Taluqan, Oct 25 (Xinhua/UNB) -- Afghan security forces have recaptured Darqad district in Afghanistan's northern Takhar province and Taliban militants fled the area after suffering casualties, an army statement said here Friday.
"Units of Special Forces backed by fighting planes were able to liberate Darqad district from the armed insurgents and the Taliban fighters after leaving 60 bodies behind fled the area today morning," the statement said.
The statement claimed that the state sovereignty has been restored to Darqad district.
Meantime, Takhar provincial government spokesman Mohammad Jawad Hajari confirmed the Darqad district has been recaptured. The armed militants fled to nearby jungles and the security forces would continue the cleanup operations to ensure lasting peace there, he told Xinhua.
According to the spokesman, only two security personnel had been injured for recapturing the Darqad district.
Taliban militants, who are operational in parts of Takhar province with Taluqan as its capital 245 km north of Kabul, have not made comments on the report yet.
Darqad is the second district being recaptured by government forces over the past three days.
The government forces earlier regained control of Dahana-i-Ghori district in the northern Baghlan province after heavy fighting on Wednesday, according to a defense ministry statement.
Dubai, Oct 25 (AP/UNB) — In an unmarked villa, nestled amid homes in an upscale Dubai neighborhood, a congregation prays in the first fully functioning synagogue in the Arabian Peninsula in decades.
Though its members keep its precise location secret, the synagogue's existence and the tacit approval it has received from this Islamic sheikhdom represent a slow rebirth of a burgeoning Jewish community in the Persian Gulf, uprooted over the decades after the creation of Israel.
The United Arab Emirates' rulers have sought to boost the community by hosting interfaith events and pledging to build a massive multi-faith complex that includes a synagogue, part of their efforts to burnish the country's image to the West. Meanwhile, ties between Gulf Arab states and Israel slowly warm over their mutual enmity of Iran, though concerns about the future of the Palestinians remain a wedge.
Yet even with the challenges, leaders of the Dubai congregation say they represent a new, growing presence that could offer a hopeful glimpse into the future.
"We have slowly found our place in the ecosystem of the UAE," Ross Kriel, the president of the new Jewish Community of the Emirates, told The Associated Press. "It reflects our optimism about the future of the UAE as a place for us to commune, contribute and flourish."
Thriving Jewish communities in the region once stretched from the neighborhoods of Baghdad and Tehran down to the island nation of Bahrain, and from the eastern coast of Oman, home to a purported tomb of the Prophet Job, to Yemen's southern shores. But the war surrounding the 1948 creation of Israel, and the hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees it generated, saw both Arab rulers and their public turn against their Jewish neighbors. Iran's 1979 Islamic Revolution also saw Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, who acknowledged Israel, replaced by a Shiite theocracy that views the state of Israel as an enemy, with tens of thousands of Jews fleeing.
A small Jewish community still lives in Iran today, with a few families in Bahrain. Their synagogues and others are mostly scattered relics of the past.
But the UAE, a federation of seven sheikhdoms, was only founded in 1971 and had no significant history with Jews. While still not acknowledging Israel diplomatically, Emirati officials have allowed Israeli officials to visit and the Israeli national anthem was played after an athlete won gold in an Abu Dhabi judo tournament. Next year, Israel will take part in Expo 2020, the world's fair being hosted by Dubai.
Jewish life in the Emirates now revolves around the Dubai villa, where an eclectic group of visitors gather for weekly prayers, kosher meals and holiday celebrations. The house's living room serves as the main sanctuary, where the Torah scroll is read and prayers are recited. The upstairs living quarters offer overnight accommodations for observant visitors who don't travel on the Sabbath.
The synagogue has hosted Bar Mitzvah ceremonies and performed Jewish circumcision rituals for newborn boys. Neighbors haven't complained of its presence, even after recent Jewish New Year celebrations included some boisterous blowing of the shofar, or ram's horn.
Services are conducted in Orthodox fashion, with separate seating for men and women, but the groundbreaking congregation welcomes all. Last week, the community erected a temporary outdoor hut in the backyard called a sukkah, marking the weeklong Jewish festival of Sukkot, or Feast of Tabernacles. The holiday commemorates the Jews' desert wandering after they were freed from Egyptian slavery, a symbolism not lost among members at the Jewish community's new Arabian home.
However, the community remains cautious and many asked not to be identified. An AP reporter had to agree not to photograph the synagogue or describe its location before visiting. Kriel himself praised the embrace of the UAE, and said he felt very safe in Dubai, but still refrained from wearing a Jewish skullcap on the street.
"Although our community is very unique in the Jewish world, we have not wanted to sensationalize our presence here," he said. "Our future vision is a Jewish community that is not just considered a normal feature of life in the UAE but is considered to be a place where Jews flourish."
The Emirati government this year has marked what it calls "The Year of Tolerance," which included a visit by Pope Francis, an interfaith conference including American rabbis and Christian evangelicals and the creation of a Ministry of Tolerance.
As part of the effort, it announced plans to build the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi, which will house a mosque, a church and a synagogue. Fitting of a country that boasts the world's tallest building, massive shopping malls and the world's busiest airport for international travel, it is being touted as the most expensive Jewish house of worship ever built, estimated to cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
"Whether of sect, or religion, intolerance has proved to be the primary source of conflict and extremism," said Omar Ghobash, an Emirati assistant minister for cultural and public diplomacy. "The UAE has been in the forefront in challenging these forces, by building a diverse, modern, progressive and stable society, which promotes integration. We see this as much as an opportunity as a responsibility."
