Yemen: UN envoy arrives in rebel-held Sanaa for talks

By Mohamed al-Samei

SANAA, Yemen (AA) – UN peace envoy Martin Griffiths and head of UN observer mission Michael Lollesgaard arrived in the Yemeni capital Sanaa on Monday.

Griffiths will hold talks with Houthi rebels on ways of implementing a UN-brokered ceasefire in the coastal province of Al-Hudaydah, said a local source on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The UN envoy will also meet with Lollesgaard, who arrived in the rebel-held capital from the southern city of Aden, the source said.

On December 13, Yemeni peace talks held in Sweden concluded with a ceasefire deal in Al-Hudaydah between Houthis and the Yemeni government.

However, the warring parties have failed to withdraw from the province amid accusations of breaching the agreement.

Impoverished Yemen has remained dogged by violence since 2014, when the Houthis overran much of the country, including Sanaa.

Jordan to host second round of Yemen talks Tuesday

            <p>By Laith Juneidi </p>    <p>AMMAN (AA) – Jordan will host a second round of talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels on Tuesday.</p>  <p>A supervisory committee mandated with discussing a propose prisoner swap between the two sides is set to convene on Feb. 5, according to a statement released by UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths.</p>  <p>The committee reportedly includes representatives of the Yemeni government, the Houthis and the UN.</p>  <p>On Saturday, Jordanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sufyan Qudah confirmed that Amman had agreed to Griffiths’ request to host the meeting later this week. </p>  <p>Talks are aimed at hammering out a prisoner-exchange deal between Yemen’s Aden-based government and the Sanaa-based rebel group.</p>  <p>Last month, Jordan hosted a first round of talks between the two sides in hopes of reaching a mutually-acceptable prisoner-exchange agreement. </p>  <p>Late last year, peace talks in Sweden ended with a ceasefire being declared in Yemen’s coastal Al-Hudaydah province. </p>  <p>Since then, however, the warring parties have both failed to withdraw from the province in line with the terms of the Stockholm agreement.</p> 

UPDATE – Gaza delegations set out for Egypt for talks

UPDATES WITH ISLAMIC JIHAD VISIT, CHANGES HEADLINE

By Nour Abu Aisha and Hani al-Shaer

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Delegations from Palestinian resistance groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad left the Gaza Strip for Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian officials.

Led by group leader Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas delegation crossed the Rafah border crossing into Egyptian territory, a Palestinian security source said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

An Islamic Jihad delegation also crossed the border terminal to meet with Egyptian officials, according to group spokesman Mosab al-Barem.

The visit comes two days after an Egyptian intelligence delegation on Friday held talks in Gaza with Hamas leaders on Palestinian developments, a proposed Hamas-Israel truce and inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

Recent months have seen Egyptian officials engage in intense shuttle diplomacy between the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel, where they have held talks with Hamas, the Palestinian government and Israeli officials respectively.

Hamas delegation sets out for Egypt for talks

By Nour Abu Aisha and Hani al-Shaer

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – A delegation from Palestinian resistance group Hamas left the Gaza Strip for Cairo on Sunday for talks with Egyptian officials.

Led by Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, the delegation crossed the Rafah border crossing into Egyptian territory, a Palestinian security source said on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speaking to the media.

The visit comes two days after an Egyptian intelligence delegation on Friday held talks in Gaza with Hamas leaders on Palestinian developments, a proposed Hamas-Israel truce and inter-Palestinian reconciliation.

Recent months have seen Egyptian officials engage in intense shuttle diplomacy between the Gaza Strip, the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Israel, where they have held talks with Hamas, the Palestinian government and Israeli officials respectively.

Jordan to host second round of Yemeni peace talks

By Laith Joneidi

AMMAN (AA) – Jordan on Saturday agreed to host a second round of peace talks between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, according to the country’s foreign ministry.

In a statement, ministry spokesman Sufyan Qudah said Amman "agreed to a request by UN envoy to Yemen Martin Griffiths to host the meeting next week".

The talks will be dedicated to tackle the issue of prisoners exchange between the Yemeni government and Houthi rebels, he said. Qudah, however, did not specify a starting date for the talks.

