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Former Israeli FM Livni Returns To Politics

Tzipi Livni (file photo)
Tzipi Livni (file photo)
Israel's former foreign minister, Tzipi Livni, has announced she is returning to politics.

At a news conference in Tel Aviv on November 27, she said she was creating a new political party called The Movement.

Livni promised that she would "fighting for peace" with the Palestinians.

During the press conference, Livni criticized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government for the deadlock in peace talks with the Palestinians.

Her announcement comes ahead of Israel’s elections due on January 22.

Livni resigned from parliament in May after losing her position as leader of the center-right opposition Kadima party.

Livni served as foreign minister and chief peace negotiator from 2006 to 2009.

Based on reporting by AFP and AP

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U.S. Imposes Sanctions On Dozens Of People Over Rights Abuses In Nine Countries

The United States has imposed sanctions on dozens of people in several countries, including in Afghanistan, China, and Iran, cracking down on human rights abuses ahead of Human Rights Day on December 10. The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement on December 8 said it had imposed sanctions on 20 people over human rights abuses in nine countries. The actions include sanctions on members of the Taliban over their links to the repression of women and girls and on two Iranian intelligence officials who allegedly recruited people for operations in the United States.

Belarusian Court Labels RFE/RL Social Media Accounts 'Extremist'

A court in the southeastern Belarusian city of Homel on December 7 labeled the Telegram, YouTube, X, and TikTok accounts of RFE/RL's Belarus Service, known locally as Radio Svaboda, as "extremist." Earlier, Belarusian authorities added to the list of extremists Svaboda's logo, its accounts on the Facebook, Instagram, VKontakte, and Odnoklassniki social networks, as well as the TikTok accounts of RFE/RL's Russian and Ukrainian services. Svaboda's website has been blocked in Belarus since August 2020 when unprecedented protests erupted over the official results of the presidential election that announced authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka the winner. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

IOC Approves Participation Of Russian, Belarusian Athletes As Neutrals

The International Olympic Committee on December 8 agreed to allow individual Russian and Belarusian athletes the opportunity to participate in events as long as they do so as neutrals and have not actively supported the Kremlin's war against Ukraine or have been contracted with the military in their countries. The IOC said in a statement that eight Russian and three Belarusian athletes currently meet the requirements and have qualified for the Paris Olympics next year. Teams of Russian or Belarusian athletes are still barred.

Lithuania Investigates Granting Of Citizenship To Relatives Of Russian Tycoon Abramovich

Roman Abramovich
Roman Abramovich

Lithuania's Interior Ministry said on December 7 that a commission has been established to investigate how relatives of Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich were able to obtain citizenship in the Baltic nation. The Center for Corruption and Organized Crime Research (OCCRP) and its partner in Lithuania, Siena, reported this week that Abramovich's 30-year-old son, Arkady, and 31-year-old daughter, Anna, are holders of Lithuanian passports, which are used to evade Western sanctions. In January, The Guardian wrote that Roman Abramovich transferred ownership of $4 billion in trusts to his seven children three weeks before Russia launched its ongoing unprovoked aggression against Ukraine. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Iranian Opposition Figure Says Student Crackdown 'Unprecedented,' But Will Fail

Zahra Rahnavard (file photo)
Zahra Rahnavard (file photo)

Prominent Iranian opposition figure Zahra Rahnavard says the government crackdown on students angry over a lack of freedoms and enforcement of rules such as a dress code is "unprecedented" but ultimately will fail to stifle the dissent.

Rahnavard, who has been under house arrest for over 13 years along with her husband, Mir Hossein Musavi, made the comments in a message timed to coincide with Student Day in Iran, marked on December 7. The text was published on the Kalameh news website, a platform known for its opposition to the Iranian regime.

"No government in Iran has been able to stop the student movement from influencing the fate of the nation," she wrote.

"On the contrary, it has been academics who, with knowledge, culture, and art, development and modernity, along with defending justice, freedom, and the independence of Iran, have had the most impact in the fear of repressive governments," she added.

