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Middle East

Israel supports the establishment of a Kurdish state, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday, as Kurds in Iraq gear up for a referendum on independence that lawmakers in Baghdad oppose.

Israel has maintained discreet military, intelligence and business ties with the Kurds since the 1960s, viewing the minority ethnic group -- whose indigenous population is split between Iraq, Turkey, Syria and Iran -- as a buffer against shared Arab adversaries.

On Tuesday, Iraq’s Kurdish leader Massoud Barzani said he would press ahead with the Sept. 25 referendum despite a vote by Iraq’s parliament rejecting it.

Western powers are concerned a plebiscite in Iraq’s semi-autonomous Kurdish region - including the oil-rich city of Kirkuk - could divert attention from the war against Islamic State militants.

Iraq’s neighbors -- Turkey, Iran and Syria -- oppose the referendum, fearing it could fan separatism among their own ethnic Kurdish populations.

Kurds have sought an independent state since at least the end of World War One, when colonial powers divided up the Middle East after the collapse of the multi-ethnic Ottoman Empire.
Fresh evidence submitted in a major 9/11 lawsuit moving forward against the Saudi Arabian government reveals its embassy in Washington may have funded a “dry run” for the hijackings carried out by two Saudi employees, further reinforcing the claim employees and agents of the kingdom directed and aided the 9/11 hijackers and plotters.

Two years before the airliner attacks, the Saudi Embassy paid for two Saudi nationals, living undercover in the US as students, to fly from Phoenix to Washington “in a dry run for the 9/11 attacks,” alleges the amended complaint filed on behalf of the families of some 1,400 victims who died in the terrorist attacks 16 years ago.

The court filing provides new details that paint “a pattern of both financial and operational support” for the 9/11 conspiracy from official Saudi sources, lawyers for the plaintiffs say.

In fact, the Saudi government may have been involved in underwriting the attacks from the earliest stages — including testing cockpit security.

“We’ve long asserted that there were longstanding and close relationships between al Qaeda and the religious components of the Saudi government,” said Sean Carter, the lead attorney for the 9/11 plaintiffs, “This is further evidence of that.”

Lawyers representing Saudi Arabia last month filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, which may finally be headed toward trial now that Congress has cleared diplomatic-immunity hurdles.
Qatar is donating $30m to help people in Texas recover from Hurricane Harvey, its ambassador said; this is apparently the largest contribution from a foreign government to assist the devastated stretches of the Texas coast.

The Gulf nation pledged the funds through the newly created Qatar Harvey Fund, which Ambassador Meshal bin Hamad Al Thani said on Thursday would work with Texas Governor Greg Abbott, local organisations and other Texas officials including the Houston mayor.

"Texans are stronger than any storm and will come back bigger and better, and Qatar stands ready to help our friends at every turn," Al Thani said in a statement that emphasised the gas-rich country's ties to Texas, including its consulate in Houston.

It came the same day that the United Arab Emirates, one of Qatar's opponents in a diplomatic dispute in the Gulf, announced its own $10m donation to help Harvey victims.

Both donations were announced as the leader of Kuwait, which has been mediating the Gulf crisis, was in Washington discussing the dispute with President Donald Trump and other US officials.

Bahrain, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE cut ties with Qatar in June over allegations it allows a permissive climate for funding "extremists", foments opposition elsewhere in the region and maintains too close ties to Iran – Qatar firmly denies the allegations.
Almost 60 former fighters from a Syrian militia group linked to al Qaeda came to Germany posing as refugees, German news weekly Der Spiegel reported on Saturday.

The former fighters are thought to have been members of the Owais al-Qorani Brigade and to have fought on various sides of the Syrian war.

Spiegel reports the group began the war on the side of the rebel Free Syrian Army before switching to the al Qaeda-linked al-Nusra Front.

Al-Nusra Front ostensibly split from al Qaeda in July 2016, but both the US and Russia dispute this rebranding.

The Owais al-Qorani Brigade has also been accused of once being an affiliate of the so-called "Islamic State" in northern Syria, before IS turned on the group after a prison escape.

The Spiegel report, citing security agencies, said the group's members had participated in "numerous massacres of captured civilians and Syrian soldiers", and at least 300 people were killed in such massacres.
The Supreme Court of Israel has ruled same-sex marriage is not a right.

The court’s judges unanimously rejected the Israeli Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Association’s case.

The group argued that the Basic Law of Human Dignity and Liberty should be interpreted to allow same-sex marriages, and hoped that, at very least, the present law banning marriage equality would be ruled unconstitutional.

Although Israel is considered one of the more progressive countries in the Middle East, tolerance for LGBT people has shrunk to a small area surrounding Tel Aviv.

