Israel admits strikes against Iranian Quds in Syria; In a rare acknowledgement of military action in Syria, Israel says it fired rockets at Iranian Quds sites in Damascus. Syrian state media said it had shot down the missiles. Israel’s military said on Monday that it had struck Iranian military targets inside Syria, an unusual admission by a country that rarely comments on its military actions in Syria. “We have started striking Iranian Quds targets in Syrian territory,” Israel’s military wrote on Twitter. “We warn the Syrian Armed Forces against attempting to harm Israeli forces or territory,” Syria said it had shot down several “hostile targets” without elaborating.
Greek police and protesters clash at rally over Macedonia name deal; Tens of thousands of people flooded the streets of Athens to voice their disapproval of a name deal with neighboring Macedonia. Greece’s parliament is due to vote this week on whether or not to ratify the deal. Clashes broke out between riot police and protesters in Athens on Sunday as thousands of people took part in a rally against the Greek government’s name change deal with Macedonia, which is currently officially referred to as the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. “We cannot stomach this deal, to give away our Macedonia, our history,” Amalia Savrami, a 67-year-old pensioner, told Reuters news agency. “Macedonia is Greek, period,” she added, waving a large blue and white Greek flag. Police fired tear gas to disperse protesters outside of parliament after a group of protesters threw rocks, paint, flares, fireworks and other objects. One man wearing a Greek flag attacked police with a large stick while others also struck officers by swinging large flags on wooden poles.
Colombia’s shattered hopes of peace; Fear has returned to Colombia, two years after the government signed a peace deal with FARC rebels. Real peace remains an illusion, as this week’s bomb attack has shown. Ofelia Harms Arruti reports from Bogota. Weeping mothers, wives and children: the scenes outside the General Santander police academy in the Colombian capital were heartbreaking. At least 21 young people died and another 68 were injured in the car bombing in Bogota on Thursday. Most of the victims were aged between 17 and 23. The bomber is assumed to have been a member of the ELN guerrilla group. The police cadets had just participated in a promotion ceremony when he drove his explosive-laden car into the academy compound and blew it up. The attacker died in the blast, and his motive remains unclear.
10 UN peacekeepers killed in Al Qaida-linked attack in Mali; An attack on the UN mission in Mali has left 10 peacekeepers dead and at least 25 injured. Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, an Islamist group with al Qaida ties, has claimed responsibility.An al Qaida-linked Islamist group has claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 10 UN peacekeepers from Chad in the north of Mali on Sunday. In a statement posted on messaging platform Telegram, the Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen group said the attack was a response to Chadian President Idriss Deby’s revival of diplomatic relations with Israel.At least 25 others were injured in the attack on the UN camp, which was one of the deadliest attacks against MINUSMA, the UN mission in Mali. The gunmen struck early Sunday at the Aguelhok base 200 kilometers (125 miles) north of Kidal and toward the border with Algeria, according to a source close to the MINUSMA mission. “MINUSMA forces responded robustly and a number of assailants were killed,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said without specifying the toll.
Zimbabwe warns brutal crackdown is ‘just a foretaste’ of things to come; Zimbabwean authorities will hold opponents “fully accountable” for the unrest, and a spokesman described the deadly crackdown as “just a foretaste” of the future. President Mnangagwa has cut short a foreign trip. The government of Zimbabwe is set to drastically ramp up its response to protests over fuel prices, a spokesman for President Emmerson Mnangagwa told The Sunday News newspaper. Authorities claim three people have lost their lives in the unrest, but activists say some 12 people were killed and scores of others suffered gunshot wounds in the brutal crackdown. Talking to the pro-government paper, spokesman George Charamba said the opposition MDC party and the trade unions had “unleashed” violence. Zimbabwe’s government “will not stand by while such narrow interests play out so violently,” Charamba told The Sunday News from Azerbaijan, where he was following the president on an official trip.
“The response so far is just a foretaste of things to come,” he added
Opinion: Europe caught in a dangerous nuclear trap; The treaty banning intermediate- and shorter-range missiles is beyond saving. The Cold War is back with a vengeance, and for Europe it’s even colder and more dangerous than 30 years ago, writes Christian F. Trippe. German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas is not one to envy right now: He wants to try to save a treaty between the US and Russia that is beyond saving. The INF treaty is dead. Signed in 1987, the agreement oversaw the elimination and banning of short- and medium-range missiles. These are weapons first developed by the USSR and then later by the United States. Given their limited range and nuclear capability, it would have been Europe, not the US, to suffer the radioactive consequences. That’s why such a ban has always been a matter of life or death for Europeans. It led to a two-tiered NATO policy towards the Soviet Union: Get rid of these weapons or have the same ones pointed at you. A negotiated disarmament was always on the table.
Israel and Chad renew diplomatic ties decades after rupture; Netanyahu and Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno have “announced the renewal of diplomatic relations between Chad and Israel”, a statement from the Israeli premier’s office said. Ties between Israel and the Muslim majority nation were broken in 1972. “The two sides view the resumption of relations as the key to future cooperation for the benefit of both countries,” the statement said.