She also criticized the government's recent actions against university students and faculty, detailing incidents of violence, harassment, and repression on university campuses. These actions, according to Rahnavard, have led to a tarnished international reputation for the Iranian government.

Universities and students have long been at the forefront of the struggle for greater social and political freedoms in Iran. In 1999, students protested the closure of a reformist daily newspaper, prompting a brutal raid on the dorms of Tehran University that left one student dead.

Over the years, the authorities have arrested student activists and leaders, sentencing them to prison and banning them from studying.

The death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini last year while being detained for an alleged head-scarf violation in September last year has once again made campuses a hotbed of dissent.

The activist HRANA news agency says at least 700 university students have been arrested during the nationwide protests sparked by Amini's death in September 2022.

Rahnavard was previously a professor at Alzahra University and says she "has been a victim and deprived of a university presence for over 14 years."

Written by Ardeshir Tayebi based on an original story in Persian by RFE/RL's Radio Farda

Russia Adds Journalist Masha Gessen To Its Wanted List

Masha Gessen
Masha Gessen

Russia's Interior Ministry has added Russian-American journalist, writer, and outspoken Kremlin critic Masha Gessen to its wanted list. Gessen's name appeared on the ministry's list on December 8 without specifying what the journalist is wanted for. Media reports said earlier that a probe against Gessen was launched in late August on a charge of distributing "fake" information about Russia's armed forces. The charge stemmed from Gessen's interview with Russian journalist Yury Dud about alleged atrocities committed by Russian troops against civilians in Ukraine, the reports said. Gessen led RFE/RL's Russian Service in 2012-13. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Azerbaijan Tipped To Host COP29 Climate Talks, Says Russia Backs It

The COP28 climate summit in Dubai
The COP28 climate summit in Dubai

Azerbaijan is tipped to host next year's UN climate summit after striking a deal with longtime adversary Armenia over its bid. Diplomatic sources told Reuters the Azerbaijani bid looked set to win support from other nations, though the issue is still being negotiated at the COP28 climate summit in Dubai. The decision about who will take over from current COP28 host, the U.A.E., has been in an unprecedented geopolitical deadlock after Russia said it would veto any EU country's bid. Azerbaijan confirmed on December 7 that it had struck a deal with Armenia that allows Baku to bid to host the talks.

Russian Opposition Politician Ilya Yashin Placed In Stricter Regime Unit At Penal Colony

Ilya Yashin
Ilya Yashin

Russian opposition politician Ilya Yashin, who is serving an 8 1/2-year prison term for his criticism of Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, has been placed in a stricter regime unit in his penal colony after serving five days in solitary confinement, his Telegram channel said on December 8. Yashin is not allowed to use a phone to call his relatives now; parcels and visitations are also restricted. Yashin said earlier that he was under pressure after he challenged the Kremlin in video testimony last week at a court hearing that fined him for failing to follow so-called "foreign agent" requirements. To read the original story by Current Time, click here.

Turkmen Activist Believed To Be Missing In Russia

Turkmen activist Malikberdi Allamyradov
Turkmen activist Malikberdi Allamyradov

Independent websites monitoring developments in Turkmenistan quoted friends and colleagues of noted Turkmen opposition activist Malikberdi Allamyradov as saying that he has been missing since December 4, adding that traces of blood and a possible struggle were discovered in his residence, while the wires to security cameras on the premises were cut. Allamyradov used to study at a university in Russia's Republic of Kalmykia. Fearing for his safety, he moved to the Moscow region. Last year, after he held a single-person picket in Moscow criticizing the Turkmen authorities, Russian police detained him and he barely escaped deportation. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Turkmen Service, click here.

Kazakhstan In Takeover Of ArcelorMittal Subsidiary Following Deadly Coal Mine

Kazakh Industry Minister Qanat Sharlapaev (file photo)
Kazakh Industry Minister Qanat Sharlapaev (file photo)

Kazakh Industry Minister Qanat Sharlapaev said on December 7 that the Central Asian nation's government had bought ArcelorMittal's subsidiary for $286 million following a coal mine accident in the central region of Qaraghandy in October that killed 46 miners. In 2006, two accidents at mines under ArcelorMittal’s control killed 51 people. ArcelorMittal, led by the Luxembourg-based Indian businessman Lakshmi Mittal, had controlled coal mines in the Qaraghandy region for 30 years. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Germany Delivers Fresh Military Aid Package To Ukraine

German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (right) and Ukraine's Defense Minister Rustem Umerov in Kyiv on November 21.
German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius (right) and Ukraine's Defense Minister Rustem Umerov in Kyiv on November 21.

