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Resources updated between Monday, July 01, 2019 and Sunday, July 07, 2019

July 5, 2019

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Hosseini Khamenei (File photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Security officials from Iran's ministry of intelligence raided the homes of eight Iranians who converted to Christianity on July 1 in the southern city of Bushehr, carting them off to solitary confinement.

The arrests of the eight Christians was first reported on Friday by Article18, an organization that promotes religious freedom and supports Iran's repressed Christians.

Article 18 wrote that intelligence agents " stormed the Christians' homes in a coordinated operation at around 9am, confiscating Bibles, Christian literature, wooden crosses and pictures carrying Christian symbols, along with laptops, phones, all forms of identity cards, bank cards and other personal belongings."

Alireza Nader, the CEO of New Iran, a research and advocacy organization based in Washington, D.C., told The Jerusalem Post on Friday: "Reporting suggests that Christianity is on the rise in Iran, along with other non-Islamic religions. This is a threat to the Islamic Republic, a regime based on a narrow and totalitarian view of Islam. As the regime faces more internal unrest, the more it'll crack down on religious minorities it views as threatening its stranglehold on religion."

The Article 18 report noted that "Arresting agents also searched the work offices of at least two Christians and confiscated computer hard drives and security-camera recordings" and "The officers are reported to have treated the Christians harshly, even though small children were present during the arrests."

The human rights website wrote the Iranian regime authorities have not allowed lawyers to gain access to the arrested Christians. The Christians are being held at a ministry of intelligence site in the Persian Gulf port city of Bushehr.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in late June after the US released its new report on religious freedom that "In Iran, the regime's crackdown on Baha'is, Christians and others continues to shock the conscience."

The U.S. has designated the Islamic Republic as a "Country of Concern" since 1999, because its regime violates religious freedom as defined by the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act (1998). Article18 said the names of the Iranian Christians who were imprisoned are: :Sam Khosravi, 36, and his wife Maryam Falahi, 35; Sam's brother Sasan, 35, and his wife Marjan Falahi, 33; Sam and Sasan's mother, Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, 61; Pooriya Peyma, 27, and his wife Fatemeh Talebi, 27; and Habib Heydari, 38."

According to Article 18, "Khatoon Fatolahzadeh, whose arrest came after six cars carrying security officials turned up outside her home, was released the same day due to her age."

The State Department's religious freedom report said that Iran's clerical regime "continued to harass, interrogate, and arrest Baha'is, Christians (particularly converts), Sunni Muslims, and other religious minorities, and regulated Christian religious practices closely to enforce a prohibition on proselytizing."

Peter Kohanloo, the president of the U.S.-based Iranian American Majority organization, told the Post: "The Iranian regime's recent arrests of Christian converts prove once again that there is no true freedom of religion in the country. If Europe cares at all about its Christian patrimony, then it should take seriously U.S. efforts at isolating the regime instead of undermining our economic sanctions campaign."

IRAN'S REGIME ARRESTS 8 CHRISTIANS, SENDING THEM TO SOLITARY CONFINEMENT Document

July 3, 2019

A photo of the terrorist after his arrest (Photo courtesy of the Shin Bet)

Israel's Shin Bet foiled a series of attempts by the military wing of Hamas to establish terror cells in the West Bank and arrested an explosives expert who entered Israel with a humanitarian permit for medical treatment.

The agency cleared for release on Wednesday that Hamas had attempted to establish terror cells in order to carry out simultaneous deadly attacks in Israel and had tried to smuggle in an individual who had been trained by the group for a year to set up a laboratory in the West Bank in order to manufacture explosive devices to be used in the attacks.

Fadi Abu al-Sabah, a 35 year-old resident of the Nuseirat refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, was arrested in Taibeh by the Shin Bet and the Israel Police on May 18, 2019.

According to the Shin Bet he was recruited to set up an explosive manufacturing laboratory in July 2018 by Ashraf Sabah, a 37-year-old Hamas activist from the Gaza Strip who had been released from prison in Israel in 2015 after serving 12 years in prison for his involvement in attacks against IDF forces along the Gaza Strip border and planning other terrorist attacks.

