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Saudi king orders newspaper columnist to stop piling on the praise

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Saudi Arabia’s King Salman bin Abdulaziz has ordered an over-enthusiastic columnist to be suspended from his job after he equated him with God, Saudi media reported on Sunday.

King Salman has frequently been lauded by columnists in local media, in traditional deference to authority, since the 81-year-old assumed office in 2015.

But Ramadan al-Anzi’s column in al-Jazirah newspaper describing King Salman as “Haleem”, or forbearing, and “Shadeed al-Eqab”, strict in punishment – both terms associated in Islam with God – appeared to have gone too far.

Attributing divine qualities or giving individuals any of the 99 names of God is frowned upon in the kingdom, which follows the strict Sunni Muslim Wahhabi school of Islam.

The newspaper published an apology late on Saturday.

“The phrases and tribute which the author bestowed on the personality of the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, are not acceptable, despite what God had bestowed upon him, may God protect him, of the honor of serving the two holy mosques, Islam, the homeland and the people,” al-Jazirah wrote.

Saudi media reported that the king had ordered that action be taken against the newspaper, but no specifics were given.

In a message to Information Minister Awwad bin Saleh Alawwad, the king wrote that he was “astonished by some of the phrases used in the column”, according to Okaz newspaper.

Online newspaper, sabq, quoted the king as saying in his written complaint: “This is an issue that has distressed us, we don’t accept it and don’t approve of it, recognizing its dangers and the danger of being lenient towards it.”

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Middle East

Protests held worldwide against Jerusalem capital move

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Four Palestinians have been killed by Israeli security forces in the occupied Palestinian territories on Friday.

Two were killed in the Gaza Strip as thousands of people protested on Friday in the occupied Palestinian territories and across the world over the US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.

Another two Palestinians were fatally shot by Israeli forces in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, after an alleged attempts to attack Israeli forces.

More than a week after US President Donald Trumpannounced the decision to move the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, anger among Palestinians and their supporters continues to grow.

After Friday prayers concluded at al-Aqsa Mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, hundreds of Palestinians took to the streets to demonstrate but were prevented from entering the Old City by barricades put up by Israelis.

Marches also took place to the north in Ramallah and in Bethlehem, where protesters faced off with Israeli soldiers.

Palestinian officials told Al Jazeera that at least 10 people had been injured through smoke inhalation and bullet wounds.

At least one injured youth had suffered a serious wound to his neck, according to Al Jazeera’s Alan Fisher, who was reporting from the area.

Rallies against Trump’s decision also took place in the Indian city of Mumbai, the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, and the Japanese capital, Tokyo.
Al Jazeera’s Harry Fawcett, reporting from occupied East Jerusalem, said a call to action by Palestinian groups and a unified response by Muslim countries had helped keep the protests going.

“There’s been a pretty loud and unified response that came from the delegates at the Turkey conference on Tuesday. The Palestinian factions have as well called for larger-scale protests,” he said.

The US announcement attracted strong condemnation from Muslim countries, and the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) declared East Jerusalem the capital of Palestine in response at its meeting in Istanbul this week.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, has dismissed the move.

“The truth will win in the end and many countries will certainly recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and also move their embassies,” he said in response to the OIC declaration.

Al Jazeera’s Hoda Abdel Hamid, reporting from Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, said protesters wanted to see “words turned into action”.

“They’re growing impatient…and some of the people you speak to do feel at some point Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, a man who has dedicated 20 years of his life to the peace process, might bow to international or US pressure.”

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Russia’s Putin visits Syria airbase and orders start of pullout

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BBC — President Vladimir Putin has ordered the partial withdrawal of Russian troops from Syria, during an unannounced visit there on Monday.

Mr Putin was met by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad as he arrived at the Russian Hmeimim airbase, near Latakia.

Russian military support has been crucial in turning the tide of Syria’s civil war in Mr Assad’s favour.

Mr Putin made a similar withdrawal announcement last year, but Russian military operations continued.

“I order the defence minister and the chief of the general staff to start withdrawing the Russian group of troops to their permanent bases,” Mr Putin said on Tuesday, according to the Russian RIA Novosti news agency.

“I have taken a decision: a significant part of the Russian troop contingent located in Syria is returning home to Russia,” he added.

Mr Putin said that if “terrorists raise their heads again”, Russia would “carry out such strikes on them which they have never seen”.

“We will never forget the victims and losses suffered in the fight against terror both here in Syria and also in Russia,” he said.

He told President Assad that Russia wanted to work with Iran, the government’s other key ally, and Turkey, which backs the opposition, to help bring peace to Syria.

Last week, Mr Putin announced the “total rout” of jihadist militants from so-called Islamic State (IS) along the Euphrates river valley in eastern Syria.
Russia launched an air campaign in Syria in September 2015 with the aim of “stabilising” Mr Assad’s government after a series of defeats.