Germany has delivered a new package of military aid to Ukraine that includes shells, drones, and vehicles, the government in Berlin said in a statement. It said the new package included 10 Vector reconnaissance drones, 1,750 artillery shells, 70 grenade launchers, six patrol cars, and eight trucks, as well as 100,000 military first-aid kits. Germany is second only to the United States in terms of military aid provided to Kyiv. Last month, Germany pledged a further 1.3 billion euros ($1.42 billion) in military aid for Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service, click here.

Police In Belarus Detain Two Journalists Amid Crackdown

Police detained the chief editor of the Ranak television channel, Yulia Dauletava, and correspondent Lyudmila Andenka on extremism charges.
Police detained the chief editor of the Ranak television channel, Yulia Dauletava, and correspondent Lyudmila Andenka on extremism charges.

Police in the southeastern Belarusian city of Svetlahorsk on December 8 detained the chief editor of the Ranak television channel, Yulia Dauletava, and correspondent Lyudmila Andenka on extremism charges as a crackdown on independent journalists and democratic institutions continues. In September, the Interior Ministry labeled Ranak as an "extremist group." Also on December 8, the British government added 17 Belarusian prosecutors, judges, and investigators to its sanctions list for their roles in a crackdown on dissent and independent media. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Belarus Service, click here.

Ninety-Six Kyrgyz Women, Children Repatriated From Syria

Kyrgyz authorities said in 2018 that 850 Kyrgyz nationals had joined terrorist organizations in Syria in Iraq. (file photo)
Kyrgyz authorities said in 2018 that 850 Kyrgyz nationals had joined terrorist organizations in Syria in Iraq. (file photo)

The Kyrgyz Foreign Ministry said on December 8 that 96 Kyrgyz citizens, including 31 women and 65 children, returned to Bishkek from Syria with assistance of international organizations. Earlier in October, 21 Kyrgyz women and 62 children return to the Central Asian nation through a special program. Before that, two repatriation missions had been organized since January 2023, during which 49 and 105 children returned to Bishkek. Kyrgyz authorities said in 2018 that 850 Kyrgyz nationals, including about 140 women, had joined terrorist organizations in Syria in Iraq, of whom 150 were killed there. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Kyrgyz Activist Who Protested National Flag's Change Detained

Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)
Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov (file photo)

Kyrgyz activist Aftandil Jorobekov, who openly protested against amending Kyrgyzstan's national flag, has been detained after being charged with calling for mass disorder and disobeying the authorities' legal requirements, his lawyer told RFE/RL late on December 7. The bill that was approved by lawmakers in its first reading last week says that the wavy yellow sunrays on a red field on the current flag give the impression of a sunflower. The Kyrgyz word for sunflower is kunkarama, which also has a second meaning -- "dependent." The bill would allow the "straightening" of the sunrays to make it look more like a sun. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service, click here.

Kazakh Court Upholds Decision To Fine RFE/RL For 'Distribution of False Information'

The Almaty City Court on December 7 rejected an appeal by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, locally known as Radio Azattyq, against a lower court decision last month to fine the media outlet 103,500 tenges ($220) for "violating a law on the distribution of 'false information.'" The charge was based on a complaint filed by Alisher Turabaev from the southern city of Shymkent, who said Azattyq "wrongfully" described the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO) as Russian-led in one of its reports. The media outlet rejects the charge. The law, enacted this year, has been called “a soft censorship tool” by rights defenders. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Kazakh Service, click here.