In January, Jordan hosted the first meeting of prisoners exchange between the Yemeni government and Houthis.

On December 13, Yemeni peace talks held in Sweden concluded with a ceasefire deal in the coastal Al-Hudaydah province.

However, the warring parties have failed to withdraw from the province amid accusations of breaching the deal.

Impoverished Yemen has remained dogged by violence since 2014, when the Houthis overran much of the country, including capital Sanaa.

Afghanistan feels cornered as US rushes to withdraw

            By Shadi Khan Saif</p>    <p>KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) -  Kabul has blamed Pakistan for forwarding its agenda through the Taliban in the proposed peace talks as Washington rushes to withdraw troops from Afghanistan.</p>  <p>Details emerging from the Pakistan-sponsored round of talks in Qatar, Doha between U.S. envoy Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban have evidently upset the fragile government in Kabul.</p>  <p>On Monday, President Mohammad Ashraf Ghani publicly recalled the horrors and destruction the country went through after similar talks for peace failed in the 80s between the Mujahideen and Soviet-backed regime.</p>  <p>&quot;We have the experience of Dr. Najibullah's peace process, how he was cheated, the UN had given him the peace guarantee, but unfortunately it led to tragedy,&quot; Ghani said.</p>  <p>The U.S. envoy is wooing the Taliban to include the Afghan government into peace talks aimed at ending the 17-year war. However, the Taliban refuse to recognize the Kabul government. The ongoing talks in Qatar are a work-in-progress toward this end.</p>  <p>Ghani's top aide and vice president nominee Amrullah Saleh has taken a harsher stance on how things are moving ahead, accusing the Pakistan military establishment of organizing the Qatar talks to push its agenda.

Addressing reporters in Kabul late on Monday upon his return from Doha, Khalilzad said he had encouraged the Taliban to engage in direct talks with the Afghan government.

“We are in a hurry for the sake of the Afghan people to end the violence as soon as we can. We cannot leave the situation in a state of uncertainty. We need to complete the process,” he said.

  • 'Pakistan facilitator for talks'

Pakistan' Foreign Ministry spokesman Mohammad Faisal could not be reached for a comment despite repeated attempts.

However, in a weekly press briefing last Thursday he said his country's role and position on Afghanistan is very clear that all matters should be resolved through dialogue.

"Pakistan, as a part of the shared responsibility, is facilitating the talks between U.S. and the Taliban — and Pakistan and Qatar provided the necessary support and facilitation to the talks in Doha," he told reporters.

Kabul-based writer and political commentator Atiq Rehman told Anadolu Agency that Afghanistan feels sidelined by the apparent rush by the Trump administration to withdraw troops.

“Just a year ago, President Donald Trump issued a tough South Asia Policy with pressure on Pakistan to stop harboring the militants, and asserting there would be no timetable for exit from Afghanistan, but now they are in a hurry for withdrawal, and engaged in talks with the Taliban without any representation from the government, this is naturally worrying for President Ghani,” he said.

A number of Pakistani media outlets, including Geo News, reported that the Taliban pledged in talks with the U.S. envoy that the Afghan soil will not be used by Baloch separatist or Pashtun nationalists, who are engaged in armed and peaceful struggle respectively, against the Pakistan army.

In the views of former Afghan spy chief Rehmatullah Nabil this clearly indicates the level of influence Pakistan is having on the talks between the U.S. and the Taliban.

Such concerns in Afghanistan prove that the peace process ahead will be a rocky path to tread on.

*Islamuddin Sajid contributed to the story from Islamabad

Hamas says invited to Moscow for talks

By Hidaya al-Saedi

GAZA CITY, Palestine (AA) – Palestinian resistance group Hamas said it has been invited by a Russian think-tank to visit Moscow next month for talks.

In a statement, the group said it has received an invitation from the government-affiliated Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences to visit Moscow in February.

"The talks will dwell on a host of issues, including the internal Palestinian situation and the possibility of healing the inter-Palestinian rift," the statement said.