Officials in Moscow stressed that it would target only “terrorists”, but activists said its strikes mainly hit mainstream rebel fighters and civilians.

The campaign has allowed pro-government forces to break the deadlock on several key battlefronts, most notably in Aleppo.

The Syrian and Russian air forces carried out daily air strikes on the rebel-held east of the city before it fell in December 2016, killing hundreds of people and destroying hospitals, schools and markets, according to UN human rights investigators.

Moscow has consistently denied that its air strikes have caused any civilian deaths.

However, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Sunday that Russian air strikes had killed 6,328 civilians , including 1,537 children.

The UK-based monitoring group has documented the deaths of 346,612 people in total since the start of the uprising against Mr Assad in 2011.

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US Jerusalem move: Fury spreads from Jakarta to Rabat

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AL JAZEERA — A wave of anger against a US decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital has spread from Asia, through the Middle East, to North Africa, with tens of thousands of people taking to the streets to denounce the controversial move.

Protesters filled central avenues and squares in a number of major international cities on Sunday, waving the flag of Palestine and shouting slogans to express their solidarity with the Palestinians, who see East Jerusalem as the capital of their future state.

US President Donald Trump’s announcement on Wednesday drew near-universal condemnation from world leaders and inflamed the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with violence flaring up in the occupied Palestinian territories for a fifth day.

According to the Palestinian Red Crescent, 157 people were injured on Sunday in confrontations with Israeli forces in the occupied West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza.

At least four Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since the US declaration.
Clashes also erupted on Sunday at a protest in Beirut, where demonstrators fought with security forces outside the US embassy in the Lebanese capital.

Demonstrators set fires in the street, torched US and Israeli flags and threw stones at police officers, who responded with tear gas and water cannon.

Adnan Abdullah, a protester in Beirut, said Trump’s Jerusalem decision “will not happen as long as there are people like us”.

Another demonstrator, whose face was hidden behind a black mask, held up a tear gas canister and condemned Lebanese forces for “defending America”.

He went on to add, “There is no one by our side. None of the Arab countries. Oh God, we will raise the Palestinian flag”

Arab foreign ministers, in a resolution on Sunday, urged Trump to rescind the decision and have called for a UN Security Council condemnation of the shift in US policy.

Meanwhile, more than 5,000 Indonesians rallied outside the US embassy in Jakarta to vent their anger for a second day. Protesters carried Palestinian flags and banners saying “Pray for Palestine”.

“We are not satisfied with just official statements,” said Nurjannah Nurwani, one of the lead organisers of the gathering. “We need follow-up, international lobbying which could pressure them into withdrawing their decision.”

Another female protester in Jakarta urged Trump to “use his brain” and “withdraw from Jerusalem”.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo has condemned Trump’s decision. On Thursday, he ordered the US ambassador in Jakarta to be summoned over the move.

In Turkey’s Istanbul, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets again, transforming the city’s Yenikapi Square into a sea of Turkish and Palestinian flags.

“I feel like I should defend Palestine because I don’t know any other way to defend them,” said Ananda Sereka, who was at the protest. “So this is what I can do. This is the least I can do.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, one of the most vocal critics of Trump’s move, has called the declaration “null and void” and vowed to fight it.

He has also called a summit of Islamic countries to discuss the move on Wednesday.

In Rabat, Morocco’s capital, protesters yelled slurs against Trump and carried banners saying Jerusalem belonged to Palestine.

Al Jazeera’s Hashem Ahelbarra, reporting from Rabat, said the protest was “a show of solidarity with the Palestinian people but also an opportunity to express anger” over Trump’s decision.

“The protesters came from all walks of life,” he said. “Government officials, members of the opposition, seculars and conservatives – all denouncing what they consider to be a decision that could destabilise the region.”

Mohamed Boussaid, Morocco’s finance minister, said the demonstration was a way “to express our indignation and un-satisfaction” and to show that “we refuse completely the decision taken by the president of the US”.

Protester Mohamed Alghram agreed.

“We totally reject the decision that targets the most sacred place for us and we say no,” he said. “Jerusalem is a red line.”

Jerusalem is home to Islam’s third holiest site and its status is deeply sensitive for Muslims.

In Indian-administered Kashmir, protesters took a different approach.

Residents of the capital Srinagar, home to 1.1 million people, closed their shops and abandoned the streets in protest. Salman Khan, a Srinagar resident, told the ANI news agency that Trump’s decision was “completely unjust”.

Muslim solidarity with Palestine also spread to the war-torn nations of Yemen and Syria.

Further protests were held in Egypt, where students and professors demonstrated at the Al-Azhar university.

In Pakistan’s Karachi, hundreds of protesters marched towards the US Consulate in the city, but were turned back by riot police.

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