Finland Refuses Kyiv Request To Extradite Russian Ultranationalist Detained In Helsinki

Russian ultranationalist Yan Petrovsky (file photo)
Russian ultranationalist Yan Petrovsky (file photo)

Finnish media reports on December 8 said the country's Supreme Court refused to extradite to Ukraine Yan Petrovsky, a Russian ultranationalist and former commander of the Rusich saboteur group, which fights alongside Russia's armed forces against Kyiv. According to the reports, the court justified the ruling by noting the poor conditions in Ukrainian penitentiaries, adding that Petrovsky may face humiliation and torture while in Ukrainian custody. Petrovsky is wanted in Ukraine on suspicion of committing war crimes in the eastern regions of Luhansk and Donetsk in 2014-2015. He was arrested in Helsinki on Kyiv's request in August. To read the original story by RFE/RL's North Realities, click here.

Updated

Putin Says 'I Will Run' When Asked About Russia's Presidential Election In March

Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)
Russian President Vladimir Putin (file photo)

President Vladimir Putin, flanked by soldiers who have fought in Russia's war against Ukraine, said he will run again for office in a March election where he is expected to easily win a new six-year term and extend the longest rule of a Kremlin leader since Josef Stalin.

Putin, who has been in power as a prime minister or president since 1999, said on December 8 that he will seek another term after he attended a ceremony in the Kremlin to award soldiers who had fought in Ukraine with Russia's highest military honor, the Hero of Russia Gold Star.

The speaker of a de facto regional parliament in Ukraine's Russian-occupied Donetsk region, Artyom Zhoga, asked Putin to take part in the election, slated for March 17, to which the president agreed it was time to announce his intention to run.

"There are different thoughts in different times. But now, you are right, now is such a time, when it is necessary to make a decision...I understand that there is no way for other options, I will take part in the election for the post of president of the Russian Federation," Putin said.

Putin's statement comes one day after Russia's upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, set March 17, 2024 as the date for the presidential vote. The Central Election Commission later announced that the election will last for three days -- from March 15 to March 17.

Jailed opposition politician Aleksei Navalny and his supporters have urged Russia’s 110 million eligible voters to cast ballots for "any other candidate" besides Putin even though "the final results will be rigged."

"[Putin] will destroy Russia. He has to leave," Navalny wrote in a blog post.

Moscow authorities banned QR codes on billboards on December 8, one day after Navalny's associates and supporters used QR codes to disguise statements calling on Russians not to vote for Putin on large billboards bearing New Year’s greetings in Moscow and several other Russian cities.

The QR codes scanned by people with their mobile phones led to a website titled "Russia Without Putin."

Putin, 71, is eligible to take part in two more elections, according to recent constitutional amendments that, among other things, pave the way for him to remain in office until 2036.

No serious challenger has emerged so far to run against Putin, while two of the country's best-known opposition voices, Navalny and Vladimir Kara-Murza, are both in prison serving lengthy sentences that they and their supporters say are politically motivated.

Last month, Putin signed into law a bill on amendments to the law on presidential elections which restricts coverage of the poll, while also giving the Central Election Commission the right to change the election procedure on territories where martial law has been introduced.

The election will also be held in what Russia calls its new territories: four regions of Ukraine that Moscow annexed last year after launching its full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

While Russia claims the regions -- Donetsk, Kherson, Luhansk, and Zaporizhzhya -- it only partially controls them and Kyiv has pledged to retake the territories.

With reporting by TASS, Interfax, SOTA, and RIA Novosti

Another Plane Forced Into Emergency Landing In Siberia Due To Engine Malfunction

A plane taxis on the runway at Novosibirsk airport. (file photo)
A plane taxis on the runway at Novosibirsk airport. (file photo)

A plane urgently landed in Siberia due to an engine malfunction on December 8, the second such incident in the last 24 hours, amid severe sanctions faced by Russia's aviation sector imposed by the West over Moscow’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. A Boeing 737 belonging to the S7 air company heading from Novosibirsk to Moscow was forced to land shortly after taking off, according to the Eastern Interregional Investigation Department for Transport. None of the 176 passengers abroad was injured. A day earlier, a Tu-204 cargo plane landed in the Siberian region of Buryatia due to an engine malfunction. No casualties were reported. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Journalist Watchdog Says Number Of Journalists Killed This Year Jumped Sharply

AFP journalist Arman Soldin (right) was killed by a rocket strike as he reported with AFP colleagues from Ukrainian positions in Chasiv Yar on May 9.
AFP journalist Arman Soldin (right) was killed by a rocket strike as he reported with AFP colleagues from Ukrainian positions in Chasiv Yar on May 9.

