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US and Russia agree new Syria ceasefire deal



Russian President Vladimir Putin and his US counterpart Donald Trump have agreed on a ceasefire deal covering southwestern Syria, during talks at the G20 summit, officials from both countries said.

The deal was reached during the two leaders’ meeting in Hamburg on Friday on the sidelines of the G20 summit of industrialised and developing nations.

“Russian, American and Jordanian experts … agreed on a memorandum of understanding to create a de-escalation zone” in the regions of Deraa, Quneitra and Suweida, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Friday.

“There will be a ceasefire in this zone from midday Damascus time [9:00 GMT] on July 9,” he added.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed the agreement, saying that it showed that the US and Russia were able to work together in Syria and that they would continue to do so.

“We had a very lengthy discussion regarding other areas in Syria that we can continue to work together on to de-escalate the areas and the violence, once we defeat ISIS,” he said, using an acronym for the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) group.

‘Resident feel unsafe’

Previous ceasefires in Syria have collapsed or failed to reduce violence for long, and it was unclear whether this deal would fare any better.

Al Jazeera’s Natasha Ghoneim, reporting from Gaziantep, Turkey, said that despite such announcements of ceasefires, fighting continues and residents feel unsafe.

“This week there were peace talks in Astana and ahead of those talks, a ceasefire was announced, but in the west of the country, rebels are in a fierce battle with the Syrian forces who are trying to regain control,” she said.

“Along the southern border there is sporadic fighting going on. The Syrian opposition is in control for the most part along the border with Jordan, but clearly fighting continues despite these ceasefires.
“We have spoken to residents in the southwest portion of Syria and they say that despite a ceasefire, they don’t feel safe and humanitarian aid doesn’t reach them.”

The United Nations welcomed the agreement between the US and Russia, saying it would enable upcoming peace talks.

The UN’s deputy special envoy to Syria Ramzy Ramzy said the agreement was a “positive development”.

He said he hopes other areas in Syria will see similar agreements to reduce violence.

Ramzy is in Damascus ahead of a new round of UN-sponsored peace talks in Geneva on Monday.

The Syrian conflict has killed nearly half a million people, according to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, and forced millions of others to flee the country.

Russia is one of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s most important backers and the survival of his regime is critical to maintaining Russian interests there. The US has argued that Assad’s regime must be toppled and backs “moderate” rebels fighting Syria government forces.


UK loses seat on International Court of Justice for first time since 1946



The UK has lost its seat on the International Court of Justice for the first time since its creation in 1946.

Christopher Greenwood, the current British judge, was running for re-election to serve a second nine-year term – but withdrew from the race after facing a run-off vote against India’s Dalveer Bhandari.

Although Mr Greenwood had a majority among the UN Security Council, Mr Bhandari won the most backing in the General Assembly – with the Indian judge’s popularity seen to be increasing as support for the Briton diminished.

Based at The Hague, the UN court has 15 members and its job is to settle disputes between countries.

The UK’s permanent representative to the UN, Ambassador Matthew Rycroft, said: “The UK has concluded that it is wrong to take up the valuable time of the Security Council and the UN General Assembly with further rounds of elections.

“The UK congratulates the successful candidates, including Judge Bhandari of India.

“We are naturally disappointed, but it was a competitive field with six strong candidates.

“If the UK could not win in this run-off, then we are pleased that it is a close friend like India that has done so instead.

The setback is being regarded by some diplomats as the result of waning international influence following the vote to leave the European Union.

Five judges are elected to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) every three years.

Ronny Abraham of France, Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, Antonio Augusto Cancado Trindade of Brazil and Nawaf Salam of Lebanon have been elected to the bench along with Judge Bhandari.

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From rail and airports to its first overseas naval base, China zeroes in on tiny Djibouti



Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh will arrive in China on Wednesday for a three-day state visit that is expected to further boost ties with the African nation.

 Situated in the Horn of Africa – adjacent to one of the world’s busiest shipping routes – Djibouti has a population of less than one million and is home to China’s first overseas military base.

With access to the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean beyond, the area is a gateway into Northeast Africa and the Red Sea region.

According to United Nations trade data, Djibouti’s exports to China – including leather, salt and cement – totalled just US$7,500 in 2009. That compares to China’s exports to Djibouti, such as vehicles and electronic equipment, which reached US$20.7 million that year. But the relationship between the two nations goes far beyond trade.

