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Melania, Ivanka forego wearing headscarves in Saudi Arabia

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Melania Trump

Washington, May 22 : First lady Melania Trump and the oldest child of President Donald Trump, Ivanka, on Sunday created controversy in the US when they refused to wear headscarves in Saudi Arabia.

Interestingly, Trump had criticised former first lady Michelle Obama for failing to wear the head covering when she visited the Arab nation in 2015, Efe reported.

Melania and Ivanka are accompanying Trump on his first international trip as president, arriving in Riyadh on Saturday, the first stop on a journey that will take him to Israel, The Vatican and to NATO and G7 summits in Brussels and Sicily, respectively.

The first lady and Ivanka on Saturday appeared at several official events in the Saudi capital with uncovered heads, although they did conform to the conservative kingdom’s accepted modesty norms by wearing sober outfits consisting of loose-fitting pantsuits with long-sleeved blouses in dark colours.

According to the Saudi kingdom’s strict dress code, Saudi women who go out in public must wear the “abaya,” a loose over-garment or robe, and many also hide their hair by wearing the “hijab,” or Islamic headscarf.

However, it is normal for foreign women visiting the Arab country as part of international delegations not to cover their heads.

For instance, British Prime Minister Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel did not wear headscarves during their separate visits to Saudi Arabia earlier this year, and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did not cover her head on her several trips to the kingdom.

“Many people are saying it was wonderful that Mrs. Obama refused to wear a scarf in Saudi Arabia, but they were insulted. We have enuf enemies,” tweeted Trump on January 29, 2015, using a common social network abbreviation for the word “enough.”

On the other hand, some Republican politicians, including Senator Ted Cruz, at the time applauded Michelle Obama for her choice.

When asked about why Melania and Ivanka opted not to cover their heads in Saudi Arabia, the White House said that there was no requirement to wear such coverings, CNN reported.

On his first day in Riyadh, Trump was warmly welcomed and feted by the 81-year-old Saudi king, Salman bin Abdulaziz.

The US and Saudi Arabia on Saturday signed a series of accords in various areas valued at $380 billion over the next 10 years.

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Middle East

Syria rebels in south announce return to talks with Russia

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Syrian rebels

Daraa (Syria) : – Rebels in Syria’s battered south were returning to talks with government ally Russia on Thursday after the most intensive bombing campaign yet in the regime’s two-week offensive.

Moscow has been brokering talks for the negotiated surrender of beleaguered rebels in southern Syria, a highly strategic zone bordering both Jordan and the Israeli-occupied Golan.

More than 30 towns have already agreed to fall back to regime control, and negotiations this week focused on remaining rebel territory in Daraa’s western countryside and the southern half of the provincial capital.

But those talks fell apart on Wednesday because of Russia’s tough demands, rebels said, ushering in a ferocious blitz of air strikes, barrel bombs, and missiles.

An AFP correspondent on the edge of the rebel-held south of the city of Daraa, the divided provincial capital, said the bombing was the heaviest since the launch of the Russian-backed offensive on June 19.

Twenty-four hours into the onslaught, rebels announced they were willing to return to negotiations.

“The talks will resume,” Hussein Abazeed, spokesman for joint rebel command in the south, told AFP.

He had earlier accused Russia of pursuing a “scorched earth policy” to force rebels to return to the negotiating table.

The joint command also issued a statement saying it would be willing to hold “a new round of negotiations” if a halt to hostilities was immediately put into place.

As rebels made their announcement, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights monitor reported a halt to both Russian and Syrian government air strikes over the south.

Read : Syria rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘fail’

The day-long volley began on Wednesday evening, after rebels announced the failure of talks with Russian negotiators over the south’s fate.

They said Russia had insisted opposition factions hand over their heavy weapons in one go, while rebels wanted to do so in several phases.

Moscow also reportedly refused requests from some rebels for safe passage to opposition-held territory in other parts of Syria, as was done in Eastern Ghouta and Aleppo.

The resumption of strikes hit areas near the border with Jordan and further west, according to the Britain-based Observatory.