The agency said that he was first approached after Sabah heard that he was in the process of getting a humanitarian permit for medical treatment in the West Bank.

Fadi Sabah then secretly met with operatives from Hamas' Izz al-Din al-Qassam brigades and underwent "intensive military training" including training in how to manufacture explosives and explosive charges which he could then teach to Hamas operatives in the West Bank.

He was instructed to deny his acquaintance with his recruits and supporters in the Gaza Strip and was also briefed on how to act during interrogations at the Erez Crossing and by the Shin Bet.

The Shin Bet said that prior to leaving the Strip for his medical treatment Fadi received a coat

With a piece of hidden piece of cloth that contained code words for the purpose of encrypted communication between the Hamas military wing in the Gaza Strip and recruits in the West Bank in order to plan and carry out attacks against Israeli targets.

Fadi was asked to transfer the coat with the piece of cloth in September 2018 when he crossed through the Erez crossing when he went to Jordan to get medical treatment but he but failed to do so.

In early May 2019 he contacted a doctor in Gaza and paid her to falsify medical documents to show that he could not receive proper treatment for his injury in the Gaza Strip in order to ensure that he would receive a permit to be treated in Israel. Once he got the permit he once again underwent training in manufacturing explosives "in order to ensure that he was skilled enough" to train operatives in the West Bank, the Shin Bet said.

On May 15, he arrived at the Erez crossing carrying the bag containing the coat with the hidden piece of cloth that he had received with code words.

Fadi "took advantage of the humanitarian permit he received from Israel to enter for medical treatment in Hebron but in practice did not arrive at the hospital but joined forces with elements in Hebron in order to promote terrorist activities and carry out his mission," the Shin Bet statement said.

He was arrested in a joint Shin Bet-Israel Police operation three days later on May 18 shortly after he entered the Taibeh area in Israel. He was interrogated and a serious indictment was filed against him.

"The Hamas terrorist organization is constantly recruiting activists from the West Bank for military activity, transferring funds for this activity, preparing explosive devices and weapons, and setting up terror infrastructures," the Shin Bet said.

In addition to his arrest the Shin Bet said that another 11 Hamas operatives who operated near Qalqilya were arrested between March-May.

According to the agency the suspects were asked by Hamas operatives in Gaza to prepare an explosive device for a suicide attack in Israel. During the investigation the agency confiscated a number of weapons which were to be used in shooting attacks as well as a written manual for the manufacturing of explosives.

Another four Palestinians were arrested by the agency in the West Bank village of Arabeh in the northern West Bank for promoting Hamas suicide attacks.

"The thwarting of terror cells exposed the constant effort by Hamas' military wing in establishing terrorist infrastructures in the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israeli citizens," said a senior Shin Bet official adding that "this is a systematic and wide-ranging activity waged by the military wing against the West Bank and testifies to the strategy that the Hamas leadership continues to lead in order to destabilize the entire region."

Hamas terrorist arrested in Israel after using humanitarian permit to enter Document

A migrant camp in Libya (File photo courtesy of UNHCR)

At least 40 people have been killed and another 80 injured after an airstrike hit a migrant center east of the Libyan capital of Tripoli early Wednesday, according to the Health Ministry's emergency service Field Medicine and Support Center.

Images from the ground showed piles of rubble left where the buildings had been, while emergency crews worked to remove both the wounded and the dead.

The UN Refugee Agency posted to its official Twitter page that it was "extremely concerned" about the news of the airstrikes targeting the Tajoura detention center.

In a statement, the UN-recognized Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli condemned the "horrific crime," blaming the leader of the opposition Libyan National Army (LNA) who are currently assaulting Tripoli.

There is currently no independent confirmation on who was responsible for the attack. In their statement following the attack, the GNA said the airstrike on the center had been intentional and constituted a "war crime."

"We ask the international community through the African Union, European Union and (other) organizations to take a firm and clear stance against these continued violations," the statement said.

The United Nations envoy to Libya, Ghassan Salame, condemned the attack "in the strongest terms," adding that it "clearly amounts to a war crime."

