First day of Afghan truce as Taliban instruct fighters to cease violence 

A U.S. soldier of 2-12 Infantry 4BCT-4ID Task Force Mountain Warrior takes a break during a night mission near Honaker Miracle camp at the Pesh valley of Kunar Province August 12, 2009. (REUTERS/ File photo)
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Updated 22 February 2020
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First day of Afghan truce as Taliban instruct fighters to cease violence 

  • US and Taliban forces enforce mutually agreed seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan, starting midnight on Friday
  • Peace pact to be signed on Feb 29, intra-Afghan negotiations to follow soon after to deliver “permanent cease-fire“

ISLAMABAD: The Taliban military commission has instructed fighters of the insurgency to cease violence from February 22, the group said in a statement on Friday as the United States and the Taliban announced that they would sign a peace pact on February 29 to end America’s longest war after more than 18 years. 

Arab News reported on February 17 that the long-awaited peace agreement was scheduled to be signed on February 29 in Doha, Qatar, in the presence of international dignitaries and guarantors. 

On Friday, the Taliban military commission instructed its fighters not to carry out out any more attacks, including suicide and rocket assaults against US and allied forces in all provincial headquarters, foreign forces bases, Kabul city and all military corps of the Kabul administration, according to a statement and two audio recordings that Arab News is privy to.

The pause in attacks will continue until February 29, according to the Pashto-language order. In return, foreign and Afghan government forces will not conduct attacks, drone strikes, bombings, night raids, rocket and missile attacks on Taliban bases, the Taliban said in the letter send to its commanders.

“All governors and responsible persons should maintain round-the-clock contacts with and no one has the right to establish any contact with the enemy,” the order said. “Those will face severe punishment who will enter the area under the control of the enemy.”

On Friday, following a Taliban statement, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also confirmed that a peace pact would be signed on February 29.

“The only way to achieve a sustainable peace in Afghanistan is for Afghans to come together and agree on the way forward,” Pompeo said in a statement issued by the US State Department.

The statements came hours before US and Taliban forces enforced a mutually agreed seven-day reduction in violence in Afghanistan, starting midnight on Friday, meaning neither side would conduct offensive operations.

Intra-Afghan negotiations will start soon after February 29 and “build on this fundamental step to deliver a comprehensive and permanent cease-fire and the future political roadmap for Afghanistan,” Pompeo said.

Taliban political spokesman Suhail Shaheen told Arab News on Thursday that no final decision had as yet been taken about the venue of an intra-Afghan dialogue, tentatively to be held on March 10. 

US officials have said the success of the temporary deal would enable the two sides to move ahead with the signing ceremony scheduled in Doha, the Qatari capital, which houses the Taliban’s political office and where the two negotiating teams have hammered out a comprehensive draft agreement after talks spread over a period of 18 months.

The Taliban said in a statement that both parties would now create a “suitable security situation” in advance of the agreement signing date, extend invitations to senior representatives of numerous countries and organizations to participate in the signing ceremony and make arrangements for the release of prisoners.

Senior Taliban negotiator Abdul Salam Hanafi said this week that 5,000 Taliban prisoners would be released under the agreement while the Taliban would set free 1,000 Afghans.

Shaheen tweeted that all foreign forces would leave Afghanistan under the agreement and no one would be allowed to use Afghan soil to launch attacks.

Experts pointed to possible challenges in implementing the peace agreement and the cease-fire.

“In case there are breaches/violations in the cease-fire it would manifest that either the Taliban factions are dissatisfied with the cease-fire or the spoilers inside Afghanistan may also take advantage and indulge in violence and put the responsibility on the shoulders of the Taliban,” Pakistan’s former ambassador Asif Khan Durrani told Arab News.

Also, the peace pact is meant to be followed by talks between the Taliban and the government in Kabul, a process that will certainly be complicated by a bitterly disputed presidential election, in which the opposition candidate claimed victory despite President Ashraf Ghani having been declared the winner. With rival claimants to legitimacy, experts say it is unclear who would negotiate with the Taliban following the peace pact, whether they would be prepared to enter talks while struggling to control the government, or what kind of mandate they would have.


Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

Updated 11 sec ago
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Spanish politician shot in Madrid points finger at Iran

MADRID: A right-wing Spanish politician who was shot in November in Madrid on Friday accused Iran of being behind his attempted murder during his first public appearance since the attack.
Alejo Vidal-Quadras, a founder of Spain's far-right Vox party and former head of its centre-right People's Party in Catalonia who has long supported Iran's opposition movement, was shot in the face in broad daylight near his home in the upscale Salamanca neighbourhood on November 9 by a motorcycle passenger.
"I have no doubt that it was the Iranian regime," the 78-year-old, who was European Parliament vice-president between 2009 and 2014, told a news conference in the Spanish capital.
Tehran has "a long tradition, a track record, of extraterritorial terrorist activities" against "dissidents and against foreigners who support then," he added, without offering any proof to back up his claim.
Four people have been arrested as part of the investigation into the shooting, but the suspected gunman -- a French national of Tunisian origin with several previous convictions in France, remains at large.
Police have not commented on a possible motive for the shooting.
Vidal-Quadras, who already pointed the finger at Iran when he was questioned by police after the shooting, said it was a "miracle" that he survived.
"I made a movement of my head that meant that the shot, which was supposed to be fatal, was not," he said.
The bullet entered one side of his jaw and exited the other, and Vidal-Quadras spent time in hospital recovering from a jaw fracture.
"The detonation sounded like a thunderclap in my head, in fact I have a perforated eardrum, and I started bleeding, it caused a puddle on the floor," he said.
Vidal-Quadras said he believes the quick intervention of a passer-by, who stopped the bleeding with a piece of clothing, saved his life.
He said he has suffered from after-effects since the shooting, including "some paralysis of the facial muscles".
Vidal-Quadras, a top member of the International Committee in Search of Justice which supports the "Iranian resistance", has long called for the international community to harden its position towards Iran.

Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

Updated 23 February 2024
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Five migrants die as boat capsizes during rescue off Malta

  • Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center
  • They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt

VALLETTA, Malta: Five migrants, including a woman, died when their boat capsized as they were being rescued off Malta on Friday, the island’s armed forces said.
Another eight were injured and taken to hospital, including two who swallowed a considerable amount of seawater and fuel.
Armed Forces of Malta deputy commander Col. Edric Zahra told reporters that the incident happened at about midday when the eight-meter (26-ft) boat was four miles (6.5 km) south of Malta.
Some 21 migrants were rescued and taken to a migrant center. They are believed to be from Syria, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Egypt.
Mediterranean sea crossings from North Africa to Italy or Malta are among the most dangerous migration routes in the world. Last year almost 2,500 migrants died or went missing on those routes, the International Organization for Migration says.
The vast majority of migrants head for Italy. Malta’s armed forces rescued 380 migrants at sea last year, Home Affairs Minister Byron Camilleri said in parliament in January.


Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

Updated 23 February 2024
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Russia says its forces push further west after taking Ukraine’s Avdiivka

  • Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons
  • The frontlines in the war had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka

MOSCOW: Russian forces have advanced further to the west after taking control of the Ukrainian town of Avdiivka, the defense ministry said on Friday.
It said Russian forces had also destroyed a number of Western-provided Ukrainian weapons in the past week including seven British-supplied Storm Shadow cruise missiles, a US Patriot anti-aircraft guided missile and launch vehicle, and 42 HIMARS rockets fired by multiple launch systems.
Reuters could not independently verify battlefield reports.
The frontlines in the war, which started two years ago on Saturday, had not shifted substantially since late 2022 before the taking of Avdiivka, and Russia still controls just under a fifth of Ukrainian territory.
The capture of Avdiivka, following months of fighting with heavy casualties on both sides, was Russia’s first significant gain since taking the city of Bakhmut last May.
After taking Avdiivka, units of the “Center” group of Russian forces “continued advancing in a westerly direction,” the defense ministry statement said.
“In cooperation with aviation and artillery, they defeated accumulations of manpower and equipment of the Ukrainian Armed Forces” in six nearby settlements, it said.


UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

Updated 23 February 2024
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UK, EU border agency sign migration pact

  • Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force
  • It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added

LONDON: The United Kingdom on Friday signed an agreement with the EU border agency Frontex to jointly crack down on irregular immigration, the government in London said.
Conservative Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has made stopping migrants from crossing the Channel on boats from France a priority before a general election due this year.
Friday’s agreement provides for the exchange of intelligence between Frontex and the UK Border Force to help disrupt people-smuggling gangs, Britain’s interior ministry said in a statement.
It also agrees to collaborate on the development of new technologies, such as the use of drones to protect borders, the Home Office added.
UK Border Force director general Phil Douglas and Frontex executive director Hans Leijtens signed the arrangement in London, witnessed by UK interior minister James Cleverly and the European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson.
“Organized immigration crime and people smuggling are global challenges that require shared solutions and ambitions,” Cleverly said.
“Our landmark working arrangement between the UK and Frontex is another crucial step in tackling illegal migration, securing our borders and stopping the boats.”
The UK government says the number of migrants arriving on England’s south coast in rudimentary vessels fell by a third last year from a record high of 45,000 migrants in 2022.
The UK government called the deal “the latest step” in its “plan to tackle illegal migration and criminal gangs,” with the issue set to feature prominently in the general election campaign.


New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

Updated 23 February 2024
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New Delhi calls on Moscow to release Indians on Russian front line

  • Testimonies of Indians in Russian army sent shockwaves across the media this week
  • Government urges Indian nationals to ‘stay away’ from Russia’s conflict

New Delhi: India's Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday it was in contact with Moscow regarding the release of Indian nationals, who according to media reports have been deployed in Russia’s war on Ukraine.
Testimonies of Indian men hired as “army security helpers” for Russian troops, their families and an agent involved in their employment sent shockwaves across the Indian media after The Hindu daily broke the news earlier this week.
A few Indians are known to have volunteered to join the International Legion of Territorial Defense of Ukraine created to counter Russia’s invasion since February 2022, but until The Hindu’s report, there was no indication of Indian nationals fighting on the Russian side.
Those who spoke to the newspaper said they had been given basic army training and expected to continue as kitchen helpers, but later were sent to the front instead.
Most of the men came from Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir, and said they had been told they would not be sent to the battlefield.
The Indian government was “aware that a few Indian nationals have signed up for support jobs with the Russian army,” Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Randhir Jaiswal said in a statement.
“The Indian Embassy has regularly taken up this matter with the relevant Russian authorities for their early discharge. We urge all Indian nationals to exercise due caution and stay away from this conflict.”
The issue has been flagged on social media by lawmaker Asaduddin Owaisi, who had been approached by some of the men’s relatives.
On Wednesday, Owaisi made a plea to Foreign Minister S. Jaishankar in an X post, which has since gone viral.
“Kindly use your good offices to bring these men back home,” he said. “Their lives are at risk & their families are justifiably worried.”