Six civilians, including a woman and four children, were killed in strikes on the town of Saida.

Hours later, regime forces fully retook the town and also seized control of a security checkpoint on the Jordanian border for the first time in more than three years, the monitoring group said.

Rebels subsequently handed over a large swathe of the border area, amounting to 275 square kilometres, to regime forces without a fight, said Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman.

But the main prize, the Nasib border crossing, remains in opposition hands.

Syrian state media said government forces were targeting rebel positions in the southernmost parts of the province, and reported one person killed in opposition fire on government-held districts of Daraa city.

The bombing on rebel areas throughout the day Thursday sparked a new wave of displacement, with people streaming into olive groves and arid fields in search of safety.

Bahaa Mahameed, a doctor working in Daraa’s western countryside, said wounded civilians were streaming into his clinic after several days of calm.

“The warplanes are bombing like crazy. We can’t even find a safe place to put the wounded,” Mahameed told AFP.

– UN to meet –

Rebel territory in southern Syria was already included in a ceasefire agreed last year between Washington, Amman, and Moscow, but that did little to halt the regime’s attack.

The onslaught has sparked calls for restraint, and the United Nations Security Council is set to hold a closed-door emergency meeting on the offensive later Thursday.

Daraa is considered the cradle of the 2011 uprising against President Bashar al-Assad that triggered Syria’s devastating civil war.

Nearly 150 civilians have died since the assault in the south began, according to the Observatory.

The offensive has also displaced 320,000 people, according to the United Nations, many south to the border with Jordan or west to near the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights.

Both countries have kept their borders closed, despite mounting calls to let Syrians escape to safety.

The International Rescue Committee said displaced families were struggling to cope with 45-degree heat, dry desert winds and scorpions and snakes.

Children were reported to be hit with cases of diarrhoea and lice after spending more than a week on the border.

UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said the hostilities were hindering UN efforts to provide cross-border aid from Jordan.

“Thousands of innocent lives are going to be lost, once again, if urgent action is not taken,” he warned.

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Middle East

US withdrawal from Iran nuclear deal benefits no one: Rouhani

As the United States is reinstating sanctions on Iran, Rouhani is trying to seek supports from EU countries to secure Tehran’s interests under the nuclear deal.

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Vienna, July 5 (IANS) Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, who’s on a visit here on Wednesday, said that no one will get benefits from US withdrawal from the nuclear deal.

“Not the US, not any other country would benefit from this decision to withdraw from the accord,” he said.
He told a press conference that Tehran would prefer to stay in the deal and continue to cooperate and meet its obligations, if the remaining signatories respect its interests, Xinhua reported.

Rouhani was in Vienna on Wednesday on his second leg of his European tour, which also brought him to Switzerland.

As the United States is reinstating sanctions on Iran, Rouhani is trying to seek supports from EU countries to secure Tehran’s interests under the nuclear deal.

Iran signed the landmark nuclear deal (Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action) with the United States, Britain, France, Russia and China plus Germany in 2015 to halt its nuclear weapons program in exchange for sanctions relief.

However, US President Donald Trump decided on May 8 to quit the deal and vowed to re-impose sanctions, including oil embargo, on Tehran, on grounds that the deal had failed to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons or supporting terrorism in the region.

The US withdrawal from the landmark nuclear deal has been widely criticized, as some of its major European allies have been working to prevent the 2015 deal from falling apart.

Rouhani also discussed other issues in the Middle East region with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz.

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Middle East

Syria rebels say talks with Russia over south ‘fail’

The talks with the Russian enemy in Bosra al-Sham have failed because of their insistence on handing over heavy weapons.

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Asad Putin

AMMAN, July 4 – Syrian rebel negotiators and Russian officers failed on Wednesday to reach an agreement that would end fighting in southern Syrian, a rebel spokesman said.

“The talks with the Russian enemy in Bosra al-Sham have failed because of their insistence on handing over heavy weapons,” Abu Shaima, a spokesman of the central operations room representing main FSA factions negotiating with the Russians told Reuters.

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