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Israel Lebanon Clash Over Offshore Energy Raising Tensions

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BEIRUT/TEL AVIV – Israel described as “very provocative” on Wednesday a Lebanese offshore oil and gas exploration tender in disputed territory on the countries’ maritime border, and said it was a mistake for international firms to participate.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri, whose country considers Israel an enemy state, said the comments were one of several “threatening messages” from Israel to Lebanon in recent days.

Hariri and other Lebanese ministers responded angrily after Israeli Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman said: “When they issue a tender on a gas field, including Block 9, which by any standard is ours … this is very, very challenging and provocative conduct here.”

“Respectable firms” bidding on the tender “are, to my mind, making a grave error – because this is contrary to all of the rules and all protocol in cases like this,” he told an international security conference hosted by Tel Aviv University’s INSS think-tank.

Lebanon in December approved a bid by a consortium of France’s Total, Italy’s Eni and Russia’s Novatek for two of the five blocks put up for tender in the country’s much-delayed first oil and gas offshore licensing round.

One of the awarded blocks, Block 9, borders Israeli waters. Lebanon has an unresolved maritime border dispute with Israel over a triangular area of sea of around 860 sq km (330 square miles) that extends along the edge of three of the blocks.

“Lieberman’s words about Block 9 are a threat to Lebanon and its right to sovereignty over its territorial waters,” Lebanese President Michel Aoun said on his official Twitter account.

Hariri said the country would take up the comments with the “relevant international bodies to affirm its right to act in its territorial waters”.

In a statement from his press office, Hariri said Lieberman’s words were “blatant provocation”.

Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil said he had sent a letter to the United Nations two weeks ago affirming Lebanon’s right to defend itself and its economic interests.

Energy Minister Cesar Abi Khalil said: “Lebanon will use all available methods to fend off the Israeli aggression that was announced today.”

Israel last went to war in Lebanon in 2006, against the Iran-backed Shi‘ite group Hezbollah.

With tensions rising anew, Lieberman, a far-rightist in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s conservative coalition government, said Lebanon would “pay the full price” for any new Hezbollah attacks on Israel.

He said that the Lebanese army was indistinguishable from Hezbollah and both were fair game in any future war. But he said Israel sought no war, adding: “We try to conduct ourselves determinedly and responsibly.”

The offshore exploration and production contracts are expected to be officially signed on Feb. 9, Abi Khalil said, allowing exploration to begin.

Lebanon is on the Levant Basin in the eastern Mediterranean where a number of big sub-sea gas fields have been discovered since 2009, including the Leviathan and Tamar fields located in Israeli waters near the disputed marine border with Lebanon.

Reporting by Lisa Barrington in Beirut and Dan Williams in Tel Aviv;

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Sudan Releases Political Prisoners From Khartoum Jails

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KHARTOUM – Sudanese authorities said on Sunday they would release more than 80 political prisoners from jails in the capital Khartoum, a week after the African country appointed a new security chief.

A Reuters reporter said he had seen about 40 prisoners released from the main prison by Sunday evening and that some prominent opposition leaders were still being held there.

A presidential adviser had earlier said in a statement that President Omar Hassan al-Bashir had ordered more than 80 political detainees to be released.

All of them were arrested last month after protests about high prices and tough economic conditions that turned violent.

Families celebrated in front of the jails on Sunday, with some chanting “freedom, freedom” and singing national songs.

REFILE – REMOVING EXTRA WORDS Arrested politicians and journalists shout inside the National Prison before their release after demonstrations in Khartoum, Sudan February 18, 2018. REUTERS/Mohamed Nureldin AbdallahA group of people started a sit-in outside one of the prisons, saying they would not leave until all the political prisoners were freed.

The United States in October lifted 20-year-old sanctions on Sudan, prompting calls from the International Monetary Fund for the African country to float its currency among other measures that it said could help its economy recover.

Slideshow (5 Images)Sudan rejected floating the currency but devalued it in January and cut wheat subsidies, sending the pound’s value plummeting on the black market and causing a doubling of bread prices that led to January’s demonstrations.

The weak black market rate of the pound has also forced authorities to slash the rate at which banks can trade dollars.

Sudan’s economy has been struggling since the south seceded in 2011, taking with it three-quarters of what had been its oil output.

Opposition groups have accused the president of jailing dissidents and censoring the media.

Bashir has remained in power for more than a quarter of a century, weathering rebellions, economic crisis and an indictment by the International Criminal Court on suspicion of having orchestrated war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region.

Reporting by Khalid Abdelaziz; Writing by John Davison and Arwa Gaballa in Cairo;

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Bad Guy Russia Emerges As Central Player In Western Diplomacy

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MUNICH – European and U.S. officials divided over U.S. President Donald Trump’s foreign policy found common cause this weekend in decrying what they say is Russia’s covert campaign to undermine Western democracies.

But despite the transatlantic show of anger at Russia during the Munich Security Conference, Western officials and diplomats also acknowledged an uncomfortable truth: that Russia is critical to resolving many of the world’s worst conflicts.

From eastern Ukraine to North Korea, Russia’s status as a nuclear power, its military intervention in Syria and its veto on the United Nations Security Council mean any diplomacy must ultimately involve Moscow, officials said.

“We can’t find a political solution without Russia,” Norwegian Defence Minister Frank Bakke Jensen told Reuters. “We need to reach a point where we can work to find a political solution, and they must be central to that.”