Italy's Foreign Ministry and the African Union have also condemned the strike.

There has been no response from the opposition LNA yet. CNN has reached out to the LNA for comment.

Armed conflict in and around Tripoli escalated on April 4, when General Khalifa Haftar and his LNA launched an offensive to capture the Libyan capital from the UN-recognized government. Defending the capital are disparate Islamist militia that prop up the UN-recognized transitional government.

Human rights organizations said that they have seen both sides potentially committing war crimes, including indiscriminate attacks on residential areas and migrant detention centers.

"The drastic impact of the battle for Tripoli is even visible from space, with satellite imagery showing large swathes of the city now cloaked in darkness," said Magdalena Mughrabi, Deputy Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International, in a statement Wednesday.

The United Nations Security Council has voted to impose an arms embargo against Libya until June 2020, saying that there is "no military solution" to the ongoing conflict.

But Amnesty International said that the embargo is not being properly enforced and has accused Jordan, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey of flouting the ban.

US Senator Bob Menendez sent a letter to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Sunday expressing "deep concern" about reports that the UAE had transferred "US-origin Javelin missiles" to Haftar.

On Tuesday, the Emirati Ministry of Foreign Affairs denied ownership of weapons found in Libya, and said it remained committed to the UNSC resolution on Libyan sanctions and the arms embargo. The foreign ministry statement didn't mention Menendez's letter.

At least 40 killed after airstrike targets migrant center in Libya Document

July 2, 2019

A Sudanese opposition group said Tuesday that two of its leaders have been arrested amid a weekslong standoff between the ruling military council and a protest coalition that held mass marches this week.

The Sudanese Professionals' Association, which has spearheaded protests since December, said security forces arrested Yassin Abdel-Karim, head of the Sudanese Teachers' Committee, in the capital, Khartoum. The committee is part of the SPA.

It said they also arrested lawyer Abdel-Majed Aidrous in the northern city of Atbara, the birthplace of the uprising that led to the military overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir in April.

The group said security forces searched the homes of three other leaders. The SPA is part of the Forces for the Declaration of Freedom and Change, which represents the protesters.

A police spokesman did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The arrests came two days after protesters flooded the streets of Sudan's main cities in the biggest show of numbers since security forces cleared a sit-in outside the military headquarters last month. At least 11 people were killed in clashes with security forces, according to protest organizers.

The FDFC on Monday called for marches in Khartoum and elsewhere on July 13 and for a general strike and civil disobedience the following day.

The coalition is pressing the military to hand over power to a civilian-led body, fearing that the generals intend to cling to power or preserve some form of authoritarian rule. They have also demanded an investigation into the recent violence.

"We do not trust in the military council," activist Madani Abbas Madani said. "We will not put our weapon, which is the crowds of people, to just follow the road of negotiations alone."

The African Union and Ethiopia have stepped up mediation efforts aimed at bringing the two sides back to the negotiating table. They submitted a proposal last week that was welcomed by both sides, but the protesters have refused to meet with the generals until they fully accept it.

Sudan protest group says 2 leaders arrested Document

Protesters marching in Hong Kong in June (File photo couresty of Wikimedia Commons)

Hundreds of protesters in Hong Kong swarmed into the legislature's main building Monday night, tearing down portraits of legislative leaders and spray-painting pro-democracy slogans on the walls of the main chamber. Frustration was mounting over a lack of response from the administration to opposition demands.

Police carrying riot shields and firing tear gas moved in shortly after midnight to clear surrounding streets but appeared to have paused outside the legislative building. A spokesman had earlier broadcast a warning that "appropriate force" would be used in the clearance operation, but there was no immediate word on any arrests or injuries.

Video and images showed police advancing toward the legislature and firing tear gas at protesters near the government headquarters. The crackdown began around midnight.

The flashing blue and red lights of dozens of police vans and buses lit up the abandoned streets leading to the legislature.

The sharp escalation in tactics came on the anniversary of the former British colony's return to China, a city holiday, and reflected mounting frustration with Hong Kong's leader for not responding to protesters' demands after several weeks of demonstrations.

