Top Hamas leaders Mahmud Zahar and Haniya made the announcement at a news conference in Gaza City following talks with the moderate Palestinian Authority president, two days after a Hamas-led parliament was sworn in.

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Mr Abbas will hand over the official nomination letter at 6pm on Tuesday during a meeting with Mr Haniya, Mr Zahar told journalists.

The Gaza leader of Hamas, which is branded a terrorist organisation by the European Union and United States, said he expects the group to finalise a coalition line-up within an initial three-week period allotted to the new prime minister.

“I think we can declare the cabinet during the three weeks,” Mr Zahar said.

Coalition talks

Faced with stinging Israeli sanctions and the prospect of cuts in aid from Washington and the EU, not to mention the faction’s lack of government experience, Hamas is keen to form a national coalition.

To that end, talks with other parliamentary factions would continue in order to agree on the make-up of the new cabinet, Mr Zahar and Mr Haniya said.

Hamas representatives on Monday started to thrash out the line-up of the new-look government with the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the Democratic Front for the Liberation of Palestine.

PFLP politburo member Rabah Muhanna said the faction had agreed in principle to join the incoming administration.

Mr Haniya confirmed that Hamas would also talk to Abbas’s Fatah party, although several senior party lights have ruled out joining the government that Mr Abbas has said already faces a “serious financial crisis”.

Talks on forming a government would be held with “Fatah and other personalities and political forces … inside and outside” the Palestinian territories, he said.

Payments suspended

Israel’s cabinet voted on Sunday to suspend immediately payment of customs duties and VAT to the Palestinian Authority, estimated at US$50 million a month.

Washington also wants $50m in aid returned by the Palestinians, in light of Hamas’s control of the government.

But the United Nation’s Middle East envoy, Alvaro de Soto, said on Monday that Israel has no right to freeze the transfers and should have at least waited for the new government’s formation.

Mr De Soto, who met Israeli defence officials after the cabinet imposed a series of financial and travel sanctions, said the freeze was “problematic for several reasons”, especially as the money belonged to the Palestinians.

In the wake of the sanctions, the EU, the biggest Palestinian donor, and Russia stressed they would continue to provide as much financial support as possible.

“We will continue to support the Palestinian Authority until the new government is formed and on that we are trying to find the necessary resources,” EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana told reporters.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also said that Moscow would continue to send “urgent aid”.

Although Western powers are reluctant to channel money directly into what they consider a terrorist organisation, they have also cited concern that a drastic drying up in funds will merely push Hamas closer to backers in Iran.

Iran support

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called on Muslims worldwide on Monday to provide a “yearly financial aid package” to the Palestinians during talks in Tehran with Hamas’s visiting political leader Khaled Meshaal.

US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will on Tuesday start a Middle East visit, during which she is likely to press home demands that Hamas renounce violence, recognise Israel’s right to exist and abide by previous Palestinian agreements.

Hamas, which refuses to recognise the Jewish state’s right to exist and has carried out dozens of suicide attacks in the past five years, has so far dodged calls by Mr Abbas to recognise past agreements signed with Israel.

Aziz Duweik, the new Hamas speaker of parliament, ordered a freeze on all decisions made by outgoing MPs at a meeting last week, which included approval for Mr Abbas to appoint members of a new constitutional court.

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Civilians targetted in Chad

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June 30th, 2019

The Human Rights Watch report, based on a January-February investigation in eastern Chad, documents a sharp increase in the number of attacks since December, resulting in dozens of civilian deaths and the displacement of tens of thousands of people.

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“The government of Sudan is actively exporting the Darfur crisis to its neighbour by providing material support to Janjaweed militias and by failing to disarm or control them,” said Peter Takirambudde, HRW’s Africa director.

“The Janjaweed are doing in Chad what they have done in Darfur since 2003: killing civilians, burning villages and looting cattle in attacks that show signs of ethnic bias,” he added.

The 15-page report, “Darfur Bleeds: Recent Cross-Border Violence in Chad,” maintains that Sudanese forces have had a direct hand in the recent violence in Chad.