The International Federation of Journalists says 94 journalists and media workers, including nine women, have been killed in 2023, a 67 percent jump over the same period a year earlier, highlighting the need for "a new global standard" for protesting media.

The IFJ said in a report on December 8 that almost 400 media members have been jailed in 2023, showing the need for better protection for journalists across the globe.

"The IFJ insists that far greater action is required from the international community to safeguard journalists' lives and hold to account their attackers," the report said.

The report noted that the war in the Gaza Strip, which began in October, accounts for the sharp increase in deaths, with 68 journalists killed -- more than one per day -- since hostilities broke out between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the European Union.

IFJ data showed a total of 68 journalists have died covering the war.

'The war in Gaza has been more deadly for journalists than any single conflict since the IFJ began recording journalists killed in the line of duty in 1990," the report said, adding that deaths have come at "a scale and pace of loss of media professionals' lives without precedent."

"The international community, and more particularly the International Criminal Court, must face up to its responsibilities and thoroughly investigate, and where appropriate bring prosecutions to those who have ordered and carried out attacks on journalists," it said.

In Europe, the IFJ said Ukraine remains a "dangerous country for journalists," with Ukrainian, Russian and French media members dying this year in Russia's war against Ukraine.

Vladivostok Court Rejects Man's Request To Tear Down Solzhenitsyn Statue

A statue to Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the city of Vladivostok
A statue to Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn in the city of Vladivostok

A court in Russia's Far East city of Vladivostok has rejected a request filed by by a resident of Russia's Amur region regarding the removal of a statue of Russian writer and dissident Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn located on Vladivostok's Korabelnaya street. Tynda resident Andrei Guk had called Solzhenitsyn a "controversial figure" and "the embodiment of a false concept about the Soviet Union." In January 2022, Vladivostok's administration refused to dismantle the statue following a request by city lawmaker Maksim Shinkarenko. A request by Shinkarenko to erect a monument to Soviet dictator Josef Stalin was also rejected by the court in 2015. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Russian Service, click here.

Uzbek President Pardons More Than 300 Convicts

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev traditionally announces pardons before major holidays. (file photo)
Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev traditionally announces pardons before major holidays. (file photo)

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoev has pardoned 334 inmates who were serving prison terms for criminal offenses. Mirziyoev signed the decree to free the convicts on the occasion of the 31st anniversary of the adoption of the Uzbek Constitution on December 7. Among those pardoned are 18 foreign citizens, 23 women, 15 men over 60 years of age, and 88 people who were convicted for their involvement with banned organizations. Authoritarian ruler Mirziyoev traditionally announces pardons before major holidays. To read the original story by RFE/RL's Uzbek Service, click here.

Updated

Dead, Wounded In Russian Missile And Drone Attacks On Ukrainian Regions

Apartment buildings and cars damaged during a Russian missile strike on Kharkiv on December 8.
Apartment buildings and cars damaged during a Russian missile strike on Kharkiv on December 8.

Russia on December 8 unleashed a fresh wave of drone and missile attacks on several Ukrainian regions, killing at least one person, wounding several others, and causing substantial damage to civilian and energy infrastructure, Ukraine's military and regional official reported.

An air-raid alert was declared early on December 8 in Kyiv and most Ukrainian regions. The alert covered Cherkasy, Kirovohrad, Kherson, Mykolayiv, Chernihiv, Poltava, Dnipropetrovsk, Zaporizhzhya, Donetsk, Kharkiv, and Sumy.

Live Briefing: Russia's Invasion Of Ukraine

RFE/RL's Live Briefing gives you all of the latest developments on Russia's full-scale invasion, Kyiv's counteroffensive, Western military aid, global reaction, and the plight of civilians. For all of RFE/RL's coverage of the war in Ukraine, click here.

