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Islamic Societies Review

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

US is already fighting a conflict with Iran – an economic war that is hurting the wrong people

by David Cortright*

Many are worried about the risk of war with Iran after the Trump administration leaked discussions of a troop deployment in response to claimed threats to U.S. warships in the region.
And in recent days, the rhetoric has only gotten more heated, with President Donald Trump saying a war would be “the official end of Iran.” Iranian officials responded in kind.
But the truth is, the U.S. has been fighting a war with Iran for decades – an economic war fought via sanctions that has intensified over the past year and has already been devastating to innocent civilians in the country.

Not only that, it’s also undermining long-accepted principles of international cooperation and diplomacy, a topic I’ve been researching for the past 25 years.

Carrots and sticks

Many nations have recognized that sanctions work best as tools of persuasion rather than punishment.

Sanctions by themselves rarely succeed in changing the behavior of a targeted state. They are often combined with diplomacy in a carrots-and-sticks bargaining framework designed to achieve negotiated solutions.

Indeed the offer to lift sanctions can be a persuasive inducement in convincing a targeted regime to alter its policies, as was the case when successful negotiations involving the U.S. and Europe led to the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, which ended sanctions in exchange for Tehran shutting down much of its nuclear production capacity.

A year ago Trump withdrew the U.S. from that accord and not only re-imposed previous sanctions but added further restrictions, including so-called secondary sanctions that penalize other countries for continuing to trade with Iran. Continue reading

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

David Frum’s cover story, callously titled, How Much Immigration Is Too Much, is an illustrative example of crude opinions rooted in alternative facts

David Frum’s basic argument is this: The Global South is a shithole, from where all people, especially the “strivers” want to escape to the developed world. The developed world cannot accommodate them and for this reason mainstream politicians should act, or else fascists will rise. The author willfully ignores two basic facts that are the root causes of migration, the uncertain journey to the unknown some people undertake, leaving behind their homeland and their relatives. First, people, like most animals, seek places with concentration of resources. Concentration of resources often result from hoarding and monopolies. Second, mass migration is directly proportional to severity of violent conflicts, corruption, and instability. In other words, people migrate to escape war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crime, instability, insecurity, and absence of rule of law.

Hoarding is achieved through legal, political, and military instruments. For instance, many poor countries can develop medicine, technologies, and products domestically and with a fraction of the cost of US counterparts. However, patent and intellectual laws prevent indigenous scientists for producing them domestically. People in Bangladesh, for instance, have died because they could not afford to buy US made malaria medicine and because Bangladeshi scientists were prohibited from producing it, though they can do so affordably. There should be a fair arrangement that protects innovation rights while accommodating underdeveloped countries through creative licensing schemes. The side benefit of such accommodation will be few Bangladeshis needing to move to the Global North to escape malaria-caused deaths for example. If Global South countries are not forced into unfair trade deals, their people would not be forced to seek resources and stability elsewhere.

Considering the role played by United States governments since the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, it is easy to see that the largest waves of migrants to the US came from countries that were destabilized through US (and/or allies) military interventions or clandestine operations. Mass migration from Vietnam, for example, was caused by US war in that country. The same applies to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Iraq (after the early 1990’s war), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (after the 2003 invasion), Syria, and Libya. And expect the same if the politicization of humanitarian aid in Venezuela persists.

Frum claims that the Global North is disproportionately burdened by the migration waves. That claim, too, is false. According to the most recent data, the least developed countries provided refuge to one-third of the global total of these displaced people–6.7 million. Consider Lebanon, for example: It is hosting as many Syrians as nearly a quarter of its population. Wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE are hosting none.

Here are some facts, to put the above points in context.