The report cites an example where Sudanese troops and helicopter gunships reportedly supported a Janjaweed attack across the border in the region of Goungor, Chad, on two occasions in early December.

HRW again called for the UN Security Council to urgently transfer the African Union force to a UN mission with a strong and clear mandate to protect civilians, by force if necessary.

HRW also called on the Security Council to place Janjaweed leaders responsible for the attacks on civilians in Chad on a list of people subject to travel bans and other UN sanctions.

Peacekeeping criticism

Meanwhile the US Ambassador to the United Nations, John Bolton, has accused the UN and some Security Council members of moving too slowly toward setting up a UN peacekeeping force in Sudan’s troubled Darfur region.

Ambassador Bolton expressed frustration with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan and UN officials over the pace of preparation for the mission, which would replace 7,000 African Union troops.

He also said African and Arab diplomats on the Security Council needed to move more quickly.

“We’re prepared, but the main thing, I think, is to get the internal UN operation to be moving more quickly, which we’d like to see,” he said.

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said United Nations officials were in talks with African leaders about the force and that planning for the mission “is moving full steam ahead”.

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Moscow market disaster

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June 30th, 2019

The Moscow health authority said the injured included one victim in critical condition, 12 in serious condition and 10 more suffering from lesser injuries, RIA-Novosti news agency reported.

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A fire briefly broke out after the disaster, sending up thick clouds of acrid smoke and hampering rescuers’ efforts as they searched with sniffer dogs for any survivors.

Emergency workers ordered silence every 15 minutes to listen for sounds of those trapped. At one point they could be seen rushing to dig at 10 different spots.

“Time is running out,” Emergency Situations Minister Sergei Shoigu said at the scene.

Rescue workers used metal cutters, hydraulic lifters and pickaxes to clear the ruins of the Basmanny market and knelt down to shout into the holes in search of survivors.

Medical workers tried to help a man trapped under a slab of concrete that left only his hand visible, giving him painkillers through an intravenous drip.

Machines were brought in to blow warm air into the rubble to try to keep victims alive in the near freezing temperatures.

Interfax news agency quoted a senior official with the emergency situations ministry as saying “dozens” of people could still be trapped in the rubble.

President Vladimir Putin said that “rescuers are doing all they can to help the victims.” He added: “It is necessary to conduct a detailed inquiry and get objective information about the reasons” for the collapse.

Possible causes

Investigators were considering whether a failure to clear recent heavy snowfall from the roof may have contributed to the cave-in, officials said.

It was the third major building collapse blamed on snow in Europe since last month.

The Moscow market, in service since 1975, was designed by the same architect who drafted the building plans for the Transval aqua park in Moscow where a similar roof collapse two years ago left 28 dead and in which structural flaws were also cited as a focus of investigation.

The architect who designed the market building, Nodar Kancheli, was at the scene. He said “incorrect use” of the building’s structure may have been a factor in the disaster.

Media reports said a platform for housing additional market stalls had been built and attached to the roof in violation of building regulations and may have contributed to the collapse.

“The construction of the roof did not plan for this,” RIA Novosti news agency quoted Mr Kancheli as saying.

The architect was placed under investigation last year in connection with the Transval aqua park roof collapse on February 14, 2004, but no charges have been brought against him so far.

The Moscow market operates around the clock and was used for wholesale trading overnight when dozens of people work inside, officials said.

The victims were municipal and market workers, most believed to be migrant workers from former Soviet republics.

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Buildings swayed and doors shook across the African nation, but there was no immediate report of injuries.

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The US Geological Survey said the magnitude 7.5 quake struck, with its epicentre 225 kilometres south-west of Beira.

It was felt as far away as Durban, in South Africa, and Harare, in central Zimbabwe.

“Somebody just called to say a building collapsed in Beira,” a reporter at the state Mozambique radio station in the capital Maputo said. But he had no further information.

In Beira, a hotel manager said the quake sent the mainly South African tourists running terrified from their rooms as the building began moving, but nobody was hurt.