Deadly explosion in Syrian capital Damascus; The head of the city’s civil defence, Asef Hababe, told Reuters the blast came from military technicians detonating a bomb. State TV had said earlier that initial reports pointed to a terrorist attack, and that a number of people were injured. The state outlet did not provide any more details on the incident.
Qatar’s emir in Beirut for Arab economic summit; Qatar’s emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani has arrived in Beirut to attend an Arab economic summit marred by divisions over readmitting Syria into the Arab League. Qatar’s government has been one of the main backers of Syrian insurgents who have tried, since the beginning of the civil war in 2011, to overthrow President Bashar al-Assad. So the visit by its main representative is widely seen as a first step to restoring relations with Syria.
Ex-Nissan boss Ghosn vows to stay in Japan if granted bail; The Tokyo District Court will later Monday consider the 64-year-old’s latest petition for bail but has already rejected previous applications, judging Ghosn a flight risk who might seek to destroy evidence. “As the court considers my bail application, I want to emphasise that I will reside in Japan and respect any and all bail conditions the Court concludes are warranted,” Ghosn said in a statement released by his US-based representatives. He vowed to attend any subsequent trial “not only because I am legally obligated to do so, but because I am eager to finally have the opportunity to defend myself”.
China growth slows amid trade dispute; China says its economy grew 6.6 percent in 2018. That’s 0.2 percentage point less than the previous year, marking the first dip in two years. The figure marked the weakest annual growth in 28 years. The National Bureau of Statistics released the data on Monday.Economists point to the country’s trade dispute with the US as a big factor for the downturn.
Mindanao votes on new autonomy law; People on the southern Philippine island of Mindanao have been voting on a new law that would grant the local government substantially more autonomy. If they vote “yes”, it could pave the way for lasting peace after decades of fighting between government forces and Muslim militants. The first part of the election took place Monday, with people from two key cities and five provinces having their say. Other cities will vote on February 6th. A win would allow the autonomous government in the Muslim-majority region to change the educational and judicial systems and develop natural resources. The autonomy was part of the terms of a 2014 peace treaty between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the region’s largest militant group. President Rodrigo Duterte has been calling for a “yes” vote, saying the country must stand together against violence.
The government hopes the autonomy will stimulate development in the resource-rich region. Even if law comes into effect, it is no guarantee of peace in the region. Other militant groups there are recruiting members under the name of the Islamic State militant group. The final result of the vote is expected late next month.
Fierce presidential race expected in Afghanistan; The registration of candidates was closed on Sunday for Afghanistan’s presidential election. A fierce race is expected between the incumbent and his power-sharing partner. A presidential election is held every five years in Afghanistan. This year’s poll will be held on July 20th. President Ashraf Ghani announced his candidacy for a second term. Chief Executive Abdullah Abdullah, who is the number-two in the Ghani administration, and former National Security Advisor Mohammad Hanif Atmar are also running. Ghani and Abdullah had staged a fierce battle in the previous race in 2014. A run-off was held after neither one of them gained a majority of ballots in the first round. Vote-recounting was also held due to vote-rigging allegations. It took more than five months before the election results were finally announced. The race this time is also expected to be fierce, centering on how to improve security in the country as well as on ways to rebuild its economy which has been strained by civil war. Anti-government Taliban militants have regained power in Afghanistan since most of the multi-national troops withdrew from the country in 2014. The security situation continues to worsen.
Abe to leave for Russia to meet Putin; Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is set to leave for Russia on Monday for talks with President Vladimir Putin. Abe is determined to promote discussions on signing a peace treaty that would include a solution to the issue of four Russian-held islands. Russia controls the four islands. Japan claims them. The Japanese government maintains the islands are an inherent part of Japan’s territory. It says the islands were illegally occupied after World War Two. During his two-day stay in Russia, Abe is expected to meet Putin on Tuesday. It will be the 25th summit between the two leaders. They met in Argentina last month. Abe and Putin agreed in November to accelerate negotiations on a peace treaty based on a 1956 joint declaration stating that two of the four islands would be handed over to Japan after the conclusion of a bilateral peace treaty. But last week’s meeting between Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov highlighted differences over the territorial issue. The Russian side has urged Japan to recognize Russian sovereignty over the islands as a result of World War Two. It has also expressed concern and frustration over the Japan-US alliance and Japan’s joining Western nations in imposing sanctions on Russia. The Russians have nonetheless shown a willingness to continue negotiations with Japan.
Kono, Pompeo to meet over N.Korea; apanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have agreed to meet in mid-February to discuss the second US-North Korea summit. Kono talked with Pompeo over the phone for about 20 minutes on Monday morning. Kono was briefed on the negotiations between the United States and North Korea. The White House said last Friday that US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will hold their second summit late next month. Kim Yong Chol, a close aide to the North Korean leader, met Trump on Friday. Kono and Pompeo confirmed that Japan and the US will maintain close cooperation with South Korea. They also agreed to work together to resolve the abductions of Japanese nationals by North Korea.