The Ukrainian Air Force said it shot down 14 out of a total of 19 cruise missiles launched by Russia at Ukraine's territory during the morning of December 8.

"Part of the enemy's missiles targeted infrastructure facilities in [the southeastern] Dnipropetrovsk region," the air force said in a statement.

"A second group of missiles, after having reached Dnipro, changed the direction of movement toward Kyiv. As of 9 a.m., 14 out of 19 Kh-101/Kh-555 cruise missiles in the Dnipropetrovsk region and Kyiv region have been destroyed," the statement said.

A Russian missile hit the city of Pavlohrad in the Dnipropetrovsk region, killing one resident and wounding eight others, two of them seriously, regional Governor Serhiy Lysak reported on Telegram.

"More than 20 residential buildings, nine commercial buildings, and a school were damaged in the strike. Power lines were also affected," Lysak said.

Five drones were also shot down above the Pavlohrad and Synelnyk districts of Dnipropetrovsk, he added.

The air defense separately reported that seven Iranian-made drones targeted the Dnipropetrovsk region.

Six S-300 guided missiles were launched at the Kharkiv region, the air defense said.

Regional Governor Oleh Synyehubov said on Telegram that the missile attack wounded two people and damage was caused to residential infrastructure, including a school.

In Kharkiv's Kupyansk district, three people were wounded and one apartment building was damaged by Russian shelling, Synyehubov said.

Ukraine has been bracing for a second long winter of war with Russia amid intense fighting in the east, especially around the industrial city of Avdiyivka in Donetsk region.

Ukrainian defenders have repelled 30 Russian assaults in the Avdiyivka area over the past 24 hours, the General Staff of Ukraine's military reported in its December 8 report.

Russian forces have been attempting for several weeks to encircle Avdiyivka, which has become the latest symbol of Ukrainian resistance.

Avdiyivka has remained in Ukrainian hands even after Russia in 2014 seized large portions of the Donetsk region, including Donetsk city, located just 10 kilometers to the south.

On December 8, Germany delivered a new package of military aid to Ukraine that includes shells, drones, and vehicles.

The German government said in a statement that the new package included 10 Vector reconnaissance drones, 1,750 artillery shells, 70 grenade launchers, six patrol cars, and eight trucks, as well as 100,000 military first-aid kits.

Germany is second only to the United States in terms of military aid provided to Kyiv.

Last month, Germany pledged a further 1.3 billion euros ($1.42 billion) in military aid for Ukraine during a visit to Kyiv by Defense Minister Boris Pistorius.

Ukraine To Make Shells With U.S. Firms As It Seeks To Develop Defense Sector

A Ukrainian soldier prepares 155mm artillery shells near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, in March.
A Ukrainian soldier prepares 155mm artillery shells near Bakhmut, eastern Ukraine, in March.

Kyiv has agreed with two American firms to jointly manufacture 155mm artillery shells in Ukraine, Strategic Industry Minister Oleksandr Kamyshin said on December 7. But he noted that Ukraine had never produced such shells and it would be "a minimum of two years, a maximum of three" before production could begin. The agreement followed a two-day Ukraine-U.S. defense conference in Washington that included bilateral meetings to discuss Ukraine's battlefield plans for 2024. The United States and allies have sent Kyiv more than 2 million 155mm rounds and are trying to increase production to replenish stocks.

Updated

Azerbaijan, Armenia Agree To Several Goodwill Steps, Including Mutual Release Of Prisoners

The news comes via a joint statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. (file photo)
The news comes via a joint statement by Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinian (right) and Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. (file photo)

Azerbaijan released 32 Armenian servicemen on December 7, while Armenia released two Azerbaijanis, according to a joint statement from the two countries that outlined other "tangible steps" toward building trust.

The statement from the office of Armenian Nikol Pashinian and the administration of the president of Azerbaijan, Ilham Aliyev, said both sides viewed the prisoner release as “guided by humanitarian values, and as a manifestation of goodwill."

The names of the released servicemen have not yet been released.

The statement also said there is a historic opportunity to achieve long-awaited peace.