PLA personnel attend the opening ceremony of China’s new military base in Djibouti in August. Photo: AFP

People’s Liberation Army naval base

China is the seventh country to set up a military base in Djibouti, a relatively stable nation with proximity to restive areas in Africa and the Middle East.

But Beijing has played down military use of the base, claiming it will be used for “logistics purposes”.

It said the base would enable China to better support its peacekeeping and humanitarian missions in waters off nearby Somalia and Yemen, in particular.

Other countries with military bases in the former French colony include the United States, Japan and France, and these bases provide the country’s biggest source of income and employment.

China agreed to pay US$100 million per year for its base in Djibouti, while the US pays US$63 million.

Natural gas

Last week, China’s POLY-GCL Petroleum Group signed a memorandum of understanding to invest US$4 billion in a natural gas project at Damerjog. The preliminary agreement will be finalised in six months, with work to begin on the project soon afterwards. It includes a natural gas pipeline, a liquefaction plant and an export terminal.

The gas pipeline will transport 12 billion cubic metres of natural gas a year from Ethiopia to Djibouti, while the liquefaction plant has a target capacity of 10 million tonnes per year of liquefied natural gas.

Djibouti President Ismail Omar Guelleh arrives in China on Wednesday for a three-day state visit. Photo: AFP

Addis Ababa-Djibouti railway

The 750km railway linking Djibouti and Ethiopia is the first fully electrified cross-border railway line in Africa.

China Railway Group and China Civil Engineering Construction Corp (CCECC) financed 70 per cent of the US$490 million project. Under the deal, Chinese staff will run the project for the first five years, after which Ethiopians will take over.

Launched in October last year, it took four years to build and connects the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, to the Red Sea port of Djibouti – through which 90 per cent of Ethiopia’s goods are traded. Commercial operations are due to begin this month.


Two new airports in Djibouti were to be built by CCECC at a combined cost of nearly US$600 million under contracts signed in 2015. But the projects are expected to be put out for tender again, according to a Bloomberg report last month. It is unclear why the projects will go through another tendering process, but the report quoted a local official as saying that the Chinese company “will have no exclusivity”, although it can apparently bid for the contracts again.

Hassan Gouled Aptidon International Airport will be 25km from the capital and was due to open in 2018. With capacity for 1.5 million passengers per year, the airport is to have runways big enough for commercial jets including the Airbus A380.

The other airport, Ahmed Dini Ahmed International Airport, located in the north of the country, will have capacity for 767,400 passengers annually.

The Port of Doraleh in the capital, Djibouti City. China’s exports to the African nation reached US$20.7 million in 2009. Photo: Felix Wong

Free-trade zone

In January, Djibouti started construction of a free-trade zone with Chinese funding. The 48 sq km free-trade zone is being built by Dalian Port. The zone will be operated by the Djibouti Ports and Free Zone Authority in a joint venture with China Merchants Holdings.

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Mo Ibrahim: What makes a good African leader? – The Stream



Mo Ibrahim, the Sudanese-born British billionaire philanthropist made his fame and fortune by bringing mobile phone service to tens of millions of Africans across the continent. Now, he is known for the Mo Ibrahim Foundation, and its prize, considered the world’s largest, for good governance and leadership, awarded to departing African leaders that fit criteria established by the foundation.

Celtel International was founded in 1998 and went on to be a trailblazer in establishing communications on the African continent. The company is famous for never having paid a bribe, a story Ibrahim is fond of telling. Since he sold Celtel in 2005 for 3.4 billion, he has been focused on his foundation’s work and the annual index of African governance; an index with that measures political, social, and economic factors in all 54 countries. It is an ambitious tool, meant to increase accountability and provide Africans with information to ask questions of their leaders and governments.

The foundation’s prize was created as an incentive for African leaders to shun corruption, step down at the mandated time, and to provide departing African leaders with a livelihood after leading. The prize is not without some controversy, as some critics have said it’s akin to bribing a leader simply to do the right thing, or rewarding them just for doing their job. It awards $5 million USD over 10 years when the selected leader steps down, and $200,000 USD thereafter for life. But every year has not seen a laureate awarded. Since it began in 2006, only five individuals have been given the prize, and the prize has not been awarded for the last three years, highlighting the political challenges faced by some African countries.

The Stream meets with Ibrahim to discuss African governance, his foundation’s work, and the driving forces in Africa right now.

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