US defense chief says Syria retains chemical weapons
Kidnapped Qatari hunting party released in Iraq
Two Israeli authors make Man Booker global shortlist


Iran approves six presidential candidates

Iran's Interior Ministry last night released a list of six candidates approved by the Guardian Council to run in the May 19 presidential elections. Incumbent President Hassan Rouhani has been approved, as have First Vice President Eshaq Jahangiri, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Bagher Ghalibaf, centrist Mostafa Mirsalim, Reformist Mostafa Hashemitaba and conservative Ebrahim Raisi. Former President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and his deputy, Hamid Baghaie, were disqualified.

The final list of candidates will be announced by the Interior Ministry by April 27. Those rejected by the Guardian Council can appeal in the coming days. Campaigning officially begins April 28.


Iraq’s ruling Shiite coalition warns against Kurdistan independence bid

The predominately Shiite National Iraqi Alliance, the country’s largest parliamentary bloc, opposes Kurdish plans to hold a referendum on independence after the defeat of the Islamic State (IS), alliance head Ammar al-Hakim said Thursday. Hakim went on to warn the Kurds not to try to expand their semi-autonomous region to areas liberated from IS by peshmerga. “We believe that the politics of accomplished facts and drawing borders with blood hasn't succeeded in any country of the world and won't have good results in Iraq either,” Hakim told Reuters.


Prison hunger strike prompts Israeli-Palestinian clashes

Clashes erupted on Thursday between Palestinian protesters and Israeli forces outside a prison where hundreds of Palestinian inmates are on a hunger strike. Protesters threw rocks while Israeli security forces fired tear gas and rubber bullets outside Ofer prison, west of Ramallah in the West Bank. Nearby, a group of Israelis taunted the prisoners by barbecuing. Some 1,500 prisoners joined a hunger strike to protest conditions in Israeli jails on Monday at the behest of Marwan Barghouti, an imprisoned senior Fatah leader.


Hezbollah media tour shows Israel preparing for another war

Hezbollah took local and foreign media on a tour of Lebanon’s southern border on Thursday to show that Israel is stepping up its defenses in anticipation of another conflict. Israeli officials have recently been warning of a potential confrontation with the Shiite militia, a little more than 10 years after their 2006 war. At the border village of Labbouneh, in the Tyre district facing western Galilee, Hezbollah commanders showed reporters barricades and earth berms as well as surveillance towers and cameras erected along the border.


Russian major killed in Syria

Russia's Defense Ministry confirmed Thursday that a major with the Russian marines had been killed in Syria during a militant attack against a Syrian government military camp. Maj. Sergei Bordov, an adviser training a Syrian army unit, was killed on Tuesday, along with another Russian and two Syrian soldiers whose names remain undisclosed.


Syrian army expands territory along vital highway in Hama

The Syrian army, backed by Russian airstrikes, advanced Thursday into the rebel-held town of Taybet al-Imam in Hama province, the army and rebels said. With this new push, the army has expanded its territory along a strategic western highway held by rebels. 

In a separate development, the evacuation of hundreds of Syrians from four besieged towns resumed today after a 48-hour standstill, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said. Some 10 busloads of people from the besieged government-held towns of Fuaa and Kafraya were on the move again, after being stuck for two days at a transit point in rebel-held Rashidin as rebels demanded the release of prisoners held by Bashar al-Assad's government. 


Egypt airstrike said to kill 19 IS members in north Sinai

The Egyptian military said Thursday that airstrikes had killed 19 Islamic State fighters in northern Sinai, including three alleged leaders. Their names were not released. The extremist group, which earlier this week claimed responsibility for an attack on a police checkpoint near St. Catherine's Monastery, in southern Sinai, had no immediate comment on the airstrikes.


Tunisians take to the streets to demand jobs

Thousands of Tunisians protested on Thursday in the northeastern city of Kef shouting, “Work, freedom, dignity!” The protesters marched through the streets and stopped at the local branch of the Tunisian General Labor Union, Tunisia's largest trade union, to express their anger over the unemployment and poverty plaguing their region, which has been marginalized by successive governments. The protests were reportedly triggered by talk of relocating a major factory to the more developed region of Hammamet.



Netanyahu praises US defense chief for ‘welcome change’ under Trump

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today praised a “welcome change” in the United States’ posture towards Iran and Syria under the Donald Trump administration. Netanyahu, who repeatedly clashed with former US President Barack Obama, made the remarks at the top of his meeting with US Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who is on his first official trip to Israel.

Mattis met with Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman earlier today in Tel Aviv as part of a regional tour that includes Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Djibouti. Speaking at a joint press conference with Liberman, Mattis reiterated America’s commitment to Israel’s security and said that Iran continues to threaten Israel and its neighbors with ballistic missiles.



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