Publicly at least, Russia was the bad guy in Munich, roundly criticized for interfering in the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign after the U.S. indictment of 13 Russians this week, and more broadly for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea.

For the West, such unity of purpose marked a change after a year of Trump’s “America First” rhetoric, his inconsistent statements on NATO and the European Union, his decision to pull out of the Paris climate change accord and his move not to certify Iran’s compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal.

At the annual Munich event, a rare gathering of European and U.S. security officials that also attracts top Russian diplomats, American policymakers were visibly irritated with Moscow’s public denials of accusations of meddling.

“I am amazed that … the Russians come, they send someone, every year to basically refute the facts,” U.S. Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said of the Russian presence at the event.

But behind the scenes, diplomats said there was a different tone, as top officials including NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg met Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the gold-and-white paneled rooms of the Bayerischer Hof hotel.

“There is a diplomatic network that works,” said Russian senator Aleksey Pushkov, citing contacts to resolve the Syrian civil war including Moscow, Ankara, Washington and Tel Aviv. “It’s something that, if used efficiently, can prevent bigger confrontations.”

German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel met several times with Lavrov, offering the prospect of easing economic sanctions imposed over Moscow’s role in eastern Ukraine and calling Russia an “indispensable” partner in global efforts to prevent proliferation of nuclear weapons.

Former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who negotiated the 2015 accord curbing Iran’s nuclear ambitions, said the West needed to “compartmentalize” issues with Moscow, so that diplomacy could achieve more.

“IN RUSSIA‘S HANDS”

Part of the challenge for the West is that international crises have been interlinked.

Russia is allied to Israel’s nemesis Iran in Syria while Moscow’s support for separatists in Ukraine draws NATO’s ire.

But NATO-ally Turkey is seeking to complete an arms deal to buy Russian air defenses. It has struck U.S-backed Kurdish forces in northern Syria with Russia’s blessing.

In Asia, U.S. efforts to stop North Korea’s atomic weapons development rest partly on Moscow’s willingness to countenance a U.S. and European call for an oil embargo on Pyongyang, which it has so far rejected.

“A few years ago you could talk about distinct crises, but today, if you’re discussing one, you’re shaking all the others,” Norway’s Jensen said.

So as Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu railed against Iran in Munich on Sunday, in New York, British, U.S. and French efforts to condemn Tehran at the United Nations immediately ran into Russian resistance, diplomats told Reuters.

And in Munich, while U.S. and European officials saw momentum for U.N. peacekeepers in eastern Ukraine to resolve the four-year-old conflict there, U.S. special envoy Kurt Volker conceded everything rested on Moscow.

“It’s in Russia’s hands,” Volker told a gathering of EU and U.S. officials, including Sweden’s defense chief, who offered his country’s troops for any such mission.

Nine years ago in Munich, then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden promised to “reset” relations with Russia, but few in the West appeared to realize the depth of Russia’s resentment over the break-up of the Soviet Union and NATO’s eastward expansion.

Now, with Western economic sanctions in place on Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea and its support for rebels in eastern Ukraine, East-West ties are at their lowest since the Cold War, with little chance of an improvement, diplomats said.

Reporting by Robin Emmott and Andrea Shalal;

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Who Is Don Davis, When Did The Arkansas Death Row Inmate Murder Jane Daniel And Has His Victim’s Daughter Susan Khani Spoken?

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KILLER Don Davis is well-known on death row in Arkansas, where he has been awaiting his execution for the past 26 years.

As his execution draws closer, we find out more about the murderer and his innocent victim.

Splash News A mugshot of Davis, who is now 55 and has spent nearly half of his life in prison

Who is Don Davis?

Don William Davis is one of the eight death row inmates currently set to be executed in April in Arkansas.

The executions have now all been approved by the Supreme Court, but the New York Times reports that the state is struggling to find enough people who want to watch the convicts to die.

The 55-year-old has been in jail since 1992.

When did the Arkansas death row inmate murder Jane Daniel?

Davis murdered Jane Martha Daniels at her home in Benton County, Arkansas, on October 12, 1990.

He was robbing her home when he took her life with a caliber Magnum revolver he had stolen earlier that day.

For the murder of the 62-year-old he was sentenced to death on March 6, 1992, and has been on death row ever since.

Murder victim Jane Daniel, who Davis killed as he robbed her home in 1990

Why has his execution been delayed and what else is he known for?

Davis was set to be executed in 2006, but won a stay because of a court challenge in Kentucky that claimed the lethal injection procedure was cruel and unusual.

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled against the inmates.

Both Davis and fellow inmate Bruce Ward also avoided an execution last April, after claiming independent psychiatrists should have reviewed their files.

In a dramatic turn of events, Davis was even given his last meal of fried chicken and mashed potatoes before his execution was postponed.

In January 2018, the Supreme Court rules that neither of them crossed the threshold to gain assistance.

Back in 1995, Davis was among death row inmates caught when state police investigated a gang of killers on death row who managed to smuggle drugs, weapons, alcohol and tools into death row.

The tools included wire cutters, pliers and a hacksaw blade, and troopers also found a priest’s cassock and the white top to a karate uniform – all pointing to plans for a prison break.

What’s did his victim’s daughter Susan Khani say?

Police believe Jane Daniel gave Davis all the items he asked for before he took her life.

“It just bothers me horribly that…she must have been terrified and she didn’t deserve that at all,” said her husband Richard.

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