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CAIRO, Sept 11, 2018 (News Wires) - Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki described on Tuesday President Donald Trump's decision to halt US funding for the United Nations Palestinian refugee agency UNRWA as an attack on international law.

Trump's decision has left UNRWA trying to cover a $200 million shortfall from Gulf and European donors, and has further strained tensions between Washington and the Palestinian leadership.

"The US administration has begun to attack the rights of the Palestinian people and international law," Maliki said at a meeting of the Arab League in Cairo, convened to discuss the issue.

Internationally-brokered peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians have stalled since 2014 and Israeli settlements in the occupied territories have steadily expanded.

Palestinian leaders say their political situation has deteriorated since Trump took office in 2017 as Washington has pursued policies that favour the government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is a close US ally.

Netanyahu has broadly welcomed Trump's support.

On Monday the United States also announced it would close the office of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) in Washington for seeking to punish Israel through the International Criminal Court.

Washington said last month that it was halting all funding to UNRWA. Last week, Trump ordered that $25 million earmarked for the care of Palestinians in East Jerusalem hospitals be directed elsewhere as part of a review of aid.

The United States said UNRWA's business model and fiscal practices made it an "irredeemably flawed operation".

Jordan, a US ally, said the decision would only fuel radicalism and harm prospects for Middle East peace.

Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi said at the Arab League that Jordan would hold a meeting "in cooperation with Sweden, Germany, Japan, the European Union and Turkey" on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly later this month "in an effort to get more aid".


GENEVA, Sept 11, 2018 (News Wires) - China will ask the World Trade Organisation (WTO) next week for permission to impose sanctions on the United States, for Washington’s non-compliance with a ruling in a dispute over US dumping duties, a meeting agenda showed on Tuesday.

The request is likely to lead to years of legal wrangling over the case for sanctions and the amount.

China initiated the dispute in 2013, complaining about US dumping duties on several industries including machinery and electronics, light industry, metals and minerals, with an annual export value of up to $8.4 billion.

It won a WTO ruling in 2016, which was confirmed by an appeal last year.

The case concerned the US Commerce Department’s way of calculating the amount of “dumping” — Chinese exports that are priced to undercut American-made goods on the US market.

The US calculation method, known as “zeroing”, tended to increase the level of US anti-dumping duties on foreign producers and was repeatedly ruled to be illegal in a series of trade disputes brought to the WTO.

The string of US defeats fuelled US President Donald Trump’s campaign to reform the WTO. Trump said last month the United States could withdraw from the WTO if “they don’t shape up”.

China told the WTO last month that the deadline for the United States to comply with the ruling expired on August 22.

The WTO published an agenda on Tuesday for a meeting of its dispute settlement body on September 21, showing China planned to take the legal step of asking for authorisation for sanctions.

WASHINGTON, Sept 11, 2018 (News Wires) - Two-thirds of American adults get at least some of their news from social media, even though many are sceptical about the accuracy of that information, a survey showed on Tuesday.

The Pew Research Centre report found 68 per cent said they used social networks for news, with 20 per cent saying they got information “often” from those services including Facebook and Twitter.

The percentages were largely unchanged from a year ago despite heightened scrutiny over misinformation and manipulation of online platforms, including by foreign actors.

More than half of those surveyed — 57 per cent — said they expect the news they see on social media to be “largely inaccurate,” according to Pew.

Still, most respondents said getting news this way has made little difference in their understanding of current events — 36 per cent said it helped their understanding of current events while 15 per cent said it made them “more confused.”

The survey comes with social networks under intense scrutiny as they become more important “gatekeepers” of news, with President Donald Trump and his allies recently accusing tech firms of political bias.

In the Pew survey, only 11 per cent of respondents said news on social media was “too biased” while 10 per cent said the information was “low quality.”

Concerns about accuracy were more prevalent among Republicans, with 72 per cent expressing this concern, compared with 46 per cent of Democrats and 52 per cent of independents.

An estimated 67 per cent of Facebook’s users get news there, as do 71 per cent of Twitter users and 73 per cent of Reddit users. But because Facebook’s overall user base is much larger, far more Americans overall get news on Facebook than on other sites.

Smaller percentages get news from other online platforms such as YouTube, Tumblr, Instagram, LinkedIn, Snapchat and WhatsApp, according to the report.

Pew surveyed 4,581 US adults between July 30 and August 12, with an estimated margin of error for the full sample of 2.5 percentage points.