The UAE's tolerance push, however, does not extend to decriminalizing public protest, allowing political parties or halting a prolonged crackdown on Islamists, whom the nation's hereditary rulers view as a threat. The Emirates has long relied on the West, particularly the U.S., as a bulwark against Iran. Religious tolerance efforts offer something for Emirati diplomats to point to in Washington as the Pentagon keeps 5,000 U.S. troops stationed here and relies on Dubai's Jebel Ali port.
Despite that, Yehuda Sarna, the newly named chief rabbi of the UAE's Jewish community, said the country has genuinely become "a major global hub and point of encounter between religions."
"We are being invited to that encounter," he said. "Are we going to dwell on the past or look to the future? I feel that this history has yet to be written and we are going to write it by living it."
Dubai, Oct 24 (AP/UNB) — Saudi King Salman has named a new foreign minister for the kingdom amid a series of royal orders.
The king late Wednesday night named Prince Faisal bin Farhan as foreign minister, replacing Ibrahim al-Assaf. Al-Assaf had served for less than a year as foreign minister.
Prince Faisal had been serving as ambassador to Germany and has business experience. He also served as an adviser to King Salman's son, the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.
The state-run Saudi Press Agency said al-Assaf would serve as a minister of state.
The decision comes as Saudi Arabia tries to repair damage done to its relationship with the West after the assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi last year and its ongoing war in Yemen.
Baghdad, Oct 23 (AP/UNB) — U.S troops withdrawing from northeastern Syria to Iraq are "transiting" and will leave the country within four weeks, Iraq's defense minister said Wednesday.
Najah al-Shammari made the remarks to The Associated Press following a meeting in Baghdad with visiting U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who arrived as Iraqi leaders chafed over reports the U.S. may want to increase the number of troops based in Iraq, at least temporarily.
Iraq's military said Tuesday that American troops leaving northeastern Syria don't have permission to stay in Iraq in a statement that appeared to contradict Esper, who has said that all U.S. troops leaving Syria would continue to conduct operations against the Islamic State group from Iraq to prevent its resurgence in the region.
He later added that the troops would be there temporarily until they are able to go home, but no time period has been set.
Esper said earlier on Wednesday that the U.S. has no plans to leave those troops in Iraq "interminably" and that he plans to talk with Iraqi leaders about the matter.
Al-Shammari said Esper traveled to Iraq based on an invitation from the Iraqis. In Wednesday's talks, he said the two sides agreed that the American troops crossing from Syria are "transiting" through Iraq and will then head to either Kuwait, Qatar or the United States "within a time frame not exceeding four weeks."
The Iraqi minister said the planes that would transport the American troops out of Iraq have already arrived.
Esper's visit to Baghdad came a day after Russia and Turkey reached an agreement that would deploy their forces along nearly the entire northeastern border to fill the void left after President Donald Trump's abrupt withdrawal of U.S. forces from the area, a move that essentially cleared the way for the Turkish invasion earlier this month.
It was unclear Wednesday what that means for U.S. forces.
Trump ordered the bulk of the approximately 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria to withdraw after Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan stated in a phone call that his forces were about to invade Syria to push back Syrian Kurdish fighters whom Ankara considers terrorists.
The pullout largely abandons the Kurdish allies who have fought the Islamic State group alongside U.S. troops for several years. Between 200 and 300 U.S. troops will remain at the southern Syrian outpost of Al-Tanf.
Esper said the troops going into Iraq would have two missions, one to help defend Iraq against a resurgence of Islamic State militants and another to monitor and perform a counter-IS mission.
The U.S. currently has more than 5,000 American forces in Iraq, under an agreement between the two countries. The U.S. pulled its troops out of Iraq in 2011 when combat operations there ended, but they went back in after the Islamic State group began to take over large swaths of the country in 2014.
The number of American forces in Iraq has remained small due to political sensitivities in the country, after years of what some Iraqis consider U.S. occupation during the war that began in 2003. Iraqi leaders may privately condone more U.S. forces to battle IS, but worry if it's widely known that there will be backlash from the citizens.
U.S. troops in Syria fought for five years alongside Kurdish-led forces in northeast Syria and succeeded in bringing down the rule of IS militants — at the cost of thousands of Kurdish fighters' lives. Under the new agreement, much of that territory would be handed over to U.S. rivals.
The biggest winners are Turkey and Russia. Turkey would get sole control over areas of the Syrian border captured in its invasion, while Turkish, Russian and Syrian government forces would oversee the rest of the border region. America's former U.S. allies, the Kurdish fighters, are left hoping Moscow and Damascus will preserve some pieces of the Syrian Kurdish autonomy in the region.
Jerusalem, Oct 23 (AP/UNB) — Israel's former military chief Benny Gantz is set to receive an official mandate to form the country's next government but has few options after last month's elections left him in a near tie with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu was given the first opportunity to form a government after assembling a large right-wing bloc but announced this week that he failed to build a 61-seat majority.
Gantz faces similarly steep odds, raising the possibility that Israel will hold a third election in less than a year.
President Reuven Rivlin will formally later on Wednesday grant the mandate to Gantz, who will have 28 days to form a coalition.
Both Gantz and Netanyahu say they favor a national unity government but are divided over who should lead it.