Last week, Palestinian Ambassador in Moscow Abdel Hafiz Nofal told Anadolu Agency a number of Palestinian groups will meet in Moscow on Feb. 11 upon an invitation from the Institute of Oriental Studies for reconciliation talks.

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh had been scheduled to visit Moscow this month, but the visit was later postponed.

Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah group have been at odds since the former seized control of Gaza in 2007 from Fatah after street fighting.

Peace deal with Taliban only tip of iceberg

By Aamir Latif

KARACHI, Pakistan (AA) – The U.S. and the Taliban are inching closer to striking a landmark peace deal that aims to end the lingering war in Afghanistan, but analysts appear to be skeptical about its implementation and sustainability.

The two sides have acknowledged that significant progress has been made in Pakistan-sponsored peace talks held in Doha, Qatar last week but denied reaching an agreement on cease-fire — Washington's key condition.

The Taliban have made it clear that until the issue of withdrawal of foreign forces from Afghanistan is agreed upon any progress on a cease-fire is “impossible”.

Even if a peace deal and cease-fire is reached, it is unlikely that all will be over for the Afghans reeling from a war that has entered its 18th year.

"There are still many hurdles in the way of a peace deal as the two sides have several issues to agree upon. But even if the deal is struck, there will still be huge challenges ahead for Afghans,” Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Peshawar-based expert on Afghan affairs told Anadolu Agency.

“The major challenge ahead is negotiations between Taliban and the Kabul government. How substantial these talks would be? Secondly, it is not only the Afghan government but the warlords who are not even in the U.S. or Afghan government’s control. It is very unlikely they [Taliban and warlords] accept each other,” Yusufzai added.

Citing the example of Abdul Rasheed Dostum, a staunch Taliban opponent, he said: “Dostum has killed over 6,000 Taliban. Now, how can the Taliban negotiate with him or others?"

Another major issue, he said, will be the future of over 300,000 Afghan security forces who have been attacked by the Taliban across Afghanistan.

He ruled out the possibility of a wide-scale civil war following the proposed pull out of the foreign forces.

Pakistan, which is believed to have enjoyed a degree of influence over the Taliban, acknowledged last December that it had arranged talks between the U.S. and the Taliban.

  • New Afghanistan

Amir Rana, an Islamabad-based security analyst, says the formation of a system of governance after the deal will be a key task.

"This is a new Afghanistan. It is not the 90s when one simply captured a country and enforced a rule. There is a new generation that has never seen the Taliban rule. There is a vibrant media, the civil society, and the women's rights groups,” said Rana who heads a local think tank.

Yusufzai agrees that the Taliban cannot simply capture a country and rule it like they did in the 90s, when a strict form of Shariah was in force — where public be-headings were common and women banned from public life.

“It is not only for the Afghan society but also for the Taliban to accept the new Afghanistan. Like many other things, one issue is settled that any change in system will be through ballot."

He went on to say that the Taliban are still not interested in democracy but they will have to convince their ranks to accept the ballot and share power.

Abdul Khalique Ali, a Karachi-based political and security analyst, said the Taliban do not seem to be in a hurry to strike a deal.

"Washington in principle has decided to come out of its longest war in modern history as soon as possible. Understanding this fact, they want to get the most out of it," he said.

The Taliban have spread their attacks across the country, he observed, adding that they seem to be "strong and confident".

Afghan Taliban meet US envoy in Qatar

By Shadi Khan Saif

KABUL, Afghanistan (AA) – The Afghan Taliban said on Monday they have resumed talks with the U.S. envoy in Qatar.

In a short message, Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahed noted talks in Doha will continue on Tuesday.

"Following American acceptance of the agenda of ending invasion of Afghanistan and preventing Afghanistan from being used against other countries in the future, talks with American representatives took place today in Doha, the capital of Qatar," he said in a statement, referring to the previously stalled talks with U.S. special envoy to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzaad over the proposed inclusion of Kabul in the negotiated settlement of the 17-year war.

Last week, Khalilzad visited Kabul and then Islamabad to push for face-to-face talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban but the latter refused.

The Taliban carried out two deadly suicide car bombings in Afghanistan in the past two days killing scores of people.