According to reports by the UNHCR, in 2017, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflicts; the top five countries are places destabilized directly or indirectly by the Global North:

  • Syria — 6.3 million refugees
  • Iraq — 3.1 million refugees
  • Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees
  • Yemen — 2.5 million refugees
  • Libya – 1.2 million refugees
  • Somalia — 986,400 refugees

Frum’s argument, is similar to the popular rhetorical narrative that says, people come to America because America is the greatest country on earth and people want to benefit from all the social and economic welfare programs in America. In other words, people migrate because they want free stuff. That is far from the truth. If social and economic welfare is the primary motive behind migration, people, including some Americans, would be lining up to migrate to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, and/or Netherlands because all these countries have standard of living, healthcare, and entitlements programs that are better than those in the United States. But migrants, if they must migrate and if given the choice, will come to America to escape the uncertainty and instability (tariffs, sanctions, sabotage, military action) that America can unleash around the world, including on those European countries with better social programs. Logically, if one must leave their home to escape instability, would it not make sense to move into the home of the source of that instability and the place least likely to be made unstable by other countries. US administrations’ propensity to shut down the economy and normal life in any other country is the main reason it is desired by the peoples whose countries are destabilized by US administrations’ actions. No one wants to leave a home where the fruits of their labor can be safe and secure for them and for their children. However, if there is a bully who can and does turn the controls of normal life on and off at will, it is only reasonable for one to seek refuge where that bully is unlikely to tinker with people’s life and livelihood: in the bully’s home. This truth is self-evident and that is why some anti-immigrant extremists, like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, embraced broad new policies that included making life for immigrants hellishly undesired to not only shutdown immigration but also to force recent migrants out of the United States of America.

Here are a couple of ideas to limit and or even stop migration. First, the wealthy Global North should stop hoarding resources and exploiting other peoples. Share. Second, the Global North should stop waging wars on, interfering in, and destabilizing the Global South countries.

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

Songs of freedom: the soundtracks of political change in Sudan

Songs of freedom: the soundtracks of political change in Sudan

by Mohamed A. Satti *

The uprising in Sudan has been vocal – and musical. “Tasqut bas!” – just fall, that’s all – was a commonly-used slogan by Sudanese as they revolted against military dictator Omar al-Bashir’s 30-year rule. The uprising, which began in December 2018, intensified over the following weeks, forcing Al-Bashir to step down on 11 April 2019.

Sudanese played a crucial role as they camped in front of the compound housing the military and security services in central Khartoum. For five days, the protesters refused to budge until the army removed the president from power.

During the days in early April, when the revolution gathered steam, the government expelled most international media outlets. So it was up to the citizens to capture the uprising on cellphones. These cellphone images and videos were soon circulated on social media platforms to Sudanese in the diaspora and to a global audience. Local media outlets continued with regular programming despite the government’s efforts to impose a media blackout.

Cellphone footage from the heart of the revolution all contained one thing in common: the familiar beat of music. This was to be expected. Sudanese music has always been heavily laden with political rhetoric.

The saying goes that everyone in Sudan is a politician, in reference to how politics creeps into everyday conversation. Sudanese also tend to be musically savvy and are inclined to know the lyrics to many popular songs by heart.

Previous revolutions in the country have been marked by particular songs. That hasn’t been the case this time, although the protesters chanted slogans to music that was accompanied by the persistent beat of drums.

Politics and music

The link between music and politics is not new to Sudan.

One of the earliest examples of how powerful lyrics drove political change was a poem entitled “Umm Dhafayir” – The Lady with Pleated Hair – by Obeid Abdul Nur, an educator and a poet.

Written in 1924, the poem urged Sudanese to rise up and fight against British occupation. The eloquently-articulated words highlighted the importance of the nation and urged the youth to fight for their homeland. Perhaps Abdul Nur’s rousing words provided inspiration to others to integrate political content in their lyrics.

“October Al Akhdar” (Green October) was famously performed by the revered singer Mohammed Wardi during the 1964 revolution that overthrew a military government and ushered in a civilian one. The song’s lyrics applaud the power of the people to bring about political change. The use of the word “green” in the title was a direct reference to agriculture and its importance to Sudan’s economy.

In 1985 Sudan again underwent change in its leadership through a popular uprising. Again the people took to the streets to oust a military government. Again elections ushered in a civilian government. And again, songs played a central role in the revolution.

