jawzjan and Faryab in the north and Baghdis and Ghor in the west.

The Taliban, fighting to reestablish strict Islamic law 16 years after being expelled by a U.S.-led campaign in 2001, have opposed Islamic State.

 

(Additional reporting by Hamid Shalizi and Omar Fahmy and Nadine Awadalla in CAIRO; Editing by Michael Perry and Clarence Fernandez)

 

‘Enough is enough’ PM May says after London attackers kill seven

By Guy Faulconbridge and Estelle Shirbon

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May said Britain must be tougher in stamping out Islamist extremism after attackers killed at least seven people by ramming a van into pedestrians on London Bridge and stabbing revelers in nearby bars.

After the third militant attack in Britain in less than three months, May said Thursday’s national election would go ahead. But she proposed regulating cyberspace and said Britain had been far too tolerant of extremism.

“It is time to say enough is enough,” the Conservative leader said outside her Downing Street office, where British flags flew at half-staff.

“We cannot and must not pretend that things can continue as they are,” May said, adding that Britain was under attack from a new breed of crude copycat militants.

Islamic State, which is losing territory in Syria and Iraq to an offensive backed by a U.S.-led coalition, said its militants were responsible for the attack, the group’s media agency Amaq said in a statement monitored in Cairo.

One French national and one Canadian were among those killed. At least 48 people were injured in the attack. Australia said one of its citizens was among the injured.

Police shot dead the three male assailants in the Borough Market area near London Bridge within eight minutes of receiving the first emergency call shortly after 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).

Mark Rowley, head of counter-terrorism police, said eight officers had fired about 50 bullets to stop the attackers, who appeared to be suicide bombers because they were wearing what turned out to be fake suicide vests.

“The situation these officers were confronted with was critical: a matter of life and death,” Rowley said. “I am humbled by the bravery of an officer who will rush towards a potential suicide bomber thinking only of protecting others.”

A member of the public received non-critical gunshot wounds. Police did not release the names of the attackers.

London police arrested 12 people in the Barking district of east London in connection with the attack and raids were continuing there, the force said. A Reuters photographer saw another raid take place in nearby East Ham.

Less than two weeks ago, a suicide bomber killed 22 children and adults at a concert by U.S. singer Ariana Grande in Manchester in northern England. In March, in a attack similar to Saturday’s, five people died after a man drove into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge in central London and stabbed a policeman.

May said the series of attacks were not connected in terms of planning and execution, but were inspired by what she called a “single, evil ideology of Islamist extremism” that represented a perversion of Islam and of the truth.

She said this ideology had to be confronted both abroad and at home, adding that the internet and big internet companies provided the space for such extremism to breed.

Facebook said it wanted to make its social media platform a “hostile environment” for terrorists. Twitter also said it was working to tackle the spread of militant propaganda.

After the Manchester attack, Britain raised its threat level to “critical” – meaning an attack is expected imminently – but downgraded it back to “severe”, which means an attack is highly likely, on May 27.

HARROWING SCENES

Witnesses described harrowing scenes as the attackers’ white van veered on and off the bridge sidewalk, hitting people along the way, and the three men then ran into an area packed with bars and restaurants, stabbing people indiscriminately.

Accounts emerged of people trying to barricade themselves in a pub while others tried throwing tables and other objects to fend off the attackers.

One eyewitness said the attackers screamed “this is for Allah” as they stabbed people.

England’s health authority said on Sunday afternoon that 36 of those injured remained in hospital, of whom 21 were in a critical condition.

May made a private visit to staff and patients at King’s College Hospital, where some of the injured were being treated, a spokeswoman said.

The government announced that a nationwide minute of silence would be held at 1000 GMT on Tuesday to pay respect to the victims of the attack and flags would remain at half-mast on government buildings until Tuesday evening.

A Reuters photographer saw four women being removed from an apartment block in Barking, shielding their faces as they stepped into police vans.

Islamic State militants had sent out a call on instant messaging service Telegram early on Saturday urging its followers to carry out attacks with trucks, knives and guns against “Crusaders” during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Islamist militants have carried out scores of deadly attacks in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, Asia and the United States over the past two years.

“We believe we are experiencing a new trend in the threat we face as terrorism breeds terrorism,” May said.

“Perpetrators are inspired to attack not only on the basis of carefully constructed plots … and not even as lone attackers radicalized online, but by copying one another and often using the crudest of means of attack.”

Police vans leave carrying a number of women who were detained after a block of flats was raided in Barking, east London,

Police vans leave carrying a number of women who were detained after a block of flats was raided in Barking, east London, Britain, June 4, 2017. REUTERS/Hannah McKay

“TOLERANCE OF EXTREMISM”

May, who served as Britain’s interior minister from 2010 to 2016, said there was too much tolerance of extremism in Britain.

“While we have made significant progress in recent years, there is – to be frank – far too much tolerance of extremism in our country,” she said, urging Britons to be more robust in stamping it out in the public sector and in wider society.

Opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Britain needed to have difficult conversations with Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states about the funding of Islamist extremism.

U.S. President Donald Trump, taking to Twitter on Sunday, urged the world to stop being “politically correct” in order to ensure public security against terrorism.

Most of the main political parties suspended election campaigning on Sunday, but May said this would resume on Monday. The anti-European Union UK Independence Party said it would not suspend its campaign because disrupting democracy was what the extremists wanted.

London Bridge is a transport hub and nearby Borough Market is a fashionable warren of alleyways leavened with bars and restaurants that is always bustling on a Saturday night.

The area remained cordoned off and patrolled by armed police and counter-terrorism officers on Sunday, with train stations closed. Forensic investigators could be seen working on the bridge, where buses and taxis stood abandoned.

At several points outside the cordon, people laid flowers and messages of grief and solidarity.

Ariana Grande and other music stars were giving a benefit concert at Manchester’s Old Trafford cricket ground on Sunday evening to raise funds for victims of the concert bombing and their families.

“Today’s One Love Manchester benefit concert will not only continue, but will do so with greater purpose,” Grande’s manager, Scooter Braun, said on Twitter after the London attack.

London Mayor Sadiq Khan said the official threat level in Britain remained at severe, meaning a militant attack is highly likely. It had been raised to critical after the Manchester attack, then lowered again days later.

“One of the things we can do is show that we aren’t going to be cowed is by voting on Thursday and making sure that we understand the importance of our democracy, our civil liberties and our human rights,” Khan said.

In tweets, Trump offered help to Britain but also leveled apparent criticism of Khan for saying there was no need to be alarmed. Khan had earlier said Londoners would see an increased police presence on the streets of the city and people should not be alarmed by that.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin were among those who sent messages of condolence and made statements of solidarity.

The Manchester bombing on May 22 was the deadliest attack in Britain since July 2005, when four British Muslim suicide bombers killed 52 people in coordinated assaults on London’s transport network.

(Additional reporting by UK bureau, Dylan Martinez, Hannah McKay, William Schomberg, Elisabeth O’Leary, William James, Andy Bruce and Alistair Smout in London, Marine Pennetier in Paris, Steve Scherer in Rome, Polina Devitt in Moscow, Paul Carrel in Berlin, David Morgan in Washington and Mostafa Hashem in Cairo; writing by Estelle Shirbon, Pravin Char and Guy Faulconbridge; editing by Ralph Boulton and Angus MacSwan)

Hamas to soften stance on Israel, Muslim Brotherhood in policy document

A young Palestinian loyal to Hamas stands under the stage in front of a poster depicting late Hamas spiritual leader Ahmed Yassin (L) during a rally in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip

DOHA (Reuters) – The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas will remove a call for Israel’s destruction and drop its association with the Muslim Brotherhood in a new policy document to be issued on Monday, Gulf Arab sources said.

Hamas’s move appears aimed at improving relations with Gulf Arab states and Egypt, which label the Brotherhood as a terrorist organization, as well as with Western countries, many of which classify Hamas as a terrorist group over its hostility to Israel.

The sources said Hamas, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since 2007, will say in the document that it agrees to a transitional Palestinian state along the borders from 1967, when Israel captured Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem in a war with Arab states. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

A future state encompassing Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem along 1967 borders is the goal of Hamas’ main political rival, the Fatah movement led by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. His Palestinian Authority has engaged in peace talks with Israel on that basis, although the last, U.S.-mediated round collapsed three years ago.

The revised Hamas political document, to be announced later on Monday, will still reject Israel’s right to exist and back  “armed struggle” against it, the Gulf Arab sources told Reuters.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2007 and has carried out hundreds of armed attacks in Israel and in Israeli-occupied territories since it was founded three decades ago.

It remains unclear whether the document replaces or changes in any way Hamas’s 1988 charter, which calls for Israel’s destruction and is the Islamist group’s covenant.

A Hamas spokesman in Qatar declined to comment. There was no immediate comment from Egypt and Gulf Arab states.

Arab sources said the Hamas document was being released ahead of a planned visit by Abbas to Washington on May 3 and as Donald Trump administration prepares to make a renewed push for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

Analysts say the revised document could allow Hamas to mend relations with Western countries and pave the way for a reconciliation agreement with the Palestine Liberation Organisation, now also headed by Abbas.

U.S.-allied Arab states including Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia classify the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. The 89-year-old Brotherhood held power in Egypt for a year after a popular uprising in 2011.

The Brotherhood denies links with Islamist militants and advocates Islamist political parties winning power through elections, which Saudi Arabia considers a threat to its system of absolute power through inherited rule.