“It felt like the building was going to fall down and it went on for a long time, the trembling,” Tivoli Hotel manager Johana Neves said.

She said panicked guests had returned to their rooms. But Antonio Dinis, who also was at the hotel, said the streets were full of people afraid to go back home or sleep.

In Maputo, hundreds of people fled their homes into the streets, as they did in Chimoyo, about 480 kilometres west of Beira near the border with Zimbabwe, and at Tete, which neighbours Zambia and Malawi, the Mozambique radio station said.

The quake was shallow, which increases the potential for damage, said Dale Grant, a geophysicist with the USGS National Earthquake Information Centre in Golden, Colorado.

“It was felt very widely in the epicentral area, though it’s not a very heavily populated area,” Grant said. “There is certain to be damage, but so far, we’ve had absolutely no word of damage.”

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Curfew lifted in Baghdad

By
June 30th, 2019

The night curfew will continue in the capital and three other central provinces: Salaheddin, Bail and Diyala.

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Traffic has reportedly returned to the streets of the capital.

Despite the measures aimed at curbing the violence, around 25 Iraqis were killed in a string of attacks around the country.

Around 19 civilians were killed in mortar attacks in a Shi’ite neighbourhood of Baghdad.

Police said at least 11 mortar rounds hit a Shi’ite enclave in Dora, a predominantly Sunni Arab district. Eight houses were hit and at least 15 people were killed and 49 others injured.

Later in the night, another mortar round hit a house in a Sunni section of Dora, killing one person and wounding four.

Two mortar rounds also crashed into homes in the Shi’ite-dominated neighbourhood of Hurriyah, killing three people, police said.

As night fell, more explosions rocked the city.

In other violence two people were killed and six wounded, including two children, when gunmen opened fire on a group of people playing football in the province of Diyala northeast of Baghdad.

In the southern city of Basra, an explosion wounded two civilians outside a Shi’ite holy site, according to a military spokesman.

Arrests over shrine attack

The attack on the Shiite city aimed to ignite a fresh outbreak of sectarian violence following Wednesday’s bombing of a revered Shi’ite shrine in the northern town of Samarra, which sparked a series of attacks against the minority Sunni community.

The ensuing sectarian violence has left more than 150 dead and dozens wounded.

Ten people have been arrested over the shrine bombings, Iraq’s national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie, said on Sunday.

“We have arrested 10 people, four from the guards of the Golden Tomb shrine,” he told CNN.

The other six suspects, he said “were in the city of Samarra, (and had) just moved in and rented a place… so we are investigating them,” he said.

The latest deadly barrages came as restrictions eased in Baghdad, which had been under lockdown after the bombing of the shrine.

Appeals for unity

Iraq’s sectarian clashes have threatened to derail talks on setting up a government of national unity, a crucial step in paving the way for a withdrawal of US forces from the insurgency-racked country.

On Saturday top Iraqi leaders vowed to preserve national unity as they sought to pull their nation back from the brink of civil war.

“All the leaders felt a need to accelerate the political process and proposed to sign a national pact between all the different political factions,” Prime Minister Ibrahim Jaafari said after the meeting.

“If I have any good news it is that Iraq is far away from a civil war. There is no Shiite against a Sunni or a Muslim against a non-Muslim … the name of Iraq is above everything,” he said.

al-Sadr in Basra

Meanwhile, Shi’ite cleric Moqtada al-Sadr arrived in Basra on Sunday following a Middle East tour that included Iran, and immediately called on Iraqis to unite and demand US troops withdrawal.

“I call on all Iraqis, Sunnis and Shi’ites, Muslims and non-Muslims, to take part in a demonstration of unity in Baghdad to call for the withdrawal of the forces of occupation, even if this has to take place over time,” he told supporters.

“Sunnis and Shi’ites must back each other and help each other because there is no difference between a Sunni and a Shiite. Iraqis must avoid division and unite in the face of the Crusaders,” he said, speaking of US-led coalition forces.

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