Wardi’s lyrics played a powerful role this time too. His song “Ya Sha’aban Lahabak Thouritak” – which loosely translates to “Oh People Your Flame is Your Revolution” – referred to the immense pride and confidence Sudanese people have in their abilities. In the song Wardi yearns for Sudan’s population to stand up and to speak up for itself and to control its own destiny. The words empowered Sudanese to realise their ability to work for the good of the country with resolve and purpose.

Wardi died in 2012. The legendary singer is still celebrated as “The Last King of Nubia”.

Using songs

Sudan has endured a total of almost five decades of military dictatorship since its independence in 1956. Its people yearn for political freedom.

Democratic civilian governments have never been allowed to serve out their time in office. Songs are therefore used to instil belief in the population. Music seems to lessen the pain and suffering during difficult times.

What the revolutions of 1964, 1985 and 2019 have demonstrated is that political and economic hardships push people to defy the government.

But songs also have a unifying power. The 2019 uprising is a testament to that. Shouts of “hurriyya” (freedom), “shaabun wahid jayshun wahid” (one people, one army) and “al shaab yurid ‘isqat al nizam” (the people want to overthrow the regime) were repeatedly heard.

These slogans and lyrics were often accompanied by the beat of drums, the shuffling of feet and the swaying of hips. On the day that al-Bashir was expelled, a video circulated of a group of protesters playing music. One was playing a saxophone while another beat on a drum. Those around joined in the festivities.

In 2019, songs provided motivation and guidance. Protesters in Sudan could easily have been dissuaded from pursuing their goal of instigating regime change. Al-Bashir’s three decades in power made him a cunning and wily power broker and the fear was that another uprising could be crushed like many before it. The removal of al-Bashir from power to be replaced by his defence minister isn’t the kind of democratic change that the protesters were looking for and it remains to be seen how the scenario will unfold in the coming days.

But whatever happens, the protesters have persevered, united by a common goal and guided by nationalist songs of freedom – songs that will ultimately be etched in Sudan’s history records.

____________

* Assistant Professor of Communication and Media, American University of Kuwait 

Some of the ways Algeria’s past is shaping its future

Some of the ways Algeria’s past is shaping its future

by Dounia Mahlouly*

Bouteflika steps aside as Algerians push to reclaim and own their history
Algeria’s long-time leader Abdelaziz Bouteflika has agreed to step down following a series of mass protests against his original plan to bid for a fifth term.

After weeks of uncertainty, the country’s military chief Ahmed Gaed Salah declared the 82-year-old leader constitutionally unfit to rule. An interim leadership will be formed under the supervision of the army. Everything seems to suggest that the country is heading towards elections and a constitutional referendum.

Some observers have drawn parallels between events in Algeria and the “Arab Spring”. These mass demonstrations against corruption and acts of police brutality which swept through North Africa from 2011. The pro-democracy uprisings led to the overthrow of three authoritarian regimes: Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi and Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak.

Political pundits and analysts drawing these comparisons may be tempted to speculate about hidden agendas, or deplore the lack of a common ideological framework for the opposition. This is because, in countries where opposition forces failed to cohere in a meaningful way, the 2011 revolutionary momentum was easily hijacked by counter-revolutionaries.

But these debates miss the point. They overlook the social and cultural value of the Algerian protests. They also reveal that the international community has remained centred on the question of political stability since the civil war of 1991-2002. In fact, the singular achievement of these demonstrations is that Algerians have reclaimed ownership of their past.

This is apparent in the way that protesters invoked the memory of the war of independence. It could also be seen in their allusions to slogans or songs from that time, calling for “Algeria’s liberation”.

The memory of Algeria’s liberation was politically hijacked by the elites who’ve held power since the 1954-1962 Algerian war of independence.
The Oujda Group

During the independence war against France, the National Liberation Army placed Bouteflika in charge of the western border, close to the Moroccan city of Oujda. He became part of the Oujda group led by Houari Boumédiène. It was Boumédiène who helped Ahmed Ben Bella unseat the first post-independence provisional government in 1962.