"The two states reaffirm their intention to regulate relations and reach a peace treaty based on respect for the principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity," the statement said.

European Council President Charles Michel hailed the agreement as a "major break through" in Armenian and Azerbaijani relations.

"Welcome in particular release of detainees and unprecedented opening in political dialogue," Michel said on X, formerly Twitter. "Establishing and deepening bilateral dialogue between sides has been a key objective of the EU-led Brussels process: today’s progress is a key step."

He encouraged the leaders to finalize a peace deal as soon as possible.

In another goodwill gesture, Armenia expressed its support for Azerbaijan's bid to host next year's Session of the Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP29) and is withdrawing its own candidacy.

The two countries hope that other states of the convention's Eastern European Group will also support Azerbaijan's bid to host the event.

Azerbaijan in turn expressed its support for Armenia's candidacy for membership in the COP Bureau of the Eastern European Group.

Armenia and Azerbaijan will continue their discussions on the implementation of more confidence-building measures, the statement said. They also call on the international community to support their efforts, which they said will contribute to building mutual trust between the two states and have a positive impact on the entire South Caucasus.

Azerbaijan and Armenian have been taking preliminary steps toward a formal peace agreement since Baku regained control over the breakaway region of Nagorno-Karabakh in September, resulting in an exodus of ethnic Armenians from the region.

Negotiators from the two countries last week led a meeting of their nations' border delimitation commissions and agreed to intensify future talks on the matter, which has been another focus of preliminary discussions.

U.S. Targets Financial Network Backing Huthis In Yemen Through Sales Of Iranian Commodities

U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson
U.S. Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson

The United States has issued sanctions against 13 individuals and entities in Yemen and other countries that the Treasury Department says are responsible for providing millions of dollars’ worth of funding to Huthi rebels in Yemen from the sale of Iranian commodities.

The individuals and entities sanctioned use a “complex network of exchange houses and companies in multiple jurisdictions” to funnel Iranian money to the Huthis, Iran’s militant partners in Yemen, the U.S. Treasury Department said in a news release on December 7.

“The [Huthis] continue to receive funding and support from Iran, and the result is unsurprising: unprovoked attacks on civilian infrastructure and commercial shipping, disrupting maritime security and threatening international commercial trade,” Undersecretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Brian E. Nelson, said in the news release.

U.S. warships operating in international waters in the Persian Gulf have responded to the attacks, which the Treasury Department said risk broadening the conflict between Israel and Hamas, which has been designated a terrorist organization by the United States and the EU.

A top White House aide said on December 7 the United States believes that Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is helping to plan and carry out the missile and drone attacks.

"We believe that they are involved in the conduct of these attacks, the planning of them, the execution of them, the authorization of them and ultimately they support them," deputy national-security adviser Jon Finer said at the Aspen Security Forum.

Iran denies involvement.

The Treasury Department said the sanctions imposed by its Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) target a network that Iran-based Huthi financial facilitator Sa’id al-Jamal has relied on to send the proceeds of Iranian commodity sales to the Huthis and the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corp (IRGC).

Two of the individuals designated for sanctions -- Bilal Hudroj and Ahmet Duri -- own companies that made millions of dollars’ worth of financial transfers to Huthi rebels, according to OFAC. Their companies, based in Lebanon and Turkey, also were singled out for sanctions.

Five other companies among those blacklisted on December 7 operated in a similar fashion, handling funds on behalf of Jamal, including through one Yemen-based exchange that OFAC said was established 2021 as a means of bypassing U.S. sanctions imposed that year on Jamal’s other exchanges.

The five companies include one based in Russia -- OOO Russtroi-SK. All five are owned by Deniz Capital Maritime, established in St. Kitts and Nevis by international businessman Fadi Deniz, who OFAC said maintains identity documents from multiple countries. Both Deniz and Deniz Capital Maritime were designated for sanctions.

The sanctions announced on December 7 also hit illicit agents that organized shipments on behalf of Jamal and arranged payments for vessels used to transport commodities, the department said.

The sanctions freeze any property belonging to the designated individuals and entities in U.S. jurisdiction and bar people in the U.S. from dealings with them.

With reporting by Reuters

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