Ruling on the case, Justices Elyakim Rubinstein said: “To all intents and purposes, Israeli civil law does not recognise same-sex marriage, therefore, the petitioners’ request to have the civil court rule on something under the jurisdiction of the rabbinical courts, which applies under certain conditions, is not applicable here.

Instead, request is based on establishing as an essential precondition that marriage between two individuals of the same gender exists in Israeli law, and it does not,” Rubenstein said.
For Muslim pilgrims in Qatar who hoped to perform one of the pillars of Islam, the annual Hajj that began this week is out of reach.

This is because Saudi Arabia - which oversees and manages Islam's two holiest sites in Mecca and Medina - has made it impossible for them to go.

Hajj is a pilgrimage to Mecca that Muslims worldwide are expected to make at least once in their lifetime, if they are able to.

The Qatari Ministry of Awqaf and Islamic Affairs, which regulates and organises the annual Hajj for Qatari citizens and residents, announced it hasn't received responses from its Saudi counterpart on travel logistics or security guarantees.

In June, Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations barred Qatari nationals from their countries and set up a blockade to prevent goods from entering the Gulf emirate.

The official Qatar News Agency reported on Tuesday that Qatar's religious authorities "did not find any cooperation or positive response from the Ministry of Hajj, which has led to confusion and suspension of the regulatory process for Qatar's pilgrims".
Palestinian children in the occupied West Bank have started the new school year in improvised tents after Israeli authorities demolished their classrooms the day before term began. 

Around 80 children aged five to 10 from the village of Jub-Ad-Dhib had to attend classes in cramped tarpaulin tents or under the hot sun on Wednesday.

One day earlier Israeli authorities had decided to confiscate and destroy steel terrapin cabins used as school buildings along with other educational equipment.

The area was sealed off, declared a military zone, and security forces used stun grenades to keep residents away, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem said in a statement.

The six newly installed cabins, donated by the EU, were put in place so that local children did not have to walk an hour to get to school.

Over the past two weeks, four Palestinian communities have seen their educational facilities – donated by international bodies and NGOs – destroyed on the grounds that they had been built without proper planning permission.
The Interior Ministry has begun the process of revoking the citizenship of 19 Israelis who went to fight for Islamic State.

The Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), according to Channel 2, provided the Interior Ministry a list of 20 Israelis who had joined the jihadist group, after a law proposed by Interior Minister Arye Deri went into effect this week allowing him to strip Israelis of their citizenship if they are members of foreign terrorist organizations.

One man on the list is said to have died in fighting for the group as the list was compiled.

The 20, who are mostly Israeli Arabs, also include two who were born Jewish and converted to Islam.

The two, a 28-year-old woman from Ashdod and a 32-year-old man from Lod, were born in the former Soviet Union and immigrated to Israel at a young age.

The others on the list included an Israeli Arab who served as a combat soldier in the IDF and residents of the towns of Fureidis, Kafr Kassem, Jaljulya and Bueina, and of east Jerusalem, among others.
The Afghan Taliban has warned Donald Trump is "wasting" American soldiers' lives after the US president approved sending thousands more troopsto the war-ravaged country.

Taliban spokeman Zabiullah Mujahid said Afghanistan would become a "graveyard" for the US on Tuesday after dismissing Trump's strategy as vague and offering "nothing new".

"If America doesn't withdraw its troops from Afghanistan, soon Afghanistan will become another graveyard for this superpower in the 21st century," he said.

In his first formal address to the US as commander-in-chief, Trump backtracked from his election pledge to end America's longest war that has dragged on for nearly 16 years.

Since taking office in January, Trump said he has realised that withdrawing could create a vacuum for groups such as al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS) to exploit.

The US currently has around 8,400 troops in the country, down from a peak of about 100,000 troops in 2010 and 2011, with around 5,000 from NATO allies assisting a much larger Afghan force in the war against the Taliban and other armed groups.
Police caught and arrested an Israeli teenager suspected of taking part in an assault against two off-duty soldiers and a teenage civilian Friday night in a public park in Pardes Hanna — reportedly because they mistook them for being Arab.

According to police, a 16-year-old resident of Pardes Hanna took part in an assault by a group of youths against the two soldiers, who are from the Golani and Kfir Brigades and live in the nearby town of Rosh Ha’ayin.

The soldiers were sitting in a park with a young woman and a 17-year-old male.

The assailants reportedly beat the soldiers with a hookah pipe and other blunt objects.

The victims were treated at Hadera’s Hillel Yaffe Medical Center for injuries, including to their face, before being released.

According to Israel Radio, the soldiers were too scared to call the police following the incident, and it was only after the father of one of the soldiers learned his son was in the hospital that the police got involved and opened an investigation.