Boumédiène then became defence minister, and had much influence over the government through the army. Bouteflika became foreign minister. Following political tensions at the top Boumédiène overthrew Ben Bella in a 1965 military coup.

Under the military-led National Liberation Front, Algeria was a one party state until the 1989 constitution introduced a multiparty system. Bouteflika became a member of the Front’s central committee when serving as a foreign minister. With the help of interior minister and the head of intelligence, he took office in 1999.

Bouteflika was initially able to gain popularity by acting as if he intended to break with his predecessors’ anti-colonial and pan-Arab traditions. He capitalised on the imperative of national security to build legitimacy in the aftermath of the civil war. Algeria remained under a state of emergency for almost 10 years after the end of the civil war. This was known as Algeria’s “black decade”.

Beyond the country’s borders, Bouteflika proved popular. The international community was particularly receptive to this narrative in the context of the post-9/11 “war on terror”.
Under Bouteflika

Under Bouteflika, the penal code was amended to impose punishments for any “insulting or defamatory” statement likely to harm the president. This law saw independent journalists and human rights advocates repressed in the name of national security.

During the same period, a law was promulgated which granted amnesty to terrorists guilty of committing crimes during the civil war. Implicitly, this new law exonerated members of the Algerian secret services. Many of them had served with the Armed Islamic Group. This was one of the two main Islamist insurgent groups that fought the Algerian government and army in the Algerian civil war.

Historically, the power elite – made up of the military, the secret services and the Political Bureau of the National Liberation Front – built its legitimacy on a distorted memory of the war of independence. This arguably added to Algeria’s post-colonial identity crisis and the climate of polarisation that laid the ground for civil war.

Bouteflika later capitalised on the trauma of the “black decade”, while depriving Algerians of the economic and social resources they needed to cope with the growing challenges regarding migration, climate, water scarcity and security. Ironically, this is partly the reason why the question of political stability still prevails today.
Looking ahead

This history demonstrates why the debate around today’s political crisis often misses the mark and ignores the real issues. It’s important to fully appreciate what it means for Algerians to reclaim ownership of their history with confidence – and to consider a world beyond Bouteflika’s troubled leadership.

___________________
* Senior Teaching Fellow, Social & Political Sciences, SOAS, University of London

Algeria breaks the wall of fear

Algeria breaks the wall of fear

by Jessica Northey and Latefa Narriman Guemar

 

Friday 22 February 2019 will be seen as a new chapter in Algeria’s long history of revolution and struggle, as massive peaceful protests took place across all major cities of the country. Starting tentatively on Friday afternoon, the protests gradually gained momentum as thousands of people, including men, women and children were peacefully marching, singing their national anthem and waving Algerian flags. This happened despite a complete ban on marching in the capital since 2001. On Friday, Algerians stood up to have their voices heard.

With the memory of violent repression of popular demonstrations, and Algeria’s Black Decade where hundreds of thousands of Algerians lost their lives, still weighing on the country, taking the decision to march in a political protest is not an easy one.

Why are they marching?

After weeks of uncertainty as to whether the ailing 81 year old President Bouteflika would stand yet again in a fifth election, the announcement by the FLN to launch his presidential campaign, brought deep unhappiness and dismay to many Algerians.

There are many reasons why people took to the streets. The Constitution was revised by Bouteflika himself in 2016 to limit presidential mandates to two terms, the FLN has ruled Algeria since Independence in 1962, there is a lack of governance and rule of law, and opportunities for young people are restricted by a small oligarchy that continues to monopolize power. These are just some of many motivations for people to protest.

Algerians have responded en masse, without violence or division. Sectarian slogans, Islamist calls, political parties and divisive messages were absent this Friday. Shouts of ‘Chaab w chorta, khawa, khawa’ (demonstrators and police are brothers) may have contributed to the relative absence of police repression. ‘Joumhouria machi Mamlaka’ (A republic not a monarchy) was another shout recalling the republican nature of Algeria, a cause for which more than a million people died during the war of liberation, including thousands of women. Indeed, and as on all occasions when Algeria appealed to its citizens, Algerian women are present, and their struggle remains crucial: to build, side by side with the Algerian men, a modern and republican Algeria in which the rights of each will ultimately be respected.

