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Ball now in India’s court, says Pakistan on de-escalating tensions

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Maj General Asif Ghafoor
Asif Ghafoor (File Photo)

Islamabad, March 6: Pakistan on Wednesday said “the ball is now in India’s court” following Islamabad’s “peace gesture” of releasing an Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot but warned that the situation will “go bad” if New Delhi decides to opt for further escalation.

The remarks were made by Asif Ghafoor, the Director General of Pakistan Army’s media wing Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR), to CNN.

Tensions between the two neighbours heightened following the February 14 Kashmir suicide bombing that killed 40 CRPF troopers which was claimed by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM). India retaliated by bombing JeM’s biggest training camp in Balakot, Pakistan.

Later, Islamabad captured an IAF Wing Commander after a February 27 dogfight between Indian and Pakistani Air Force. He was released on March 1 as a “peace gesture” by Pakistan.

“We feel that now the ball is in the Indian court. Should they decide to escalate more, the situation will go bad,” Ghafoor told CNN.

Asked whether India and Pakistan were close to war, he said: “We were I would say close to war because when they (India) violated the airspace under token aggression, we went for response.

“Now it is up to India whether they take that (IAF pilot release) as a peace gesture and move forward towards de-escalation or continue the agenda that they have.”

Talking about the situation on the Line of Control (LoC), Ghafoor said: “Along the Line of Control (LoC) we’re are eyeball to eyeball. There is presence of troops at the LoC for decades. But post the Indian aggression and our response the safeguards have been taken by both side.”

He added that troops had been increased “because it is natural as part of military planning. When the situation gets hot there are safeguards. Those safeguards are in place on both sides”.

Speaking about the Balakot raids, in which New Delhi said that a large number of terrorists were killed, Ghafoor claimed that there were no causalties.

“Their (Indian) claims are false and I believe lately there is an announcement from their side also that they cannot claim any casualty.

“Anybody who operates from Pakistan, we feel, that is not in the interest of Pakistan. Instead of blaming Pakistan, it is time that the world should assist and facilitate Pakistan in getting rid of such organisations,” he said.

Asked if the Kashmir attack triggered the tensions, Ghafoor said the answer lied in the UN Human Rights Commission report which highlighted “Indian atrocities in occupied Kashmir”.

“The world has to see what is forcing the Kashmiri youth to go towards violence. So instead of looking towards framed allegation for this incident, India also has to look inward…

“We have to move towards resolution of Kashmir, because this issue is a flashpoint for peace in the region,” he added.

IANS

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‘Horror show’: Massive explosion in Beirut kills dozens, wounds thousands in Lebanon’s capital

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Beirut Blast

BEIRUT : A huge explosion in a port warehouse district near the centre of Beirut killed more than 73 people, injured over 3,700 others and sent shockwaves across the Lebanese capital on Tuesday, shattering windows and causing apartment balconies to collapse.

Officials expected the death toll to rise sharply as emergency workers dug through rubble across a swathe of the city to rescue people and remove the dead. It was the most powerful blast to hit Beirut in years, making the ground tremble.

“What we are witnessing is a huge catastrophe,” the head of Lebanon’s Red Cross George Kettani told broadcaster Mayadeen. “There are victims and casualties everywhere – in all the streets and areas near and far from the explosion.”

Three hours after the blast, which struck shortly after 6 p.m. (1500 GMT), a fire still blazed in the port district, casting an orange glow across the night sky as helicopters hovered and ambulance sirens sounded across the capital.

A security source said victims were being taken for treatment outside the city because Beirut hospitals were already packed with wounded. Red Cross ambulances from the north and south of the country and the Bekaa valley to the east were called in to cope with the huge casualty toll.

The blast was so big that some residents in the city, where memories of heavy shelling during the 1975 to 1990 civil war live on, thought an earthquake had struck. Dazed, weeping and, wounded, people walked through streets searching for relatives.

Lebanon’s interior minister said initial information indicated highly explosive material, seized years ago, that had been stored at the port had blown up. The minister later told Al Jadeed TV ammonium nitrate had been in storage there since 2014.

Footage of the explosion shared by residents on social media showed a column of smoke rising from the port district followed by an enormous blast, sending a ball of white smoke and fireball into the sky. Those filming the incident from high buildings 2 km (more than a mile) from the port were thrown backwards by the shock.

Lebanon’s health minister said more than 25 people had been killed and more than 2,500 were injured. Lebanon’s Red Cross said hundreds of people had been taken to hospitals.

DAY OF MOURNING

Lebanese President Michel Aoun called for an emergency meeting of the country’s Supreme Defence Council, according to the presidency’s Twitter account. Prime Minister Hassan Diab called for a day of mourning on Wednesday.

The explosion occurred three days before a U.N.-backed court is due to deliver a verdict in the trial of four suspects from the Shi’ite group Hezbollah over a 2005 bombing which killed former Prime Minister Rafik al-Hariri and 21 other people.

Hariri was killed in another huge blast on the waterfront, although on that occasion it was caused by a truck bomb.