The protesters whacked away at thick glass windows until they shattered and broke and pried open steel security gates and propped them open with barricades to get inside. Police in riot gear retreated as the protesters entered about 9 p.m., avoiding a confrontation and giving them the run of the building.

CBS News producer Chris Laible said the demonstrators, mostly young people, earlier erected barricades at building exits where they thought police would come out. They propped doors and gates to the building open with any metal objects they could find, and used umbrellas to try to block the view of police inside the building. Police shot pepper spray through a hole in the door of the building made by the protesters, which drove them back for a while. But hours later angry demonstrators swarmed into the legislature after prying open metal security curtains. Police appeared to back off as the protesters came in, apparently to avoid a confrontation.

The demonstrators stood on lawmakers' desks in the main legislative chamber, painted over the territory's emblem high up on a wooden wall and wrote slogans calling for a democratic election of the city's leader and denouncing now-suspended extradition legislation that sparked the protests. Many wore yellow and white helmets, face masks and the black T-shirts that have become their uniform. Police announced about 10:30 p.m. that they would clear the area, asking protesters to leave.

The actions prompted organizers of a separate peaceful march against the extradition bill to change the endpoint of their protest from the legislature to a nearby park, after police asked them to either call it off or change the route. Police wanted the march to end earlier in the Wan Chai district, but organizers said that would leave out many people who planned to join the march along the way.

Police estimated 190,000 people joined the peaceful march, the third major one in as many weeks. Organizers estimated the number at 550,000.

Hong Kong has been wracked by weeks of protests over a government attempt to change extradition laws to allow suspects to be sent to China to face trial. The proposed legislation, on which debate has been suspended indefinitely, increased fears of eroding freedoms in the territory, which Britain returned to China on July 1, 1997.

CBS News correspondent Ramy Inocencio reported from the melee that both the combative protesters and the much larger group marching through Hong Kong's streets - said by organizers to be about 550,000-strong - were venting anger at the city's leader, Carrie Lam, and by extension her superiors in Beijing. Lam backed controversial changes to Hong Kong's extradition law that would let China transfer anyone accused of a crime in Hong Kong into the mainland's opaque court system.

Mounting frustration

The annual march was larger this year because of the simmering anger over the proposed extradition bill. Two marches in June against the legislation drew more than a million people, according to organizer estimates.

The government has suspended debate on the bill indefinitely, but protest leaders want it formally withdrawn and for Lam to resign. They also are demanding an independent inquiry into police actions during a June 12 protest, when officers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse protesters who blocked the legislature on the day debate on the bill had been scheduled to resume.

The police say the use of force was justified, but have since adopted softer tactics, even as protesters besieged police headquarters in recent days, pelting it with eggs and spray-painting slogans on its outer walls.

Earlier, protesters demanding Hong Kong's embattled leader step down clashed with police outside a flag-raising ceremony marking the anniversary of the former British colony's return to China. Lam pledged to be more responsive to public sentiment.suspended debate on the bill

Police used riot shields and pepper spray to push back hundreds of helmeted protesters who tried to advance down closed streets toward the harborfront ceremony venue, where the Chinese and Hong Kong flags were raised together and two helicopters and a small flotilla passed by.

At the ceremony, Lam said a series of protests and marches that have attracted hundreds of thousands of students and other participants in recent weeks had taught her that she needs to listen better to the youth, and Hong Kong's people in general. Lam has come under withering criticism for trying to push through the legislation.

"This has made me fully realize that I, as a politician, have to remind myself all the time of the need to grasp public sentiments accurately," she said in a five-minute speech to the gathering in the city's cavernous convention center.

She insisted her government has good intentions but said she "will learn the lesson and ensure that the government's future work will be closer and more responsive to the aspirations, sentiments and opinions of the community."

Security guards pushed pro-democracy lawmaker Helena Wong out of the room as she walked backward shouting at Lam to resign and withdraw the "evil" legislation. She later told reporters she was voicing the grievances and opinions of the protesters, who could not get into the event.

The following morning, Lam said she was hoping Hong Kong would return to normal.

Hong Kong protesters seize government headquarters, clash with police Document