PESHAWAR, Pakistan, September 11, 2018 (News Wires) - The Taliban are preparing to send a delegation for further talks with US officials about ending the conflict in Afghanistan, two officials involved with the process said on Tuesday, adding that the meeting could address a possible prisoner swap.

The two officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Taliban leaders were meeting to discuss the makeup of the three- or four-person delegation and the subjects to be discussed.

They said the Taliban would like to discuss an exchange of prisoners and could hold another meeting soon if the United States showed seriousness in talks by releasing prisoners.

"This meeting will determine the future talks and we would see if the US is serious and sincere in negotiation," one of the officials involved said.

"We would hand over a list of prisoners languishing in jails across Afghanistan. If they set free our prisoners then we would meet again for another great cause."

If confirmed, the meeting would follow an earlier round of talks in Doha in July, where Taliban officials met Alice Wells, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asia at the US State Department.

The Taliban delegation at the planned upcoming meeting would be led by the head of the group's Qatar-based political office, Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai, the officials said.

However they said the high command was planning to replace Stanakzai, who has been serving as interim head, with a new permanent head of the Qatar office.

"You may know Sher Mohammad Abbas Stanakzai was deputed in the Qatar office on acting charge basis. The top leadership is now planning to appoint someone else in his place," one said.

Hopes that peace talks to end the 17-year conflict in Afghanistan have stuttered in recent months, following the failure to agree a repeat of the unprecedented Eid ceasefire in June which saw unarmed Taliban fighters mingling with security forces in Kabul and other cities.

Over the past year, the United States has stepped up air strikes against the Taliban and boosted training for Afghan forces. However US officials say the goal is to reach a negotiated, Afghan-led settlement to end the war.

On the Taliban side, the assault on the strategic city of Ghazni last month that killed hundreds of soldiers, police and civilians underlined the insurgents' determination to increase pressure on the Western-backed government in Kabul.

The Taliban, seeking to reimpose strict Islamic law after their 2001 ouster at the hands of US-led troops, have maintained their refusal to negotiate directly with the internationally recognised Afghan government, which they consider an illegitimate regime put in place by foreign powers and say they will only talk to the United States.

As the push for talks has picked up following the Eid ceasefire in June, the United States has agreed to participate directly and has appointed former US ambassador to Kabul Zalmay Khalilzad as special envoy to reinforce the effort.

CAIRO, September 10, 2018 (MENA) - Commissioner-General of the UN Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA) for Palestine Refugees in the Near East Pierre Krähenbühl said that the US decision not to pay $ 300 million to UNRWA is a political one.

In an interview with Nile News channel on Monday night, Krähenbühl said that the UNRWA is going through a critical stage and is facing $ 200 million shortfall in this year's budget.

Krähenbühl thanked the Arab leaders for their support and lauded his meeting with Arab League Secretary General Ahmed Abul Gheit and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry.

He said that Egypt exerts strenuous efforts to support UNRWA, adding that Saudi Arabia and the UAE presented $ 50 million aid for the UNRWA to support the refugees and the Palestinian children.

JOINT BASE PEARL HARBOR-HICKAM, September 11, 2018 (News Wires) - The US military has identified the first two American troops from 55 boxes of human remains from the 1950-53 Korean War that North Korea handed over in July, the agency leading the analysis said on Monday.

The identities are expected to be officially announced in the coming days after the troops' relatives are informed.

"We will notify the family first," said John Byrd, director of scientific analysis at the US Defence POW/MIA Accounting Agency, as he stood among the remains undergoing review in Hawaii.

President Donald Trump's administration has hailed the handover of the remains as evidence of the success of his summit with North Koran leader Kim Jong Un in June. The White House said on Monday it was looking at scheduling a second meeting.

Critics, however, say the summit has so far failed to deliver on promised steps to get Kim to abandon his nuclear weapons programme.

The identifications will chip away at the 7,699 US troops who the US military says remain unaccounted for from the Korean War. About 5,300 were lost in what is now North Korea.

Forensic anthropologists are combing through the remains at a secure facility on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

Byrd and Jennie Jin, who leads the agency's Korean War Project, explained the painstaking identification process which includes methods for finding DNA in bone fragments.

Sampling for DNA analysis has been carried out so far on about half of the boxes of remains, they said. Some bone fragments are as small as a quarter. Other bones have decayed so much that they are little longer than a pencil.

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