It was not immediately clear what caused Tuesday’s blaze that set off the blast.

Internal Security Chief Abbas Ibrahim, touring the port area, said he would not pre-empt investigations. An Israeli official said Israel, which has fought several wars with Lebanon, had nothing to do with the blast.

The governor of Beirut port told Sky News that a team of firefighters at the scene had “disappeared” after the explosion.

“I saw a fireball and smoke billowing over Beirut. People were screaming and running, bleeding. Balconies were blown off buildings. Glass in high-rise buildings shattered and fell to the street,” said a Reuters witness.

Residents said glass was broken in houses from Raouche, on the Mediterranean city’s western tip, to Rabieh 10 km (6 miles) east). In Cyprus, a Mediterranean island 110 miles (180 km) across the sea from Beirut, residents heard the blast bangs. One resident in Nicosia said his house and window shutters shook.

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Pakistan Foreign Minister writes to UNSC on Jammu and Kashmir ‘dispute’

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Shah Mahmood Qureshi

Islamabad, Aug 4 : Amid Pakistans plans to mark the first anniversary of the abrogation of Articles 370 and 35A, which granted special status to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir, on August 5 with protests, rallies and other activities, Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has written a letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), highlighting Islamabads claims of what it calls “illegal and unilateral measures of August 5 2019 in the Illegally Occupied Jammu and Kashmir (IIOJK)”.

In the letter addressed to the President of UN Security Council, Qureshi has highlighted the ongoing tense situation in the Kashmir Valley and the “violations of human rights committed by the Indian forces”.

“Foreign Minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi has one again written to the President of UN Security Council sharing additional information on India’s continuing massive violations of human rights in occupied Jammu and Kashmir, its attempt to change demography and its escalating ceasefire violations and rhetoric against Pakistan which together pose a threat to regional and international peace and security,” read the statement issued by the Pakistan Foreign Office.

Terming the year-long lockdown and curfew imposed by the Narendra Modi-led government in Jammu and Kashmir as “military siege”, Qureshi maintained that with “internet and communication blackout, imprisoned Kashmiri political leaders and abducted Kashmiri youth, India is seeking to camouflage the ongoing systematic torture, extra-judicial killings and imposition of collective punishment on Kashmiris”.

“These atrocities epitomise India’s brutality in suppressing Kashmiri’s resistance against Indian occupation for over seven decades,” read the letter.

Along with the letter, Pakistan has also circulated two papers as official document for the Security Council: 1) On the legal aspects of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute; 2) On India’s violations of human rights in IIOJK.

As per the press release of the Foreign Office, the legal document “apprises the Council members and the world community of the legitimacy of the Kashmiris’ demand of self-determination”.

The second document details India’s violations of human rights which “will be a permanent and damning testimony of India’s long record of oppression and serious crimes against the Kashmiri people”.

Qureshi has also highlighted the ongoing ceasefire violations by India along the working boundary and the Line of Control (LoC), stating that “India’s belligerent posture towards Pakistan pose a threat to peace and security”.

Qureshi has “urged the Council to strengthen the UN Military Observers Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP) to enable it to report fully and accurately on the gravity of the security environment in occupied Jammu and Kashmir”.

Pakistan has also reminded the Security Council of its responsibility towards maintenance of international peace and security.

“I urge the Council to meet and consider the consequences of India’s military siege in the occupied Jammu and Kashmir and the serious threats that India’s aggressive posture pose to the peace and security of South Asia,” Qureshi said.

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Pompeo, Taliban deputy leader discuss intra-Afghan talks

The prisoners in question were named on a 5,000-member list given to the government by the Taliban.

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mike pompeo

Kabul, Aug 4 : US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and the Talibans deputy leader Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar discussed the much-awaited intra-Afghan talks and the ongoing situation in Afghanistan, a spokesman of the group said.

The talks took place on Monday via video conference.

“Both sides talked about the inception of intra-Afghan negotiations and the status quo emphasizing that release of the remaining prisoners are essential for commencement of intra-Afghan negotiations,” Khaame Press quoted spokesman Suhail Shaheen as saying.

“The Secretary of State also welcomed announcement of ceasefire by the Islamic Emirate on the eve of the current Eid.”

This comes as the both the Afghan government and Taliban have released hundreds of prisoners following the signing of peace deal between Washington and Taliban earlier this year.

Meanwhile, senior government official said on Monday that Afghan government is convening the consultative Loya Jirga, the grand assembly of Afghan elders and representatives, to find a consensus on the decision to release the remaining 400 Taliban prisoners who are accused of crimes including murder, drug trafficking and abduction, TOLO News reported.

The prisoners in question were named on a 5,000-member list given to the government by the Taliban.

The Afghan government has so far released 4,600 prisoners on this list but has refrained from releasing the remaining 400.

At least 3,200 people will attend the Jirga, according to presidential spokesman Sediq Sediqqi.

The prisoners, he said, are accused of murder and also for abduction, as well as other crimes.

The Afghan government has not made public any further details about the Jirga and its committees or its duration.

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