(Reporting by Tom Finn; editing by Mark Heinrich)

‘Near-impossible’ to stop London-style attack: Israeli security expert

FILE PHOTO: A man walks next to a newly erected concrete barriers at the entrance to Jabel Mukaber, in an area of the West Bank that Israel captured in a 1967 war and annexed to the city of Jerusalem, the morning after a Palestinian rammed his truck into a group of Israeli soldiers on a popular promenade in Jerusalem January 9, 2017. REUTERS/Amir Cohen/File Photo

By Luke Baker

JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Attacks like the one in London are almost impossible to stop, the former head of VIP protection at Israel’s Shin Bet security agency said on Thursday, acknowledging that even Israel struggled to prevent them.

Despite building a barrier intended to prevent Palestinian attackers protesting against occupation entering from the West Bank, Israel has suffered dozens of low-tech vehicle or knife attacks in the last two years on civilians, police and soldiers.

“What happened in London was basically in a public area and, when it comes to public areas, it’s nearly impossible (to prevent),” said Shlomo Harnoy, who spent 25 years in the Shin Bet, sometimes coordinating protection for U.S. presidential visits. He now directs Sdema Group, a global security consultancy.

“There are ideas to build public areas to counter specific security threats, especially when it comes to explosive materials, but when it’s an attack on a bridge or something like that, it’s very difficult.”

In Wednesday’s attack, the suspect drove his rented vehicle into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge before stabbing a policeman at the entrance to the Houses of Parliament. Four people were killed and at least 40 injured. The attacker, identified by police as British-born, was shot dead.

In Israel, Palestinians have rammed cars and trucks into civilians or members of security forces standing in particular at bus stops, tram stations and security posts.

In January, four soldiers were killed and 17 injured when a Palestinian drove his truck at high speed into a group of cadets waiting by the side of the road in Jerusalem.

BLOCKS AND BOLLARDS

Steel bollards have been put up in sensitive areas, and there are now concrete blocks stopping vehicles from approaching tram stops.

But Harnoy said that “you can’t put concrete blocks and barriers everywhere, especially in the center of a city like London. It can’t be like a military installation”.

“To my mind, the best solution for stopping an attack is having people who know how to use arms, including civilians,” he said.

In Israel, police carry guns, it is not uncommon to see armed soldiers on the streets, and many civilians, most of whom have done army service, carry pistols. When attacks occur, video footage often shows civilians drawing weapons at the scene.

“But of course in Britain that is very difficult,” Harnoy said. “Even most police don’t carry weapons. For me, that is one of the mistakes in Britain, not allowing police to have weapons.”

Even in Israel, Harnoy is not convinced that most civilians who carry a weapon are sufficiently trained to handle an attack.

He also noted that Israel allowed its intelligence services more freedom to dig up background information on individuals than Britain, which had to strike more of a balance with privacy and human rights.

“This is a war,” said Harnoy. “When it comes to intelligence, you need 10 to 15 years of information on people, and in doing that you have to think carefully about their rights, about the balance between freedom and security.

“To implement such an intelligence system, you have to make a different balance with democratic rights.”

(Writing by Luke Baker; Editing by Kevin Liffey)

Blast kills at least 13 in Pakistani city of Lahore, 83 injured

Police and rescue workers work at the scene of a blast in Lahore, Pakista

By Mubasher Bukhari

LAHORE, Pakistan (Reuters) – An explosion near the Punjab provincial assembly in the Pakistani city of Lahore killed at least 13 people and wounded 83 others on Monday, a senior police official said.

Mushtaq Sukhera, inspector general of police in Punjab province, said five police officers were among the dead when an explosion rocked a protest organized by Pakistan’s chemists and pharmaceuticals manufacturers.

“It was a suicide attack. The bomber exploded himself when successful negotiations were underway between police officials and the protesters,” Sukhera told reporters.

A spokesman for Jamaat-ur-Ahrar, a faction of the Pakistani Taliban, called Reuters and claimed responsibility.

The militant group also warned the Lahore attack was the start of a new campaign against government departments. “You are on our target across the country,” it added in a statement.

Jamaat-ur-Ahrar had also claimed responsibility for an Easter Day bombing in Lahore last year that killed more than 70 people in a public park.

Security in Pakistan has vastly improved in recent years but Islamist groups such as the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic State still pose a threat and have carried out mass attacks.

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif said the attacks will not weaken Pakistan’s resolve in fight against militancy.

“We have fought this fight against the terrorists among us, and will continue to fight it until we liberate our people of this cancer, and avenge those who have laid down their lives for us,” he said in a statement.

The latest blast may jeopardize plans by Pakistan, a cricket-obsessed nation, to host the final of its domestic Twenty20 tournament on home soil in Lahore in March.

For years, Pakistan’s international test cricket matches have been played abroad and the current Twenty20 tournament is being played in United Arab Emirates due to security fears.

(Reporting by Mubasher Bukhari in Lahore; Additional reporting by Mehreen Zahra-Malik in Islamabad and Jibran Ahmad in Peshawar; Writing by Drazen Jorgic,; Editing by Tom Heneghan)