From Chlef, to Bejaia, to Algiers, women marched, reminding us of the importance of their regaining their rights to the city and citizenship. Women in the Diaspora, including large numbers of young women, also protested in Paris, Marseille, Montreal and London to support their peers back home in their protest to out the “Issaba” (Bandits). In London, a woman insisted on taking the microphone to lead the protest saying: not only do we not want a fifth term of Bouteflika, but we request radical reforms of Algerian governance of today.

Although it might appear to be, Algeria is not a dictatorship. Bouteflika is not hated, with demonstrators even wishing him good health. However, ordinary Algerians and young people in particular have simply had enough of the status quo, and of the inability of their political leaders – similar to so many countries across the world – who are unable to find solutions for a vibrant, intelligent and creative young society. This is a protest for justice, rule of law, equality, good governance and better politics. Young people want and deserve to have a place in the political, social and economic life of Algeria to build a brighter future for their country. Over the last ten years, they have done this painstakingly outside of the political sphere, through associational activism, through journalism and through community action – but this is not enough.

Nobody knows what happens next. These national, spontaneous, well-organised and principled demonstrations sow great hope amongst all Algerians at home and abroad. They also fear that the western media will misrepresent this important moment in Algerian history. Politics has already changed and will continue to do so. Algerians have been left to feel humiliated by the ruling elite for too long. They have now stood up to this arrogance and humiliation. Power has to be shared, it has to be honest and needs integrity, in line with the principles of Algeria’s founding Revolution in 1954 against colonialism. The voice of the people once again will have to be heard.

Elections in Libya: the difficult way ahead

Elections in Libya: the difficult way ahead

by Amal Obeidi*

Since the fall of Gaddafi’s regime in 2011, Libya has had three distinct electoral experiences, which have in turn given birth to three political institutions: the General National Congress (GNC), the Constitution Drafting Assembly (CDA) and the House of Representatives (HoR).

However, neither the elections themselves nor the institutions that they created sufficiently stabilized the country. The former faced serious security and participation issues. Minorities, such as the Amazigh (Berbers), Toubou and Tuareg, were underrepresented and boycotted the electoral process, while in Continue reading

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

by David Mednicoff*

The international crisis over whether top Saudi Arabian leadership murdered U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a striking example of the consequences of Donald Trump’s blanket disregard for democratic politics and human rights in other countries. This departure from decades of American foreign policy rhetoric remains comparatively undiscussed.

However, in the Middle East, my area of expertise, I believe this Trump policy shift opens the door to exactly the sort of flagrant attacks on individual freedom and safety that likely recently claimed Khashoggi.

Most criticism of Trump’s foreign policy has focused on two other major departures from decades of past American practice.

First, Trump has rejected the cornerstones of the post-WWII international order largely built by the U.S.: deep alliances among Western democracies and global free trade. Second, Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian rulers, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which has undermined American interests.

Yet, the Trump administration’s abandonment of support for democracy and civil rights hurts the interests of both Middle Easterners and Americans.

Did the US walk the walk?
In the past, U.S. leaders and officials within the government have shown interest in political rights and government accountability in other countries. Such talk has nonetheless often taken a back seat to considerations of geopolitical power or resources. Continue reading

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

Hajj: how globalisation transformed the market for pilgrimage to Mecca

by Seán McLoughlin*

More than 2m Muslims are currently gathering in Mecca ahead of the annual Hajj, which begins on August 19. As long as they are fit and financially able, the pilgrimage is an obligatory act of worship that followers of Islam owe to God once in their lifetime. Reenacting the faith-testing ordeals of Ibrahim (Abraham, the Biblical founder of monotheism) and his family, Muslims believe that an “accepted Hajj” will cleanse them of all their sins. Their hope is to return home as pure as the day they were born.

But until the introduction of modern transport systems, most Muslims beyond the Arab world had little expectation of completing this fifth and final pillar of Islam. Before the mid-1950s, the number of overseas pilgrims rarely exceeded 100,000 and modern Saudi institutions were still developing. Yet by the early 2000s, the total number of Hajj pilgrims had passed the 2m mark, reaching a recent peak of just over 3m in 2012.

New opportunities for pilgrimage in the jet age have put immense pressure on the infrastructure of Mecca. Hundreds have lost their lives during periodic disasters including fires and stampedes, most recently in 2015. Undoubtedly, the Saudi authorities have invested huge sums in continually seeking to improve facilities and the overall management of the Hajj. Hajj organisers and guides I have interviewed compare overseeing the pilgrimage to hosting the Olympics every year.

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Jonathan Eig’s hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali

Jonathan Eig’s hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali

Dave Davies, guest-host of NPR’s Fresh Air, introduced his guest and subject this way: 

Muhammad Ali may be the most famous American athlete ever. His life is the subject of books, documentaries and feature films. But our guest, writer Jonathan Eig, says he was surprised to discover no one had ever done a complete, unauthorized biography. Eig spent four years researching Ali’s life, speaking with his three surviving wives, his managers and hundreds of others.

The author, Jonathan Eig, tried to build credibility for his work thus describing it:

Based on more than 500 interviews with almost all of Ali’s surviving associates, and enhanced by the author’s discovery of thousands of pages of FBI records and newly uncovered Ali interviews from the 1960s, this is the stunning portrait of a man who became a legend.

The conclusion of this “meticulous” research, according to Mr. Eig, reveals that Muhammad Ali was “a flawed rebel who loved attention.” 

Here are some basic facts that readers (and listeners) ought to remember. First, Muhammad Ali passed away on June 3rd 2016–just two ago. Second, the book “Ali: A Life” was published October 3, 2017. Third, the author claims that he spend four years researching his subject matter, Ali. This means that work on the book must have concluded sometime late 2016 or early 2017 to allow for the technical review and production of the manuscript. That would suggest that Mr. Eig was doing his research about Muhammad Ali when Ali was alive. But Ali’s perspectives are absent in this work because the author did not sit down with the subject of his book. The book is filled instead with psychoanalytical statements, hyperboles, assumptions, and baseless interpretations intended to smear a figure towering above even those who hated him. Mr. Eig could not have sat face to face with Ali because Mr. Eig is a coward who would like to profit from telling a fake life story about a giant with the courage and sacrifices that no one can dispute–
after his death.

Neither Ali nor those who loved Ali claimed that Ali was a saint. To write a book telling the readers just that is most telling about the character of the author and to some extent, NPR staff who gave such an opportunist fame seeker space to delegitimatize a symbol of Black Americans’ struggle for dignity and personhood.

Revisionist history is common. This work gives revisionist historians a bad name. It is especially common for members of the elite to destroy the image of leaders of marginalized racial groups. This work do so without shame and with total lack of sensitivity to the family of the deceased. 
Building negative narratives about Black Muslim Americans is swift. It is also callous. This hit job on the character and legacy of Muhammad Ali, taking place when the dirt of the earth in which Ali’s body is buried is still fresh and when most of the people who loved Ali are still mourning, is offensive and bigoted. This is just another building block in the long history of white elite Americans telling Black Americans who their real leaders ought to be and why the leaders that Black Americans chose are flawed.

 

 

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Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Terms of the #IdlibDeal: Copies of the official document released by the governments of Russia and Turkey

Leaders of Russia and Turkey have agreed to create a demilitarized Idlib buffer zone in Syria’s northwestern province to separate government forces from rebel fighters based there.

The Russian president said that under the deal, all heavy weaponry, including tanks, rocket launch systems and mortar launchers operated by rebel groups would need to be pulled out of the buffer zone by 10 October.

Copies of the document the

two leaders signed was forwarded to the UNSC are displayed below.

Cover letter
Terms of the Idlib Deal

_________

 

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